When you gaze into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you

  • Keira rises awkwardly. She can taste blood in her mouth but it’s not serious yet. Her hands rise and fall in the guards and blocks required, deliberately late. She sways and circles the man trying to keep him on her left side; the earlier punch had split the skin above her eyebrow and it was swelling. She stepped in obligingly to the feint and turned to ride the jab to her stomach.

    He steps back to talk, again. He loves his words, but she’s been learning too. Keira licks blood from the corner of her mouth. ’I heard that men usually finish too soon’. She manages to twist her puffed lips into a half-smile before the next wave of blows breaks over her, dragging her under.

    Keira watched the ripples form in the blood with her good eye. Her lips twisted into a grin as she starts to rise before her leg’s kicked away again. He bounces her head on the flagstones for good measure and drops his knee onto her back. Something cracks inside and she coughs up brighter blood while the man on her back scrabbles to bind her hands. Keira smiles.

    Jerr smiled, outside the Sisterhood. ‘You just want another excuse to pound me!’ he said as they walked over to the Regal. He wanted to talk before sparring, seemed the right thing to do. He sat, listening, playing his great sage. So sweet, so nice to women, thinking Nicahh was protective in preventing him from marrying me. Maybe she knows what he does to his wives.

    So polite in public, playing his martyr, hoping that Nicahh’s anger would be directed at him alone. So clever, playing his diplomat and having Lilin go to question Nicahh the questions he won’t let himself ask, for honor’s sake. So chivalrous, smiling as he declares he’d do anything for her. Anything except respect her wishes. Anything except what he’d do anyway.

    So scheming, playing his magistrate and twisting the questions back away from himself. Asking if I thought he’d betray me still. Like you betray her? Like you betray those you have to lie to? So gentle, playing his counsellor and asking if I enjoy bringing the pain of his love upon myself. Does he make any choices? Then he should know I wouldn’t be first among those choices for him.

    I tell him it would be worth it, to be with him until he does betray me. Tell him that I don’t deserve to be first in his life. Still he won’t see that sometimes choices are made. He chooses which words to keep, to whom. So wise, playing his storyteller of the old times, when loss of respect was the punishment for breaking the ways. He doesn’t disagree when I say that twining his destiny with mine is punishment. He claims it’s joy as well. I doubt that.

    So cowardly, playing the seducer, wanting my commitment to his suit before claiming to think of the difficulties. Actions have consequences, Jerr. We never know certainty, because certainty is a lie. If I’d said no, he’d never have mentioned it. Nicahh would not have known of his betrayal, none of this need happen. Yes, that sounds like love. That sounds like it is only time before he’d betray me. He chose which word to break, chose to betray Nicahh rather than live by the word he gave.

    He cared about keeping enough of his old ways to ground himself. So vicious, playing the scold and blaming me for telling her, for hurting her. He told me to tell her, told me to go to her and say the words he should have been strong enough to say. He chose which words to break.

    I watch him look to the length of leather I brought into the pit. Something touched him, he stops talking and watches me. His first few punches are tentative, easily dodged. I ignore the obvious openings, watching him. Then a good combination catches me, rocking my head back as my body rides it. Such a shame that he stops again. He does like to talk, telling me he learns nothing from hitting me. Telling me that it scares him, wondering when I might stop being willing to let him hit me. Yes. That will do. That we can work with.

    ’Don’t you like to be challenged, Jerr?’

    He finishes binding her hands, breathing heavily, watching the bloodied elf. Her breath rasps with an unsettling bubbling quality since the last few kicks but she still struggles weakly as he lowers his lips to her neck. There’s an old way, there. A male, a female beaten. Hold her down. Bite her neck. Show her that she’s lost. Show her that she’s claimed. A very old way.

    She twists, a cry caught in her throat and spits some blood to the floor as he hauls her up by her dislocated shoulder. She whimpers, testing the bonds and doesn’t see his eyes narrow, doesn’t see the fist coming. Keira staggers and falls again as he hisses that he didn’t tell her to get free. Her good eye blinks slowly and she coughs up some more blood, bright and bubbly.

    Keira tries to crawl but he drags her up again. He loves his words. Telling her that all she has to do is ask, and he’ll free her. She stumbles, drawing on all her past skill to form words. She might die here. He might kill her. Maybe it ends here. That’s not so bad, him killing her in the place where she saved his life a few moons ago.

    Her breathing eases as the rib eases back into place, re-knitting. The shoulder’s nearly usable again, too. Keira runs her tongue experimentally over her mashed lips and watches him tell her that it’s her fault. She let this happen to her. Her silence is some sort of symbolic denial of the freedom he offered. She deserved this. That’s why she’s quiet. Because life is pain, and we bring it on ourselves. Soon, he’ll realize what he’s done. She can see it seeping across his eyes, the memory of how she felt under his hands. The memory of how he calls her ‘love’.

    Keira rolls her dislocated shoulder back into place with a disturbing grating sound. He orders her to turn around, and after he repeats it, her eyes drop and she complies. She flinches slightly as he squeezes the bite on her neck and unties her hands. She limps after him as they leave the Inn, remembering how he proposed the other night in the garden.

    ‘Here’s something for you to think on, love. When I’m near you, my soul rests.

    // Thank you MND and the other usual suspects for continuing fun and games with Keira’s head