The fingernails he runs across my thigh are tipped with neurotoxin. Yet I do not tense. I run my hands through his hair wearing rings that could slice him in two. Yet he does not stop me. Each of us could kill the other a thousand separate ways as we lay here together. Yet we do not.
‘I remember this one,’ Iruvan says, as he finds the scar on my left calf. ‘You almost had me that time.’
A smile drifts onto my lips. ‘I forgot about your shin blade.’
Iruvan grins back. His teeth are sharpened to stiletto points and the one on the left contains an acid that would turn my bones to dust.
‘I thought you knew all my tricks by now, Tez.’
‘Do you know all of mine?’ I tease – yet his face falls.
As he moves to withdraw his hand I reach out and clasp it between my own. He doesn’t flinch.
‘You know more of my secrets than anyone else ever has.’ I tell him.
He still turns away. Around the room a holofield wraps us in a shimmering silver cloak. A silent barrier between us and the rest of Commoragh. We are cut off. Vulnerable. I watch Iruvan’s proud, cruel face. His hands are out of sight, but I am not concerned.
‘You know that one day, one of us will kill the other. This will never be done, this vendetta between our masters, between the Kabals. We will fight in the arena, again, and again, until one of us is dead.’
I watch his broad chest rise and fall with each breath. He knows about the blade I keep hidden in the drawers beside me, but he does not seem to care.
‘If there was no danger, you would have been bored with me by now.’ Perhaps that sounds petulant, because he chuckles – a deep, resonant sound that makes my skin flush and my blood run hot. I find myself snapping at him. ‘Oh? What alternative do you propose Iru? That we kill our masters? That I assassinate the Archon himself, and run away with you to live amongst the primitives, riding reptiles, and throwing spears?’
He rolls over to look at me. His eyes are the grey of a gathering storm, but he still smiles.
The heat of my anger fades before those eyes. I let out a soft sigh.
‘That’s a nice dream Iru.’
‘You know you’d enjoy it.’
‘Killing him.’ He’s still smiling, but now I can feel the edge. It’s as if we’re in the arena, testing each other with bared blades. His voice falls to a whisper. ‘I know you hate him. You play the willing servant well, all smiles and bended knees. But I know you Tez. Better than anyone. Are you really willing to die for him? To watch me die?’
I try to keep my voice light. ‘You know, the other day he promised me a phial of shimmer wine as a reward for my next fight.’
Iru’s smile grows teeth. ‘You hate shimmer wine.’
There’s a strange, rare warmth in me that starts low, and grows through me. A wave of longing bursts from my lips into laughter.
‘You’d do it, wouldn’t you? You’d leave with me?’
Iru just nods, and my chest almost breaks in two. ‘Two great arena champions, together. The entire galaxy could be our playground.’
The moment stretches out between us, thick and heavy. This is it. The crux of the storm, the turning point of our story. All those early flurries. Riposte and parry. Now comes the decisive move. The final play. An arena fighter knows his enemy more intimately than any lover. I know his patterns, his games. And he knows mine. We are linked, forever, he and I. Closer than any being I have known in my countless years of being. All of it, building up to this one single choice.
‘You know that cannot happen.’
He closes his eyes, and I feel the moment pass. His chest deflates and I know I have landed a deeper cut than anything I have achieved in the arena.
Before he can respond, before I can think again, I touch the button by the bed and the holo-field surrounding us fades away. A tall, barbed figure steps forward. Flanked by his guards, my Archon of the Thorned Rose bares his teeth in pleasure.
‘You have done well Tezastra.’
Iruvan opens his eyes. There is no shock or surprise. He just slips from the bed and stands, naked, and magnificent before my Master. One, single nod. A simple acknowledgement of defeat. The Archon laughs, and I feel ice run through my veins.
‘The Champion of the Barbed Razors, delivered into my own home. Oh, you have done so well Tezastra. I should have a full crate of shimmer wine brought to your room.’
I look away, unable to meet Iruvan’s eyes, but I still hear the sigh, soft as it is. An Incubus bodyguard steps forward, and slaps barbed restraints onto Iruvan’s broad arms. The pain ripples through Iruvan’s perfect body, and he falls to his knees. Yet he does not make a sound.
The Archon of the Thorned Rose eyes him. ‘So easily fooled. Was it worth it, Champion?’
Iruvan turns his head and stares back at me. I steel myself, but there is no venom in that look. He simply smiles at me, so soft, so strong, and I feel a pain begin that will never leave me.
‘Yes. Yes, it was.’
The words fall like a knife to my chest. I catch myself on the bed, my chest tearing itself apart. For a moment I wonder if he has already poisoned me; if he has taken his revenge more subtly than I could ever manage. Yet I know that is not it.
The Archon leads my love away, and once again, I am alone.
About the Author
A 40k fan, and writer, based in Dubai and trying to find the Grimdark in eternal sunshine.