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Black Gods Kiss

...and shot him twice in the head and once where his heart should have been, but he was still standing. Gorel stared at the undead thing; the creature was a head taller than him and had a vaguely human shape, but his features were indistinct and his face looked half-melted. The creature opened a wide mouth in a grin, and yellow saliva dribbled down the sides, running in rivulets over red, infected gums, creating a rather nauseating palate of colours no painter was likely to ever want to use. Gorel swore and shot him again. The creature grinned larger and stepped forward.

Sorcery, Gorel thought. He hated sorcery. He holstered the pistol and reached behind his shoulder, returning with the heavy hose of the cindergun. The creature paused and stared at him with his head tilted to one side; he looked puzzled. Gorel pointed the igniter at the advancing monster, flicked the safety catch off, and pressed the trigger.

The monster roared. So did the flames. Liquid fire burst out of the cindergun’s igniter and poured onto the creature, suffusing his skin with blue flames. The undead creature howled, screamed, and burned. When it was over, Gorel depressed the trigger. The creature was a pool of boiling mud on the ground. The stench was horrific. Gorel of Goliris replaced the cindergun’s hose on his back, reached into a pocket, and returned with a cigar. He lit it, inhaled, and stared across the jungle. Then he began to move deeper into the dark, inhospitable trees.

* * * *

She came to him in the village’s nasara, the common ground. He had been offered hospitality, for a fee. He paid it and was given a bunk in the single hut that stood on the edge of the nasara for the service of visitors. There were no other visitors. From the state of the hut, he suspected there hadn’t been any for a long time. He had just returned from the river, where he had washed away the grime of the journey. The water was cold but refreshing. There were small fish in the stream and they had nibbled at his feet, and the rocks were slippery with bright-green moss. It was a humid sort of place; it rained a lot and the vegetation grew thick and smelled dank. When she came, he was drying himself in the sun, and the droplets of water shone on his dark body. She said, ‘What are you?’

Gorel of Goliris turned and looked at her. She was young, dressed in a white shift that, when she moved, seemed to suggest much that was promising underneath. Her skin was darker than his, and her eyes seemed older. They too were dark. Gorel stretched lazily and could sense her eyes on his body. ‘Just passing through.’

Her gaze moved away from him then, and he felt uncomfortable. She was looking at his guns. She said, ‘You come from far away?’

‘You could say that.’

‘And you go where?’

‘Far away again,’ he said. She returned her attention to him. That old look in an otherwise young face disturbed him. Her eyes flicked to the guns and back to him. ‘Are you for hire?’

She didn’t waste her words and he liked that. ‘Sometimes.’

‘I would like to speak with you.’

‘I thought we were speaking.’

She gestured with her head. ‘Inside.’

It occurred to him that he could see no one else around. It was a very peculiar village. He had seen some children playing by the brook when he went for his swim, but there was no sound of play now, and the nasara was conspicuously deserted. It was coming into dusk, and they should have all returned from their gardens by now. He could smell cooking, and saw smoke rising from several houses, but he could see no people.

‘Of course,’ he said. He gestured for her to go inside first. She inched her head and glided forward. Her white shift clung to her body as she walked. He grabbed his guns and followed her inside.

She took him as soon as the door closed. Her body was hot against his and there was nothing under her shift but her. She took him without speaking, and her lips tasted like wildflowers, and her nipples were fermented berries: she was a young wine, and intoxicating.

Later, they lay together in the darkened hut. Her face came close to his, and her eyes searched his with a look whose meaning he did not understand. ‘We need,’ she said, and there was authority in the way she said that, speaking no longer as a woman, for herself, but as something more, ‘we need a man like you.’

Gorel sat up, pushing her away, but gently. She sat up and looked at him. ‘We can pay,’ she said.

‘Pay for what?’ Gorel said. He scratched the growth of beard on his face and looked right back at her. Suddenly he did not like the situation. Also, he was hungry.

The girl stood up. He thought she was magnificent as she glared down at him. ‘My name is Efira,’ she said. ‘And I am the priestess of the goddess Shar. I speak for my people – those who are left. We need a man who is strong and virile—’

Gorel smirked. The priestess ignored him. ‘And who is not reluctant to kill, when the need arises–’ and she glanced at the guns, which were in arm’s reach from Gorel.

Gorel shook his head. The day had started like a hundred other days of slow and weary travel, had improved rapidly with the arrival of Efira, and was now in danger of spoiling. He said, curiosity getting the better of him, ‘Who do you want killed?’

‘A god.’

In Gorel’s travels across the World he had seen many things and, primarily for financial reasons, had undertaken on occasion various unsavoury assignments when the need arose. He had never been asked to kill a god before, however. He knew he should get up and leave, but curiosity, coupled with attraction, stayed him. That, and the fact he had already paid for the hospitality of the village: he intended to at least enjoy the night indoors his meagre money had purchased.

Thoughts of his dwindling finances finally resolved him to the notion that it might at least be prudent to listen to the girl’s proposition. And so he rose from the bed and stretched, and said, ‘Why don’t you tell me about it over dinner?’

* * * *

Tell him over dinner. He sighed and blew smoke rings and advanced deeper into the forest. He should have remembered what the old wizard Champol used to say: ‘Never trust a priest or a pretty girl.’ But then he was never one for the girls, was old Champol, whether pretty or otherwise. Behind him what remained of the undead creature still bubbled softly on the ground. The thing was not the only one of his kind. There must be others nearby. Gorel could sense presences amidst the thick vegetation, secret movement, wary observation – with him as its focus. Very well. He reloaded the guns as he walked, making a show of it. They were fine, hand crafted things, with grips of dark, strong wood and the small, exquisitely wrought silver pattern of a seven-pointed star on each: the ancient sign of Goliris. Each gun could hold six cartridges. The sound of the chamber rotating with each carefully loaded cartridge was extremely satisfying. He had won this pair in a game of cards in Lower Kidron, from a necromancer who had tried to cheat and then, when this failed, had tried to kill Gorel. In that too he failed: the guns’ first action in Gorel’s hands was to kill their previous, and treacherous, owner. The necromancer had twice returned from death to charge at Gorel, and each time his body was more mangled, more hideously deformed than before, but each time the bullets spoke true, and on the third shot the necromancer finally remained dead.

Let the watchers in the dark watch this, he thought, and he finished loading the guns but kept them in his hands, alert and waiting.

He could no longer see the skies. The jungle rose above his head, trees that have fed on constant rains for more years than he had been alive towering above him, reaching for the sunlight that remained barred from entry beyond the canopy. Underfoot, the ground was made of rotting leaves and fallen logs with ear-shaped fungus growing from their trunks and moss-covered branches, and occasionally he passed through a congregation of mean, fat black ants who swarmed over his legs and bit him. There were mosquitoes too and they too bit, and so he smoked the cigar and blew the smoke from side to side and itched and sweated and wished he had something to shoot. He did not like jungles but a deal was a deal and he needed money: the revenge business was a costly one.

It was dark. Occasionally, he could see breaks in the canopy, little spots of sunlight coming through that seemed to promise freedom from the trees. They always seemed to be nearby, almost within reach, but as you followed them they never came any closer. These were the daylight traps of the Urino-Dagg, disembodied entities that lived in the forest and preyed on the travellers who dared pass through deep bush. He had met their kind before. And so, he stepped cautiously, but went deeper still; until no sunlight could be seen, and even the mirage places of the Urino-Dagg were gone, and he moved blindly, but always onwards, always deeper into the forest. ‘For when you are lost and blind,’ she told him, ‘and there is no more sound, that is when you will find the black gods.’

* * * *

The food was brought by a couple of elderly villagers who kept their eyes on the ground and whose progress across the packed earth floor of the nasara had seemed to Gorel unimaginably slow. He was not one for villages, Gorel. It seemed to him there was nothing to do in a village but grow food, make babies, and gossip – and he was not overtly fond of growing his own vegetables.

When the food and its bearers finally arrived, however, his mood improved rapidly. He sat with the priestess, Efira, outside, under a thatched roof shelter. It rained. The air was humid and hot and there was no wind, but the food smelled good and the priestess’s white shift was as sheer – and as promising – as before. There was also drink.

This was not a wine area. Even beer would have been too much to ask for. The villagers, however, understood the fermenting process well enough (that was another thing about not having much to do in a village) and brewed their own explosive brand of drink, from which fruit he didn’t know – nor cared.

‘Not many people in your village,’ Gorel said. What it was in the pot he couldn’t tell – a slew of small river creatures or insects of some sort, with a hard carapace and sweet meat inside, and feelers that had become detached during the cooking process and had now become a part of the sauce.

‘Before there were many,’ she told him. She toyed with a piece of bread, tearing white chunks and shaping them into curious stick figures, blind worm like things with stumpy arms and legs. ‘Now only the very old and the very young remain.’

‘You are neither,’ he pointed out. She didn’t smile. ‘I am priestess to the goddess Shalina. Before, our goddess was kind and our gardens plentiful. The rains brought with them life, whereas now they bring only mosquitoes, and those diseased. Before, the forest was our ally. We treaded inside with respect. The daylight-ghouls of the bush-’ she was talking of the Urino-Dagg, which she called by another name – ‘left us alone, for we had the goddess’s protection. The forest provided us with game and with wild fruit, and the river gave us fish and water to drink. So it was before Shar came.’

Shar was a god. There are many gods across the World, and they take many shapes and forms. Some gods are bound to a place, some to a people. Some are great gods who do many great things, and some are not so great, nor do they do as much. It was Gorel’s belief that the best kind of god did nothing godly – could, in fact, raise significant questions as to its existing at all – but of course, the downside of such an argument was the suggestion that the World was full of such gods, which one had neither seen nor heard, and who might not, therefore, exist in actuality. It was the sort of argument best resolved with a gun.

Shar, in any case, did not fall into that category. There was no doubt about Shar’s existence. She had appeared two years before to the villagers. In dreams she came, at first – hot, disturbing dreams that made the skin clammy and the heart beat faster when you awoke; she came sometimes as a woman, ebony-black, but sometimes she was a man, and sometimes she was both those things, or neither. Her dreams were sickly sweet and flavoured with smoke. The people would wake up groggy and heavy-headed and work without enthusiasm, and the young would fight for no reason; and the forest grew thick with darkness.

‘Where did she come from?’ Gorel asked. ‘She is not one of your gods?’

‘We have one god, no more. Shalina, she of the forest and the gardens and the riverbed.’

Gorel frowned. ‘You are saying Shar is a itinerant god?’

He had heard such stories, but had never come across a specimen. Gods were of a place or of a people. An itinerant god had neither.

Efira, opposite him, frowned and bit her lower lip. There was by now a small army of the doughy stick-people, looking like small grubs that might start wriggling at any moment. For no reason he could think of, they made him uncomfortable. ‘I don’t know where Shar came from. But she came, first in dreams and then...’

‘And then?’

‘A fisher boy was the first to see her. He was asleep in a cool place by the river, at noon. He slept, and as he slept he dreamed, and as he dreamed Shar came to him.

‘She came not as a fragment of the mind but fully as a god. She came to him like the cool shadow of a tree as it stirs and shifts upon the water. She took him there and drank from him the way a weary traveller stops to drink by the side of a river. After that, he stopped fishing and stopped speaking and eventually disappeared into the forest and was not seen again. He became her slave.

‘There were others.’

Talk of an itinerant god caused the first spark of interest to form in Gorel’s mind. Such beings were rare and, if it were true, should know much of the wider World. In all his travels he was always searching, searching for ancient grandest Goliris, his birthright and his curse.

This Shar, then, might be worth investigating. Gorel poured more drink into his cup. ‘But what of your own god?’ he said. ‘This Shalina? Could she not—’

‘The people came to me,’ the priestess of Shalina said. ‘And I prayed to the goddess. At first she did not come. I sought her. On the banks of the river I chanted the songs and danced the dances and burned the herbs to summon her and heed my call. At last I fell asleep. And in a vision I saw her.’

Gorel looked at the priestess and, despite her charms, felt a shard of distaste spoiling his view. To have gods was to have masters, Gorel thought, and the language of priesthood and godhead, of chants and visions, was to him a language of slavery, and abhorrent. He drank from his cup. The night was very quiet. Again he could hear no sounds of play, no neighbourly chatter, not even the clatter of pots or the sounds of an argument. No voice raised in drunk song either, he noticed.

‘I saw her not in the springs or the gardens but in the deep of the forest, where the sun does not come. She was in human form, and in human form she was bound. Above her towered Shar. She did not speak to me. My goddess was naked and her ebony skin was flayed red, and there were welts on her back, and Shar held a whip above her. Shalina’s hands were tied above her head. She looked at me and there was pain in her eyes. Pain and humiliation. After that I lost heart, and our numbers dwindled as Shar took them for her own, one by one. Now there are few remaining. Will you help us?’

Gorel rose from his seat and went to Efira and took her in his arms. She shuddered against his chest and was then still. ‘We will give you everything,’ she whispered, her lips against his skin. ‘Everything we have.’

* * * *

Now the darkness was absolute and he could feel malevolence in the still, unmoving air, and knew that he was close. His arms were torn and bleeding from the branches in his path, and several times he had slipped and fallen on the ground. At last he stopped and merely stood, a man in darkness, and waited.

An eeriness came upon him then. His sense of time and space slowed until it ceased, or so it seemed, to exist. There was no sound, and it reminded him of the village he had left behind him. No sense, no time – a vast abyss spread all around him and he alone stood tall at its epicentre as if on a narrow plinth that jutted upwards. He would be trapped like this forever, bound in the absences of all light or sound, if he were not to act.

The weight of his guns was reassuring against his sides. He felt around himself and could find nothing: no trees remained, no vines, nothing but the absolute darkness which he had sought – and found.

He stepped into the dark abyss.

Did he fall? Or did he rise? Gorel of Goliris had seen this shadow-play before, of the thin membranes that separate the worlds of men and gods. The worlds are woven tight into each other, and their strands run together, closely bound, and yet, unlike a weave, they are also apart. Gorel of Goliris floated in the darkness between the worlds and in the distance heard the silence broken: a feminine voice, soft and husky, and it was laughing.

* * * *

The light, when it came, hurt his eyes, and he crouched, one hand on a holster, his senses alert for an attack.

Yet none, for the moment, came. He blinked and realised the light, though strangely painful, was yet dim, a jungle twilight that belongs to no one hour of the day. Around him the trees were bent and wizened things, ancient beyond recall and ethereal. They seemed like dark spirits, trapped and pressed in bark, moving like branch shadows seeking to escape scrutiny. Ahead of him the wood thinned and at last disappeared. There was a clearing there, like the tonsure inflicted on the heads of some mystics and monks. The light in the clearing was of the same dim, dull quality as elsewhere. There was no sun, no moon. The sky was a dome of black clouds, impenetrable. In the clearing stood the ruined structure of a once-grand edifice; now grass grew in the cracks between the building stones, and brackish water ran, like a drizzle of thin vomit, out of the fallen masonry of a tall doorway. Gorel straightened and approached the entrance. The air was thick with a sickly perfume. He could hear voices inside, soft and mocking, and for the first time felt fear.

Something flew at him from the doorway then, and he fell back and raised his hands against it. Something dark and leathery with claws it was, a piece of night that had latched on to Gorel’s head and tried to gouge out his eyes. Gorel cried out and lashed at the creature, which wriggled and dodged his blows and held onto Gorel’s head. Gorel dropped down, taking the creature with him. He rolled and the brown water of the brook soaked into his clothes, cold and clammy like a sickness. With both hands, he grabbed hold of the creature, oblivious to the bites and scratches the thing was inflicting. He held it tight, and the creature screeched, a long and terrified sound, and Gorel lifted it from his face as if removing a blindfold and slammed it against a fallen stone, bashing it again and again, until the creature’s cries had stopped and its body lay limp in Gorel’s wounded hands, and a smear of dark-green blood stained the ancient stone.

‘Enough!’ Gorel shouted. He stood, and kicked the corpse of the flying thing against the wall. The mangled thing rolled feebly down to the ground. Gorel stalked towards the entrance. ‘Show yourself, Shar, enslaver of Shalina!’

The voice that answered him was sweeter than any human voice could be. It was the voice of a first kiss, of crushed flowers as they are mixed in the pure water of a cold stream, of the droplets of water that fall from a woman’s naked body as it rises from the ocean’s foam. There was mocking surprise in that voice. ‘But I am here, Gorel of Goliris. Come. I have been waiting for you.’

He stepped across the threshold of that ancient edifice. And froze with his hand on the butt of his gun.

* * * *

Candlelight spilled across the vast hall. Soft music played, and the sweet, cloying smell he had noticed earlier was stronger here, suffusing the air like spoiled wine. A large pool was carved into the stone foundations in the middle of the hall. Vapours rose from the surface of the water. Tall stone columns rose into the air, holding no roof above them. Gorel could see the sky, a dome of cloud still, but here, inside the hall, the clouds seemed to move in strange conflicting patterns, and a hidden source of light seemed to rise behind them, lending the swirls and eddies of the clouds a glowing, reddish glow.

The hall was full of people. Men and women were everywhere. Naked bodies shone in the candlelight. Groupings of them were scattered all across the hall: sometimes in twos, but more often in threes, fours, and larger groups, all moving slowly and languidly against each other. Here a couple was entwined beside a vine-covered column; the vine pulsed red and moved of its own accord, reaching like a bloated tentacle towards the sluggish lovers, stroking their naked bodies. Here a naked woman, as beautiful as any Gorel had ever seen, performed a perfect dive into the steaming water of the pool and came up laughing, and into the arms of two others, a boy and a girl, who pulled her towards them and into the shallows. Here, three older men formed a triangle shape as they lay, touching each other, on the floor. Gorel stepped forward and shook his head, trying to clear it. So this was where the village’s people had gone.

He advanced forward. None of the people paid him the slightest attention. He walked towards the other end of the hall, where the shadows congregated, beyond the pool, where great stone rafters still stood against a mighty roof that had long since collapsed.

Kneeling on the stone floor, her raised hands tied over her head to the rafters above, was a god.

Though her shape was human, there was an aura of insubstantiality about her; it was like the sunlight mirage of the Urino-Dagg perhaps, the tantalising promise of a haven in an impenetrable jungle that leads men astray. He could not see her face. Her naked back was flayed and smeared with uncongealed blood. This was the captive goddess, made helpless in her own domain.

‘So, you have come to kill me, Gorel of Goliris?’ a laughing voice said, close in his ear. Gorel turned fast, gun drawn. A mocking face regarded him, close to his.

Her skin was light and yet he always, afterwards, remembered her in shadow. Perhaps it was the eyes, in which flecks of gold shimmered like cold, distant stars in a near-infinite emptiness. Perhaps it was her voice, that seemed to linger in the mind and yet leave little trace when he tried to recall it. ‘You are far from home.’

For a moment, all other considerations fled. Around them in the great hall the same permutations continued to laze, and the soft music played, and the air was choked with that strange sweet taste he could no longer sense. For Gorel, facing the goddess Shar, there was, for the moment, no one else.

He said, cautiously, hopefully, ‘You know of Goliris?’

‘Many know of Goliris,’ she said, and laid, for the briefest moment, a soft hand on his arm. ‘Few would want to go there.’

‘Tell me!’ he said. She laughed, and drew away from him.

‘I thought you came to kill me.’

Slowly, Gorel holstered his gun. ‘Tell me.’ He stalked the short distance towards her. Rather than move away she pressed into him, laughing. Her scent was familiar; it took him a moment to realise it was the smell the air itself seemed infused with. On her it was even more powerful: intoxicating.

‘On the vast sandlands of Meskatel I met an old sorcerer...’ she said. She laughed when she saw his face.

‘Tell me!’ he demanded.

‘What will you give me, Gorel of Goliris?’ she said. Her lips brushed his ear. Her breath was hot on his skin.

‘What,’ he said, and for a moment could not think. ‘What do you desire?’

They were alone, he and her, and the music played for them alone, engulfing them. With a finger, she traced a line on the naked skin of his arm, and Gorel shivered. ‘My only desire is to give,’ she said, whispering the words. ‘And I can give you so much, Gorel. I have been watching you for many days, drawing closer... I watched you in the village, in the dark of the hut with the girl Efira. I watched you most attentively.’

She leaned towards him, her face close to his, her lips closing, irresistibly, inexorably, on his. ‘Kiss me, Gorel,’ she whispered, so quietly and yet so close that he understood the words by the movement of her lips, by the way the air seemed to shimmer between them. ‘And I will give you everything you desire.’

Her lips, he could taste them. She was waiting... One tiny movement of his head and they would be joined. He said, ‘But I desire only one thing, goddess, and that is already mine: my kingdom of Goliris.’

His head moved then, but not for a kiss. His head whipped back and returned with force, and he hit her, his forehead crashing into her face, crushing the bone of her nose. She screamed, a cry of rage, and Gorel grinned and turned, both guns drawn in one instance.

The men and women in the hall were no longer docile. They had come close, approaching with stealth as the goddess had tried to snare him. He looked at them with new eyes, in horror – for they were no longer human. His senses opened and the entire foul stench of the hall returned to assail him, the heavy sweet aroma like that of rot and dirt. These creatures were like the one that had attacked him before. Not living, not dead, a half-state which was neither. Their features were grotesque, their flesh like half-formed clay that had been beaten and twisted by a malevolent child. They reached for him, and moaned, and it was that sound which turned his skin cold.

He shot the nearest one. He might have once been a handsome boy. Traces of beauty remained even in his state of decay. The bullet sank between the creature’s eyes and sizzled, forming a black, smoking hole in the middle of his forehead. The creature looked up as if trying to see the top of his head. The black hole grew bigger, and the sound of sizzling grew in volume. The creature opened his mouth, as if attempting to speak. Gorel waited. He hoped fervently that the change of ammunition had worked. The creature roared and, raising his arms, grabbed the sides of his head.

The head exploded.

The horde of deformed creatures stepped back. They growled, but didn’t come any closer. The headless body toppled slowly to the ground. Gorel grinned, wiped foul-smelling brain and fragments of skull from his cheek, and turned. The goddess Shar was backing away from him, but it was too late for her and Gorel’s guns blared, once, twice, three times, and she shuddered and fell back from him, landing beside the silent, motionless body of the goddess she had bound.

Gorel hurried to the captive goddess. Tenderly, he sought to remove the rope that held Shalina tied. He heard her groan and, in haste, pulled out his knife and cut her loose. She toppled to the ground, but he had anticipated that and he was there when she fell, scooping her up, holding her close. Her face was away from him. Carefully, he placed his hand under her chin and turned her to him.

The goddess’s dark, delicate face was smiling. Her mouth was full of blood. Before Gorel could act, could think, Shalina reached for him and drew his face to hers.

Their lips met.

He fell back from her, stunned. Dimly, he thought he heard Shar laugh, but the sound seemed to come from far away. His whole being was on fire, a blazing flame of ecstasy that seemed to last, in that one transcendent moment, the length of decades – of centuries – of pleasure absolute.

He tried to rise, tried to focus, but the never-ending ecstasy consumed him, and he knew that he had been trapped, and as he thought it he watched, as Shar crawled forward, her naked body shimmering in a haze, until she had found Shalina and held her, and Shalina turned to her, with that same bloodied smile, and they kissed.

He craved to be the one they held. He craved the intense pleasure and wished it never to end. Then, from the cold distance of the past, came the clarifying thought: Goliris. He had a past, and he must have a future. Somewhere, in some deep horrific childhood memory, he found the power to resist. For a brief moment only, but it sufficed. He rolled, once, and then the guns were in his hands and he fired his remaining shots, and as the two gods rocked back, still entwined in each other’s arms, he once again withdrew his cindergun, and with his last breath he pressed the trigger.

* * * *

He came to on the hard ground. His whole being hurt. He groaned and tried to move.

And the cravings came.

Physical pain meant nothing anymore. It was his mind that suffered, and it led the body with a sensation of such deep depravation that it made him shudder. He felt hot and cold and hot again, and his head felt like it was drowning, an entity separate to his body which was slowly rising up. He wanted - he needed - he closed his eyes and bit his lips, hard, until blood came and he savoured it. He needed her – no - not her - but what she had, what she gave. She had caught him, and by killing her, by banishing the goddess into the realm where both men and gods are lost, he had doomed himself.

From somewhere outside himself and a long way away, he felt something touch his brow. Gorel of Goliris opened his eyes. The girl Efira crouched beside him. Her eyes were full of unease.

‘You are alive,’ she said, wonderingly, looking into his eyes. Gorel blinked and tried to shake his head. His mouth tasted of iron and despair. ‘You saved us.’ Her hands were in his hair, on his cheeks, on his neck. Gorel pushed her away.

He sat up. The sunlight hurt his eyes. The waves of heat and cold kept passing through him. His hands felt clammy. ‘It’s done,’ he said, and the words were meaningless. He stood up, slowly, supporting himself on a pile of ancient rocks. The priestess stood before him. ‘Your payment,’ she said. Gorel turned. It was the flash of sunlight on the knife that saved him. He grabbed her arm and the knife only grazed him, and he welcomed the pain. He twisted her arm and the knife dropped. She cried out. She was close to him, and he could feel the heat of her, and the coldness.

‘Then kill me too...’ she whispered. Her face was twisted in pain, and he could see his misery reflected in her, his craving identical to hers. They were alone together. They were united in a craving that could not, now, be satisfied.

‘No more,’ he said. He released her, and watched her sag to the ground, and felt nothing but the need, the burning need, consuming him.

He turned his back on her and, without a word, he walked away.


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