Under A Blood Red Sky

The sun rises, red over the scars. It climbs, inchingly, torturingly, up the mountain, and wind like from an oven fans the flames. So many fires, so much ruin, and among the shells of houses children sob. Children, and women, and men. They don't look towards us, because they don't know, because we hide. But there aren't many left and they are haunted by spectres of disease from strange worlds. Now they live on just such a strange world, another unrecognisable land fading into desolation, and from this one will escape no reincarnated kings. The nights are bitter cold. The sun beats down and spares no-one, I do not venture out into the desert. This is death.

Such is the world we made.

What do we do with the bodies of kings? We bury them in state and mourn them for many months, and praise them, and erect monuments to their name. Wrong. What do we do with the bodies of kings? We leave them to bleed onto the sand and be devoured by worms. Just as we do with kings' second-in-commands, and kings' wives, and countless others who were unfortunate enough to be blindly pulled into our web. This king who died without a crown and without a name, and left only me to mourn him, my brother, my brother. Inside me is a void for him, a home which is not there any more for me. I am homeless. I am heartless.

I regret, I regret, but I do not change, and I know my brother might spit on me if he saw me. Who would have thought that I, former princess, once Vilandra, sometime Isabel, would be crouching in a cave of rock and watching a world end by the side of this traitor? Why is she lying alive and naked on my floor? Her lips are red and her hair floating, ethereal, and her body pale and bruised and perfect. I can't read her eyes. She can't read mine. Why am I kissing her so desperately now? Why do my fingers stroke her skin and my arms cradle her, and why does my blood run so hot in my veins?

Because she is there; because she is beautiful, because there is no-one else, because the world is dying, because I want to forget, because she shares my past and beyond. All of these, or none of them. Does it matter?

My mouth against hers and I tangle my hands in her hair. I drag her to where we can see, and I run my nails down her back, hard and unrelenting. I draw my tongue over her neck and whisper in her ear.

"You see all this?" and I point over the destruction. "You did it; it's your fault; you murdered all those millions of people." It seems to me that she looks miserable, but how would I know? Even so, she replies.

"Not me." Simply. I slam her against the rocky wall and smile. She looks upward, breathless from the blow.

"Don't be stupid, Tess, of course it's you. You left us, you betrayed us, you went back to sleep with the enemy and told them everything about us." That damn smug superior look is still there though, and I want to claw out her eyes that pierce me so.

"I only did it cause I cared... you didn't give a fuck that our world was being destroyed, you just left it to die cause you liked being cosy at home with Mommy and Daddy in this pathetic gutter of a town. I was the only one who *did* anything."

"What, so it wasn't enough that Antar was in ruins by war, you though it'd be fun to drop bombs on Earth too?" She's evil, she is, the smile, and I smash her into the rock again, hold my nails at her throat, enunciate my words with a hate that is cold and swirls in the air.

"You piece of shit, you destroyed my entire fucking world." The ice enters her eyes and she is a knife, the words cutting me.

"And you destroyed mine. So I guess we're even." She's entrancing there, hard like she's stone, surrounded by faint light and shadows and sucking me into hell. All hope abandon, but I abandoned hope aeons ago. Her fingers trace patterns down my flesh, her mouth is hot and salty. She's light and gentle, and I let her tongue float down my body. We're naked, entwined, slippery with sweat in the inferno. My breaths and cries echo in the void.

* * *

The sand burns on my skin and I let it slip, falling, falling. History repeats itself as so often, and man is fallen, woman is fallen and paradise is lost. We will crumble, and others will rise, insects, rats, to feed on our carrion. The dead already are thick in the streets, and their rank odour rises, choking, breaking. My heart is broken, and also my soul. I try not to see Max's body at my feet, blood spreading, pools of it, endless and I never knew there could be so much. I felt it all over me, I was bathing in my brother's blood and I was sick. Michael's agony when he exploded into pieces, flames first licking at him, his blackened skin. Grief, so much grief, drowning. Max's blood will not wash off me. It stains.

Why then am I left, why do I survive? Why must I walk through this ravaged world and hear the weeping of innocent people condemned by alien fire from the sky? I can do nothing, only watch them die for me. Why am I here with this destroyer of worlds?

"Do you remember?" her voice comes, soft for once and sad. Oh, I remember, vague and hazy, mostly a feeling deep within me. I stood by her side, long ago, and we watched Antar burn. The moons lit the cities silver, and the flames were gold, colours of riches, of royal cloth. I remember, the barren earth stretching before us, and flashes of it blind me. I clung to her then, too.

"Yes," I say. But as I stood there I know other things took me over, and for a moment a wild triumph filled me. I rained fire upon a planet, and a future died. A primal thrill. I turn, compelled towards her, and her eyes watch mine, and I know she knows. I see the rush reflected in the blue, and we share now the terrible high, of fear and exhilaration. We are the gods and we rule with divine cruelty.

There were so many myths about those gods, and the heroes. I could tell one, a legend that will not live. Once there was a fine upstanding king with a queen more beautiful than a thousand stars. Once there was a princess, this king's sister, who fell in love with a man, an enemy; and so she killed the king and his bride and his people. She dies among her own fires but she lived on, in a galaxy far away. She was selfish and careless and she left another world in wreckage. She creates havoc wherever she goes, leaving swaths of misery throughout the universe. This time though she is destined to die an ignoble death, and she will be ignored by everyone around her. No-one will bury her. No-one in centuries to come will sing of her life or her beauty. That's the way it should be. They won't find us, the queen and the princess, they won't kill us as they did Michael and Max. They no longer care and are no longer chasing us through streets and forests. It wouldn't matter if they did. There's nothing left for me and her now.

* * *

"It's your fault too, you know," she tells me. She's in a provocative mood today, simmering. I'm so tired of this, the endless repeated futile blames.

"You left us for them." The cycles, the cycles, we cannot break them, or we will not.

"I came back," she states, calmly. But so what?

"Ever heard of locking the stable door? It's simple: you betrayed us, and then you came back too late, when you'd already murdered... and you just *expect* us to take you in. Well I'm sorry, baby, but it doesn't work that way. You can't just kill a few million people and waltz back in and say, "I'm sorry, forgive me." We should have killed you as soon as you turned up here." My voice is contemptuous, with the crimson of anger. She looks at me, challenging, so fucking self-assured, so fucking smug.

"So why didn't you? Why am I here?" I'm silent, and her lips curl up in a smile. She comes close and I feel her breath hot on me.

"Yeah, thought so. You know why..." she pauses, the smile grows wider and more evil, and I hate; she goes to my ear and whispers, "...Vilandra." I'm still for a moment, not breathing, frozen in the stretched-out seconds.

"Don't call me that."

"Why not? It's true, it's who you are. Look at you! You just can't keep yourself away," disparaging, looking down on me. The evil princess rises, fucking the enemy again. She's in love with the darkness. Traitor, traitor, voices whisper, mine and Michael's and Max's, but what does it matter any more? So I succumb, kissing her again in frenzied passion, and then I break away. I draw out the knife I keep now, and bring her hands to me, holding them in mine and gazing at them. She watches me as if in a trance, and I bring the blade to her palm. She flinches as I press down, the flesh spring apart, the red staining the silver of the knife. I hold her wound between my hands, and then bring my bloody hands to her lips. I stain them red, and they are sharp against her pale face, and she is the murderess. She stares at me.

"See," I say, quietly and not with malice. "Blood on your hands." She looks up at me and her face is so young, her eyes so frightened. I hold her, and we are silent.

* * *

Her hand in mine, we wander the desert like lost souls. It's strange to think, incomprehensible, that we used to come out here for tranquillity, for refuge. Now everything is the same and everywhere you turn is the stench of death and the grinning skulls. Really it isn't safe to be out here; the sun is scorching on my skin. But I thought we should see it. Now and then explosions shatter the quiet, and by now we hardly even flinch. Somewhere they have ripped apart a human, whose pieces are shattered, whose damage sends out a shock wave which tears up so many others. Now it's just another step on the road to extinction. Apart from the distant explosions, there reigns an unearthly silence. It isn't the warm silence, the passive calm of the time before. This silence is active and malevolent, using its dark tendrils to choke out life. It bears down.

Where is it to be? I feel it should be somewhere with a deep meaning, but then again, what does it matter? These days, one stretch of desert is very much like another. So we drift on and she clutches my hand tighter. I lead her because that is how it works. She came back to me, and though she has power, I accept her and she must occasionally grovel. This is masochistic I know, torturing ourselves with these sights. I feel a great abyss of guilt; sometimes it's hard, impossible to breathe. There is no way to describe my utter terror when I know that four of us have resulted in this hell. If we had not come, if we had not come. Desperation, which is useless.

I feel sick when I look at her, vomit rises when I remember. I am disgusting, she is disgusting, and most of all we are disgusting together. We are vultures. And here is as good a place as any. The parched ground stretches to infinity in all directions, and there is nothing. The heat is tinder-dry, so intense you can taste it, and it burns. I stop her; we look around and the desolation is reflected in our eyes. This is not life, and it must end. I will deliver her from purgatory into sleep. She needs it, and also she deserves it, and bile and desire fill me in equal proportions. For once I am tender, and I stroke her face, bring her hair softly from behind her ears. The touch, gentle and precise, every part of it rings in my mind and my fingers are imprinted. I hold her in my arms, every part of her touching me is hot against me. Her mouth when I kiss is sweet, and hot, and salty, and everything; it encompasses me in a red world of peace. So delicate. Her lips small, her hair so fair and fine. She is fragile and I could break her with a breath.

The sun beats all around us and I draw her closer. I rest my head on her shoulder. I hold on, hold on, she keeps me anchored to the world, and I despair. I kiss her again, and again, so the taste will not leave me. With one hand I keep on holding her, light strokes up and down her back, and the tiny fine fuzz of hair brushes against my fingers. She breathes softly, in and out, and my other hand is shaking with grief. I hold her still, and I plunge the knife into her with force. Her cry of agony and of disbelief, a terrible sound which rips me into pieces. I pull back and I look into her eyes, questioning me in fear and wonder. Blood on me, running down me, I can't do this; I hold her to me, whisper, calm her, tell her it will be all right. My eyes shut tight as I ram it in again, and again, and again. She falls.

Blood spilling, pouring out onto me, scarlet and obscene. Spills so much. It doesn't end, it never ends. I raise my head to the desolate waste, to the piles of dead, to the woman I love lying slaughtered at my feet. I stand above them. She bleeds around me, on me, I am stained; I watch things die. For I am Vilandra, destroyer of worlds. It ends here, my own world. The sun bleeds down red around me, and I turn the knife towards my own beating heart, thrust it in, mingling myself with her. I fall and we die together in the desert, remembered by no-one and disintegrating into dust.

Such is the world we made.

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