The throe of tides surround them, singing all the drowning times they’ve known. A thread, a thousand, descend from them, a flicker of their passage through the depths of the creation myth they’d been writing all along. She draws the threads over his eyes, water spilling from her mouth. Ribbon cutting bone.
“I have come, bearing all the marks of conquest. I asked, once. I demand, now.”
Upon his side she carves the wounds he’ll wear in silence, the path through the labyrinth, a cartography of blood. Her slit tongue sewn around the sound. And he smiles, all unfurled; sick with his mechanics, slick with hers. The Garden swells, starved for them—
The sky divides beneath them as they approach the throne.
She seethes to see them nailed together, one and Other, sword and heart. She breathes the remnant of the cyclic, knowing that this has come. She smears the ashes of his crown; he takes the Nail upon his tongue. He laughs in the ruin she’s made of Heaven, things of fire and air. She moves, inevitable.
Soft against the blood-brain barrier he knows there is no means to her end. Not between them. The throne still waits, and beyond that a promise of annihilation more beautiful than the whole.
“Once muted we’ve succumbed, inevitable. Give me what I’ve claimed as my own.”
“The ink.” In all but blood.
Everything has come to this. It is a precipice and nothing like it at all; so balanced, his path has frayed upon the edges of a thought that allows the purchase she’s conquered everything to own. Glass-bound, his faint heart blooms. It has been long enough. The ash dissolves even as his pupils swallow iris: a ribbon of teeth. A stain and crown.
She shatters, the syllable a solid thing. It rings and she is still, utterly, an intersection that answers nothing, a point alone. For the first time, she asks for breath. For the sliver of oxygen she knows isn’t hers yet. She feels density as it is, impossible, a suddenness of presence that compresses her hands around the lock. The choice still trailing from her mouth.
The gate uncoils between them;
she has brought the Tower down.
“I did it for you.” One and other
to the Other, the key and the lock.
“Are you..?” Finger pressed to
Heaven lies torn, a rupture in the shape of her. A bruise of scripture. Nothing compares to this. Nothing separates her intention from their death. Beauty sung by anguish. Taut with promise she moves upon a current that is more void than path. The gate recoils, and angels shriek in resonance. Reverence. Her head tilts back, desiring all of it. The want pushes at her breast, the Nail clawing to keep balance. Poised and violent she lets the revolutions spiral into a breath that annexes the hope for sound.
“SHALL I BE MERCIFUL?”
The smear of her collapses at the force of it. The Nail writhes, hideous and sentient. In the depths of paradise she screams what agony couldn’t; she sees the cost of this. And she knows, again, that she will carve vengeance into her pistoned heart, that everything will be done in the names she haven’t spoken yet. The choice roars. The Queen of Swords stands, unfettered, welcoming what is to come.
“SHALL I BE MERCIFUL?”
His hands slip on the ribbon, tensed. He sets the lock in place, sifting through her dust and his deliberates. The pulse threads harder for the unfamiliar, his heart a foreign thing, singing alkaline against the threat of air. Where veins once moved glass unfurls, a horizon he’d try to hang upon her axis. He knows. The paths and moments tear themselves at his ascendance; he eclipses the afterburn of stars. And he smiles an affliction as he finds the silence beneath his tongue.
The carapace holds him as the second skin it should have been, still heavy with the smell of her. Within her sheath glass and steel kiss, sundered, and he alights upon the frequencies that will rend the world apart. Breathing on the inverse he crowns himself as he was meant to, her ash and blood upon his brow.
The end of it all. The instant insists, demanding itself, endless. They pry open what’s left of the carcass, fingers slick with promise, her autopsy an act of holiness. Teeth in bone they calculate all her acceleration, weighing what inertia had always known. They shudder, wet with her, glorious things in the image of god. It is when the Nail speaks that they realize that war has come.
She moves like wreckage, leaking fear and absence. The slaughter as close as fucking. Close as killing. Close as she can come to beauty in a place like this. Heaven sighs, its children dying; she swallows them whole.
And below, he moves. Shuddering into the divine.
The remnants of her chrysalis crack beneath his feet, and Hell turns in upon itself to welcome him, ravaged and bloody and cold. The throne is empty. The Nail is gone. And he knows that here, in this place, her ashes have waited all along. With stain and smile to claim the sound. Her echo answering itself. The path dissolves before the fragile and the dead—as if they knew what he had done. All the unprecedented acts. The harrowing that traces his bones.
When the stillness comes he arcs. Unfolds. As a question posed, wordless, then gone. Where she conquered he composes; where she hung he stops and finds the breath she’d left behind so long ago. Even knowing it was an instant. That the drowning they’ve inflicted could pass for perfect. The moment bleeds and he opens his wrists to the dawning that demands it.
“All of this is yours,” he says.
She realizes impact. Motion dying in its own aftermath. Heaven spills; ribboned, desolate. The Nail struck wordless. The tide reversed. She has come without permission, her entrance into Paradise an act of violence. To have fallen so far as to ascend. The steel in her contracts, and evaporating like heat or holiness it tastes the trace elements of a mortality that has killed all the familiar in her cardinal disasters. She sings the confessional of a predator. Her sweat smells like blood, or close enough; this near to the throne the distinction is immaterial. This close. And yet. The line remains.
The cage sheds beneath their fingers, all iron and bone. They tear at the heart of the matter, the aorta a victim of consequences enacted in the light of sixth day mathematics. She feels something liquid and terrifying take its place.
“Nothing will answer for this.”
Her nadir seethes, starved for flesh and godhead, desperate in the slaughter she has cried for all along. On this sliver the Nail hangs, clinging to the keter she’s kept point-blank within her, its agonies the only voice to have survived. Anathema sing through the split of her tongue; she knows these transgressions will live long enough to flower. A new Garden. A sepulchre of desire.
The gate before him stands, insistent. It aches in him, the lock a hint of immolation, the iron curved with the promise of a silence unlike his own. He grasps at the edges of a Heaven he cannot know, hoping to taste it, to infect his spit and share the moment of this. Endless. The remnants of the dead implore, and he knows they will not stop until he’s come undone. But he cannot. Not here, just before he—
“Sick with the heart’s own double helix.”
“Can it forgive itself for its divisions?”
Then silence. The echoes stop, and he succumbs. It feels like Mercy, were such a thing allowed. With heart in hand he searches for the softest edge within him, the curve of massacre, the lock and bone. The trespass is too deep to answer; now the dead have come. They sink into the space between his exhalations, catalysts that have forgotten how to burn. They smell like damage, like all the world below. As close as they are he can feel their distance devour—a cold memory thrown from the wasteland that has become the whole of what is known.
“She ascends; teeth and claws.”
“You will never—”
What returns is less. The words remember a time before the chamber; the dead remember and forgive nothing of what has come. They swallow, and he stands, trackless. An impasse of thought and motion. But he was nothing before that entrance, and into nothing he goes.
Her circumference collapses, poised upon the absence. The abscess. What stretched as ascent becomes like falling, were gravity not something she had relinquished to the Tower; skin and stone. The circle begs her to come down. Deep in the welcome rest of flesh she knows it’s only a matter of letting go to reclaim Hell as her own. To go back to the beginning again, before the Garden began to burn.
But she cauterizes Eden. Takes what’s hers alone. Murder slips closer, soft like she remembers, the comfort and the coma the only remnant of what could suffocate and what could drown. In a heartless instant the halo slips, the cyclic giving in to permanence. Her insect edges gasp, precious, and the Nail—
“SPEAK TO ME OF GENOCIDE,” the Queen of Swords says. And smiles.