by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
It’s half theatrics and half misplaced nostalgia. After all, she doesn’t need the sword to kill him. She could drown him in the vast expanse of water that is slowly eroding all the coasts, eating the land bit by bit. But it seems to have become tradition and there are few things to cling on to these days. As a result, she carries the sword and waits by the sea.
She’s spent a thousand years waiting. In deserts and ice plains and jungles, before the world began to drown. The sword has been a handy companion. Along with death and Zaniel, she’s had few constants.
Immortality, it turns out, can be such a boring proposition.
Lei traces alchemical symbols in the sand, then erases them. When she looks up it is nearly dusk and there’s a tall, thin shadow walking towards her.
She straightens up and nods in his direction. Zaniel has let his hair and beard grow. His clothes are simple and look worn. There was a time when he dressed with the finery of a king, but that has come and gone. His sword, however, is the same. She recognizes the wicked blade and smirks.
“You’re late,” Lei tells him.
“I stopped to see an old temple sink into the ocean. Half a dozen coffins floated away,” he says. “There was treasure in the water. Look.”
He holds up a gold necklace. It looks heavy and ugly in the style that was fashionable three hundred years before.
“Do you want it?” he asks.
“I’ll pry it from your hands after I’ve struck you down,” she says, unwilling to accept gifts from him.
“If you wish,” he says with a shrug.
The last time she met him, a century before, he sliced her open like a fish and stole her ship and crew, leaving only her sword behind.
They never took each other’s weapons. Taking each other’s lives seems natural, but picking his sword is mildly repulsive.
“Shall we spar now?” she asks.
“Let us talk for a minute. Unless you are eager to begin.”
Her last death cost Lei some important memories and she lost a whole decade of her life, plus a number of key spells in the process. She itches to erase a few crucial moments from his life, to cut a bit of his past from his mind.
She rolls her eyes. “All talk. You’re still all talk. It got you murdered half a dozen times, don’t you recall?”
“And you are too rash. It cost you five lives,” Zaniel says with a self-satisfied smile.
Five? Zaniel had been much more skilled than her in the beginning, when she was young, but it couldn’t have really been five. Had their circle of revenge stretched further than she thought?
Lei shakes her head.
“Four,” she says. “I remember four.”
“Then you lost one the last time we met.”
“I suppose so.”
“What else have you lost?”
“I was thinking,” he says, looking towards the sea, “that I don’t remember my childhood.”
“No. I think it’s gone. Completely gone. What is your oldest memory?”
Truth be told it’s him. It’s the fire and the stench of the smoke and the cries of the dying. Her city under siege. The sound of her feet as she rushes up the tower, heart racing and lips parted and praying hard.
She thinks she had a sister.
She is not sure anymore.
“War,” Lei mutters. “My oldest memory is war.”
He is holding the necklace in his hands, thumb brushing over its engraved surface. His brow is furrowed. She tugs the piece of jewellery from him and holds it up. It shines brightly under the rays of the dying sun.
“I can’t believe these silly trinkets still hold your attention. Do you continue to collect pearls?”
“No. I don’t collect anything. Scooping it out of the water was merely a whim.”
In truth he didn’t look like the kind of man who would carry strings of pearls in his pockets, large rings on his hands, though he’d had a beautiful palace once upon time. Lei thinks she burned it down, but can not be sure. It is difficult to be certain, the same way it is difficult to be certain how she obtained the drawings running down her back. Alchemical symbols tattooed on her skin; a formula for immortality.
“You don’t collect anything?” she asks. She recalls his manic capacity for obsession – not that she is innocent in that regards – and finds it hard to believe he hasn’t found some new object to covet.
“How high do you suppose the water can rise?” he asks, carelessly. “Do you think all the islands and archipelagos could be flooded? Do you suppose we could spend an eternity swimming in underwater temples and drowned palaces?”
“Oh, I’ll kill you long before that,” she mutters, needled by the force of habit.
“For how long?”
“For good, one day,” she says, idly raising her hand and pointing towards the sinking sun, as if tracing the future.
The necklace feels heavy. She tosses it to Zaniel and he tucks it into a bag hanging carelessly from his shoulder. Lei watches him and no longer wishes to take the necklace as a token of victory. He can have it. It’s plunder from a grave and she feels tired of leaving a trail of corpses and skulls.
“I’m tired too,” Zaniel mutters.
It enrages Lai to realize he understands what she’s feeling. That they know each other that well and despite the deaths and carved out recollections, he is able to piece together her state of mind.
“Come, come,” she says with a smile that tries to mimic his own particular, wry grin, “chin up. We have eternity ahead of us.”
He should, following the sacred tradition that has bound them to battle by the sword all these years, reply with a smile of his own and a slash of his weapon.
Instead, Zaniel presses a hand against his chest, looks towards the water.
“Do you remember love?”
Zaniel’s head is lowered, so she can not make his expression. The question is so absurd, coming from his lips. She thinks it is a joke and expects to see him flash a grin and a dagger to her neck any second.
“I think I’ve lost it,” he says. “What are we if we can’t remember such a thing?”
She remembers love. She can not recall the face or the voice of the man she loved, the same man Zaniel killed in his conquest of her city. She lost the man’s name years before, taken by the tide of the centuries. Nevertheless, a little shard remains in her heart and sometimes, in the middle of the night, she wakes up crying.
Zaniel raises his eyes and he looks absolutely lost; a confused stranger asking for directions.
“Will you tell me about it? Do you remember love?” he pleads.
For a moment she feels pity and opens her mouth to offer him the answer he wants, a measure of comfort and humanity. She wishes to share the brittle memory she carries and to rescue a drowning man. Because she is also drowning under the weight of death, revenge and the implacable passage of time. Because she feels herself disappearing with each cut of the blade.
But it is only a brief moment.
“No. I don’t remember,” she lies, and swings her sword.More stories like this by topic: Authors of color, Latino/a authors, Mexican-Canadian authors, Women authors