His blood dripped. The sword, made of black steel, protruded out of his back like a savage spike.

Paul stared at the blade. He looked up, finding the gloved hand that held the hilt of the blacksteel blade. He looked up even more, only to find the raven black hair of Emma. Her cold blue eyes were steely and frozen. She looked up at him with a mask over her true emotions.

Normally, one wouldn’t be able to read it — she stood with her eyes glazed, her mouth in a neutral, thin line, her eyebrows relaxed.

But Paul could see between the lines. Her expression was a familiar one to him. Her face was but a mask — one that covered hurt.

When Paul looked up to meet her eyes, Emma’s gaze faltered, falling onto the bitumen road beneath them.

The rain cascaded down, washing away the crimson that spread out in Paul’s stomach, like a splatter of scarlet. The smell of piss was prevalent in the air, intermingled with the reek of the dumpster. Pieces of paper and cans tumbled by, replacing the tumbleweeds in the desert.

Paul didn’t ask why Emma did it. He already knew.


“Don’t,” Paul said, gritting his teeth. He managed to smile. Then, surprising even himself, he laughed, weakly. His stomach lanced with pain with every chuckle. “Damn the Shadowblades.”

“You knew too much, Paul,” Emma said. There was a strain to her voice, trying to keep words dull and monotone — like an effective assassin. “They were gonna kill you anyways.”

“And of course,” he looked up, smiling at Emma. Emma’s eyebrows shot up, and her grip faltered just a bit. Paul — in the time it took for an eye to blink — summoned his Sorceries, and called the Zis Vahentis. A flurrying zephyr burst out of the ongoing storm, aimed at Emma.

Emma’s jacket billowed as the winds propelled her back. Her grip on the blade was strong; she brought the blade with her as she flew, wrenching it from Paul’s stomach. She cried out as she hit the ground; Paul cried as well as intense pain lanced through him.

Emma fell on her back, but she managed to roll onto her feet. Paul fell to his knee. He placed a hand on his wound, wincing. He called on his Will, recalling the proper geometries in his mind. Then, he traced the intricate, alien geometry over his wound. “Zis Vietala,” he muttered under his breath, staring up at Emma as she rose to her feet. She gripped the sword with white knuckles. “Perfects, perfects, perfects…” he chanted, again and again like a mantra, under his breath. Slowly, the wound mended, strands of being and flesh mending and fusing together into a perfected shape, supernaturally healing, as if it hadn’t been skewered through.

Emma shook her head. She raised her sword, flicking rainwater from the flat of its blade, and she lunged. In three steps, she was upon Paul again. The sword sang as it fell. The steel sang hatred, anger.

It sang shame.

It sang apology.

Paul saw the blade coming fast. With another conjuring word of the Zis Vahentis, the winds ribboned around the blade, enveloping it, wrapping it in its fickle embrace. Paul jerked his head to the side, and the blade flew, falling onto the wet floor. The rain fell harshly, as if the storms were angry at the city for marring the earth.

“And of course,” Paul said, continuing, and rising to his feet. “They chose the one closest to me.”

Paul saw it now. Emma sniffed, but her face was still a mask. “Damn the Shadowblades,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” her voice quivered.

Paul stood with his back rigid. His own overcoat drenched in the rain. He raised a hand — this entire time, he managed to do all of this without a hint of exhaustion or emotion. But now, as he looked straight into the azure eyes that had melted him the first time he saw them, he slumped. His eyebrows turned upward in a worrying arc.

“No,” he said. And he felt the power of the storm. The power of the winds, the sky, the tempest. The power of the storm gods, flooded into him as he channeled once again the power of the winds. The Zis Vahentis.

He closed his eyes as the entire movement of the storm shifted. All the powerful winds — the winds that belonged to an act of God — fell upon Emma, enveloping her, and then carrying her off into a stormwind embrace. Into the intricate and eternal dance of the wind gods.

“I’m,” he looked away. “Sorry.” The thunderclouds boomed its final breath, and the first streaks of the day pierced through the gray.