by GR "Maya" Cogman
Light slanted down through the awnings of the marketplace, gleaming on the brass dishes that filled the stall. She watched his reflection approach in them: he was dressed as one of the desert warriors, veiled and robed, a hand hovering near the hilt of his sword.
As he stepped beside her, she lowered her head as a woman would be expected to: he picked up a small plate, tilting it so that light flashed once, like a signal. His voice was pitched low. "Do you see what your precious Archangel of Fire has done?"
She shrugged, the movement barely visible under the folds of cloth. "She acted on the instructions of Yves. It was necessary."
His reflection smirked. "And Dominic?"
She made a small pushing motion with one hand as she turned her head away. "He wastes his time. As you waste yours."
He extended a hand, touching a fold of her robes. "Do I? Then why are you here?"
She was silent, briefly, then said, "To survey the terrain before a battle, of course."
He removed his hand, as delicately as he had touched her before. "You still pick your truths carefully."
"As you fell from them." Her voice was as arid as the wind that rustled in the sands and canvas. "This conversation serves no purpose."
"Then go," he said, and she did, her feet leaving little scuffs in the sand as she disappeared into the crowd. He watched her in the mirror of the plate, till she was gone.
The wet and muddy field was littered by corpses, tangled over each other as they had fallen. He stood in the shadows of the trees that bordered it, watching her come picking her way across the field towards him. She wore the shawl and dress of a peasant woman, while he was still in the plumes and lace of a Cavalier.
His voice was pitched for her ears. "I would have thought that you would have been on my side in this. Our side. Given Laurence's views." He brushed out his cuffs. "We represented the Catholic church, after all."
Steel glinted for a moment among the folds of cloth as she shook mud from the hem of her skirt. "Michael was quite definite in his orders."
He sniffed. "And do they include fraternising with the enemy?"
She joined him under the shelter of the tree. "No more than Baal's would. My turn to question. Why are you here?"
Empty starlight glittered on his rings as he gestured. "To survey the terrain after a battle. Of course."
"You lie," she said, her voice flat.
His face curled into a smile. "You can't know that."
She turned her body away from him, to look out at the field again. "Not through the Symphony. But because I know you."
He stepped behind her, bringing his hands up to touch the sides of her face. "You knew me and I knew you. Does that mean nothing to you any longer?"
"I am here," she replied. She did not move, but her eyes closed.
He traced the line of her cheekbone. "And if you admit to nothing, then this conversation serves no purpose."
Again, she said, "You lie."
His hands fell from her, and he stepped backwards, feet silent on the wet leaves. When she turned at last, he was gone.
She stood at the window of the ruined house, hands tucked into her muff, looking out at the snow and the man standing there. One of the old boar-spears lay beside her on the windowsill. He was in the uniform of a Captain in the French forces, a blood-stained bandage around one wrist.
"Why did you defend them?" His voice was mildly curious, but no more. Flakes of snow blew around him, no colder than his eyes.
"Orders." She was a figure in velvets and furs, framed by the window. "You had helped the Little Corporal. We stood against you."
He frowned. "Does it ever seem to you that you merely act in response to us, or we in response to you? That there is nothing more to it than blind opposition?"
Her reply was a shade too fast. "We serve the needs of Heaven. You corrupt, we enlighten: you lie, we are the Truth."
Deliberately, he said, "The Truth was that you once loved me."
Her reply was as carefully spoken. "The Truth was that you were once of my Choir. You fell."
"And that," he said, "makes all the difference. You can put aside your feelings so easily, for the sake of your idealism, your master, your comfort."
Her lips thinned, but she seemed more than ever an icon in the window. "If those mean so little to you, and if your love for me," she hesitated on the word love, "means so much, then come back to me."
The wind whipped the snow around him. "Come to me."
They were both still for a while, then both turned away.
The reek of smoke and corpses hung over the city like some strange incense. His nostrils flared as he breathed it in. He was leaning against the wall of a half-toppled house, previously shiny boots and German uniform fouled by mud and spattered blood.
She came out of the house across the road, the rifle still in her hands, in rough shirt and trousers. "You're late," she said as she approached.
He shrugged, and the movement was too familiar. "We are retreating. I stayed behind to speak. They will not miss me."
Clouds and smoke hid the sky. She turned her head at a rattle of guns in the distance. "Last time was different, when we were here before."
He laughed, the sound dry. "You could stand in the window and pretend that we were apart. Can you do that now? Or is the sword your bedfellow in this War?"
Her motion towards him was angry. "You talk of this flesh as if it meant something. It is a vessel, no more!"
"Tell me to go, then," he said. "Turn away from a closeness to another living being and cut yourself apart. Tell me truthfully that you never want to see me again." His voice had a growing bitterness to it. "Or this is futile, and I can never hope to make you understand."
A thread of smoke settled across her face like a crack in masonry. "I came knowing that you would be here. Is that not enough?"
"No," he said.
The smoke drifted between them as they watched each other. When it was gone, so had they also.
Sun beat down on the desert like a weight of molten gold, the air burning in the lungs and heavy across the shoulders. Her shadow lay like a streak of black ink behind her across the crystalline sand. She was dressed in skirt and blouse like any of the secretaries from the earnest group that she had left at the buildings: the sword at her belt was an incongruous note.
He approached from the buildings, pace even and steady despite the heat. Light caught on his eyes and on the sword that he wore.
"Vapula claims credit," he said, flatly.
She shrugged. "Jean was against it, but he says that the humans managed it for themselves. Nothing of your side was involved."
He glanced back at the buildings. "Fifteen minutes till the test. It cannot be stopped now."
"I came to make an end," she said. "I have completed my task here, and what remains is between us now."
"A decision, then." The quality of light made his face into planes and shadows.
"We have spent over two thousand years running from this. Come with me," she said. "For either of us to run any longer is against our natures, and I am tired of retreating from this battle."
"I love you," he said. "Come with me, and stop running. You will still be serving War, and we can be together again."
A desert wind stirred the sand and flicked the edges of her clothing. Painfully, she said, "It isn't enough."
"No," he said, "it isn't."
Light ran along the blades of the swords as they drew them, and then only the sound of metal on metal disturbed the empty sands as the blades kissed.
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