A bit long, but trust me, it’s not as dire as the title makes it seem.
The burden of living is the act of carrying on this crusade. Even as they all drop, one by one, like the tails of the comets passing by a distant planet, emitting one last vibrant explosion of rebelliousness as they are wont to do, before they fade to the ether. The fate and burden, the last whines of a dying star.
Electronic crackles and whispers drift from the static produced by the television. Photonic pulses beat in a lonely staccato, mindless servants generating the images of a distant news anchor, an indifferent algorithm compiling the still shots into animated movement. A fascimile of a human, a deceptive derivative of the organic subject it represents. Sound waves pierce the medium, a midpoint between the two dichotomies of coherency and incohorency. The medium transmits the message, falling on apathetic ears.
“Your Soul Energy is the glitch in the system. A bug in the program. But it’s not something that I can ameliorate,” the Reaper said, decades past, epochs long before the sense of time eroded away the humanity lingering within these bones. “In the same way you can’t just erase black holes. They are the esoteric things of the Natural plane. And you seem to be the Conduit at the junction between both planes of existence.”
Moonlight rips throughs the horizontal blinds, incadenscent rays casting a striatal pattern on the floor. The eternal abyss above my city hovers and sneers at the denizens below. Distant galaxies and turbulent quasars blink against the background, detached observers and calculated intellects amused at best by the turmoils plaguing humankind. The lifeless clanks and movements of the sentries levels below, suffering and sadism working hand in hand, pummeling the natural laws into submission. The bloodcurdling protests and tortured howls of the ostracized, the manic desperation and hunger of the downtrodden. The opportunistic caws and screeches of the scavengers, the hungered growls of the hunters. The living dead that haunt the alleyways and outskirts of civilization, barely scraping by.
“Good evening, Damien,” a disembodied, masculine voice calls overhead. “You have three unread emails and one new video call message.”
“To which are you referring to?”
I clench my jaw. “The vid call.”
“From Wesley,” the A.I. delivers in a clinical tone.
“He calls every day,” I lean against the wall, arms crossed over my chest. “Same time. Same phone. For the last two months. Persistent bastard.”
“He is concerned, Damien,” the A.I. chastised gently, an uncharacteristic move. “This deliberate distance you put between yourself and others is distressing him.”
“Space-time geometry doesn’t bend to the will of anyone. Not even light can escape it,” I murmured, tilting my head a scant few degrees to the side. “But, I digress.”
“He was unusually insistent, Damien,” the A.I. pressed. Another alarming deviation from its algorithms and protocols.
“If he really cares, he can hop on the next flight from Seattle and come here,” I snapped. “I’m not going to be the one to break this game of cold shoulder. I made my choice, a year ago. And he made his.”
“A choice that I regret.”
A voice speaking from the shadows.
The vestiges of my breath evaporated into the ether. My pulse stuttered into a wounded gallop, echoing a somber staccato. “Came here to finish me, have you?”
“No,” he replies, an unusually defeated tone. His treacherous heart concealed is in the layers of the shadows. I have no way of hunting for it. No way to tear it out. “Goodness, no.”
“Blades have hunted the Rippers for centuries. Epochs. Eons,” I crane my neck, carefully moderating my breathing pattern. “Hunted us like foxes on an afternoon horseback ride. Slaughtered us to the nines and kept trophies. So, forgive me if I’m a little skeptical.”
A fraction of his facial features catches the filtered moonlight, his skin absorbing the incoming rays with the elegance of a porcelain surface. A deviant beam of light strikes his irises, drawing out the evergreen shades of the wilderness. The treacherous part of me, the one that is still human, could never manage a successful resistance.
“I would never raise a hand against you, Damien,” the bastard replies, calm and mellow, as if it was a deep-seated conviction he has kept a secret for years.
“And I’m not justifying my actions to you,” I curled a corner of my mouth upwards, quelling the spite that explodes beneath my sternum.
“You don’t need have to. You don’t need to,” he says, unusually gentle.
I look away. “Fine. Whatever. Go get a knife from the kitchen. You know how this works.”
“I’m not doing that,” he replies slowly.
“Why not?” I craned my neck to face him, plastering on a bitter smile. “If I recall correctly, you had a marvelous reaction when you found out. Even if it was by accident.”
He paused for a moment. “It was stupid. I was stupid.”
“I’m not the one who decides that for you. Just like I’ve never decided to be this,” I intoned. “I’m just aware of the fact that if I don’t do It, that I’ll die.”
“I know,” he says, uncharacteristically gentle. “I know.”
“Do you?” I clench my jaw. “For someone who works in the black-ops division with the overarching mission to stop terrorism, corruption, and the oppression of the minority, at any cost, your government seems damn fine with throwing my kind to the gutters.”
“I’m sorry, Damien. I’m sorry,” he chokes out.
“I kept it a secret, for your sake. I couldn’t exactly broadcast it to the squad, could I?” I smiled bitterly. “I only ever fed on the targets and the ones that deliberately tried to take out the team. I trusted you to have my back, even when I knew what you were. But, a man can always be disappointed. Guess I learned that too late.”
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m sorry.”
“You remember what you did. You knew what you were about to do. So, stop dragging this on. Do us both a favor,” I stepped away from the wall I was leaning on. I swallowed, smothering the panic lurking beneath my composure. “I’m done. I’m tired. I’m tired of living in a world where I’m clearly not wanted. A world that hates me.”
He steps forward. A determined expression hardens his features. “I won’t do that. I will never do that. I won’t make the same mistakes the others did.”
“Bold talk. But it achieves nothing,” I replied coldly.
“I don’t care. Believe what you will. It doesn’t change me, or who I stand for,” he steps forward again. My mouth curls in disgust. “I will not kill a Ripper. I will not kill an innocent. I will not kill you.”
I step back, a bitter sound bubbling from the depths of my larynx. “Chivalry is what kills a Blade. Cunning is the trait that makes Rippers the excellent and ideal survivalist,” I shake my head. “Because unlike you regular humans, we’ve faced down Death once and lived to tell the tale. But for the rest of you, it’s game over.”
“I will not kill a Ripper. I will not kill you,” he repeats again, the chant of a deranged man. “I won’t. I can’t.”
“Blades have always been all talk and no honor. You’re no different,” I said coldly. “You’re all catching up, at least.”
“You and I both know that you don’t even believe what you’re saying,” he replies, gently.
I retreat a few more steps. “You can try running me around, cowboy. It doesn’t fix anything.”
“Love fixes everything.”
“Oh? Does it?” I chuckled bitterly. I sneered back. “I guess it works if it was for someone else.”
“I have always loved you. I still do,” he replies softly. He takes one more step.
“No. You just can’t bring yourself to kill me because I am a Ripper. I’m too useful of an asset to dispose of,” I growled. “You need my ability for covert operations and assassinations. You need my expertise in computer networks, security, and cryptography. You need my knowledge on social engineering. My specialiazation in intelligence gathering and psychology. You’re useless without me.”
“That’s not true,” he shakes his head, his irises glistening with an emotion I refuse to quantify. “That’s not true at all. And you know that.”
“I never knew where I stand with you. What makes it different?” I snapped. I felt my throat closing. “What makes you different, Wesley? You’re not the first Blade that tried to sweet talk their way out of dire straits.”
“Then I’m the first Blade that will choose to love a Ripper, Damien. It’s my choice. My choice and mine alone. I don’t make choices because of what I am. I make choices based on who I choose to be,” he asserts, surprisingly firm. “Who I want to be. And I choose not to repeat the same mistakes that the others did. I choose to understand. I choose to love. And no one, no one, takes that right away from me.”
I smothered the involuntary sound that threatened to break out of my throat. “Your father will be ashamed, Wesley. So ashamed. Disappointed. Furious. Mournful. Because his only son chose to abandon the tenets and skills he was raised with, since birth.”
“Then let me disappoint my family, Damien. Because I’m not changing. Not for them. Not for the world. Not even for you, whatever this vision of me that you refuse to let go of,” he argues heatedly. “I’m not the only Blade that chose to do this. There are others that you never knew of. You never knew of them, because they were all executed before the scandal could come out.”
“Lies. All lies,” I sneered, half-heartedly. “Your kind lured them into warm beds and then plunged the knife into their necks when they were at their weakest.”
He clenches his jaw. His eyes continued tracking my every move. “I know this, because my elder brother was one. He fell in love with a Ripper. He naively tried to convince our father that his ways were wrong. Then, one evening, I never heard from him and the woman he loved, ever again.”
I exhaled shakily.
His eyes hardened. “I dug up the secret. I waited and bided my time. I trained. I learned the darkest techniques of our trade. Then, at the tender age of nineteen, I knifed an old man in his sleep. And he bled, like a gutted animal.”
I clenched my jaw, but kept my silence.
His shadowed face hardens to a chilling finality. “And from then on, I vowed to myself – I will abandon my family’s ways. I will make my own choices. Live by my own beliefs. Free from the manipulation of anything else.”
I shake my head, chuckling bitterly. “Pretty words. I admit, you almost had me. But actions are actions. You chased me out. If you really believed it, you wouldn’t have done that.”
I shuddered at the rapidly closing distance between us. I flinched back when he raised a hand, as if to reach out. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me? I know I have no right, but, please. I have to know if this is what you want. What you wanted still.”
I inhaled slowly and exhaled, feeling tempted to lash out. The beating warmth of his Soul was searing, I could never ignore it. The proximity is maddening. It flickers and burns bright. I briefly entertained the thought; clamping my fingers around his stocky throat, my eyes ablaze with the pain I still carried. The giddy high of the rush, flooding my veins, shaving off a few more years from a sworn enemy. Settling for the eternal winter that protects my emotions.
I imagined it all, for a fraction of a moment.
“I forgive you,” I said softly.