by L.P. Stribling
There was wind, light wind, upon the hillock that night. Wisps and whips of it at least. Yet, in the middle of the near-lightless twilight. The only color to the distant sky was a slow-waking maroon. Both women held each other clenched in the an unbroken gaze, unaffected but bonded by that wind.
Holsters were hollow, their contents barren as the tempered steel of the women’s barrels languidly locked on the center points of the other’s face. Cobra revolvers – the starry glints of each hollow-point tip hugging the triggers faded slowly with the passing seconds
With her free hand, Kumiko flicked her head and repositioned the long stray tuft of black trail hair that stood apart from the rest of her buzzed brethren. Before jumping behind her, it ran down the glossy full-body red pleather she wore opposite her enemy.
“Smoke?” she asked.
Maiyu shook her head, a slow concentrated shake. “Nah. But please, take what you need.” Maiyu’s eyes were an almost-emerald dark as she motioned her gun for the girl to proceed.
Kumiko holstered her gun, took out a worn packet of cigarettes and, after a moment of selection, lit one before scrunching the pack back into her leg pocket. A lighter appeared out of nowhere, served its purpose, then vanished.
The girl drew, blew a burn of smoke into the air and looked back at her rival.
“Why didn’t you shoot?”
Maiyu cocked her head with the girl in her sights. “Excuse me?”
“You could have shot me. Plain and simple. Reasons?” She took another drag as if giving the girl a chance to answer.
“Do I need reasons?” Maiyu said. “Regardless of what happens here, the cycle is broken. All you need to know before one of us dies, Siranes and her people will be loosened from your shackles and there will be no repeat this time.”
Kumiko took a drag and nodded in easy understanding. “I see,” she said, exhaling into the night. “And you’re certain this time will be far different from every attempt in the past century? You were sure of yourself countless times before. Well, no matter. That’s my opinion, anyway.” Another drag she took then, easy, calm.
“I know some things,” Maiyu said.
“Like what will happen to you if you return to your lord empty-handed.”
Kumiko thought about this and exhaled. “Mmm,” she nodded. “You’re right . I don’t know exactly what he would do, and yes, the consequences would be disastrous. That’s why I’ve ensured that I will not be going home empty-handed.”
Maiyu cocked an eyebrow and steadied her aim on the woman. Lightening pulsed behind the overcast evening and in a matching of drums, the neon ashen end of Kumiko’s cigarette spewed her opponent in a fiery burst of orange trails. Maiyu’s lithe body dropped in quick reaction, and she rolled as quickly as she could, but she wasn’t fast enough. She felt the irate claws of the liquid fire before the smoke had a chance to rise from the glossy pleather of her suit.
The streams of lava roared into her skin and Maiyu cried out. Tears rushed from her face and began streaming downwards as though they were racing one another in competition.
Maiyu continued to roll – her only attempt to stop the burn, somehow managing still to hold the Cobra in her hand. The hillock sloped and after the initial tumble, she managed to slow herself, dragging herself painfully toward wide boulder – one of the night’s black giants, one quiet and without judgement.
The steel of the gun tip clanked on the rock before she scooted behind it. She ducked then, evading another wave of heat.
“I thought you were so sure of yourself?” She heard Kumiko’s voice, it had risen as the woman stepped toward in a lazy obligatory approach. How many more waves within that cigarette did she have? Why did I allow her a smoke? How many times had they fought? How many times had she lost, been killed of her own folly? She was always so sure of herself. Why continue to trust “always?”
There would not be another chance. The time was now. She peeked around the stone wall of her cover, her head shaking. Kumiko’s mini molten glow still hung between her fingers as she approached. The sky was darkening. Dark misty swirls high above began to fall. Rain. How long until I feel it? Kumiko pulled up the cigarette again and flung it at Maiyu.
“How’s that for some confidence in the end?” Her tone was pretentious. Cocky. She strutted as if she knew she had won.
No. This would not be the way of it. The true way had already been spoken for, had been foretold. All she needed was a window. And there, through the haze, the blur of it all, she saw it. Kumiko brought the cigarette to her mouth and Maiyu crouched to brace for another shower of lava. But no. She just wanted to take one more victory drag. She saw Kumiko pull her head back and empty the smoke into the air. It seemed as though the puff of her own smoke was going up to meet with the rain clouds that were coming down. When will I feel the rain? It must be soon.
Maiyu raised the snake and took aim. Kumiko’s face in her sights was unnoticing.
The first drops of rain fell upon her skin just before she pulled the nickel-plated trigger of the snake. A blessing in black.
If there were stars out then, they would have burned out.
The lift from the gun almost lifted her prone body off the blackened earth. Her eyes shut with an automation that came from her body’s (her spirit’s) desire for protection. She would look back at the moment as a small fraction of a bliss she would have loved to indulge in – the frame-by-frame of the red-pleathered body going limp as its command center shattered and fed the dark grass with the nutrients of blood, cranium meat, and a fragmented globe of haughtiness.
Nor did she hear any of it. Maiyu simply remembered her body’s confusion in the thoughts of almost. It was just as it was destined to be. It almost wasn’t. It almost was me.
The rain sheltered her then. That was the next thought, the only thought that she was able to carry into her future – the beautiful dark rain, feathering her there in the field, easing the lava away from her wounds, lending good-night kisses to her skin.
It was there that she melted. Looking up in blinks, the sky was dark. She lay there in a field of pain and falling angels. She no longer felt the wind.