Heretics

written and illustrated by Fuuten Eki (瘋癲 易)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/212995.html)

Hayser lazily glanced around the room full of happy, partying people. His eye fell on a mirror and he grimaced when he saw a dark, tired face. He was only in his thirties, but sometimes he looked over forty – it was mostly the tired look in his puffy eyes, and the dark shadows underneath, that somehow seemed to enhance the small wrinkles. He thought he looked just as out of place as he felt: a tired old man among people having fun.

Of course, this was not entirely true. There was a specific dynamic there that somebody unfamiliar with the situation in the country might not have spotted; you could see just as much flirting between men and women as between women and women, but when it came to conversations between men, they often seemed much stiffer than they could be. This was because of a new interpretation of the Holy Texts made over twenty years ago by the present High Priest which branded love between men as heresy, punishable by death. Now all the men that had any choice in the matter turned to women, and those who because of their nature could not choose had to either live a life of celibacy and loneliness or that of constant fear.

Hayser knew that fear more than any other, not only because he was a lover of men himself. Fate has brought upon him a much worse curse: he had to work as an assassin for the temple, getting rid of the heretics. It wasn’t his choice. He was discovered with a lover and sentenced to death. But being a member of the best squad of the City Watch, he managed to protect them both from the assassins – for a short time. They were too closely guarded to flee the country; but Hayser was too strong for the assassins to take him and his lover out easily. The Temple, tired of losing men, came out with a proposal: full immunity for both of them in exchange for Hayser’s joining the assassins.

Hayser wasn’t in love with the other man – they became lovers only because they didn’t want to get too close to the ones they really loved and put them in danger – but he was not one to abandon a friend. And so the temple gained another assassin.

It was not uncommon for those who were deemed heretics to be able to flee before their execution. The Temple must have spotted that Hayser’s successful assassinations were mostly of those who committed or were suspected of evil deeds but could not be accused; Hayser didn’t have two jobs for nothing. Yet he often had to kill innocent men. His conscience kept him awake at night. He would have run away from the temple long ago, if there had not been something still holding him in this city: his friend Sayen.

He had known Sayen for years and they were as close as men of that age difference could be without arousing suspicion. Sayen was still in his twenties; his skin was much lighter that Hayser’s but his hair was almost as dark. His personality also seemed brighter; he was nice to everybody and charming without being full of himself. It was not because he was naive or calculated; very intelligent, he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Hayser always suspected that Sayen’s feelings about social gatherings like this one were as close to dislike as his own, yet Sayen managed to navigate the strange paths of society with polite conversations with men and cautious flirting with women. Hayser was a little jealous of that ability, but what he was mostly jealous of were people Sayen flirted with. Yes, Hayser was hopelessly in love, unable to leave the country lest he be away from the one he loved, but at the same time unable to so much as confess his feelings since that would bring danger upon them both, regardless whether his feelings were to be accepted or not.

At the moment Hayser was scanning the room for Sayen; they had talked earlier that evening, but then the younger man had been snatched away by a bunch of cheerful girls. Since then Hayser had taken part in a couple of polite conversations, but in all truth Sayen’s presence was the only reason he’d come to the party in the first place.

Yet the man was nowhere to be found. Well, they hadn’t come together and Sayen had no obligation to inform Hayser that he was leaving, but that didn’t help Hayser’s feeling disappointed. He wandered around a bit, all the time slowly drifting towards the exit, and when he was sure there is no trace of his friend anywhere, he walked down the lesser used corridor towards the main exit. Then something caught his eye.

The door to one of the rooms was slightly ajar and two people could be seen inside; and people Hayser knew. One was Myes, a terribly pretty young man Hayser didn’t have too good of an opinion about; the other was standing with his back turned, but that silhouette and that long, brown, slightly messy hair could only have belonged to Sayen.

What he saw made Hayser’s blood freeze. Myes’ hands were around Sayen. They were kissing, ignoring the law, ignoring Hayser’s feelings… Hayser buried his face in his hands. Of couse they were ignoring his feelings; they had no idea about them. They would not know about the huge, violent wave of jealousy that overtook him at that very moment. With his last rational thought he pulled the door shut so that nobody else could oversee what was happening and he stormed out of the house. He had never let Sayen learn about his feelings, but still he could not help the bitter feelings of jealousy building up inside him; if Sayen actually was a lover of men, wouldn’t it mean that Hayser might have a chance? Then again, it was apparently too late; Sayen was already taken, he was already putting himself in danger, and any courtship from Haser would just draw attention to him; Hayser was aware that, though not very intensively, the Temple was keeping an eye on Hayser’s life.

It took him over half an hour of walking along the horse-carriage-filled road to calm down enough to realize that his jealousy and concern had blinded him; he should have made his presence known enough to disturb them and then pretend he didn’t see anything; he should not have let them go on in a place where somebody else could have seen them.

Well, now he was much too far to come back, so he could only hope nobody else tried to sneak away though the less-used corridor and witnessed the scene.

***

Hayser entered the Temple through the side entrance and went towards the room where secret meetings took place, deep into the Temple grounds. He had most of his assassination outfit on under his coat and whatever could not be hidden by it was in the bag on his shoulder; he had been called for another mission. He had been in a filthy mood ever since the previous day and the fact that he’d been contacted so late in the day meant that the temple wanted to get rid of someone fast; this minimised the victim’s chance of escape and Hayser was not able to organise anything.

As usual, the Cardinal was already waiting for him, spread in his luxurious red leather chair, a single sheet of paper in his hand. Not for the first time Hayser caught himself wondering if he could just push this paper in the Cardinal’s mouth and choke him with it.

“I am glad that you finally managed to come.” The Cardinal’s voice resembled a sharp blade covered with honey.

“I do have a life, or whatever was left of it after your intervention.” Hayser knew he was expected to take a seat on the wooden chair next to the table, so he remained standing. “And I need my tools of the trade to do your bidding; you cannot expect me to simply run as I stand when your messenger reaches me.”

“I see you’re as agreeable as always. It always pleases me how both your tongue and blade stay sharp.” There was no mockery in the Cardinal’s voice. Hayser could never stop musing how someone so sadistic could be considered the second biggest authority in the name of God. Then again, the High Priest wasn’t that much different. “‘I hope you’re as eager to do your job as always too,” the Cardinal smiled seeing Hayser’s eyebrows twitch. “Today I have something special for you, though I guess it won’t be that much of a treat. There is not much information here, but I believe you won’t need more than a name”.

Hayser took the sheet of paper from the Cardinal’s hands, eyeing him suspiciously. The Cardinal’s eyes shone when he saw Hayser’s expression change into that of pure horror when he read the name written on the paper.

“What is this?” Hayser asked with a shaking voice.

Cardinal surveyed him slowly over his glasses, smirking slightly.

“Is something wrong?”

Hayser looked at him angrily.

“How can you even ask?!”

“Oh, I know you have been friends.” The Cardinal took a long sip of wine from his goblet which was standing on the table. “This is why I thought that you’d rather kill him yourself than leave it to somebody else. Of course, if you feel unable to do this, I can easily ask another assassin…” he stretched out his hand and grabbed the edge of the paper. Hayser pulled it sharply, tearing it and leaving only a tiny scrap in the Cardinal’s hand.

“Good,” said the Cardinal. “You can take your time with, ah, any goodbyes, but be done with it until tomorrow morning; if you fail I will take you both out. And believe me, we have much better forces now than when we recruited you.”

Hayser knew that to be true. He crumpled the paper in his hand.

“Of course,” the Cardinal seemed unfazed, “if you can convince him to give names, his life would be spared.”

“He won’t.” Hayser was shaking with anger. “I don’t believe this accusation.”

“We have, ah, a reliable source. Well, feel free to question him; I guess he would tell you the truth.” The Cardinal sat back in his chair. “Don’t look at me like that. You don’t expect us to make an exemption for a friend of a heretic? I’m being lenient enough giving you a chance to meet him one last time. Do you understand?”

“…Yes.”

“Then I expect to see you tomorrow morning. Unless you’re dead; in that case feel free not to show up.”

Hayser turned angrily and made a step towards the door. Then he stopped and looked again at the smug face of the Cardinal.

“You know, one day you’ll cross the line and somebody will kill you.”

“Oh, is today that day then?” The Cardinal raised his eyebrows.”I know you’re good enough to kill me, that’s why we keep you, but if you did, do you think you would make it out of the Temple alive?”

Hayser eyed the guards. It would be easy enough to beat the guards here, but they were deep in the Temple and he knew he would not be able to fight his way out through all the well-trained troops. Besides, the Cardinal always consulted the assassinations with the High Priest, so it would not change Sayen’s fate. It would not change anything and they both would be dead.

“No,” he answered gloomily.

“Then don’t waste any more of my time.”

***

Hayser walked as if in a dream; he didn’t have to check the address, he knew where he was going. He knew in which side alley to put his gear on and where to get on the roof. Sayen’s bedroom window was coming out directly on one of the roofs, and before Hayser realised it he was peeking inside through the gap in carelessly drawn curtains.

Sayen was packing; perhaps he realised the Temple had gotten on his trail and he wanted to run away. He threw something into one of the bags on the floor and left the room to what Hayser remembered was his bathroom. Hayser used that moment to take one of his tools and open the window; he remembered perfectly well where the hatch was and it only took him a couple of seconds to open it and sneak in behind the curtains. It was already dark outside and the weak gas lamps in the street didn’t provide enough light for his shadow to be visible through the curtains; he clung to the wall just to be safe.

Sayen came back with his shirt unbuttoned, apparently in the act of changing, and started rummaging through one of the cupboard drawers.

Hayser sneaked into the room. He could not imagine killing Sayen; he would immobilize him, press him for answers about his romance – it would not seem suspicious in this situation – and then…

He saw Sayen move suddenly and he understood that his presence has been noticed. By pure instinct and against any rational thought, he attacked. The other man ducked, but the blade of Hayser’s knife made a gash in his arm. This sight made Hayser hesitate a little, but Sayen did not hesitate a second; surprisingly nimble, he moved swiftly and before Hayser could react he was pinned face down on the floor, his knife lost in the struggle, his arm pressed to his back in a leverage which was making him unable to move, Sayen’s knee against his back and a dagger on his throat. The blade cut Hayser’s skin slightly, but the hand holding it was shaking a little. A minute passed, then another, and nothing changed; Hayser could still feel the warm, heavy pressure of Sayen’s body pinning him down to the floor and the cold of steel pressed to his skin. Apparently Sayen wanted to kill his attacker, but while he was a surprisingly good fighter, he was not able to murder anyone. If another assassin had been sent there, they would never have given him time to hesitate; they’d have done anything to wrestle out of the grip and kill him. Or maybe that was exactly the issue?

“Don’t tell me you can’t kill an unresisting opponent? That is so like you.” Hayser hadn’t even finished the sentence when he felt the grip on his wrist tighten. He felt something being wrapped around his hand, then he was violently turned over, his other hand grasped and tied with the other one. He could have tried to resist but he didn’t really feel like it. This situation gave him a kind of masochistic pleasure, as if he was tasting each second before his friendship with Sayen falls apart. It was as if only now he understood that whatever happens he would never be able to meet Sayen again and he tried to take everything in: his frantic breathing, the messed up hair covering his face as he was tying Hayser’s hands to something, the weight of Sayen sitting on his stomach. Hayser’s heart skipped a beat when Sayen tore off his mask, the dark material rushing before his eyes like a curtain falling on everything good that had ever been and could ever be between them.

He expected Sayen to say something, to blame him, even to shout; but he just stared at Hayser with a mixture of disbelief, disappointment and some other feelings Hayser was not able to discern. He wanted to say something in his defense but no words would come out of his lips. They looked at each other for a while, until Sayen’s eyes watered with tears and he suddenly bent over Hayser, uttering a stifled “fuck”. With Sayen sitting on him, his forehead resting just below Hayser’s collarbone, his long bronze hair tickling Hayser’s chin, Hayser thought how unfair it is to find himself in this position in the worst possible circumstances.

It was the most wonderful and most dreadful moment in his life. Sayen was trembling slightly and Hayser had to stop himself from trying to get rid of the bonds and put his arms around the one he loved and never, ever let go; he knew it would have only alarmed Sayen and this brief moment of intimacy would have been cut even shorter.

Finally Sayen raised his head and looked at Hayser again. His eyes were wet and terribly sad, but he didn’t say anything. Hayser also felt lost for words and they just stared at each other for a while, until Sayen slowly stood up. He looked at his now-profusely bleeding arm as if he had only now realised it had been injured. Still without a word he went to the bathroom.

Hayser checked what he was tied with; it seemed Sayen had used his shirt to tie him to one of the legs of his bed. It took Hayser no more than twenty seconds to get out of the bonds. He got up and looked around the room; Sayen had indeed packed all the most necessary things and would not need much more time to leave. Hayser went over to the windows and drew the curtains properly. Then he waited until Sayen had cleaned himself off and came out with his arm wrapped in a provisional bandage; Sayen had only managed to take a surprised glance at the empty floor and the shirt lying in a heap at the foot of the bed when Hayser pushed him to the wall, grabbing his wrists.

“You’re really bad at tying people up; or are you really trying to get killed?” Sayen didn’t reply, just kept staring somewhere around Hayser’s chest. Hayser lost his patience. “Why don’t you say anything?”

Sayen looked into his eyes.

“What would you like me to say?”

“That you hate me, that you don’t want to die… Just something.” Hayser felt tears come into his eyes; he tried to hold them back. “Why didn’t you just leave?” he asked with resignation.

“You can see I was trying to.”

“I don’t mean now; you should have left long ago, instead of waiting until the Temple got on your tail.”

Sayen’s eyes lingered on his face for a while.

“The one I love is here. I wanted to be near; wouldn’t you?”

Hayser could not bear the look in his eyes; so sad and longing. He never saw that expression on Sayen’s face before; it felt as if Sayen had not only pierced his heart with a dagger but also twisted it a couple of times. Still pressing Sayen’s wrists tightly to the wall Hayser lowered his head. His forehead was now just millimeters from Sayen’s lips; he could feel Sayen’s breath and he could not stop wishing he could feel those lips on his skin. Now it would never happen.

“Was it worth it?” His voice was slightly hoarse. He got no reply but he didn’t expect any; the question was directed as much at Sayen as at himself; after all, the only reason he didn’t run away himself, the reason he let himself be used by the Temple was to stay close to the one he loved – how could he blame anybody else for doing the same thing?

“So what happens now?” Sayen’s voice was slightly stifled.

“Figure it out” Hayser replied. He had no idea himself.

“Can I have a last wish?” Hayser felt a little offended by how fast Sayen assumed he was going to kill him.

“You can get whatever you want…”

“Look at me.” Hayser raised his head obediently. He expected a condemning look but Sayen’s eyes were soft and wet and just a few centimeters from his own, as was the rest of his face and his lips…

His lips suddenly brushed his own, first slowly and tentatively then just slightly bolder.

“Oh,” escaped Hayser’s lips and he responded with a light, ginger kiss. They hovered near each other for a couple of seconds and then Hayser tilted his head slightly and kissed Sayen deeper. The other man responded and they joined in a long, slow, gentle kiss. When they broke apart it seemed hesitant on both sides.

“That’s a lame last wish,” said Hayser after a while, unable to look into Sayen’s face.

“I’m sorry.”

“Why couldn’t you kill me and run away?”

“You’re making it sound like it’s either you or me.” Sayen didn’t sound surprised. Hayser could not bear to answer. “You can’t run away, can you?”

“I wouldn’t be here now if I could… Not like this.”

“Then do what you have to.”

“Oh, would you just…” Hayser leaned forward and kissed Sayen; and this time he was less gentle, more desperate. Sayen was startled just for a second and then he responded with almost as much desperation. It took just a few moments for Hayser’s hands to let go of Sayen’s wrists and for their hands to clasp together. It took much longer for Sayen to untangle his hand and gently push Hayser away.

“Wait, what,” he asked, breathing heavily, “what are you doing?”

“Making it a proper last wish,” replied Hayser quietly; his face was flushed. “Let’s make it a bet: the first one to recover afterwards will make it the other’s last wish. What do you say?”

Sayen looked at Hayser’s face for a moment, as if trying to figure out if he was joking; then he grabbed Hayser’s head and kissed him again. As they both relaxed the kisses became more impatient, their hands more and more eager to explore each other’s bodies. Suddenly Sayen jumped, startled when his hand touched one of Hayser’s hidden blades.

“Right,” murmured Hayser and started undoing all the straps while letting Sayen lead him in the direction of the bed. It was the fastest he’d ever taken his assassin’s outfit off and it passed through his head that if he needed to recover any of the weapons fast he would have no idea where to look. But as he looked at Sayen, lying on the bed naked and flushed, both eager and a bit shy, this thought disappeared, quickly replaced by if this were the last thing I see I would die happy.

They continued kissing, but after a moment Hayser moved to kissing Sayen’s neck, his chest, coming back to his lips; their hands travelled more boldly through each other’s chests, backs, hips, bottoms. Hayser completely missed the moment when Sayen grabbed a bottle of lotion from the bedside table and started slowly and purposefully stroking both their erections. Hayser wanted to join but Sayen wrapped one leg over him and with his free hand led Hayser’s own hand along his other leg, upwards. He understood instantly. They didn’t need words, or rather, they didn’t want to waste energy on speaking. Hayser knew what Sayen meant when moments later he lead him near his entrance, he understood the impatient jerk of Sayen’s hips as he was entering him, which showed how eager Sayen was to have him inside.

They made love with impatient desperation, as if trying to express everything they had ever wanted to tell each other through the rhythm of their movements; they synchronised easily and the part of Hayser’s mind that was still capable of some rational thought wondered if their heartbeat was also synchronised. He had had many adventures in his life but this was the first time he’d felt like that. It wasn’t like working uphill; it was as if he had managed to run straight to the top in a very short time and was now clinging desperately to the edge not to go over too early. When he felt Sayen’s muscles contract and heard his ecstatic cry it didn’t take long for him either…

They collapsed, panting, but their arms were still around each other. Hayser kissed Sayen gently, one last time, released his hold to allow the other to free himself easily and let himself black out.

***

Sayen basked in the afterglow looking at Hayser’s sleeping face. If Hayser thought Sayen was going to kill him, if he thought he was going to run away and let Hayser be killed for failing his mission, he was naive. Sayen didn’t want to die but he wanted Hayser to die even less. If only out of pity, he got the most wonderful last wish he could have ever hoped for. And there was no chance that after all that he’d wake up earlier than Hayser.

He didn’t bother to clean himself up; it wouldn’t matter in the morning anyway. It wouldn’t matter ever again.

He kept looking at Hayser’s face until he fell asleep.

***

It was already dawn when Hayser finally woke up. A gentle glow lit up the curtains from the outside and he saw a dark shadow behind the window. So it was not his imagination; somebody had been there all the time. It meant all his attempts of trying to convince Sayen to run away were in vain.

Hayser got up deep in thought and started picking up and putting on his clothes. If the Temple had sent someone to supervise him, it meant they were going to send another one if this one did not come back in a couple of hours. There might have been more than one person watching them, too. Basically, if he didn’t kill Sayen now, there were not many options left. Killing the one he loved meant killing his heart so what happened to him afterwards didn’t really matter. He knew exactly what he had to do.

He picked his knife from the floor and came up to the bed. He looked at Sayen’s sleeping face.
“I’m sorry for what I’m about to do,” he said quietly. He took aim and pushed the blade as deep as he could. The figure behind the curtains relaxed visibly. Bastard, thought Hayser, all bastards, you and me. He pulled the knife out and clenched the blade tight in his left hand, until it cut through his skin and his own blood covered Sayen’s bloodstains on the blade: the last way they could unite. Then he put his knife next to Sayen’s pillow and took Sayen’s dagger from the floor instead.

He knew the one behind the window would be waiting for him to come out and he decided to take his time. As gently as he could he brushed off hair from Sayen’s face. Then he decided he cannot bear looking at him and started wandering around the room. He stopped at Sayen’s table; usually quite neat, it was now really messy, apart from one envelope that was lying neatly in the middle. On the envelope in hurried handwriting stand: “To my friends”. Hayser took the envelope with curiosity, broke the seal and took out three sheets of paper. The first one read:

If you are reading this letter it most probably means I am dead. I know the unholy organisation has found out about me and deemed me a heretic. I am planning to leave tonight but the fact that you are reading this letter means their killers were faster than me.

I know they will give me a chance of survival, but I am not going to sell anyone – friends or foes, all men persecuted in the name of love are my brothers. Your secrets are safe with me, even if the price is my life.

As the Temple Laws don’t allow the Temples to take heretics’ belongings, along with this letter you will find my Last Will.

I just need to add one thing. I know the Temple has found out that I am in love with him, but Hayser Mase was never my lover, nor did he know about my love for him. He’s not a lover of men. I know the Temple will read this letter before forwarding it to you, but I am writing that not only to protect him; my reason is much more selfish. I want to ask you that he never finds out that my feelings for him were beyond friendship. Maybe it should not matter if I’m dead, but I don’t want to spoil whatever little friendship we had by making him feel I deceived him. If this shall be achieved by saying my sentence was for whoring around with countless men – so be it.

I wish I had the skills and power to kill the High Priests who twisted the Holy Text to kill all those they find undesirable.

Sayen Fern”

Hayser cursed quietly. Cursing repeatedly, he looked at the blood-stained sheets and the pale body lying on the bed. He cursed Heaven, Hell, Earth, the Temple, and the heads of the Temple, but mostly he cursed himself. He had been an idiot, blind and deaf. He felt his eyes water, but it was no time for self-pity. He still had something to do.

***

“I know you’re there” exclaimed Hayser coming out of the window.

Part of the shadow moved and revealed a masked figure.

“Have you been enjoying yourself?” Hayser asked angrily.

“Oh, it seems you have been enjoying yourself. If I had known Sayen would give himself to the assassin to save his life I would have asked to be assigned myself. Or I would not have denounced him. Well, if he had given himself to me before, I wouldn’t let the Temple know.”

“And you’re here to check if I have fulfilled my orders.”

“Did you expect anything else?”

Hayser considered this for a moment.

“No. So what now? We’re going to the Temple so we can give our reports together?”

“The plan was that you give yours first and I come afterwards, but it was under the assumption you won’t spot me. Or try to save him.”

“It was made under a wrong assumption, then. Shall we go?”

“If you insist.”

***

“So that kiss I saw was just a provocation, Myes?” Hayser asked after they finally came down from the roofs and were walking the streets. Hayser didn’t put his mask on; he was wearing the coat again. “I never expected you to be one of the assassins.”

The other man shrugged and took off his mask; straight blond hair fell on the sickeningly beautiful face.

“So it was you who saw us. That actually makes you responsible for this mess; if I hadn’t seen your shadow I would not have given a report at all. You should have said something.”

“I had no idea you were a spy. Also, I should have just gone in there and beat up your face.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Myes laughed. “Then again, why didn’t you?”

“It would have caused a commotion and outed Sayen. The Temple would have learned about it.”

“Well, see how much good it has done to him. I must admit I hoped you were the traitor who helps people escape and that you would save the guy. Pity it turned out differently.”

“You don’t really sound concerned.”

“Oh, look who’s talking. You’re the one who banged and killed your friend and you’re pretty calm yourself.”

Hayser didn’t reply. They walked the streets in silence. There were already people in the streets but no one really paid any attention to the two assassins, except for some people turning their heads after the beautiful shape of Myes.

After they took off their Temple signs and masks, the assassins’ outfit didn’t really stand out in the street. The only ones who could recognise it were people from the Temple, other assassins and their victims; but of course the victims had no chance of recognising any outfit ever again and all the rest would not really care.

After a long walk they came into the Temple. They’d put their masks and signs on again and Myes led the way through a secret passage to the High Priest’s private chambers; out of the twelve assassins that worked for the Temple, all were allowed access to them except for Hayser, as he was the only one forced to do it, so it was the first time he’d come there. They came out of the passage straight into a corridor, where a couple of vigilant guards kept watch; Hayser recognised the captain of the guards.

The captain’s eyes briefly surveyed Hayser’s and stopped at Myes; they were anything but friendly.

“One of you is late. One of you is early. Why are you together?”

“We just bumped into each other.”

“Careful, blondie, you know I don’t like you.” The captain knew all the assassins; the masks were not enough to make their identity unrecognizable to him.

“We have an appointment,” Myes was visibly annoyed.”What else do you need?”

The captain looked into Hayser’s eyes. Hayser felt his mouth dry up.

“Nothing,” answered the captain after a while. “Jayes, wake up the Priest.”

When they were finally let in, Hayser saw the High Priest and the Cardinal. Together. In bed. The Cardinal was awake, the High Priest seemed to be dozing off, apparently not wanting to waste sleep over some trivial matters. And, as far as Hayser could tell, they were both naked. It didn’t seem like it was something unusual; one could see that the bedroom was designed for and used by two. For the longest time it was something between a passing joke and a suspicion between many that the High Priest and the Cardinal were lovers, but upon seeing the proof Hayser felt his blood boil; how could they take so many lives for what they were doing themselves?

“So you are filthy, lying bastards just as I have always suspected,” he said.

“How dare you…” The High Priest woke up hearing those words, the Cardinal held his hand up, interrupting.

“I‘ve always told you he was an interesting one,” he said with a smirk. “So in the end you have killed your friend to save your own life.”

“He was not just a friend; I loved him with my whole heart.”

The Cardinal looked amused.

“And yet you killed him? Funny how some people would do anything to save their own filthy lives.”

“No, it is not funny. Want to know what’s funny? I will tell you: curtains are funny. As the dawn breaks, things outside the window become visible. And if you look through them what you see is mostly a theatre of shadows.” Hayser heard a quiet curse behind him; he could feel Myes slowly moving closer.

The Cardinal frowned, alarmed.

“What are you trying to say?”

“You crossed the line yesterday. And I have nothing more to lose.” Hayser felt a movement behind him and dodged to evade the attack. He managed to avoid the strike aimed at his head but he felt Myes’ second blade tear his side. It didn’t matter. He only needed to survive long enough to kill both heads of the Temple. With one swift move he pulled out his hidden blades and took aim…

***

It was well in the afternoon when Sayen woke up. It took him a while to remember why he was tangled in bloody sheets. Then he was a bit surprised he wasn’t tied up. Or dead, for that matter. His room was almost in the same state as last night apart from a strange hole in the mattress and Hayser’s bloody knife lying next to the pillow. There was only one thing missing in this picture.

Where was Hayser?

At first he was relieved he wasn’t here. But soon the feeling changed into sadness and regret. His friend had come to kill him. Were they even friends? Or was it because they were friends that he was still alive? But didn’t that just mean the Temple was going to send somebody else to finish the job? What would happen to Hayser then? Would he also be executed? If they found out what had happened last night that would definitely be the case, but as long as Hayser would keep his mouth shut and just say he could not assassinate him because they were friends Sayen would never betray him. But how Hayser could guess that, he didn’t know…

Sayen froze in shock when his eyes fell on the table. The letter was taken out of the envelope, one side crumpled as if the person who read it was deeply disturbed. Hayser knew. Sayen had never felt so terrified, not even when he was fighting the assassin – when he was fighting Hayser – for his life. He could not catch his breath; the air felt like it was devoid of oxygen. Was this the reason Hayser had left? Because he knew Sayen loved him? Was it something he could not bear to know?

A pang of pain disturbed Sayen’s train of thought; he must have torn off the bandage last night and now when he grabbed his arm too tightly the wound opened up again; fresh blood started flowing out, dripping on the bed. In a slight daze he got up to get some fresh bandages when the door to his room opened suddenly and his friend Nasta almost ran into him entering the room cheerfully.

“Sayen, have you heard… What the HELL happened here?” Nasta looked from Sayen’s bloody arm to the even bloodier sheets. “Are you OK?”

“I’m… fine. Considering. I think.”

“You look like you’re in shock.”

“No, I’m not in shock, I just had the strangest… Actually I might be in a little shock.”

“Meh,” Nasta snorted, “quit babbling and let me through; I haven’t studied medicine for nothing. I’ll patch you up and you can explain everything in the meantime.”

“I wouldn’t know where to start.” Sayen let his friend lead him to the bed. “Didn’t you want to tell me something?”

“Oh. Right. Of course!” Nasta made Sayen sit down and started rummaging through the contents of a drawer where Sayen kept a medical kit for emergencies. “The High Priest and the Cardinal are dead! And as soon as the news spread around, the Temple abolished the heresy law and called off all the assassins. You’re safe! Everybody is safe.”

Sayen looked at him like he’d seen him for the first time.

“You’re joking.”

“Nope.” Nasta laid out a couple of bottles and instruments on a clean cloth. “Well, most of the Temple never really agreed with the law and given that both of those bastards were found together naked, I don’t think there was anything left to protect it.”

Sayen felt more confused than ever. Did it mean that there was a chance for him and Hayser now?

“When did it happen? How?”

“Around dawn.” Ah, thought Sayen, than probably not. If Hayser hadn’t turned up here by now, it meant that whatever had happened last night had ended then. “It seems one of the assassins turned rogue and, well, assassinated them.”

“Assassin?” Sayen felt his throat go dry as a terrible feeling crept upon him.

“Yes, one of their own. It seems the guards got him in the end. And, well… this might not be such good news. It was someone we both knew.”

Sayen’s vision went black as a single thought crossed his mind: Hayser didn’t come back…

***

“…When I told him about the assassination.” Nasta’s muffled voice seemed to be coming from somewhere beyond the black fog, from the same place as the strange, sharp smell.

“Oh. Uhm… I think I should go.” That embarrassed voice sounds familiar, thought Sayen. He opened his eyes and saw Nasta above him; he was turned away and talking with someone behind him.

“What?” Nasta looked annoyed. “Then what the hell did you come here for in the first place?”

“Who are you talking to and could you take this smelly thing away from my nose?” Sayen heard his own voice sound strangely weak.

“Oh, good, you’re finally awake,” Nasta turned to him. “Hayser came to you, but for some reason he’s trying to run away now.”

Sayen sat up. Hayser was standing behind Nasta, still in his assassin’s gear and looking tired. They looked at each other for a while, both unsure what to say.

“You’re alive,” said Sayen finally.”I thought you got yourself killed at the temple.”

“I thought that was going to happen. When I killed the priests and the other assassin and the guards were rushing into the room, I was sure those were the last moments of my life. But the captain of the guards remembered I helped his cousin escape the assassination and he blamed everything on the other assassin and hid me until everything calmed down.”

Sayen felt his eyes fill with tears.

“You’re bleeding,” he said.

“Ah,” Hayser looked at the side of his stomach. “I wasn’t really in a position where I could treat it.” He looked back at Sayen. “I just came to say I’m sorry about last night.”

“Well, I am not,” said Sayen angrily. “If you came here just to tell me this then you needn’t have…” He punched the mattress. “…But I am really happy to see you alive,” he added quietly. He was crying now but he didn’t care about appearances anymore. “You’ve read my letter, you should be able to guess how I feel.”

Hayser came closer to Sayen’s bed.

“Sayen.” He took one of Sayen’s hands. “I’ve done terrible things and you should know that I don’t deserve to be loved by someone like you…”

“Just… stop…” Sayen tried to free his hand from Sayen’s, not wanting to hear the rejection.

“But I love you too and if you’re willing to forgive me and have me then I’m all yours.”

Sayen was speechless. He could feel Hayser’s hands shake slightly.

“You idiot.” Sayen threw his arms around Hayser and hugged him tightly. “Why do you even have to ask?”

“Okay.” Nasta looked quite amused by the scene. “So now I’m going to patch you both up and you better let me hear the whole story. Uh, all right, after you’re done kissing…”

illustrated by Fuuten Eki

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