He stares at the abyss like it's closer to him than anyone else.
Mother takes me by the hand. I know this is strange- she has not held me since I was a boy. Her grip is firm, her eyes set to the canyon, and I go with her because her skin on mine is warm. I think I love her as we lead ourselves up the hill. And, even as my feet burn, I keep up, a light run carrying us to the peak.
"Where are we?" I hear myself I ask. Though I know the answer- Gerard has taken me here many times.
"Oh, but you know. Don't you?" she returns. Her voice is like a wind-chime spiraling up and down. Shivers on the spine, from the land of ice and snow. "You've bound to have come here before!" She's smiling. I know her teeth.
And she's right. I've been here a thousand times. Last night, even, and the day before. Gerard and I watched the moon like it was a permanent thing. As it set to a beautiful morning, we were okay to see it go.
"Go," he'd said. When the moon was finally out of sight.
Massanin glares down, towards the bottom of the canyon. Behind him, the lush stretches of Tesor plain waft in every direction. Ten-ward intersections full of merchants and nobles and mere commoners, all in robes of brilliant color, cut through the cities like slashes on the arm. An awash hue of yellow hangs over Tesor and, in front of Massanin, above the hellish slums below, an obsidian sky. Where the untouchables roam- they lurk.
Nobody speaks of it, but Tesor is dying. Perhaps Massanin is as well, so alone, so lonely, so isolated atop the cliff side. He holds back his tears, but one turns rogue and shimmers down his cheek; it drifts to the dirt under him and seeps to nothing. It's cold. As is everything.
Beside him, a creature nudges his side. Its horn drills into his torso and it tickles, maybe scratches a little, and the animal follows it with a irritated huff. Give me attention, it says.
"Don't poke me there," Massanin grunts. His voice has always been like a harp, but lately its strings have been plucked off. While he once used to speak with the golden sheen of urns, he now mutters like bedrock, with bitterness, whispering tales of gore.
The donkey pokes him again. And again, teasing the man as a friend standing next to him. When their eyes meet- the seafoam of Massanin, an oak in the animal- a kind of whimsy surges through them. Electric.
Massanin scoffs. "You're annoying," he says. Breath like brimstone. "Remember when you used to be handsome?"
As their gaze burns, Massanin looks away, suddenly trembling, scarred by the yearning glint in Gerard's eye. Of course he remembers.
"Go!'" I hear mother scream. Her lips are pointed towards me; she's talking to me? To me? Her hands fly, shooing me like a bug and she's the bird extending its wings.
I stand up to her. The cliffs shake beneath me, Tesor so far back. "I do not want to," I say. I hope she cannot hear the boyish tenor teem in my throat. She has always wanted me to be a warrior, to be a man. But I do not want to be a warrior. I'd much rather be a prince.
Then, she steps aside. We've been here only a few minutes- I'd woken up to her shuffling. I ask, why did she bring me here just to let me go? Then, she steps aside, and the obsidian sky seems to lower down and castrate the air. My chest heaves. I think there's a headache. Then, she steps aside, and everything I've ever known and ever loved disappears and dissolves into dust.
Then, my mother steps aside, and it's the first time I see her as a witch, her hands waving in circulation around Gerard. Gerard, mine and his. He seems afraid. It's the only time the illuminated man has ever been scared.
"Go," she says again.
"I do not want to!"
She flicks her fingers slowly. I see magic on her fingerprints. I see it twirl, and flicker, embers craving to set alight. "Then watch," she whispers. Her words carry like a storm, clouds arranging in the patterns of misery, of the melancholy.
Gerard looks at me one last time. How I wish to take his fear on as my own. How I want to be the one to die. And how I'd love to calm these tides of war, and rebuild all our ruins.
"Are you ready?" Massanin asks. His throat is dry. Perhaps his lungs have been arid since the day Gerard transformed, a desert without rain, time eternal without his subtle voice and glorious skin. His skin, Massanin remembers, Nothing is as soft.
He turns, glancing at Gerard and letting the moment stir. Their silence wades in and out, accompanied by stifled breaths and the caw of some bird laughing at the world. Gerard nods, a glimmer in his eyes more hopeful than newborns birthed by saints, than a man leaning in for a lunula kiss.
His mother had turned his lover into a creature, a donkey with a horn of gold. Perhaps Massanin will never understand why, but he's learned not to care. He's learned to let go.
And if you love something, so much, then you let them go.
They will come back to you.
They will love you again.
Massanin stares at the abyss like it's closer to him than anyone else. But it isn't- it's just as near to Gerard, and as they huddle close their warmth coalesces until their minds rack up the courage to jump. When two must fall, they leap. And at the bottom, they know, Gerard will be his golden, handsome self again.
"Go," Massanin whispers, and they do.
Halfway down, their hands entwine.
YOU ARE READING
When Two Must Leap (#TeamUpChallenge 2018)Fantasy
Submission for #TeamUpChallenge Massanin's lover was transformed into an ugly creature by his half-witch mother. There's only one way to reverse the curse- to jump from the tallest cliffside in Tesor, landing deeper where the slums reek. To be toge...