Posted by: Ariel | November 17, 2009

“Gemini”

Screams and grunts filled the air, and beneath them the unmistakable sounds of pain.  The Marisan scout cursed the thorn that had crippled her foot, she cursed the forest her company had been in for the better part of the month, and she cursed whatever fates had conspired to put her people in this sickening war.  Just when she thought she was used to it, the gurgle of a dying acquaintance would serve as a grisly reminder of the Maggites’ brutality. It was almost better when they were already dead. She loathed having to leave a wounded comrade behind, seeing the desperation in their eyes, having to turn away with a cruelty that caught her in the gut every time. She hated what the Maggites had forced her to become.

She tried to take her mind off the pain and paused for a ritual prayer to Marisa.  But it felt artificial.  She no longer drew any pleasure from the Sun, not when its light shone so indifferently.  It was hard to focus.  She thought involuntarily of her boy back home and his innocent face.  She knew her husband would be taking care of him, teaching him the arts and histories, but she couldn’t help thinking that their once proud culture had been irreparably tainted by this violence, and she felt a surge of pity for her child and what kind of life he would have, under the dark clouds of the Maggite threat.

* * *

The Maggite hunter took another step and paused, waiting for the wind.  This was an exercise in patience, as were so many things in life.  She was hunting during the day, not out of preference but out of determination to catch up to her quarry, a near-invisible Marisan that had been bringing death and fear to this edge of the woods for three weeks.  They had tracked down most of the intruders but the leader had always escaped.  The hunter felt disgusted at the Marisan’s dedication to her mission.  That coward had left her comrades to suffer instead of allowing them the mercy of a quick death.  She had to be stopped at any cost, and eventually, she would be – by Maggie’s grace.

The wind had shifted back, and she took another step.  Her target was bleeding, probably from the foot, and it made it easy to track her.  The only challenge was retaining the element of surprise.  If it were night, under Maggie’s quiet watch it would be easy.  Damn this blinding yellow light.  But, oh – what was that?  She drew her bow and moved forward quietly.  She allowed a small smile as she aimed at the slight figure in the distance.  But just then, the sun broke through the branches and she saw the expression on the Marisan’s face.  Something in that expression made her pause, and in that second the wind changed.  When the arrow reached her enemy it hit her shoulder instead of her neck.  The next second the Marisan was gone.

Damn!  She drew another arrow and fired it where she thought the sunlover might have taken cover.  She started running in the direction of her first shot, taking the most direct route she could without being suicidal. The shifting rays of light threw confusing shadows and she blinked  in anger.  By the time she heard the twang of a bow from her left, she only had time to dive headfirst into the dirt.  She struggled to free her knife as a shapeless form came at her from her peripheral vision.  Throwing out her legs she kicked out hard and made contact.  She got to her feet, knife drawn, and stood face to face with a completely alien bloodstreaked face.  She felt chilled to the bone as she swung her knife way too carelessly. A quick chop to her wrist caused her to drop it, and then she was fighting for her life, dodging blows, countering kicks and looking for some kind of opening she could use to win, or escape.  The strange thing, she thought as her punch missed again, was that their fighting styles were so similar.  She could almost anticipate the next move of her opponent, and she felt a deep certainty that her opponent’s uncanny anticipation of her own attacks was the reason they were in this ridiculous stalemate.  She looked in the Marisan’s face and realized her expression was probably identical.  In that eerie moment of looking into a mirror, she saw something almost familiar.  The next thing she saw was a fist approaching her jaw, and everything went black.

* * *

She finished stoking the fire and walked back to her prisoner, who was beginning to regain consciousness.  She was worried that she hadn’t gotten farther from the scouted zones but she was more worried about getting lost in the dark.  The lake at least would provide water and limit the approach of anyone who might have been following them.  She winced at her aching foot and stiff shoulder, and wondered again why she hadn’t left the ghastly-looking Maggite dead in the forest. Right on cue, she heard the Maggite growl.

“Release me, Marisan.”

“I’m more likely to kill you, after I find out the location and strength of your army in this area.”

“You must be joking.  You’ve been all over these woods for the past month, you probably know better than I do.  What do you really want?”

“Very well, my cheery moonbeam.  What I want to know is how you were able to block all my attacks back there.  It was as if you’ve been fighting me all my life.”

“Hah.  That’s what you dragged me here for?  To ask me about my martial arts training?  You should have much greater concerns, such as death.  In fact, with those wounds, you better eat something if you want to survive the night.”

“Marisans do not eat by moonlight.  Meals are a time for pleasure and companionship, to be shared by friends under the benevolent light of the sun.”

“Who told you that, your daddy?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“What wouldn’t I understand?”

“Everything.  Why I refuse to eat by moonlight, why we are fighting this war.”

“And why are we fighting this war?”

Her voice rose angrily, “Do I need to remind you of the great betrayal?  Do they teach you nothing in that forsaken place you call home?  Once our people were just as you are, with no sense of morality or decency. We were like animals. Then we met Marisa.  She taught us how to grow our own food, how to keep track of time, how to record our histories and take pride in them.  She taught us how to live…until the darkness came.  When she was taken from us it was all we could do to survive.  We looked to the sky and saw her memory there, and resolved to always honor it.”

There was silence for a moment.

“Remarkable how similar that story is to the truth.  But it was Maggie who was sucked into the sky and taken from us. Marisa gave us nothing.  It was Maggie who taught us how to keep track of time, how to find food in winter, how to navigate the seas…and now, now we can only look up and curse the sun that chases her out of the sky.”

“And so we are locked in eternal struggle, as are they,” the Marisan sighed.

“You sound like my sister.”

“In another life, I could have been.  I think that, but for circumstance, your people and mine might have turned out quite similarly.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

The Marisan stared across the fire.  “Inside everyone there is both that which we love and that which we hate.  Is it so hard to believe that our two peoples might have once shared the same goal, and might still again?”

“Is that why you’re keeping me here?  To indoctrinate me with this propaganda?”

“I brought you here because I saw myself in you, and I know you saw yourself in me, back there in the forest.  Isn’t it funny?  We’re two sides of the same coin!  We’re twins, you and I, twins who’ve lost their parents.  We’ve been blaming that loss on each other for generations.”

The Maggite was silent for a while, but when she spoke, it was with a new tone.  “I’ve always wondered at the assumption that Maggie and Marisa were chasing each other around the sky.  It might be that when Maggie is tired, Marisa takes over.  It might be that they are like partners, companions for each other in those lonely heavens.”

“It might be that they are the same person with two names, and that’s why they are never seen together at the same time.”

“Who are we to say?  There’s no way to know for sure.”

“We are the only ones who can say.  Marisa and Maggie are silent now. There are no more divine absolutes, the closest we can come are convictions and beliefs.  And I believe that I met you for a reason.”  The Marisan rubbed her shoulder and gave a sad smile.  “I don’t pretend to hope that things will change between us.  But it is some small consolation that perhaps I have been lucky enough to meet the sister I never thought I had.”

She put out the fire and untied the ropes around the Maggite’s wrists and ankles.  “You have to go before it gets light and my company starts looking for me.  The road is on the other side of the lake.”

“Thank you,” the Maggite said.

Dawn had come, and the last of the stars faded behind the dim grey growing in the sky.  In the ambient light they walked the path by the lake that led to the crossroads, the pale Maggite with deliberate steps and the tan Marisan limping slightly. They did not speak, but when the Maggite stopped, the Marisan did too. They stared side by side into the swirling water, and to their eyes, only one reflection gazed back at them.

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