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The temple doors flew open, sending echoes down a thousand candlelit corridors. Arys’lol knew that he had little time. He closed and locked the doors and pulled a candle, sconce and all, from the wall. and swiftly strode the main corridor toward the Centrality. He wished he could move more quickly, but could not risk blowing out the candle. If only he had more damned time. . . but he mustn't think about such things. The portents cast a cold shadow down every hall, colder indeed than any that had come before. Everyone would die unless he could make it to the pyre. First would come his daughter. That would hurt the most. Second would come his lover . . . but he mustn’t think about it. He just couldn’t help himself, could he?

He heard the doors slam behind him. He had less time than he thought. Footsteps echoed behind him on the smooth stone floor. They reminded him of his thwarted potential, like echoes of a half dream not quite past . . . if he had heeded the omens, could things have ended differently? There would be no flowers on the grave, nor would anyone testify to his name. Damn her. It was no matter. Not anymore.

He reached the end of the corridor. The footsteps grew closer. He dared not look back, only forward. If he looked back all would be lost. He drew a long, black key from his sleeve, and put it into a large lock. It turned almost effortlessly. Funny how empty it felt. He pushed through the doors and didn’t bother to close them. His daughter lay sleeping before him, the bed was the only thing in the room. He pressed his hand over her mouth and shushed her forcibly as she awoke. Twenty years ago, he swore a sacred oath before his radiant god that he would protect her until the day he died. He might have laughed, but he had no time.

She didn’t even question him. She heard the footsteps, and got out of her bed soundlessly to follow him. She trusted him - and why shouldn’t she, dammit? His grasp around her wrist tightened as he led her out the door opposite to his entry, and at the end of the corridor, through a marble archway. The footsteps weren’t even a moment behind him, and they were gaining. He was so close.

He knew this might happen one day. Lesser men would have denied it. He was better than them. He had requested that his own quarters and his daughter’s quarters be near enough the centrality. A geometric ecstasy of marble, chrome, stone, an altar carved in the likeness of his great and radiant god. His eyes burned fire, and a hundred thousand candles burned in sconces around the wall of the circular chamber.

The blade slid into his palm. Black as sin, wrought of iron, sleek and slender. It was cold. His hands were clammy. He tightened his grip and his knuckles turned white. He held her by the neck and started sawing at her throat. She tried to scream, tried to wrench away, but he had already severed her larynx. Her blood was everywhere at once. It felt so empty, he had done it a thousand times before. She was limp in seconds. Praise the Radiant One.

He flung her onto the pyre. His lover had entered the room now. He felt nothing; love and fear and regret lost beneath the tide of adrenaline. All he could do now was turn around.

Torol's white hooded cloak hung heavy and thin, supple as sin. She held a blade in her hands. It was bronze and curved, the edge waved inward and outward without any real pattern, as though any knicks and chinks in the metal were simply forged into the finished blade. A geometric abomination. He should have wrung his hands around her neck to throttle her the first night they were together, the consummation of their union. The omens all said she would betray him someday. But he had been a fool, blinded by love and the promise of heredity.

“You betrayed my god. You betrayed your vow to me. Why0.”

“Your god is violent and wrathful. You have no resolve. Only blood and fire.”

“Purity can only be wrought of blood and fire.” The words came spilling out of him. He had said them a thousand times before. They were empty.

They stood poised. She had already lost. He had been bound to the deific retinue of His Radiance for over a decade, and Warden of the Grand Pyre for seven years.

A thousand soft shadows danced before and around him. He wondered if he was damned. She stopped just inches in front of him.

“Kiss me one last time.” she whispered in his ear. He obeyed mindlessly. Damn the woman. His heart was pounding/. His thoughts were a disorganized flurry, his breath shallow. He felt her body press upon his own as he wrapped his arms around her.

Their daughter was still pouring blood behind him. Blade still in his hand, he pulled toward himself with all the strength that he had left. Through her back, splitting apart skin, tendons, and sinew. Through her bones, severing her spine and scraping through her ribs. Through her heart. She had screamed, bit him, dug her nails into him, but she was too late. He had killed them both; his blade came out her chest and continued into him. Through his own skin, his own ribs, and through his own still-beating heart.

He felt himself falling, yes . . . the candle fell to the floor. His mouth pressed against hers, a final weakness of lust, fear, regret, passion, pain, or just of instinct. He felt himself choking on blood and smoke. A pillar of flame engulfed the pyre. As he burned alive, he finally knew what it meant to feel.

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