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L waits on the black tile floor waiting for the inevitable sound of the key unlocking the apartment door. She wears a long black coat and formal hat with a veil filtering the darkness in her eyes. The coat gives her an air of statuesque stillness. And it is true that she is more than calm in the face of what must come.
From her vantage by the window she can see the congealing puddle of blood in the adjoining kitchen. Red on black, snaking from the body of her dead husband who she stabbed in the back and then the heart with the same knife that they used to prepare vegetables together.
She recalls his death with distaste. He bellowed when she took him in the back. Just screams of pain and dumb protestation. As if she were robbing him of something to which he was entitled. She knows that no one is entitled to live, least of all her.
The image of death surprises her with its intensity. A thing of clarity and hard edges. At that moment, she cannot resist letting her fingers wander between her thighs, caressing the soft skin and the warm throb of her sex.
The expected sound of the key in the lock. The assassin enters and walks over to her, almost sighing.
He affects shabbiness. His suit is cheap and there is stubble on his chin. It's his style, she knows, a way of indicating a certain independence from his masters in the Syndicate. She recalls from their lovemaking that the body beneath that suit is whip strong, always impeccably clean.
His hard eyes look into hers: “I must tell you frankly that this will make no difference. If anything it will be worse for you. I was to have done this - and it would have been slower. You were too merciful. The syndicate has a very clear policy here”
“I take full responsibility” she breathes, feeling a sexual shiver take her. “In any case, I used to help him oversee the accounts. I should have spotted the transfers”
“I could let you go. I could kill myself”
“There’s no point” she says “They would find me. I want it to be you. In fact…”
At that moment she unbuttons her coat; lets it coagulate on the floor in a pool of black on black. Underneath her lithe body is covered only in a copper evening shawl that she purchased from Milan fashion house the previous year. It flows to a short leather skirt that dilates around her sex. Under the shawl, her body seems dusted with diamonds.
He recalls that she wore this daring ensemble to a Syndicate dinner in the summer. He remembers the elegance and insouciance with which she pulled it off, walking among the guests like a priestess among her flock.
“You remember this” she whispers, moving up close to him so that her breasts crush against him “When we made love that night you admitted it made you fantasize about killing me, slowly. It made you hard just thinking that; so you came in me again and again.... And I remember you in me with your hand almost crushing my windpipe ... and I asked you to touch me with your knife, remember?”
“You took your knife from your jacket and you touched me everywhere, like an artist. I wanted you to cut me so much…. Well, now I’ve taken certain substances. They change the value systems in the cortex, so that pain becomes pleasure. Can you imagine …?”
At that she unzips his fly and guides his elegant penis towards her. She has never felt him so hard and savors the spiteful urgency with which he pulls her to him, his strong hands scoring her back. He slips easy into the moistness of her vulva.
She whispers into his ear: “Fuck me, then kill me. Please”
After their lovemaking she lies back on the large, black circular table in the center of the apartment. She still wears the copper shroud, a couturier’s death piece. But she lifts it for him above her breasts. Her skin sings as he glides the blade of his slim fighting knife over her legs, caressing her tummy before glancing against the diamonds between her breasts.
She loves being naked for him, adorned and vulnerable for her murderer and lover. She guides the knife gently towards her right breast, letting its razor sharp blade bite softly against the engorged nipple. Then she pushes her breast up to meet the knife, feeling it slice effortlessly into layers of skin. The pleasure-pain builds and twines slowly through her like a river of lava, no longer localized (the drugs are that good).
At that moment she just want him to open her up, to stab her everywhere. “Oh god. Kill me, kill me”
But he is entering into the spirit of her desire, teasing her. Smiling down at her with a cruel, necessary love, he lets the blade wander down to her thighs, brushing the soft skin there then letting it rest tentatively against her sex, a wet rose between the layered, black petals of her skirt.
Then, without warning, he stabs her in the right thigh, cutting into the hard, well-exercised muscle there. She spasms in pleasure then but, smiling into his implacable face, guides the blade to her flat tummy. She arches, fingering her intact and bleeding nipples to await the beginning of the end. Before he strikes, he leans towards her to kiss her for the last time.
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It seems as if she has always been this: a warm body against yours. Her shoulder against your lips and tongue. Hair in your face. The luxuriant smell of sex. Eyes closed on things you cannot see.
On the Island, there were more stray cats in the conference venue than people, so you got to talking before the plenary. A dark shirt formed a deep slash against her pale skin. It was late autumn. Even then she intimidated you with her precision and an unsparing attention to the moment. You bitched about the delegates with issues over a lunch in the harbor. You were just passing, almost friends until that moment in the auditorium. She rested against you. And you rested back, feeling her heart beat through fabric as you pretended to listen to a presentation whose content neither of you recall.
As you feel her now, tracing the skin of her thighs, her stomach slick with sweat and semen. You kiss her labia, licking crisp pubic hair. You move up to her breasts. She cries and strokes your head and neck. You bite her nipple gently; cradle her back, preparing to get a little rough. Pain was always a straightforward need, spelled out on the first night. In any case, after some hesitation, you learned to enjoy giving it.
But there was the thing only said long after the Island. Something that already haunted you, like a hole burnt in your memory of the place. She had already discussed her sly Orientalist fantasy of imprisonment by despotic loves; the punctilious honour codes that required her to be endlessly punished. But the other one, she confessed, her deepest need, was to die for another.
Sometimes she imagined this as a noble act. A lover, a dear friend or, better, some stranger randomly condemned to death by some ruthless, but rule bound agency: the secret police, the spies against whom they schemed, by bean counting population controllers and conscientious debt collectors. Always she would stand up, volunteer to take the other’s place. The killer or killers would be taken aback, suspicious perhaps of the frank sexuality implicit in the substitution, but they would accept it with enthusiasm.
She detailed the elaborate preparations for an execution, which sometimes resembled a complicated public suicide. She would bathe then carefully depilate. She would comb her hair and touch herself in the mirror, memorializing her body’s unrepeatable intensity and warmth. She would walk proudly to her fate, dressed in some funereal yet scandalous outfit.
She told you that she wanted her killers to know that she defied them with a perverse desire outbidding their paltry appetites. She would, then, look into your eyes and with a fierce joy describe the first sensations of a knife pressing against her sternum, a rope rough and tightening around her neck, the sound of kindling as it took. She might even tell of the agony of the flame or spike, as if concocting former lives for a credulous therapist. You always felt an inexplicable sadness on hearing these stories, though for whom, or for what, you do not know.
But more often, she imagined giving herself to another without reciprocation or exchange. She imagined that this would be the greatest joy. She would discuss the various techniques of death; but also its ritual, etiquette and formal dress code. She wanted to appear in a way that invited the killer’s touch as she looked directly into his eyes and gave herself to nothing for nothing.
Although discomforted at first, something in you also came to accept this tear in the fabric of events. You feel an excessive joy as she whispers “Kill me tonight”. A fragile darkness closes around you, the night and its possibilities temporarily receding.
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The embassy took place, as arranged, near dusk on a wide causeway on the cyclopean walls of the city whose name means “Perennial and Unconquered”. Through the heat haze of its encircling fire pits the vast camp of the Horse Clans darkened the desert like an oily sea, imbuing the warm air with the fetor of its cooking fires, the sweat and excrement of innumerable men and horses.
The court of the Obsidian Queen was arrayed on the walls to discuss terms with its prospective conquerors. As the ambassador of the Clans walked between the brilliantly dressed and perfumed courtiers – scholars, magnates, courtesans and generals – he could not repress a feeling of superiority. He considered all city dwellers to be decadent and soft. Despite the impressive defences that had surely earned the city its name, it would entail a modest expenditure of brave warriors to ford its fire pits and scale its walls. There would follow a night of unrestrained rapine and slaughter. Then the iron order of the Khan of the horse clans would be imposed.
As he proceeded towards the black throne, he gazed on the women of the court with savage prurience. The aristocratic women of the city often went semi-naked; their jewelled bodies covered only in veils or dresses of translucent fabric. It is even said that they were allowed to select their sexual partners and were as educated and valued as its menfolk. The Iron Order would naturally put a stop to such aberrations. The women of the “perennial” city would be taught modesty and humility. Their bodies would be henceforth under the proprietorship of the men of the Khan, to be displayed, in private, at their behest. As he gazed into the haughty eyes of a voluptuous female astronomer, cradling an astrolabe in her soft hands, we wondered, casually, whether she would make a docile and productive mate.
The ambassador, flanked by his two bodyguards, now stood before the black throne upon which the Obsidian Queen awaited behind the human screen of her five female attendants. The attendants were dressed lightly in the manner of the women of the court, their lithe bodies visible under copper veils. The ambassador felt his penis distend and harden under his leather breaches as he studied their disciplined bodies. And they stared back, evaluating him in turn; eyes as calculating as eagles. But his gaze was soon drawn to the figure of the Queen, slouching on her high, dark throne. She was dressed in a black silk gown that opened around her athletic body leaving her breasts and sex visible. The gown seemed to merge into the darkness of the throne. It was gathered at her waste with a thin golden cord, tucked into which was a short ceremonial blade. While he feasted his eyes on her body, the ambassador reflected that this was the only weapon he had seen in the court since arriving in the city. These people would be easy.
The negotiations began. The centremost of the ladies in waiting stepped forward and addressed him in the language of his people, her sentences perfectly accented and constructed: “Tell us your terms, O emissary of the Khan so that that our lady can consider them. You will hear her answer soon”
The ambassador relayed the terms. They were just and, besides, had greatly eased the expansion of the Khanate. Unconditional surrender would earn the mercy of the Khan. The city known as “Perennial and Unconquered” would become one with the Iron Order, with the Queen ruling at the pleasure of an appointed Satrap (traditionally, the representative who had successfully obtained the surrender of the city). Failure to agree would lead to the death or enslavement of many of its inhabitants, and a less flexible dispensation for the rest.
His translator expressed her comprehension with a brisk nod. As she walked with pantherine grace towards the throne, he noted that the Obsidian Queen was studying him oddly. Her regard was strange; her heavy lidded eyes and parted lips expressing deep, open sexual longing that he had never discerned in the subjugated women of the Horse Clans. He noticed that the fingers of one hand were fondling her shaven vulva and lower belly. The ambassador wondered at the impropriety of this, but the courtiers did not give it a second glance. In any case, this did nothing to still the mad fire that was building in his loins. He now hoped that the negotiations would fail. He wanted to rape this Queen with her city burning around her…
He received his answer quickly from the semi-nude translator. The Queen would agree to his terms in return for a minor favour. On hearing what would be required of him, the ambassador laughed out loud and began to loosen his leather belt, allowing the all-conquering member to unfurl before the assembly.
The Queen stepped down from her throne and approached him, naked apart from the thin belt and glinting knife. Her black hair cascaded around her pale shoulders and the erect nipples on her full breasts were shadowed in the flickering torchlight. She crushed her body against the ambassador, inhaling the trail stink of his leathers as if they were a perfume. As she kissed her would-be master she expertly tucked his stiff cock into her. He grabbed her hair from behind and pulled her violently to the granite paving. Then he fucked her before the Obsidian Throne while the courtiers and attendants looked on. His pleasure was building as he pounded her faster. Noting that she seemed to be enjoying his rough treatment, he dug his powerful fingers into her, bruising her back and neck.
But something was indefinably wrong here. Through the haze of his approaching orgasm, he saw that she was smiling, with that same distant need that he had observed earlier, as if lost in some reverie in which he had no place. And then he felt it. A sharp, blinding agony as her knife severed his penis from its base. He shouted, falling back from her, screaming invective and, some would attest, the name of his mother and favourite horse. The bodyguards attempted to come to his aid, but they had been expertly disarmed by a motley crew of courtiers, including the smiling, semi-naked astronomer he had appraised earlier.
Even in his agony and shame, the castrated ambassador was still drawn to the figure of the Queen. She was lying on the pavings of the causeway, legs apart, pleasuring herself with his bloodied member in one hand and with the knife in the other. She teased herself to repeated heights of pleasure with his severed penis, her legs and belly covered in the lubricating wash of his blood. She also pressed the tip of the blade, experimentally against her belly and breasts, and he thought, ruefully, that this seemed to give her even greater joy.
Then she made the first incision, slicing through her left nipple, making a warm rivulet of blood over her breast as she arched in ecstasy. Another self-wounding followed, then another. She made a shallow stab in her left side, then cut both her thighs, adding her own blood to his. With each incision her pleasure mounted until her body shook in an orgasm fuelled by her pain and inexhaustible desire. At this point his prick lay forgotten on a flagstone like a dead rat.
Finally, her black need mounted to its climax and the Obsidian Queen buried her knife into her lower belly, twisting it to cause the maximum pleasure and damage. She lay there dying in her own carnage, shuddering in her congealing blood robe.
As his consciousness faded from blood loss, the ambassador thought he saw the female attendants, who had gazed upon this scene with their habitual lack of expression walk towards the edge of the wall, casting themselves unhesitatingly into the flames of the City’s fire pit. That was the last he saw before the blackness took him.
On the following morning a new Obsidian Queen was picked from the court by the arcane but reliable process followed for thousands of years. By then the army of the Khan was gone. It had melted into the desert upon discovering the nature of the city they had, absurdly, hoped to make their own. It is said that the army of the Horse Clans never recovered from this encounter; that it fell apart in the desert, riven by the political forces that destroy all demoralized military expeditions. It is also said that a single warrior remained in their stead, dying from blood loss and dehydration as he observed the coronation on the city walls.
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