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Noon in the Garden of Good and Evil

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Here’s a man running down a mountain slope. The mountain is not to be found on any known map, and neither is the man: about two years ago he’d been declared missing and a few months ago upgraded to dead. There’s even a grave with a body in it on the other side of the mountain. He stumbles, smoothly rolls back to his feet and runs on. His tattered clothes are the color of leaves and mud, his tanned skin stained green and red where he and the mountain have rubbed shoulders too close. The mountain’s ragged hide is streaked red as well, with higanbana...

“Maru-megane,” sighs the wind, brushes cool fingers through the runner’s hair. That’s incorrect: he lost his glasses, and he no longer needs them anyway, but he’d be damned if he let the... things on this island use his old honest name. “Ah, maru-megane...”

Weathered stone ribs cut the tall grass, plunge into the forest below. He runs through handfuls of leaves hurled into his face, through branches tearing at cloth and skin. Wind does not sigh here, it sings, whistling merrily into the runner’s ear. There are things here, true, things that mind refuses to comprehend, things that were never meant to walk the same earth... The running man thinks that the worst of them walk on two legs and look uncannily like children of men.

There are not many left. There never really were, he thinks, crashing through dry tangled wood. Until now.

“Shall we start from scratch?” the demon said and smiled beatifically at him.

And so he runs, out of breath and covered in scratches, because he does not know how to finish this.

Green and gold spots before his eyes dissolve into a great blue: the forest also ends. There’s only sky, ocean, and a short stretch of rock and sand, and what looks like a pile of driftwood, but is a settlement in fact...

Light as the breeze, a hand grabs his shoulder and uses all that wonderful momentum to bring him down, hard. The green, and the gold, and the blue fade to thick red.

...There’s a slap. The no longer running man comes to with a numbing sense of déjà vu, because all this had happened before, had it not, the sudden awareness, the ringing in his ears, and the pale, perfect, loathsome face before him. Were his mouth not so dry, he’d spit at it.

The demon regards him with a calm, even solemn interest -- the accursed interest that lost him everyone and everything.

“Are you that hungry?” the demon asks. “You should have said.”

Maru-megane manages some spit. There’s enough blood in it to make the creature’s eyes flare.

“Or do you miss them?” the demon smiles, waves one white hand lazily at the village. “Think they should bury you again?”

He is wrapped in some threadbare rags, his hair is a wild mess with twigs stuck in it, and he still looks like he owns the world, or at least this here part of it.

No, you don’t. Not me, maru-megane thinks.

“Let’s go then, you and I!” and the same hand picks him up off the ground, and the eyes the color of old blood are dancing. “That will be...”

No, you DON’T, Miyabi, you bastard.

It is a bit like a dance. Miyabi’s body weighs next to nothing, makes no sound when he throws it down in a cloud of dry leaves and dust, and he has to hold it down, to make certain...

“...Interesting,” Miyabi murmurs, breathless. “Say, maru-megane... what are you going to do about us, then?”

They roll over and over again, not exactly fighting, everyone else forgotten. There is not much more you can do when you have already cut someone down and here they are, lively as you please, laughing up at you... Miyabi’s rags -- silk, heavy rotten ancient silk -- rip in his grip. Miyabi’s fingernails slice through his shirt, leaving burning trails down his back. Cool hands that can easily snap a man’s neck cradle his face with a thoughtful care... like a mirror. Light and dark, cold and fierce -- they really are the same thing now, and if he dares to say otherwise he is still bound to this pale abomination, had been ever since he listened to its voice and rushed to open a door...

Maru-megane groans and buries his burning face in the demon’s neck.

“Mm. Will have to find you a name,” Miyabi says.

A pleasantly warm hand moves restlessly up and down his throat, feeling silky-smooth skin, searching... never finding a trace of a scar, none at all.