Being the Story of How One God of Death and Decay Found Love in the Arms of a Supermassive Black Hole
If I’m to tell you the story of how I met the love of my life, I will need to first tell you the story of how I wound up here, in the Saturn Hotel, place that reminds me a great deal of my own subterranean palace, shifting and tricky and existing in a sphere of nothingness.
I was, at the time, in need of a good chaos-spa. It had been far too long since I’d bathed in the sweet, discordant waters of pandemonium and let it entropy around me, my very presence the unravelling at the center of the universe.
When I shared the notion with Izara, my young and rather intractable new protégé, she regarded the suggestion with her usual detachment; however, not two days later she came into my office with a peculiar artifact: a square of small stiff paper strung up on an odd fabric cord. Emblazoned upon this artifact was a single word, Rinthcon, and it was decorated in garish and, yes, chaotic lettering.
My skin prickled at the sight of it.
“It’s next weekend,” she said matter-of-factly, laying the artifact upon my desk.
“What the hell is this?” I said. We talk to each other like, you know. I find the disrespect reassuring.
“It’s your invitation to the event.”
I lifted the artifact by its string, let it dangle in front of me. When I touched it, I felt the delicious prickle of chaos.
“And how did you get it?” I asked.
“That technique you showed me. Crossing into other worlds. It’s something called a sci fi con and it sounds absolutely dreadful.”
“Sci fi con.” Those words meant nothing to me at the time. A string of alien syllables that rang out like a spell.
I was immediately entranced.
A week later, I had begun my holiday. The Saturn Hotel’s front clerk was surly and handed me a tarnished room key without making eye contact, even though I was in my human form (the handsome one). A top floor room, I was told. Penthouse suite. Izara knows me well.
I did not visit my room right away, however, as there was simply too much promise there in the lobby. The opulent and fading furniture, the broken chandelier, the odd scent of boiled cabbage: a perfect opening to my chaos-spa. Best of all, however, were the people. Strange people. Nominally human, I supposed (certainly not gods like myself), but they did not act like the humans I’m familiar with. The positively seethed with chaos. Half of them were lying about who they were: I sensed the duality of their selves, a quiet underbelly and a more extravagant outer layer, like the stuffed-date honey cakes Izara is always leaving around her office.
One walked by me. He was some sort of cultural hero from a culture I do not know, but also a middlingly average family man. A human who was also a warrior who was also a magician who was also as powerful as a god—I appreciated that, having been a god-human-warrior-magician myself, as you well know. A god wearing the skin of a human, much as this human was wearing the skin of a god.
There were others. Various cat-people and fox-people and the like. More heroes. A handful of monsters. Humans dressed as other humans are who are presumably more interesting in some way I could not comprehend.
But then I caught the whiff of death.
On the surface, a human woman.She breezed past me, smelling of soft mangoes and flowers left too long in the vase, staring down at the small black box many of the people had at the hotel. Some sort of trap for lightning and information—I didn’t understand it and didn’t need to.
Despite her intoxicating scent, she was not immediately interesting. She wore simple clothes. Had I been looking with only my eyes, I would have barely noticed her.
But when she passed, something crackled in me. I felt it deep in my chest, and she felt it too, because she stopped a few feet way, directly beneath that crooked, broken chandelier. Looked up. Looked over at me.
We both froze.
Like me, she wore a costume.
Like me, she was entropy.
Her dark eyes narrowed. She slipped her block box in the pocket of her trousers and walked up to where I was sitting in a shabby overstuffed chair. Put her hands on her hips.
“The hell are you doing here?” she demanded. “This is my turf!”
I felt a momentary surge of panic. It had been a very long time since I interacted with one of my own kind. There are only a handful of us in all the universes of existence, you know.
So I did the first thing I could think to do, which was lie. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Shut up. You feel it. We both feel—“
She was interrupted by a loud, terrible crash. The chandelier had fallen to the ground, scattering into a million pieces of broken glass. Delicious sounds of chaos rose up up the the lobby: screams and gasps and confused-yet-excited chatter.
Not the woman, though. Not my female counterpart.
“We can’t both be here,” she hissed. “We’ll tear this fucking place apart!”
Before I could properly respond, she grabbed my arm and hauled me to my feet. The humans were crowding around the chandelier, holding up their black boxes to the thing. The fear and confusion had turned to delight. Sweet, chaotic delight.
And this terrible woman was dragging me away from it.
“Let me go!” I shouted, not caring if I made a scene. She ignored me, and I struggled to detach from her, but she is, I’m not ashamed to admit, stronger than me. And at that point, I’d been out of commission for some time.
“No,” she snarled. “We need to sort this out before the whole fucking asteroid comes undone!”
She didn’t answer, only flung open a door and shoved me through. I expected a hallway or some such, but instead it was a tiny cramped room filled with brooms and mops and other cleaning supplies.
The woman shut and locked the door before turning to me.
“I’m going to ask again,” she said. “What are you doing here?”
I considered lying, if only to irritate her. But she was also… intriguing. I’d never met another creature of decay before, and I’d always been feared and hated for what I am. To find someone else like me? It was a balm.
So I told the truth.
“I’m on holiday,” I said.
She blinked, surprise evident on her human face. It was not an unattractive face, either.
“I have spent the last five hundred years trying to kill myself,” I said, rather patiently. “As a fellow immortal being, I’m sure you understand the futility of that.”
Was that the barest hint of a smile on her lips? I think it was.
“Anyway,” I continued. “I saw the error of my ways. I no longer crave annihilation. I even took on a protégé to teach the magic of decay. But I needed to relax, and she found this place for me.” I gestured vaguely toward the door. “Surely we can find some way to co-exist, at least for the weekend?”
The woman considered this: arms crossed, head tilted. I witnessed, just for a single glimmering moment, her true form. A vastness at the edge of space ringed in fiery light. An abyss into which all life will eventually fall and be consumed. The last breath of the multiverse.
Oh, she was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen.
Of course, the vision didn’t last. She snapped it shut, sealed it off, replacing it with the mousy human form in front of me.
“Look,” she said. “I’m not gonna lie. It would be nice to have another one of us to—“ She waved her hand around. “Talk shop with, I guess?”
I didn’t know what that meant, but I didn’t want her to know I didn’t know. I said nothing.
“But this place, this hotel, it’s not exactly stable. There’s like, thirty realities swirling around in the building alone. The two of us—“ She shook her head. “You’re cute and all, but we’re talking two significantly destructive forces feeding off each other. That chandelier was just the beginning.”
“The chandelier is fine,” I said, my human-form heart all aflutter. You’re cute and all. Who had ever called me cute before her? No one. Not even Izara when she’s trying to wheedle some favor out of me. “The humans were thrilled to see it fall.”
She gave me a long look. “They won’t be so thrilled when the hotel collapses on top of them.”
There was a part of me that wanted to remind her we are eternal manifestations of decay and there was simply no reason for her to care about that. But I’ve also grown more fond of humans and other mortals recently, and I did understand her concern.
“It’s only for a weekend,” I said. “Surely we can contain ourselves for that long?”
“Containing ourselves isn’t the problem,” she said. “I’m just afraid—this place being as unstable as it is—“ She sighed, pushed her hair away from her face. It was such a deceptively human gesture that my own human body reacted immediately, a physical pulse of desire. She scowled at me.
“We don’t even know each other’s names,” she snapped.
“In this form,” I said, “I go by Kjari.”
She softened a bit at that. Wrapped her hair around her finger. “Rusti,” she mumbled. “I tell people I’m named Rusti.”
“Rusti.” I smiled. “I appreciate the joke there.”
She grinned. “They’re all rusting around us, aren’t they? Oxidizing into dust.”
We both laughed, and yes, all right, I did a little tremor deep in the core of firmament. Rusti felt it too, because she straightened her spine, shook her head.
“See?” she said. “The two of us, together? This place will never hold up.”
“One little tremor? That’s nothing.” I flashed my smile at her, the one that I used to disarm Izara when I need her to do some undesirable chore. Of course, it rarely works on her, but I hoped Rusti would be different.
Rusti leaned up against the door, watching me with a rueful expression. “I know I should say no,” she said. “I know I should just expel you out of here—“
“But you aren’t going to.”
She blushed. What a darling human thing, blushing. She also tucked a piece of her hair behind her ears, which was equally darling. Again I saw her true form, felt the vacuum of her destruction. She was not nearly as old as me, I realized. In fact, she was quite young.
“You were born here,” I said, startled.
“Mmm.” She dropped her hand to her side, gazed up up at me. “When they split the universes, the antimatter…” She held up her hands, made a dazzle kind of motion. “That’s me!”
I laughed. “You’re lucky,” I said. “Existing on your own. I have siblings.” I spat the word, curling my lip as I spoke. But Rusti frowned.
“That sounds nice,” she said. “I get lonely.”
I understood then. That was why she didn’t want us to tear the hotel apart. These people, living in this place—she cares for them. The old me would have been disgusted at the thought. But now--
I found it admirable. I still do.
I offered my elbow to her, a common gesture of courtship among the humans of my world, but one which seemed lost on her. She stared at down at it.
“I’m going to stay,” I told her. “And keep you company.”
“If we feel anything more than a tremor or a broken chandelier,” I continued, “I’ll leave. That’s my promise to you, dear Rusti.”
She blushed again, but she looped her arm in mine, and I realized she was familiar with the gesture, after all.
“I suppose it would be nice to get to know another one… like me,” she said.
I pushed open the door, and the sallow hallway light flooded into the closet. Voices twinkled out in the hotel. Human laughter, human excitement. Chaos. Disorder. Cacophony.
I couldn’t wait to share it with her.
“It’s only four days,” she breathed, more to herself than to me. “We just have to hold everything together ’til Monday—“
“We will,” I said, and I swept her out into the hotel lobby. The broken chandelier looked like stars across the dirty carpet. The air was thick with chaos, disorder, and possibility.
It would be a weekend--
Kjari and Izara are characters in The Beholden, available wherever books are sold!