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Melting Through

Night fell like a strange tide across otherworldly shores. Shindara had aimlessly roamed the palace for hours, navigating hallways adorned with mother-of-pearl and extravagant dome-shaped chambers. At times, it felt as if he was navigating the inside of an empty shell. He couldn’t fathom what these rooms were intended for, and maybe he was never meant to find out.

Eventually, he found his way to fresh air and the sight of the night sky. Instead of craning his head out a window, he found himself walking onto an open veranda.

“A moon-viewing deck,” he murmured.

The sight offered a decadent view of the ocean bay, replete with braziers that flickered and flamed by the shore. Izanami must have set them alight while he was trying to find his way through the labyrinth of luxury.

Unlike most moon-viewing decks, this one was encased by an ornamental railing and intricately carved designs. It was one of the coziest verandas Shindara ever had the pleasure of lounging in. It was more akin to an oyster than it was a sheltered porch, and what a lovely comparison that was because the moon reflected like a pearl on the ocean waves, captivating and unattainable.

Speaking of something else unreachable, he noticed Izanami out of the corner of his eye. She emerged from the shadows, intriguing him with a new change of dress. Instead of her tattered, dirty kimono, she wore a silken court dress of remarkable quality. It would have been as black as the shadows if not for the golden embroidery woven throughout the collar.

Her hair was secured in an elaborate display of kanzashi hairpins and petal thin chains. Several rings also glinted on her fingers as she stepped within reach of the moonlight. Shindara noticed one of those rings was more unique-looking than the rest because it bore a remarkable sigil.

“This represents me,” Izanami said, brandishing it when she noticed his gaze. “It’s the symbol of my power and inner strength. It’s funny, isn’t it? The little things that bring us comfort. I’ve only ever shown this to my ex-husband.”

“I’m honored that you would share it with me, too,” he replied, attempting flattery, which she welcomed with a knowing smile.

“I’m starting to feel more like myself since I’ve come home,” she said without any prompting. “It’s still not enough, but it’s better.”

“How is it not enough?”

“I’ve felt weak ever since I crawled out of the Yomi. I only feel like half of myself.”

He watched, mesmerized, as she approached the edge of the veranda. There were so many things he wanted to ask her and so many things that he knew he shouldn’t.

“What was it like when you became the Abhorrent?”

Hence, one of the things he shouldn’t.

Izanami leaned against the railing and held a silent vigil over the shore. “I was the first one. At least you had friends to keep you from changing into the worst version of yourself. I only had the demons to keep me company.”

Shindara followed her stare to the edge of the bay. She seemed fixated on a column of stone rising out of the water. There was something otherworldly about it as if this rock was announcing the arrival of gods. In some ways, it reminded him of the spear Izanami described her husband wielding.

“Do you still think about your husband?”

“Ex-husband,” she corrected. “And sometimes I do. It’s hard to describe because I still love the person he used to be. But as we all know, he showed his true character when he left me behind.”

“Then he didn’t deserve you. What he did to you was cruel and disturbing.”

“And he killed my child, too,” Izanami replied. “That’s why I can never forgive him. Do you remember what it felt like? When the residual pain and anger was all you had left? Mine festered until the rage practically became an entity unto itself. The Abhorrent, as we know it. Sometimes, it was a balm for me. As long as I was angry, nothing could ever hurt me again. It became my armor.”

“There was a seductive quality about it,” Shindara admitted. “The power could be intoxicating. Other times, it felt like I wasn’t in control of myself.”

“You only tell yourself that,” she chimed. “The truth is you knew what you were doing the entire time. Even if it was bad for you, you wanted it anyway.”

“And what do you think I want most of all?”

Something devious tugged at the corner of her lips. She didn’t take her eyes off him as she listened to the low, sleepy growl of the tide.

“The same thing I want.”

Searching his mind, Shindara only hoped he had the answer on the tip of his tongue.

“You want to belong.”

“Am I wrong for wanting that?”

“No. Not at all.”

When he didn’t elaborate, Izanami sensed a deeper meaning to his silence.

“You understand how it feels, too, don’t you?”

“I do, but it’s not for the reasons you think,” he replied. How could she know what he went through? No one seemed to understand what it felt like. “I was born and raised as an untouchable. I was viewed as less than a person because, supposedly, there was something intrinsically wrong with me. The child of an untouchable is just as guilty as their parents. So I understand what it feels like to live outside of society.”

“Maybe you should have been the first Abhorrent,” she said, making an insult sound like a well-intended compliment. “Didn’t your parents want you?”

Regretting the direction the conversation had taken, Shindara wished he could retract his words.

“I’m not sure. I was simply there. It was my duty to help them survive, but did we ever act like a family?” He shook his head. “Not exactly. Love was something I didn’t understand on a basic level. It’s probably why I was so nervous when I met my wife for the first time.”

“You were never loved before her?”

“No.” He decided to leave it at that, as if the truth wasn’t worth expounding on. He didn’t want to admit that being an untouchable meant he didn’t exist.

Shindara looked away when he noticed the expression on her face, something akin to sympathy. He didn’t want her pity and he certainly didn’t want her affection because of it. In fact, part of him was embarrassed for sharing those revealing shreds of his past.

The more he was drawn into her eyes, however, he realized it wasn’t sympathy at all. There was something else she badly wanted to say to him.

“What if you don’t deserve the love you think you do?” she asked. “What if it takes someone truly damaged to see the beauty and depth in you? Maybe you don’t actually need someone to love you. Maybe you just need someone to break your chains.”

“You’re right. Besides, those chains would look prettier on you.”

She seemed impressed with how quickly he turned it back on her. “That’s the most interesting thing you’ve said all day,” she laughed, a sumptuous melody that lingered over the bay. Together, they briefly lost themselves in the moon as it danced on the ceiling of the sea.

Izanami was practically hypnotized by the view. She wasn’t even looking at Shindara anymore. He almost thought he lost her attention entirely until she spoke up.

“Thank you for telling me a little more about your story. You remind me of myself, which brings me to a question I don’t think you’re going to like. What if you’re not the hero in your own story? What if we’re just as bad as the villains? And more importantly… so what?”

With those parting words, she sidled past Shindara, just barely grazing his arm with her own. He couldn’t have watched her leave even if he wanted to. He felt paralyzed where he stood, wrapped up in a hurricane of thoughts and emotions that frightened him. When he was finally ready to face her, of course she was gone.

She always left him feeling like he was standing on the edge—but on the edge of what exactly?

Yes, he was tempted to let these feelings play themselves out, but there was one dubious thought holding him back. Was he falling for someone who wasn’t emotionally available?

Surprisingly, he found himself contemplating her. Most of the time, he wasn’t sure whether he was repulsed or aroused by her. Even the terror twisted itself into an absurd fascination when it came to Izanami. He couldn’t deny the chilling parallels between them. Leaning against the balcony, he was overcome by a desire to find out what else they shared in common.

The next hour passed by in a haze of thoughts and contemplative silence. In fact, he was almost oblivious to the mournful song in the air. A voice was calling out from the depths of the decrepit palace. It sent his pulse racing and made the hairs stand up on the back of his neck, but was it fear or was it excitement? Shindara finally pushed off the balcony and answered the unknown call.

This moment felt as if it shouldn’t be happening. Shindara plunged into the shadows because he wasn’t afraid of what he might find next. He stormed his way from stone courtyards to breezeways to the inner sanctum.

The voice was undoubtedly hers. Izanami’s haunting melody guided him with every echo around every corner.

He lurched to a halt behind several stone columns when he spotted her. Izanami was standing in a chamber that was practically dripping with candles. As for the walls, they were expertly carved out of coral. It glowed with a lush orange hue like copper freshly pulled out of the forge. These luxuries must have been collected from the reefs beyond the moon-viewing deck. Within those mottled walls, candles left the chamber awash in a beautiful ambience, like a hedonistic embrace.

Shindara couldn’t take his eyes off her. Izanami was dancing and singing to herself as if there was no greater pleasure. He didn’t know her hips could move like that, and he never noticed how weighty her breasts were before.

The only thing more maddening than the sight of her was the way she sounded. Her song, unfamiliar yet captivating, resonated with rises, falls, and wavers that kept him spellbound. Feeling pitiful and wanting, Shindara cursed himself for being under her sway.

As he watched her half-lidded eyes, he wondered if she noticed him from the shadows. He was unsure if she aimed to seduce him or assert his insignificance, but both options were fraught with dangerously tempered egos.

The candlelight paid worship to her skin in so many various ways. For every drop of sweat that was rolling down her throat, he wished he could be there to grasp her neck and kiss his way up to her lips. It frightened him to feel this out of control for anyone. It was better not to feel any of this at all because to desire is to be weak.

But if that was true, then he was surely the weakest man stranded in the middle of the ocean. As he tried to close his mind off to these fantasies, he knew it was pointless. He marveled at the undulating cadence of her voice, unsure if she was weaving words anymore.

Izanami weaved past several columns, always remaining slightly concealed and out of reach. Yet, no matter how she tried to hide it, he could see the inner sadness buried under the sensuality. He saw it in the way she bit her lip or closed her eyes—not because she was lost in ecstasy but because she didn’t want to see how empty her world had become.

He didn’t know how to describe it, but he could sense when she was crying out for something more. He could feel her craving, her wanting, and all the pieces she was missing.

How immaculate that her loneliness matched his. He didn’t have to fight the darkness when he was with her. With all her scars and all of his flaws, he had to believe they were more than enough for each other. And suddenly, he wanted that kind of loneliness with her more than anything.


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