The phone rings unheeded, while across the room Diern lolls his head, eyes closed, tripping out to Miles Davis radiating from a pair of speakers. A stranger creeps in silently through the open balcony. He stares at Diern for several minutes. The stranger’s face contorts slightly, almost as though groping for the memory of facial expressions, filled with a strange psychopathic fondness for his prey. Diern’s body writhes in tandem with the hesitant tremors of the stranger’s face, the former seeming to be a magnified, more complete expression of the latter.
Diern opens his eyes. They connect with the stranger’s, and he knows a killer in those eyes as surely as a baby knows the sun. A strange love affair of violence plays between their eyes, a knowledge of the mortal dance that will occur between them, and the exultation of that dance. Then Diern leaps back from his chair as though propelled by some invisible, supernatural force.
He is horribly aware of how high he is, but he knows that if he lets this bother him it will be worse. Regret and fear cannot take hold in his mind, for such emotions would surely overwhelm him and seal his demise at the hands of his opponent. Somehow he manages to remember the exact location of his sword in the messy room, misplaced hours ago, and now found again, entirely by his subconscious. His hand closes around the hilt and he darts his eyes into focus, expected his enemy to have taken advantage of his mind’s compromised state and go for the easy kill.
But the killer hasn’t moved. His face, his flickering, amnesiac face, finally recalls a semblance of a smile, but it is a twisted, withered thing, with hardly any involvement of the eyes, making it seem as though it hangs from two staring orbs by canvassed flaps of skin. He enjoyed Diern’s retreat, enjoyed seeing the fear in his eyes as he struggled to get a grip on his mind. He knows drugs are playing greater havoc on his prey than the actual threat of death standing before him, with possible deaths, improbable deaths even, unfolding before Diern’s eyes in perfect clarity as though actually happening, each carving a path of fear as it burrows in, through, and out. He stands for a moment longer, savouring the dark waves crossing Diern’s face, each denoting another experience of what may or may not kill him.
The sight of his potential killer smiling this way at his torment gives Diern the motivation he needs to channel that torment into a deluge of anger. He will make the first move. Suddenly he feels his eyes drift to the side, and the baseboard looms into view. The illusion of safety, of security, is so strong he almost believes he is imagining the assassin, that he is in no actual danger, that in a moment he will laugh at how paranoid he has become.
No, he says to his mind, knowing full well that his brain is experiencing a wave of denial, hoping to bury its head in the sand, providing a fantastical euthanasia for its host identity. I will not die delusional. He raises his sword again, wondering how long the escapist trip gripped him, wondering if it lasted only the blink of an eye, or if it went on for hours, with his predator standing over him the whole time, crackles of laughter dying on the edge of a throat that had long ago forgotten how to laugh. No, he states once again for good measure, and he may have said it allowed.
The leap forward seems to take a full minute, and the whole while Diern wonders why his opponent just stood there, barely moving his arms to grab his weapons. He can see them now, two curved daggers sheathed at his waist in crossover fashion, but the gloved hands have not reached them yet. Already he is seeing the glinting, silvery plane of steel sliding into view, candlelight sparkling off its surface like the setting sun off the surface of a lake. At first it surprises him, and then he realizes it is his own sword, propelled by instinct and many thousands of hours of training.
He feels the slicing of the blade as it momentarily hesitates at the changes of density in the tissues of his opponent’s torso, feels the viscous bane spill out and over and down and around everything, into his eyes, nostrils, mouth, right ear, hair. For a moment he is gripped by the overwhelming fear that this, too, is an imagined outcome, and that the one who has been sliced into two roughly equal pieces is indeed himself. But he knows, deep within, that he has won, that his path has been true, his guesses correct, and his determination valid.
In the years that follow, he will look back with mingled pride and humility at this, his best and worst trip.