He brushed away her hands and reached into a recess hidden amongst the gaps of large stones, and retrieved a coil of rope. Looping one end around his stakes, he placed them into the recess and tugged on the rope. Satisfied it would hold his weight, he jumped away from the wall and landed below before jumping again. He repeated this five more times and stood at the base of the wall beckoning to Asis.
Asis smiled, grabbed the rope, and sprinted the length of the wall, running against the side. She made large turns, and by looping back and forth, ran down the wall to meet Nemr. Exhilaration stole her breath and she had to suppress laughter lest she alert the sentries. They had done it: they left the city unbeknownst to the guards.
They walked along the Dawn River. It meandered through the Dawn Consortium and started to sink into the ground from a millennia of erosion. She could see the Dawn Road level from the edge of what was beginning to be a sheer cliff down to the banks of the River of Dawn. A city ahead of them was split atop the cliffs and below another waterfall. It wasn’t as glorious as the Falls of Dawn, but a series of small cascades a little taller than an adult man. That city rose in the distance, painted white by the light of the moon. Asis was tired, but being with Nemr she felt alive – able to achieve great things. No parents, no spear lessons. Just her, her friend, the cliffs and the moon overhead. Everything was perfect, the stars seemed to glow as bright as the moon and there wasn’t a cloud in sight to block the celestial field of twinkling gems.
Asis looked at Nemr, wondering if he revered the celestial light show above. She stifled a yawn into her hand and asked her friend, “What brings us out here, Nemr? Everything okay in the city?”
Nemr fidgeted and kicked rocks toward the cliff edge. He didn’t meet her gaze.
“Nemr? Talk to me.”
“Well…” he muttered, focused on an imaginary blemish on his tunic. “I don’t know how to say this, Asis.”
Asis stared at her friend. “Nemr, you’re not making sense,” she huffed. “Speak your thoughts.”
He remained silent for a few moments more. Asis threw her arms toward the glistening heavens and turned to head back to the city. Strong arms wrapped around her from behind. “I don’t want you to leave, Asis,” he whispered into her ear.
Shocked silent, Asis focused on her breathing and heart rate. She didn’t know why, but tears pooled in her eyes. Thoughts raced and her exhaustion faded instantly.
“Nemr,” she whispered back. “Why don’t you want me to leave?”
He hugged her tighter and replied, “I don’t want you to leave because…” She felt him tense, his chest pressed against her back. “Because I love you…”
As soon as the words were spoken, he released her and stepped back. She spun and saw a look she didn’t recognize: Fear. The feral boy was afraid of nothing. Asis threw her arms around his neck and nuzzled her cheek against his shoulder. “I love you too, Nemr, but I’m leaving the city once I’m old enough.” She squeezed him and continued. “You can come with me.”
Nemr withdrew and kissed her on the forehead. She looked into his eyes and saw not love and relief, but a profound sadness. The incongruent look chilled her to the bone.
“Nemr,” she gasped, “what are you doing?”
Nemr brandished one of her stone daggers. Her hands discovered the empty scabbard at her waist. She cried out, and stumbled backward, landing on her rump.
“I don’t want you to leave me,” he declared, pointing her dagger at her. “This world is tainted,” he spat and waved the dagger toward the night sky, that somehow lost its luster. “If we must say good bye, then let’s make it forever.” He reached out to her with his free hand. “Let’s die together, defying the gods that have forsaken us.”
Asis slapped his hand away, and scrambled to the edge of the cliff. “Are you crazy?” she shrieked. “You’re not my Nemr!”
“People change, Asis,” he declared stepping toward her. “I can’t bear to live without you!” he snarled. “Did you not notice my sadness when you told us you’d leave?” He looked up and took in a deep breath. “How can I go on after you leave? I was tormented, but I’ve come to realize that this is the only solution. Spend eternity with me.”
“What about Fatma? Who will care for your sister?”
Nemr looked to the heavens again and shook his head. “She’s not my sister, Asis. She’s just another feral abandoned child.”
“How could you…”
“I’ll ask it one last time, Asis. Will you die with me?”
“I couldn’t be with someone who disregards life so easily!”
Nemr closed the distance between them and seized her arm. She withdrew her remaining dagger and sunk it into his arm, her momentum dangling her over the edge of the cliff. The blood ran down his arm and she slipped through his grasp, tumbling over the edge of the cliff and into the River of Dawn.