All the fruit trees bloom in winter.

They bloom like ice and weeping willows, dripping mead onto the ground that brush against his feet with nothing but remorse. Four leaves fall first, then five, and seven, twenty, thirty—a thousand leaves of silver and Hades in the cold courtyard presented to him in rippling tides. The descent into limbo pulls away the brevity from his feet.

All the fruit trees bloom in winter.

Winter is the distance: Winter is Acheron, and Acheron unfaithfully rows across blood and fury and the tip of purgatory. Altair looks out cold panes of glass, stripped of rank and steel, his spine unyielding like his pride. He looks out into the fallibility of man, and yet does not know the bite of it until his jaw clenches and succumbs to the aftermath of the dagger in his stomach.

All the fruit trees bloom in winter.

There are no harvesters. There are no granaries to store ripe flesh. The fruit falls and degrades out on the cold stone below, where men are faceless, where ants pass by him in awe and mortification at the sight of the fallen almond tree—he is poison, and he is poisoned. He sits there, locked up in a tower, mind numbed to oblivion, and birds of prey do not matter. They never matter.

All the fruit trees bloom in winter.

Slowly. Quickly. Sharp and blunt. Consuming. Out the window, there is no sun—branches sweep downwards the same way a mother mourns for her passed child. Inside this sanctum of infinite knowledge, infinite restraint, the same memory takes on the function of a wheel: Frustration. Death. Solitude. A golden incubus in the form of human comprehension glows hungrily for control of man.

All the fruit trees bloom in winter.

God is not here, not in the lines in his hand and the blood dripping on the floor. The wheel turns furiously. He is alone; he is Death, but Death is not him; smoldering anger nips at his heels. Because time passes, and he is not in that blessed isolation. Malik. Malik. Malik, why is it that Sin is in your hand? Why have you traded Sin for—

All the fruit trees bloom in winter.

Dead. He is dead. An arm for that incubus; a brother for his—how the stench of fruit blinds him—failure. The failure of the pet. How the branches of the trees turn into brittle bones and outright condemnation; the leaves trail blood on the floor: They trail betrayal, ash, and fire, the clash of steel and the remnants of the temple's mortar that sealed him away. They trail the last harsh cries as he flew on wings away from Solomon and his treasure.

All the fruit trees bloom in winter.

Hate. Hate is the roots; the trunk is Altair himself. He is not a desperate man, and perhaps, that is where he falls first. Malik had given Sin into those old hands with his single hand that trembled when they looked at his deteriorating bark and branches. Malik is a fool. Malik is Achero—no. Silver leaves. Ants. Prey. The tower. Altair sits high in the tower, consciously ignorant of his burned hand that dared to touch a fold of Malik's cloak.

All the fruit trees bloom in winter.

"Because of you, my brother is dead!"

All the fruit trees bloom in winter.

"Wake up, novice. Take your sniveling self elsewhere. The rest of us are trying to sleep."

All the fruit trees bloom in winter.

"I dream of nothing."

Four leaves, five, seven, twenty, thirty …