The voice had been faint, but her mind had reacted as if she had heard her own name instead of Goda’s, and so she had opened her eyes to the void.
Kanna’s face was still pressed to the giant’s chest. It rose and fell with the waves of a deep slumber, and the outbreath filled Kanna’s nostrils, so that even the smell of the leaves and dirt around her seemed tinged with Goda’s essence.
Sleepily, she lifted her head up to gaze down at the face beneath her, at what little she could see of it in the moonlight. She regretted it a second after; she felt her chest seize up; she judged herself for her own reaction.
Kanna pressed her hand to the side of Goda’s face.
“You’re soft…,” Kanna whispered, though Goda did not stir, because she had said it so quietly that she almost couldn’t even hear herself. “All this time, I’ve barely seen more than the hard side of you. I’ve turned you into a monster.”
It was true that seeing the violence in Goda still excited the violence in Kanna, but Kanna couldn’t help feeling like there was other energy dancing between them, too. She wanted to explore this much more than the landscape of the continent.
But would they even have the time?
Kanna reached into Goda’s robes and hooked her fingers over the collar of her shirt. She pulled it down until she could see the swell of Goda’s small breast, and she dipped her head and opened her mouth against it, pressed her teeth lightly into the flesh. She tasted the skin of the hard muscle that spread out underneath, and she tasted the skin of the softer curve that lay to the side of it.
She didn’t bite deeply, but she was still surprised that Goda did not wake up.
Even now, I try to provoke you, don’t I? Kanna thought. I want you to take me by the throat and force me as much as I want you to softly press your mouth to my neck. I want both. I want all of it.
A naked savage and a gardener planting flowers. A devil and a messenger of God. A woman and a man.
But would Kanna ever have the chance to uncover what lay beneath all this duality? Would Goda ever have the chance to uncover Kanna’s secrets, too?
The voice called again. It had grown more urgent.
“Goda…! Goda, what did you…?”
They were Priestess Rem’s words, but it no longer sounded like her voice.
Kanna pulled away from the giant, and though the dry leaves on the ground rustled with her movements, Goda still had not arisen from her own deep slumber. Goda lay there so limply that for a short, irrational moment, Kanna imagined that her giant had died.
Kanna shook her head. Even in the low light, she could see the warm breath flowing out into the air from those huge lungs.
“Goda, what did you do? What did you do? Goda! Goda!”
The voice was screaming its accusation, but it was coming from so far away, that Kanna still had to strain to hear it. She turned her head up, past the boulders around them, past the shaking leaves, over to where the voice seemed to be coming from. She looked at the opening of the shrine high up on the crag. The moonlight didn’t reach past the threshold; the darkness inside of it looked endless.
But when Kanna stood up and gazed back down at Goda, she murmured, “Maybe you’re content to lay back and let fate destroy what little happiness I’ve discovered buried in the dirt, but you know by now that I’m never content with anything. If you won’t bring me to the answer, Giant, then I’ll find it myself and save us both.”
* * *
The path up the cliff-side was hard to navigate without Goda to lead her. Because it was dark and the trail was littered from disuse, she tripped a few times on weeds and small rocks, and she very nearly slid over the edge. As she made her way up higher, though, she grew more careful. She crouched a little and was mindful not to hurry because she could hear the pebbles that she had kicked up echoing as they poured the long way down.
It took all her power not to fall back when the first wave of death hit her. It was like the shrine had huffed against her with a cold breath, and the sensation of her spirit-body jerked back with it, before it snapped back into her bones. She shuddered and hesitated because the feeling had turned her stomach—but she was determined. She put her head down and shuffled forward along the winding path that circled the cliff.
The waves came faster. Her spirit phased in and out of her. One step, she was inside her body as usual; the next step, she would sling forward in an agonizing separation. Soon, she began to see visions arise before her, overlaid on top of the darkness, and then overtaking it entirely.
Images flashed like memories: She was in the giant’s body, stooping over a patch of dirt, her hands spilling worms onto the earth. She was the giant trudging through mud. She was picking fruit off a tree branch. She was walking by a stream, glancing towards the water and seeing a naked young woman who looked like Priestess Rem Murau; she was turning her head away quickly with embarrassment, running off to hide in the trees.
More and more, she saw the priestess through the eyes of the giant. Sometimes the woman was sprinting along a trail just ahead, turning to look over her shoulder to smile and glance at Goda coyly. Other times she was picking flowers beside the giant in a tiny garden by the cottage. Other times—increasingly frequently—she was prone on the ground, pressing her hands to her head in pain, screaming soundlessly into the dirt. The giant’s hand would reach out towards her, but the priestess would pull away.
“Don’t touch me! You know you can’t touch me!”
The voice sounded muffled to Kanna’s ears.
Switching back and forth between these fantasies and her own current reality felt unnatural. Her body resisted it. Her skin hurt for even just existing separately from the air around it. Still, she kept walking, because she felt herself inching closer to the truth with every step.
Over time, the giant had grown taller. The muscles of those forearms had grown larger. Kanna stopped when finally one of the memories that flowed into her was happening in the clarity of the dark, as dark as the space around her. She could barely see what was happening. The giant’s hand was reaching out into the emptiness in front of her, but that hand was shaking like the branches of the trees in the wind. It was shaking so hard that it had nearly dropped what it was grasping. Kanna couldn’t tell what the giant was holding, only that it shined a bit with what little light fell into the dark.
When Kanna stepped through that memory, none came after. She looked up and realized that the only thing that stood between her and the mouth of the shrine was a single ledge.
“Goda, what did you do? No! No! No!”
It was not Priestess Rem. The words were the same, but it was definitely not Priestess Rem this time. Nonetheless, the voice sounded a bit familiar.
Kanna gritted her teeth and lay against the ledge, then pulled herself up with her arms. She slipped. She almost fell backwards off the cliff, but she caught herself with her feet against the wall and she kicked herself up.
She rolled over onto the ground right in front of the threshold. When she looked up at the carvings, she saw that the serpents had already grown agitated with her presence, had begun dancing and swirling against each other, had begun reproducing and pulsing with many colors.
Even though she was afraid of them, she tried not to pull her eyes away.
“You have the answers, don’t you?” she muttered, pushing herself onto her feet. “I don’t know what you are. No matter who explains it, I don’t know what you are, but you’re everywhere. You cover every inch of this world, so you should know. How do I escape this reality I’ve found myself in? Tell me.”
The snakes grew excited. They writhed faster and glowed in the darkness, but Kanna could sense it was with anxiety more than pleasure. Just as she did not want to see them, it seemed that they were wary of her, wary of being seen; they wanted her to notice them, but they were afraid of her, too. She could sense their fear and their excitement and their agitation as if it were her own.
They began rising from the flat facade of the shrine and hissing to each other, which startled Kanna enough that she stumbled back. She felt the precipice behind her with the back of her bare heel. Her breath cut short.
“Goda! No! What did you do? What did you do?”
The snakes shot down from the surface of the rock and into the cavern, lighting it up in brilliant bursts of multicolored light. It appeared to be an invitation. Kanna gazed up at the swan whose wings folded over the top of the threshold. Its eyes were black, but they too swirled with tiny snakes.
She swallowed again. She walked through the gateway with her head held up and she met the darkness with suppressed fear. As she did so, she stepped into yet another memory.
But in this story, she was herself—plainly and mundanely herself.
“Goda! What did you do? No, no! Goda!”
The voice had been her own.
Kanna could see herself falling forward onto the ground. She didn’t know where she was or when. She was reaching in front of her, but in the weak light and chaos she could not see what was happening. There were boots pounding all around in front of her, even as she tried to claw her way through them. Several pairs of hands were grabbing her by the arms and trying to pull her back.
“Goda! No! Why did you do this? Goda!” She was screaming through the crowd, trying to fight her way out of their grasp. She screamed so loudly, she could feel her throat growing raw. “Goda!”
When she snapped back into the present again, she stumbled until her head hit the dirt of the cavern. She choked on her own breath. She felt tears bursting out of her eyes. She did not know what she had seen, but she had felt the waves of her own agony, and she could not unfeel it. Something deep inside—something more intelligent than her denial—told her that she had witnessed a vision that had not yet come to pass.
It had been a memory of the future.
The agony fused quickly with her fear. She saw the flashing rainbows of light on either side of her growing more complex and she felt the serpents growing aroused from her emotions. They had begun to slither from the walls down to the floor, and they had begun to surround her.
The first of them ventured up from the ground and onto her ankle. Because her robes had slid up, she felt every inch of every scale dragging against her skin as it came to circle around her leg. It was painful. Every scrape with every spiral dug into something deeper than just her flesh. It burned at her and made her want to look away.
More of them followed. Dozens. Hundreds. They all flowed against her body as if she herself were one of them, immersed in some perverse mating ball, lost in a twist of scales and fangs. She closed her eyes tightly because she noticed that their own eyes glowed and that most of them were hideous; but when she did that, they seemed to feel free to slither across her face.
They constricted her, tighter and tighter. She felt their muscles hotly pulsing on every part of her. She wanted to scream, but the only thing that came out was a whimper that echoed in the darkness, and every time she breathed out, they only seemed to tighten more. They felt heavy on her chest. She tried to kick her arms and legs, but she was swimming in them.
The burden was too much. She felt her resistance starting to wane. She knew she would die; there was no way she could survive it.
But underneath the screams that she was letting out in her mind, she heard a deep humming. It was faint at first, but it grew louder and it vibrated against the walls of the cave. Kanna could tell it was a human voice—like the tones of a song rising up from low in the throat—but it seemed to calm the snakes, because they suddenly stopped writhing so violently, and instead most of them quivered in place. Kanna could feel that deep voice rumbling through the floor, through her chest. It had calmed her somehow, too.
“Listen to your breath…listen to your breath…,” the voice instructed her during breaks in the hum.
It was hard to concentrate, even with the snakes having slowed their crawls, but she tried to push her attention to the one spot in the middle of her stomach that they hadn’t touched. She focused on the rising and falling of her core.
The snakes’ throbbing slowed. Their skin didn’t sear her quite so much. She opened her eyes momentarily, but the sight of all the snakes frightened her so much that she closed them again, that her breathing grew uncontrolled, and that the snakes became more agitated.
“Try again,” the voice whispered. She recognized then who it was. “Listen to your breath. Don’t make yourself breathe. Don’t try to control it. Listen to the breath that happens on its own.”
By then, the feeling of her heart dancing in her throat had taken up all of Kanna’s attention, but she tightened her eyes and obeyed. She felt the snakes grow still—all except for one that shuddered wildly against her chest. She could feel that its head was positioned right near her chin. She could feel its tongue flickering out and tasting the sides of her face with curiosity. Kanna screwed her face up and hardened her body and tried to turn away from it.
“You feel it, don’t you? That one that is moving the most?” the voice said. “That one is called Guilt. It wants to be seen first. Open your eyes now. Look at it.”
Kanna jerked away further. She did not want to look.
“Look at it.”
With all of her willpower, Kanna turned her head slightly, until she felt the flicking tongue once again. She winced. She felt a shiver run through her. She forced her eyes open and looked at the snake.
It hissed at her, as startled as she was herself. It was so ugly—its eyes red and pulsing, its mouth open and dribbling with some venomous drool—that Kanna immediately wanted to close her eyes again, but she swallowed and stared. She was certain it would lash out and strike her right in the face.
Instead, her vision wavered again. She was no longer in the cavern. She could hear a new voice.
“Goda, Goda, Goda what did you…? Goda…Gonna…Kanna, Kanna!”
* * *
“Kanna, what did you do? What did you do? Why are you acting so guilty, girl? Why are you hiding from me?”
The sun rays rained down on her from overhead, but they didn’t brighten her mood. Her heart was pounding in her chest. She was stooped in the grass, her back pressed against a boulder, her head slightly turned so that she could watch the looming shadow that was approaching her.
Overhead, she could hear her mother snapping a switch from a young tree that had sprouted up near the rocks, and she knew exactly where those splinters would soon end up.
“I didn’t do anything!” Kanna shouted, crawling out from behind the rock. “I didn’t do anything, I promise!”
Her mother’s footsteps only grew more frantic as she stalked closer. “Then why did you run away from me as soon as you noticed me in the garden, like you didn’t expect me to be out? Where were you coming from? What’s that in your hand?”
Kanna tried to speak, but she didn’t know how to even begin answering the barrage of questions. She took the bottle she had been concealing against her chest, and she rolled it as covertly as she could into the shadow of the boulder so that her mother wouldn’t see. It made an audible glassy tink against the pebbles, and not only did this draw her mother’s attention even more, but it made Kanna give a startled jerk.
She accidentally struck the bottom of the bottle with her elbow when she moved, and it rolled out into the light. The contents were clear, but the glass played with the light like a prism, and it broke the sun into pieces, and it bathed their surroundings with a rainbow of color.
Her mother’s eyes widened. Her lips tightened. Her head began shaking with a disappointment that Kanna could feel in her core.
“Where did you get that? Where did you get that?” she screamed. “Answer me, Kanna Leda Rava! Answer your mother!”
The truth was that Kanna had sneaked all the way over to her father’s house, dodged the vigilant eye of his favorite wife, and had stolen the liquor from the cabinet in his study—but she couldn’t confess this out loud. She was ashamed to even admit to herself what she had done.
So she lied instead.
“Fay gave it to me!” she shouted, implicating her half-sister who was half her age and her father’s preferred child. Surely the girl would be spared any beating, especially since they didn’t share the same mother.
But Kanna’s own mother was too quick, and she knew with just one look at Kanna’s guilty face. “You’re lying!”
She grabbed hold of the bottle and smashed it against the rocks. Kanna barely had time to shield her face with her hands, to dodge the spray of pure spirits and shards of glass. When she looked back up again, her mother was holding the switch high over her head, and it was aimed at Kanna’s face.
“I’m sorry!” Kanna shouted. The tears came against her will. She wanted to act strong, but she couldn’t. “I just wanted to see! I just wanted to understand why Father spends all his time in the fields making this stuff! I wasn’t going to drink it! I just wanted to—”
Her mother fell down to her knees in front of Kanna. She dropped the switch on the ground, and her face became serious, and her eyes filled with a rage that Kanna realized wasn’t directed at her at all. She took Kanna by the shoulders with a pair of stiff hands.
“You are not going to end up like that man. You are not going to live here for the rest of your life in the shadow of that power-hungry bastard, living every day with a house of cards that’s teetering on the edge of collapse. If I have to turn you into a respectable woman and marry you off to some Outerlander to get you out of here, then I will.” She looked Kanna dead in the face. “As long as I’m alive, I will see to it that you don’t live the same life I was subjected to. I never want to see a drop of Rava Spirits pass your lips. I never want to see any trace of that man in you. Do you understand me?” Her hands tightened around Kanna’s shoulders. She yelled in her face, “Do you understand me?”
Kanna took a shaky breath, a sob that she was trying to repress. “But…I want to know him. He’s my father. He—”
“That man is barely a father. He doesn’t love you. He could never love you as much as I do. No one ever will. Don’t you know that, Kanna? And knowing that, why do you do this to me? Why are you so ungrateful? Why can’t you obey the boundaries I’ve set for you? They’re for your own good. Trust me that you can’t rely on that man. He has no affection for me or our house. He loves your brothers and sisters more than you, don’t you see?”
Kanna wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, but the tears kept flowing. “Even Leda?” she asked. It was a stupid question, but she thought that she could seek some solace in the idea that her dead twin—who had never even survived the trauma of birth—might have fallen into last place instead of her.
The fingers around her shoulders loosened and fell away. The shadow that her mother cast against the ground moved, and she saw the shape of the woman standing over her and blocking the sun. “Even her,” Kanna’s mother said. “He loves her more because she’s gone. The man only grasps at delusions. He doesn’t care about what’s right in front of him.”
Kanna pressed her face to her hands. She wished her twin had been born alive instead of her, that she had been the one to suffocate before she had reached the outside world—then at least her father would have loved someone from her house. She shuddered against the ground, and she felt her mother trudging away, abandoning her at the side of the rock.
Why had she been born? Why her and not her sister? Why had she killed her twin? Why had she sucked up all of her mother’s essence for herself and left her other half too weak to be born?
She pushed her face into the earth and cried, but because the meadow had grown empty, nobody heard her.
* * *
Kanna gasped, her eyes snapping open. Her body immediately thrashed in unbearable convulsions, her teeth gnashing and grinding. She cried out into the emptiness of the cave, her voice echoing back to her and fueling another wave of grief. The tears were falling thickly from her eyes and she had no control over them. The pain of her guilt ran in waves up and down her body.
She had forgotten.
She had forgotten all about that distant memory, and when she looked back down towards the snake, her body jerking with quick hiccups and sobs, she saw that it had grown smaller somehow, and that there were two others who had come to flank it on either side.
“Those are his brothers, Shame and Judgment,” the humming voice answered her unspoken question. “When you look at one, you look at the others. When one of them shrinks, the others will shrink a little, too. Look closely; you’ll see that they’re all connected.”
Kanna tried to focus her eyes to see this, and indeed it was hard to tell where one snake ended and another began, but she didn’t know if this was because she could hardly hold her vision steady anymore.
They had also started to retreat. They slithered painfully off her body and began disappearing into the walls. When the last of them left, Kanna took in a loud, raw breath. She tipped her head backwards, her throat fully open. She blinked her eyes and took in the image of the shadow at the entrance of the cavern, the body that belonged to the voice that had been murmuring to her.
It was a tall silhouette, but she couldn’t see any features—except for a huge, lone snake that pulsed and slithered in endless circles up the trunk of that giant. She noticed that the human figure turned its head in flowing, well-practiced movements to avoid the eyes of the serpent.
In time, though, even this snake disappeared from view. The cavern had grown pitch black.
Kanna coughed. “What…was that?” she asked as Goda finally entered the shrine and came to kneel beside her. “What are they?” She still didn’t know.
Goda brushed Kanna’s face lightly with the tips of her fingers, but she seemed careful not to comfort her too much. “They’re you,” Goda said. “Or rather, they’re what you’ve convinced yourself that you are. What you think you are doesn’t actually exist. You’re a story, Kanna Rava. These are the stories. They’re every part of your identity: every conditioned structure, every lie you’ve ever told, every thought you’ve ever held onto, every inch of your personality.”
“Why…?” Kanna could not quell the tears, the tightening of her jaw. “Why do they look like that? Why are they so terrible?”
“They’re not. They only seem that way because you’ve hidden them away, and so they’ve wreaked havoc on your life. But when you look at them, you can control them, and they become docile. If you look at them enough, they start to dissolve in the light of your awareness, and then you start to see who you really are underneath all the snakes.”
Kanna flipped herself over to get up, but she found that her strength had not yet returned. She felt weak, nauseous, just as she had at the mouth of the cavern at the monastery. She had to fight not to purge again right in front of Goda. Even just the impulse to empty herself made the Shame snake twitch inside her, and this time she could sense it more acutely than she had before. She was painfully aware of it even though she could not see it.
She breathed hard against the floor. “What am I, then?” Kanna cried, her voice breaking. “If all those snakes make up my personality and my identity and my thoughts and my mind, then aren’t they me? Why am I so hideous?”
“You’re not. The snakes are thoughts, and you are not your thoughts, so the snakes can’t be you. They merely pretend to be you. Sometimes when you think it is your own self who is acting and speaking, it is actually they who have siphoned your conscious energy like parasites. They speak for you, they act for you. This delusion is so convincing, that you actually think they are you. Some people are so full of snakes, that it is only the snakes that ever speak. But, no, the snakes are not you. You’re actually something else entirely.”
“What?” She reached up and grabbed Goda by the legs. She dug her fingers through the fabric until she could feel the warmth of the skin beneath. “What am I, then, if I’m not this? Tell me!”
“You are nothing. You are no one. Just as I am, you are. You simply are. There is no who or what. There is no self. The self is a lie. You are only an experience, right now, in this moment. To say ‘I am’ is enough. The rest—your past, your future, your identity—is just a story.”
“No! No, that can’t be true!” Kanna didn’t know why she was shouting. Again, as she had felt when she had exited the desert shrine for the first time, there was empty space where a part of her had been, and it made her uncomfortable. Indeed, it was nothing. A part of her had become nothing along with the shrinking of the snake. “If I look at all of them,” she began to say, but she fell into a fit of coughs soon after. She let go of Goda’s legs. “If all the snakes dissolve…then what? I just disappear? I just don’t exist?”
“Oh, no. You are nothing, and the nothing does exist. But the snakes are just stories that you tell yourself. If all the snakes unravel, your false self will die and you will become a funnel for the Goddess, which is your true self. You will become the happiest creature alive because you will surrender to your purpose without resistance. In fact, you are the Goddess already; you just pretend to be Kanna Rava. You wear many masks, Goddess! You’re playing hide-and-seek with yourself.”
“That doesn’t make any sense! You’re speaking in riddles! You’re not full of emptiness, you’re full of bullshit!” She found the strength to push herself up onto her knees in front of Goda and she slammed her hands against the woman, but the woman’s frame did not waver. Kanna heaved and closed her eyes. She pressed her face to Goda’s chest. “Is that why you did this to yourself? To make all the snakes dissolve? To die this second kind of death?”
“Yes,” Goda said. “I could not live with myself after what I had done. It was the self that tormented me, and so I sought to unravel it and destroy it, even if a small part of it still lives on in me, a part that I can’t let go of.” She took in a deep sigh that seemed to fill her lungs with the nothing that surrounded them. “But for all purposes, that Goda Brahm is gone. I am no one—or nearly so. There’s one last piece. It too will have to die before I can pass through the gateway to freedom.”
Goda stood up then and began walking towards the opening of the cave, where the moonlight was striking. Kanna gazed after her. She writhed against the floor; she tried to pull herself forward. Still, she was too proud to ask for help, even though she had never felt so broken in her life.
Goda offered nothing as Kanna struggled in the cavern. She stood at the entrance and watched. It was only once Kanna had painfully dragged herself out into the dim light, that Goda stooped down and picked her up—but instead of slinging her over a shoulder as she had in the desert, she carried Kanna in her arms and pressed her against her chest.
“Why did you abandon me?” Kanna whispered, her eyes drooping. She was barely conscious of what she was saying.
Goda murmured back, but the answer made no sense: “If you try to help a chick break out of its egg, it will die before ever being born.”
And so in this way, Goda brought Kanna back down the hillside. Kanna pressed her face and hands against Goda’s chest, and she felt the duality of hard and soft, and she breathed in the giant’s scent. With every step, she felt a bit of her energy returning, until she was able to lift her head up and face the truth that loomed in the shadow above her.
She took in a sharp breath. The tears were still flowing; they hadn’t stopped.
“I feel better,” she admitted. She could hardly believe what she was saying. “It was like a splinter was in my skin, but so deep that I couldn’t reach it, and so numb that I hardly noticed it, even if it was doing damage every time I moved. But it was painful to take out. When I relived that memory, and became conscious of it again for the first time in years, it became…just a story. It was like you said. It was a story and it lost its power over me, and I could cry about it without having to become it.” Goda didn’t answer, so Kanna tightened her grip on Goda’s shirt, like a child demanding attention. “I know now why you’ve done this. The relief is indescribable—but the price that one pays is so much. I’m squeamish to even think about what I just gave up. It turns my stomach. How am I still Kanna Rava even now?”
She was rambling, but when they reached the bottom of the cliff and Goda laid her down in a soft bed of leaves, she had the strength to sit up on her own. She pressed her back to one of the trees that had sparsely littered the landscape. She watched Goda standing next to her, and she turned her gaze up to meet the giant’s eyes in the weak light.
“I saw…myself,” Kanna explained. Goda looked down at her with full attention, with an empty expression made of infinite space. “I carried these burdens, all these burdens that my mother had unloaded on me. There are so many; I couldn’t have possibly seen them all just now. But I had carried my sister inside of me all this time, too.” Kanna pressed her hand to her face and it grew immediately warm against her.
Then the words came tumbling out, instead of the vomit that Kanna had expected:
“I lied when I talked to Temple Assistant Finn and Priestess Rem about my sister,” she confessed. “Priestess Rem told me about her own twin, and still I lied about mine. My second name did not come from my mother. It came from my sister. My twin was the first born and she died within minutes, but in our culture it’s bad luck not to name a child who makes it out of the womb, even if they die during the journey out. And so they named her Leda, but because they had lost her, they decided to name me that, too, so that I could live for the both of us. For the longest time, ever since I was small and knew what had happened to her, I carried her with me. The first time I heard the story of her birth and death, I cried and cried, because I loved her without ever having known her, because I had lost her before I could ever have remembered her face, because it had probably been my fault that she had died.”
Goda stared down at Kanna in silence. She did not seem to be waiting or expecting anything at all.
“As I grew older, I asked myself: Why her and not me? Why did she have to die? What even was the difference between us? The only difference was what they had decided to call us, and even that hardly differed because they had made me wear her name together with mine. I could have just as easily been her and not known it. Why was I alive and conscious? Why did I exist? What did that even mean? Why were we separate from each other in the first place and not the same person?”
Kanna gasped again, to catch her breath, but this time she found that she could say nothing more. A few last shudders ran through her. She pressed her hands to the ground to hold herself stable, and she was pleased—and half-surprised—to find that the earth was solid.
“Goda,” she said, and she could no longer hold back the sorrow in her voice even if she wanted to, “I can only imagine. I can only imagine. If this was just one snake, then what is it like to dissolve hundreds of them? Thousands? Is this what you’ve done? What kind of suffering have you lived with that doing this to yourself was the preferable alternative?” She looked up at Goda with a question on her face, and she knew that Goda could see it even in the relative darkness.
Still, the giant did not answer. Perhaps she didn’t want to relive her own stories—or perhaps she wanted Kanna to shape the question plainly, to have the courage.
With some difficultly, Kanna finally stood up. She faced Goda squarely. She let her eyes trace over the angular features of that face, and she let her own loaded stare meet that empty gaze in return.
“Goda,” Kanna finally asked, “what did you do?”
The wind picked up. It blew through the trees around them and made the branches sway. It sent the dirt beneath Kanna’s bare feet swirling, sharp bits of rock pelting the bottoms of her legs.
In a steady voice that held no trace of desire to hide anything from anyone, Goda finally answered:
“I murdered a priestess named Taga Murau.”