Goda’s Slave – Chapter 37: A Crack in the Earth

Goda’s Slave – Chapter 37: A Crack in the Earth

Hovering over the priestess like a looming fog was a death shroud made of leather. It was held at each of its corners by four temple hands wearing white. It was branded with images of the Goddess and her creations—twisting vines and trees, savage beasts and coiling snakes—but what struck Kanna the most was the smell of freshly tanned hide. It permeated the space. It reminded her of the smell of the priestess’s gloved hands on that night in the desert.

The assistants had frozen with surprise. Clearly in the midst of a ritual, the room had a dim air to it; the windows were shuttered, the tables were littered with candles whose flames were now whipping around, disturbed by the rush of air that had come in from the door.

Goda had broken through the room—and through the silence—like a barreling train. She knocked over one of the tables that held a pot of incense, and the ceramic shattered and sent a puff of sweet-smelling dirt into the air. She bumped into some of the women in white who had been standing further away from the deathbed, making them stumble back. She was too big for the room. She made the floor shake with her footfalls—with the pounding of her heart, of her throat. Though Kanna knew it was yet another delusion, it felt like the very walls of the chamber were woven with the giant’s veins and that they pulsed chaotically with every step.

She looked up to find that the giant had reached the makeshift altar and was ripping the death shroud away from the assistants, who stared at her with shock.

They did not react until the hide of that dead animal had been snatched from all of the hands except for one—one that was cuffed with a metal band that matched that of Goda, of Kanna, of Parama, one that belonged to a woman who was gazing wide-eyed at the giant from the other side of the bed.

“What on Earth are you doing?” the woman shouted. She grasped the leather with both hands and tried to pull it away from Goda, and in the struggle the shroud rose and fell and grazed the face of the priestess.

“Stop!” The giant gave the covering a final jerk, and when it slipped from the assistant’s grasp, Goda threw it on the floor. “Can’t you see that you’ll suffocate her?”

“She’s already dead, Porter!” When the woman stiffly rounded the bed, the glow of the candles hit her face more directly, and Kanna could see her furious expression, the pain in her eyes—and the features that made her suddenly familiar.

It was Assistant Finn. It was the woman who had pored over Kanna’s paperwork near the gateway of the temple complex, the woman who had struck a pen through all of Kanna’s names except for two.

“Look,” she said gruffly when she reached Goda’s side, “I understand. Believe me, Goda, I understand—but you can’t be in here. No layperson should witness this, and certainly not you. We’re in the middle of her final rites. She is dead and there’s nothing you can do.”

Goda’s jaw set; the muscles of her shoulders stiffened; her fists trembled with what looked like restraint. “She is not dead. Listen to her. Listen! Have you all gone deaf? She breathes.”

Indeed, in the relative quiet that came in response, Kanna could still hear the faint gasps of the priestess, whose eyes were wide open and pointed towards the ceiling with no shred of awareness. Though she reminded Kanna of the corpse of the woman who had died from Flower that night in Karo, and though her breaths were ragged and shallow, there was no way to deny that she still lived.

The conflict in the assistant’s eyes was clear even from where Kanna was standing, but Finn did not stop to count Rem’s breaths the way Kanna did. “The leader of the Health Administration herself declared our priestess dead earlier today. The paperwork is signed. She is legally dead, so we’re proceeding with the rites. She will be wrapped in the shroud today and publicly incinerated tomorrow. You can offer your final respects then.”

Goda’s hand came up to grasp the edge of the wooden bed frame, though her fingers kept a safe distance from any bare skin as she leaned over to stare at the priestess’s face. Her expression held steady in its tension; her muscles had grown rigid with some energy that she was holding back. “You mean that you’re going to smother her to death today,” she said, “and rid yourself of the last evidence of your deed tomorrow.”

“Goda Brahm of all people should not point fingers at us over this!” The assistant turned to half-face the bed, but did not gesture to its occupant directly, and she averted her eyes when the priestess heaved through another series of convulsions. “Look at her, Brahm. Look at her at length and then tell me that she will recover. She won’t. You can argue over where the exact line of death is, but just because a person’s lungs quake with some automatic reflex, doesn’t mean there’s any soul left in them. After she collapsed inside the shrines a week ago, we’ve watched her scream and contort with pain every day. We could do nothing but stand helplessly by, and now she’s fading from us. She’s faded so far, there’s no way to bring her back. Don’t you think she’s suffered enough already as it is?” The woman swallowed hard, cleared her throat. “By the grace of the Goddess, the health administrator had a shred of mercy in her heart and she signed the death certificate without quibbling over something as meaningless as the rising and falling of her breath.”

The look on Goda’s face had changed, had become more unreadable. Her mouth twitched, but not with anger anymore. To Kanna’s surprise, she saw the glare of the candlelight reflecting with a sudden vividness in Goda’s eyes—a moist glare that spilled over and rolled down the giant’s face.

One hard shudder jerked through the whole of Goda’s body, as if she had been struck with some bone-shaking blow. It seemed to break something inside of her, inside of Kanna as well. The giant grasped at her own robes with both hands, pulled at the fabric that fell over her chest with clenched knuckles. It seemed for a moment that she was about to tear her clothes apart—but she didn’t.

Goda wept. Her sobs overwhelmed the light breaths of the priestess, overwhelmed the murmurs of the assistants who surrounded her. Finn looked on just as helplessly as she had before.

The agony that rumbled through the room made Kanna want to turn away with fear, because watching her giant cry was like watching a mountain crumbling into pieces before her eyes. She did not want to be swept away in it. She felt the impulse to resist it—but by now, she knew the taste of that resistance well enough, so she also knew what to do.

She leaned into it. She looked deep into the fear and watched herself running into the room anyway, crashing into that mountain even as it cracked around her. She buried her face against Goda’s chest; she felt the chaotic sobs ringing a song against those ribs. She let herself experience the pain, just as she had felt the shocks against her wrist, until it became just a sensation in her body, until it was neither good nor bad, neither hell nor paradise—until it was just Goda, only Goda and nothing more.

Kanna’s own tears had begun to wick into the giant’s robes. She did not know how long she stood there because the moment had existed in some space where her mind could no longer keep track, but eventually Goda pulled away.

She stared down at Kanna, her eyes glowing in the light, wide open, full of something meant for Kanna to see. She made no effort to hide her face. For a brief second, Kanna saw something in the giant she had never seen before, a rush of tenderness, of heartbreak. A wall had fallen and Kanna only noticed it just then because of its absence; she recognized that it was her own.

You’re human after all, Kanna thought, and your heart breaks—it breaks all the time, but I refuse to notice. It breaks for Taga. It breaks for Rem. It breaks for the world.

She had seen many things in the giant—both things that she projected and things that may very well have really been there—but now she had to wonder how many pieces of Goda she had blinded herself to altogether.

Who are you? She had asked the giant over and over; she had never listened to the answer. She had seen only what she had allowed herself to see and she still had no idea of the truth even then.

Goda lay an arm over Kanna’s shoulders and pressed her close, but her gaze rose up again to address the chamber around them. The giant’s eyes appeared to scan the faces of all the assistants—the ones who still flanked the bed, the ones who stood bewildered in the middle of the room, the ones who had retreated to the corners, where the light did not reach. The giant’s posture had given up some slack, had grown more open.

“This is my doing,” Goda said.

Instantly, a collective murmur erupted among the small crowd. There were a few sharp breaths of confusion, a few words of what seemed like incredulity exchanged between the assistants, but Kanna could not parse individual words, and the reaction came off more like a vibration flowing through a single organism.

“How do you mean?” Assistant Finn answered for them. There was a worried look on her face, but her tone was generous in its skepticism. “She fell ill the day after you left. You were not even there to witness it, let alone contribute to it.”

“We have an unsavory history with many things unresolved. She might have fallen ill eventually on her own, this is true, but there’s no doubt my presence hastened it. When our energies clashed together for the first time in nine years, the Earth burst open, and everything spilled out.”

“‘Everything’?”

Though the reply was one of confusion, there was an edge of something else in it. Goda paused, and Kanna could feel the collective air of the room shifting with tension, as if the assistants already suspected what she was about to say.

“Serpents.”

Another eruption—louder this time—filled the room with a dozen voices at once. Some of the women turned to each other and appeared to argue in hushed tones, but most of them turned towards Goda and began demanding that she elaborate. Again, Kanna could not make out single phrases with any clarity, but the emotional energy of the voices was sharp.

“Preposterous!” Finn said, though again her eyes were shifting with an uncertainty that contradicted her tone. “Priestesses are lesser goddesses, and they are free from serpents. The Mother cleanses the heart of any person who ordains. Surely you’re not implying that our priestess is infested with impure spirits, that the Goddess has forsaken her. Even you know better than to toy with that level of blasphemy.”

“She’s not any more or less infested than anyone else. It’s just that they’ve all risen to the surface at the same time. You know this. Stop pretending that you don’t recognize the symptoms. Stop worshiping her like a goddess on an altar or she will die from a human disease.”

The assistant looked more uncomfortable then, the conflict on her face growing, her posture shifting back and forth, her body sliding further away from the bedside. “Even if that were true—which it isn’t—there’s nothing to be done. We’ve tried every medicine! It’s too late!”

“She breathes. As long as she breathes, she can awaken again, but there’s only one thing that will bring her back to life.”

Finn did not dare ask—because it seemed that she already knew—but Goda answered anyway:

Death.”

This time, the collective gasp made it seem like the room itself was breathing. The flames of the candles that burned around them danced with the shifting of air, with the shifting of bodies, with the conflict of the assistants who had all begun to ease closer to the center of the room.

“And I have plenty of Death to spare,” Goda said bluntly, ignoring the commotion, and Kanna glanced up at her with wide eyes. All the assistants seemed to be staring, too, a pause of shock taking over the room.

“We can’t give Death Flower to a priestess!” one of them finally shouted. “It’s blasphemous to even talk about this! Have you gone insane? We’ll all go to hell for even considering it!” Still, the woman had a strange look on her face, a nervous tension that seemed to hide something deeper than her words. Beside her was another woman with the same face—her twin, Kanna realized after she studied her features in the dim light.

“It’s out of the question,” the twin agreed, though her eyes flickered quickly towards Finn and the glance seemed to offer some kind meaning Kanna could not tap into. “You can’t just barge in here and make such blasphemous statements about our lesser goddess, Porter! Who do you think you are? Get out! Get out!”

“Indeed!” Finn grasped the side of Goda’s arm, but Kanna noticed that the grip was a little loose. “You’re out of line, Brahm, way out of line! You should be arrested for this! You’re lucky that the soldiers are still too occupied with some commotion outside for us to bother bringing them in here to deal with this nonsense!”

“The grief has clearly driven you mad, but that’s no excuse!” one of the twins cried again. “Leave this place now!”

Kanna held onto Goda by the side of her robes, and so she was dragged out of the room along with her. Finn escorted the giant, who did not fight the flow of a dozen arms that jutted out of the crowd to press against her and wave her closer to the threshold. It was like they were both being expelled, being vomited from a huge stomach, and Kanna stumbled out of the mouth of the open doorway and crashed right into Lila Hadd.

She raised an eyebrow when she saw that the woman had her arms wrapped tightly around Parama Shakka, but she said nothing. Instead, she jerked on reflex because the door had slammed right behind her.

Kanna turned to find that Assistant Finn had stepped out of the room along with them, that she had her back pressed to the door, that she was staring at Goda with a strange face.

“I understand,” she said flatly, her voice hushed. Kanna looked at her with surprise, but the woman continued to ignore her presence. “I understand, but we can’t. What if you’re wrong, Brahm? She could die an agonizing death from eating Flower, more agonizing than anything she’s already suffered—and she’s suffered enough. It’s too much of a risk, and on top of that, if she dies from impure medicine, she may never see the Goddess on the other side. I’m in charge of her body, and I won’t let that happen, no matter how much my sisters want to hold onto the hope that you can save our beloved priestess.”

Kanna made a twisted face. The assistants had thrown Goda out in the midst of angry shouts, but once again Kanna wondered if she had simply witnessed an elaborate performance meant to wash their hands of guilt. Perhaps this was yet another piece of the labyrinth that Lila had told her about, another collective delusion to avoid any responsibility.

“It’s true, there’s a risk—but I can minimize it greatly by passing the Flower through a vessel first. I can bring the excretions to you and you can feed them to her. If it saves her, then it saves her; and if she dies, it won’t make the process any worse.”

The assistant closed her eyes, heaved a deep sigh. “Brahm, even if I was the sort of unwholesome person who would let you carry out such a plan, there are no vessels in Suda anymore. They’ve been stamped out. I’m sure you realize this.”

“I’ll make a vessel.”

“Make one? And how do you propose to do that? As soon as there’s word that someone shows signs of awakening, the soldiers make quick work of them around here. It’s not like you would have time to comb through the populous for possible vessels, anyway. Aren’t you in Suda to get decuffed and to be sent off again? You’ll have to go on your way in a matter of days at the most. I don’t even think our priestess will last—” Finn stopped. Her voice broke, but with a few more sighs she seemed to gain her composure again. She opened her eyes and gave Goda a sorrowful glance. “No, no. I can’t delay the funeral rituals by more than a few hours. It won’t work, Goda. Your heart is in the right place in its own twisted way, but it’s dangerous and blasphemous and it won’t work. There are no awakened people in Suda.”

“They don’t need to be awake.” Goda’s voice sounded clear to Kanna coming out of the giant’s mouth, but the words smudged into a murmur when they echoed off the walls of the hallway. “They can be dead. I won’t have to search much. I’ll make a corpse vessel.”

Finn was quiet for a long time, her eyes widening again with incredulity. “You’ll make a corpse?”

“Yes. I’ll kill someone.” The giant’s eyes were empty, clear. Her blank tone did not match the severity of what she said, so much so that it took a moment for the words to register in Kanna’s mind—but as soon as they did, Kanna’s heart jolted.

What?” Finn spoke the first phrase that had found its way into Kanna’s mind.

“I’ll poison someone with Flower, then the priestess can eat of them after they die. I’ll send you the excretions in a vial and all you have to do is drop it into her mouth. She doesn’t even have to swallow. It’s potent enough that the skin of her gums will absorb the medicine safely.”

But Finn was slowly shaking her head, her face full of awe. “You really have gone insane, Brahm. The guilt has driven you mad all these years. We can’t kill someone! It’s ridiculous. I won’t allow something like that, even as a fantasy in my mind. It offends the Goddess!”

We won’t kill anyone. I will. I’ve killed before, so it’s nothing for me to kill again. I kill all the time. I kill every day. Whether you allow it or not, I will hunt someone tonight and I will kill them anyway. It is merely up to you whether you will make my violence go to waste and refuse my gift and let your priestess die out of some misguided principle, or whether you will transmute an act of evil into good. Don’t worry, I’ll pick some low-level slave that hardly anyone will miss, someone who did something terrible, someone who deserves to die anyway. Is that not a fair trade for the life of a lesser goddess?”

Though the woman had huffed and turned away and reached for the door knob, something in Goda’s last few words had made her face twitch with renewed conflict. Her hands clenched. “You’ve lost all sense and conscience. What our priestess said about you was true after all, and I would cover my ears to save my soul if it weren’t for the fact that it’s already too late, that you’ve already started to poison me with your twisted logic. It is not for me to judge who deserves to live or die, Goda!”

“It’s not, so I will take that burden from you. You won’t be responsible for anything. Just as your sisters in that room pretend that they didn’t ask for this, you can also pretend that this conversation never happened. You can pretend that you don’t know what’s in that vial that I deliver to you. For all you know, it could be the red nectar of a fruit that I’ve burst open in my hands.” Goda glanced briefly towards Parama, whose eyes had also grown big, who was speechless with shock the way Kanna was. “In fact, if you really want to shoulder none of the responsibility at all, you can make the boy feed the priestess. He’s cuffed to you, is he not? He’s your slave for now. He can’t disobey. Give him conflicting orders. Tell him to do it, then tell him to stop after he’s already done it, and claim that you meant something else, and punish him for what he did with a smack on the neck. Do whatever you need to do to live with yourself—just let me make the trade. A life for a life. Trust me, it will be worth it when you see her eyes grow warm with awareness again.”

Finn’s hand wrapped like a vice around the doorknob, her knuckles growing pale, her arm shaking with pent up emotion. “I won’t have any part in this. You’ve clearly been possessed by demons from all your dabbling in mysticism and they’ve clouded your judgment, made you throw aside all our teachings of right and wrong. I don’t even want to look at what you’ve become—not when I remember what you used to be years ago, when you first showed up at the desert monastery, before both this job and the shrines had corrupted you. Your heart has turned black, Goda Brahm.”

Goda’s face was still expressionless. “And so?”

Finn turned the handle. “And so,” she said, her hands still shaking, the candlelight pouring out as a gap in the threshold grew, “if someone decides to send an anonymous gift to the priestess, then I suppose she has no voice to refuse it with.”

She went inside and slammed the door behind her.

* * *

“You can’t be serious!” Kanna’s voice rang through the metal stairwell as she dashed through the door and onto the first landing, as she chased the giant down the first flight of stairs.

She had lost her grip on Goda’s robes. The exact moment the giant had taken off from the end of the hallway, Kanna had been briefly distracted by the sight of Lila Hadd pressing a kiss to Parama’s cheek, so the fabric had slipped from her slackened grasp. She had recovered quickly enough, though, and both she and Lila had left the boy behind in a rush to catch up to the giant.

Once they were in the stairwell, a safe distance away, Kanna let loose the opinions she had held back, even though Goda did not turn to look at her. “Are you really going to do this?” she shouted, catching up to the giant, stretching to touch her. “You’re actually going to kill someone?”

Goda did not answer at first, but when she reached the next landing, she spun around and Kanna nearly collided into her from the inertia. The giant stooped over her, blocking out the dim yellow lamp that glowed far above and gave the stairs their weak light. Her face was cast in shadows; only her eyes looked wide and alight, like an animal crouched in the darkness.

“I told you I was a killer,” Goda said. “You even saw it for yourself. Why is it now that you’re acting like you’ve learned something new?”

Kanna felt that familiar energy shoot up her spine, that fear mixed with curiosity, that revulsion she had felt the first night in the desert and again the night she had learned of Goda’s crime. But instead of running from the giant, she reached up as high as she could, and she grabbed Goda’s face with her hand, squeezed the woman’s chin with half her strength.

“Don’t look at me like that, you monster,” Kanna said. “I don’t believe you. You’re a lot of things, but you’re no killer. There’s a living vessel in Suda, isn’t there? You’re not telling us something.”

“Indeed, she hasn’t told us a lot of things.” Kanna turned to find that Lila—alone this time—had followed them down the stairs and was staring at the both of them with an annoyed expression. “She didn’t have the decency to inform me by mail that she had lost her damn mind before she showed up in this tower, for example.”

Kanna gave her a glance of alarm. “You really think she’ll do it? You really think that?” She had nearly given up on relying on others for any opinions about who Goda was, but it did seem that the Lila woman had known the giant for far longer.

“I don’t know what she’ll do. She’s as unpredictable to me as she probably is to you. But I wash my hands of this,” she said, throwing her arms up. Goda’s satchel—which was still hanging from the woman’s shoulder—rocked back and forth from the motion. “I can channel some of her energy within the confines of this labyrinth, but that’s the most I can do. When she’s outside of these walls, it’s not my responsibility where that energy flows. I have one job, and that’s the job I’ll stick to. As far as I’m concerned, I grew temporarily deaf in that hallway.”

“I can’t believe this!” Kanna shouted. “And what of Parama Shakka?” She tilted her head up and stared at the door they had all spilled from a few flights above, though it was now closed and she could not see any of the corridor that housed the boy. “You’re just going to allow them to turn him into a scapegoat?”

“The boy has bigger problems. Ever since the priestess collapsed, the administrators near the desert monastery decided that something evil lived in there and they ordered the shrines sealed up, so Parama has no work to do there anymore. He’ll probably be sent back to the textile factory.”

At this, Goda finally seemed to jerk into state of full attention. “You’ll place him somewhere else,” the giant said, her voice gruff. It was not a suggestion.

But Lila Hadd was shrugging her shoulders as she took the last few steps to reach them. “He’s out of my jurisdiction. I work exclusively with foreigners now. And, besides, where would I place him, Goda? At Samma Valley? As desperate as they are for scribes, you know they don’t want any men there, especially with the savages snatching people out of their beds at night.”

Kanna’s eyebrows shot up.

“Then dress him up in women’s robes and convince the head priestess at Samma that he’s a tiny woman with a pretty face. I don’t care what you come up with. I don’t care how stupid or elaborate. If you need me to do something, tell me and I’ll do it. We can’t let him be shackled up in a factory again, not after everything we did to spring him free from it in the first place. You’ve been in this tower long enough, and I know you have the pull.” Goda turned around, beginning her descent once again. “And I know you can’t find it in yourself to abandon him now.”

When the giant had bounded down yet another flight of stairs, and Lila had grasped Kanna by the arm to lead her down the path as well, Kanna gave the Outerlander a confused look. “All right,” Kanna said finally in Upperlander. “What the hell is going on? How do you know Goda?”

How?” Lila huffed, her tone filled with amusement, as if Kanna had just told a joke. “Not very well, that’s how. And I don’t care to know much more than that, believe me. There are many things about this giant that are too ugly to fathom. Goda is simply a distant relation to my wife, that’s all.” But because Kanna kept staring at her with irritation, the woman relented a few moments later with a sigh. “We met in the Outerland desert around the time I first started working for the Middleland government.”

What are you two even up to in here? Your whispers make it sound like you have some sort of conspiracy between you, like you planned everything out together—not just for me, but for Parama, too.”

We did. Sort of. It’s not so much a plan as a shared intention—but, yes, you’ve guessed right that we’re in league with each other in a way that this tower would not approve of if it had ears to listen. Goda works in the desert, so many of the porter’s prisoners were arrested for crimes related to smuggling Flower. The porter brings these souls to me and I try to squeeze them into lighter punishments if I can. I fudge the numbers to reduce the sentence if they have a long one, or I give them work that is less taxing on the body by pretending that they have special skills, or I argue that it would be more cost effective to make them into a slave if they are to be executed.”

Why?” Kanna blurted out—but because it sounded rather callous, she added, “I mean, what’s in it for you? Or for her?”

Nine years ago,” Lila said, “something terrible happened. Many people suffered, people who were not at fault for any of it. Not just Middlelanders, but Outerlanders and Upperlanders, too. Even you and your tribe were affected indirectly by the incident at Samma Valley. You could say that the giant accidentally opened up a tiny crack in the Earth and that this crack turned into a bottomless pit that began swallowing everything around it. And so the two of us had no choice but to reach into the edge of the pit and grasp at any hand that we could find that was stretched out, begging to be pulled up. Maybe what we do doesn’t make much of a difference—or any difference at all—because the people we rescue are so few compared to how many have perished. But at least for Goda Brahm, reaching into that pit is a path to redemption.”

I…can understand that. It all makes more sense when you say it like that. But what does that have to do with me? Parama was arrested because of these ridiculous drug laws, but I wasn’t. Why does Goda want to save me?”

A strange smirk came over Lila’s face. “You really are very young, aren’t you? Young and naive and oblivious to what is plainly in front of your face. Goda is young, too. Maybe that blissful stupidity between the two of you makes for a good match.”

What?” Kanna felt some ire rising up at the apparent insult, but she stifled it. Even so, Lila seemed to notice and she let out a short laugh.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I won’t tell you. It’s dangerous knowledge. It’s probably better that you remain oblivious, lest you realize how much power you truly have and you feel inclined to abuse it.”

Kanna did not understand, but she did not have time to untangle Lila’s words before she was distracted by the sight of the giant pushing through a wide door. Unlike the others, it had no handle; it flipped open with just the weight of Goda’s shoulders, as if it were built for high levels of traffic to come and go.

Indeed, when she and Lila followed and broke through to the other side of the threshold, they were met with a crowd of bureaucrats. The women were flowing up and down the hallway, each so distracted by the rush of the others, that very few of them had opportunity to glance down and act surprised at Kanna’s foreign face.

Goda led them through a final door, into a chamber lit by the glow of the sun coming through translucent blinds. At first, Kanna was grateful to see the natural light again after wandering the dim maze of artificial hallways for what felt like an eternity—but then her eyes fell on the jagged beams of iron that sprouted out of the walls like giant barbs. They overwhelmed the space. They were arranged in grids and threaded with hundreds upon hundreds of huge metal rings.

Not rings, Kanna thought. They were cuffs, hanging from the stakes on the walls as if from tree branches. In the midst of all this cold iron that shimmered dimly in the weak light of the sun, there were a pair of chairs facing each other at the center of the room. The thick wood that made up their frames was perfectly polished, perfectly sanded with a bright finish. The arm rests were adorned with leather straps; the legs were bolted to the floor with steel spikes.

Kanna’s mouth dropped open. She stopped at the threshold and would not go in. She felt a lump forming in her throat when she finally looked at the path between the chairs and noticed a smiling woman who was staring at her—at Goda—with glee in her eyes.

She was tall. She towered over the bureaucrats in the room, though she was not among them, and she wore a black and red uniform that did not match theirs. She had a thick cuff held between her hands.

“Ah, Goda Brahm!” she said. “Still alive, I see!” She snapped the cuff open as if she were setting a bear trap, and the sound alone sent Kanna jumping back. “Let’s see if we can’t fix that this time!”


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