Her tears dried in seconds. The moment Kanna pulled her face from where she had pressed it to the door jamb, a wave of hot air met her eyes and made her blood boil. She clutched the strap of the satchel around her shoulder as if she were wringing the neck of a snake.
She stared at the figure who reclined on the bed, at the book that now lay on the giant’s chest, at the long arms tucked leisurely behind a thick head, at the stupid look of serenity in those idiot eyes.
Kanna darted from the doorway. Her feet pounded against the creaky wooden floor as she kept her eyes locked on Goda Brahm, her robes dragging behind her in the rush of her movements.
She unslung the satchel so fluidly that it felt weightless.
She swung it hard against Goda’s startled face.
“You bastard! You inconsiderate imbecile! You poison-eating, idol-worshiping, horse-faced, worthless Middlelander!” Kanna struck the giant again and again, but after the first blow, she was only meeting Goda’s outstretched palms. “Fuck you and the womb that spat you out! How could you do this to me? How could you lead me through endless bullshit, telling me nothing—nothing—and then making me think I’d never see you again? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Kanna,” Goda said. Her voice was so measured and calm as she dodged the frantic swings of the bag that it only enraged Kanna more.
But she was already exhausted. And it still felt strange to hear her own name, especially coming from the giant’s lips, with the giant’s accent. It threw her off. Even though she gritted her teeth and kept swinging away, the blows lost their momentum, they became taps against Goda’s outstretched arms, and before long the bag slipped from Kanna’s fingers altogether and landed on the floor.
It fell between Goda’s feet. The giant had come to sit up on the edge of the bedside and she had snatched one of Kanna’s wrists in a vice-like grip. She turned it over, pulled the sleeve back. She exposed the strip of raw, pale skin that served as the last evidence of the cuff that had once bound them together.
Goda pressed her mouth to the spot—but the moment did not last long because Kanna dug her fingers into the side of the giant’s face and pushed her away. She restrained herself; she had wanted to slap her.
That small effort of willpower drained her of her last ounce of energy. She collapsed forward into the giant’s chest.
The next breath she took was shaky, but it was filled with the scent of Goda Brahm. Kanna clutched the giant’s robes in her hands, allowed herself to feel the first wave of gratitude that she had been resisting, and she did not pull away when she felt Goda’s arms wrapping around her.
“You idiot,” Kanna whispered into the giant’s ribs. “I hate you. I hate you so much. How did you get in here in the first place? We’re surrounded by a gateless barrier too tall for even someone like you to climb, and you sure as hell didn’t use the front door with all those neighbors watching.” When Goda didn’t answer, Kanna pulled back to look up into her eyes. “All this time, was there a path to this place that I didn’t see?”
“There is no path. There is nothing to see.”
“Then how…?” In spite of Goda’s words, Kanna turned to look around the dimly-lit room because she suddenly realized that she was uncomfortable, that a bead of sweat had already settled on her neck. “It’s warm in here.”
It had not just been the seething of her ire. She felt a wave of heat radiating behind her, so she turned towards the only other light source in the room. It was a stove that lay in the corner, just beside the open front door. She could not tell what it was burning, but it made little more than a quiet hiss and the flames in the hearth had almost no color to them. She saw a metal pipe leading up into the ceiling, just as she had seen in Jaya’s house, but it was less riddled with rust.
“Before, I was staring out into the yard and I didn’t see you,” she said. “How did I not notice something as obvious as a fire? How did I not smell any smoke?”
“These are your spirits. That is you burning in the stove, and naturally you are noseblind to your own scent.”
Kanna looked deeply into the blue flames, but there was nothing familiar about them. The moment she thought she saw a shape dancing in the chamber, it would flicker and disappear. “Stop lying to me. I’ve seen motor exhaust before. I’ve smelled it, too. This is nothing like it.”
“You’ve smelled what the soldiers use, which is a blend of plant oils along with your father’s ethanol. They mix and dirty the fuel to make up for the shortage—but yaw oil is not very efficient and it smells bad. Pure ethanol has almost no smell, hardly any smoke. Maybe a sweet taste in the air, but that’s all. It’s why the priestesses won’t use anything else.”
Kanna watched her own reflection in the glass that covered the hearth, watched as the flames consumed her, but it was just as Goda said: there was no smell, nothing to really see. Rava Spirits burned pure. It was almost as if the stove had been empty.
She noticed then a kettle and bronze cup that sat on top, edged into a corner, away from the full blast of heat. “You’ve cooked something.”
“Yaw tea.” The platform of the bed creaked as Goda stood up. She pushed Kanna away gently, stepped over the fallen bag on the floor without touching it, shuffled with bare feet towards the quietly raging fire. She closed the front door on her way and a last gust of cool air burst in before it was overcome by the fire as well. “I can go for a long time without food,” she said, pouring from the kettle into the cup, “but I can only go about a week without having at least the essence of yaw. I’d be too tired to go hunting tonight without it.”
“Give me some, too.” Kanna followed the giant, squeezed herself next to Goda to bathe in the heat of the fire. “I don’t care if it’s poison. I’ll drink what you drink.”
“It’s concentrated essence of yaw. If you hate the taste of the plant on its own, then you’ll certainly hate the taste of this a hundred times over.”
“I hate you, and yet I’ve tasted you more than once and I’ll taste you a hundred times more. Give me the tea.”
And so Goda reached into the shadows towards a shelf on the wall that Kanna had not yet noticed—it was as if it had only manifested the moment Kanna had looked—and she produced another vessel of bronze. The giant poured into both cups, but she did not watch what she was doing closely, so a few drops spilled here and there because her gaze had fallen onto Kanna’s face.
Kanna felt the stare and met it with confidence, without fear anymore. But because Goda did nothing after she placed the kettle back down, Kanna grew quickly impatient.
“Kiss me,” she demanded.
The giant leaned down out of the light of the flames and into the shadow, and she honored Kanna’s request, pressed her lips to Kanna’s mouth. Kanna razed those lips with the edges of her teeth, but she opened her mouth, too. Goda’s fingers came to grasp the back of Kanna’s neck as the kiss grew deeper, as that spark of violence between them came to life again effortlessly.
Before Kanna could lose her mind in it, though, the giant pulled away. She offered Kanna a cupful of poison; she tipped her head towards the foot of the mattress at the center of the room. “Let’s sit down.”
Kanna leaned against Goda’s side once they had settled. She pressed her hands around the warm cup. At first, she stared into the dark pool of the vessel, but she could not see the bottom, and because it made her uncomfortable, she turned away to gather her surroundings in earnest for the first time.
The room was pleasant in its faint light, in the way the reflections of the flames danced against the wooden panels of the walls. There was barely any furniture: only the stove, a short bookshelf that sat nearby and seemed to house some kitchen supplies as well, a night table with a candle, and then the bed which was large enough for the giant to have lain on without her feet dangling over the edge.
On the other side of the room, there were two or three long robes hanging from pegs driven into the wall. There was another small door as well, but there was no light seeping through, and based on how the cabin had seemed from the outside, Kanna could not imagine that it was big enough to accommodate a second bedchamber.
The moment she stopped observing and fell back into her thoughts, something about being inside the cottage made her feel a little on edge. It was not unpleasant in its entirety; it was a feeling of nervous surprise, as if she had stumbled upon something she hadn’t been meant to see, hadn’t imagined existed in the first place.
“How often do you come here?” Kanna asked—but she had already figured it out just by the way the place smelled alone, so she didn’t wait for an answer before she said, “This is your home, isn’t it?”
Kanna glanced back down at her cup, heaved a hard enough breath that it sent ripples through the surface of the tea. “I guess it never even occurred to me before. I assumed you were homeless without even thinking about it—but of course you would need someplace to go back to every once in awhile. Everybody does.”
“Strictly speaking, it’s part of Lila’s house, and so I don’t officially live here, but no one stays in this cabin besides me. I travel a lot, though, and I don’t find myself inside these walls very often.”
“What an exhausting life you live.”
“The life of a slave. You know it as well as I do now.”
The light of the candle flame behind her danced chaotically for a few seconds. Kanna thought she heard a drip of hot wax hitting the bronze holder underneath, but she did not turn around to look and instead she leaned more of her weight onto Goda’s shoulder.
“I have so many questions,” Kanna said, “so many things I want to know about you, so many tiny details, but now that we’re alone, I can’t muster up the strength to ask. I just want to be here with you now. I just want to enjoy our time in privacy and not think about the past or the future.” Finally, Kanna lifted the tea to her lips, and though it had a strong smell, she ignored her instinct to recoil from it because she saw that Goda had already been drinking away. She took a small sip.
Her stomach lurched and she had to consciously snap her teeth shut to keep from spitting it out immediately. She managed to force herself to swallow, but it felt not only bitter on her tongue, but somehow painfully sour all the way down. When she was done, she coughed and groaned and gave Goda a sharp glance because the giant had already started laughing at her.
“What on Earth does it taste like to you, then?” Kanna asked, wiping her mouth with the back of her sleeve.
“Like everything else tastes to me. Like Kanna Rava tastes to me. Bittersweet.” Goda heaved a great sigh that made even the bed settle. She was smiling into her cup. “I’m just used to it, that’s all.”
“How much of that stuff do you have to drink before you’re normal?”
“This is my third cup already. I should be fine with this. I absorb it quickly when I’m fasting.”
“Good God, you people really are addicted to this garbage.”
“So are you.” Goda shrugged at Kanna’s curious glance. “You have the essence of yaw inside you all the time, driving your cycles, stoking your desire to connect to others. It’s just that your body makes these nutrients for you, and so you’ve never known what it’s like for them to be missing, and so you’ve never realized your dependence on them. In fact, you’ve gone your whole life without knowing that they even exist. It’s only because of people like me that you came to realize this part of yourself.”
Kanna contemplated this, but the longer she looked into her own mysterious cup, the more she could see the outline of Goda’s handsome face in the dark reflection of the water, and the more she lost interest in her own train of thought. She leaned over to set the cup on the floor, far away from her feet, determined to forever leave it unfinished. When she sat back up again, she let her free hand rest in Goda’s lap, because she had already noticed something else that was pulsing unspoken between them.
“Maybe that’s why it’s important for us to be different,” Kanna murmured. She slid her hand along the the inside of the woman’s thigh. She did not pause until her fingers encountered a firm, warm resistance—but the giant said nothing, only drained the rest of her cup. “If we’re all the same, then there are things we can never know about our own selves. It was because you were so much my polar opposite that I could see everything about myself in you. It’s like a mirror that only shows the empty space around me, the shadows.” Kanna’s touch grew a bit bolder; she explored lightly with her fingers until she could no longer doubt the source of the heat, until Goda’s arousal was plainly in her hand, separated only by the fabric of her clothes. “You’ve learned from me, too, even if you act like you know everything. You’ve changed since you’ve met me—I’ve changed you—even if you act like you’re an eternal, unmovable giant. You’re in love with me, even if you hide it.”
“I don’t hide it.”
Kanna stopped. The words made blood rush to her face, but by then blood was also rushing everywhere else and her heart was pounding.
She heard the giant’s empty cup fall to the floor with a hollow ring, like the chiming of the priestess’s bell. Goda took her by the neck of her robes, ripped her away, threw her back on the bed. Startled, Kanna looked up to find the shadow of the giant looming over her, blocking the light of the stove, only the edges of her face visible in the darkness. It was the same way she had looked on the side of the crag in the desert, the night they had first met.
But they were not in the midst of freezing rain this time. They were inside a gateless house, in the warmth, in a place where no one else had ever been.
Goda kissed her. Kanna could suddenly feel the whole weight of the giant on top of her and she had to struggle to push out her breaths. The scents and sensations were overwhelming her, were too much of what she had wanted all at once. Still, she reached for more of it; she closed her eyes and grasped at Goda’s chest, grasped blindly to feel any sign of bare skin, grasped to find any place where she could fuse into her.
Goda’s hands had already slid under Kanna’s robes, had already hiked the fabric up past Kanna’s waist. She explored every piece of Kanna shamelessly; she treated every shred of skin equally; she leaned down to put her mouth on Kanna’s chest as she pushed the robes further up, but when the fabric caught itself on a swell and would not go further, Goda let out a huff of impatience and pulled back.
“Get naked,” the giant said. Kanna stared up at her, surprised with the bluntness of her tone. “Do it now.” Goda herself was busy peeling away the layers of her clothes and throwing them aside, kneeling over Kanna on the bed, giving her just enough space to follow suit.
Kanna did not question her master’s command this time. She freed herself—and when she was free, she took hold of the buckle of Goda’s belt and helped her unfasten it until they could shed the rest of what remained between them.
Goda’s hands could wander then without restriction and Kanna writhed against them. She wanted to feel those hands closer, somewhere deeper than her skin, but in some paradox of pleasure and discomfort, she also found herself on the verge of recoiling. Even though it all excited her, it felt completely unfamiliar, felt nothing like all the times that she had touched herself.
An edge of fear was rising in her—and then the full depth of Goda Brahm came down upon her again. The giant’s teeth pressed to her neck. The giant’s hand tugged Kanna’s thighs fully open and reached for the skin between them, the skin that had started to grow cold even in the warm air because it was slick and exposed.
Goda’s thumb pressed to a spot that made Kanna seize up, that overwhelmed her with sensation even though it was hardly a grazing touch; the tips of two of Goda’s fingers found their way somewhere lower still, and they slid easily past a threshold that no one—no one except for Kanna—had crossed before.
She pulled back. She retreated so quickly from the giant’s touch that her back thudded against the wall behind her. She stared through the dark at that half-shadowed face, at the way the light played in one of those impossibly empty eyes.
Goda said nothing and did not chase her.
Kanna already felt the tears of embarrassment welling up in her eyes, but she couldn’t help the reaction. With a horror that doubled into itself and mixed with self-loathing, she realized.
“I’m afraid.” She let out a breath she hadn’t noticed she was holding back. Now that her clothes were gone, she felt suddenly cold.
Goda watched her in the glow of the candlelight. “Then be afraid, Kanna.”
Kanna shook her head. “No, no! You were right,” she whispered. “I didn’t know what I was asking for. It’s nothing like what I thought it would be like. It’s different from how I assumed. It’s different from how it feels when I’m in there on my own. It feels like you’re invading me everywhere you touch. Even when it feels good, it feels bad. Even when I like it, I hate it. I can’t help but clench up, and if I clench up that just makes me smaller and you bigger, and that makes it worse. I don’t know what I’m doing. You were right, you were right!” Kanna’s mouth kept ranting, and even though she became conscious that the words were probably not from her, but from a panicked snake, she did not try to resist it.
A light smirk came over Goda’s face and Kanna resented it right away.
“I’m serious. I’ve changed my mind. If that’s how even your fingers feel, then I don’t want…that inside me. It’ll be too much. You’ll split me open. You’ll break me apart.”
“It’s not that big.” The amusement in Goda’s voice only grew more evident.
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re a giant! Everything is ‘not that big’ to you. Everything is no big deal. Everything feels like nothing. You probably don’t even know what it’s like to have someone inside you. You probably don’t even know how to suffer anymore.”
Goda was quiet for a long moment—and then she said, “It seems that we’re no longer talking about the same thing.” The desire on her face was gone, even if Kanna could still see in the dim light that it hadn’t faded from her body. With an expression of blank acceptance, she sat up and the bed rocked with her movements. It was then that Kanna noticed how low the ceiling really was, how Goda’s head was very near to brushing against it while she shifted to lean on her knees. “But you’ve made a huge mistake. You should know better by now. Of course I suffer, the same way I feel desire. Even I’m not free of these serpents. Even I can’t escape these oscillations. Don’t turn me into an idol, Kanna. Don’t turn me into an untouchable goddess that you can worship or a demon that you can hang your fears on. Even still, I’m a human being. Like this world itself, I am imperfect and constantly shifting. Look at me for what I am and open yourself up to it or else don’t bother with me. To close yourself off means that you don’t really want to know me, that you don’t really want what I am.”
Kanna’s hands came to grip the sheets of the bed, to twist them. “But I do want you,” she whispered. “I’ve never wanted anything so badly in my life. I’m terrified of losing you now that I have you. I’m angry with myself that even now I can’t let go and have what I want from you when you’re offering it so nakedly.”
“Then be patient with yourself. Don’t give up at the slightest sign of self-resistance. Relax. If you really want me inside you, then open yourself up to me and let me flow into you. I’m not meant to fill you; I’m only meant to help you notice the empty space that already fills you. I can’t force myself inside, that’s why I refused you before. It may seem easier on the surface to use brute force, but forcing it means you’ve missed the point.”
“What point? What point?” Kanna cried. “What are you even talking about?” The words made no sense to one part of her and total sense to another. She squirmed uncomfortably on the bed, uncertain whether she was hot or cold anymore.
Goda reached forward and grasped Kanna’s wrists and ripped her hands away from where they fidgeted against the outer layer of the bed. “You’re afraid because it will make you vulnerable. You will be helpless for those moments and so you naturally resist it, and then you want me to fight your resistance, as if sex is something for us to conquer or attain. But that is not the point. There is nothing to attain. There is nothing to do. The point is to be afraid and to feel it fully. The point is that you will be helpless, that I will overwhelm all of your resistance and that I will do it because you gave in, because you gave yourself up to me—not because I had to force you.”
The giant’s grip was loose enough that Kanna could turn her hand over and gaze again down at the spot where her cuff used to be.
“Let go, Kanna.” Goda dropped both of Kanna’s hands. She slid to the side of the bed and jumped onto the floor, stretched up onto her feet, raised her arms up so that they pressed to the exposed beams of the ceiling. “You’re not a slave anymore, so you have to let go by your own free will. No one can make you. But because you’ve never done it before, of course you don’t know how. Of course the thought of letting go is much different from actually doing it. You’ll have to practice to learn.” The giant grinned, began walking towards the door as Kanna followed her movements with bewilderment. “And you can practice with me if you want—but only if you want.”
She opened the door and stepped out, fully naked, into the starlit night.
Kanna stared at the suddenly clear image of the giant’s back. She looked at the blue-tinted curves and the muscles and the valleys that she wanted to touch. She felt her stream of thoughts growing silent again, growing weak in the face of bare reality.
Kanna rose from the bed. Without any regard for her state of undress, she passed through the door and reached the giant, and she only remembered that she was naked when the air hit her skin and made her shiver. But by then it was too late to turn back because Goda had taken her hand.
She brought Kanna away from the stone path, around to the garden on the other side of the cabin. The weedy bed of grass pinched and tickled Kanna’s bare feet, but she walked along anyway, noticed the touch of every cool dew drop as it soothed her skin.
The more silent the snakes, she realized, the more she could see in her surroundings. There was infinite detail that she had missed before.
They reached a space near one of the outer barriers that had itself been partitioned by a tiny iron fence, which Kanna found amusing because she couldn’t fathom who it might have been keeping out. Goda opened the little gate, though Kanna could have easily stepped over it, and the giant took her past a row of bushes that were already smattered with fruit.
A tree sat in the middle of it. It was the same kind Kanna had seen inside the bathhouse, but the fruits looked darker, more mature, ready to fall on their own perhaps.
“You can eat whatever you find in this garden—any of it, all of it,” Goda said. “None of it will be poison to you. Make yourself familiar with the things you see here and eat them instead of yaw.”
“You planted this, didn’t you?” Kanna looked around at all the vines threaded into different trellises, all the food that grew openly, untouched. “You made this garden, the same way you made the one in the desert. Now that I know what to look for, I see you all over it.”
Goda smiled. “It’s an impulse, even if it’s not my job anymore. Wherever they assign me, I still collect all the seeds I find. I still plant them here or anywhere I know I can visit them again.”
“It’s like they’re your children.”
“Friends, perhaps.” Goda looked up at the higher branches of the tree and Kanna saw the barest flash of pride in her eyes in spite of her words. “Most of them are all grown up now. As you can see, they have children of their own.”
Kanna leaned back against the tree, looked up at the wide sky. The barrier around them receded to the edges of her perspective, and as she noticed herself relaxing, she still felt a jolt of worry that someone would see her nakedness.
But only Goda saw her.
Kanna could not make out any houses from where she stood. She could not even see the windows of Lila’s home because the cabin had blocked the view. They were in a lush garden, in Goda’s wilderness, in a forest made up of a single tree.
They were alone…except for the human-sized figure that she could see half-hidden among a mess of vines, between the tree and the barrier. At first it startled her, but then she realized it was an image of the Goddess, a wooden sculpture carved by hand, the imperfect stroke marks of the chisel evident even in the shadows.
“She’s watching us.”
“She can watch,” Goda husked. She pushed Kanna hard against the tree and Kanna felt the bark marring her skin.
It felt good; it felt bad; she accepted it. She accepted Goda’s mouth against her own. She surrendered to the feeling of Goda lifting her up roughly, then placing her with gentle care on the nest of hard roots below. She enjoyed the rise and fall of Goda’s chest and how it had come to bear down on her own, how it reminded her to listen to the ebb and flow of her own breath.
And when Goda rose up, knelt between her legs as if she were kneeling before the image of the Goddess, Kanna accepted this, too. She felt Goda’s hands sliding gently up her thighs. She leaned into Goda’s increasingly intimate touch, and then she resisted it in turn, but every time, she allowed herself to gasp with pleasure and discomfort freely; every time, she allowed Goda to wait and to continue; every time, she was closer to full nakedness before the giant.
She was nearly there.
Kanna watched Goda’s movements. She saw the bare evidence of the giant’s neglected arousal in the full light of the moon, more clearly than she had before. It made her feel ready to stretch beyond the ways that Goda had already explored her.
Without thinking, she reached. She took it in her hand. Goda’s reaction was slight, but it was there in a brief hitch of her breath.
“Do it,” Kanna said. She tugged the giant towards her by the very same thing that had scared her before. “Don’t hold back. I know it’s burning in you, so do whatever you want to me. Let everything out.”
“Then meet me where I am.” Goda leaned further, propped her weight up solidly onto the roots of the tree—and in this way she allowed Kanna to seek her out.
Kanna relaxed into the feeling, even though it was nothing like anything she had experienced before. It was unpredictable as it was arousing. Kanna could not guess how far or how deep the giant would press into her, and this scared her even more. She had never felt so open, so exposed, and even then some small part of her brain panicked at the mixed sensations of elation and pain.
But as always, everything about Goda was really a swirling of two polarities, and those two things were always really just one thing in disguise.
They were merely masks for the same Goddess. They were all one thing.
And more than ever before, as Goda began her slow thrusts, Kanna was deeply aware at the level of her flesh and bones that she and Goda were also one thing.
Kanna met the motion with her hips. She did it on some primal instinct that had overtaken her mind, but she let the rhythm flow with Goda’s lead, let the dance between them give birth to itself. They shifted towards the Goddess, and then back again towards the roots. The pace grew faster, then slower, then frantic enough that Kanna had to dig her hands into the ground to keep herself stable.
All the time, she did not shy away from the full shine of the surfaceless eyes that watched from above. She didn’t recoil anymore from the frightening depths within, from the face of the woman who had shown her heaven and hell and nothing at all.
The fear had begun to excite her. She knew that Goda Brahm was dangerous; she knew that she had allowed a savage to slide deeply into her skin and infect her with demons, but she did not care, because she also knew that it was an act of creation. She felt the fear welling up in her belly and fusing with the jolts of pain and pleasure that came from every one of Goda’s increasingly chaotic strokes. The giant was already losing control, her legs shaking, her hips striking harder, her teeth gritting with the last of her restraint.
Kanna looked up at her in fascination. She realized then that she was not the only one who had laid herself bare and vulnerable in a garden under the open sky. She reached up and grasped Goda’s face in her hand, locked their shared gaze tightly, watched herself in the dark mirrors that stared back. She thrust her hips against Goda with all the violence inside of her. She did it because she knew that the giant was on the verge of breaking and she wanted to watch it happen, moment by painful moment. She wanted to see Goda’s unfiltered face.
But the flow of Kanna’s movements sent waves of sensation in her own direction as well, and she found that it was she who was suddenly shaken, she who felt herself ready to crack open, she who could not hold back anymore. Her muscles tightened against her will, a last contraction before expansion. She gave Goda a helpless glance because she knew what was coming, and Goda smirked as she slipped a hand between them to coax her the rest of the way.
The dance lost every semblance of rhythm—or at least anything that Kanna’s mind could turn into one. Her nerves pulsed with raw sensation, everywhere, from the place where she had joined with Goda to the very ends of her fingers, to the very depths of her gut. She grasped wildly at the ground, at the weeds, at the tree roots, at Goda’s chest. When she felt she could not stop herself from crying out, Goda’s mouth silenced her. The weight of the giant kept Kanna stable even as the feeling of Goda’s skin overwhelmed her.
Waves passed through her like rushing water; bliss and pain mixed together once more. Kanna had no choice but to surrender because her body had done it for her already. Goda remained pressed into her. Goda remained quietly watching from above.
When it was over, Kanna felt like she had melted into the base of the tree, like there was some presence flowing up from the ground below her. She was gasping; she was looking up at the night sky between the branches, trying to piece herself together, trying to fathom what had just happened as the feeling dissipated.
Cold air washed over her because Goda had pulled away. It made her realize how heavy the giant really was, how Goda’s body had burdened her and sheltered her. Though she could not yet make herself get up, a small part of her twitched with the desire to reach for Goda, to keep the giant from running away—but Goda was not running.
The giant picked her up. Instead of slinging her over a shoulder this time, she slipped an arm under Kanna’s back and another beneath Kanna’s knees. Without saying anything, she walked down the length of the small garden, stepped over the iron fence, strolled along the trail of crunching grass while Kanna pressed her face to Goda’s soft-hard breast.
Goda brought her back to the cabin. Because the door was still wide open and both the fires had died, the air was cool when they came in, but Goda shut the door behind them with a kick, and once the wind was gone, the giant’s skin was enough to warm her.
Then Kanna was falling, spilling out of Goda’s arms. The sensation startled her, but she realized as she groped for Goda’s shoulders that the giant was falling with her. They landed in the bedsheets. It was a mess—a maze in the dark—and so Kanna had to crawl around to find Goda again, to cling to her, but the woman did not fight her intention and embraced her back. Kanna shuddered from the warmth when Goda kissed her.
“I…don’t know what’s happening,” Kanna whispered. “I felt something. I felt what you did to me, but I also felt something else. I don’t know what it was or what it means. I only saw a piece of it.” She couldn’t even tell if what they had done was good or bad. She had lost her ability to judge anything. “But don’t leave. Stay here with me. Please.”
“Right now, yes, but soon—”
“I’m here right now.”
Kanna took a long breath against Goda’s skin. “You’re not really going out to kill someone, are you? Please don’t. You’re not a killer. I know you’re not.”
Goda was quiet for a long moment, but because it was dark, Kanna could not see her expression. “Things have grown complicated, as you might already realize. I need to track down where they will hold Rem before the funeral, and at the same time, I need to deliver the vessel, something that must be planned carefully. Samma Flower takes about an hour to start kicking in, so the vessel will not be potent until then. It’s not a quick death at all—there will be much suffering and struggle—but because it could affect the fluids, I can’t do anything to hasten the process. I have to time everything just right when I make the delivery. It will be difficult to do all this without being noticed.”
“It won’t be difficult if you don’t do it at all.”
“There is no choice. Tonight, my job is to kill. It’s what I’ve been tasked with by the Goddess.”
Kanna lifted her head from Goda’s chest. “You and your Goddess. Well, there’s no way in or out of this yard as you said yourself, so I guess you’ll just have to stay forever.”
“It’s true there’s no way to pass through this barrier because it has no gate—but the Goddess lets me pass from time to time nonetheless in a different way.” Goda’s hand fell on Kanna’s face, caressed her lightly. “Until then, I’m here. Until then, right now will be forever.”
Kanna drew in closer. Because Goda was always now, she could not accept the impermanence of the giant.
And as the time ticked on without a clock to measure it, Kanna fought to keep her eyes open in the dark because she thought that as long as she stayed alert, she could keep Goda Brahm from escaping her.
* * *
The fireflies were her only source of light for a long time. She had to trust that she would find her way out of the grove and into the open meadows where the moon would light her way again, so she trudged through the little patch of forest on faith. When she finally did burst from the trees, Kanna was in her mother’s garden, and instead of the moon, the yellow glow of the lamps leaking through the curtained windows bathed the thorny bushes that lined the path up to the door.
She winced. Her mother was still awake. If Kanna walked right through the front entrance, then surely the woman would know that Kanna wasn’t already tucked into bed like she was supposed to be. It had taken her longer than she had thought to return from her wanderings in the field. Even though she had taken off running soon after glimpsing the shadow of her father’s face, the night had caught her and she had become lost on the way back.
Still, she knew her mother would never care for such an explanation—or any explanation at all. She sneaked instead through the garden, around the side of the house, intent on finding a way to jerk the frame of her bedroom window open. There was a tree that grew near there, a tree that would hide her struggles if anyone were to pass by or if her mother were to suddenly venture out of the confines of the house.
But when she rounded the corner and crouched to dash towards the tree, her body froze in place. Her blood ran cold. She tried to convince herself at first that it was simply the silhouette of one of the larger branches cast against the ground, but the empty feeling in her stomach told her otherwise.
She wanted to back away, but she couldn’t. Even if she hadn’t been paralyzed, there was nowhere she could run to be safe. The fields were not safe, her own home was not safe.
The shadow of the monster seemed to fuse with the tree and the creature’s smile shined in the moonlight.
“Who are you?” Kanna choked out, terrified.
“No one,” it said.
Its voice sounded familiar somehow. Kanna studied the lines of that face as her eyes grew more used to the shadows. Slowly, her muscles relaxed, her stance grew less stiff.
The moment she was sure of it, she ran to the giant. They embraced each other beside the window, with the tree looming over them. The giant’s naked skin pressed warmly to her face.
“What are you doing here?” Kanna asked.
“I don’t know. I think I came to open a window for you.”
Kanna looked up at her again, and indeed there was no mistaking who it was. “Have you been here this whole time? I mean, were you there when this first happened, when I first experienced it? Or is it only now that you’re here as I remember it? There was a shadow back then, too, there really was. I remember being afraid in this garden, but I don’t remember what I did about it. Was it you? Was it you that I saw?” She had forgotten what she had come there to do, what she had been running away from in the first place. “But…it can’t be. I didn’t even know you until we met in the desert. Of course you couldn’t have been here back then.”
“I’m here now.”
“Yes.” She took Goda’s hands, squeezed the scarred fingers, and it felt just as vivid as it did any other time. “Thank you for coming, but I think it’s better if we go back to your house. I don’t really like it here. I’d rather forget about it.”
Goda shook her head. “This is where you started and where you ended up, so this is the place you can always come back to see me if you want.”
“What do you mean? I can just wake up and light a candle and see your face in the bed next to me.” She wanted to look around, to check if the scene had shifted at all, but she was worried about letting the giant out of her sight. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep, but….”
There was an expression on the giant’s face that she had never seen before. She tried to tell herself that it meant something else.
“I’m sorry, Kanna.”
* * *
Kanna jerked awake, as if she had fallen onto the bed from a great height. Once she had command of her limbs again, she groped around in the dark for her master, grasped for that huge body, for that steady stream of warmth.
Her hands came up empty and cold. Her fingers clutched at the sheets and shook from the force of her fruitless effort.
Her eyes widened in the dark, but still no light reached them. Her eyes widened because suddenly, she knew.
Goda was the corpse vessel.