Goda’s Slave – Chapter 6: A Headless Snake

“Rem.” Goda’s voice was husky and low, and the edges of the word were swallowed by the wind. “Priestess Rem,” she corrected herself.

The woman in the black robe had fixed her gaze on Goda, to the point that it made Kanna wonder if she had even noticed anyone else. “My dear Goda, don’t act so tense,” she said, still smiling. “I’ve already seen you twice today, and I haven’t lashed out at you yet, have I?”

Goda did not reply. Her face was emotionless—but just behind her, Parama had cowered, his posture tense with enough panic for the both of them.

Goda Brahm.” The priestess drew closer. Her steps were so soft and deliberate that it made her seem like she was hovering more than walking. “The name tastes a bit strange to me after all this time. Then again, maybe it really hasn’t been so long. You look exactly the same.”

“It’s been nine years.”

“Has it? Then I’ve lost track. When you’re in the presence of the Goddess, time falls away. There is only one eternal moment, and you’re left without any thoughts of the past, so you forgive everything.” Her eyes traced the whole of Goda’s face. “Even the worst things.”

Kanna jumped when the priestess finally moved, but the woman did not strike out, and she merely pushed onward after she caught Parama’s gaze, as if she were expecting Kanna and Goda to make way for her. Kanna quickly shuffled to the side to avoid any touch.

Goda instead leaned in front of the young man. The movement was subtle, smooth, barely more than a shrug–but Goda’s body was massive enough that even this blocked the path of the priestess.

“Ah, still the same Goda, I see,” the woman murmured with a trace of unfriendly amusement. “Always the troublemaker, aren’t we? Step aside and let me see the boy’s beautiful face.”

But before Goda could either give in or refuse, Parama emerged from behind her and sheepishly approached his master. Priestess Rem took the sides of his face in a pair of thickly-gloved hands, her stare as stern as it was parental in its intensity. It made Kanna twist with sympathetic discomfort; had she known nothing else about them, she could have easily assumed that she was witnessing a mother about to scold her son.

“My boy,” the priestess told him, her gaze squarely meeting his, “have you brought shame to every one of your masters in this way, or is it simply that I have yet to deserve your respect? Why are you wandering alone in the middle of the night with two strange women?”

“They’re not strangers, Mistress. I’m friends with Porter Goda.”

A twitch came over the priestess’s face. It was so brief that Kanna barely caught it. “Ah, is that so? Well then, playtime is over. You’ll have dinner with us at the temple, and then you’ll go to your cabin alone and turn in for the night. We have a lot to do tomorrow.”

Parama fidgeted a little against her touch. “I was going to eat dinner with Porter Goda. We caught a snake.”

“A snake?” Her eyes fell on the limp, scaly rope that hung around Goda’s neck. “So I see. But a serpent is unclean for a temple worker to eat. You may not be a clergy member, but I encourage you to follow our standards nonetheless.”

Goda rudely pressed a hand to the crown of Parama’s head. Her fingers lay spread, just a hair’s touch from where the tips of the priestess’s gloves rested at the boy’s temples.

“He helped me kill it,” she said. “Are you going to deprive the boy of his fair share, Priestess?”

The woman’s eyes narrowed. Her hands tightened against Parama’s face, and because his skin was smooth and alive, the harsh leather gloves looked strange pressed to it. “You feed your slave, Goda, and I’ll feed mine.” Her smile had not faded.

Without saying anything more, she led the young man away, and Kanna stared after them. A sense of relief washed over her as they grew smaller in the distance, but even still she could not push away her confusion.

“She must not have seen that we were coming out of that forbidden place,” Kanna mumbled, shuffling quickly to catch up with Goda, who had already started back towards the inn.

“No. She saw exactly where we came from.”

“Then why didn’t she say anything about it? That scribe made it seem like the priestess would tie us to a whipping block if she found out.”

Goda shrugged. “There could be an infinite number of reasons why. I’m not one to speculate on the thoughts of a witch.”

A bit taken aback at the bluntness of the epithet–and not sure whether to take it literally–Kanna glanced again at the two silhouettes that had just about disappeared. “Well,” Kanna said, “it doesn’t take much speculation to realize that the woman can’t stand you. What happened? Did you ruin her life or something?”

“Yes,” Goda answered without a shred of emotion in her tone.

Kanna made a face. “You’re not going to deny it, at least?”

“Why would I deny it?”

“I don’t know, maybe because then it would seem like you have an ounce of shame, like you’re a normal human being?” Kanna second-guessed herself as the words came out. With a bit of curiosity mixed in with her trepidation, she trudged faster, trying to come up along Goda’s side, to see the woman’s face, to see if she had provoked her. When Goda didn’t react, Kanna sighed. “Fine, I guess it’s none of my business.”

For all she knew—which was very little—the priestess had deserved whatever it was. Even a brute like Goda had to have reasons, Kanna figured. Still, the fact that her temporary master appeared to be so unpopular made Kanna worried about why that might have been.

“Nobody seems to like you around here—except maybe that boy, and he doesn’t exactly strike me as the best judge.”

Kanna remembered the young man’s bright face when they had first run into each other. The most disturbing thing about him was how high his spirits seemed to be in the midst of his slavery. She could hardly believe that he was in the same situation that she was in.

“What did he do?” Kanna thought to ask. “I mean, what made him a slave? You have to be a criminal to be a slave, don’t you?”

“Yes. He’s serving seven years.”

Seven years? I can’t imagine someone as harmless as he is could have deserved that. Was he even an adult yet when they arrested him, or did he have to grow up enslaved?”

Goda huffed with amusement. “You judge so quickly. How do you know that his innocent face isn’t deceiving, and that his crime wasn’t outrageous?” She gave Kanna a twisted smirk. “For all you know of him, he could have kicked his own mother into a raging volcano.”

Kanna nearly stumbled on her next step. “Did he really do that?”

“No. There’s only one volcano in the Middleland, and it’s dormant.”

Kanna pursed her lips and gave Goda an irritated side-glance.

Before she could say anything else, though, Goda continued, “If I tell you what he did, then right away you’ll find it to be minuscule, even silly. Then, you’ll complain that he doesn’t deserve his punishment, and you’ll pretend you feel compassion for him, when really you just want another excuse to be self-righteous. That’s much too tedious for this time of night.”

What?” Kanna said, her irritation growing. “Of course I feel compassion for him. How could I not? He’s barely started his life, and already he’s in chains.”

Goda looked unimpressed. “So you say—but the only reason you would even give his situation a second thought is because you’re in the same one. How often did you consider the plight of slaves before you were arrested?”

“Well, obviously, it wasn’t something that I had to think about. We don’t have slaves in the Upperland. We don’t treat people like that—even criminals.”

“So you say,” Goda repeated, offering a dismissive smile. “Did your father have workers?”

“Yes, of course.” Kanna wasn’t quite sure what Goda was getting at. “But we paid them. They were not enslaved.”

“How much did you pay them?”

Kanna felt her jaw tensing against her will. “I don’t know,” she muttered. “How am I supposed to know that? We paid them with food, lodging. Some of them came from far away because grain didn’t grow well where they lived, so my father gave them work and let them eat part of the harvest, from what I understand of it. That’s hard to quantify, and I had nothing to do with it.”

“And if they didn’t work, then what would become of them? Would they starve, then?”

“I…I don’t know, I wasn’t—”

“Could they leave, at least, if they wanted to? Could they go somewhere else to grow their own crops?”

“Well, my father owned all of the land in the area, so they would have to go back to where they….” Kanna stopped talking.

Goda nodded in response to her silence.

A few steps went by wordlessly. Kanna stared at her own feet as they sunk into the sand.

Then she clenched her fists. “How else do you expect society to work, then? Food has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it? It’s only natural that everyone had to earn their living at my father’s property.”

“Did you?

Kanna went silent again, but the anger still hadn’t faded. She realized then that it was a background anger that had always lingered in her. She could usually ignore it, but Goda was very good at bringing it to the surface with her stupid remarks.

“Look, just because I didn’t have to work, doesn’t mean that my life was easy or that I didn’t suffer. There are some problems in life that can’t be solved even by wealth. You must know that.”

“I didn’t say your life was easy.”

“Then why do you mock it? Why do you push back on everything I say about it?”

Goda shrugged. “Someone has to. You certainly won’t do yourself that favor on your own.”

At that, Kanna didn’t know how to respond. She gave Goda a confused look, but Goda merely stared back at her with the same mostly-unreadable expression, with eyes that held a touch of puckishness.

“I don’t like your face, you know,” Kanna said. The words had stumbled out of her mouth suddenly, but she didn’t regret them.

“Oh?” As usual, there was no interest in Goda’s voice; there was only the ghost of a smile. She was peering out across the clearing as they neared the innkeeper’s side-yard, and then she appeared to hone in on a dead vine at the fence. She grasped a handful of the spiny stems and yanked them out at the roots.

Seeing her unaffected look only made Kanna grow bolder. “Your face repulses me, to be honest. Especially when you look like that—when you claw at things and yank at things like you’re some kind of feral beast. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to look straight at you; it makes my eyes water.”

But Goda didn’t seem to be paying attention. Once they were inside the yard, she dug around through the broken flower pots, collecting dry sticks that she found along the ground, until she had a bundle tucked under her arm. They walked by a tiny tree in the sand that had clearly been dead for awhile, and when Goda noticed it, she finished kicking it over, pressing her boot on its slim trunk until it cracked so loudly that Kanna jumped back in alarm.

“What are you even doing?”

Goda let out a savage grunt. It rumbled from low in her throat, and it was so exaggerated that it startled Kanna yet again–but the wicked smile on the woman’s face did not match the sound’s aggression at all. “The feral beast is making a fire!” she said, her tone mocking, and all these contradictions only bewildered Kanna even more.

There was a pit at the center of the yard, encircled by some old broken chairs. It was there that Goda threw the twigs on a bed of leaves. She produced some lint from inside one of her pockets to use as tinder, and with the quick spark of a flint rod, she nursed a fire to life. Only once she had settled on the ground did she finally pull the serpent off her neck.

Kanna grimaced as she watched the woman peel the skin off with a knife. When Goda sliced the belly open, she paused, her eyes narrowing with intrigue.

“Huh. She was pregnant.”

At first Kanna wasn’t sure what Goda had meant, but when she came to lean closer to the woman, she could see by the light of the fire that there were indeed tiny snakes clustered in the serpent’s gut. Though she quickly realized that they were dead, for a split second she thought she had seen them squirming. She decided that it had been a trick of the flickering light.

Either way, Kanna felt her heart grow heavy. That odd feeling of dread had returned to her. “I thought snakes hatched from eggs,” she murmured over Goda’s shoulder.

“They do. But in some snakes, the eggs hatch inside the mother and her children come into the world fully formed.” Goda grabbed a handful of the little serpents and dropped them onto a rock that sat near the edge of the fire. “I would have given these to Parama, but you can have them instead.”

Kanna looked away with disdain. “You really are an animal. Have you no compassion at all?”

“For the snakes or for Parama?”

At this, Kanna gave her a wry glance. “Both?” She sighed. She gave in and sat down next to Goda in the sand. “I’m not going to lie,” she said, “this is why I was a little shocked when that boy said that you used to be a gardener. I can’t exactly picture you prancing around a bed of flowers all day, singing to yourself and tending to the roses.”

Goda actually laughed. “You have quite the imagination.” She began cutting the naked snake into pieces, which she placed carefully at the edge of the fire along with its children. “I was a horticulturist—but just an apprentice at the time. I did grow flowers, but not a lot. I grew food for the priestesses mostly.”

“Even still, it seems a bit…soft for my impression of you. I can’t picture it at all.”

“Maybe you have the wrong impression of me, then,” Goda replied, poking at the fire with a twig. “You don’t really know me, after all, or anything about our customs here. You only have naive assumptions to go by.”

Kanna stared into the fire. “But how am I supposed to survive this strange place without making any assumptions? What am I to do instead? Should I just think nothing at all about what I see and who I meet? Walk around with the empty-headed look of a basking salamander, like you always do?”

Silence followed. Kanna grew a bit anxious that she had offended the woman, but then she mentally chastised herself for caring about that. Indeed, she was afraid of Goda—she could admit that much to herself—but she had yet to decide whether or not the fear was even rational.

When Kanna glanced over, Goda didn’t seem bothered. She was precisely giving Kanna one of those empty looks. “You say such silly things,” Goda told her, “that I can’t help but be amused. Still, you’re getting too familiar.” Her eyes grew hard even as they widened slightly with an unspoken threat. “You should probably stop.”

Kanna swallowed and looked back towards the fire. Her mouth had become dry. She brought her knees up to her chest and rested her chin atop them.

Goda’s dark eyes repulsed her—but the urge to look into them still tugged at her somehow. She turned towards the sand some paces away, where she could only see Goda’s flickering shadow.

* * *

The snake tasted like charred fish. She was convinced that there was more black carbon in it than there was flesh. Still, she was so hungry that she bit into it anyway and smacked her lips to get the grainy coal off her teeth.

Goda had cut the head off the snake. At first, Kanna thought that she was going to cook it with the rest of the body, but instead she had buried it in the sand. “It could bite,” she explained when she sat back down. Her smile was a teasing one, so Kanna didn’t know whether to believe her or not. Still, it gave her a vivid mental image, and she was so delirious from exhaustion that she couldn’t put it out of her mind.

“Such abuse!” a voice erupted from the darkness.

Kanna choked and whipped around with surprise.

There was a woman towering over her, her features partly obscured in shadow, her eyes gazing down disapprovingly at the both of them. It took Kanna a moment to recognize the innkeeper. There was a steel tray in her hand and the flames glared harshly along the metal.

“Is that really all you’re feeding her, Goda?”

“If she’s still hungry, then she can go find another one.”

“Look at that skinny thing!” At first, Kanna thought that the woman was talking about the snake, but then she noticed that the innkeeper was actually gesturing in Kanna’s direction. “Do you really think she’s cut out to hunt an animal? She’s the prey herself.”

Kanna narrowed her eyes, but said nothing. She swallowed past the urge to cough again, then she shoved another piece of the snake into her mouth.

“If it bothers you that much,” Goda said, “then why don’t you feed her?”

“Clearly, I’m going to have to.” The woman laid the tray down at Kanna’s side. On top of it, there were a few slices of hardtack bread with a small block of cheese. A tiny cut of some root that Kanna didn’t recognize sat off to the side of the plate.

Kanna looked up at the woman stupidly, her eyes welling up against her will, a swell of confusion and gratitude filling her chest.

“Just because this savage lives without dignity, doesn’t mean that you have to follow her example,” the innkeeper said to Kanna. A mildly sheepish look came over her face. “I’m sorry about this morning. I didn’t introduce myself before, but my name is Jaya Hadd and I’m the owner of this inn. It’s a shame you happened to…catch me at a bad time. Had I known that you were a daughter of the Rava family, I wouldn’t have been quite so harsh. You poor thing. They’ve done you such an injustice.”

“Being pitied and coddled won’t prepare her for what she’ll be facing over the next ten years,” Goda muttered, “nor will it free her from bondage.” She was staring into the fire, and it was then that Kanna noticed that Goda hadn’t touched any of the food.

“You’re always so heartless.”

“Well, if you have a heart, then let us sleep in a proper room.”

The innkeeper pursed her lips. “You know I can’t do that. I have real guests staying tonight—the kind that pay.”

“The people who own that truck?” Goda tipped her head towards the dark clearing beyond the yard. Curious, Kanna looked off in the same direction, and though she had to squint to make sense of the shapes in the dim moonlight, there was indeed a truck parked beyond the innkeeper’s cabin, one that had not been there before.

“Yes,” the innkeeper replied, “so please don’t wander in.”

“Are they the same people who brought the fuel that I saw the assistants hauling away for you?”

Kanna almost laughed, taken aback by her audacity, and though the innkeeper’s eyebrows shot up with a similar jolt of surprise, the woman seemed much more offended than amused.

“What on earth do you mean? There’s a shortage, of course. Nobody is selling fuel.”

“Then what did you do to get it?”

“Nothing, because I don’t have any.”

“You should give me some,” Goda said. That was all she said, but there seemed to be an unspoken second phrase, something that hung in the air like a threat.

I told you,” the innkeeper muttered, her tone nearly as threatening, “that I don’t have anything. And even if I did, I would hide it from your thieving hands.”

But then, after a long silence and an unfriendly stare, the woman’s tight expression seemed to lose its tension. Something like realization came over her face. To Kanna’s surprise, the woman trudged over to Goda’s side and dropped into one of the broken chairs before the fire, slapping Goda on the shoulder and heaving a loud sigh. “My, my!” she said with exasperation. “Won’t you look at us now? How pathetic! Arguing about some noxious liquid. Addicted to the sound of rumbling motors. When our grandmothers were young, the world wasn’t like this. There was less greed.”

“There’s always been greed.”

“But never so thoroughly rewarded, don’t you think? This industrial revolution may have saved us from starvation, but it didn’t bring us any closer to the Goddess.”

Goda laughed. “You say this and yet you hoard fuel from the rest of us.”

The innkeeper sighed again and stared into the flames. “I’m sorry, Goda, but I can’t help you. My hands are tied, and you already know that this world doesn’t make room for charity.” She cleared her throat conspicuously. “Besides, I told you: I don’t have anything.”

“If I find it, I’ll steal it from you. Not all of it, but enough that it will probably inconvenience you. You should give me some now, that way you can decide how much I’ll take.”

“Fair enough, but you won’t find it—because there’s nothing to find.” She stood up again, but turned to Kanna before leaving. “And you, child of Rava: I really do wish you luck. I’m sure you’re not a vessel for Death, so your cleanse should turn out fine, but watch your back around this barbarian.”

Kanna said nothing as the woman headed back towards the house, too confused by the awkward conversation to reply, but knowing better than to complain about both women’s poor manners. Instead, one of the innkeeper’s comments rose to the top of her mind, and it seemed a reasonable change of subject.

“She talked about your ancestors,” Kanna said with mild curiosity. “Is that just a figure of speech in the Middlelander tongue, or do you actually share a grandmother with that innkeeper?”

Goda looked distracted, rearranging some of the embers in the fire. “We do,” she said, with little inflection or interest. “By coincidence, my lower mother is her higher mother’s sister.”

Kanna raised an eyebrow. Though she still wasn’t sure what this business of “lower” and “higher” really meant, she could surmise the gist of it, and she wasn’t in the mood to sound ignorant again, so she didn’t ask for an explanation.

“But doesn’t that make the innkeeper your first cousin?” she asked instead.

Goda paused in thought. “Huh. So it does.” She shrugged dismissively and kept tending to the fire.

Kanna stared at her. She wasn’t sure what was worse: the fact that Goda was stealing from her own family, or the fact that they had both seemed so nonchalant about being family in the first place. She shook her head with disbelief and turned her attention back to the plate of food.

Over the course of the bizarre conversation, Kanna had already begun shoving food into her mouth without even realizing. Only a bit of cheese and some of the unknown root remained.

Kanna picked up the root. “What’s this?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s called yaw. It’s a tuber. All Middlelanders eat it as a staple with every meal, so you should probably get familiar with it.”

Kanna brought it closer to the fire to take a look. It was a purple-tinged white on the inside with a thin brown skin, and it didn’t seem much different from other root vegetables she had seen. She had imagined that the Middlelanders must have had a staple food; it was one of the few similarities they had with the Upperlanders, who gorged on a grain called mok every day and made spirits from it.

So she shrugged and put the root into her mouth.

When she immediately gagged and spit it out into the sand, Goda laughed at her.

* * *

Every time they stepped into the dusty old storage room, Kanna had to get used to the smell again. She stood against the wall, next to the small window, and picked at her teeth as Goda tinkered with the door lock. Some of the tiny snake bones had been particularly tenacious, and Kanna hadn’t been able to dislodge them with her tongue just yet.

“That meal was horrendous. Do you always eat snakes like this?” Kanna asked, sucking on her own teeth.

“Only if I happen to catch one.”

“Why? Are they easy to catch?”

“Not at all. They’re quite fast,” Goda said, her tone pensive for once, even though there was a strange smirk growing on her face as she headed for some crates at the far end of the shed, “but one time I was in the open desert and I discovered a snake eating her own tail. That one wasn’t going anywhere.”

“Can’t say that I’m surprised you would take advantage of such a pathetic sight.”

The smirk widened. “Oh, she wasn’t pathetic at all.” With a loud rattling, Goda pushed away the boxes, but it was too dark to see what they concealed. “She was full of theatrics. When I came upon her, I tied up her arms, and she started to put up a fight, writhing and screaming. Even when I tried to pull her up into a hollow, so that we could spend the night out of the rain, she bared her fangs and resisted me all the way to the top. It’s a miracle I didn’t get bit.”

Kanna stopped pressing her tongue against her teeth, confused by the woman’s cryptic ramblings. But as soon as realization set in, she narrowed her eyes, and though Goda’s words were followed by a harsh scraping along the floor as the woman dragged something huge out of the shadows, Kanna could hardly pay it any attention.

“If you don’t like getting bit, then don’t go hunting snakes,” Kanna said coldly.

Goda dropped her burden with a casual shrug. “Who says I don’t like getting bit?”

A torrent of warm blood rushed to Kanna’s face in reply to the woman’s playful grin, but she was quickly distracted from her embarrassment by the giant wooden sculpture that Goda had placed in front of the door. It was nearly as tall as the woman herself.

“What’s all this for?” Kanna demanded, looking away from Goda’s insolent face and at the new barrier that blocked the threshold. The carved wood was clearly more ancient than even the shed, its features so cracked and weathered that Kanna had to stare for a long moment to make out the feathered lines of its winged body. Only the details on the statue’s head remained relatively intact, perched on a long swan-neck that rose up from its spreading breastbone, the wooden eyes of a huge bird staring right back at her with an expression that looked equally as offended as she was. “What is it, a carved idol?”

“Insurance. You could probably tip it over eventually if you pushed hard enough, but it would take you awhile, and your grunting and groaning would wake me, so I would easily catch you if you tried to escape. I’m a light sleeper.”

“This is hardly necessary,” Kanna complained. “What if there’s a fire or some other emergency?”

Goda laughed. “Would you prefer that I tie you up again instead?”

And so Kanna fell silent. She looked over at the two sleeping mats that lay side by side in the aisle before them, and it reminded her of just how alone they were, how they were locked in a room together in the middle of the night with no one but a statue to witness them.

The feeling of privacy was not comforting at all. It made her chest seize up with an edge of fear. She didn’t think that Goda would do anything to her, but she was fully aware that without much of a struggle, the woman easily could do anything she wanted. Even from just their brief handful of scuffles, the difference in strength between them was alarming.

That thought brought a different sensation all of a sudden. It was very brief. It was like a pulse in Kanna’s gut—or maybe somewhere lower still—a swelling that was uncomfortable in its fullness.

Kanna tried to put it out of her mind, to not let her anxiety show. “Am I really supposed to sleep here, right next to you like that?” she asked with as steady a voice as she could manage.

“Yes,” Goda said. She gave her an amused look, as if the question had been stupid. She walked over to the bedding and knelt down onto the mat, peeling off her outer robe as she settled in.

Kanna looked away. “Can’t I sleep in one of the other aisles or something?”

“No. You’ll stay where I can see you.”

Once she had stripped down to her tunic and slacks, Goda glanced over at Kanna, who was still hesitating near the door. To Kanna’s surprise, the woman did not bound towards her yet; instead, she watched Kanna carefully, her stare alert, her expression losing its strange mix of mirth and authority.

“Look,” Goda said finally, “what you’re afraid of—I’m not going to do it. I have no interest in that sort of thing, so you can relax and go to sleep.”

“I didn’t say I was afraid of you,” Kanna snapped. She didn’t like how quickly Goda had guessed, and she certainly didn’t like what Goda was implying. Kanna hadn’t even put a shape to her fear yet, or speculated on what, exactly, she was afraid that Goda would do. “I just don’t know you that well, that’s all. In the Upperland, sleeping directly beside someone is an overly familiar gesture. Only married people do it.”

Goda patted the mattress beside her. “We’re not in the Upperland,” she said. When Kanna didn’t move, Goda started to get up. “Of course, I can just make you do it if you’d prefer a struggle first. I’m sure there’s rope in here.” She began to look around.

Kanna heaved a deep sigh and rushed forward. As if there were some kind of invisible force both pulling her and repelling her at the same time, she slipped carefully around Goda without brushing against her, and she plopped down onto her side of the aisle.

This seemed to satisfy her master well enough, and Goda stretched out on her own sleeping mat before blowing out the candle.

Kanna lay there, awake in the dark, merely inches from the woman who was already breathing deeply beside her. She could feel the heat of Goda’s body radiating through the air and bathing her skin, warming her against the drafts that trickled in from beyond the doorjamb, but nonetheless making her shudder with discomfort.

When her eyes had adjusted enough, she could see just the basic shape of Goda’s form: the side of her face, the thin cloth of her shirt that covered her back, a bare shoulder that stuck out over the sheets. She stared at that sun-bronzed skin and felt the sudden urge to reach out, to see what it felt like against her fingers, to dig her nails deep into that naked flesh and draw the blood out.

She quickly turned away.

Her heart pounded. A part of her couldn’t fathom why, and another part was hesitant to acknowledge the feeling at all. Instead, she stared up at the ceiling until her exhaustion had overwhelmed her thoughts.

* * *

That night, Kanna had a dream. She dreamt that she was standing in a winter forest near a flowing river, her bare feet digging into the snow. Stars filtered in from the tops of the trees as a weak twilight—dawn or dusk, she wasn’t sure—but all she could see in the water was the form of a white swan, which floated serenely downstream towards her. When she tried to approach with curiosity, the bird took off in flight, soaring over her head and deep into the jungle behind her.

She spun around to see where it had gone, but instead she came face-to-face with a void. There was a figure swallowed in shadows, hovering over her like a giant. Paralyzed, she could not even recoil, and she could not make out the ghost’s features until it was so close that the mist of her own gasp mingled with its hot breath, which tasted of wet earth.

It was a living ghost.

It was Goda.

There was a white flower in her hand. The center was yellow like the yolk of an egg. She seized Kanna stiffly by the neck, and before Kanna could cry out, Goda shoved the flower into Kanna’s mouth and drowned out the sound. That massive hand filled up her mouth, but then the woman pushed deeper, across Kanna’s tongue, into her throat, stretching her from the inside.

Kanna choked and yet the woman only stared and smiled and pushed deeper. Goda reached inside of her, as if Kanna were some vessel and the woman were trying to touch the very bottom.

She burst her way through Kanna’s guts and snaked her arm into the depths. She took Kanna’s womb in her fist and squeezed it, until a torrent of blood and water poured out from between Kanna’s legs.

Kanna looked down in horror. She had given birth to a serpent.

* * *

Kanna awoke crying out in pain. Her blood pounding in her head, she jerked upright in shock, pressing her hand between her legs, grasping to see what was left of her—and finding that nothing familiar was gone, even as the feeling of being torn open had not faded entirely.

Goda stirred next to her. In the dim moonlight that leaked in through the tiny window, she peered at Kanna with alarm. “What is it?” she said groggily. Her eyes traveled down to Kanna’s hand where it pressed to her groin, and she looked a bit perturbed. “Did you piss yourself or something?”

Kanna blinked a few times, still not quite free from the dream. “No,” she whispered with irritation. “Blood came out.” She tried to shake it off, but the pain had felt so real.

Goda paused. “Oh,” she said. She grabbed a rag from the bottom shelf beside her and tossed it into Kanna’s lap. “I don’t keep those supplies. We’ll ask the temple assistants in the morning.” She rolled over and went back to sleep.

It was only after a few seconds of dead silence that Kanna realized exactly how Goda had misunderstood her. When she picked up the old rag and felt dirt caking between her fingers, she threw a glare at Goda’s back. She crumpled the cloth in her hand with a burst of rage.

But as she began to turn away again, her eyes took notice of Goda’s satchel, which was sitting at the foot of the woman’s bed. Even in the moonlight, she could still see the outline of the cylinder inside. A steel baton, she thought.

This time, when she imagined herself cracking it against Goda’s skull, she felt less guilty about it.

A Note From the Author:

Enjoying it so far? If you know anybody who is into this kind of thing, feel free to spread it around. This draft of Goda’s Slave will always be available here, free to read. If you want to support me in this labor of love, consider becoming a patron on Patreon! Every bit helps!

Onto Chapter 7 >>