Goda’s Slave – Chapter 7: Twin Gardens

Goda’s Slave – Chapter 7: Twin Gardens

In the morning, an uncomfortable beam of light found its way into the room, and it struck Kanna right in the face. She opened her eyes. When she looked around, she realized that the sun had come up, and that white light was leaking in through the cracks in the threshold.

The door was unblocked. The crate that had sat in front of it was gone, and as Kanna turned to look beside her, she noticed that Goda was also missing. For a moment, she felt relief, as if she had awoken into a different world, as if the past day had merely been some kind of bizarre dream.

But the bed was not empty. There was evidence of Goda’s presence still. Her robes, along with the rest of her clothes, were strewn on the mat. As Kanna hovered over them, she could still pick up traces of Goda’s smell.

A gleam of metal in the folds of the robe caught her eye. Curiously, she leaned closer. It was a four-sided symbol etched in bronze, on the face of a pendant that was buried in there, something that looked like it belonged strung on a neck chain. A religious emblem? she wondered.

She reached out to touch it, and some of the cloth around it parted in her fingers. She looked down and saw that the pendant was attached to an iron loop. A set of keys were also strung on that rusty keyring, and it looked like they might have fallen out of a pocket.

Kanna’s breath cut out. She stared at the keys. Her eyes darted momentarily to the cuff on the wrist of her hand, to the small, oval-shaped opening that made up the keyhole of the cuff lock.

She did not hesitate for long. She grabbed the keyring, and with shaky fingers, she shoved the first of the keys into the hole. It was far too big, so she tried the next, and then the next. She looked furtively over her shoulder and towards the door every time she tried and failed. Her heart was pounding in her throat; her hands were fumbling; she dropped the set of keys more than once and the jangling sound sent her into a panic.

When she reached the last of the keys, she had grown so frustrated, that she tried to force the piece inside. It resisted her. It went in, but it wouldn’t turn. She jiggled it futilely, an unexpected well of tears coming up into her eyes. She pulled it out with an angry jerk, and just as she was about to try every single key again, she was surprised by the sound of some shuffling beyond the door.

She quickly dropped the keys, as if the metal had been heated red-hot in a fire. She froze in place for a moment, but when the door did not open, she crept over to the tiny window on the wall. Kanna was barely tall enough to stretch up on her toes and peer through the hazy glass, but even still the scene beyond it made her chest seize up again.

It was Goda. She was crouched not far away, over a bucket of water, bathing herself next to a boulder. Just as she had been the morning before, she was completely naked, only this time she was slathering herself with clean water instead of the contents of a murky rain puddle.

Kanna noticed her legs. From that angle, they struck her more than any other feature. They were flexed hard into the crouch, as if Goda were hovering mid-motion, as if the woman were about to snap into an explosive leap any second. Kanna found it so disturbing that she couldn’t help but stare.

She was distracted enough that it took her a moment to parse the creaking sound that was suddenly filling her ears. She whipped her head to the left, to face the door. Kanna nearly cried out when she saw it opening. She pulled back and put a hand over her eyes as the bright light of the morning expanded in the threshold of the door and overwhelmed her.

When the door closed again, there were spots in her vision. Still, she could tell that it was the innkeeper who was standing in front of her. She held a familiar tray in her hands.

“What? You’re recoiling like I’m some kind of intruder,” Innkeeper Jaya said. “Or perhaps…like you’ve been caught doing something questionable.” She responded to Kanna’s look of surprise with a teasing smile. “What are you up to?”

Before Kanna could make something up, the innkeeper had already surmised from Kanna’s posture, and she stepped over to the window. She didn’t need to stretch. In fact, she hunched down slightly to look out of it. Her eyebrows flicked up when she seemed to catch sight of Goda.

“Ahhh,” she said, pulling back and nodding her head. “I see, I see.” She had a tone that held a complete lack of surprise. “Well, I wouldn’t even give that a try if I were you. Indeed, she’s as ferocious as she looks, and she’ll utterly undo you if it comes to that—but it won’t come to that. She’s far too stoic and hard to provoke.”

Kanna felt a blush creeping up into her face. She tried to fight it; the embarrassment felt unjustified. She looked down towards the floor. “I have no idea what you mean,” Kanna said.

The innkeeper seemed to dismiss her comment and instead offered her the tray, which held much the same contents as the night before. She smirked. “So you’d rather play like you haven’t looked at her like that?” she said after Kanna had gratefully accepted the food. “You may be an Upperlander, but you’re not blind, are you?”

Kanna’s fingers tightened around the tray. “I don’t understand.”

“Goda is a very handsome woman. Surely that hasn’t escaped your notice, even if she does have a dreadful personality.”

“I find her face unpleasant to look at.”

The innkeeper seemed amused. “And the rest of her?”


She shrugged and reached for the doorknob. The smile on her face was still laced with much skepticism. “All right,” she said with a tone of superficial acceptance. “She may very well be hideous by Upperland standards, then. We all differ in our tastes.”

“I have no taste for her.”

The woman laughed. “So you’ve already said. No need to repeat yourself.” As the innkeeper slipped out of the door, the light from outside bothered Kanna a little less. The woman had left the entrance open a crack, and the wind was pushing some sand in from the plain, so Kanna balanced the tray on one arm and reached out to close the door.

But a hand appeared out of nowhere and pushed the door back open. Kanna nearly dropped the tray.

“Hey, watch it!” she said without thinking.

When she saw that it was Goda who had appeared in the threshold, she took an automatic step back. When she noticed that the woman was still completely naked, she averted her gaze and tried instead to train her attention on the cracks of the floor.

“What are you doing running around without any clothes on?” Kanna grumbled. “Are all Middlelanders this shameless, or is it just you?”

Out of the corner of her eye, Kanna saw Goda shrug. “It’s not just me,” Goda said. “We have to wash ourselves every morning. It’s a religious thing.”

She stepped inside and began rummaging through her strewn clothes. Kanna held her breath and watched, suddenly remembering the ordeal from just moments before, nervous that Goda might notice that the keys had been moved.

When Goda said nothing, and merely began toweling herself off before throwing on her clothes, Kanna let out a sigh and tried to relax. Goda reached over and plucked the yaw root from the tray that Kanna held in her hands. She smiled before taking a bite.

“Don’t waste your time,” Goda said. “You’re not going to find it.”

Kanna stared at the newly-created space on the plate below. “Find what?”

“The key.”

Outside, Goda used the graywater from her bath to drench some of the shrubs in the innkeeper’s yard. The plants were leafless, though, and their tangled branches looked so dry that Kanna privately thought to herself that it was a lost cause.

“I wasn’t trying to escape, you know,” Kanna said quickly as she followed Goda into the shriveled garden.

Goda didn’t look at her. “You’re lying.” Still, she didn’t seem at all angered. She had stooped down; she was prodding at the roots of the shrub with her fingers.

Kanna sighed. “Fine, I was,” she admitted. “But what else was I supposed to do? The keys were just sitting there. Am I supposed to ignore a glimmer of hope like that?”

“Hope is for the weak,” Goda told her. She dug her hands into the sand and started dislodging some thorny vines that had taken root nearby. “Hope keeps your focus trained on some fantasy, so that you miss what’s right in front of you.”

“Well, I had hoped that the key would be right in front of me,” Kanna grumbled.

“It was,” Goda said, finally looking up at her with a cryptic smile. “That’s why you’ll never find it.”

Kanna crossed her arms. “Your riddles are tiresome.”

But Goda didn’t reply right away. Instead she knelt down further into the dirt and stared at the bushes in front of her. “I planted these for the innkeeper awhile back,” she murmured, shaking her head, “but since I only come here every few months at the most, no one has been here to look after them.”

“What are they?”

“Medicinal plants. These are native to the desert, so I thought they would be harder for Jaya to kill, but she’s a relentless murderer when it comes to this sort of thing. Even just her presence seems to weaken them.” Goda smirked and dumped some more of the water on them. As the drops rained down onto the thirsty sand, a piece of what looked like a dried up fruit seemed to catch Goda’s interest. She picked it up and pushed some seeds out of the flesh.

Kanna watched her silently, a new feeling coming over her that she couldn’t quite name. She looked around the garden, at the rows of dead little trees, at the thriving cactus blooms that represented the last bits of greenery that had survived.

Then the obvious finally struck her.

“You built this garden, didn’t you?” Kanna asked.

“It was a long time ago. It was back when I used to visit more frequently.”

Kanna walked to Goda and came to stoop down next to her. She stared at the shrub before them, but she couldn’t recognize what it was, or any of the other plants around them. “Did you avoid coming when you heard that Priestess Rem came to live here?”

It was just a guess, but by Goda’s silence, Kanna wondered if she might have hit an unexpected nerve.

“It was only a matter of time until I would have to come back,” Goda mumbled, entranced by the seeds in her hand. “The prisoners that they assign me—most of them are Middlelanders, so I can take them to any border crossing. But you’re a foreigner. You need to be cleansed or else they won’t let you through. This is the only monastery in the Outerland that will perform it.”

Kanna rolled her eyes. “You Middlelanders and your obsession with Death Flower. You’re wasting your time with these cleanses,” she complained. “Just let people risk their lives if they want. What does it affect anyone if people want to get drunk on the flower, or kill themselves, or whatever it is that they do?”

Goda looked at her and shook her head. Her eyes were squinting in the light, and her pupils had grown small, but Kanna could see the ring of the sun reflected in them. “The Samma Flower doesn’t make people drunk. It’s nothing like that. And in spite of the name and all the rumors, it doesn’t actually kill most people if they just take a small amount.”

“What then?”

“When people eat it, they can see the Goddess for themselves. It makes them unruly, because they’re surprised by what they see, and She’s nothing like what the priestesses tell them. So they stop believing.”

Kanna made a face. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why does the government say that it kills you, then?”

Goda stared out over the fence, into the plain. “Most people can’t tolerate enough of the flower to get into that altered state safely. They get sick and purge the flower before it affects them, and some of them do indeed die. It’s a risk,” she said, “but there are some people who have a tolerance to Samma Flower—the government calls them vessels—and those are the people who take huge amounts and then try to come over the border. When they excrete the flower’s essence from their bodies, a lot of the toxins are neutralized, but the magic still remains. Other people drink these excretions and have otherworldly experiences.”

“‘Excretions’?” Kanna asked, though she already had an inkling; she just didn’t want to picture it.

“Their body fluids—blood, saliva, urine. It all remains potent for several days after the vessel has eaten Samma Flower. That’s why they’re keeping us here for three days. Most vessels are foreigners, so they’re making sure you’re not one of them, and that no one will drink Death from you.”

Kanna shook her head with disbelief. “That’s disgusting. I could never imagine what would drive someone to drink another’s body fluids, for goodness sake.”

At that, Goda smirked. “You drank from your mother’s teat, did you not?”

“That’s different, clearly.”

“Is it?” Goda’s expression was cryptic, and Kanna wasn’t sure if she was teasing her yet again.

But Kanna stared right back at her without flinching. She didn’t allow herself to grow irritated this time. “You seem to know a lot about Death,” Kanna said finally. “If I didn’t know better, I would say that you had experienced the flower yourself.”

“Who? Me?” Goda asked. Her smile had grown wider. Then, after a moment, she gave a curt nod. “I have. I hardly remember any of it, though. I nearly died. The first time was when I was a child.”

Kanna’s eyes widened. “What kind of child takes illegal drugs?”

Goda huffed with amusement. “It was on accident. My mothers had gotten hold of some soil imported from the Samma Valley—the soil is volcanic, so it’s very fertile, you see—and they were using it to grow some herbs in the garden. A patch of Samma Flowers sprouted up without their noticing at first. The seed must have traveled with the dirt. I was milling around in the yard, back when I was stupid and barely had all my teeth, and I happened to pluck a flower and put it straight into my mouth.”

“You what?” Kanna asked, already horrified by the story. She added quickly, “Then what happened?”

“I’m not sure,” Goda said, her gaze growing a bit unfocused as she seemed to piece the memory together. “I was young, so it’s pretty hazy now. I remember that the ground started to move, like it was breathing or something, like my breath had become the Earth’s breath. Then I passed out.” She shrugged. “When I came to, one of my mothers was holding me down and the other was trying to make me vomit. I did, and so I survived.”

Kanna leaned back on her heels until she was sitting in the dirt. She stared up at Goda. “You had such a close brush with death, and yet you act so casual about it.” She paused. “The first time….”


“You said the first time you ate the flower, you were a child. There were other times?”

Goda said nothing for a long moment. Her eyes had flicked away again and her face had taken on an expression of disinterest. Eventually, she began to stretch her long body until she was fully on her feet.

“I never saw the Goddess, if that’s why you’re asking,” she said, looking down at Kanna. Her face was framed by the blue sky as Kanna looked up at her in return. “I tried, but I never saw Her. I never took enough.”

“You were willing to risk your life over and over, just to see some spirit that you don’t even believe in?”

“It was only one other time that I did it,” Goda said, “and I didn’t care if I died then.”

Kanna paused in thought. She looked closely at Goda’s dark eyes, and for the first time she thought she saw an edge of sadness in them.

She turned her gaze back towards the ground. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“It doesn’t matter now.” Goda began walking towards the opening of the fence, the loose sand billowing up with each of her steps. “It was a long time ago, and after that I vowed to never blaspheme the Goddess again with my actions.”

Kanna stood and dusted herself off. When she looked up, Goda had stepped outside the barrier and was seemingly waiting for her to follow. There was a thoughtful look on her face; she silently regarded Kanna with an unusual focus of attention. Kanna felt suddenly awkward under the stare.

“What?” Kanna asked.

Goda said nothing for a long moment. She turned and began to walk off. With her back to Kanna, she said, “Come. We’re going to fetch some more water.”

In the evening, Kanna found herself once again kneeling in front of a temple assistant. This time, there was a low table between them, and a smattering of papers covered nearly every edge of the surface. Kanna sighed with boredom as the assistant explained the meaning of every paragraph on every page, and so occasionally she would turn slightly and try to meet eyes with Goda.

Goda, as before, had stopped just before the gateway. Because Priestess Rem was not there, however, she had merely sat unceremoniously on the ground, with her side pressed to the stone fence. Still, they were close enough to each other that Kanna caught Goda glancing over her shoulder a few times.

“…And on this one,” the assistant said, passing her a sheet, knocking Kanna a bit out of her daze, “you need to fill in your full name, the name of your mother, and the exact location of your birth.”

“How exact?”

The assistant looked at her with irritation. “Exact. The province in the Upperland, the city, the farm, the exact address of the house if it has one.” Her tone made it sound as if it had all been obvious somehow.

“Do I need to mention which room in the house, or that it was on my mother’s kitchen table?” Kanna was being facetious, but the assistant merely shook her head and started sifting through another stack of paperwork.

As Kanna’s pen hovered over the sheet, though, the assistant quickly reached out and stopped her hand. “Oh, that’s right, you can’t write in Middlelander script, can you?”

“Excuse me?” Kanna huffed and pulled her hand back. “I know how to write.”

“You can’t use Upperland script on this form. It has to be written in native Middlelander.”

“I know how to write both scripts just fine, thank you. What do you think I am, some kind of ignorant peasant? You know who my father is, don’t you?” Kanna blurted out. She could hear Goda start laughing behind her.

“Well, excuse me, then,” the assistant muttered. “You’re the first Upperlander I’ve met who knows both.”

Kanna rolled her eyes and confidently pressed her pen to the paper. In truth, her skills in written Middlelander actually were a bit rusty, and she found the language nonsensical half the time, but it was the principle of the thing. She was well-educated, and she wasn’t about to tolerate any further insults towards her upbringing.

Kanna slowly carved the words, biting her lip with concentration. She tried to remember how her name was transliterated into Middlelander. When she had been arrested, the guards back at the detainment center had filled out most of the forms for her and had only asked for her signature, but now she regretted not looking at the script more closely.

Still, she persevered. After methodically etching what felt like her entire life story, she handed the page to the assistant, who appeared rather impatient.

“What’s this?” she asked, tilting the page sideways. “Everything looks fancy and hard to read.”

“Oh, I learned the Middlelander script in a calligraphy class. I write Upperlander the same way. My tutor always said that beauty is never frivolous when you’re—”

“Fine, then,” the assistant interrupted her. She pressed the paper to the table. “I can read it—barely—but please print the words next time using the plain block style.”

Kanna gave her a wry look. The assistant handed her another sheet, and Kanna racked her brain to try to remember any alternative styles of the Middlelander script.

Before she had set her pen to the paper again, though, the assistant’s hand whacked the table with exasperation. “What are all the names here on the first line? I don’t understand. Which one is yours?”

Kanna leaned over to look. “Oh, they’re all mine,” she explained. “It’s my full name.”

“Kanna…Leda…Raba, er, Rava…Harakka…of the North-Facing Mount of Ken?”

“Yes, that’s right. There’s more, though. I wrote the rest underneath because I ran out of space.”

The assistant rubbed her face. “All right, which ones are your real names?”

Kanna narrowed her eyes. “What are you talking about? They’re all real. Kanna is my given name. Leda was my mother’s name, which is a first daughter’s sacred name in the Upperland. Rava is my family name. Harakka was my Mother’s father’s—”

But before Kanna could finish, the assistant had taken a pen and struck through every name except for “Kanna” and “Rava.” The woman looked at her and ignored Kanna’s shocked expression. “Middlelanders only have two names,” she said brusquely.

“I’m not a Middlelander.” Kanna leaned across the table and pressed a fist to the wood beneath her.

The assistant seemed to meet her challenge. She leaned closer as well, enough that Kanna could smell her breath when she insisted, “You’ll be living in the Middleland, and all the forms have only space for two names: your given name and your family name.”

But I’m not a Middlelander,” Kanna repeated. “You can’t just erase my identity with the stroke of a pen!”

“Fine, then,” the woman said, gesturing towards the page, “you can tell me which names you want out of all of these—but it can only be two of them.” She paused and seemed to re-read the paper. “Which do you want to be? ‘Kanna Rava’? Or perhaps you’d rather be ‘North-Facing Mount’? Does that suit you more?”

Kanna felt her anger boiling into the back of her eyes, where it had started to transform into tears against her will. She slammed her hands on the table. She was opening her mouth again, to shout at the woman, but then a voice came trickling smoothly from behind her shoulder.

“She’s right, you know,” the voice of Goda said. “People only have two names in this culture. They really have no other way to parse your paperwork. If they don’t shorten your name now, then they certainly will at some office in the Middleland, and in that case you may have no choice in what they decide to call you.”

Kanna let out a breath and retreated, until she was sitting flatly on the ground again. She felt just a pair of tears spill over. They left a trail of heat on her face.

“‘Kanna Rava’ is fine,” she said finally, her tension deflating.

The assistant looked at her with sudden alarm. “Listen, I…I didn’t mean to be….” She cleared her throat. “There’s no reason to cry, all right? I’m not trying to insult you or be insensitive to your culture. It’s just that this is the way things are.”

Kanna nodded in acceptance. She was staring at the table with unfocused eyes, so at first she didn’t notice the presence that had fluttered into their midst.

“What’s all the ruckus about, hm?” When Kanna looked up, she saw the tall figure of Priestess Rem looming over the assistant. She was smiling the same as always. “I’m sure you don’t mean to disturb the silence of the monastery, but we are about to sound the chime to end the prayers, and the priestesses need to be able to hear it.”

Kanna’s face grew warm with embarrassment. Out of the corner of her eye, she sensed Goda turning to look up at the woman—but she quickly turned away again.

“We were just wrapping up the paperwork, Priestess,” the assistant mumbled, her expression similarly laced with shame.

Priestess Rem paused and looked at Kanna for a long moment. “Does she appear free of Death?”

“Yes. I examined her myself before we started.”

“Good. I trust your judgment, Assistant Finn. Her cleanliness is far more important than this bureaucracy.” She waved a hand. “Look, the sun is already waning. We can finish all of this tomorrow.”

The assistant turned around. “Oh?” she said. Her tone was measured in her superior’s presence, but she was clearly suppressing her annoyance. “We’re almost finished. I only need a bit more information, and then I can fill these out myself.”

The Priestess made a gesture of acceptance and waited.

“I have your mother’s name, but I need to know how many siblings you have, and all of their names as well,” the assistant said, looking over at Kanna again.

Kanna thought about that for a moment, then gave the woman a questioning glance. “Uh, do my half-siblings count?” she asked.

“Your what?”

“My father had four households with four different wives. Do the children from my father’s other wives count as siblings?”

The assistant threw a confused look at Priestess Rem, but the priestess did not return it. She was staring at Kanna with a fixed smile.

“Eh, well, did either of your mothers—I mean, did your one mother,” the assistant rambled, correcting herself, “have any children besides you? We consider any children from the same mother to be siblings. Men can’t have children, after all.” She had mumbled the last part.

Kanna felt some kind of tenseness in the air, but it wasn’t all coming from her. She paused for a moment, then finally came up with the answer: “Ah…I was an only child, then,” she said.

The assistant seemed to have sensed her hesitation. “Are you sure?”

“Well….” Kanna’s shoulders slumped and she leaned her weight against the table. She looked off towards the side. “I had a twin, but she died during childbirth and so she never had a name. Does she have to be listed as well?”

The assistant became very quiet. “No,” she said in a soft voice. Before long, she had gathered the pages that were strewn across the table and began to make notes on them. Kanna could hear the vague scratching of the pen, a sound that made her wonder what other lies of omission those papers were telling about her.

Thinking that she was being dismissed, Kanna stood, but as she turned around the priestess made a gesture that Kanna didn’t understand at first.

“Come,” the Priestess said after Kanna had just stared at her. Her face looked friendly, amused. “Let us go into the sanctuary of the temple for a moment, so that you may get to know the Goddess.”

This seemed to finally stir Goda. Kanna could hear her getting up behind her.

“My priestess,” Goda said, her tone respectful, but nonetheless laced with an edge of displeasure. “Kanna Rava is an Upperlander, and she doesn’t share our faith. You may be able to compel her because she’s a slave, but don’t you think this interferes with the religious freedoms that she has under the law?”

“Isn’t it said that in every word a priestess speaks, there is a seed of the law that should be obeyed?” the woman openly chided her. Even still, the priestess’s expression hadn’t changed. “And I am telling you right now, Goda, to be still and shut your mouth. Kanna Rava can come inside and see the Goddess Mahara for herself, and then Kanna Rava can decide for herself if she loves the Goddess the way you and I do.”

Goda’s jaw seemed to tighten, but she said nothing more and she took a step back. Her posture seemed to say that she had given up.

“Tell me, Goda,” the Priestess said, after glancing at the cuff on Kanna’s wrist, “how far of a space do we have to wander? Can we make it to the sanctuary without incident?”

Goda nodded. “Probably—though I may have to walk along the side of the fence to accommodate my priestess.”

“Then please do so, if the cuff begins to trouble you. We don’t need a foreigner screaming and twitching all over the floor of the temple. It would interrupt the evening prayers.”

With that, the Priestess turned and began walking further into the grounds, as if she were expecting Kanna to immediately follow. Kanna glanced back at Goda one last time, but the woman’s expression was mostly blank. Only her eyes held a sign of resentment.

When the assistant waved for her to go, Kanna sighed and finally shuffled after the figure in black.

“It pains me to hear about your sister,” the priestess said without looking at her. “I am also a twin myself.”

Kanna tilted her head, not sure what to say in response to that. “What a rare coincidence,” she murmured softly after some silence had passed.

“Not really. Twins and triplets are very common in the Middleland. You may have noticed that some of the assistants look alike, have you?”

Kanna reflected on this for a moment. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “They all look very much alike to me.” At least now, Kanna thought, she knew how the Middlelanders had come to overpopulate and stretch the boundaries of their kingdom so thoroughly.

The priestess chuckled into the back of her hand, but she didn’t reply.

Kanna’s bare feet scraped against the stone as they followed the path between the towers. She looked up at the structures, and now that she saw them up close, they seemed to change shape yet again. They seemed less like the cylinders she had originally perceived, and more like tall, rounded humps that jutted out of the earth.

The walkway turned to a place behind one of the towers, a place surrounded by looming stone walls, and Kanna let out a small breath of surprised when they entered a courtyard. It was a garden, lush with greenery that didn’t match the desert in the least.

Some water flowed nearby into what looked like a small human-made pond. The walls were adorned with vines. Different plants that Kanna did not recognize lay all throughout the space, and electric lights sprouted out from the ground to light them in a beautiful, violet-tinted glow. At the center, there was a fountain. It sputtered with the energy of a geyser and Kanna felt the mist of its waters as she walked past.

“What is this place?” she whispered. Then she saw that in a corner of the garden, there were a few rows of priestesses kneeling in prayer, and she suddenly regretted speaking.

“It’s the temple garden,” Priestess Rem told her. “In most monasteries, it lies close to the sanctuary. It’s where we grow all the herbs, and flowers, and fruits that please the Goddess.”

Kanna felt a faint twinge of pain radiating from her forearm just then, but it faded immediately. She pressed her hand to the cuff on her wrist. Goda must have moved, she thought.

The priestess led her up a stone staircase. It was only half a dozen steps high, and when they reached the top there were no doors. The sanctuary lay open. As soon as Kanna had stepped onto the final ledge, she could peer down the hallway and see the form of the Goddess gazing back at her.

Her breath hitched. The idol was made entirely of gold. It shimmered in the warm lamp light of the sanctuary, and its eyes regarded Kanna with love, one hand stretched out in what seemed like a gesture of welcome. The Goddess’s other hand was pressed against her own chest, holding up her breast as if in offering.

Kanna met the statue’s gaze directly, and they stared at each other for a long moment. She had never seen anything like it in her life.

“Come deeper inside,” Priestess Rem whispered. The woman walked ahead of her, but even without the encouragement, Kanna would have felt compelled to come closer. She felt herself drawn in, as if some invisible force were trying to join her with the Goddess.

As she walked further into the sanctuary, the air grew warmer, and she realized that the lights inside were from torches with searing fires. She and the priestess were the only mortals in the otherwise empty room, but Kanna didn’t find the privacy uncomfortable with the Goddess watching over them.

When they reached the foot of the altar, the priestess told her to kneel. Without a second thought, she did, and she stared in awe up at the idol. It didn’t even seem like a statue, Kanna thought. The Goddess felt fully alive. Kanna could almost sense the heat of her skin.

Her concentration broke only when she heard strange words hissing softly through the chamber. At first, she thought that it had been the Goddess speaking to her in some incantation, so she lifted her head to gaze at the idol’s lips.

But then she realized that the voice was merely human. She hadn’t caught the words at first, but she thought it strange that the accent sounded like….

As beautiful as it is to see another soul connect with the blessed Goddess,” Priestess Rem said in Kanna’s native language, “I didn’t actually bring you here to convert you. I hope the Goddess can forgive me for using this sanctuary as a pretense for a private conversation.”

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