the price of love, pt. i

the valley treated me well. after my resurrection and baptism, there came a renaissance of childhood where i was given every good thing, feasted upon the delectibles of Nature's bounty with no thought other than that it gave me joy. i had my chores, yes, but afterward there was only play.

i had stood tall in the face of the pomegranate priestess, confident in my new knowledge, had stolen her sickle and torn a strip of her robes to tie back my hair. it fluttered about and caressed my naked body in the breeze. there was nothing but me, the sun, Valley-in-the-Glade, the Sentinels guarding our peace there with their majesty and patience, and the laughing river sparkling like rhinestones over the rocks.

in the Valley, gravity worked differently. when i got up to run, i ran like a pegasus on the air, my toes barely touching the ground and my hair streaming behind me. when i swam, the water was so light and clear it was like song on my skin, and when i breathed it was like inhaling liquid laughter. i lay on the grass beneath the sun, watching clouds play into shapes for my amusement, and the grass reached around to cradle me.

there was nothing i needed, and i wanted for naught.

my hair had been left hanging free down my back, and it had begun to form thick tendrils on its own. catching my shadow on the ground, it seemed as if snakes sprouted from my crown and twined about me with minds of their own. sometimes, if i stared long enough at my shadow, i could almost hear the whispers as they hissed wisdom in my ears. i could almost feel the caress of their forked tongues against my shoulders, the back of my neck. in play, i became quite good at twining my red scarf about my head, coiling my dreadlocks into elaborate piles atop my head, leaving one or two to twine around my neck as my only adornment.

for i was a wild thing in the Valley. when i thirsted, the river gave me drink. when i hungered, the Valley offered up delicacies like spongy mushrooms, tender shoots and berries. squirrels shared their nuts with me, birds their seeds. i slept when i tired from my play, played with whom i would, climbed the trees to hear their thoughts, and never wanted for anything.

"have you enjoyed your stay here in the Valley?" she asked.

i looked over at her as if she had always been there. i had not seen her in what seemed an Age, and yet her appearance did not surprise me. she looked much like me this time, only her robe was a red so deep at the hem it seemed black. the color lightened as it went up, as if the black seeped upwards until at about knee-length her robes were the same vivid blood-red as all the others. the black hem glistened, hung heavy as if wet.

her feet were tattooed, as were her hands. except instead of the whorls and spirals, dots and serrated edges to which i had grown accustomed, her tattoos were in a very unique spatter, with large spots of red, some of which remained perfectly round while others had been fashioned as if the red dribbled down her feet. beneath her toenails had been tattooed a deep red, and around her cuticles. the same for her hands. there were splashes up past her elbows, and her hands were almost completely stained red. there was even a few splatter-tattoos up her face.

the entire effect was...

i looked down at her hem. it was dripping. droplets of a red so dark it could only be blood splashed onto her feet.

those weren't tattoos.

"oh, they're quite real," she said. then she grasped the hem of her robes, flicked them sharply, and more blood spattered onto her face. i watched in breathless amazement as the blood seeped into her skin, became a blood tattoo etched permanently into her cheek. "my caste is a small one within the priestesshood." she gave me a dry smile. "not all of us wield a sickle, flash blue skin and red hair, and lovingly burn heaven to the ground. they talk of Those Who Bleed but Do Not Die and yet know only what is common and necessary." she shook her head, and the bones decorating her dreadlocks rattled like hollow reeds. "they do not go into the death."

she looked at me then, and i could see the red in her eyes. the bone ring through her left nostril glinted dully in the sunlight. "you have enjoyed your stay, yes?"

"my stay?" i replied. "have i overstayed myself?"

she laughed, surprisingly rich and genuine for such a dark priestess. "you may stay until the end of days when the Jiggy Snake swallows his own tail once more, for all we care. it is completely up to you." she shrugged, looked off across the water. "you have paid your price."

"yes..." i narrowed my eyes at her, wondering. "i have paid, and worked, and endured. i have learned and grown..."

"and i understand one of my sisters has called you sister?"

"she did." my heart was beating hard beneath my breastbone. "she said few make it this far, and fewer survive. are you here to kill me?"

again she laughed. "my goddess, no! i am here to invite you. there is within you a deep affinity for this path of ours." she tapped the vial of river water still in my hands. "you hold on for the chance to bless someone else, but perhaps your blessing would be better used for your own power?" she tapped the vial again, and i saw there was blood inside instead of water. i gasped, and she only leaned in closer. "you hold the power of the darkness of the moon inside you," she whispered, "and the little death within you triggers the possibility of new life to burst from you in the form of a seed. it is there, this seed, hopeful and waiting in the nest of your blood, waiting for a male seed to join it and beget life. when it dies, you wash in the river of this dark power, and again the cycle is renewed."

she wrapped a blood-stained hand around my wrist. "your death triggers life. the dead before you have given you life." she raised a brow at me. "i wonder, my sister, how you will go about making your amends to the dead?"

to pt ii

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