i looked at the priestess for what seemed an eternity. the small vial of water-turned-blood was as heavy as sin, and getting heavier.
"you feel it calling, don't you?" she said.
i sighed. "more like i can't deny its calling any longer," i said. "i've stuffed it down for so long; my whole life. but now...lately...it's shouting so loudly it's like some white noise in the background that has slowly gotten louder until it's all i can hear." i shook my head. "everywhere i turn, it's all i can see. every sound is drowned out by it. every lesson turns me back to it. there's just no escape."
"and why would you run from it, then, sister?" she said, smiling. "if it is tied to you, it does not matter how you run, for it will always follow you. do you not recall our sister, skeleton woman?"
"but reprieve!" i almost shouted. "not one second of peace! i need a break from all that noise so i can think! i know she's down there, and i know i need to deal with it. but i need time to get used to the idea and decide what i'm going to do about it."
the priestess shook her head. "and how much time have you had already? you knew everything was there, and you ignored it. that part of yourself you run from. how long have you ignored her, trapped her down, silenced her, kept her in the darkness and neglected her?"
the vial of blood weighed as much as a mountain now. the loose knot holding the ragged scarf around my head came apart, and my dreadlocks tumbled down my back. i remembered how my silhouette had looked so medusan, and in the back of my mind i could hear the faint sound of many snakes hissing in my ears. they sounded angry. ever growing, snakes continually shed their skins, and i could almost hear words in their hissing as they reprimanded me for refusing to shed my own skin.
"she needs to stay there," i whispered, horrified. "she gets in my way."
the pomegranate priestess stood, then, and brushed herself off. "then perhaps we were wrong, and this affinity for our path is only on the surface. stay here in the Valley, then, little sister. for apparently this is as far as you go."
she turned to walk away, but i reached out and snatched her blood-stained hand in my own. i was staring off into the distance, unable to look up and meet her eyes. "she's hated," i said. "perhaps not by me, but she is hated. when i embrace her, i am scorned. they mistreat me, and scold me, and cheapen me, and use me. i am not some cheap, simple thing to be cast aside!"
"they don't understand," she said gently. "they have lost their own innocence, so when they see yours they cannot bear it. some would subsume it, as ancient societies believed consuming the body would absorb the spirit as well. others would destroy it within you, for your obvious power reminds them of their starving lack. this part of you, this other, is someone you run from because of the pain you believe others inflict upon you because of her.
"i say to you that you have done yourself --and her-- a grave injustice. you have misunderstood her, and yourself. you have hidden her away so none could abuse her, yet you continue their work and abuse her far worse than anyone else could ever dream. and so i ask you, sister, why you curse those who have deeply wronged you, why you refuse to forgive most of them, when you do nothing but continue their work upon yourself? do you do this for some measure of control? to please them? to make sense of things you could not possibly have understood when you were young? some other reason entirely, or perhaps some combination of them all?
"whatever it is, my dear sister, it is something you will need to conquer before we can allow you your first crimson of our sisterhood." she pulled her hand free from mine. "if that is still your wish."
and she left me there in Valley-in-the-Glade, naked and trembling and clutching a vial of my own blood. few ever come this far, they had said. fewer survive.
...i was beginning to understand why.