The snow bit at my bare feet, toes beginning to burn from the cold. Large, fat flakes caught on my eyelashes and dampened my hair. It was snowing at the Temple: plump, wet snowflakes sticking to everything and dampening sound to a muffled whisper.
Ice floes like teenie glaciers floated by in the great river running through the temple grounds. The great fruiting trees lining the banks were bare and stark against the white sky, and not a bird could be seen.
So different, being upon the grounds and hearing not a single cry of an irritated raven. The statues on the grounds were oblong mounds of white mystery, like buttes in the desert. I tucked my head down until my chin touched my chest, wincing as my double chin squished like a water balloon.
I was not the same as when I left.
Why did I leave, anyway?
Oh yeah. The Vulture Goddess had split apart my chest and laid bare my heart to the sun, then left me to bleed downriver and learn to either embrace my role as One Who Bleeds But Does Not Die, or to believe the lie until I imagined my death by exsanguination so well that I died.
My feet didn't make a sound as I walked the path I remembered, my footprints the only thing to mar the pristine beauty of a perfect snowfall.
I was shivering by the time I entered the temple, dripping half-melted snow on the red tiles. I winced at the mess, but there was nothing at hand to mop it up.
"Just leave it."
I spun to my left. She was standing by a pillar, half-hidden by the shadows there. Her feet were also bare, and I saw the hint of red lining her toes. Yearning filled me, and embarrassment, that my feet were still not stained the red of the Pomegranate Priestesses. I wanted it so badly.
"Do you really?" she asked. "If so, why have you not done the requisite work? Something must be holding you back."
I shrugged. "I am still a fool to give this all up if just one person would love me."
"Why?" She stepped out of the shadows, and I saw her hair was buzzed close to her head. She had subdermal implants in her skin, just by her left eye. It was a scroll mark, the Sanskrit a, with an accent over it in red ink. This, I knew, was not the first sound. This was not the life breath of the formless god. This was instead the root word for maya, removes depression, brings hope, sharpens the intellect and talent.
Why would Maya meet me at the door, half frozen and pathetic?
"Fool, yes, but not pathetic," she said. The tiny bells on her anklet and trimming her skirt chimed in minor sevenths. An odd chord, but strangely appealing. It drew me in. "You find this supposed love appealing enough to forsake the Menstrual Temple because you do not love you."
"That's what I just said."
She laughed at me. Actually pointed and laughed. "I wasn't talking about you."
Goddammit, were all the priestesses given classes on being cryptic?
"Do you still have the small vial of blood you were given before?" she asked.
I shook my head. "The glass dissolved when I began hemorrhaging, and it all just mixed together."
She nodded. "That can happen. When one does not realize the sacredness of their own, bleeding is seen as an injury instead of a sacred duty."
I blushed. This was not what I'd wanted to hear. I should just go; I would never be worthy to dwell within these walls.
The priestess laughed. "You take these walls with you! Wherever you go, there is the Temple." She pointed. A door appeared across the foyer, small, with no visible door knobs or hinges. It was just a crack in the marble.
"It is the dream incubation chamber."
Well. That told me a whole lotta nothing, but I could tell by her face that was all I was going to get. The sickle tied at her belt gleamed in the gentle light in the temple. A chill raced through me; I remembered my last encounter with one of those sickles.
A line burned down my breastbone in memory.
"Dream incubation chamber. Got it."
"This time," she said after me, "don't run."
I bit my lip. My hand hovered just over the door, and my fingers balled into a fist. This time, she'd said, don't run. If that wasn't a warning, nothing was.
I pushed open the door and stepped inside. The ruins of a great and ancient city, dusty and tattered, met me. I looked over my shoulder.
The doors were gone.