3LBE #2
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The Madwoman

by Michael S. Dodd

 

Are you certain that is what you want?” Marisel cast her standard hook to the rat-faced man on the other side of the counter. “These things are not without cost.”

“I am quite certain, madam,” he responded stiffly, his nasal whine a vicious affront to Marisel’s eardrums. “Else I would not have spent such precious time and money seeking you out.”

“But saridacia,” Marisel adopted a musing tone, playing with him, drawing him on. “Its existence is only mentioned in legends and tales. There is no proof that such a mystical plant even exists.”

“How much?” The rat-faced man was becoming irritated. A flush crept into his pallid cheeks, making him even less appealing to the eye, if that were possible.

“For such a distinguished gentleman as yourself?” Marisel smiled sweetly. “One dose, five hundred gold.”

He did not even blink at the astronomical sum; he just yanked a large roll of currency notes from his pocket and pressed most of them into her hand. She quickly pocketed the money, then flipped a tiny paper packet across the counter at him.

The man glanced furtively up and down the street as he left, as if he were afraid of being seen patronizing her shop. Marisel knew who he was; a local political figure of moderate status. She had seen him before, speaking in one of the public squares, blistering the aural senses of his audience with that gods-cursed voice. No doubt he was afraid of the scandal that would surely ensue should he be caught doing business in this section of the city, which, for all intents and purposes, could only be of a dubious nature. Marisel smiled to herself, and counted the currency notes again. After he swallowed the contents of the little packet, it wouldn’t matter either way. She rather doubted he would ever speak, much less in public, again.

Marisel’s trade was not outside the city’s laws, unlike much of what went on in this area. She just found there to be a little more freedom in this part of the city, and it suited her. She was a dealer of rare botanicals. The shelves of her little shop were lined with jars housing exquisite spices, precious medicinal herbs for a variety of ailments, and many other types of strange and exotic flora. And then there was the saridacia.

Marisel was not a poisoner, or a drug maker; she did not dabble in the chemistry of hallucinogens and intoxicants. What business was it of hers if such things could be easily extracted from certain of the berries and plant fibers that rested on her shelves? What the customer did with the merchandise once he left her shop was none of her concern. She considered herself a smart businesswoman, and that was an end to it.

The madwoman emitted a piercing whine that echoed off the walls of the tiny shop. Marisel could feel a headache beginning behind her eyes. She would normally ignore the bothersome creature, but she knew from experience that the thing was hungry, and would not cease wailing until she fed it. She felt the urge to ignore it, even now, simply in cruel retaliation of the loathsome burden inflicted upon her, but if she allowed the thing to continue its keening, her headache would become debilitating within moments. She moved from behind the counter, and walked toward the door in the rear of the one-room shop that led to her living space. The madwoman was sitting on the floor of her cage, in a puddle of urine, eyes wild and staring but seeing nothing, the wretched sound issuing forth from slack, lusterless lips.

Marisel went quickly to her larder, where she filled a misshapen metal bowl with some dry tubers, bread crusts and wilted greens. She covered these in lukewarm vegetable broth, and went back the way she had come. She pushed the bowl carelessly through the small door at the bottom of the cage, causing the liquid to splash onto the creature’s legs and feet. The thing bent over to plant its face in the bowl, and Marisel shook her head in disgust. She turned around to discover that a man had entered the shop while she was gone, and was now perusing her wares.

“Can I help you with something?” Marisel asked, returning to the stool behind the counter.

“I need a handful of black nightshade berries,” the man replied, turning around to face her. She smiled up at him, and retrieved the jar from the wall above her head. She pulled on her black calfskin gloves, as she always did when handling poisonous herbs, even though she knew the berries were not harmful to the touch. It was more to put on a show for the customers, to let them know they should approach such things with caution and reverence for their power.

“One hundred fifty silver,” she said, and handed him the packet. He tossed some notes onto the counter, then gestured toward the cage.

“How much is she?” His face was expressionless, but the question held a leer.

“She is not without her charms, I suppose, base though they may be,” Marisel replied smoothly, “But she is not for sale.”

“I had no intention of buying her,” the man said, and the leer extended from his voice to his face. He leaned across the counter, and brought his face even with Marisel's. “I was told that you might oblige the occasional gentleman.”

Marisel smiled knowingly. “We might be able to come to an arrangement, but be aware that I don’t often do this sort of thing. This is a respectable and honest business.”

“Understood, madam. You are gracious indeed.”

“Three hundred gold,” Marisel said, and met his eyes in a challenging stare. He could buy a hundred pleasure house whores for that much money.

“Done,” he said, and placed the notes into her waiting palm. She locked the door to the shop, turned down the gaslights, and handed him the key to the cage. As he approached the madwoman’s prison, the creature began to wail. Soon she would begin to scream and kick, but she could inflict little damage due to the jacket she wore, the one Marisel had ingeniously designed for her. It covered her upper body entirely; the cuffs of the sleeves were sewn closed, and the sleeves themselves were laced to the body of the jacket. Marisel had created the jacket because the creature loved to tear out her hair and claw at her eyes. She would scratch and pull at herself until she bled. It made for easier cleanup, but the jacket had other uses as well. The monster could not easily damage the men and women who paid Marisel rather well to play with her.

During a good week, the madwoman might bring in nearly as much as legitimate sales would. Marisel reclined on her stool, propping her feet up on the counter, and turned her attention to the cage. It would be an entertaining show; it generally was. Things had not always been this way, of course. This pathetic, raving creature that she could hardly bear to look upon had been her lover once.

• • •

Her name had been Ylsa then, and she was a promising young artist; a gemcarver by trade, a painter by passion. She had wandered into Marisel’s store a little over ten years ago, in search of a particular herb known to have abortive properties, and perhaps something else that might arouse the senses. Ylsa felt she was too much a free spirit to be tied into motherhood, and liked to smoke a little yarabina seed now and again, as it enhanced her creative process.

“You have such an exquisite face,” Ylsa had remarked, with an unabashed candor that Marisel loved at once, “It would be a shame not to capture it on canvas. Will you let me paint your portrait?”

“Of course,” Marisel replied, and Ylsa had dashed from the shop, only to return an hour or so later, arms laden with brushes, paints, and canvas. Marisel laughed softly at Ylsa’s enthusiasm. “I didn’t realize you meant right now.”

“What else exists, but now?” Ylsa gestured expansively, emphasizing her words. “If a thing is not done now, then never shall it be done, for we have nothing else but this moment.” Ylsa’s face was flushed with exertion from her hurried journey, and her eyes were bright with the passion of belief in her words. Marisel thought she had never seen a lovelier, more vibrant being. She chuckled to herself a bit at the artist’s unorthodox ideas, but she closed up the shop and retired with Ylsa to her cramped sitting room.

The portrait was finally finished in the wee hours of the morning. Ylsa had worked feverishly, and with such impassioned force that Marisel felt she might destroy the canvas in the process. She looked it over with a critical eye, but could find no fault in it. It was a beautiful rendering. Ylsa had quite a talent. Exhausted, they crawled into Marisel’s little bed, and slept the day away in each other’s arms. Shortly after that, Ylsa moved her few belongings in, and set up residence in the back of the tiny shop.

Ylsa took an avid interest in her lover’s work. The contents of all the little jars fascinated her, and she could sit and listen to Marisel talk for hours about their origins, legends, and medicinal properties. Some evenings, when Marisel was in a teaching mood, she would show Ylsa how to prepare some of the herbs for use, or how to extract the potency from them. She learned to make potions that would draw luck or money, how to combine certain twigs and leaves which could heal almost any ailment, and which of the herbs would surely kill if misused.

One bright morning, Ylsa was helping Marisel ready the store for a new shipment of botanicals due to arrive the next day. Marisel was refilling jars, straightening them as she went, and Ylsa was poking around behind the counter, replenishing the stacks of paper packets that Marisel sold her wares in. Ylsa’s attention was caught by a gleam of reflected light to her left. Behind the money box sat a single glass jar, identical to the ones that lined every wall in the shop. Upon closer inspection, it proved to be filled with tiny paper packets, each big enough to hold only a single pinch of plant matter. She lifted the lid, and her nose was instantly assailed by a pungent, green odor. She had never smelled anything like it. She could see that the packets were all stuffed with a silvery-green powder, presumably the source of the smell. She stood up and set the jar on the countertop.

“What is this?”

Smiling, Marisel turned around to answer, only to have the smile freeze upon her face. She could feel panic begin to come on her, as her heart began to pound in her chest.

“What is this?” Ylsa asked again.

“It’s Yamalia leaf,” she replied, but even as she said it she knew she would not be believed. The lie had come to her lips too late.

“No, it’s not,” Ylsa said smoothly, “Yamalia leaf is above your head and to the right, next to the spinewort. I'm serious, Mari. What secret essence lives in this jar, that you keep it hidden beneath the counter?”

Marisel’s cheeks flushed hotly, and she strove to remain silent. Ylsa had become dear to her during the time they had spent together, and she knew that the articulation of the single word Ylsa waited to hear could take their blissful little life apart at the seams.

“Why will you not tell me? I thought there was trust between us,” Ylsa was being light and flirtatious, as she always was when Marisel held the key to something she wanted. She would never simply get angry and demand anything from Marisel. She would just play her particular game until Marisel gave in. Marisel fervently hoped it would not come to that this time, though she knew that hope was in vain. Ylsa always got what Ylsa wanted.

“If you do not tell me,” Ylsa intoned in a velvet voice, “I shall eat these delicate morsels, one at a time, until you do.” With that pronouncement, she reached into the jar and withdrew a handful of the packets, pressing one to her lips.

“No!” Marisel screamed, and Ylsa shrank back for a moment at the sheer volume of the cry. Then she raised an inquisitive eyebrow, and waited for Marisel to speak.

“It’s — ,” Marisel began weakly, “it’s saridacia.”

“Really?”

Marisel’s worst fears were confirmed as she saw the gleam that suffused Ylsa’s eyes. It was all she could do to keep her legs underneath her. She felt weak and deflated. Ylsa had won, once again. But the price of this winning had yet to be reckoned.

“Put it back,” Marisel said firmly.

“But — ,” Ylsa began.

“Put it back.”

• • •

Marisel suddenly became aware of her surroundings, the familiar sounds pulling her back into the present moment. The waves of the past had crashed over her with such force that she had become lost in them, transported to places she had not been for a very long time, and would prefer not to visit ever again. She did not even recall the man leaving, though she knew that he had. Her hand moved automatically to her neck, slender fingers brushing over the string of carved amber beads that rested there, which was the only piece of jewelry she ever wore.

Anger flared within her belly, and she knew it had been a mistake to let herself go off like that. Woolgathering never amounted to much, and she inwardly berated herself for the lapse. She stood up, slowly, and shook her head to clear it. The past was the past for a reason, and Marisel always tried to remain firmly rooted in the present. Her memories had nothing to offer but old pain and rage; the here and now was the only important thing. She heaved a long-suffering sigh, and moved to the creature’s cage to check the damage.

The madwoman had been unusually silent all day long. Eerie, really, Marisel thought. Perhaps she was finally beginning to fade away. Marisel decided she couldn’t possibly be that lucky. Normally, the thing that had been Ylsa would be screaming and incoherent at this point in time, hurling herself blindly into the walls of her little prison, and it would often take her several hours to calm down again. Today, though, she only lay curled up on the floor, whining softly. There was a thin trickle of blood coming from the corner of her mouth, and a few fingertip-shaped bruises on her thighs. Others had been rougher, and the freak had survived.

More than survived, thought Marisel, the bitch can’t even stay hurt. It was beyond the scope of comprehensible, yet it was true. Whatever damage was inflicted, by the thing herself or her various suitors, the next morning there was no trace of it. Somehow, she was invariably healed overnight.

Marisel had intended to bathe the creature, clean up its cell, and feed it before she retired for the evening. Yet the more she stood and looked at the thing, the more the anger rose within her. She hated the beast, hated that she should have to bear this long unwanted burden, hated Ylsa for her sheer stupidity, the lust for power that had created, in the span of a moment, a monster from a beautiful young woman. Marisel had tried, repeatedly, to warn her, but it did no good.

Filled now with a fiery rage, half new and half remembered, Marisel turned out the lights, and slammed the door to her living quarters, leaving the thing mewling in the dark of the shop. She was getting another headache, so she took a measure of lympa root steeped in wine, and went straight to bed. Still, it took a long time for sleep to come.

• • •

“Saridacia,” Ylsa mused, her tongue caressing the word like a lover, “Is it really all that the legends say it is?”

“No,” Marisel replied shortly, looking up briefly from the oils she was blending to see her mate lying on the bed, fingers toying idly with the pages of the worn volume of mythology she had found in Marisel’s bookshelves. She had been reading from it religiously every night since the discovery. Marisel felt she understood the mind of an artist; how it was often given to obsession, to purest folly, to making the fantastical and unbelievable absolutely real. This was something she had first admired in Ylsa, her ability to create from whole cloth something fresh and new, something no one had ever heard of and no one would ever see again, outside of one of Ylsa’s paintings. Yet now she was beginning to see how that talent, that thread of vision that gave the unreal form and function, could easily become a weakness, a sickness. The icy finger of dread that she had been unable to shake this past week gave her belly another good poke. She had grown quite fond of Ylsa in the short time they had been together, and she could feel her beginning to slip away.

“Where do you acquire it?” Ylsa asked, for the tenth time in as many days.

“Where do I acquire any of my plants?” Marisel responded, with the answer she had rehearsed in her mind the last time Ylsa had asked, and she had sidestepped the question. “Caravan traders, and the like. Here and there.”

Marisel hated the lie, but she was not about to admit that she grew the loathsome stuff herself. She had only ever purchased it once, and she had known it then to be a one-time opportunity. Fortunately, she had been able to buy the dried plant whole, and with it had come an abundance of seeds. It had taken quite a bit of experimentation to get it to grow properly; it was a terribly temperamental plant. Luckily, it did not acquire its distinctive odor until it was dried, or she would never have been able to keep the secret this long.

Ylsa had fallen into a silent sulk, and turned her attention back to the book in her hands. The mythology of this region was riddled with references to the mystical properties of saridacia, as Marisel well knew. She had done her own research when she first encountered the plant, which was the reason she had the books on her shelf. Most of the mentions were maddeningly vague, couched as they were in a morality tale or a hero’s quest, but one could piece together enough to surmise the uses that the ancients had for it.

Saridacia, when ingested by one who was worthy, who was pure of heart and intent, would supposedly open the pathways of the mind and spirit, and grant all the knowledge of the universe. So the stories led one to believe, anyway. There was only one story that Marisel had ever found that had saridacia as its focus. She didn’t know if Ylsa had found that one yet, and hoped that she hadn't. It was about a young boy named Pertho who, upon hearing of the magical plant, experienced inner promptings he was unable to ignore, and set out on a quest to find it. After many trials and tribulations, he was indeed able to claim his prize. He partook of the stuff, and was granted immortality, becoming a god in his own right. Marisel thought she had never read such romanticized drivel, especially after she first witnessed the effects of her prized acquisition.

“Why do you lie to me?” Ylsa asked in a small, hurt voice, startling Marisel from her reverie. There were tears standing in Ylsa’s eyes, ready to carve watery paths in the beloved face.

“Oh, Ylsa,” Marisel sighed, and turned from her workbench to face her lover, “I am only trying to protect you from your own foolishness. This obsession will ruin both our lives. I don’t know how to make you understand that.”

“Foolishness?” Ylsa’s sadness quickly gave way to indignant fury at being so accused. “You have no right to attempt to keep me from my destiny! Don’t you see? All these events are divinely inspired! I feel the same inner guidance as Pertho once felt! Why can you not accept that?”

She had read that cursed tale then, Marisel thought. There was a fanatical look about her as she spoke that caused Marisel’s skin to crawl. She could see the rift between them widening, with no idea how she might bridge it. Still, she had to make the attempt.

She moved to the bed, and sat down next to Ylsa. “Please,” she implored, “Just listen to what I have to say. I do not wish to change your mind, only to educate you further with what I have seen.”

Ylsa nodded her assent, and Marisel commenced to tell of her own experience with it.

“When I began to sell the saridacia, I was quite curious as to its effects. I discreetly followed the first several customers to see what, if anything, might be seen. The first one, after ingesting the herb, seemed to implode in a great burst of blue and white light, leaving not so much as a shoe behind. One moment he was there, the next he was not. I was so horrified that I ran all the way back to my shop, bolted the door, and hid for the rest of the day.” She laughed, nervously, trying to break the ice that had formed between them, but Ylsa only nodded gravely and waited for Marisel to continue.

“This is the most common effect,” Marisel said with a resigned sigh, “I have seen it several times. Less common is a strange sort of madness which overtakes the person immediately, and which he does not recover from, at least not to my knowledge. Only once have I seen it bring death as we are acquainted with it. A woman, after taking her dose, keeled over in the street, dead before she hit the stones.”

“All this you know, and still you sell it?” Ylsa asked, incredulous. Marisel nodded, unable to meet her eyes. There was nothing more she could say. Ylsa pondered that for a moment, then reached a conclusion. “None of them were ready for such a powerful spiritual gift. They were not called to it as I am called.”

Marisel stood, and silently left the room, knowing for certain that Ylsa was lost to her.

• • •

There were moments of lucidity at first. Not many, nor did they last long, yet there were a few, in the beginning. Ylsa would seem to awaken from the madness and, though she would be disoriented and confused, she was at least herself again. It was at these times that Marisel would berate her for her stupidity, and tell her in no uncertain terms the heavy price that Marisel was paying on account of Ylsa’s reckless egotism. Had she really believed that all the old stories were true? How could she possibly have thought that saridacia was really all it was rumored to be? Stupid, stupid girl! And Ylsa would weep, for she did not remember her madness, and seemed to have no idea why her lover was so angry with her. It was also during this time that Marisel’s heart, already long embittered, and too heavy with the unnecessary loss of Ylsa, had finally closed its doors.

She had not spoken to Ylsa for weeks after that conversation. She just could not bear it, and perhaps she had hoped to flush Ylsa out of her obsession by being angry with her and punishing her with silence. She felt that if she just gave it a little time and patience, Ylsa would seek her out.

Marisel returned from the market one afternoon to find the shop empty and dark. A black lacquer jewelry box lay on the counter, with a note attached. Puzzled, Marisel opened the box. Within lay a necklace of amber beads, each one intricately and painstakingly carved. They were all different, depicting many of Marisel’s favorite herbs, captured perfectly in the medium. She recognized each likeness for what it was intended to be, so brilliant was the workmanship. There was a nightshade berry, and there was a lovers root, a spinewort leaf, a sprig of wild tigerfern, and right in the center, larger than all the others, was — a saridacia leaf. Marisel had a sudden sinking feeling descend upon her, and she hastily tore open the note. It was short, and scrawled in Ylsa’s familiar hand.

My dearest Marisel,

If, for some reason, I cannot give this to you myself, please accept it with my love. I am sculpting my own fate, and it gives me such joy. I can not ignore these urges any longer. I mean to meet my destiny face to face. I hope you can forgive me. I love you eternally, with all my heart and soul.

Ylsa

Marisel dropped the note, and ran for the living quarters. There, convulsing on the floor, already deep in the throes of the madness that had claimed her, was Ylsa.

She could never remember quite what happened next, having been seized with a sort of madness herself. She had a vague recollection of throwing herself, sobbing, across Ylsa’s body, and of an immeasurable grief. She almost never thought about those days now, though sometimes, in the quiet of a dark night, these ghosts would return to haunt her.

• • •

The madwoman was still sleeping when Marisel emerged, about midmorning, to open the shop. She lay, stretched out on the floor of her cage, utterly silent. Though there was nothing Marisel normally wished for more than silence from the beast, it was unnerving. She would normally moan and thrash, mutter and cry out, even in sleep.

All day long, the creature slept in silence while Marisel conducted business. She would glance warily over at the cage, now and again, too aware of the strangeness of the situation, yet the madwoman had not stirred all day long. Perhaps she really was fading, Marisel thought, and one morning she would wake to find the creature dead, and herself unburdened at last. She experienced an uncharacteristic moment of sadness as she touched the beads that rested always on her neck, and thought briefly of life completely without Ylsa.

In the hour of twilight, the time when the world was truly at its darkest, the madwoman began to stir. Marisel had closed the shop for the day, and was busily dusting the precious jars and refilling the ones that were in need of it. The familiar whine echoed in the small room, yet Marisel noticed that something in it was subtly different. It continued to rise in volume and pitch, until Marisel thought her head might explode from it. It gave way abruptly to a silvery, delighted giggle, which had the same crystalline quality as a gurgling stream.

Unable to believe her ears, Marisel turned to look, and watched as the creature shrugged off the jacket as though it was as insubstantial as fog or moonbeams. She stretched, languorously, on the floor of the cage, then stood up, facing Marisel. Her skin had a faint golden shimmer to it, a luminescence that seemed to come from within her, and grew brighter even as Marisel watched.

“Marisel — “ the creature said, in a voice that was clearly Ylsa's, yet unlike any human voice that Marisel had ever heard.

“Ylsa?” Marisel spoke, before she could stop herself, into the confusing haze of unreality that now surrounded her, taking everything she knew to be solid and real out of perspective all at once.

“Not anymore,” the unearthly voice replied, and then she stepped through the bars, melting them as she passed.

Marisel’s keen sense of self-preservation descended on her then, and she turned to flee.

“Stop!” the Ylsa-thing cried, and the force of it caused several of her expensive jars to shatter where they stood. Marisel found herself unable to move; not even the tiniest of muscles in her body would obey her mental command. She found herself turning, involuntarily, back to face this new horror.

“We have a thing or two to discuss, my dearest,” the nightmare spoke in soft, liquid tones, “You mustn’t leave so soon.”

“Ylsa — “ Marisel was surprised to find that she could still speak, and there was an edge of hysteria to her voice. She wasn’t feeble enough to believe herself to be dreaming, or some other such nonsense, but what in all twelve levels of hell was this?

“My name is Ylsarhiata,” she responded, with a beatific smile, and reached out to stroke Marisel’s cheek with one glowing finger, “There is no more similarity between Ylsa and myself than there is between the rose and the leaf from which it grew.”

Marisel was in such shock that her mind witnessed only small, strange details of the unreal tableau. She noticed that Ylsa’s feet did not touch the ground, for instance, but rested a few inches above the wooden floor; she saw the pools of molten metal that were burning holes into the floor near the ruined cage, and fretted over how much it was going to cost to patch.

“It was not madness, Marisel, as you thought, but transformation.” She paced the small room as she spoke, not seeming to realize that her feet never came to rest on a solid surface. “It only gave the appearance of such. On the inside, my mind and spirit were being stretched and pulled, thousands of new pathways being opened and the ones I no longer needed being sealed up. The knowledge I had desired was being fed into my mind night and day, until I thought I really would go mad from the sheer vastness and abundance of it.” She giggled again, in that unnatural way, and Marisel cringed, inwardly. “That was the thing I never took into consideration before I made my choice. Goddesses cannot be created overnight.”

Marisel thought she might faint, and vaguely wondered whether she would be kept standing if she did. Her heart rate had increased until she thought it might burst. Her breathing had become labored, and every muscle in her body burned peculiarly from the stasis she had been placed in. In the space of an eye blink, Marisel was angrier than she had ever been. Who did the bitch think she was to treat her this way, after she had taken care of her every day for the past decade? The fact that Marisel was terrified beyond belief only made her angrier.

“What do you want?” Marisel shrieked, at the top of her lungs, as her voice was the only tool she could still command. She looked wildly around her, willing any single muscle to obey her will, but the compulsion held fast.

The new Ylsa stopped pacing, and turned to face her. “I want to thank you for caring for me during my transformation. Not many would have done so. However, you made it much more difficult for me than it needed to be.” She deliberately strolled toward Marisel, until her shining face was only inches from Marisel’s own. “You could not know that part of me was present, every moment, for the last ten years, and painfully conscious of every one of your abuses, including the mistreatments of those whom you sold me to. I forgive your ignorance, but I will never forget what I was forced to endure at your hands.” She paused a moment to let her words sink in, and Marisel noticed that there was no trace of anger in her face or her bearing.

“I cannot help but think,” Ylsa continued, “that had you set your rage aside for even the briefest of moments, you might have seen what the truth of it was. You deliberately blinded yourself to even the most obvious of signs, the rapid healing only one among many.”

Marisel swallowed hard, and closed her eyes. If Ylsa intended to kill her for her crimes, she wished she would just get it over with quickly. It was obvious that she stood here for some form of judgement, yet what could this being still want of her?

“I also want you to know that I love you yet,” Ylsa continued, “and I always will. That is why I have brought you a special gift.”

The pungent green odor, richer and stronger than any she had experienced before, found its way to Marisel’s nostrils long before she dared to look and see the neat pile of powdered herb in the Ylsa-thing’s outstretched palm. It had to be many times more potent than the saridacia she herself had grown. She cried out in horror as she realized whet Ylsa meant to do. It would be so much better to die!

“Ylsa, no! Please!” Marisel cried, and fat tears began to stream down her cheeks. “You can’t mean to do this!”

The being placed a finger over Marisel’s lips, a request for silence, and made little shushing and cooing sounds as she delicately smoothed the tears from Marisel’s face. She then stepped back and made as if to speak again. When Marisel opened her mouth to plead for mercy, Ylsa swiftly blew the stuff from her palm into Marisel’s mouth. She began to cough and choke as the saridacia forged a trail of slow fire from her mouth to her stomach.

“Your own transformation will take a hundred times as long as mine, more than enough time to cultivate your rage and refine it into the white hot force you will become known for. When it is complete, you will return to this world a goddess, even as I have. And we shall fight,” Ylsa laughed like windchimes, and smiled at Marisel, “Oh, how we shall fight! The heavens will never have seen such a battle! And when it is finished, then we shall bring a new balance to this world, dark and light together, each the very seed of the other.”

Ylsarhiata stared into Marisel’s eyes, and noticed they were wild and glazed, and she knew that if Marisel were able to move, she would already be tearing at her hair and her flesh. The goddess moved forward and kissed Marisel lightly on the lips, then scooped her up and rose through the ceiling, into the night sky. In the morning, people passing by were amazed to see that where Marisel’s little shop had stood was now a field of wild roses, already grown thick and blooming profusely. Marisel had always been partial to roses.

• • •

In the palace-temple complex of the Living Goddess, which sprawled in the center of the city, Ylsarhiata reclined in the throne room her people had insisted they build for her. She was well beloved by the people of the land, as she had ushered in an age of peace, a true renaissance, and with it an enthusiastic resurgence of art, music, and culture.

High above the floor of the throne room, in a golden cage strewn with rose petals, Marisel underwent her change. She had made it common knowledge that Marisel was a sacred being, and to be treated as such. She was rubbed with fine oils and anointed with rosewater every morning and evening. Ylsarhiata read poetry to her and spoke to her frequently, offering quiet reassurances and loving words. She would tend Marisel as she should have been tended, with the utmost care and respect for the process. It helped her to fill many empty hours as she waited for her lover’s return.

 

 

Michael S. Dodd says, “I seem to be something of an eclectic writer, or perhaps just an indecisive one. Unable to choose a genre, I write everything from horror and dark fantasy to historical fiction. I live in San Diego with my very eclectic little family and a small zoo of furry critters. I am currently working on my first novel, a historical fantasy set in Renaissance-era England.” This is the first story Michael has had published and thanks author Storm Constantine for inspiration… for this story, and many other worlds.


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ISSUE #2

July 1999

FICTION

ART