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Future & Fertility I

A scream of pain tore apart the silence of the night. Nannade sat upright in confusion. Was it her scream in reality, or was it the scream of the woman in the fine clothes in her dream?

She had been on the road towards Southbridge for half a month now and during much of the journey had been unable to sleep peacefully, but it had never been as bad as tonight. Dreams of her victim haunted her. She preferred the quick and painless death, but duty was duty, and so she had done what the serpent had demanded. As usual, the pain, regret and shame in her head faded together with the dream.

She looked around the travellers’ camp. All else lay silent. She could not hear a thing, even the campfire had died down and the guard sitting before it had fallen asleep. She sat below her tarp, which stretched from the ground to the wall of a friendly merchant’s wagon. Nannade got out of her blankets and walked over to the guard to wake him up.

“Huh? Oh, it’s you.” The man with the tanned skin and bright hair said. He was probably as old as Garetas and about as well built. He wore a thick leather doublet and a fine hat with a long feather. His halberd lay next to him, his Katzbalger was in its sheath.
She sat down next to him.
“Can’t sleep again? You seemed rather tired after your dance tonight.”

Nannade and the guard had travelled alongside each other for a while, meeting at the same travellers’ camp almost every night. Nannade had kept herself afloat by dancing and singing for the weary travellers at these camps and asking for coin afterwards. Sometimes she’d also get a share of a meal or a free ride on a wagon further down the road. She decided that this was easier, faster and more enjoyable than hunting and selling meat. All it would take was a single toll patrol to find out she was poaching on another one’s territory and then her journey would take much, much longer.

“No. I had another dream.”
“Is it something you can tell me?”
She shook her head. “It’s complicated.”
“Fine then, keep your pain. I am a bad listener anyway. Thank you for waking me up.”

Nannade patted him on the shoulder and got up. She stood before her blankets when a thought crossed her mind. Right now, she felt no shame or guilt, but at the edge of sleep, her conscience – not completely dead after all – waited to torture her with screaming and wailing, and Nannade knew why: The serpent kept her doubts about the priestess’ duties in check.

Do not turn away from what you must do.

And rightly so. If the priestess’ blade halted, faltered or even doubted in the wrong moment, it could spell death for both of them. But Ssil could not keep the girl’s conscience in check forever. It needed to be appeased sooner or later.

Pain and blood are valuable currency.

It was only just that those that inflict pain shall come to know pain. Was this not the premise for the dance of venom? Was this not the premise for all punishment?

It was.

And was it not the serpent who sought to teach the priestess how to wield pain as elegantly as a quill and as accurately as a bow?

She was.

So it would be self-evident what they had to do for the screaming and wailing to abate.

It was.

Nannade looked to a small forest in the distance. This would be her destination.

After the forest had swallowed her deep enough, she allowed herself to sigh. Loneliness. It was liberating. Not even Aaka was here to spy on her. A smile danced into a laughter on her face. But loneliness was not why she had come here.

She squeezed venom into her lower lip and dipped her claws in it. Her venom could not inflict permanent harm on her – as was normal with any snake – but the pain remained, that much she knew.

This pain was not just for her; the priestess reached out for the serpent and seized her by the neck, she struggled, but the priestess held on tight. The serpent had chosen this corporal form to be shackled to, now she too must bear its pain.

Claws pierced her skin and delivered a pain like a searing fishhook made of salt. From the wounds, the pain spread, a wildfire of sensation. Her hairs turned into a choir of needles, lancing her skin with even the slightest of movements. Her heart turned into a war drum, pulsing pain through her veins. Dizziness and pressure filled her head, ready and willing to burst. The serpent roared within her in pain like she had never experienced, agony for the first time.

Let nothing escape your gaze.

This was a learning experience for both of them. A blind man cannot learn to write with ink, and so the bringer of just pain must have just pain brought upon herself soshe could know it be just. The priestess staggered against a tree and dug her claws deep into the bark, tearing chips and flakes off again and again. The serpent’s pained cries reverberated within her mind, sought to be set free. The priestess opened her throat and joined the serpent, together they sang.

It took her almost all night to tire her chest out from wailing and screaming. Exhausted from writhing and cramping, she managed to bring out a whisper. “Those that inflict pain shall come to know pain.”

With this new contract, the priestess knew the rules, and so did the serpent. The art of pain shall be learned on herself, not on others. She would have to perfect this art, because it was graceful, delicate and mighty. A tingle remained in her body as she got up. The choir of needles, the rhythm of the war drum, the duet of screaming and wailing; music she could dance to, music she would hear again.

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