Those who survived the night bore no palpable wound, but for all my care they died soon enough anyway. They stumbled from the temple's jagged maw during the fading dark, when the lake lay calm and colourless, or they crawled forth when dawn bloodied the old stone. They left behind the lucky ones, slumped cold beneath the waxing sunlight.
During what days remained them, they flinched at the sight of stone walls, and cowered from the encroaching dusk. Their eyes were haunted with a gold glaze, their skin drawn and pale; their limbs sluggish and their minds dazed. They would not eat. Their deaths were infinitely slower, drawn to an exquisitely prolonged pitch.
"Her beauty," they said in stark whispers. "She's goddess-born."
But she wasn't.
"Her voice," they said. "She has the right."
And she did.
Like the cathedral in which she supped -- the floors crazed with tendrils of greenery, the walls faltering with decay, the roof fallen to the fresh sky -- hers was the power of nature reclaiming its own. Sly and tenacious and, ultimately, triumphant. Not goddess-born: Earth-born.
Despite the futility of it (who was left to listen?), I prayed for them all. And I buried them all.
Perhaps that is why I dared such a lingering death: to witness such a glorious reality. It had come to the gods, it had come to those who worshipped them, and it had come to those who never gave them thought. It would come to me soon enough. So instead I went to meet it. Striding across the untended sward of grass gone grey in the night -- slinking past the sunken waters of the lake -- creeping through the overhanging darkness of the arched entry.
She was waiting for me.
Her hooves, her hide, her eyes, their black gleam delineated with a pale silver scatter of starlight. The black whorl of her horn shed the light into a faint glint of gold. Her hide was silken-soft to my wondering touch, a fluttering kiss upon the pads of my fingers.
She had the power. She had the right.
There came a shimmer before me, a moonshadow passing, and she stood as she knew I wanted her: tall, long-limbed and finely-muscled, her dark skin clad in black velvet, her black hair unbound.
But her eyes had no whites -- the light reflected from them in a faint golden sparkle -- and their gaze dizzied me.
I wanted to speak, but my throat had gone dry, my tongue thick with need.
She smiled, a sharp and blooded invitation. When she spoke her voice was like the wind off the lake -- laden with darkness, threaded with vague promise. My blood thrilled cold with anticipation.
"If you know you want it," she said, fangs glimpsed white between dark lips: "Have it."
copyright © 2005, Deborah McDonnell