I am melting under Her gaze. I can feel my skin sloughing off, burning off. There’s no sound except the muffled howling of swaddled homunculi, stacked into boxes by rats, locking the lids down tight and loaded onto shelves.
I swallow and hold up the wine amphorae. “Sweet white wine, I think. The Exalted’s Divine Husband said that You liked it. He put it in my hands –“ I cut myself off. I’m babbling with fear. The boxes on the shelves are bulging, the lids banging against the locks.
Risae straightens abruptly enough that I sit down. My legs won’t hold me up. I’d have gone to my knees but I couldn’t even do that and end up sitting, like a toddler. She sniffs and I blink. Risae’s labyritry is restored. Every hair is perfect. Every crease sharp as knives. I can.. still smell the broken room. Feces. Blood. My hands are shaking. “Mother of Knives,” I say. “I am so small a thing. You needn’t hide anything. Even in wildest chaos there is beauty, harmony. Like getting drunk.”
She snatches the amphora out of my hands and tilts it up. As she drinks the mess comes back into view, but the animals are still cleaning, still hunting down the last of the women… these aren’t angry. The last few are like mice and skulk and hide, and… yes, they are weeping. Two tiny little women rush behind a torn box, then one scuttles behind me, while Risae is drinking. She pours and pours and pours wine out of the one small jar. Then she slams it down hard. “It’s part of me… as I AM. So a drink… hic… is… allowed…” She weaves where she stands, then shakes Her head. “Stay here. I am going… going… to get… clean,” and vanishes in a flare of light.
I draw a breath, finally, almost ready to fall over from holding it. The woman behind me clings to my back, trembling, shaking. “Are you… part of Risae?” I whisper.
I can feel her nod. “We’re all the human bits,” she whispers back. “Feelings. Fears. Imperfections. When we became Risae She started shedding us, trying to destroy us. The prophet said if we put aside our mortal bodies and entered Argos, we would be as Gods. That's true but we are so separated.”
“You entered Ergas, the Temple,” I say. “But why are there so many of you and why are you so at odds?”
“Because we are. We are all the bits that She hates.”
The distant noises from all the boxes on all the shelves are growing fainter. “Can I help?” I have a terrified clench in my centre as I ask.
“When… if… She allows… would you come and have tea with us? Introduce us to a nice Haian? Haians are safe. Haians don’t scare us.”
“Of course. I’m going to be very busy but I can certainly have tea with you now and again. (And try to find a Haian psych healer willing to work with a crazy Goddess I think.) My wife and the babies can come too if Risae permits.”
She pops out from behind me and curtsies. She is a plain, heavy woman, with her thin brown hair, but she doesn’t look so bad. She just looks a bit Tor Enchian, or Nellan, perhaps. “Do you think I’m pretty?”
That’s a dangerous question. “As a married man I should not flirt with other women other than my wife and alesinae, so you know I cannot honestly answer that question. You are fascinating. Terrifying. Powerful.”
She thinks that through for a little. “Really?”
“Really. I should die, if I lie.” Oh, Gods, why did I phrase it that way? It was the truth though. And still is.
As Risae appears, this time truly pristine, this tiny woman raises her chin and faces Her. “Ruth!”
“Y…yes? No. I’m not Ruth!”
“Risae, then.” The short woman facing the Goddess is nearly normal size, though much shorter than I am, and both of us are merely human sized, but the Goddess doesn’t look so terrifying with her hair down. It reaches the floor and flows all around us. It is as long and thick as Selinae’s. She nods at the woman, slowly, blinking, still a little drunk.
“Risae… I am the piece of You weeping for being ugly for so many years. I didn’t need to become You to be beautiful.” She waves a hand at me and I want to duck behind the amphorae. Please leave me out of this.
“I may not be merely pretty, but I am fascinating. He said so, and spoke truth to me.”
“Yes.” The woman is growing taller, more slender, her hair is lightening. She reaches out to Risae who puts out one finger, daring to touch. Then there is only Risae. “I we are fascinating. Terrifying. Powerful. We are beyond fear.” She takes up the second amphora and again pours an entire vineyard of wine out of it.
“You are the Beloved of the most Cunning God. And your daughters in Arko. And your sons,” where this is coming from I don’t know.
The place is clean and sparkling white and I feel Mikas’s breath on my ear. “You need to wake up, boy. Let Me talk to her now.”
“Thank you, oh Clever Ones. Erudite and Conversant Experts.”
“Wake up, Minis!”