By Corissa Haury
I close my eyes and I let the venom burn through my veins. The viper’s juice is soaking into my skin. The little yellow drop of rejuvenation filters through the open wound and rips through my bloodstream. Pain dips into my psyche and into my blood, burning on the surface of the skin, renewing the sharpness of my senses. The tiny cut on my arm opens my body to this desirable poison, a tally mark of scratches that allows me to stay young and beautiful. That, and bathing in the blood of innocent virgins. I can feel the quickening of my heartbeat as the venom sweeps into my bloodstream, beat after beat after beat. I close my eyes, feeling it take hold of me.
“Ree?” I call through to the other room. “Ree, will my bath be ready soon?”
“Yes, Venerable One, the sacrifice of the maidens has been performed.” My maidservant Ree appears in the doorway. I nod.
“Very well,” I say, “How did the young ladies end it? I can’t have any dark energies floating around in my bath.”
“They were elated to sacrifice themselves for you, Venerable One. One wept for joy as the priest cut her throat, and praised your name. We emptied their spirits into the Well of Divine Beauty.” I nod again. “She only wished that she had been able to meet you. They all wish to meet you, Venerable One.”
“Yes, if they should all meet me, they would no longer worship me.”
“Do not say such things!” Ree gasps. She rushes to my side. By this time the venom has fully taken hold, and I sense her to be close. My instincts kick in and I grab Ree’s sweet arm, yank her towards me. I may not mean to be this cruel, but I cannot help myself.
“Do not tell me what I should say!” I hiss, watching her fearful eyes, her body tense inches away like prey.
“Of course, Venerable One.” I let go of her arm as she begins to beg for an apology. “Oh, Venerable One, would that I had not offended you!” She cries, looking down at her arm. A great spidery poison has spread underneath her skin through her blood, faster than Death comes on my sacrificial virgins.
“Would that you did not cry and whine so much.” I stand from my chair naked and ready for a bath. I am a full head taller than she. My arms and legs are home to hundreds of tiny venomous scars, like little elevens all over me. I have cut my skin with deliberation over the years. The signs and symbols of my friends scarred into my skin remind me of their absence. Sometimes I wonder if the venom is not simply an old habit from the old days, the days when there were seventy-seven of the gods and goddesses, and not just seven.
I approach the girl and kiss her on the forehead first. I grab her face and turn it up to me, locking our eyes together. I say a few words in the Tongue of the Kaagar, words of healing and strength, words of renewal. It is an old Tongue, one I am out of practice with. I’ve said something wrong now. I sigh.
“Damn it,” I try again, locking eyes with her and pronouncing my little healing speech again. A dark aura surrounds us both. Her body stiffens, like a small shock has just gone through her, and I let go of her face. The aura dissipiates. Ree pauses for a moment, frozen. When she can move a few seconds later, we examine her arm. The spidery infestation has completely disappeared. “Good as new.” I say. “Thank the high gods.” I step away for a moment, and look out the window onto the lawn, where goats and cattle graze. “Now, where is that bath? I have got to renew my skin. I am feeling positively mortal.”
“Yes, Venerable One.” Ree nods to me, her usual self again. She tries to hide a smile, as always, when she knows I joke about mortality. Sometimes I have to remind myself that she was once a Mortal. Strange! I shudder to think of such things. To lose Ree to that stodgy old skeleton Death would be unbearable. He has no reason to steal her for his house. She will be in mine for eternity. “The bath is ready, oh Venerable One.”
“Good.” I follow her eagerly into my dressing and cleaning room. I cannot wait to feel the innocence soaking into my skin, the sweetness, the sacrificial kindness and the good spirit and heart of the young girls that gave themselves for me. I slip into the bath. I can sense all the youth and gentleness in the blood around me. Perhaps fifty or more maidens have given of their spirits and lives for my bath. I shall send a few of them some comfort, but perhaps not all. I can feel myself sink into the bath in happiness and restoration. I soak in wholesome spirits.
“Ree, do remind me to bless a few of these maidens in their afterlife journey. Their spirits are most satisfying.” I say quietly… I am so relaxed.
I can hear the girl sitting just beyond, ready with my towels. “Yes, Venerable One.”
I close my eyes to think in silence and peace. I rest in the willing bloodbath of youth.