A young woman in her funerary best sits alone on a bench in a park at night. Her face is red and stained with tears. There’s a small bruise on her right cheekbone, and she winces when she reaches to touch it. With shaky hands, she rummages through her purse and pulls out a photograph of a young boy. She caresses the face on the photo while her minds drifts to earlier in the day, standing at his grave plot. She recalls the attendants lowering the small casket into the ground.
Until that moment she hadn’t shed a single tear for his loss.
Not because she didn’t care, but because she didn’t feel she deserved to feel grief. His death was, after all, her fault (as her husband constantly reminded her). She left her boy unattended in the backyard—only for a moment-to check on dinner. He was only chasing the ball he was playing with.
It rolled down the small hill into the pond behind the house.
He was only chasing the ball.
She’d heard no splash, no grunt, no cry for help.
Her husband had every right to backhand her after the funeral service. As he said, she was a horrible excuse for a mother.
He was right.
He was right.
The woman places the picture back into her purse. She picks up the hem of her skirt and holds it at the outer corners of her eyes, hiding her face and anticipating the fresh wave of tears to come.
She deserves to die.
A breeze brushes the nape of her neck, below her tightly pinned bun. With it, a voice whispers,
“Rather than die, why not… atone?”
The woman looks up from her hem, examining the bench and area around her for the owner of the voice.
“Atone?” her voice cracks in the quiet night.
“Yes. Atone for the guilt you feel by serving me.” The voice rests by her left shoulder, caressing her chin.
“…God?” The woman sits up, holding a hand to her chest.
“…Is that what you wish to call me?”
“Yes! I believe in you, Yes, I wish to atone!” The woman drops to her knees, shutting her eyes tightly, clasping her hands in prayer. Fresh tears of relief re-wet her swollen face.
“No need to kneel, my child. I will take your pain and sorrow away…if you let me use you as a vessel.”
“Yes. I have important work to do here on Earth, and you have been chosen. You will feel no pain, you will be perfectly healthy, and you will witness marvelous things. Do you accept?”
“And…and this will allow me to atone for my sin?”
“Of course, my child. The moment you accept, all will be forgiven.” The voice wraps around her shoulders. The woman sighs and bows her head.
“I accept,” she says.
“What is your name, child?”
“It is Lillian.”
Lillian lay face down in the dirt, her spine a shattered, mangled mess from the impact of the tree. Her right thigh was no longer in the hip socket, and her foot was certainly facing the wrong way. Using her good(ish) left arm, she pulled on her hair to lift her head enough to look around her.
“That pathetic human can really pack a punch,” she said, spitting mud and blood out of her mouth. She couldn’t sense their energy, so they had left the forest some time ago. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the sun peeking over the horizon.
“It appears I’ve been out for a while…well.” She let go of her hair, and her face unceremoniously landed back down into the dirt. With a wiggle of the fingers on her good(ish) left hand, her right ankle and leg slowly began to reset into their rightful positions. Anyone watching this recovery process would have been sickened by the sound of bones snapping and cracking, of muscle tissue and tendons stretching and ripping to get her body back to normal.
With her legs back in place, and sun still making its ascent into the sky, Lillian used her good-as-new legs to push her broken upper body closer to the cottage behind her. The last thing she needed was for someone to find her body, take her to the hospital and start asking endless questions.
“When I get all of my powers back, you will be answering for it, oh Supreme Goddess.” The venom was heavy in her last two words as she continued to drag herself forward. When she made it to the first of four steps, she heard the crunching of leaves come from around the back of the cottage. They paused for a moment before hurrying to her side.
“Great One, what has happened?” Ruby red hair drifted into her view as cold fingers gingerly attempted to assist her upper body without breaking it further.
“Kaleb. How nice of you to show up. Where have you been?”
“Waiting for your call, Great One. After the incident at our base, you seemed very…displeased,” he said, using his right bicep to cradle her head while using his left arm to lift her legs. “You told us not make any attempts to contact the Conduit until you said so.” He carried her into the cottage slowly. To the onlooker, it might seem as if he were carrying his new bride over a threshold.
“Ah,right. So what now? Do you have news to share?”
“Er—no, Great One. I grew concerned that you hadn’t contacted us in a few days. I was worried that you had…” He grew silent and stone-faced as he placed her on the easy chair.
“Abandoned you?” Lillian seethed, angling her eyes up at him. His face flinched, and he walked to the fireplace. With a wave of his finger, a flame rose from the logs.
“You are a god. You do as you wish. We are only here to serve you,” he said, his teeth clenched. A flicker of an eyebrow twitch passed over his face, almost imperceptible. Lillian cackled aloud, her shoulders finally restored to their proper position on either side of her neck.
“Look at you, Kaleb. You struggle constantly, oscillating between resentment and awe for the gods. How do you live with it? How do you even properly serve us? True, you’re not as mercurial as these inadequate humans, but you certainly share their propensity for ambivalence. Sometimes I wonder if the Supreme Goddess made a mistake with your kind, as well.”
Kaleb turned more toward the fire. He knew what this Deity was doing. They were pushing his buttons because he was unable to fight back. It angered him enough, being compared to humans—the Supreme Goddesses ‘Greatest Achievement’—but it angered him even more to be considered an ‘error’ in the eyes of the gods.
“It seems I may need your assistance now.” Kaleb turned to face her, and she leaned forward in the seat to test out the flexibility of her spine. She quickly folded over, landing on her thighs with a thud and an “oof”. Kaleb assisted her back into an upright position.
“That…girl is stronger than I expected. It seems Amali has taken quite a liking to this one. And I know that the Sisters are only working to make her powers even more potent. While the girl may resist for a short while, it is only a matter of time before she fully awakens. And the New Moon may be too late.”
“What do you need of me, Great One?”
“I need a distraction. A big one. Something to make the Sisters shift their focus…” Lillian drummed her fingers on the arm of the chair, staring into the flames. What could possibly make the Sisters stop worrying about the Conduit? Their life purpose was to serve Amali, and to uphold whatever ideals they created around her tale.
“What if…” Kaleb began, but hesitated.
“What? Out with it.”
“What if…we attack the town? The Sisters will be forced to protect the citizens above all else. And since it is where they house all of the knowledge of Amali, they will certainly be more focused on preservation.”
Lillian raised an eyebrow, considering his plan.
“Interesting. They pride themselves on the knowledge they have gathered. If it is at risk, that could certainly make them lose sight of their goal. Perhaps you are more useful than you look, servant.”
Kaleb offered a tight smile.
“I shall prove to be more useful in the future, Great One.”