Yassenah by Gabby
Runner-Up for June 2022
The heart knows what it wants
But the mind disagrees
And so, we bleed and weep
Yearning for solace
Clouds, mottled, painted the night sky and hid the simple light it offered. The stars were hidden, and the refracting light turned the sky a disconcerting red, dark like fresh blood. Past the gloomy forest known as the Heart of Darkness and southeast of the Engine of Transformation lay a wood untransformed by wyrd and marked only by taint and decay. Through the trees, a well-trodden path that came to a halt before a sizeable run-down wooden shack.
The planks were rotting and some were outright missing. The structure had been eaten away partially by termites and who-knows what else. Sounds of all sorts rose up from the building that made the skin crawl for some, and the heart quicken for others. A knock-knock came to the door, and it opened to reveal a mauve-skinned viscanti woman. Her bright green eyes were half-lidded, and she had two curving horns that sprouted from her head and peeked past her long black hair. Past her aquiline nose were violet lips that were steadily curving into a seductive smirk. On her body, she wore little - a shoulderless cream-coloured nightgown whose torn hem stopped at the thigh. She leaned her slender shoulder and booming hip against the doorframe to disallow entry.
"My, my," spoke the woman, husky voice kept to a near whisper. "For what do we deserve this honour, merian?"
Standing outside the establishment was none other than a merian woman, wearing a tawny cloak that hid her form, lower half muddied from their travels. As the hood of her cloak was lowered, her face was easily visible even in the darkness. Her large eyes were cold shades of blue, glacial hues with flecks of ice, contrasted by her cerulean skin. From both fins that were her ears came a pearl drop earring that ended in a mother-of-pearl pair of small hands, one folded over the other, palms upward and cradling a heart. Her eyes closed in a warm smile as she said, "I wish to spend an hour this evening with whoever has time for me."
"Well, I suppose that's me, for a price," said the viscanti, moving aside. She had seen these sorts before. Holy folk, claiming to be looking to cleanse their sins. There was nothing clean about the acts they performed; it didn't matter, there was always coin to be had at the end. "Come on in."
The entry room smelled of musk, incense, oils, sweat, and death. Huddled on the floor of the entry room in the corners were viscanti men and women. The merian did not grimace nor turn to leave, but instead, pressed on, following after the viscanti woman who had initially greeted them. She took note of the many doors and the too-loud smacks of skin-on-skin coming from most of them.
The two women arrived at a door that barely hung onto its hinges. The viscanti turned around, placed her hand on the copper knob, and said with a coy air, "What you may see or experience next could shock or amaze you. Are you prepared?"
The merian gave a soft laugh and said, "We'll see who shocks or amazes who, miss." With a small gesture of her hand, she added, "After you."
The door swung open behind the viscanti and she followed after it by taking a few steps backwards. The room she was now in had chipping deep red paint, a four-poster bed with sheer vibrant ruby cloth, and a small single window nearly touching the ceiling in the back. The floor was wooden and stained with who-knew-what, unlit candles along the perimeter. The viscanti smiled and asked, "Shall we begin?"
"Yes, let's," said the merian, walking forward.
The viscanti smirked once more and closed the door behind her.
Life, a butterfly on the wind
So very important
"What do you want?" asked the viscanti woman as she sauntered over to the candles along the floor, lighting them with the tinderbox in the corner of the room, hips swaying with purposeful allure. "I can do many things for you, things you could never dream of. The price is fair for the quality you get."
"What do I want? Why, that much is simple," said the merian as she also made her way to the bed. She took a seat. "I want you to listen."
"You have my ears," said the viscanti as she took a seat next to the merian. She slowly slid her hand on top of the cloaked woman's, feeling the smooth skin with own her rough, calloused hands. "I will do for you whatever you ask, whatever you wish, you're going to be paying me for it."
The merian turned her head to give the scantily-clad woman her full attention. Voice gentle, she asked, "What is your name?"
"My name?" blinked the viscanti in surprise, nearly losing her guise of enticement. "... Rose."
"Is that your real name? Rose?"
The viscanti became mildly uncomfortable. "Why would you want my real name? To scream it?"
"Is it wrong to want to know the name of the person I am talking to?"
"Rose" looked down in thought for a moment. What was the worst that could happen? There was no one in Magnagora looking for her, no home to return to, just this shack with these other, disposed-of viscanti, who had decided to sell their bodies rather than their souls... for now. There was occasionally someone who would break down and go to the city to submit themselves to being beggars on the streets and hoping to serve the Engine, but inevitably, somebody new would come from one of the villages or the slums to try to make a life for themselves.
Anything would be better than being on the bottom rungs of society in Magnagora proper.
Finally, she spoke: "Yassenah."
"Yassenah? Such a lovely name," said the merian with a warm smile that creased her eyes.
Yassenah leaned over and brought her other hand onto the merian's cheek, leaning in close and whispering, "What about your name, gorgeous?"
The merian squirmed around and opened her mouth to speak. Yassenah leaned in for a kiss, but found her lips making contact with a hard, cool surface. "My name is Mother Sonoahi." Yassenah leaned back and looked at what they had just kissed.
It was a small leatherbound book, smelling of old vellum and wear. On the cover was etched the same symbol that was on Mother Sonoahi's earrings - a pair of small hands, one folded over the other, palms upward and cradling a heart. The dyed-pink pages had golden edges that sparkled in the low light of the room. Mother Sonoahi's hand was wrapped partially around the book, holding it up as a barrier between the two of them.
Yassenah's brow furrowed in confusion. "What are you doing?"
Mother Sonoahi's smile softened further as she lowered her book. "When I said I wanted you to listen, I meant it sincerely. There was no innuendo behind it."
Hide not fears or faults
The tide pulls back
Bounty of the sea
Brought to Light
The viscanti woman's forehead developed visible creases. "What am I supposed to do with that? Just sit here?"
The merian rested her book on her own lap, and placed her blue hands upon it. "Listening is so much more than just sitting still. It is paying attention, it is caring, it is being able to understand what someone else is trying to express to you."
"I'm not sure how much interest I'll have in what you say, but..." Yassenah paused, and asked for clarification, "You ARE paying me, aren't you?"
Mother Sonoahi reached into her cloak and pulled out a small bag that jingled with coins. "Everything in this is yours, if you just listen."
The viscanti woman's eyes traced back and forth, occasionally stopping on the coin bag, only to settle on Sonoahi's face. "... fine. I'll listen."
Sonoahi placed the coin bag back in her cloak, and started with, "Have you heard of the Supernals?"
Yassenah scowled, "Who hasn't?" There were a great many Celestian claiming to be faithful and acting in the names of the Supernals, keeping to the Precepts of the Covenant, only to peruse the services offered in this run-down shack - often without paying.
The venom in her words were not lost on Mother Sonoahi. "If these walls could talk, what sorrows would they profess?" she asked, letting the question linger without answer. When the silence was on the crux of deafening, she continued, "My title of Mother is not one just for show. I am a Priestess of the Loving Radiance." When this did not register a look of acknowledgement, she asked, "Raziela?"
Yassenah sighed and rolled her eyes. "Raziela. I have heard that name before." Oft in the throes of passion, though she kept that to herself. "She encourages you to seek many lovers, does she not?"
"What?" asked an equally-confused, equally-surprised Sonoahi. "No, she does not. Of her many virtues, that is... not one of them, and is debatably not even a virtue to be had."
Yassenah looked down at her nails with disinterest. "Virtues are all high talk for a being that would be happier to see me dead for what I am."
The merian shook her head. "She would most certainly not."
"Oh, so she wouldn't care that I'm a viscanti?" asked Yassenah, looking up at Mother Sonoahi without lifting her head.
"Her love is perfect and all-encompassing. She would love you, viscanti or tae'dae, so long as you do not seek to expand the influence of the Taint or Soulless. Even then, she wouldn't turn her back on you; she believes people can change and grow for the better."
The viscanti gave a dissatisfied grumble. "Taint this, Taint that, I couldn't care less about any of it. Just because I am what I am doesn't mean I have some secret evil agenda to warp all of existence to what Magnagora envisions or otherwise let it get eaten by Soulless." It was true. Yassenah's ultimate goal was to save enough money up to never have to live or do anything related to this shack ever again. Something like dealing with Magnagora or any version of the Taint was beyond her grasp and... not actually something she wanted.
"Then, Yassenah, you are already on the road to discovering Raziela's love!" said Mother Sonoahi with a serene smile.
Reach to the stars
Love is not afar
An embrace for infinity
A living dream would be
Yassenah rolled her eyes a second time. "Why would I want some Supernal's love?" She pondered her upbringing. As a child, she was sure her parents had loved her, but as an adult, she wondered how much they could have loved her to birth her into poverty. She had narrowly escaped the streets of Magnagora, and for what? To find herself greeting the most desperate of the Basin to offer them a night they'd never forget, to give herself a night she wished she could?
"Raziela's love is without fault," said Mother Sonoahi. "It is timeless, it is perfection, it is the love of a child unmarred by the horrors of the world not by ignorance, but by innocence. You will never find a more sincere love in your life."
The viscanti soured at that. Love wasn't something she had a fervent belief in either way, but the implication that she would never find a love more sincere than that of a Supernal? That was laughable. "Time's up. That's it for tonight."
Mother Sonoahi put her book back in her cloak, and took the bag of coins out once more. She held them out to Yassenah, and she snatched them up, opening the bag to spot more coins than she had ever received in a single evening. When she looked up at the merian, she found her already heading to the door. "I will return to see you again, Yassenah. It was my pleasure to speak with you. You were right. You did amaze me."
"Mother Sonoahi," began Yassenah. "I-"
"Take care. May you walk in Love and Light." And just like that, Yassenah was alone in the room, the merian's nigh silent steps failing to announce her exit.
What was I going to even say to her, wondered Yassenah. What did I plan to share, to express? Why had I felt compelled to speak at all, when just moments ago I was annoyed by her very presence?
Yassenah again looked in the bag of coins for something, anything, to give her a sign that Sonoahi would indeed return again. All she had for consolation was the sparkle and jingle of golden sovereigns in the low light of the room and night.
When daybreak came, she made her way into the city of her birth, Magnagora. There, she bought what little food she could afford and looked in the windows of various stores, imagining herself in the tainted raiment to be found there. She knew she was dirty, in more ways than one, and dared not enter. As she approached the southern gate, she crossed paths with a beggar who was on their hands and knees, being kicked and beaten for fun by the local aristocratic youth for no reason other than their existence. She was enjoying the bread she had purchased for herself when she saw a group of emaciated children at the gates. What could this Mother Sonoahi know about the life and suffering of a child, when she clearly enjoyed an easy, comfortable life in New Celest?
Yassenah broke off some of her bread and shared the remainder of it with the hungry children.
She wanted to talk to Mother Sonoahi again. She wanted to see that blue face and those chilling, cold eyes that made one unprepared for the warmth that could be reflected in them.
She needed to.
The heart speaks
The mind does not comprehend
How complicated love can be
To its bittersweet end
Yassenah counted the days that passed. She heard many false confessions of love in the time that came, along with the declaration of divine names of all kinds. It was on the sixth evening at dusk that she engaged another person in the shack's lobby with a simple question: "Do you want to talk?"
"Eh?" asked the woman that Yassenah had addressed.
"Us. Talk. About anything, really."
"Go to Nil and leave me alone, I'm miserable enough without talking," the woman responded and curled into a tight ball, hoping to become invisible.
A knock came to the front door of the shack. A man got up and answered it. Yassenah almost didn't look over, until she saw that hint of blue in the darkness. She felt a fluttering in her chest that she had never felt before, both uncomfortable and welcome. Before the man could offer himself, Yassenah was on her feet. She put her hand on the man's shoulder and shoved him out of the way. "Mother Sonoahi... you've returned for my charms, I see," she said, doing her best to sound seductive.
"Yassenah, a night of your company is priceless to me," said Mother Sonoahi with a warm smile. "Shall we?"
Yassenah eagerly took the merian's wrist and nearly dragged her back to a room, not very different from the first they had shared. Once in the room, she released her, body feeling warm and like her lacking clothing were entirely too stuffy. The viscanti let Sonoahi close the door as she went about lighting the candles present. "I was starting to think you weren't coming back."
"I come with a new request, and I hope you will find it within your heart to humour me," said Mother Sonoahi with a soft smile.
Glancing over her shoulder with a predatory grin as she lit the last candle, Yassenah asked, "You want a piece of me, Mother Sonoahi?"
"A piece of your heart, for the Loving Radiance," she responded. Yassenah felt disappointment settling in, until the odd request came. "Would you pray with me?"
"Hm. Pray. I don't know how to pray."
"Do you know how to read?"
"Nay, and I've never had a thought of holding a book in the first place."
Mother Sonoahi's smile became tender as she said, "That's alright. I'll teach you to pray, just repeat after me. Reading can be learned at another time." The merian crossed the room and flattened out her cloak to kneel before the small, too-high window that offered naught but a sliver of nighttime sky as its view. Once on her knees, she brought her hands together, fingers lacing. She brought her hands to be level with her chest, and lowered her head in reverence. It was with a skeptical look that Yassenah went to do likewise, but before she could finish kneeling, Sonoahi's voice came forth. "I would like you to pray with me, not behind me. Next to me, please."
The request made Yassenah feel awkward, and she stood, only to join the merian on the floor, at her side. She observed her for a moment, and then took up a similar position. "Now what?"
"Close your eyes, and we'll begin." Yassenah closed her eyes, as directed. Praying seemed stupid, but she was close enough to feel the heat coming off of Mother Sonoahi's body. "Good. Just repeat after me."
O kind Raziela,
Acts of charity
Shall be in your name
O shining Raziela,
Acts of virtue
Shall be in your name
O loving Raziela,
Acts of compassion
Shall be in your name
O dear Raziela,
Your love is above
You love with
Your whole heart and soul
And I try to act
In your name
A vision of
O Loving Radiance,
All goodness is through you
And I am worthy of love
Because I love you
I love my fellow kin
As I would love myself
Because I love you
I beg your love
Still finds me
And forgives me
For those who I have harmed
And I forgive
Those who have harmed me
Bless-ed are you
And in faith
Bless-ed am I
A moment, shared
A moment, passed
Most love is not
Built to last
Mother Sonoahi opened her eyes and looked over at the viscanti woman beside her. Yassenah had a single tear rolling down her cheek, unable to contain the emotions swirling inside her. There was something beautiful, something potent, about the prayer, and it made her feel... seen. Without a word, the merian pulled Yassenah over and embraced her from the side, guiding her face to her shoulder.
The tears started in earnest, and didn't seem to stop. No audible sound escaped Yassenah, though her heart was screaming out within her chest. It hurt. It felt like her whole body was on fire. They stayed like that for a precious, timeless experience; uncountable, unquantifiable, and such that Yassenah was ready to bid farewell to her worldly desires in exchange to uphold this wishful infinity. It wasn't until a knock came to the door that Yassenah pulled back.
"I... ah... I'm sorry... you wanted to pray, and..." fumbled the viscanti, no longer the suave woman the merian had met.
Mother Sonoahi just smiled that reassuring, welcoming smile. "We did pray. Your display of faith, of understanding the words of that prayer, were beautiful. Thank you, Yassenah. Thank you for letting me experience it with you. But I'm afraid our time is up, if that knocking on the door means anything." She reached into her cloak and took out a coin bag, larger than the previous, and handed it over.
This time, Yassenah didn't examine its contents.
"Will you be returning?" she asked, eyes glued on the merian woman.
"Yes. And the next time I come, if you'll let me, we'll leave this place. Together."
Yassenah's mind raced. Where would a viscanti and a merian be accepted as one?
"There is an almshouse run by the Archons of Dawning Hope just outside of New Celest, to the north. The life you would live would be meager, but, you could learn more about the Loving Radiance, learn to read and write, and they would care for you there, as they care for others."
Without another thought, Yassenah said, "Yes."
"In three days, I will come get you. Right before dawn. Please be awake."
Yassenah nodded. "Of... of course. I'll be awake. Waiting for you." She noticed she was still in Mother Sonoahi's arms and quickly let out a "Sorry!" and wiggled herself back and away.
"Don't worry. Everything will be better soon." The merian woman rose to her feet and left the room without a further farewell. Yassenah pulled the bag of coins up to her chest and held them there, heart pounding and racing, eyes still misty. Was it that she was so moved by the prayer? Or was this something more?
She couldn't fathom the depths of her own emotions that swelled and overpoured whenever Mother Sonoahi was around.
No longer is
The self one's own
Be made anew
The next two days, Yassenah could barely sleep at all. She spent a lot of her time pacing, daydreaming. She rejected every request made for her services. Though she dare not say it for fear of her own safety at present, she had no intent to offer those services any further.
It was the third day at dawn when she heard the crunch of the earth outside of the shack. Sounds had never been so vivid to her before that merian had waltzed right into her life, spinning freely and taking no care for what she knocked over - Yassenah's expecations, goals, and very core. The viscanti made her way outside and spotted Mother Sonoahi approaching with her hood raised. Yassenah was grateful her sovereigns could afford her something a little more put together, if tawdry: a modest pink dress, faded with use and re-use by who, the viscanti neither knew nor cared. She quickly closed the distance between the pair of them, red and blue a stark contrast to the dying, rotting trees all around them.
"I didn't even have to knock," mused Mother Sonoahi, eyes sparkling.
Yassenah coughed and said coolly, "I wouldn't have you wait or take another viscanti off to New Celest with you."
"North of New Celest," corrected Mother Sonoahi. "The Covenant of my city is clear, and you would only be welcome there as a passerby, not as a citizen." She paused. "Is that an issue?"
Yassenah let out a "Nah," with a shake of her head. "Being a citizen of Magnagora did nothing for me, offered me no protections or benefits. Being without a city to call my own is just as well as having one."
"You'll be treated well at the almshouse," said the merian. She pulled her hood forward a little more, and then motioned with her hand to the viscanti woman for her to follow. The two walked quietly together, side-by-side. The silence was welcome for Yassenah, who has only known it, truly, when she wandered off into the woods. But this? This wasn't true silence. She felt alive, more alive than she had felt in a long time.
As they walked, Yassenah came to mumble to herself what she could remember of the prayer from three days while looking around. She had never wandered along the road before, not very far. They passed the Heart of Darkness, walking along the Great Southern Highway, until they came upon Grand Junction. Seeing the change in road caught her off guard; it was as if they were venturing to some unknown place together. But it wasn't unknown at all - especially with the way Sonoahi walked with her head up high and her eyes forward. In the light of day, it was easy to see how well Mother Sonoahi actually handled herself, and that she walked with confidence that the viscanti had not recognised in her, in their times alone.
The cawing of crows was almost nostalgic to her, with the Wyrden Wood so nearby to where she had spent several years of her adult life. Still, she was willing and ready to put that all behind her. "Is it a long walk?" she asked, in an attempt to make conversation.
"It's worth it," said Sonoahi in simple response, leading her forward. "This way, to Old Imperial Road." And the two continued walking.
Yassenah didn't have the time to marvel at the villages they passed, nor much time to admire the bridges they crossed. She didn't even notice the sun reaching its zenith in the sky. She found herself looking to the merian's hand and reaching for it. When she nearly got her confidence to touch her, they were arriving at a raised iron gate, welcoming those who would pass the barrier into the city.
Love is meant
To be shared
But take care
For those who would harm it
The air smelled cleaner, fresher, than anything Yassenah had ever known. It was awash in maritime aromas that almost instinctively caused her feet to point towards the Inner Sea. There were sparkling lights coming from the northeast that made her feel light throughout her, and bubbles floating past on the wind without origin or destination. The place was magical to her, someone who had only ever known the streets of Magnagora and the shack that had housed her and many other Magnagoran undesirables.
Yassenah snapped out of it and looked at Sonoahi, blinking. Passersby were scowling and frowning at the viscanti, which she became more aware of. Despite being dressed better than before, she felt naked, and despite her previous employment for survival, she didn't feel like being seen.
"This way, Yassenah. We're going to go the long way around, to leave the city," said her merian companion.
Yassenah began to walk to follow after her. "Everyone looks at me like I ought to be dead."
"I imagine the same look is given to merian who come across Magnagora."
"I... wouldn't know," Yassenah admitted, eyes looking to the ground. She spotted a couple of rats fighting near a gutter over some piece of discarded bread. When they became aware they had been spotted, they quickly ducked into the sewers, leaving the scraps behind.
The two continued on their way, storefronts going by that carried wares that Yassenah had never imagined, in colours Yassenah had never dreamed of. Mother Sonoahi remarked after some great time, "We're nearly at the almshouse. I know it has been a long walk for you, Yassenah. You must be tired."
"This is nothing compared to what I've done."
"What you've done?" asked Sonoahi.
Yassenah became mildly flustered. "... just... nevermind. It's nothing. Just nothing."
The architecture was distantly familiar to Yassenah, but she didn't allow her thoughts to linger on it for once. She was no architect, no designer, herself. She wondered instead if in truth she had any skills of which to speaks, aside from the one that managed to afford to her food in her stomach. This place was like a whole other world to her, somehow familiar and yet, not.
At the next gate they came to, there were a few merian talking to one another. Their conversation came to a halt as they came into view... or, as Yassenah imagined, as SHE came into THEIR view. Just as they were going to speak, Sonoahi spoke up. "She is my guest, and she is just passing through. Please pay her no mind." The group of merian resumed their conversation, but not without keeping one eye focused on the viscanti at all times.
Should not be mourned
There is no shame
In what was adored
Once past the gate, Yassenah spotted a multistory building with words over its doors that she could not read. She imagined it was the name of the building, as she had learned that buildings could sometimes have names just as people do. The building was made of whitish-grey concrete, a rainbow assortment of all sorts of shells embedded into the structure. There were large spaces in the building that acted as windows, and the doorways, much like the window-spaces, had pointed trefoil arches. Mother Sonoahi walked through the doorway, and Yassenah followed, to a counter inside, being attended to by a human man.
"Welcome, Mother Sonoahi," he said, smiling. He spotted the viscanti, blinked a few times, but then smiled once more. "Hello there. You must be Yassenah. We've been expecting you."
"... greetings," said Yassenah cautiously.
"My name is Rieph. We're so happy to have you join us at the almshouse, Yassenah," said the man. He walked out from behind the counter, revealing he was wearing a white toga with a dark brown rope tied around his waist. "If you'd please follow me, I'll lead you to your room."
Yassenah looked to Sonoahi, who gave her a big, warm smile. "You should follow him. Everything will be okay now."
"Where will you be?" asked the viscanti with a growing frown.
The merian placed a hand on her own heart and said, "Tending to the Light and spreading the good word of the Loving Radiance, as is my duty."
Rieph called to her, "This way, Yassenah," as he led her down one of the two corridors accessible from the lobby. They passed by a large room with a series of glass windows that allowed a view in. There were people who were sitting at long tables, eating some sort of soup, some solemnly, some talking and laughing with one another. There were people of all sorts, except...
"No viscanti," she remarked quietly.
"Ah, no, you're the first. We pray that all viscanti with Love in their hearts who need help find their way here," responded Rieph as they walked.
Yassenah looked down at her palms for a moment, pondering the red blood that coursed through her veins. This place was willing to help someone with a background like hers? Truly?
When they arrived at one of the rooms, the door was already open. It had four beds in it and a single dresser. He opened it, revealing the many togas within. "Close the door and get changed. While living here, you are required to wear this, as is everyone else. You cannot enter New Celest unaccompanied, but the grounds of the almshouse are yours to explore. We have nothing to hide here, and we ask that you be mindful and share with others as we share with you.
You will be expected to do work while you are here, tending to the small hobby farm in the back, helping wash laundry, and helping to tend to the injured who may come through. Everyone here is expected to perform these tasks, and those who refuse are not allowed to stay. Is that understood?"
Yassenah lifted and dropped her head in a single nod.
Rieph's shoulders eased. "I'm glad. When you're ready, please come downstairs to the mess hall to have something to eat." Rieph went to the door and said as he closed it behind him, "Take care." The door made a soft click as it closed.
And for the first time ever, Yassenah felt truly alone.
Love is a Hello
Love is a Farewell
In Light we discover
Love cannot be quelled
The days between Yassenah meeting with Mother Sonoahi were long, but with each meeting, felt shorter and more precious. She came to learn to read, and was viewed as a valuable resident of the almshouse, slowly but surely. Initially there were those who argued about her presence, that no viscanti should be allowed, but it was noted that the almshouse - while in the care of the Archons of Dawning Hope - was not in New Celest proper nor part of its Nation and was, therefore, allowed to have viscanti in it. Yassenah was not a citizen of New Celest, but truth be told, had seen the good to be had in the city. She wanted it, but knew because of something out of her control, it could not come to be.
One meeting with Mother Sonoahi, the merian looked across the crops they were removing the weeds from, together, and said, "Yassenah... I need to apologise to you."
"Oh?" asked the viscanti, covered in sweat as she pulled out a particularly unyielding dandelion. "Why's that?"
"I wanted to get you to see the Loving Radiance in person. I spoke with her about you. She wanted to meet you as well, but..."
"... but I'm a viscanti," said Yassenah with a frown. "I can't change what I am."
Sonoahi's voice dropped to a whisper as she looked left and right, as if to make sure nobody was watching or listening in, "What if you could?"
The viscanti laughed at the idea, but the laughter slowly died out as she noticed that Mother Sonoahi was not joining her in expressing joy at the ridiculous idea. Was it... not ridiculous after all?
"Have you heard of the Portal of Fate?"
"Yes, that some great people step forth from it. Great and powerful. But greatly good or greatly evil is never clear..."
"It is both. You might be able to go through the Portal and be reborn as something other than a viscanti, or so goes the rumours surrounding it."
Yassenah dropped the dandelion, roots and all, she was holding in her hands. Her jaw fell. "You jest."
"I don't! We could go there, together, and I can wait for you to return on the other side. I'll be there to meet you."
"Can we leave now?"
"You don't want to think about it first?"
Yassenah frowned. "Do you think I like being a viscanti? I was treated like trash by Magnagora, being a viscanti earned me no honour, no pride. I came here, to the almshouse, and people saw me for me, me as a person... I... I want to be a citizen of New Celest. I want to meet Raziela and bask in her Love and Radiance. I want to do so many things and the only thing stopping me is that I was of unfortunate birth."
"It's a long walk," said Mother Sonoahi as she walked around the crops and placed a hand on Yassenah's shoulder. "I'll inform my spouse and children I will be gone for the day, and we'll go immediately."
As the merian walked away, Yassenah felt a sinking feeling in her chest, as if her heart was stewing in her stomach acid. She didn't understand why her body wanted to return her breakfast the way it came, but she covered her mouth nonetheless. A single tear went down her cheek.
The viscanti ran off to the shed and hid in there, sobbing uncontrollably without a clue as to why.
Love is a whisper
Love is a roar
There is no spell more potent than
"I Love You"
Yassenah managed to drag herself out of the shed and waited for Sonoahi in the lobby. Her heart twisted and suffered a pang of guilt. She tried to come to terms with her time in the almshouse, with her learning, with her coming to believe in Raziela and the Light, and the fact that what brought her there in the first place had been her chasing after...
Mother Sonoahi's companionship? Though inconsistent, she had that.
Mother Sonoahi's admiration? Nothing but praise had been doted upon her by the merian.
Mother Sonoahi's love? She had that, too, as she had come to understand love.
She didn't need Mother Sonoahi's body or her lust. She had experienced enough of that, even if never with her.
She didn't need devotion. Mother Sonoahi's devotion was to the Light, to Raziela.
She didn't need loyalty. Mother Sonoahi was one who gave her loyalty to New Celest, and while Yassenah would be forever loyal to the merian for her help, as well as the almshouse, she didn't need it in return.
Slowly but surely, Yassenah came to terms with her emotions, and felt nothing but a hollow resolution.
She must have had a serious look on her face, because when she heard Sonoahi ask, "Everything okay?" she snapped out of it.
"I... I had some thoughts. I'll share them with you at the Portal." Yassenah rose to her feet and Mother Sonoahi offered her her hand with a reassuring smile.
"Tell me after you walk through the Portal."
"Alright," said Yassenah.
It was nearly dusk when the pair arrived before the Portal of Fate. Yassenah gulped and asked hoarsely, "This... isn't going to hurt, is it?"
"I pray it does not," said Mother Sonoahi. "I have not heard of any adventurers coming through the Portal in pain."
"Thank you for coming here with me. And... Mother Sonoahi. Allow me to just say, once, that I love you." The viscanti looked at the merian, perhaps for the last time.
"Through Raziela, you have found Love, and you have found Light, Yassenah. I will be waiting for you. And I will always be with you. Just as Raziela will always be with you."
"I know... and even now, she's waiting for me." Yassenah inhaled and faced the Portal of Fate. "We'll see each other soon. And then... I'll have so much to share with you, Mother Sonoahi."
With that, Yassenah took a step forward, vanishing into the Portal of Fate.