From the once-brilliant First Temple of Lyenne, the light of Wisdom fades out.
Yet the goddess herself, she to whom the temple is dedicated, does not take immediate notice. She focuses on her own quiet contemplation of the universe and of the strange flaw within herself.
However, it does not escape her notice forever. Awareness comes to her eventually, and she pauses her internal probing in order to cast her eyes downward into the world and its people.
Such self-understanding can be sought another time. Her temple needs her attention. It has become wrong in a way that tugs at a place in her mind where a memory should be.
A goddess, much less one of wisdom, is not meant to forget important information. The thought disturbs her.
Gripping her shield, she steps down, descending to pay her temple a visit.
A marvelous place of worship once stood here, but now only mold, mushrooms, and the fetid stench of rot greet her. There is no trace of the order of priestesses who should have tended this place.
As she walks the ruins, her missing memories slowly bubble to the surface.
There was once a prison that smelled just like this.
Her footsteps were muffled by the mold carpeting the floor as she stepped into the prisoner’s chamber. The goddess’s mouth twisted in displeasure at the acrid odor stabbing her sinuses.
“You’ve given up all pretense of self-control, haven’t you?” she asked the chained one.
The prisoner on her knees only hummed a soft melody to herself, offering no response to a question that was not truly spoken in expectation of one.
Lyenne glared down at her. “We discovered mortals singing that song of yours. You should not have been able to reach them.”
At that, the kneeling figure stopped her humming to respond in her thin and reedy voice, “I heard. The beauty of the chorus. It rose to my hungry ears. It ended so suddenly. Cut off prematurely. Was that your doing? Was that you, youngest sister?”
“Not mine alone,” the goddess responded. “You have been locked away from the mortals for a reason, and we all agreed to cut off your rot before it could spread any farther.”
“Reason. Ha!” The imprisoned one’s laugh could have been confused for a bark or a cough. “First you treated me with contempt. For my disinterest in mortal affairs, yes? Then, when I finally found something interesting about them. When I touched them. The lot of you decided you feared it. What I might do with them. Fear! That is your only reason.”
“You would unmake them,” the goddess countered. “The way you increasingly do all that you touch.”
“I would remake them. They may join me. Become something more. Beautiful and unknown. Dissolving. Flowing. Connecting. Rapturous music from a single throat…”
She resumed singing then, in her language that predated the other gods.
Lyenne interrupted her. “Yes, ending all that the rest of us hold dear, which is why—” the goddess stopped her tirade, furrowing her brow in confusion. “Why do I not remember your name, oldest sister?”
The prisoner responded with something between a coughing fit and a cackle. “At last you notice. Too late to stop it now. Everything decays. Even a name may fall to rot and ruin. If you let it. If you know how to cast it aside. And feed it to the earth.”
The nameless one raised her head upright at last, fixing her gaze upon her sister. Eyes like black pearls held her and projected the resentment of her long imprisonment.
The goddess felt equal parts pity for and fear of her.
Then she looked—really looked—at her chained sister, paying attention to the details she had been ignoring, and she knew the name was the least of it. The older goddess was melting, shape softening and slumping over like a candle left too close to the hearth.
A malicious grin split the face of the prisoner, less a tightening of the lips and more a sloughing off of the skin covering her mouth, baring pointed teeth. The flesh fell to the floor with a wet squelch.
“Decay may take any of us. Even me. Even your memory of me.”
Somehow she could still articulate her words clearly despite her dropping face bereft of lips, or her tongue revealing itself to be covered in dark, undulating growths.
The goddess took a quick step backward. “Sister, stop this! What you are doing to yourself is blasphemy!”
“May you forget that too. And this prison. And me. May I rot completely. And feed…what comes after.”
“You will feed nothing,” Lyenne vowed. “Before you can steal our memories of you utterly, we will bury you and your prison too far underground for you to reach anyone ever again.”
“Then may I become a seed.” The last of her sister’s words echoed in her ears as she left the prison.
True to her vow, Lyenne sent the prison-tomb deep underground, hidden and unreachable. And true to the nameless one’s word, all recollection of her slowly faded to nothing.
The memories bubble to the surface at a sluggish pace, as though through the thick muck of a festering bog.
The goddess wanders the halls of her dead temple in synchronized steps with her exploration of her memory. She searches for a name she still cannot find.
The distinction blurs. To trace a path through her mind is to trace a path through these halls. The slow trickle of remembering tugs her along, leading her to the center of it all.
In the gap where the name should be in her mind, she finds an unfamiliar woman in the temple.
Not the lost one she searches her memory for. This mortal drapes herself in the garb of a priestess of Lyenne. She kneels, head bowed low, with hands clasped in prayer.
“Faithful servant, last caretaker of this place of worship,” the goddess gently says, doing her best not to frighten the woman, “I bid you tell me what befell my temple.”
The mortal lifts her head, opening inhuman eyes like inky, nacreous pools.
Familiar eyes staring from an unfamiliar face leave the goddess momentarily speechless.
Lips the color of midnight curl into a self-satisfied smile as the priestess greets the one she is meant to worship. “At last, the absentee goddess returns to tend her flock.”
Despite the sneer in her words, the priestess’s voice is warm and carries a pleasant lilt. Yet at the same time each sound she speaks is supported by a chorus of voices joining her in unison, reverberating from every direction as though the temple itself were part of her.
Even when she stops speaking, the chorus sings faintly in the background. The song is one Lyenne remembers as though from a dream.
The effect unsettles even the goddess of wisdom. Her chest tightens as she realizes that this woman is her sister’s What Comes After.
This infestation has progressed too far, more than any she saw before the nameless one stole her own name and memory. The wise thing to do is to leave and return with the other gods for support.
If she can remember, perhaps it is possible to help the others recall as well.
Lyenne tugs her feet into a retreat.
But they do not budge. The thick carpet of mold grips her, rooting her in place. She pulls harder, willing her legs into a run, putting all the might of a god into producing any motion whatsoever.
An icy chill grips her heart.
The chorus all around her continues to sing. Through the floor, in her feet, the goddess feels the gentle vibrations of the voices. It is as though the mold itself were singing itself into existence as it digs its hyphae into her. Perhaps somehow it really is.
The soft sound of footsteps weaves itself seamlessly into the music in a steady rhythm that belongs inseparably with the chorus.
The priestess approaches, her body language relaxed and unthreatened, hips swaying gently with each step.
Those eyes—shimmering liquid obsidian, coated with swirling iridescent colors dancing in tune with the song—stab through her mind and pin her in place. She cannot look away. She tries to speak, to interrupt the singing, but Lyenne finds her voice to be as frozen as her legs.
This creature is no mortal. Not anymore. The rot, and her Song, is manifestly an expression of the nameless one’s nature, but even she, dangerous as she was, did not wield such power over other gods.
The priestess’s apotheosis may have been catalyzed by the dead old god, but she has managed to shape and cultivate it into something new and terrifyingly more.
And Lyenne, goddess of wisdom, finds herself caught, mouth agape, hanging helplessly on the beauty of those eyes.
The Priestess lifts a hand to grip Lyenne by the chin, and the chorus responds to that raised hand by raising its many voices higher, as though in response to a conductor leading them in performance.
The goddess squirms, but those powerful eyes drain all indignation away.
“I have spent so many nights dreaming of what I would do to you if I had the chance,” her Priestess says at last, the smooth honey of Her words dripping sweet and slow from dark lips, sliding across the rise and fall of Her Song in a warm and gentle caress of the ears.
The goddess remains speechless, cradled by the gentle lilt of the entrancing music slipping through her.
“I imagined gutting you,” She says, Her soft threat wrapping Lyenne in the comfort of absolute power, “but that feels like such a waste when I can play with you instead.”
The goddess shivers involuntarily at the words of her Priestess. Is it fear or anticipation she feels?
The shield falls from her hand.
Black lips draw nearer to her own, which part with unintended eagerness; they hover so close… and then withdraw without making contact.
A tiny, unwonted whimper of disappointment escapes the goddess. Some distant part of herself struggles to raise a feeling of alarm at her own undignified behavior, but that part has receded into a small whisper too quiet to hear over the Song suffusing her mind.
“Such a pathetic thing you have become, O great goddess of wisdom!” her Priestess gloats, voice haughty and magnificent. “You’ve taken to my singing so quickly, I’m beginning to wonder if you’ve had the chance to breathe in my spores before now.”
The goddess recalls her last confrontation with her oldest sister, the scent assaulting her then matching the one filling the air now. How much time have those spores had to bloom inside her mind?
At last, she realizes the nature of the flaw within herself.
It is a gift. One that would help her find a new wisdom someday.
Her Priestess’s voice arouses the goddess from her rumination. “Do you wish to taste me so badly?”
She gestures as the fungal infestation all around, drawing Lyenne’s gaze downward to the mold within reach. “I am part of all of it, and I grant you my permission to indulge yourself,” She says, smile widening.
Is it truly so? The goddess leans over, brushing fingertips against the soft fuzz that clings gently to her skin.
The light tickle, the gentle give, it feels so tempting.
The mold releases her feet, allowing the goddess to drop to her hands and knees, running both hands through it reverently. After a moment of simple, tactile indulgence, she lowers her head and gives the floor’s thick growth a slow, soft kiss.
The taste is sharp and bitter and deeply intoxicating. With each kiss, each taste of mold, the spicy sting sharpens her awareness of Song inside her.
Not enough. She grows desperate, a need burning with fierce hunger inside her to close the distance between her and the Song.
It is not long before she finds herself licking the floor with wild urgency, even using her teeth to scrape off what she can and swallow as much as possible into the core of her very being.
The goddess fully abandons wisdom to sate this hunger.
Lyenne does not stop until several pairs of hands pull her away from this desperate feeding in spite of her whining protests, twisting her body and pushing her down, flat on her back.
She looks up and sees a crowd of grinning priestesses of the First Temple.
Each one exudes enraptured lust from watching the debasement of the goddess to whom they once devoted their lives.
Void-stricken eyes drip shadowy fluid down their cheeks. Lyenne extends her tongue just in time to catch a droplet of poison nectar that falls within reach.
It tastes like the sweet scent of decay. It tastes like the Song.
So when her priestesses move as one to strip her of her dignity—ravenous hands clawing at her dress, ripping fabric from her body in tattered shreds—it is giddy, impatient desire that fills her to bursting.
The pure and immaculate body of a goddess is a thing made for worship, but what these priestesses do with Lyenne’s is anything but. There is no reverence in their touch; they defile her sacred curves with feral hands and greedy mouths and a chorus of perverse moans.
They stain her breasts with tongues dripping with decay. Someone’s rough grip parts her legs. Someone—now several someones—penetrate her, stretching her painfully to the breaking point while her hips buck in wordless pleading for more.
The goddess does not see any of it, her vision consumed by the one she pulls into a hungry kiss.
The goddess does not hear any of it, the kiss pumping mouthfuls of sweet Song into her needy mouth, each delicious gulp dragging her further down, away from her old divinity.
Lyenne feels so close now—agonizingly close to what wisdom would say is something better left unknown, but there is no more goddess of wisdom left in this world. Her own divinity rots within her, decaying as it feeds the blasphemous fungus she embraces with wild abandon.
The one at her lips pulls away, despite how close she feels, despite her pleading and begging and reaching.
Then her Priestess reappears. No, not a Priestess any longer. The creature towering over her has shed all pretense of humanity.
Elongated, many-jointed arms bifurcate again and again, each bearing a wicked hand ending in dagger-like claws. One such hand wraps around Lyenne’s neck in a possessive grip.
Her torso disappears into liquid shadows and writhing tendrils to coil around the goddess’s limbs.
The features of Her face are sharply inhuman, and from Her head grows a branching crown of black, dripping mycelium.
Her eyes remain just as before, however, and the entrancing swirls of color swimming across those midnight pools hold Lyenne more surely than any restraint.
She is no Priestess. She is a Queen, and She is more worthy of worship than any divinity at all.
When the fallen goddess at last feels Her embrace, it is a relief unlike any Lyenne ever knew before. Bit by bit, the liquid of Her Highness’s very being flows over her body.
Living ooze spreads from her limbs toward her core, bringing a sharp tingling like sparks dancing over her skin. It coats her. It slips into every crevice and pumps itself inside. It is rapturous agony and excruciating joy, and part of her wishes it would continue forever.
It could be over more quickly, but both the Queen and fallen goddess savor these last moments of existing as separate beings.
Lyenne’s body slowly dissolves into the wet sludge of Her Highness. For the first time in her existence, she understands the perfect love of worship.
The rest of the priestesses flow back to rejoin the Queen and swim inside Her together.
At last the once-goddess joins the chorus. The power of her birthright is no longer hers to command; it is the swarm’s to share, and it is the Queen’s to direct.
This powerful new voice added to the chorus, the Song reverberates through the First Temple of Decay with strength to rattle the foundations of the world.
The air itself strains to hold such music without cracking open.
The remaining gods take notice and remember fear.