Her Triumphant Return

Part 10 of The New Goddess

The king’s palace leaves much to be desired. The moment I step foot inside, the first thing I notice is how poorly lit it is compared to mine. Dim and drab and dull, this is what passes for opulence, I guess, anywhere that lacks the benefit of Goddess’s touch.

And that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? We will fix this world.

Velle stands at my side, dressed for the occasion to resemble the sorceress she once was. Not that it took any prodding, really. Given the choice, she gravitates toward her old fashion sense on her own.

I’m sad that I had to fudge the truth a bit, but if a small lie can prevent those awful headaches of hers, I can accept the burden. She believes Goddess has enveloped her in a glamour, making everyone misremember her as the evil sorceress that I, the king’s daughter, quested to stop with the aid of my faithful and loyal friend, Knight Jackdaw.

Of course the truth is that, of the three of us, Velle is the only one anyone perceives accurately.

We kneel before the king’s throne as he offers his formal greeting.

“At last, my daughter returns. Our kingdom’s beloved princess…” his words trail off, momentarily lost within the glamour, knowing he is expected to recognize me but struggling to conjure a name.

“That’s right. I, Princess Canina Rosadeus Lillian Ruten, have returned with good news for the kingdom. Jackdaw and I have captured the Sorceress Velle and stripped her of her magic.” The amulet hanging around my neck bears Her symbol—the eye in the linked rings—and it sparkles as it exerts its influence. It exactly matches those worn by Velle and Jackie, each kissed with holy blessings.

“Princess Canina, yes.” The amulet does what it’s meant to, asserting our modified history in the king’s memories. “Though I forbade you from leaving the palace on this quest, I cannot deny your courage, and I choose to celebrate your accomplishments rather than dole out punishment.”

The king casts his eyes on Velle, and his expression darkens. “You, however. Velle. Enemy of the royal family. Enemy of all Rutennia. I never wished to see your face again.” My woman remains kneeling with her eyes meekly averted, as she knows she must. “That my daughter wishes to keep you as a trophy, I accept only because I know you must find that more humiliating than prison and therefore a better punishment than execution. However, if I see any sign of you resisting your place beneath my daughter, or your magic returning to you, my lenience will end and you will be put down like a dog. Is this understood?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. I hear you, and I vow to obey Her Highness in all things.”

The king responds with a snort. “Acceptable. I do not know how you’ve done it, Canina, but Velle does appear more docile than I’ve ever known her to be.”

“I would be happy to share the story of how we found and won the blessings of the Living Goddess, father. With Her, taming Velle is the least of what we can accomplish. I believe She will help us heal the scars of the rebellion and bring about a new era of prosperity.”

“A living goddess, you say. Well, I grant that you have earned the right to try to sell me on this idea. Not now, however. You should rest, and I have more important matters to attend to. We will speak more at a later date.”

Velle handles her role as my prisoner with skill and grace, meekly following me as the royal servants guide us to the princess’s chambers. Jackie’s uncharacteristic silence through our little performance has me worried, though. When we arrive, I dismiss the servants so that we can have our privacy.

“Hey.” I knock on its armor. “How are you holding up?”

“Who, me? Just fine. Better than fine! I am going to kill everyone in this palace and then myself if I don’t get out of this cage immediately, but other than that, this is basically a vacation for me.”

“Aw, no… I was afraid of that.” I move swiftly to attack the straps and start peeling the armor away. “C’mon, Velle, help me out here.”

She has far less experience with armor than I do, but an extra pair of hands is always welcome for a task like this. I’m just glad that I’m better at handling more of my own memories these days, so we can make this process as quick as possible.

Soon my dear friend is once again able to stretch all its limbs. It blinks open its six other eyes and yawns wide with its whole mouth. “Okay, whew, crisis averted. I’ll probably only kill one or two of the lords or ladies and maybe the king if I’m still hungry afterward.”

I put on my “oh no you don’t” face, raising my eyebrows and tightening my mouth into a thin line.

“Okay! Okay! The king lives.”

“Thank you.”

Velle chimes in. “My dear, as satisfying as it may be, picking off high profile members of the court shortly after we arrive seems like a good way to complicate things unnecessarily.”

Jackie groans in dismay, but she’s right of course. “Yeah, maybe stick to eating people who won’t be missed. Or, you know, regular food… Don’t give me that look, Jay-jay! You won’t have to spend all your time cramped in that armor. You can make some sacrifices like the rest of us.” Still I have such trouble saying no when it looks at me with those big sad eyes. “But… I guess on days like today when you do have to stuff yourself into that thing, you can have one or two people.”

Jackie beams in happiness. “Alright, I’ll take that and run with it before you have a chance to change your mind. Bye-bye!”

In a flash, it skitters out the window. I lean outside to shout after my favorite monster, “remember, nobody important!”

“I’m sure it’ll behave, Nina.” Velle rubs my back in soothing circles. “That thing loves you almost half as much as I do.”

I turn and plant a kiss on her beautiful face. “And that’s almost half as much as I love Nina. I’m sure you’re right as always.”

The wardrobe disappoints, even by the standards I thought I lowered enough. Such a meager selection of dresses, all dreadfully tasteful and conservative. If I have to be stuck in such stuffy clothes for too long, the Jackie strategy of murdering everyone will start to sound a little too appealing.

The servants, too. They are well dressed, I suppose, in clothes fine enough to be pleasant on the eyes without overshadowing the wardrobe of the princess, but none of this matches the pure elegance of the maid uniforms of my palace. Did Goddess invent those Herself? I should give thanks for that as well. These here are all so very disappointing.

I kiss my amulet and put my hand on the little statue on my makeshift bedroom altar. “Goddess, give me strength to spread Your message.”

Our first challenge is convincing “father” to grant my Velle a little more autonomy. She can’t accomplish much if she is expected to remain within my sight at all times, after all. It’s just a matter of proving how well-trained she is, and it turns out to be quite persuasive when I have her demonstrate how good she is at tea time in front of the king and his inner circle. My Velle finishes the whole pot by herself and gives the audience a smile and a pretty curtsy while they stare in aghast horror.

“Have you ever seen someone so well domesticated? Are any of your servants so loyal?”

Even the king acknowledges that this Velle has become someone else entirely and agrees “on a provisional basis” to allow her the same autonomy as other servants of the house. I maintain enough self control to wait until we’re alone before tongue-fucking the taste out of her mouth.

“Father” is insufferable. Despite what he said at my arrival, he refuses to listen to my proselytizing. He is unmoved by my tales of Her miracles, even when She is the reason Velle listens to me at all. My demands to build an official shrine within the palace are ignored. The only topic he wants to speak to me about is arranging a political marriage and producing a proper heir.

I am grateful to Velle for her tireless work among the servants. Increasingly I see them bearing hand-crafted symbols of the eye-in-linked-rings, flashing the icon where I can see it and giving me a conspiratorial nod as they pass by. I hear their murmurs, thanking “High Priestess Velle of the Living Goddess” and referring to me with awe as “The Chosen.”

Occasionally someone within the palace proves themselves overly hostile about the idea of worshipping Goddess, and Velle carves up a “Jackie treat” for our monster to enjoy. She seems so proud of herself too for bringing a meal it genuinely enjoys. Ah, I never thought I’d see the day that the two of them would get along so well!

It takes time, but we continue making progress sending our invisible tendrils through the royal palace. However obstinate the king proves to be, not all the noble houses are as unreasonable as he is. Plenty of people are desperate for something to believe in, and the idea of a Living Goddess in the world appeals to many. I seek the ear of the nobles, who are often surprised to discover that Goddess has many adherents among their servants already, and this news bolsters their resolve to spread the faith.

I only permit members of the faith to serve me, and I reward those who are most willing to demonstrate their loyalty by giving them the most coveted positions close to me. One earns her place by organizing other servants to build a shrine in secret, against the king’s explicit orders. Another earns a place when they nearly die stopping a knight from reporting the illicit shrine. A third is honored for poisoning her lord after learning he planned to lead a campaign against our “cult.”

The first time I visit the palace’s secret shrine, the beauty brings me to tears. Truly it is no less fine than the one at home, after all, how can a place of worship crafted by loving hands not be perfect just the way it is? I grant a small gathering of faithful the blessing of watching me invoke Goddess for the miracle of bestowing the shrine with a statue in Her likeness. It is a flawless reproduction of the one I know, and the congregation buzzes with excitement that their faith is so rewarded.

Our influence grows by the day, and soon even Jackie is welcomed in its true form by those initiated into the deepest mysteries of our faith.

“Be not afraid,” High Priestess Velle assures them. “This blessed creature is a servant of the Living Goddess and will protect you from retribution for acts carried out in Her name. Go forth and spread the truth of Her divinity, and you will come to no harm.”

Something has gone very wrong.

“I don’t understand. Did we anger the Living Goddess? What does this mean?”

I stare in horror at the statue of Goddess, at a loss for words. Grotesque fleshy vines coil all around it, sinking tendrils inside and pulsing horribly. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Goddess didn’t tell me anything. I do my best to compose myself so I don’t scare anyone.

“Fetch me the High Priestess and the Angel if you see it. We must commune with Her together.”

I pray for an answer and hear nothing. I pray for a miracle to stop this, and there is no response. I feel like the floor has suddenly vanished from under my feet, sending me into free fall. Goddess? Where are you?

I’ve never been so scared.

Velle and Jackie arrive hand-in-hand and stop dead in their tracks behind me.

“What the f—”

“She is sick.”

All eyes turn to Velle, the only one who seems to have any idea what’s happening, and we wait for her to continue.

She exhales. “I had a feeling. Jay, you… see Her when you die, yes? What do you remember?”

“Tears,” Jackie shakes its head. “Something about abyssal tears? The Goddess was seeking the power of another dead god.”

My Velle’s mouth moves, voicelessly repeating “dead god” in confusion. I wish she had her memories back already; we could really use a sorceress right about now. Goddess just didn’t think Velle was ready yet.

“Give me the 30-second summary. Quickly.”

I see it in her eyes, headache blooming from merely mentioning dead gods in front of her. If she’s willing to try enduring the pain for Goddess, I should do my part. “Goddess ascended from mortality by claiming the blood of a dead god. Since then, She’s been consuming other dead gods too.”

A scream rips through Velle’s throat as she drops to her knees. Through gritted teeth she hisses “keep going!”

“This is number four,” Jackie adds. “Last time She struggled to digest it. I thought She’d evolved beyond having that problem again, but…”

“She didn’t.” Velle gasps. “It’s too much for Her, isn’t it?”

Goddess never told me She struggled to digest the last one. Nothing is supposed to be too much for Her. This is too much to bear. Goddess! You have to stop!

“I need to touch the statue.”

Jackie cradles her in four arms and brings my dear Velle within arm’s reach of our blighted idol. She reaches out and grabs hold of one of the pulsing vine-things, her face contorted with agony while she pushes herself onward.

“What do you feel?”

“I don’t… know…”

“Can we do anything?”

I don’t know!

With that strangled cry on her lips, Velle passes out.

“Did you know that the king worships one of the old gods?”

My Velle is still asleep, her dreams apparently troubled, tossing and turning while I sit at her side and hold her hand. I look up at the messenger with tired eyes. “Where did you hear this?”

He hands me a package. “Stolen from his private library. There’s some letters in there, correspondence with some old god cultists, and, uh… references to a secret passage down in the royal catacombs.”

I sigh. “Is this relevant right now?”

The man fidgets, suddenly nervous about failing Goddess’s Chosen. “I just thought you might like some insight into why he resists the Living Goddess. Also…” his words pick up speed with embarrassment, “I dunno. The boy who stole it, his name is Caleb by the way, good kid, really pious, please don’t get mad at him, he said it was divine inspiration that told him you needed it, and I didn’t know what to say to that, I mean, I don’t hear voices or nothin’, but I definitely don’t wanna get in the way of that divine godly stuff, so I said I’d deliver it to you, and maybe you could decide if that relic is important or not, and if it’s not then you can blame me, but don’t blame the kid, he’s just doin’ his best, and…”

Without warning, Velle jerks upright as if awakened by the man’s words. “A relic? Give me those.”

The poor guy flicks his eyes back and forth between the two of us, and with a nod I invite him to hand the package to Velle. He does and promptly flees the room in reverse, bowing to us the whole time.

“Are you sure you’re okay looking at that stuff? I’m worried about you getting another of those headaches.”

“Hm? It’s fine, don’t worry.” Velle ignores my concern, pouring over the contents of the package like a woman possessed, a look in her eyes I don’t recognize as she mutters to herself the whole time. Looking up at me with an unsettling expression, she barks, “paper, ink, quickly!”

I get her to a desk with the writing implements she demands, and soon she’s scribbling notes furiously. “No time, there’s no time. Not a chance in hell he won’t notice this missing. If we’re lucky, he’s occupied, and maybe we can beat him there.” I don’t know if she’s speaking to me or to herself, but I stay out of her way until she finishes, snatching up her notes and bolting to the door.

I follow her down through the passageways of the palace. I have not learned so much of the lower levels as she seems to have, but as I follow her I feel a sinking feeling in my gut telling me this isn’t my Velle any longer.

By torchlight we make our way through the royal catacombs dug beneath all other levels of the palace. The woman who looks so much like mine finds a hidden switch and reveals a path still deeper. We descend a staircase that looks far less worn than its age would suggest, and before long we arrive at a room illuminated by its own unnatural emerald light.

The king is already there.

“I don’t know how you contrived this scheme, Velle, but you truly had me fooled. I always thought your ego precluded debasing yourself for the sake of even a plan like this.” He turns to face us, and I see the same emerald glow in his eyes. “And my false daughter. Now I have the vision to pierce through your glamour. Tell me, what happened to Natalia and that boy Wolfgang? What is your plan for them?”

“Every scheme and every Plan I ever made has crumbled into dust, Alexander. I’m playing it by ear now.” Velle’s voice is as cold as it was during that fateful confrontation so long ago. It makes me shiver. “Wolfgang is dead. Natalia is dying, and one way or another both you and your kingdom will not be far behind.”

“No bitch like you is going to end my line.” The king bares his teeth in a snarl. “You have no idea the power that lurks down here. The ancient signet ring of Lord Turasz, God of the Waking Nightmare, rests in this very tomb.”

He gestures behind him at a skeletal hand bearing a shining emerald ring. “It is heresy to access its power, but once you tripped Lange’s wards on that book, well, better me than you, I think.”

“Velle,” I’m at a complete loss. Everything is going wrong. “What are you—?”

“Learning from past mistakes,” she says, holding out her hand.

Without transition, the signet ring rests in her palm.