How Could I Ever Forget You?

Part 5 of The New Goddess

It’s spring, and I’m seated near father as he introduces to his court a new magician. It is considered auspicious to time announcements of major changes with the Feast of Augury, and so it is the first time most of the assembled guests hear the news that old Magister Lange has passed.

Magistra Velle immediately captures my attention with the way her personality seems to dominate the room. She is tall and aloof. Her exotic black dress shimmers, catching the light with rainbow hues like I’ve never seen before—father will later deny my request for one just like it—and I am captivated by the way her lips are painted black—again I will be denied—in defiance of all courtly norms of fashion. I watch the way she moves through the formal proceedings, cordial without a trace of warmth, greeting each member of the court with a just-so bow and a polite smile that never touches her eyes. They are intimidated by her, I realize, ill at ease with her manner.

It feels odd that I should not feel the same way. Though I’m acknowledged as an adult, I wield no authority that doesn’t come from my father. Velle is significantly older than me, fully in possession of her own arcane power. With a snap of her fingers, she could end my life. It would be wise to fear her, but it isn’t fear that quickens my pulse as I watch her.

The ceremony concludes with me, the royal heir, receiving her formal greeting.

“Princess Natalia.” Velle moves to offer her customary bow, but I preempt her by extending my hand. It’s an unusual gesture for this ceremony, but not altogether unprecedented, and to her credit, Velle hesitates for only an instant before taking my hand and pressing lips to it. The look she gives me afterward is unreadable, and it isn’t until she turns away that I exhale a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.

I slip away as the attention of the court shifts to the food our servants lay out for the feast. My heart pounds in my chest, so anxious am I about being witnessed as I find an unoccupied room to duck into. When I’m sure I’m alone, I lift my hand to admire the faint mark left behind. Velle’s lip color. I press my own lips to it, lingering far longer than the kiss she offered, until fear gets the better of me and I scrub my hand clean with furious urgency, returning to the feast with an uncontrollable flush in my face.

I remain unaware of the dark smudge on my lips until I retire to my room that night and see myself in the mirror.

Some years later and half a continent away, a young mortal woman pours me tea while her husband distracts their children from showing too much curiosity to this oddly dressed stranger in their midst.

“So what brings you to Tassica Village?” There’s no subterfuge in her thoughts, no ulterior motives lurking anywhere in her mind. These people are simply content to offer shelter to a weary traveler—as they assume I must be—as her journey takes her through their town.

“I’m here on a spiritual quest of sorts.” I sip from the steaming cup. The tea tastes like its components, but I feel gratitude toward the generosity that inspired it. “I’m making a pilgrimage to Mount Ossen, which I believe to be the final resting place of one of the old gods.”

My host raises her eyebrows in surprise, glancing out her window at the sleeping volcano that dominates the view. She assumes me to be a cultist of the old pantheon but doesn’t want to offend by telling me I don’t act as unpleasantly morbid as that type tends to be. With quick thinking, she saves herself from appearing rude by directing her commentary toward the tea. “They must like it hot where you’re from, yeah? I have to let mine cool down a bit still or I’ll be suffering from a burnt tongue for days.”

I smile warmly. “No, I confess I’m a bit unusual in my ability to tolerate heat.”

“Well, don’t be in too much of a rush to finish. I’d love to hear more about the kingdom you hail from. What was it called again?”

“Rutennia,” I repeat for her. “Far to the south of here, across the sea.”

“Wow! I’ve never met anyone from such a long way away. Will you stay for dinner and tell us of your home?”

I follow the local custom of declining the initial offer so as not to burden my host, then accepting when she and her husband team up to insist. These sorts of detours among mortals make for a welcome distraction from the pursuit of my ambitions. Someday a great many people like this will know who I am and bow down in worship, and time among them helps remind me why the worship of humans is a worthwhile prize.

I scream into my pillow until I go hoarse. They tell me I am an adult when it comes to matters of betrothal and marriage, but when I ask to have Magistra Velle give me private lessons in her craft, I’m suddenly just a teenage girl for whom it’s wildly inappropriate to study black magic. Sure, and when I’m no longer a teenager in a few years, the issue will be that I’m too old to begin studying, and I’m a princess besides, so really I should be focusing on other matters. I know an excuse when I hear one.

I bet Velle got started when she was just a child. She’s probably been practicing her whole life to be as cool-headed and powerful as she is today. I wish I could be like that.

Maybe I should accept my father’s compromise and let Haeland Marta teach me “a few healing spells.” I guess that must be okay because it’s not “magic for war.” Ugh.

But… now that I’m considering it, maybe it’s not so bad. I don’t get to spend more time with Velle like I want, but having magic that complements hers has its appeal. Imagine the two of us together… she throwing lightning bolts at our enemies while I cast a protective barrier to shield her from harm. But then someone gets past my defenses and shoots her with an arrow! She tells me she’s fine, but I know she’s just playing it cool like she always does.

Then I have to take her back home and tend to her wounds, and she resists, telling me “princess, I cannot rest while your enemies are still at the gates!”

And then I go, “but what about you?” with tears in my eyes.

“Who cares about me?” she says. “I’m just a court magician, and you’re royalty!”

And I say “I care! I care about you!”

And then she looks at me and realizes that there’s one person in this world who isn’t afraid of her, and, and…

Ohhh… I can’t let anyone know I’m thinking these kinds of things.

I scrub at my face with my hands. What’s wrong with me?

Another tremor. Laying down at the peak, I can feel the volcano threatening to erupt, pulsing and twitching, building to another surge soon. My hand strokes the earth, coaxing it further. I don’t care to wait a century for this one’s next scheduled eruption, nor even longer for the next truly major one. I hunger for what’s inside.

Before long I get what I want. A distant rumble builds into an explosive climax, flinging stone, filling the sky with ash, and flooding this whole slope with a surge of molten rock.


A second eruption washes over me, burying me deeper in lava. I’d be dead in at least four different ways if I were still mortal, but instead I remain dissatisfied. I plunge my senses deeper underground, wrap a hand of invisible force around the source of all this beautiful pyroclastic flow and squeeze until I get another, more powerful than the first two combined.

There we go.

I guide the lava’s flow to ensure it flows over me and past my body, the heat no more than a pleasurable caress that does not distract me from the prize it carries upward from deep under the earth into arms reach at last. I clasp a mummified hand and heave myself and the body up and out of the molten rock.

Here it is, the corpse of another god, unusually intact considering the conditions of its burial. Who were you that you had to be buried so inaccessible a place? How powerful were you in life that I could feel your energy calling to me with such mouthwatering might?

Most of the body is ready to crumble into dust, but I delicately unfurl brittle skin, push aside shriveled lumps of former organs, and find a perfectly preserved liver, still moist and quivering. It tries to jerk out of my grasp as soon as I lay hands on it, resisting me, forcing me to wrestle it into my mouth and fighting my efforts to rip it apart with my teeth and choke it down.

The power of every god wants a vessel, but they don’t like to share. No single god should wield the power of many. What I am doing is blasphemy.


Haeland Marta insists I help prepare Magister Lange’s body for the funeral ceremony. This has absolutely nothing to do with my studies and everything to do with the fact that she’s old and wants someone younger than her to do all the bending and moving that she can’t handle anymore.

Bleh. Some healer she is if she can’t even fix her own joints. I hear Istow’s are the best in the world, but despite them being our neighbor and ally, my father won’t pay to send for a real expert to tutor me. “Marta’s fine to teach enough of the basics to satisfy you.” He has no idea what I need to satisfy me. I could strangle him.

The old woman mutters to herself while passing a hand over the dead magician. “That’s not right…”

“What’s wrong, Haeland?”

She ignores my question, consulting the massive tome she has to lug around because she barely remembers her own training anymore. At last she stabs her finger at a page, clucks her tongue, and sighs. “That’s the one. Still remnants of it in his body. Poison. Ah, Your Highness, I should have checked before.”

I peer over her shoulder at the diagram of a familiar flower. Icy fingers grip my chest, and my breath hitches. I’ve seen some just like this once before: the day I snuck into Magistra Velle’s private rooms. Oh no. This is bad. If Marta tells someone, they might search the palace, and they might find the same poison that killed Magister Lange in Velle’s room, and… then she’ll be gone.

Maybe I can prevent that from happening. There probably won’t be another chance. I can do this. I have to cast the spell I’ve been practicing, but with just the right mistake. Haeland Marta told me how dangerous healing can be if you err in certain ways, and…

I put my hand on the old woman’s shoulder and heal her exactly wrong. Her heart is weak, and it doesn’t take much of a nudge to stop it altogether.

Oh. Oh no. Did I really just…? This was a mistake. This was a huge mistake. I bite my tongue hard to prevent myself from freaking out and screaming. I can undo it, right?

I cast the spell again, but correctly this time, and… nothing. I try again. And again and again. “You can’t bring someone back from the dead, girlie,” Haeland Marta once told me, and she’s wrong because she’s old and stupid and not as good as the healers from Istow, and…

I sob into my hands. What have I done? I… I…

I helped Velle. That’s what’s important, right? And, and, and now they’ll have to send for someone to replace Haeland Marta. Maybe one of the real experts. So this could be a good thing. Good for both of us.

Someday I’ll learn how to resurrect the dead. I’ll learn how to fix my mistakes. And this, this is a mistake, even if turns out for the best. I mustn’t make a habit of solving my problems this way.

Panting, sweating, heaving, spasming. This one is too much. It’s much too much. The power of fully three gods inside me. Three gods! Hahahahaha!

It’s too much.

No, no, no, damn it all, no. I will not surrender. I will have it all. There are many more powers to consume after this. This world is littered with them, and I can feel every last one calling out to me.

More like screaming my name in fear.

Whatever dwindling will lingers in each one, they hate that a human has elevated herself above them. Hahahahaha, let them hate. They are lost without me. They are dead and food to me.

A sickening pop inside me curls my body into the fetal position. Blood bursts from my pores, oozing like sweat. Maybe no human is really capable of containing this much power. I feel it threatening to split me open on a spiritual level. This could kill me.

I refuse. My soul is unconquerable. I will grow to accommodate my hungers.

I gave Nina the body she always ached for. I sculpted a palace in the sky for her and Jay to live the lives they deserve. I can do anything, except… No, I can’t die before taming her, can I?

Deep breaths. I just need to expand my sense of self. If a human soul cannot contain this much power, then I will evolve beyond human limits. Monster or dragon or demon, whatever it takes to devour all the gods and all the powers that died on this world, I will become what I must.

“Natalia’s aptitude for healing is remarkable, Your Highness, and she’s shown such enthusiasm for the topic as well.” Haeland Moore takes a moment to smile at me with pride. “I would be happy to accept her proposal. I daresay in two more years she’ll earn the title Haeland herself.”

“Her title is already Princess,” my father grumbles. “There are few higher aside from my own.”

“Quite so. It’s just that, ah, in Istow, as you know, one of our most revered monarchs was…”

“You would have me send my only daughter away to study healing magic.” He openly sneers at the idea.

Magistra Velle chimes in. “I say let her go. You have a rebellion to squash, and moving your heir farther from the front lines is a prudent choice.”

The king rubs his temple with two fingers in frustration. “After your most recent blunder, Magistra, I’m much less inclined to trust your judgment—oh, how I wish Lange were still with us—but you may have a point. And after the last two promising suitors turned out to have such weak constitutions,” he sighs, “and the unexpected death of that tutor from Melland as well… perhaps we should let our little bad luck charm be someone else’s problem for a while. If she happens to learn enough to keep her next suitor alive for more than a few weeks in her company, so much the better.”

This might be the first time I’ve heard those three mentioned in connection with me as the common thread before. Perhaps it’s the same for Velle, as some unreadable expression crosses her face, and she shifts her gaze to me appraisingly. I blush, as I always do when she pays attention to me, returning her look with a shy smile. I hope she understands we’re on the same team here.

Haeland Moore ignores everything except his opening. “She will learn how to do that much and more. You have my word, Your Majesty.”

“I’ll take your word, and to that I’ll add a knight to accompany her. Someone not too important, in case her bad luck strikes again. Maybe Count Warren’s boy?” He waves a hand. “Go, make the arrangements before I change my mind.”

I mouth the words “wait for me,” to Magistra Velle, who makes no movement to acknowledge them. I’ll be back for you. I promise.

I have no way of knowing it will be nearly five years before I return, and by then Velle, stripped of her title, will have vowed revenge on the royal family, setting out on a quest to ascend to godhood.

I’m stable. Stable enough, at least. Warped and deformed by swallowing something far larger than I should have, but I live. It still fights, but with effort perhaps I can mold my body back into something that appears familiar to others.

I cast my eyes about my surroundings, examining the devastation around the volcano. The lava appears to have mostly cooled already. How much time have I spent wrestling with the digestion process? I really should return home.

Wait, that spot over there. That’s where Tassica was, wasn’t it? Funny how it never even occurred to me to warn anyone that I was planning on provoking this eruption, and that Tassica would be wiped out.

I float down to the spot where kind people showed me uncomplicated hospitality. I pity them, but I feel no particular attachment to them. Mortals die all too easily, right? Does it even matter?

Should I choose to be a merciful god? Would it mean anything in the long run? No, these are the wrong questions. I am a god. I have more power coursing through me than has anyone who ever walked the world. I can do anything. All that matters is what it pleases me to do.

Today I think it would please me to offer magnanimity. It suits me to reward these people for their hospitality. Like puppies, mortals must be conditioned with suitable rewards that encourage behaviors I approve of. I’ve performed a resurrection once before, what’s a few more?

Carve an opening in the cooled lava with a wave of my hand. Restore the plants, the homes, everything burnt to ash, including animals and human bodies. Trace the souls and pull them back. My divine energy is still erratic, it still wants to fight me, but even so this is a shockingly easy task—no not a “task,” I am performing divine miracles, and I laugh with pleasure as I continue.

I can do better than restoring a piece of this flawed world to itself, though, can’t I? I can make it better. Let the land be more fertile, the crops more robust, the buildings sturdier, the people stronger and healthier. I’ll nudge the atmospheric currents such that these people will never see another typhoon nor dry season. Even that is a trifle.

I do my best to pull my body back into human shape, but the struggle to contain everything is profound. I hardly even notice that the sun has set because right now I am pure daylight, and the one thing that feels beyond me now is to appear as I did when I first arrived. Almost in unison, the villagers awaken, and they are drawn to me like moths. As is only natural, they fall to their knees and heap prayers upon me. It’s beyond anything I ever imagined. One man reaches toward me—oh, the husband who hosted me earlier—and drunk on worship, I permit a finger to gently graze one of his.

He collapses into convulsions, his mind flooded with tiny, chaotic shards of my own sight. He babbles uncontrollably with fragments of phrases almost like truths and—

Ah, I seem to have broken him. That’s… exciting, actually. Terribly exciting. Maybe it’s the intoxication of so much worship, or maybe it’s the wild divine might pushing me to the ragged edge of self control, but I like what that did to him, and I will not undo it.

I shall inspire the understanding that contact with me has gifted him divine visions, and these people will venerate him as a prophet or oracle. Let them gather around and admire the beauty of a mind shattered by contact with the new goddess of this world.

Home again, I rest. I grant my little bird a boon.

I digest. My pet princess and I have a date.

I remember self-control. By the time I visit Velle I’m downright stable.

“I hope you’re ready to be tamed.” I speak the words with such profound gentleness that her ears don’t even rupture.