Lady of the Waking Nightmare

Part 11 of The New Goddess

Not what I would call ideal timing for You to indulge Your hunger, Goddess, I have to say. Did You really have so much faith in the three of us, or have You been lying even to me about how in control of Your urges You are?

Stalking Nina and Velle as they descend through the palace, it’s immediately clear that Velle has regained some of her former self. How much, I wonder? I want to believe that her brusque attitude with the princess is a matter of urgency, and that her heart has not entirely discarded the woman she loved just this morning.

I believe in her. Whatever memories she regains, Velle would never hurt Nina. However, I also believe in being careful, so I stick to the shadows and follow at a distance. She would definitely hurt me, and the Goddess… well, I hope she still can’t hurt the Goddess.

Following them through the catacombs and down into secret passageway, we find a hidden chamber illuminated by a bright green glow radiating from the center of the room. The king is here ahead of us. I take it that’s a bad thing by the tense body language I’m seeing. Right, they said something about him being in a cult against the Goddess. I bet he’s the one who did something to Her then.

Alright, clear enough, I’ll call him the big threat. The room’s pillars cast deep shadows around the wall, and there are tall shelves to supplement the nooks carved into the pillars and walls. They all overflow with offerings of gold, gems, and assorted worthless garbage that once seemed so very important to me. For now, the shelves are useful to hide behind, but the trinkets are a noise risk if I accidentally knock something over.

Velle takes a threatening step forward, rambling about plans, and with a flourish of her hand, a dagger falls from her sleeve into her palm. The king is distracted, he doesn’t notice how she slips it onto a pile of offerings in the nearby nook.

I don’t mind snatching that up for myself while ducking past. Yeah, yeah, keep yelling at each other. I’ve got a knife now, and I’m coming for you, old man. I just need to slink around the room until I get a clear line of sight, hopefully before…

“No! Impudent worm! You will die by—”

Ready or not, that’s my cue. The dagger leaves my favorite hand, flipping end over end to plunge itself right in the chest of our enemy.

Ha! Got you!” I leap out of the shadows and with a deft flip I stomp the king’s head into paste. “Oh, you’re gonna taste so good. About time I got to kill you!”

Huh, why aren’t the other two joining my victory dance? I look back at them.

“You two okay? No congratulations for stopping this guy? Hey, what’s with the ring?”

Nina tugs on the other woman’s sleeve, a pleading look on her face. “Velle, you’re scaring me…”

The ring glows with its own light, illuminating Velle’s wild-eyed grin of pure rapture. “The power of a god in the palm of my hand. Everything I’ve worked for. At last.”

Oh. That’s disappointing. “You haven’t given up on that yet?”

“My dear, I never give up.”

“W-what do you mean to do?” Nina asks, a tremble in her voice.

“Natalia, first of all.” The sorceress lifts her eyes upward as though seeing through all the layers of stone above us to Her palace in the heavens. “She will not tolerate a rival. That I have claimed this power will inspire an immediate confrontation with me, I’m sure. She is also in a state more vulnerable than ever. It must be now.”

“Please, Velle. You know She loves you.”

“She loves me, yes, I have felt that love. It’s one that strips you bare and remakes you, is it not? I believe the time has come for dear Natalia to learn what it is like to be loved in the same way.” As Velle speaks, she grips her collar, she pulls, and—somehow remaining closed and unbroken—it comes away from her neck.

I should say something. Fumbling for the right words, I take a step forward. “Uhhhhh…”

The room detonates. I miss my chance.

Molten light hisses and flows and piles itself high in the center of the room. Even for me it hurts to stare into, but no matter what form She takes I still recognize my Goddess.

It does seem to take Her unusually long to congeal into a proper form, though. C’mon, Goddess, you can do it. There are the eyes, I think. And, uh, that’s probably a mouth, more or less. Alright, there She goes, making limbs and such. Take Your time, we can all wait politely.

Okay, well most of us can wait politely. Velle, however, snaps her old collar around the Goddess’s neck as soon as She forms something resembling a neck.

“Think of this as a dream, if you’d like. Only this time I get to influence the stage.”

With a groan I open my eyes into darkness. Still in prison. I always knew I’d die in prison someday, shackled to a cell wall just like this. When is my next meal? When was my last? Does it matter? The guards only toss me enough scraps to take the edge off my hunger, not enough to sate anything. Still, it’s been far too long. Something has gone wrong, and judging by the advancing eerie glow outside my cell, it’s getting worse.

If whatever’s out there doesn’t get me, I expect to starve to death like my cellmate did. Funny, I never asked her what her crime was, but then I’m also not even sure I remember which ones they decided to get me for. The woman was a maid or something, I think. Said her name was Velle, and however sharp her tongue, she was better company alive than dead.

With that creepy glow getting brighter, I’m able to see more of the details in here, including something written on the wall in blood. The jagged, cruel letters read:


Creepy. Downright upsetting, even. But, hey, bright side: it’s very unlikely that’s aimed at me, right? That’s a little too ominous a threat toward a cutpurse. Normally you’d just say, “you’re gonna die, bitch,” or something.

Then who? It feels like I’m forgetting something. Velle, maybe? As the glow steadily increases, I can make out more of the details of her body. That’s some kind of maid dress on her corpse, alright. She isn’t even shackled, just dead in a pool of her own blood—I guess she didn’t starve to death after all—one blood-soaked arm reaching toward me, pointing me to something else written in more blood on the floor. In a small and shaky hand, “SHE NEEDS HER PICKLOCK.” Nearby, a small lock pick rests on the floor, like she was trying to bring it to me in her final moments.

Aw, hell. That could have almost been useful if I could dislocate my wrist and reach the lock on my shackles. Or if I had another pair of hands, I guess.

That jogs a memory. No, this is all wrong. I should have another pair of hands. I do have another pair of hands. Where the hell are they? You can’t do this to me. I don’t care who you are, nobody has the power to simply erase a blessing from my Goddess!

Oh my Goddess, how did I forget You? I understand now. I am trapped in an illusion. Someone is trying to rewrite my memories like You can, but whoever they are, they underestimate the power of my faith in You. I just need to open my eyes—the rest of them—and see myself as I truly am. The illusion trapping my mind is just another lock, and if I can feel around to determine the shape of it, I can put pressure where it needs to go, and…

My vision expands, the shadows receding from my many-eyed gaze. I pluck the lock pick off the ground and free my two chained hands with a flick of my wrist. Well! I’m glad I don’t get headaches from remembering myself like Velle or Nina. I have to assume it’s because I’m particularly clever at traps like that; headaches can’t lock me down.

Outside the cell, I am a little bit extremely disturbed by all the awful fleshy tendrils growing wild along every surface like red veins through the prison. The farther I go, the denser they seem to grow, until the entire hallway from floor to ceiling becomes nothing more than a grotesque fleshy pipe. I don’t know what this stuff is. It squishes unpleasantly with every step, and it tastes terrible too.

As I explore, the halls feel less carved and more grown, twisting and turning and pulsing living flesh defining my path without offering me any direction to go but forward, and so I go forward.

My ears catch the familiar sound of fighting up ahead, and I get down on all sixes to bolt toward the source as fast as possible. Before long the tunnel opens into a cavern so enormous that at first I was convinced I had escaped outside the palace. No. The living walls just soar high above where the light can reach, fading into darkness without revealing any sky overhead.

Come to think of it, I don’t see any light sources around. Maybe that unearthly glow is just coming directly from these growths? I wouldn’t mind being able to do that myself, at least for times I’m not trying to be sneaky.

The sound of a strangled cry reminds me not to get too distracted admiring the scenery. I race ahead and find a battlefield littered with the corpses of nightmarish creatures just like the ones continuing to swarm the knight at the center of the gore. Clad head-to-toe in full plate armor, with sword and shield in hand, the knight stands alone, miraculously standing their ground.

If that’s who I think it is, I have to help her.

As much as I love my knives, my body itself is a living weapon. I dive into the melee, biting and gouging and ripping my enemies to shreds. They’re wyrms, I’m pretty sure, though I was never a botanist or whatever, I just remember Goddess describing creatures like this to me once. Wingless, eyeless, scaly beasts the size of a medium dog… yeah, these match the description. They have acidic blood, but so do I, so I’m sure I’ll be fine.

One grabs me from behind and hisses something in my ear:


I swear to Goddess the little shit would have ripped me to pieces if it hadn’t been so eager to deliver that message. As it is, I barely had time to twist and throw it into the wide sweeping arc of the knight’s blade.

With my help, the battle ends, leaving the knight pointing that sword warily in my direction. “I do not know what manner of creature you are,” the knight says in a voice that barely hides the sorrow behind it, “but you will keep your distance from the priestess in my charge.”

At those words, I notice the crumpled and bloody body at the knight’s feet, and I fear I know whose face it wears.

“Nina.” That voice is wrong, but I know the speaker. I slowly raise all my hands in as nonthreatening a gesture as I know how to make. “It’s me, Jackie. Jackdaw. Jay-jay?” No reaction. “Or as you liked to call me the last time you wore that body, ‘blasted scoundrel,’ but I know you said it with a certain fondness after you warmed up to me, and even though you never did kiss me, I’m pretty sure you wanted to, and while I probably would have been down even then, I think we can all agree you got a lot hotter after Goddess got Her hands on you, right?”

Some of that must sound familiar, with the tip of that sword wavering and then lowering as I speak.

“Goddess…?” The shield falls. One gauntleted hand moves to cradle the knight’s head as she staggers backward a step, stature shifting as her memory returns. Nina pulls her helmet off, restored to herself again. “Jackie. Oh, Goddess, it’s really you!”

At first I think she’s going to hug me, but instead she falls to her knees and directs my attention toward the body at her feet. “It’s Velle. My Velle. I couldn’t protect her.” Tears streak her face, and she shakes her head in frustration. “I don’t understand what’s happening anymore!”

“I think I’ve just about figured it out,” I offer. “Goddess and Velle are fighting for control of all that god power. Velle’s trying to keep us distracted or out of the way while she tries to claim it, but Goddess is using Her influence to help. She gave you a version of Velle that was still Her loyal priestess. She gave me a version of Velle who was still a loyal maid. I escaped because of Loyal Velle’s help. Both died, though, Velle killing off any version of herself that has feelings for us.” Oh no, if I think about this too much longer I might start crying too. “I think… the Velle we know is just dead now.”

Nina continues kneeling in silence at the corpse of the woman she loves. I don’t know how much time we have, if there is any time at all to fix this, but she deserves a moment to grieve. When she raises her head to look at me again, I am surprised to see a steely determination in her eyes, rather than grief.

“No. You can’t just kill a part of yourself that easily, even if you think you want to.”

I give Velle’s body a kick. “Seems pretty dead to me.”

“Velle probably believes she is her old self again, like she made me believe I was. And just like you broke that illusion about myself, we need to break hers.”

Now there’s a better plan than anything I’ve come up with so far.

We travel the path laid out for us. The open cavern slopes downward until it leads to a gaping hole that quivers and belches moist air, and so we descend into the pit. From the pit, we trek through tunnel after glistening tunnel of throbbing flesh leading us in the only direction we are permitted to go. The effect is to give us both the unsettling impression of traveling through the body of some leviathan that has devoured us whole. Maybe that’s not so far from the truth.

The tunnel opens into a cavity in our host’s body, and it’s there that we finally see what has become of our Goddess.

Well, I see it, but I don’t think I understand it. In the center of the cavity, our Goddess—wearing Her human form—writhes and struggles, bound in chains. The mass of quivering flesh rises from the floor to claim Her body from the waist down as though devouring Her, sending red tendrils climbing up Her naked body.

The chains sparkle with a familiar emerald light, extending from the Goddess outward toward the walls in all directions like spokes on a wheel. Chains coil around Her waist, running up to the ceiling. Her arms are lifted, outstretched in both directions, chained to opposite sides of the room. Four more chains connect to Her collar, each pulled taut as they stretch toward the wall. Velle herself stands before our Goddess, holding Her head in both hands, murmuring a chant I can’t hear above all the voices in the room.

The voices are coming from the walls, I realize. A shifting mass of contorted faces lines the room, speaking and moaning. I think I hear the word “hubris” every now and then, but it takes a while before enough of them stumble into the right timing to speak in unison and I can make out a whole sentence.


I watch as one, gnawing on the chain closest to it, bites clean through, freeing one of the Goddess’s arms. Velle glares in that direction, and the chain reforms, splitting out into four new points to anchor on the wall. Before returning her attention to the Goddess, however, she spots Nina and me.

Sweating blood, wild-eyed, with spittle flecking her lips, she shouts at us. “She resists! Even now. Even still! Even dying, Natalia resists me! Don’t you dare do the same!”

Now is our chance. I can tell that Nina is paralyzed by fear, by lack of understanding, but it’s okay, I’ve got it. “Velle! Please! Remember who you are!”

Velle gives me that look, the one she’s so fond of directing my way. That’s fine, I just need to try a little harder. I gesture to my right. “Remember Nina? You love her, and she loves you!”

The new god of the Waking Nightmare shouts back. “Are you stupid? Fool of a jester, I should kill you again right now. Do you have any idea—”

“You’re Her priestess!” I yell in desperation. “You love the Goddess and She loves you!”

“I don’t have time for this.” With a gesture, Velle’s power grips both Nina and me, dragging us toward her.

Up close I can better appreciate the toll that this conflict has taken on the sorceress. Dark rings hang under bloodshot eyes framed with bloodshot sweat. My Goddess looks no better, haggard and drained and mutely pleading with such a pitiable expression on her face that it breaks my heart.

Velle has been devoting too much of her attention to us. Several chains shatter in a row, and I watch how, without their support, the Goddess slips deeper into the roiling sea of flesh.


The faces speak in unison, but not quite loud enough to cover the cry of dismay from Velle herself. She dives to wrap her arms around the Goddess and heave her upward, barely reclaiming half of what the floor just tried to consume. Velle releases us from the grip of her power in order to speak new chains into being, dozens of them to replace the ones that broke, still more wrapping around the Goddess to chain Velle’s own body to Hers.

“Stupid girl. Surrounded by stupid disciples.” Are those tears streaking through the blood-soaked sweat on her face? “We are all going to die because I cannot trust you, and you will not trust me.”

The floor quivers. The Goddess slips a little deeper, dragging Velle along with. Nina leaps into action, gripping one of the chains and heaving with all her might. I follow her lead, reaching for the chain nearest me. I think it’s helping, slowing whatever this flesh is trying to do to our Goddess—“devour” her is a reasonable guess—but for how long can we keep this up? I’m straining as hard as I can, with all the strength of someone who is distinctly not a god, and still the two of them keep falling farther.

“Natalia.” Velle speaks with more gentleness than I’ve heard from her in ages. “I do love you. Despite my best efforts to not fall in love, even. Please believe me. Let down your guard and help me save you from yourself.”

The sorceress kisses our Goddess, and both of them sink into the all-consuming mass of flesh, vanishing from sight.

I realize that I may have misunderstood the situation.