When Selesti stepped off the White Ship, she did not look back until she had turned the corner into an alley, but her emotions when she did so were mixed. She felt sadness at what she had done to Arietta, but she knew also that her betrayal had been necessary for Arietta to let her go. That woman would have forgiven her for so much, she knew, but she also realized she didn’t want to be forgiven, not yet, not when she still ached with a desire she could not control. It was easier for both of them this way. They had gone their separate ways, and could hurt each other no longer, though Selesti knew that they would never forget the love that had once been between them.
Feeling her desire grow more urgent, she knew that she had to seek answers, and what better place to do that then in a city of sin? Perhaps there would be something here to finally sate her permanent craving and give her some relief, if there was any such thing. She had thrown her morals to the wind, knowing that clinging to thoughts of being pure would only make this harder for her to bear. She was not pure, she had been raped, abused and experimented upon until she was just a monster filled with desire, human no longer, just a creature who needed to copulate to survive.
It had not always been that way, though now she had become the person her critics always believed she would – the whore who would take sex from any giver. When she had came out as bisexual all those years ago in Garania, she encountered derision from both sides – lesbians afraid she was merely experimenting and would leave them for a man and prove their detractors right, and straight people who feared the homosexual part of the equation. Others called her a slut, a woman who wanted the best of both worlds with no commitment. It had never been that way. She felt love for both sexes, for all people, as well as desire. It was not merely a sexual thing, but a simple human need to love and be loved – a mind that was wider than the usual definitions, the binary mind of most people who were attracted to one gender only. Not that all people were attractive to Selesti – there were many who she never would have thought of in that way. But she had found Arietta, and they had fallen for each other’s distinctive personalities, and terms of sexuality, for the first time, hadn’t seemed to matter at all.
Selesti moved through the alley until she saw the candles and red curtains that meant she had found a brothel. San Ria’s pleasure houses were famous the world over for their exotic selection – men, women, transsexuals, drag queens – almost any taste that did not involve non-consensual abuse could be sated. Right now, Selesti did not care. She desired, she needed, she burned with want and need. Hurrying down the stairs into the darkness, she opened the door to see silken curtains of all colors blowing in the breeze, women wearing teasing garments to tempt the waiting customers. Some men stood around, gazing at the women and slowly making their choices. They were in no hurry, they came here often, and it was more of a social gathering then a real desire for sex. She hurried to the wooden counter, where a middle-aged woman, the madam of the establishment, stood waiting.
“What can I help you with?” she said, eyeing Selesti with curiosity. Women did not often come to these places, and Selesti hoped that it would not be a problem – she was breaking out in a sweat, her hands clenched together to keep them from groping herself through her tight bodysuit.
“I need…” she said, “Anybody will do. Just… hurry.” Selesti took deep gulps of air to keep herself calm. It was getting worse, she realized. The fire burned deeper now, was almost painful to live with. Before she had just wanted, desired, craved. Now she needed, and it took over every cell of her body, overriding rationality and control.
“I’ll need to see some coin first,” the lady said. Selesti pulled a coin purse from her side, and emptied the few coins she had salvaged from the girls on the ship onto the table.
“This is mostly Garanian money,” the woman said, “I can’t accept this. I’m sorry.”
“Please,” Selesti said, despair rising up inside her, “I need this so badly.” Some of the men were starting to look at her strangely, and Selesti knew she would make one of the old men an offer soon, anything to earn some temporary relief.
The woman at the counter was looking her over, as if pondering something, “Come with me,” she said, “I’ll see what we can do.”
“Thank you,” Selesti managed, and she followed the lady to an empty room. The lady closed the door behind her, and started to unlace her shirt.
“I’ll help you if you help me,” she said, “If I pleasure you, show me what you’ve got, and maybe I’ll offer you a job. A craving like yours is an unusual one, but well-suited to this line of work.”
Selesti was already peeling off her bodysuit, “Please,” she said, and the middle-aged woman nodded. She was usually pretty for a woman of her age, a well-rounded woman with long red hair. Selesti gasped as the woman slid her fingers into her with practiced ease, leaning down to lick her as she explored deep inside. She came almost instantly, providing her with a few moments of relief.
“Thank you…” she said, tears in her eyes, “But soon… it will be back…”
The woman stroked her arm gently, “I’ve seen some like you,” she said, “The job offer is still available. You won’t have to service any clients you don’t want to, and you’ll be able to satisfy your cravings. You’ll have room and food provided for you, and keep a good percentage of your earnings for yourself. How about it?”
Selesti nodded. Deep inside, underneath the fog of hormones, she felt sorrow that she had sunk to this level, that she truly was going to be a whore, but this was the only way. She had no money, and no other way of satisfying her desire in a city where she knew nobody.
“I’ll do it,” she said, “Thank you.”
“It was my pleasure,” she said, “Truly, you have a nice body. What is your name?”
“I’m Selesti,” she said, “What about you?”
“I’m Alandra,” she replied, “Rest here for a while. When you are ready to take customers, let me know.”
When Selesti later lay on her side to sleep, tears finally came to her. She had serviced fifteen customers, all men, mostly middle-aged, probably with wives and children. Alandra had told her both with pride and a look of concern that no woman had ever taken so many customers in one day, and handed her a large stack of San Rian currency. Selesti had stashed it under her bed, saving it for a surgery she knew she might have to have.
After she had been raped and tortured in Garania, injected with vast amounts of hormones in an effort to “normalize” her, she had miscarried a child. It was early, but the pain was still incredible, and the blood had seemed to flow endlessly. A doctor was sent to attend to her from the outside, and he had remarked on the high level of hormones in her blood.
“I desire all the time,” she had told him, “Even when I am in pain.”
“There is something wrong with you,” he said, “You should not be producing hormones at an insane level like this.”
“Don’t lie to me,” she said, “You know what they do in here. You must know. Are you just afraid to acknowledge it, in the fear that your moral center might force you to do something about it?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said, but he did not meet her eyes, “At this rate, you’ll be driven insane with desire. There may be only one cure for this…”
“What is it?” she asked, resigned to the fact that the doctor would not acknowledge her circumstances.
“Drastic surgery to remove the womb and ovaries,” he said, “It would most likely kill all sexual desire, but you would at least be free from this…”
“They sent you to threaten me, I suppose?” Selesti said, “To make my sterilization seem like a mercy after all the torture they have inflicted on me!? Get out!” She pulled at her shackles, but they held fast to the wall. The doctor seemed to recoil and his eyes hardened, as though he had been treating a human being for a moment only to see she was in fact just an animal.
“Guards, let me out now,” he had said, and he hadn’t taken another look at her as he picked up his case and walked in measured steps down the hallway.
After they had released her to ensnare Arietta, she had visited another doctor, saying nothing of her torture, only complaining of increased sexual desire. He conducted the same tests and came to the same conclusion.
“Thanks,” she said, leaving, “I’ll think it over,” but she hadn’t thought it over, not until now, not until it had finally become this unbearable. Now it seemed like it would be a small trade. Yet still there was pride stopping her, a sort of internal rebellion that treasured her sexuality and wanted to keep it to spite the Moral Revolution that had done this to her. She would rather be a whore and give it away freely then become the sexless citizen that the Moral Revolution would have her be if they could not change her.
Yet still, she felt the presence of the money under her bed, compelling her to be free from this, and she cried herself to sleep.
Selesti ate in the common room with all the other sex workers, though she spoke to few of them. She knew they were not bad people, but she was jealous of them, jealous of the fact that they could use their sexual desire as a tool, instead of it using them, envious of the fact that they laughed and lived happily, seeming to feel no guilt or shame like she did. They were ordinary people ready to go to work, while she was being dragged along in the current, fighting to survive, almost wanting to be pulled under so it could all end.
Alandra approached her in the dining room, “Selesti, I want you to be outside today,” she said, “You can have your share of the customers you bring in, but I think you’ll be an excellent advertisement. Come with me.”
Alandra led Selesti wordlessly to a dressing room, where all kinds of silken garments in all sizes and colors hung, “Why don’t you look through and pick something you like?” she said.
“All right,” Selesti said, and started to look through the clothing.
“Why do you look so sad, Selesti?” Alandra said, “There’s no shame in what we do. The world needs us just as it needs soldiers, politicians and hunters. We are essential to keeping society together, and hold a privileged place in society because of it. Wives resent our power over men, but many also breathe a sigh of relief when they know their husbands come here, because they know we represent no danger to their family unit, like having an affair would.”
“You enjoy this job, don’t you?” Selesti asked.
“It’s a social occupation,” Alandra said, “You get to meet some very interesting people, and learn some fascinating secrets about the struggles of man. Like you, you’re an enigma. Who are you really, and where are you from? Who are you that you both desire sex and hate it at the same time? I see shame in your eyes, yet you are the one who begged me for sex.”
Selesti looked away, “I am Selesti. Originally I am from Garania. More than that… I am not sure even I know any more.”
“So something happened to you,” Alandra said, “It’s all right if you don’t want to talk about it. Just smile a little, okay? I don’t want customers to think you’re here against your will. Nothing drives business away like that. And if you have truly changed your mind, you are welcome to leave at any time, with all the money you have earned. I don’t want to work with people who don’t want to be here.”
“I need to be here,” Selesti said, “For now, this is where I’ll stay, and I think you for your generosity. I am troubled by many things, but none of them are because of you.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Alandra said, “I did wonder if I had been too forward, offering you this job. Sometimes I’m a little too eager to recruit beautiful women like you.” She looked through the racks again and pulled out a silken red dress, which showed off the cleavage and teased a glimpse of the legs.
“This will look sexy,” Alandra smiled, and moved a hand to help Selesti undress but Selesti held Alandra’s hand at arm’s length. Alandra pulled back, “I’m sorry,” she said.
“No, I’m sorry,” Selesti said, “When people touch me, it just makes me desire more. It’s easier if you don’t.”
Alandra nodded, “I’ll give you some privacy, then,” she said, and left quickly. Selesti sighed inwardly, knowing she had hurt Alandra’s feelings and feeling bad about it. Alandra had given her kindness and showed her warmth, and she paid it back with cold aloofness.
Few people came to the brothel that day, and Alandra came back at midday with a pale look on her face.
“Jamien Talenqua has been assassinated!” she said, “Tell everybody!” They rushed down the stairs, spreading the news. Many politicians left quickly. The sex workers gathered around.
“Who is Jamien Talenqua?” Selesti asked.
“He was our best hope in the upcoming election…” Alandra said, “His opponent, Valen, feeds on the Moral Revolution’s demagoguery to stir up feelings amongst his followers. There have been many attacks on brothels and gay establishments since Valen stood for the election… Talenqua was open-minded and supported us. I thought he might win, but now he’s been killed… The election is very soon, and Valen will not delay it and let the opposition find and promote a quality candidate.”
“So the Moral Revolution is coming here, too…” One of the girls said, “I suppose it’s time for me to move on.”
Selesti felt a feeling of nausea sweep over her. She had escaped the Moral Revolution in Garania, just to have it follow her here? Was there any place where she could be free? She thought of the White Ship, and wondered if she should seek it out, but she knew she could not, even if it meant her doom. She could not face hurting Arietta with her presence any longer. No, she had left Arietta behind for a reason. She would not endanger her for her own self-preservation again.
“If you want to run, I don’t blame you,” Alandra said. “You could be imprisoned or worse. I’m going to stay and fight, though. I was born in San Ria. I can’t bear to just stand by and watch it abandon its heritage for this new wave of so-called morality.”
The brothel was closed for the day, and Selesti sat in her room. She tried to pleasure herself, but the fire was worse today, even as it mingled with fear, desperation and horror at the news of the impending election of Valen and the end of her future here. She would have to run, she could not stay here and face it once again.
Tortured by her desire, she cried even as she touched herself. Orgasm after orgasm rocked her but still she felt no relief. The room seemed to become hotter and hotter, as though she were on fire.
When Alandra entered later on to see if she was all right, she found Selesti on the floor. Rushing to her side, she felt her forehead and felt her burning up. Picking her up, she placed her on the bed. Rushing out into the corridor, she found one of her girls loafing around the building.
“Get a doctor!” she cried, “Selesti is burning up with a fever!” The girl nodded and ran off, racing up the steps and out of sight.
Alandra returned to Selesti, preparing cool towels and putting them on her head, and stripping her down. She sat on a chair next to Selesti, her head in her hands.
“It’s happening again…” Alandra muttered, “What’s wrong with you Garanian woman? What are they doing to you there?”
As she spoke, the girl returned with the doctor. Selesti stirred, and tried to reach down and touch herself, but Alandra held her wrist.
“I should have known she would get sick like Sara did,” Alandra said, ‘It’s all my fault. I suspected something was wrong. I should have come to you right away!”
“It may not be too late,” the doctor said, “Let me have a look at her.”
Alandra stood over them as the doctor examined Selesti. A group of the workers gathered around the doorway. Alandra went to the door and ordered them all to go to bed.
“She has a fever and an extremely high heart rate,” the doctor said, “She runs the risk of having a heart attack. I don’t know why, though. You say she has been suffering like Sara did, with increased sexual drive?”
“Yes,” Alandra said, “She came in off the street practically begging for sex.”
“Where is she from?” the doctor asked, “Perhaps it is some new form of sexual disease. If only I could talk to her and find out more…”
“She’s from Garania, just like Sara…” Alandra said, “Anything could have happened to her. Some of the rumors about the Moral Revolution…”
Selesti stirred, “Arietta…?” she murmured. Then she sat up a little, realizing where she was, “What happened?”
“Relax and lie back,” Alandra said, “You’re gravely ill, Selesti. We need you to talk to us. Tell us anything that might be useful.”
“I… I can’t!” Selesti said, “Please, there’s nothing you can do, so just leave me be…”
“Are you willing to just give up and die?” Alandra said, “What about Arietta, the girl’s name you called out? Would she want you to die?”
Selesti thought of Arietta, how she had finally found the courage to tell the woman she had loved for so long about what had happened to her. It had taken so long and so much pain for her to finally confess… now would she die, because she couldn’t find the courage to tell the doctor?
Selesti nodded, “Okay…” she said, “I don’t have much choice…”
Alandra closed the door and came back to sit beside the bed, “If you want me to leave, I’ll go,” she said.
“No, it’s all right,” Selesti said, “Perhaps it’s time the world knew… what’s going on in Garania…”
Alandra nodded and listened in closely, the doctor at her side.
“I was experimented on… they wanted to cure homosexuality. I was raped, tortured, injected with hormones and who-knows-what… and it left me like this… wanting, needing constantly…” Tears began to trickle down her cheeks, and Alandra pulled a handkerchief from her dress and handed it to Selesti, who wiped her eyes.
“They must have stimulated the body’s production of sex hormones into overdrive,” the doctor said, with cold scientific curiosity. He started to pace the room, his hand teasing his grey beard.
Alandra wanted to take Selesti’s hand, but knew she had to keep her distance, for Selesti’s sake. Yet she wanted to comfort this woman who had suffered so much before she had come into her care.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I should have known, Selesti… We had another girl here, about half a year ago, called Sara, who was also from Garania. She suffered the same way you did, but kept it to herself until it was too late. She slipped into a coma, and there was nothing we could do for her…”
“You probably can’t help me…” Selesti said, “Perhaps it is a blessing… then I won’t have to live like this any more… never feeling satisfied or at peace…”
“Don’t say that,” Alandra said, “You have to live, and help us fight back against the Moral Revolution! You have to tell your story to everybody, to make them understand what the Moral Revolution is really about!”
The doctor seemed to come to a conclusion, “I have some herbs which might help nullify some of the hormones,” he said, “If you take them and regulate your body, it may return to normal function by itself.”
“Can you get the herbs?” Alandra asked.
“Two of the ingredients are easy to come by, but one is only sold at a small apothecary across the city… With all the violence that has broken out since Talenqua’s death, it will be impossible to get there right now.” The doctor sighed, “Without it, though, I predict she will not last the night…”
“I will go,” Alandra said at once. She rushed to her room, grabbing a traveling cloak and throwing it on. When she returned to Selesti’s room, the doctor gave her a piece of paper with the herb’s name written on it.
“The apothecary is called Stardust and Son,” the doctor said, “Make haste, but be careful. I don’t want two people to die tonight.”
Alandra rushed outside, barely feeling the heavy rain that pelted down. Hurrying to her stable, she saddled her horse and rode. Despite the rain, the city’s residents were out in force, some protesting, some mourning, some fighting over Talenqua’s death. Crowds blocked her way at every turn, and she cursed every man who made her stop.
“Please I have to get through!” she cried, “A girl will die if I can’t get her medicine!” Desperation filled her heart as the rain soaked her to the skin.
As she talked, she saw San Rian soldiers leaving the courthouse and taking to the streets. The rabble’s attention focused on the guards, as they saw them as conspirators in the plot to kill Talenqua, and Alandra was able to break through.
The Apothecary District was filled with little curio shops like the one she was looking for, and the pounding rain obscured her vision. She wandered for what seemed like forever, checking the fading names on old signs and painted on dusty old windows.
Finally she found Stardust and Son and she entered the little cavern of a shop. She saw bottles of various powders, herbs and animal organs lining the walls. A wrinkled old man came out from the back, obviously startled out of a nap by the tinkling of the doorbell.
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” Alandra said, handing the old man the note, “but I need this herb urgently. A woman’s life is at stake.”
“A rare herb indeed,” the old man said, and went into the back room. After what seemed like an age, he came out with a small bottle, “There are three herbs in here,” he said, “This is probably the entire stock of San Ria. Use them wisely.”
Alandra’s eyes widened at the price, but she paid it without hesitation.
“Ah, so this is to save the life of one you care about,” the old man said, “She is a very lucky woman to have somebody care so much for her.”
When Alandra returned to the brothel, she was soaked to the bone, but she pulled the bottle of herbs out triumphantly. The doctor’s assistant was there, mixing herbs as the doctor gave him instructions.
“Not too late, thank goodness,” the doctor said, “Hurry, now.” He took the herbs from Alandra, looked at the bottle, took the cork out and sniffed. Nodding approvingly, he pulled a small pair of tweezers from his pocket and picked up one of the leaves, putting it into the mixture his assistant was preparing. Soon the assistant’s bowl was filled with a fine paste, and the doctor handed it to Alandra.
“Give her one spoonful of this paste every hour until the fever breaks,” the doctor said, “I will be back in the morning, but if the fever hasn’t broken by then, it will be unlikely she will survive…”
Alandra nodded and took the bowl, gently waking Selesti and giving her a spoonful of the paste. She swallowed it and fell back to sleep.
Alandra was exhausted, but she let fear keep her awake. She did not want to lose this young woman who had been through so much, who was so beautiful and yet had been treated in such a way. She could not believe the lengths the Moral Revolution had gone to in order to destroy what they saw as ‘sexual deviants’, and now the fear was strong in Alandra that soon, San Ria would be the same. Could a city change overnight, discarding the status quo in favor of a whole new political system? She had never seen San Ria become extreme in all the years she had lived there. It had swayed between more liberal and conservative periods, but she had never had to live in fear for her life.
She realized she feared more than just losing her life or her business. If they destroyed who she was… how could she go on? She enjoyed her sexuality, was proud of it and all the people it had brought into her life. What would she be if they pumped her full of hormones and turned her out onto the streets? She felt horror in her gut.
Alandra resolved not to lose sight of herself, no matter what they did to her. She would stay and fight for herself and all the friends and people who relied on her.
She checked Selesti’s temperature and sighed dejectedly, giving her another treatment of the paste. She realized she had grown fond of Selesti, even though she had only known her for a day. She wanted to see who Selesti really was, when the fog of hormones and desire had been taken away from her and her real personality was allowed to shine through. If she died tonight…
Alandra didn’t want to think of burying another victim of the Moral Revolution. It had hurt enough to hear Selesti’s testimony and understand that the same must have happened to Sara, too. She had loved Sara, with her long, brown hair. She was a shy girl, deep down, but she too had come to them possessed with desire, and it had changed her bit by bit until Alandra barely recognized the girl who had come to her shyly telling her she was attractive.
Alandra sighed. She cared for all of them, the day she took them into the back room and offered them jobs. She saw something in each of them – attractiveness, charm – and wanted to add them to her family. She had touched every one of them, and each one mattered to her in some individual way. She loved them all, in her own special way, and felt responsible for their fates.
She stood up and walked to the window, letting the cool breeze caress her skin as she looked out at the moon. She was not what the Moral Revolution would call virtuous, but she did not feel like the monster they would make her out to be. She did not sleep with people out of cold disdain for them, but rather because she loved them all, and wanted to give them pleasure as a gift of love. Even her clients she treated with respect, treating them as human beings instead of pieces of meat. It was no surprise to her that many simply came to talk instead of indulge in the pleasures of the flesh, for their wives did not want to hear their confessions or feelings when they had work to do and children to take care of. They had ceased to communicate, and so she listened to them, offering them true advice instead of simply what they wanted to hear. How many political decisions had she affected, she wondered. Yet none of it seemed to matter in these small hours, while Selesti lie on her deathbed, a member of her family, her world, a woman who she had touched and made scream in delight and relief. She remembered the feeling of Selesti’s breasts, the taste of her, the scent of her.
It was time for the paste again and Alandra felt heavy in her heart as she realized the fever was not yet fading. It was becoming harder to wake Selesti and get her to take the medicine.
“I don’t believe in the Fire God of San Ria, not really,” she said aloud, “But I think if such a being did exist, it would be in the form of fire – the fire in each one of us, the fire of sexual desire, the warmth of love, the flame of life.”
What was she saying? That she wanted the Fire God to hear her prayer? She supposed so, in these desperate hours, that she would be grateful for anybody to listen to her, for somebody to support her for once.
“Please live,” she said simply, “Selesti… please make it.”
When dawn broke, Alandra woke in a panic. She had dozed off and forgotten the last serving of paste, and she expected to find Selesti cold and ashen, dead and staring, but instead Selesti was looking at her, pink face and alert eyes. Alandra touched her forehead and Selesti did not pull away, and Alandra found it to be cool and welcoming.
“Selesti… Thank the Fire God,” she whispered, and started to cry.
“She’s making a surprising improvement,” the doctor said, “What will count, though, is what happens when we stop the herbs. She may simply deteriorate until she dies, and there are no more herbs to be had, but at least these last days will have been good for her.”
“I don’t feel desire,” Selesti said, “It’s such a relief.”
Alandra almost laughed with joy, but tried to keep her expectations down, just in case Selesti took a turn for the worse.
“Obviously, you won’t be working,” Alandra said, “However, I have a living to make. Please rest here as much as possible.”
Selesti reached under the bed and pulled out her money, “For my room,” she said, but Alandra shook her head angrily, “This is your home,” she said, “I don’t care if you can’t work, or if you never work again. You are one of us, and this will always be your home.”
“Thank you,” Selesti said, “You are so kind for somebody who barely knows me.”
“We all have to stick together,” Alandra said, “Hard times are ahead. The elections are soon, and Valen will sweep the board. I’ll protect you as long as I can, Selesti. I’ll never let them take you or abuse you again. I’m so sorry you had to endure that.”
Selesti had tears in her eyes, “I don’t want pity,” she said, “and I don’t need to be protected, but thank you all the same.” Once she might have been angry, driven by desire into rage over the smallest things, but now she took it as the kindness it was intended as. She felt the Selesti she had been before returning to her, and regretted all the harsh words she had said to Arietta. Still, that was her in another life. The nightmare was over now, the fog of uncontrollable desire was lifted, and the wreckage of her life was laid bare before her. Arietta was gone, safely aboard the White Ship of her dreams. No matter how hard she longed to change things, Selesti knew she had cut the cord that had bound two souls together. The pain she had caused Arietta and her willingness to give her up to save herself had killed their love, and even if she returned now, they would never feel the same way about each other. She mourned as though Arietta were dead, for she knew their love could never live again.
“Alandra, is there still a white ship in the harbor?” Selesti wondered if they had left, or become entangled in the dirty mess of San Rian politics. She hoped they were gone, and was relieved when Alandra told her that the ship had left shortly after the assassination.
“Some are blaming the White Knights,” Alandra said, “but that doesn’t feel right, to me. They’re a group of lesbians, looking for a place to live. They wouldn’t want to get Valen elected and turn San Ria against them.”
“They didn’t do it,” Selesti said, “Arietta, my ex-girlfriend is on that ship. She never would have allowed such a thing to occur.”
“Do you want to return to the ship? I can find out where they’re headed, if you like. People tell me all kinds of things. It wouldn’t be difficult to find out.”
“No, that life is behind me now,” Selesti said, “If I get through the next few days… I don’t know what I want to do next. I feel like I have woken up from a nightmare, Alandra. In that nightmare I did some terrible things. I hurt people, I used and manipulated people, and I sold out the woman I loved to save my own skin. My soul feels stained with all the things I have done. I want redemption, but I fear there is none for somebody like me.”
“That’s not true,” Alandra said, “Anybody, no matter what they have done, can be forgiven, if they want to be forgiven, if they are willing to forgive themselves.”
“I want to get away,” Selesti admitted, “I don’t want to be here when the Moral Revolution takes over. If I had to face that again, I would kill myself before they could put their hands on me.”
“Then I will help you get away, when your treatment is complete,” Alandra said, “I have heard rumors of a shrine far to the north, hidden in the great forests there, where maidens gather to meditate and find peace. One of its priestesses came to me once, telling me that her greatest sin was that she had never experienced sexual pleasure, and so looked down on others for having it. She described it as a place of rest, of sanctuary, of peace for the lost. I went up to the shrine to see, but… San Ria is my home, so I came back.”
“A place of rest…” Selesti closed my eyes, “I want that more than anything.”
“I will use my contacts to see if I can get you out of here,” Alandra said, “For now, rest here and take your medicine. The critical day will be tomorrow, when the medicine runs out. Then we will know…”
Selesti nodded and laid back on her pillow, drifting into sleep haunted by an old stone temple, filled with beautiful white maidens who opened their arms to her… When she woke, she understood why Arietta had sought the white ship from her dreams so desperately, and shed tears at the power of the dream.
“How many of you want to go?” the maiden asked. She was dressed in white furs, “Sneaking people out of the city is hard these days.”
“A girl named Selesti wants to go,” Alandra said, “She has suffered incredible pain at the hands of the Moral Revolution, horrors I cannot even begin to imagine. I can stay and fight for my homeland, but she has already fought that battle once and lost. She needs peace now.”
“I don’t know,” the maiden said, “Truly, I would be happy to take another recruit back with me, but in these troubled times I am afraid we will be followed or betrayed. If the Moral Revolution comes to the temple… who knows? Their understanding of morality and goodness differs from ours.”
“Please,” Alandra said, “I would do anything you ask.”
“You could have been one of us, but went back to live with the rest of the world… I honestly wonder if it’s because you had a bigger heart than the rest of us, and was in love with all the world, whereas we just wanted to hide from it. I loved you, Alandra, so you know that I will do it, no matter what the risk. Bring her tomorrow to the tavern at the West Gate near dusk. Make sure she is dressed well, as there is no road and the path is dangerous.”
“Thank you,” Alandra said.
“You need to stop taking the herbs,” Alandra said that evening, when she returned to the brothel.
“Why?” Selesti asked.
“I have spoken to an old friend of mine, and she is willing to take you to the shrine, but she has to go tomorrow. This is your last chance to leave the city before the election, Selesti, but we need to know what will happen when you stop taking the herbs. If you’re not going to survive…”
“Then best to die here, then have your friend take a risk for me. I understand,” Selesti said, “I will not take any more of the paste.”
Alandra turned to go, “Wait,” Selesti said.
“Yes?” Alandra turned to look at Selesti.
“Thank you… for everything,” Selesti said. She left her bed and walked over to Alandra and held her tightly, “You have ended my nightmare… I owe you more than I could ever repay. Even if I don’t make it through this night, at least I will have had this one day to be myself again.”
Alandra hugged Selesti gently. Selesti pulled away, fearful of desire and its implications, but Alandra just smiled and left wordlessly.
Selesti feared the night, and stayed awake, terror feeding on her soul. Would this be her last night? Would the fever come to her and consume her again? Would the fog of lust descent upon her once more? She paced the room, unable to find rest.
Alandra could not rest either, and she felt herself going to Selesti’s room in the middle of the night, opening the door a crack and letting herself in. Selesti stood in a transparent nightdress by the window, her form visible through the fabric, the moon illuminating her beautiful body and perfect figure.
She turned, aware of a presence behind her. The instincts she had had before were still there, the awareness of the fighter she had once been. Now she was scared, running away from a fight, tired of fighting. Should she stay and fight for San Ria, or should she go towards a peaceful life?
She saw Alandra standing there, naked, and she knew without asking what she had come for. She was afraid, she realized, but Alandra walked slowly towards her. Selesti closed her eyes, fighting back the rising tide of desire within her.
“I’m sorry,” Alandra said, “I know you are afraid. But I came to set you free from your fear. I’m sure you are going to survive now, and I think you are, too. But what has happened has made you fear desire and sexual expression, fear that once it comes to you, you may never be rid of it again. Is that a fear you want to live with for the rest of your life? Do you want to fear coming close to another person, and push them away by doing so? I want you to leave here a person who is alive. Call it my first move against the Moral Revolution if you like, but I want you to beat them, to expel them from your soul. To scream out to them that they have not destroyed you, only made you stronger, more sure of yourself. I want you to win, Selesti. You are a strong, courageous, beautiful woman who deserves to enjoy the best that life has to offer, and one of those things is sex.”
She was so close now that Selesti could feel her breasts touch hers, could feel the warmth emanating from her. She let out a small gasp as Alandra kissed her, a long, slow, loving kiss.
“Open your eyes,” Alandra whispered, “See me in the light of the full moon and don’t be afraid to want me.”
Selesti opened her eyes and let herself drink in the sight of Alandra naked before her. The first time, it had been to sate a need and she had never truly realized how beautiful Alandra was, but in this light she could see the fullness of her breasts, the perfect shape of her legs, the inviting look of her lips. She felt desire fill her, but it was not the empty lust she had felt before. It was paired with warmth and love, with attraction and a feeling of wonder. This was how sex had felt to her before, although she had forgotten how wonderful it could be.
She stepped forward and kissed Alandra, letting her tears flow as she accepted the gift Alandra gave to her. Alandra gently pressed her down on the bed and worshipped Selesti’s body, sucking on her nipples, kissing her navel, touching her sex. Selesti cried out in orgasm, and then she proceeded to enjoy Alandra’s body, taking pleasure in the giving as well as the receiving, in the wonderful taste of Alandra and her love.
When it was over, they held each other for a while, safely wrapped in each other’s arms.
“It’s completely different,” Selesti said, “I’m pleasured, I’m sated. I’m filled with love. I feel complete. I feel–”
“Wonderful,” Alandra said, “That’s how it should be. That’s how it will be from now on. With each lover you have, you needn’t fear feeling desire any more.”
“I don’t want to go to the shrine,” Selesti said, ‘I want to stay here with you.”
“You can’t,” Alandra said, “You’re not like me, Selesti. You need stability, monogamy, peace and rest. I need to love and explore as many people as possible. I love all people, all possibilities. That’s not a world you can live in, Selesti. I need to be here at the whorehouse, doing what I am doing. It’s my place in life, my purpose and calling. My love is not restrained to one person, I can’t stop doing this” – she gestured around her – “for any person, no matter how wonderful. You understand, don’t you?”
“I think I do,” Selesti smiled, “It would be a waste for somebody as wonderful as you to be tied down to one person. You have so much love to give to the world.”
Alandra smiled, “You’ll always be welcome here, Selesti,” she said, “If you ever need me, I’ll be here. But I need to fight for San Ria – my home. I need to stop the Moral Revolution taking away what matters to me and trying to force me into a monogamous one man, one woman lifestyle. I can’t and won’t be the person they want me to be, and I won’t let them try to make me. But your fight is over, Selesti. It’s time for you to rest and find redemption for all the things that burden you.”
“Thank you,” Selesti said, “I feel whole again. I haven’t felt like this for over a year.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Alandra said, and they curled up to sleep together.
When they left for the West Gate, Selesti had a heavy heart. She felt well, healed and full, but she felt a great loss at leaving Alandra’s side. She knew she would be happy just to bathe in that woman’s great light, but their paths went different ways, and she had accepted it.
The woman with the white fur cloak was waiting for them, and Alandra introduced Selesti to Raina, the priestess from the shrine. Raina smiled warmly and took Selesti’s hand, and Selesti knew she was going to a place where she would feel welcome.
“We should go,” Raina said, “We need to get on the road before trouble begins. Valen hasn’t won yet, but he might as well have. He’s already giving the orders.”
As she spoke, a great explosion rocked the city, and screams and the sound of fighting broke out in the distance.
“So our fight begins,” Alandra said, “Selesti, may you find peace and safety. Be well and happy, love.”
“Be safe, Alandra,” Selesti said, “Don’t die here. Too many people would be lost without you.”
“I’ll do my best,” Alandra said. Selesti and Raina mounted Raina’s horse and they started to ride off towards the gate. Selesti looked behind her to see Alandra in the distance, before concentrating on her future.
They were stopped at the gate, and Raina dismounted, “I have a travel pass,” she said, “I’m bringing an Initiate back with me, who has been training in the city.”
“We weren’t told about the Initiate,” the guard said. Selesti took a deep breath and dismounted, pulling her travel robe around her shyly.
“We priestesses have to return to prepare for the coming Moral Revolution,” she said, “We have to help Valen in his holy quest to bring virtue to the people.”
The guard, an obvious Valen supporter, perked up when he heard this, “Oh, I had no idea what you did up at that shrine. Well, I’m sorry for delaying you.”
They got up on their horse and rode through. Once they were safely out on the road, Raina laughed, “I hope that’s not really the impression you have of us,” she said, “You’ll be sorely disappointed. I think the shrine would be quickly considered a “hotbed of lesbianism” if Valen ever bothered to inspect it. It’s a place of peace, and warmth, and love, salvation and redemption.”
“It sounds perfect,” Selesti said, “I have need of all of those things.”
“So do we all,” Raina said.
It was a three day ride to the shrine, and much of it was on hidden paths cut through forests. It was not a place one would find by mistake. The forest surrounded it like a shelter. It was a large stone temple, surrounded by a few houses, and priestesses milled around. Selesti heard the sound of laughter from a young group of white-robed women.
“The White Knights would love a place like this,” Selesti said.
“I’m sure they would,” Raina said, “They’ll find their Sanctuary, someday, I know they will.”
“I think I’ve already found mine,” Selesti said.
They dismounted, and were met by several white-clad women, all wearing open smiles. Raina was hugged by a friend, and the priestesses introduced themselves to Selesti and shook her hand.
“Care to come inside for the tour?” Raina asked, “It’s just as wonderful on the inside.”
Selesti looked behind her and saw the forest, and the path back to San Ria, then she looked forward and saw the shrine, peaceful and beautiful. The walls seemed to radiate a sense of rest and peace, and the sounds of nature were all around them. It was like all that she had been through belonged to another life, another age, a different world. She smiled.
“I’m home,” Selesti said.