Effie had expected to be squinting at sunlight by the time the lid to the sugar cube was removed, climbing out into a warehouse ready to knock out some unsuspecting passersby and steal their clothes. Violent, yes, but for a worthy cause, Effie rationalized. Well, at least Effie thought getting their sister back was a worthy cause, but they could also see people disputing that opinion. Instead, Effie was filled with that ohshitgottashit feeling again as the lid slid smoothly open and a fuckton of incense mixed with the saccharine scent of the sugar cube.
The only exception was a distant dimness drooling violet from above, like someone had infused melting candle wax with glow-in-the-dark paint.
Dialogue in an unfamiliar language emerged from the cavernous atmosphere. It sounded like some sort of humming and smacking lips. Very few pitches. Soon, steps receded and the whoosh of an automatic door met Effie’s ears. Effie wondered whether it was safe to sit up. They didn’t know what to do, and their characteristic impulsivity was too freaked out to help.
“Get up,” a voice commanded. Effie’s body obeyed, bolting up right and swinging out of the crate, into the darkness. Shit.
A cloaked figure shimmered before them, emitting a lilac iridescence.
“Well, you sure weren’t part of the shipment the general ordered from Earth,” the figure stated. “Unless you’re the bride—but I doubt even General Sellikha would have sent for you in a crate.”
Effie was far away, because what even was their life right now? Taking in their surroundings, it seemed they were in some sort of damp chamber made of the same dusty, transparent stuff Effie had encountered earlier.
“And even if the general had sent for you in such a disrespectful manner, they wouldn’t bring you into the inner sanctum until after the wedding,” the figure waved a hand and a long stone slab emerged in the center of the chamber, surrounded by grooves leading out from it like veins. Cupcakes, donuts, cookies, and other sweets lined the walls.
“So, who are you?” the figure asked. “If you thought you could marry into money, I’m sure you’ll be disappointed to find out General Sellihka sacrifices his brides after the wedding night. Right here, on this very altar.”
Effie gulped, but something about imagining Jenniah splayed on that slab gave Effie the strength to speak. “I’m a servant, actually,” Effie said, remembering something they had read about ancient Egyptian pharaohs forcing their servants and pets to be buried with them when they died. “Earth has a tradition of sending its servants with their brides, so we can, um, make sure they are well taken care of.”
“Well, it certainly doesn’t seem as if Earth values its domestic workers,” the figure observed. “Shoving them in with the food like that.”
“No, there isn’t much respect for us in the nation I come from,” Effie agreed. “But I greatly respect the spouse I have been sent here to accompany. There must have been a mix up in receiving, and I should be with her right now. Can you take me to her?”
“No worries,” the figure said, “The bride will be sent into the inner sanctum after they are wedded to the General, so you will see them then.”
Effie’s heart dropped. “But can’t I see her before? She may have treated me with little respect, but it feels wrong not to see her before she is married. I should be the one fixing her makeup and styling her hair. It is tradition.”
“Look,” the figure said very matter-of-factly, surprising Effie. “I know you are not who you say you are. For one, you are dressed in very fine clothing most accessible to the elite of the Western nation from which you hail—.”
“—Do you think I have not researched the customs of the bride’s nation? Secondly, we are very strict about our guidelines and allow no one else—not even the General—to enter the inner sanctum. Only the virgin bride, offerings to our Guiding Power, Simetra, and members of the Simetra spiritual order are allowed. With you in here, you have already polluted the sanctity of the environment. It is no longer pure enough for the sacrifice of the spotless doe, your bride.”
“Spotless doe?” What sort of twisted cult shit had Effie gotten themself into? Effie gulped.
“Oh, man, that sucks,” Effie didn’t know what to say. “Guess we’ll just have to delay everything, huh? Can’t sacrifice her now in a polluted sanctum. I definitely want the best for the bride.”
The figure chuckled. “Really, I know you are someone who cares for the bride. I know you have come here to rescue her from her fate. You must be incredibly worried, not knowing how things work on this planet which is unfamiliar to you. But trust me, you have nothing to fear.”
“How the fuck are you going to tell me I have nothing to fear when you are about to murder my sister?!” Effie wanted to shout, but they kept it in their clenched fists, saying with cut words: “If you know I care deeply for the bride, then you will understand why I cannot let you sacrifice her.”
The figure nodded, “This is not uncommon, that an attempt to disrupt the wedding ceremony may occur. General Sillihka takes all his brides by coercion or brute force. As the leading military force across galaxies and dimensions, Sillihka will only spare a planet if he finds a bride he is drawn to. He calls it love, but we know better. Sillihka only brings brides that resemble our species in body. To atone for the violence he has wreaked on the planets unspared, the Goddess Simetra requires a sacrifice of a beloved from a planet spared. It is how balance is maintained.”
“But what is balanced about killing completely innocent people to make a completely fucked up person feel better? All that does is make him think he can continue to treat other worlds like shit so long as he, um, finds someone he wants to fuck and murders them!” Effie couldn’t keep that one in, resorting to arm-flailing too, and the desire to strangle the figure.
Effie launched forward to do just this, and their hands passed through them.
The figure glitched and chuckled again. “Pardon my laughter, but you must understand that we, the High Priestesses of the Simetra, have ‘pulled the wool over the General’s eye’—as the English-speakers of Earth say—many, many times.”
Effie didn’t know what this meant.
“We are on your side,” the hologram clarified. “Once the hostage is brought in here, the sacrifice will be broadcasted across our nation, Muili. No worries, though, it’s all theatrics. Recently, the Courts of Simeht, our Guiding Power of Justice, have ruled it inhumane to conduct unnecessarily gorey sacrifices. Thus, we need only slip a a coloured juice down her throat and call it poison to convince our viewers of her death. Once the live stream is cut, the bride will be ushered out a side door. At this point, warriors of the Simetra will intercept us and take the bride in.”
“Then she’ll be sent back to Earth?” Effie inquired, a little sketched out, but also just dumbfounded about how oddly in their favour this whole setup was, all things considered.
“Unfortunately,” the figure admitted, “the guardians of the Simetra do not yet have access to intergalactic or interdimensional travel. We are, at least to the public, a spiritual order barred from access to military technology. Currently, travel to foreign worlds like yours is considered strictly military business.”
“So, where will the bride be taken?”
“No need for you to worry,” the figure assured, “the Simetra will take care of—”
The figure paused. “I don’t know. All I know is the Simetra will make sure the bride is protected. We are a rebel group, working to overthrow the current regime. We are still working on gaining political power. Most likely, the Simetra will try to recruit the bride into their efforts. There is, of course, no obligation for any of the brides to join.”
Effie actually had to laugh at that, not because they thought the overall idea was ridiculous, but… Jenniah, a rebel warrior? And for a planet she had no emotional investment in? Yeah, right.
“Many of our brides come from high class families and some have trouble adapting to the living standards we provide,” the figure continued, perhaps trying to decide how to answer Effie’s wry laugh, “but nothing compares to the taste of freedom after confinement, and many will do whatever it takes to keep their liberty and work towards a world where the lives we are willing to sacrifice now are valued.”
At that moment, the figure waved their hand and Jenniah appeared on the altar, which became lit up in harsh, high-contrast mood lighting. She was white-clad and dazed, like she’d decided to go H.A.M. on her last meal. Her eyes were red. Effie felt the groundwater of melancholy tension rise up in them. They wanted to embrace their weary sister immediately, wished they could scoop her up, break out of this “inner sanctum,” and hop on the next shipment back to Earth. They regretted ever joking about her being decapitated by revolutionaries, or saying her morals made her disposal. It was a regret that had nothing to do with what was right or wrong, true or untrue, and everything to do with the warmth 6 year-old Effie had felt when her 4 year-old sister insisted on wearing her soiled-ass Snow White costume every day for as long as Agatha and Clyfford would let her.
“It’s time!” the high priestess exclaimed, a little flustered as they scrambled to explain everything to Jenniah who gave no indication of hearing anything.
“You’ll need to be out of sight—hurry! The cameras will be on soon!” The high priestess reiterated, gesturing over to the sugar cube, which was now empty of all sweetness.
Fuck it, Effie thought, and an electric pulse propelled them across the veined floor over to where Jenniah sat like an exhausted patient on an examination table. A queasiness was overcoming Effie as they neared the holofigure, but they fought it like they’d never fought a thing in their life. The priestess looked from one sibling to the other, nodding in understanding, and with a wave of their hand the vertigo vanished.
“Effie…” Jenniah let their name drop like a petal of disbelief, “Effie….”
Effie met Jenniah’s dark brown eyes, holding her hands firmly in theirs. “I’m here, Jenniah,” Effie said, “It’s going to be okay, we have a plan—it’s all going to be okay.”
Something registered briefly in Jenniah, a flicker, then both their bodies were quaking as tears streamed like comets from their eyes.
You came looking for me, the tears said.
Jenniah collapsed into her sibling’s glimmering embrace. Of course, the warmth answered.