Hello all! Happy New Year and welcome to 2024. We’re so glad you’re spending some of it with us. We’re doing a few things differently this year, phasing out separate editorial letters for these short headnotes.
All January stories — by authors Nibedita Sen, Yoon Ha Lee, Marie Brennan, and Benjamin C. Kinney — will be free to read, but it’s our paying subscribers who allow us to keep publishing great stories week after week. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up
For the first free-to-read story of the year, Nibedita Sen brings us a brilliant, dangerous world, complex power dynamics, and characters we can’t stop thinking about. ~ Julian and Fran, January 7, 2024
by Nibedita Sen
The sanctum always smells faintly of blood. The priests only sacrifice on high holy days, but decades of exsanguinated goats have permanently stained the drainage channels cut into the stone. The arterial stench lingers, barely cloaked by crushed flowers and burnt coir.
There is a dais at the back of the sanctum where Ashanti and the other priestesses kneel while a priest drones the last lines of a mantra. Below them, the soft, mounded forms of worshippers spread across the floor. Ordinary men and women seeking divine favor to bless a new marriage, banish a wasting sickness. They give the priests their precious coins and palm-creased banknotes in exchange for fresh flowers to heap at the base of the sacred fire, then press their foreheads to the stone and pray.
Srikanth-ji finishes his recitation and turns to a male acolyte, who presents him with a coir-filled terra-cotta goblet. A newfound stillness overtakes the kneeling priestesses as the priest turns to look at them.
Ashanti keeps her eyes downcast, but still knows when he comes to her. She can feel the weight of his regard, as if it were not just his eyes but his stubby fingers touching the exposed nape of her neck.
The sensation lingers, then lifts. Srikanth-ji transfers his gaze to another.
“Upasana,” he says.
Ashanti’s belly churns with the familiar mix of relief and disappointment. She keeps her face as serene as a clay idol, as do most of the others. Only Rekha, sitting to Ashanti’s left, lets the air escape her lips in a tiny whimper.
Upasana rises gracefully and moves forward. Ashanti watches hungrily as the other girl approaches the great iron brazier that houses the ever-burning sacred flame. Srikanth-ji stands by the brazier, goblet in hand. There is a different kind of hunger in his eyes as he lets them trail over Upasana’s body, feasting on the budding shapes of her breasts under the thin cotton saree.
As always, something tries to rise within Ashanti at the sight. And as always, she grinds her teeth and swallows it whole. Keeps it smothered under her ribs, where no one will ever know.
Upasana reaches slowly for the sacred flame. The priestesses hold their breath. They are all one in that moment, their hands her hand, their hearts thudding in conjoined chests. They’ve all stood before that brazier, silently chanted those prayers. Reached forward and wondered if this would be the day their faith was found wanting and their flesh inadequate.
When Upasana’s hand enters the fire, Ashanti relives the memory as vividly as if the other girl’s brown fingers were her own. The shocking immediacy of heat encasing her hand like an iron glove, then the sunlight filling up her veins. The hot-honey rush of the fire’s love.
Upasana withdraws her hand, and the fire follows. Her skin does not crack, nor her flesh blister, as golden wisps of flame wind lovingly around her fingers and her wrist.
A sigh goes through the priestesses, mirrored by the men and women spread out across the temple floor. Some knock their heads repeatedly against the stone, while others utter cries of reverence at the miracle they have been allowed to witness.
It is a miracle Ashanti has witnessed more times than she can count—it is, after all, performed for the public four times a month. But as she watches Upasana touch her fire-wreathed fingers to the coir in Srikanth-ji’s goblet and set it alight, she cannot fault the crowd’s wonder. Her own never grows stale, and not just because it is kept whetted to a fear-bright edge by the possibility of failure.
Srikanth-ji smiles his creamy, satisfied smile. “Back you go,” he says.
The flames fade from Upasana’s hand as she retakes her place among them, face pale. Srikanth-ji leaves them alone on the dais to carry the flaming goblet among the worshippers, who hurry to hover a hand over the goblet and then press barely warmed fingers to their foreheads. Ashanti, unfulfilled, stares at the great brazier and hungers for its heat.
At night, when the priests are gone and the lamps put out, they are no longer vessels. Just girls, pushing their pallets together on the cold stone floor of their sleeping chamber, bodies curling toward each other’s warmth like flowers yearning for the sun.
“My mother had an ivory comb,” whispers Rekha. “It used to be engraved with flowers, but was all worn smooth from use. She would comb her hair with it a hundred times every night, after she bathed.”
“My father was a potter,” says Ankita. “Before the famine, people came from three villages over for his wares.”
Ashanti listens silently. Their sleeping quarters adjoin the temple’s inner garden, where the priestesses tend beds of holy basil and coriander for the kitchens, marigolds and hibiscus for the puja. She always throws the rush-woven panels open and drags her pallet over to the doorway so she may feel the night air at her back. The others never protest, knowing how enclosed spaces make her feel.
They never press her to offer up a memory, either. After all these years, they have no secrets from each other. They know Ashanti’s parents cursed her for yet another useless female mouth to feed, gave her an ill-luck name, and sold her to the priesthood for a bag of rice when she was five. And Ankita’s parents died in the famine, and Rekha’s widowed mother gave her to the temple in the hope that she might find a better life there, and what does it really matter if they were orphaned or sold or surrendered in love? They were all unwanted, in the end.
“My parents didn’t want to give me up.” Meenakshi’s voice is low, but the words crack through the night like a whip. “They were forced.”
The room gets very quiet. Ashanti grits her teeth.
Most of them have been at the temple a decade or more. Meenakshi has only been here a third that time. She was surrendered at the age of twelve, unusually old to enter the service of the flame. Too old, Ashanti can’t help but think, though she knows it a sin to question the priests’ judgment.
They had all hoped, at first, that time would sand off Meenakshi’s rough edges. It did not. She remains too loud, too angry, too prone to questioning the priests and reaping the consequences. Her palms are always striped with caning welts, and frequent punitive fastings have left her all teeth and elbows. There is a feverish intensity to her at all times, and never more so than when she speaks these dangerous heresies.
“I don’t think any of our parents wanted to give us up,” Rekha says, hushed and peaceable. “They just had no—”
“That’s not what I mean.” Meenakshi has raised herself up on one elbow. From her spot by the door, Ashanti can see her hot eyes glinting in the dark, the disheveled hair falling out of her braid. “I mean they told the priests no. And the priests went away for a day, then came back with the village headman. And they shut themselves up with my father, and I heard shouting, and then they came for me and said my parents had given me up, but I never saw my father again as they took me away, only heard my mother crying—”
“Enough,” says Ashanti.
She doesn’t speak often, but when she does, the other girls listen. All except Meenakshi, of course. She just glares, opening her mouth to utter a retort that Ashanti cuts off.
“Enough,” she says again. “You’re going to bring the matrons down on us. Shut up and go to sleep.”
The matrons are failed priestesses who were caught breaking their vows, or lost a hand to the sacred flame when their faith flagged. They are scarred and bitter with middle age and forced celibacy, and the threat of their ire is mercifully enough to make Meenakshi comply—though the glint in her eyes as she puts her head back down on her pallet suggests the reprieve is temporary.
Those eyes always unsettle Ashanti, though she doesn’t know why. She has spent her life deadening herself to sensation, and yet Meenakshi’s eyes slide like needles through her calloused defenses and draw blood. Under that hot gaze, Ashanti feels inexplicable shame, like she has been seen and found wanting. It makes her belly writhe and her skin itch.
She rolls over to put her back to the other girls, staring out into the gardens. The scent of night-blooming jasmine, mingling with that of soap-washed young bodies and coconut-oiled hair, slowly lulls her to sleep.
Once upon a time, blessed King Rama waged war against a demon lord to win back his stolen wife, Queen Sita. But the war raged for many years, and when King Rama finally slew the many-headed demon and rescued his queen, men advised him to set her aside in favor of a woman who had not been so long held captive in another man’s house.
King Rama hesitated, for he was a kind and just man. But his advisors prevailed, and in the end he agreed to set the queen aside. Faced with this betrayal, Queen Sita declared her husband dead to her, and herself thus a widow. She built a pyre, set it alight, and climbed into the flames, as widows do.
But lo—the fire did not burn her. The gods knew she was pure—that she had held faith and stayed true to her marriage vows all the long years of her captivity—and they made her flesh immune. The fire passed through her and sanctified her, and King Rama, knowing his mistake, bowed his head. And Queen Sita forgave him, and the gods blessed their reunion by gifting unto Rama the holy fire, that he might protect his kingdom and strike down evil where it arose.
Ashanti knows she will go to war someday.
(There is always a war. Sometimes it is waged to put down religious infidels, sometimes to reclaim land that used to be part of the kingdom in days of old, and sometimes to smite an enemy king whom the priests have discerned to be a descendant of that ancient demon lord. Ashanti does not much care.)
When they are old enough, the priestesses will be taken to the front lines. There, like Queen Sita before them, they will be holy lances in the kingdom’s defense—virginal weapons through which the priests will channel the fire of the gods to cook enemy soldiers alive in their armor and burn their banners to ash. And then . . . they will die. Priestesses do not return from war. Like widows, they burn once they have outlived their purpose, their own bodies the divine pyres on which they end.
Ashanti should probably fear death. The other girls do. Instead, she feels only anticipation. She dreams of a heat so intense it will evaporate her tears before she can shed them. She yearns for that beautiful annihilation.
Perhaps that’s why the other girls tread on eggshells around her. Perhaps that’s why Srikanth-ji delights in denying her a chance to hold the fire every time he conducts the puja. They see the thing inside her that is hungry and ill behaved, despite everything she’s done to tame it. She cannot know.
What she does know is that when she finally lets the fire fill her, she will burn wonderfully and completely, leaving nothing behind. Everything she has suffered and stifled and swallowed will be made worth it when she is finally free of this flesh, her soul escaping in one white-hot scream.
The priestesses rise early, hauling water from the well and heating it to finish their ablutions before the sun has fully risen. They scour their skin with pumice stones, oil and braid their hair, powder their bodies with sandalwood, and dress in pale yellow cotton sarees.
Women’s hands turn easily to devilry if left idle. One might think this danger compounded for girls barred from contact with the outside world, but fortunately, the confines of the temple provide work enough and more. The priestesses wash clothes, tend the garden, sweep and scour the temple’s old stones with lye water. They help care for the younger priestesses-in-training in the creche, meditate, cut and gather flowers for the puja. They study excerpts from the sutras (too much knowledge being as dangerous to women as sloth) to help train both body and mind to be the perfect vessels.
The beginning of the end, though they don’t know it then, comes after one such morning’s study. Srikanth-ji orders Rekha to stay behind in the lesson room afterward to discuss an error she made in recitation. She is late for the evening meal afterward, and when the priestesses retire to their sleeping quarters for the night, she curls up on her pallet in the corner and cries and cries.
The other girls cluster around her in concern. Ashanti stays by the door, staring at the moonlit garden. She cannot look at Rekha without feeling that expanding sensation within her breast—the one that makes her skin too tight and her back molars grind.
“Go to the head priest,” Tanvija urges. “Tell him what happened.”
“He’ll just tell her to pray and fast to cleanse herself,” Ankita says. “Don’t you remember what happened with Shakuntala-di?”
“What if they ask me to hold the fire at the next puja?” Rekha sobs. “I can’t—I’m not pure anymore.”
Even facing away, Ashanti feels dread ripple through the darkened room at that utterance. They all know what happens when a priestess comes to believe herself a tarnished vessel. Doubt is a fissure, and cracked pots do not survive the kiln.
“You did nothing wrong!” Meenakshi snaps, voice heated. “It was him!”
“You held the fire just three weeks ago, didn’t you?” Tanvija attempts to soothe. “They won’t call on you again so soon. You have time to do penance.”
“Penance for what?” Meenakshi fairly roars. “She did nothing wrong!”
Their words ring hollow. Srikanth-ji is not the first priest to dip his fingers in the honey pot, and Rekha will not be the first priestess to burn for a priest’s appetites, if it comes to that. They were not present to witness what happened to Shakuntala-di, who was from an older cohort, but they know she was lucky. She only lost two fingers, and was even allowed to remain a priestess afterward, not demoted to eventual matronhood or scooping nightsoil.
Of course the wolf would choose the weakest sheep in the flock, Ashanti thinks bitterly. Meenakshi would have bitten his fingers off for his trouble. Ashanti would have endured his ministrations by making her mind and body stone. But he chose Rekha, who was sweet and soft. Rekha, whom he could wound in a deep and lasting way.
Those dark waters are rising within her ribs again, threatening to fill her mouth. Ashanti cannot stay here. She cannot find out what this emotion is, cannot give it a name, because to do so would be her doom.
She rises without a backward glance, and leaves.
There are no windows in the sanctum. The air is stagnant, the ever-burning flame the only source of light. Its flickering radiance spills down the stairs to the dais without warning the stone, which is night-damp against Ashanti’s skin when she kneels and presses her forehead to the floor. She shudders at the sensation, nostrils filling with the ghost of old blood.
There is pleasure in penance. Ashanti knows it well. She has fasted, gone without sleep, knelt shivering in this very spot for hours. She has prayed for the gods to burn everything unworthy and unnecessary out of her, to make these feelings go away so she can be the perfect vessel she needs to be. Clean. Empty.
It’s not working now. She remains agonizingly aware of her body—her stocky thighs, her blunt fingers with their clipped nails, the cotton fabric across her breasts. This useless flesh that she cannot be rid of—that can fail, and be punished, and hurt.
There are footsteps behind her. Ashanti tenses, recognizing them, but Meenakshi says nothing.
Meenakshi is silent so long, Ashanti thinks she has left. But then something shifts around her—a softening of shadow, a foreign brightness at the very pinprick corner of her vision. There is a new source of light in the sanctum.
She pushes herself up from the ground, thigh muscles tensed, and turns to see Meenakshi. Meenakshi, who is standing a dozen feet away from her and even farther from the sacred flame on the dais in its brazier. Meenakshi, who therefore cannot and should not be able to do what she is doing right now—holding a smokeless flame in her hand, blue-gold tongues kissing her fingertips.
Ashanti stares, uncomprehending, at this impossible heresy. She can’t think, can’t move, can barely breathe for fear of widening this crack that has just appeared in the world.
Meenakshi raises her fire-filled palm, bright in the deafening dark.
“I could do this before the priests took me,” she says. “Before I ever set foot in this temple.”
“Stop,” Ashanti whispers.
Meenakshi doesn’t stop. She never stops, even when she is sprinting toward her own destruction. “They must have a way of finding girls with the gift. They get us before we’re old enough to know what we can do, tell us anyone can do it if they’re just pure enough. But they took too long to find me. They—”
Ashanti only knows she is moving when her body slams into Meenakshi’s. The impact takes them both to the floor, where she straddles the other girl’s narrow hips, teeth bared and chest heaving, forearm pressed to her throat. Meenakshi doesn’t resist, even as her head thunks hard against the clammy stone and the fire in her hand goes out, leaving them in darkness save for the sacred flame on its dais. Her body is bird-boned under Ashanti, filled with astonishing heat.
“Shut up,” Ashanti hisses. “Shut up, shut up, shut up, why won’t you ever fucking shut up?”
Meenakshi makes a rasping noise. It takes Ashanti a moment to recognize it for laughter.
“There it is,” she wheezes. “There’s the anger.”
The words are a hammer blow. Ashanti recoils, falling off Meenakshi.
“I’m not—” She can’t fit her mouth around that lie. “If I’m angry at anyone, it’s you!”
Meenakshi sits up, massaging her bruised throat. Her eyes gleam in the near-dark, though Ashanti is suddenly, awfully, uncertain if the glint is reflected firelight or some internal ember all her own.
“Yes,” she says hoarsely. “And at the priests, and the other girls, and the whole world. I think you wake up angry and go to bed angry and are angry every moment you breathe. You’ve just gotten so good at hiding it from everyone that you can’t even tell it’s killing you inside.”
She crawls toward Ashanti on hands and knees, and the motion that should have been childlike is somehow as graceful as a predator on the prowl. Ashanti is the one reduced to scooting clumsily backward on her bottom, griming her nightgown on the damp stone and tangling her toes in its overlong hem.
“What did they do to you?” Meenakshi whispers. She reaches out to touch Ashanti’s cheek. “I asked the others, but they won’t tell me.”
Of all the blades she could have cut her with, kindness is perhaps the cruelest. Ashanti’s breath slips free in a short, raw spurt. Her body moves of its own accord, lips turning into the protective cradle of Meenakshi’s hot palm, hand coming up to cover the other girl’s fingers with her own. The enormity of how much she has wanted—needed—this turns the air in her lungs to mud.
Despite herself, she remembers. Remembers when she was angry, and hurt and scared and starved for love besides, a late-summer-storm of emotion her small body could barely contain. Remembers shrieking at the priests, refusing to say her prayers, trying to run away.
There are cellars under the temple. That was where they put her, down among the sacks of grain and root vegetables, when caning and fasting had no effect. Ashanti doesn’t remember how long or how often she was imprisoned in the damp and the dark. Long enough that she screamed her throat raw and beat her fists bloody on the door, was sitting in her own piss by the end. Often enough that she still can’t sleep without the night air on her face, though it’s been a decade since she was last underground.
“It doesn’t matter,” she whispers. “It worked.”
They lie half-sprawled in the temple’s dark heart. Meenakshi stoops over Ashanti as if she means to eat her whole, and in that moment Ashanti would let her. She cradles Ashanti’s skull in both hands, tilting her face up to her. Ashanti cannot meet her eyes, but she feels them burn her, tender and merciless in equal measure as Meenakshi breathes her next words.
“They’ve been lying to you your whole life. Isn’t it time you stopped lying to yourself?”
It might not have been enough. That is the terrible truth. The other girls seem to think Ashanti is strong, but she’s not—just hollow and mean, which is not the same thing at all. If Meenakshi is right, then everything Ashanti has suffered has been needless and meaningless, and that . . .
That might be too much for even her black heart to bear.
She might have moved through the next few days like a ghost acting on muscle memory alone. She might have taken the fragile embers Meenakshi had raked to life within her and breathed craven excuses over them until they went cold. But two sunsets later, dawn finds them back in the grand sanctum for the public performance of the miracle the masses so crave, the air thick with incense and old blood and murmured Sanskrit. The priestesses kneel on cold stone at the back of the dais. And Pratik-ji, who is leading prayers today, receives the coir-filled goblet from an acolyte and turns to them.
“Rekha,” he says.
There is always a weightless moment before the axe falls. The priestesses stare at each other, reduced to mere girls again in that moment of dread denial. Rekha’s eyes are wide and wet, already seeing her own death.
None of them move.
Meenakshi hisses between her teeth like a snake. Ashanti looks at Srikanth-ji, who sits comfortably cross-legged off to the side, among the other priests. His face is bland and composed. He could divert Pratik-ji with a murmured word, a gesture . . . but he won’t. Why should he?
“Rekha,” Pratik-ji says again, voice gone cross and querulous.
Several things happen all at once.
Rekha wobbles upright, shivering like a leaf in a rainstorm. Meenakshi makes a quick, abortive movement—abortive because Ashanti’s hand fastens around her ankle, sending her bruisingly hard onto her palms instead of to her feet.
And then Ashanti herself is standing. Moving. Approaching the sacred flame with swift, unfaltering steps.
Pratik-ji’s face creases with outrage. Someone else is loudly demanding she stop. The worshippers below the dais murmur concern and surprise, and Ashanti ignores them all.
She only has eyes for the flame.
She doesn’t reach into it. Nothing so laughably inadequate. She grabs the scalloped edge of the brazier with both hands and pulls. The hot metal bites into her skin, but her palms are callused from long years of scrubbing floors and wielding a broom, her arms strengthened by lifting load after load of the priests’ soap-soaked underclothes.
The brazier overturns in a clattering cascade of sparks and red-hot coals. The priests stumble to their feet, shrieking like frightened geese. And the fire—the fire rushes up into Ashanti’s unprotected face and mouth. It’s in her eyes and her hair, and it burns.
But she has come to realize something, these last few days. Fire, like everything else in the world, will hurt her if she lets it.
And unlike anything else in her world—it will come if she calls.
She welcomes it in. She lets it pour down her throat and irradiate her lungs, stamp the glowing outline of her ribs against her saree and spiderweb her veins with gold. Her braid comes apart, and her hair, crackling with static, swirls up above her head in a torrent of flame and hot air. Her eyes are live coals in the hollows of her skull.
It is agony. It is ecstasy. She spreads her arms, moved against her will by the expanding and contracting strings of her sizzling nerves, and the fire mimics her motion. Two blazing wings fold around the dais, trapping priestesses and priests and the girl-shaped pillar of flame that was once Ashanti in close quarters.
Meenakshi was right all along, of course. Ten years of needle pricks and shallow cuts only numbed her perforated skin enough to hide what festered deep within. She is angry. She is a compressed inferno of hate.
. . . And she is so godsdamned tired of pretending otherwise.
Swathed in flame like a bride in wedding silks, Ashanti turns to look at Srikanth-ji—cowering with the other priests, face pale as the tilak paste smeared on his forehead. She decides, very calmly, that she hates him and would like to make him go away.
So she does.
And she doesn’t stop there. When Srikanth-ji is nothing but bone char and melted fat, she moves on to the others. She incinerates Pratik-ji, who would click his tongue at them in irritation when they complained about the rich men’s sons at the temple gurukul tweaking the priestesses’ braids and pinching their buttocks. She cremates prune-mouthed Kailish-ji, who would fondle his caning rod right before he welted them with it. She even takes head priest Bhopal-ji, oldest and most inoffensive of the lot, who looked on her with fatherly indulgence as he lamented her ill-omened name.
She stops short of boiling the blood in Tapas-ji’s and Sushrut-ji’s veins, but only because they hurl themselves bodily through the flames surrounding the dais to escape her. They roll down the steps in an inferno of blazing cloth and hair, crash screaming into the space vacated by the fleeing, wailing worshippers, and Ashanti supposes she can consider that payment enough for all the times they had to listen to prayers at the adjoining funeral ghat end in a burning widow’s screams.
At some point, the pressure against the backs of her eyeballs makes her vision go white. She is smoking, hollowed out, her body a fragile paper lantern full of light. Ashanti feels her skin tighten and her flesh quiver, preparing to shrivel and steam, and knows the end is near.
The small part of her mind that is still her—still knows to do more than just devour—is glad. There is no living past what she just did. Better to die, having touched divinity, than live to be starved and denied once more. Better to burn up than let the hungry flame consume her sisters next.
But then the pressure eases.
Someone has taken her hand in theirs. Ashanti looks to her left and sees Meenakshi, shuddering as blue-yellow flames wreath her flyaway hair and creep across her skin. Her gaunt face twists in pain, and for a moment Ashanti’s heart seizes with the fear that all her fury and resolve won’t be enough to keep her starved body from burning up.
She peels her cracked and bleeding lips apart with an effort. “Don’t,” she whispers. “You’ll burn.”
Meenakshi bares her teeth at her. “None of us are burning today,” she growls.
One by one, the others come. Her sisters: sweet Rekha slipping her fingers into Ashanti’s free hand; proud Upasana with her head held high as always as she takes Meenakshi’s arm and holds out her hand for Ankita, the wistful potter’s daughter. Even nervous and obsequious Tanvija comes, hesitantly, to Rekha’s side.
As soon as each girl makes contact, it is like they are lightning-struck. An invisible current fuses their hands together. The fire floods between them like water seeking its level, whipping their hair into wild, beautiful tangles and making their faces blaze goddess-bright. The blood in Ashanti’s veins, so close to boiling over a heartbeat ago, subsides to a contained simmer.
Six glowing girls. Six beacons of divine fire. They stand shoulder to shoulder, hands clasped, and look upon what they have wrought.
On the dais with them: what remains of the men who were their teachers, jailers, abusers. Beneath the dais, stretched across the ancient stone floor: blackened flower petals, forgotten shoes and shawls, and the blistered corpses of Tapas-ji and Sushrut-ji. Most of the worshippers fled, screaming—but not all. Those who remained, whether overcome by awe or simply frozen by fear, now prostrate themselves among the ashes before the girls who wield the sacred fire.
Alarm bells are ringing, somewhere. Ashanti hears shouting and the slap of racing feet.
“It’s over,” she breathes.
Meenakshi gives her hand a quick, convulsive squeeze, hard enough to hurt. Her smile, which stretches ear to ear, is vicious as ever but also newly radiant. Fiery tides ebb and retreat beneath her skin, and her eyes are hot coals. Ashanti thinks, distantly, that she could look at her forever.
“No,” she says, each word a joyous promise. “It’s just beginning.”
Thank you for joining our journey this week.
Nibedita Sen is a Hugo, Nebula, and Ignyte Award–nominated queer Bengali writer from Kolkata. These days, she can be found working as an editor while collecting hobbies and plants in equal measure. She lives in NYC with her spouse and a sweet, flatulent old cat, has never met a pun she couldn’t wield like a deadly weapon, and is always hungry. Hit her up on Twitter @her_nibsen, where she can usually be found yelling about food, anime, and what she’s currently reading.
“Agni,” © Nibedita Sen, 2024.
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