#11 - Illness
Location: sitting in the dark
Music: Heartbreaker / Autoheart
Our line has one entire talent, and one claim to fame and infamy. To come into contact with us is to find out exactly what that claim is, and what happens when you're stupid enough to challenge a living bioweapon of utter destruction to a fistfight.
Spoiler alert... the living bioweapon is going to win.
It went like this. Once upon a time, the goddess Eris challenged the god Icthýes to a gardening contest. Whoever came up with a more perfect plant would win. What they were fighting over, what the reward of the contest was, has all been lost to time.
But what is known is that their gardens were beside each other, in a tiny vale somewhere hidden in Greece, where the two of them fought and bred flowers, each more beautiful and deadlier than the last. Morning glory and hemlock and dittany and nightjade and leilahi. They brought in seeds and pollen from the most poisonous plants in existence, and coaxed ever greater beauty from the ichor in their veins.
Who won the contest? Nobody knows. It doesn't matter. They left their gardens when they were done, but did not destroy them. Centuries later, the Pisces Cloth would stumble upon this garden, for it was one garden after so long on its own, interbreeding in secrecy and isolation and with only a limited supply of magic. They stepped up to a rose in the centre, a single flowering vine around a giant, dead tree, felled when the other plants choked out its supply of sunlight.
The Pisces Cloth took this rose back to their mistress, Lady Athena, and showed her this perfect, impossibly beautiful, impossibly deadly rose. They asked if they could refine the poison and the beauty within.
And so the line of the Pisces Saints was born.
The immunity to the poison of the Pisces Saints is genetic. So far as I understand, the gene that allows this immunity to exist is largely tangled up with several other genes, and when active, tends to mean those born with it are also missing limbs. Before the birth rate heavily expanded in the 1900s, the Pisces Cloth might have been able to reach a single child who could act the part of the Pisces Saint maybe once every thirty years. What causes the gene to be active in a child and neither of the parents, I don't know. I'm not a scientist, not like that. Go ask my spouse Jesse, they have done the research.
But those who are immortal, those who can handle the poison... well. Being immune to it is only the first step.
The Pisces Cloth finds these children as they appear, and returns them to the Pisces Garden in a basket woven of rosevines for the current Saint to find. The arrival of the child prophecies the death of the current Saint in almost all cases. By the time that child is sixteen, the Saint will be no more, and the apprentice will take the place of the master.
You get eleven years. On the child's seventh birthday, it is tradition to ask them if they are willing to sacrifice ever being allowed near others in any contact again, for the promise of being with you. If they decline, if they choose the rest of the world over you... you must kill them. Nobody ever actually does that, but the child will end up dead within the day if they refuse you. If they accept your offer, forsake any company but yours, then the ceremony of the Red Bond begins.
It's a simple ritual, performed daily at sundown, and you get eleven years. During those eleven years, the master cannot leave the apprentice's side. At dusk, both master and apprentice prick their fingertips on the rosethorns, and press them to each other, exchanging a single drop of blood. Not more, not less. At first, this will put the apprentice in bed with a fever and high heartrate for most of the day. No matter how sick they are or how weak the concentrated poison makes them, the ritual is performed again, every day at sundown.
Sometimes it kills them anyway, their body failing to fight off the infection. But sometimes it doesn't, and their blood mutates to match the poison, develop a stronger resistance by becoming the poison. Until your own body begins to generate poison itself, and uses your master's blood only to strengthen yourself.
By the time the apprentice is sixteen, their poison will overwhelm their master, and the master will die. Sometimes they don't. If they don't die to the poison, it's because something else got there first. None have survived those final days, at least not on the records kept by the apprentices over the past three thousand and some-odd years.
Every part of a Pisces Saint is poisonous, and that poison presents itself in several ways. The air we exhale is poisonous. The tears we cry and the sweat we wipe off is poisonous. The saliva left on a glass is just as poisonous. But that is all side effect, that is all a byproduct. The poison is concentrated most heavily in the blood. Some of us are so powerful that when we bleed, the blood blooms into roses when it touches the ground.
It's impossible to get the flu, when any virus or harmful bacteria dies when it comes in contact with you. Yes, I suppose we could clear the air of any diseases by exhaling a few times in each infected room... but we would kill everything else, too. Bleach is not how you remove a stain from a red dress. Even if you're that stupid to try, you're meant to dilute it. We cannot be diluted in any safe form. A drop of our blood in an entire pond will kill everything within it.
There are ways to temporarily modify the poison, if you're willing to put your Cosmos behind it. Even without our Cosmos, even when dead, we are more toxic than just about anything on earth. Mercury poisoning would be kinder. Atomic radiation would be kinder.
It would be something like injecting yourself directly with batrachotoxin, and then forcing your body to start generating it. But our poison has one drawback, and that is that it is entirely floral in nature. It cannot be reduced to a chemical compound so easily, stripped of all magic. If someone were to reduce it to its basic chemical and magical components, then an antitoxin might indeed be made.
The problem with that is that we constantly refine and modify the poison for different effects, crossbreeding other flowers and chemical compounds into it. There is no catch-all antitoxin for us. You have to counter each and every different version we make. What works on a Piranha Rose will not work on a Sundown Rose, and neither will work on our blood itself.
Good luck getting us to bleed enough near you that you'd be both capable of surviving the experience, and collecting enough poison to analyze. If you're immune? Then you either already belong to us, or you're a threat to be eliminated.
Entertainingly, though, the poison typically breaks down after it kills its host. Our own bodies will remain poisonous forever as we decay, but someone else killed with our poison will not typically remain that way as rigor mortis kicks in. It's likely a mechanism meant to keep us from accidentally laying waste to entire areas just by contamination.
There is no defense against the Pisces poison. There is no antidote, and no treatment. Not even we can stop the poison or change its properties, once expelled from us and our roses. There is only death, and it comes quickly for all but the Sundown and River Lethe roses.
We are beautiful because the poison reshapes us. We wear our hair in shades bright like a warning, and we don't cut easy, and we stand apart from the rest.
I do not recommend straying too close.