A Dress of Venom and Bone

They say the tailor at the corner of Belle Drive has no name.

You can ask her, as you stand atop the dais of her shop like royalty, and she takes your measurements with deft old fingers. But she will only smile, as she has no answer for you, or anyone else who asks.

She sews vintage suits and classic dresses, for weddings and for funerals. Despite her talent, her prices have always been fair, and she has been known to greet customers with a smile and a complimentary plate of bonbons — on the house. The town has come to love her.

The oldest residents of the oldest houses will tell you that she sewed her own wedding dress, a decadent piece with a hem made from starlight and tulle made from the clouds. She sewed her first husband’s blood red tie and, after he died, the suit for the wife she married next, with linen spun from the night sky.

Everyone loves the tailor at the corner of Belle Drive. And everyone knows that names have power.

The tailor at the corner of Belle Drive has promised to tell her name to the one who can sew finer than her — specifically, the one who can sew a dress made from venom and bone.

You have always been overzealous. And a little reckless. And you want the woman’s name. You will go on whatever journey or endeavor it takes, because names are powerful things. And perhaps you, too, once you have the name, will harness the power to move constellations with your needle.

Your first thought is to venture where the snakes go. There is a pit about seven dreams left and four leagues south of your town — the adventurers discuss it, drunk, in the pub your sister works at — and you, with your beloved childhood companions, venture out and defeat the snake with the multiplying heads with your bare hands.*

(*Or at least, so goes the story you tell upon your return. In truth, you have only bested it by creeping up with a deftly placed glass bottle beneath its teeth while it slept. The two situations are, surely, close enough to warrant comparison.)

Bones, however. Bones are a bit more difficult.

You can’t siphon the energy from the restless spirits of the graveyard. You aren’t foolish enough to attempt to disturb the dead. But you can make a deal.

Like Persephone before you, you slice open a pomegranate and use the power of its many seeds and flesh cupped in your palm to conjure pure energy from the Underworld, the final resting place and ultimate journey of heroes.

But you wrestle with this. You have bit more than you can chew, and the energy from that place which the living dare not go? That place bites back. And though you return, breathing, with the flesh crushed in your palm, reborn from Hades itself, you are alive — but you have resurfaced with a power much darker than can be controlled by any needle.

Dresses and suits will be lesser of your powers.

As you sew, the power overwhelms you.

You work day and night, sunrise to sunset, your needle moving as if it were alive.

When you are finished, you have not made a dress. You have birthed a new god.

The town falls to ruin behind you as you exit.

And you come to stand before the tailor’s shop at the corner of Belle Drive.

You pontificate your power, and explain what you have made, what you have become, and how you are now owed this name.

The tailor smiles.

“There was once a prophecy about this town,” she said. “I was told it as a young girl. When I was made its protector. I was told that its ruin would come, someday, and I was to live until I faced it. It would come in the form of blood and venom.”

And she speaks her name.

Names have power.

And when she speaks, the sounds you hear — syllables, perhaps, in a different, melodic, ancient language — you feel the power dissipate.

It comes off of you in waves. The last to go are the reigns of power you stole from death.

You are yourself again.

“Now,” says the tailor, as you stand before her, dress-less, ambition-less, at the end of your quest. “Let’s get you into something more fitting. Would you like some bonbons?”

A “short story shaped thing”, as written during FIYAHCON 2020’s Em-Dash: A Game Show for Writers.

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