Table of Contents
Illustrations by Sarah Fensore, who I've talked out my story plans with since the beginning, and who continues to help me edit the individual chapters.
Current status of this novel:
All twenty-one chapters have been posted!
I don't consider the novel completed yet; I'm still working on significant edits to the earlier chapters, which aren't quite up to my standards after everything I've learned by writing the rest. So the existing chapters may change unexpectedly. I know some of you may want to read (or reread) the story after it's no longer in flux, so I'll update this message with the current status as I make progress.
Also, Sarah Fensore and I are still hard at work on the illustrations! Most of them aren't complete yet, but our sketches are included in the story for now, and I'll replace them with the completed drawings as we complete them.
Content warnings for Ravelling Wrath as a whole:
Ravelling Wrath is a fantasy adventure where the characters face deadly dangers. It also goes deep into their emotional struggles, including issues of abuse, sexual assault, self-harm, and depression – although it focuses on empowerment and how to do better, rather than presenting distressing things in a vacuum. It also touches on heterosexism and class oppression.
Each chapter also has a list of content warnings for that chapter specifically.
If you see other material that should be marked (such as common triggers or phobias), e-mail me. I am serious about web accessibility, and I will respond to your concerns as soon as I can manage.(hide content warnings)
Chapter One: Blood Child
I scrambled the rest of the way over the fence, dropped down, and hopped on my bruised leg to see if it was okay. It was, so I kept running. I shouldn’t have messed up jumping a fence like that, but I was in a hurry. Yali had texted me earlier that day. She’d said it was important.
Worse yet, the Stern God’s people had already kept me late after school in detention. They gave me the usual “Rinn-Akatura-you-have-to-understand-what-is-appropriate-behavior-for-a-young-lady” spiel. Well, I didn’t start the fight, and I wasn’t just going to stand there and do nothing. “Appropriate behavior for a young lady” can kiss my ass.
I didn’t say that to them, though. The Stern God’s people can be awfully uptight about that. Why do the Stern run the schools, anyway? Everyone says learning is the Seeking God’s gift, so why’s it the Stern who get to order us around? But I just kept quiet and pretended to care about their lecture, so they wouldn’t keep me even later. On a normal day, it would’ve been fun to mess with them. But Yali.
As I jogged towards her house, I pulled out my phone to check exactly what she’d said.
I have something important to tell you
Texting you so I don’t put it off any longer
We’d been dating for about a month, and Yali was one of the calmest, most patient people I’d ever met. If Yali said something was important, it was important. You know the saying – “When the Waiting God moves, beware.” I scrolled through the rest of the messages:
omg is there someone I’ll need to beat up
No it’s much bigger than that. Think like… the gods
I’m not explaining this right
Just meet at my place after school, OK?
omg they gave me detention I’ll skip it tho
Lol don’t do that
but I wanted an excuse to skip jk see you right after
The gods?! I wondered again. How could Yali have something about the gods? Sure, “Our five gods are the foundation of all life in the city”, but really. What did the gods ever do for kids like us?
I dashed across a street and tried to parkour my way up the high embankment on the other side. I made it, barely, stumbling and springing back up to my feet. It was just a couple more blocks uphill to the closest gate.
Our city was built on a hill. It was split up by five circular walls, each one surrounding the last. I lived in the Fifth Ring – the district at the foot of the hill, just inside the outer wall. But my parents had gotten me into a school up in the Fourth Ring, and even though Yali went to the same school, her house was all the way up in the Third Ring. So it was always hard work running uphill to get there. I could have taken a bus, but I’ve never liked to just sit around and wait. Plus, the bus couldn’t take a shortcut through some chump’s backyard like I was doing. Heh.
Panting, I finally made it up to the gate. I leaned back to catch my breath, feeling the cool stones of the archway on my back, and the buzz of sorcery in my mind. When you’re a little kid, they teach you how the five walls are woven with protective sorceries, and infused with the magic of the five gods who watch over us all. They’d always made it sound like everything was in perfect harmony, but in real life, it really wasn’t. For one thing, the outer wall was in total ruins. Only four of the gods were actually worshipped, and only three of them had taxes and temples. And if anyone was “watching over me”, it was those hypocrites who ran the schools, may the Stern God take them.
After half a minute, I was still out of breath, but I couldn’t be bothered to wait any longer. I took off running again, up the old roads, up past the courthouse, up between the pensioners’ houses, up to the door of Yali’s home.
I had scarcely rung the doorbell when Yali engulfed me in a hug. I fell exhausted into her arms. After all that running, she was just so big and warm and wonderful. She planted a kiss on my forehead, then murmured, “You ran all the way here, didn’t you.” I didn’t have to answer that. We both knew how it was.
She gently pulled me inside and we flopped down on her couch, sinking into the big, well-worn cushions. While I relaxed, Yali leaned forward, looking off into the distance, as if she was thinking hard about something. She turned halfway towards me and opened her mouth, but then closed it again. Was this the important thing she was going to tell me? But she… couldn’t figure out how to say it?
“Your leg!” said Yali suddenly.
I looked down. On the leg of my pants, there was a dark stain. Blood, I guess. “I must have hurt it when,” I panted, “when I was jumping a fence on the way here. I didn’t notice.” Yali gave me a skeptical look. “I was in a hurry!”
“You tore open your leg, and you didn’t notice because you were in a hurry.”
“Of course! What’s weird about that?”
Yali gave an indulgent smile. “Well, we should get this cleaned up,” she said.
Yali pushed herself to her feet and went to get healing supplies. Her house was small but homey – old wood with the finish worn off, books and electronics lined up neatly on the shelves. By habit, she kept it all organized, everything in its place. As I watched, she bent over and dug around in a cabinet, and before long, she came up holding a ceramic disk the size of her palm.
I stared at the disk. “You’re using an actual sorcery for this?” Normally, if you got a cut, you’d just clean it with alchemical wipes, the kind you get from a convenience store. Healing sorceries were pretty expensive – I hadn’t seen one outside of an ambulance.
“‘The Waiting God knows we must prepare for the worst,’” Yali quoted. She was already putting on disposable gloves, laying out bandages and stuff. This was the Yali I knew – her hesitancy from earlier was gone. She moved like she knew what she was doing.
“Did you become a paramedic when I wasn’t looking?” I teased.
“Video tutorials,” murmured Yali. She handed me a piece of gauze. “If it’s still bleeding, I’ll want you to press this onto the wound.” She gave me a lopsided smile. “Now remove your pants.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” I teased back, as I did what she said.
Yali muttered while she worked. “Your pants are pretty tight. That might have helped stop the bleeding. Still a mess though. Don’t worry about the couch, a stain is just part of its memory. Hold still, this might sting a bit.”
“I’ll be fiiiiiine.” Yali pressed the disk over the wound and snapped it in half, releasing the sorcery into my leg. It stung a bit. I was fine. As she finished cleaning and bandaging the wound, I echoed, “Video tutorials?”
“It seemed like something I might need to know eventually.”
“You watch first aid tutorials in your –” I began. I hadn’t quite caught my breath yet. “– in your spare time, just because you might need to know them eventually?”
“Of course!” said Yali.
We laughed together. Yali and I were so different – and yet, when we were together, everything seemed to flow so easily.
But then… the time came. Yali had put away the extra bandages. I had finally caught my breath. It was time.
“So…” I began, “about what you texted me…”
Yali… hesitated. Swallowed. Turned away. Turned back towards me.
My heart was pounding even harder than when I was running. If this was anyone else, I would’ve just thought they were a little nervous. But with Yali, it meant something. And I was afraid of what that could be.
Finally, she spoke up. “How much do you know about what happens during,” she swallowed, “the Ravelling?”
“Don’t tell me you’re one of the Chosen!?”
“It’s, it’s, it’s worse than that. Just tell me how much you know, so I can explain from there.”
I sighed. I couldn’t help it – I was already nervous, and now I had to remember some shit from Divinity class. Everyone knew about the Ravelling, but you wouldn’t know the details unless you were super religious. I did my best to summarize. “Every winter, each of the gods picks its favorite chump and pulls them into the Otherworld, where they’ve got to do some sort of challenges. If they live, they get to go home, and the gods can… get some sort of nutrition out of it? Look, I paid attention in class, but I don’t know the esoteric stuff. And don’t make me recite the titles –“
Yali smiled wryly. “I like the way you called the Ravellers ‘chumps’.”
“It’s a raw deal! First you get pulled out of your life, then you might die. The only way you’d actually want to do it is if you were really into the god stuff, but if that’s what you’re after, then it screws your career too, because former Ravellers aren’t allowed to become priests for some reason. ‘Great honor’, my ass. How can it be worse than that? If you were Chosen, you could – I could lose you forever –”
Yali spoke past me. “Most of the Chosen don’t even know they’ve been picked until the moment they’re – they’re – the moment they’re drawn into the Otherworld. Only the Farseer – that’s the Waiting God’s Chosen – only the Farseer can know who the Chosen are in advance. And the Farseer can also – Why am I talking like this? It’s me. I’m the Farseer. And you’re –”
I froze. I could see where this sentence was going, and I didn’t like it. Me, one of the Chosen? A million questions formed in my head at once. And then all the questions vanished again. What could I even say?
“– you’re the Blood Child.”
I snapped back into the present. Yali was looking at me carefully. Studying me, to see how I was going to react. But there were so many things going through my head. What – how – why –
“Do you know the history between them?” continued Yali. “The Waiting God and the Blood God –”
My brain started to catch up. “Wait a minute, I don’t even follow the Blood God! Nobody does! Why would the Blood God pick me out of everyone?”
“The gods don’t pick the Ravellers based on who worships them. They pick people who live by their principles,” began Yali. My head already felt like it was starting to clear. Yali had such a soothing voice. Whenever she started explaining something, it always made me feel like she had everything under control. “So, for example, the Waiting God values patience, foresight, and planning –”
“– Yeah, yeah, and the Stern God is all about making you shut up and obey the rules –”
“– you mean, ‘conviction and sacrifice’ –”
“– But what about the Blood God? I thought it was all about, like, murdering people and shit!”
Yali shifted uncomfortably. “There has to be something more to it. There’s plenty of terrible people in the city who it could’ve picked instead of you. I know it’s supposed to be a god of our animal urges, but there’s more to you than that.” I didn’t like how that made it sound like my urges were bad, but I let it go. “But there’s one other thing I can think of. There was an old book I read once, that said the Blood God values… personal power.”
“Power? What am I, a high priest?”
Yali suppressed a laugh. “Not that kind of power.” She leaned in close to me. “I think it means… the way you feel like you can do whatever you want. The way you’re not afraid to tell anyone what you think of them. That’s what I like about you. And that’s a kind of power too, a power that you already have… right here.”
She reached out a hand, and touched my heart.
Her hand on my heart felt like a pulse of energy. It was as if she was giving me the power, not just telling me I had it. It was a thrill, but it also felt like… a burden.
“Shit,” I said glumly. “This is real.”
“It – is.”
“Well… at least we’ll be in it together? I won’t have to wait here on Earth all winter wondering if you’re going to make it.”
Yali was silent, the muscles in her neck standing taut.
“What?” I said.
“This has happened before,” she said darkly. “This isn’t even the first time the Blood Child has loved me – I mean, loved the Farseer –”
“Loved you??? What in the –”
“I have – I have their memories. When the Waiting God made me the Farseer, I received two different powers. The first is the ability to see into possible futures, although it’s very weak and hard to use here in the material world. And the second is the ability to access the memories of the former Farseers, the ones who – who – well, it’s like I can remember previous Ravellings, almost as if they happened to me directly.”
“In each Ravelling, I’m a different person, and the other Ravellers are different too. They don’t always have the same powers, and they don’t always have the same personalities – except for, for, they always have something in common with their god, but the rest is different. And so I have a different relationship with each of them each time. Sometimes they work with me, sometimes they work against me. The Blood Child sometimes starts out as my enemy, but not always. In one of them, the Blood Child even loves me, just like you do now. But in all the memories – even the one where the Blood Child loves me –”
Yali breathed in, then out, then in again.
“– The Blood Child kills me.”
I stared, trying to digest the words. “But why?” I said. “Does the Blood God, like… control them?”
“It’s, it’s more complicated than that. During the Ravelling, the gods put part of their souls into us. That’s why it’s called the Ravelling, actually – because the threads of the gods’ souls are tangled together with the threads of our own souls.”
“I thought ‘ravelling’ meant picking something apart, not tangling it together.”
“I think it can mean both. Tangling or untangling.”
“Symbolic,” I deadpanned. Yali snorted.
“Either way, we have part of the gods inside us. And the further we go into the Otherworld, the stronger it gets. We’re still us, but the further we go, the more we start to think the way the god thinks. I know what that feels like for the Farseer. I don’t know exactly what it’s like for the Blood Child because I’ve never been the Blood Child – well, technically, I’ve never been the Farseer either – well, I guess I have now – Never mind all that! I don’t know exactly what it feels like for the Blood Child, but it seems to involve a lot of… anger. The one who loved me – I remember him wailing that he was full of so much anger at me, even though he didn’t want to be. ‘I can’t control it, I can’t control it, it’s more than anything I’ve ever felt’ – that’s what he was yelling a few minutes before he – before he took the blade and –”
“I don’t want to make you remember anything traumatic,” I said quickly.
“You don’t have a choice,” said Yali evenly. “I’m going to have to dig through these memories a lot. I might as well get used to it. The point is to make sure that these things don’t happen in the future.”
“So…” I said. “So I’m going to get really mad at you and then kill you? But there’s no way I’d kill you! No matter how angry I was – I love you so, so, much! I’d rather die than watch myself hurt you!”
“Don’t talk like that,” said Yali, tensing up.
“What? It’s the truth! If I had to stab either you or me, I’d stab myself every ti–”
Yali’s eyes narrowed. Before I knew what was happening, she had grabbed my shoulder violently. “Don’t – you – dare –” she growled. Now I really was shocked. Yali never acted like that! “Don’t you dare sacrifice yourself for me.”
“It’s not going to come to that, is it?!”
“Promise me,” she said. “No matter what happens, promise me you’ll never die for my sake. We are both going to get out of this alive.”
“Uh… I promise,” I said nervously.
“Remember that.” Yali let go of my shoulder and leaned back on the couch. She was back to her normal self again, just as suddenly. “I’m, I’m sorry I had to speak to you like that,” she said. “There are just so many things that can go wrong in the Ravelling. I don’t want you getting yourself killed to be one of them.”
I looked at her. “You… really think I’d – you really think there’s a chance I’d feel like I needed to die for your sake?”
“There’s a chance,” she said heavily.
I didn’t want to believe it. But I couldn’t not believe it, could I? Yali would never lie to me. The only way she would say something so serious, was if she was absolutely sure it was true…
“I –” I said. “If I’m really that dangerous, couldn’t I just… stay away from you? When we’re in the Otherworld, we could do our challenges separately. Not that I want to, but, you know…”
“If only it were that simple. Even if we try to stay apart, some of the layers will force us together.”
“The Otherworld – at least, the part of the Otherworld where the Ravelling happens – it has five layers –”
“Let me guess, one for each god.”
“Yeah. What you’ve been calling ‘challenges’ – that basically just means that we have to travel through each of the layers. We – the Ravellers – we do the first layer together, then we do the second layer together, and so on. And the layers are sort of… shaped by the will of their gods. We won’t be able to stay apart if it’s not something the god… likes.”
“What if we just don’t go through all the layers? Or – what if I get behind, so we’re never in the same –”
“That –” Yali concentrated for a moment. “I’m not sure exactly what would happen if you tried that. I can’t really explain this, but it can be harder to not travel through the layers than to travel through them. The god might reshape the layer so you can’t help but move on. Or worse, your god might reshape you.”
“So – if the gods are trying to force us together, and force me to attack you –” I was thinking wildly, but I couldn’t come up with any way out of this. “What do we do?”
“Well – I have a plan,” said Yali, trying to sound confident.
“Of course, ha ha, you have a plan, I should have seen this coming,” I babbled.
“It’s, it’s, it’s not perfect. But I think there’s a way we can prepare, while we’re still in the material world, to make sure we never get to the point where you would actually kill me.”
I didn’t want to have to hear it. I didn’t want to need a fancy plan just to stop myself from hurting the person I loved. But there was no way around it. Reluctantly, I forced myself to say, “What is it?”
Yali squared her shoulders, and began to explain her plan.