(Eli's note: this story is supposed to have more pictures in it, but I haven't been in good shape for drawing. Since I'm not sure when I will be in good shape again, I'm posting it anyway. I've included the one sketch I managed to do last time I was up to it.)
Chapter 1: 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, they'd 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? Isn't the Seeking God the one that's all about learning? 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 take the piss out of 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 its 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 <3
The gods?! I wondered again. What could the gods have to do with us? Sure, “Our five gods are the foundation of all life in the city”, but really. We were just a couple of kids. Weren't we?
I dashed across a street and tried to parkour my way up the high embankment on the other side. I made it, barely. It was just a couple more blocks uphill to the side-gate I was going to use.
Our city was built on a hill. It had five circular layers, separated by five walls, each with its own great gate, to honor the five gods who watched over us all. Supposedly. In real life, only four of the gods were worshipped, and only three of them had taxes and temples. And each of the walls had a dozen smaller gates, and the outer wall was in total ruins, and the only beings I'd noticed “watching over me” were those hypocrites who ran the schools, may the Stern God take them. I knew the gods were out there doing something, I just didn't see what it had to do with me.
Anyway, I lived on the fifth layer, at the bottom. Our school was on the fourth layer, and Yali lived on the third. So it was always an uphill run to get there. I could take a bus, but when I'm excited to see her, I don't like to just sit around and wait. Plus, the bus couldn't take a shortcut through some shmuck's backyard like I was doing. Heh.
Panting, I finally made it up to the side gate. From there, it would only be a short run to Yali's place. But my legs didn't want to do it. I paused to lean my back against the cool stones of the gate and catch my breath. This was a route that I ran all the time, but it was a lot of work even on a good day, and I'd forgotten to pace myself. Why did why did my body have to get tired? Why did there have to be so much uphill between me and Yali? After half a minute, I was still out of breath, but I couldn't be bothered to wait any longer. I started 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 she 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 a couch. 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!”
Yali smiled. “You tore open your leg, and you didn't notice because you were in a hurry.”
“Of course! What's weird about that?”
Still smiling, she started getting to her feet. “Well, we should get this cleaned up.”
“Give me a minute.” I wasn't planning to get up from the couch anytime soon.
“We can do it here. I'll be right back.”
Yali came back wearing disposable gloves, carrying bandages and stuff. “Did you become a paramedic when I wasn't looking?” I teased.
“YouTube 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, it's just a thing. Hold still, this might sting a bit.”
“I'll be fiiiiiine.” Yali cleaned up the wound with some sort of antiseptic wipe. It stung a bit. I was fine.
“Good. Now, I'm not sure if we can fit this band-aid over the whole cut. So I'll wrap it with the cloth bandages. Can you slide forward a bit? Good.”
As she was finishing up, I echoed, “YouTube tutorials?”
“It seemed like something I might need to know eventually.”
“You watch YouTube 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, yet so... so...
Yali went to put away the extra bandages and stuff. By the time she was back, I had finally caught my breath. Maybe now this distraction was over. I said, “So, about what you texted me…”
Yali... hesitated. I couldn't tell whether she was uncomfortable or just not sure what to say. She swallowed. Turned away. Turned back towards me. My heart seemed to be pounding harder than it was even when I was running.
“I don't,” blurted out Yali, “know how to tell you this. I've been trying to plan it out, all day, but it's just, it's just, the words. They won't come.”
“I –” I didn't know what to say. Yali was always so sure of herself! I had no idea how to respond to this. “I... we could save it for another day if you're –”
I jumped. Yali's expression was still neutral, oddly enough, but she had said it so forcefully...
“I didn't mean to yell. But I should've told you this a long time ago. I just, I just... How do you always know what to say?”
“What? You're the one who always knows what to say!”
“Just help me out here.”
“Uh...” I said. “Maybe if you start by, uh... at the beginning? Or like find ONE thing you know how to tell me and start with that?”
“That could work...” Yali was silent for a minute. She climbed back onto the couch beside me, and looked into the distance, thinking. I watched her uncertainly. She didn't look upset, but this wasn't something I'd seen before. Yali squinting. Yali chewing her lip. From anyone else, that wouldn't have caught my attention. But with Yali, it meant something. I was just 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 hadn't meant to sigh out loud in front of Yali, but I was already nervous about what she was going to tell me, and now I had to explain the Ravelling like I was in Divinity class. “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 tasks. 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 was going to react. But how was I going to react? 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 head was spinning. “I don't feel like I know anything about anything. Where do I even start?”
Yali took my hand. “Think of one thing you know how to ask me, and start with that.”
She made it look so easy, throwing my own advice right back at me. Well, the advice did work. I cleared my throat. “Okay... how? 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. And – you know me, I'd plan what shoes to wear to my own execution.”
“Well of course it makes sense for you, I was even comparing you to the Waiting God earlier today –”
“When you texted me. You know, 'When the Waiting God moves, beware.'”
“Oh, that. But it does fit…” Yali thought it over. Then she got back to explaining. “The other gods have their own values, too. The Seeking God likes curiosity, of course, the Stern God likes conviction…”
“And the Blood God?”
“The Blood God values… power.”
“Power? What am I, a high priest?”
Yali laughed. “Not that kind of power. The Blood God's idea of power is more… personal. 'Power of the body, the mind, and the heart.' Which you have in spades.”
“Says the person who casually jumped a fence on the way here, and –”
“No, I get the 'body' part. But the others. What does 'power of the heart' even mean? I mean in real life.”
“Hmm.” Yali considered for a minute. “So this fence you jumped… would it happen to be Old Man Tienna's?”
“Stern take him,” I said.
“The one who says he'll sic his dogs on any kids he catches trespassing…”
“He's just a blowhard,” I said. “He'll yell at you, but he'll never actually do it.”
“You're not… worried about it? At all?”
“What, are you saying the power is courage? Just because I –”
“You really can't see it?”
“It's not just courage. It's more like, like, like everything is easy for you. You just go wherever you want and don't worry about the consequences, and you fight whoever you want, and you, you, you even get good grades. You do all this rebellious stuff and you still walk away with good grades afterwards.”
I shrugged. “I do the work.”
“You just do the work, and – Come on. What was your worst grade last year?”
“I had a B- in History, but –”
“A B-. That was my best grade last year.”
“What?! How can I be getting better grades than someone who was literally selected by the gods for being smart?”
“Not for being smart. For patience, foresight, and planning,” said Yali patiently.
“What's the difference? Can't you just... plan your way into getting the right answers? Oh! And foresee what's going to be on the test!”
“Well, I'll be able to do that soon.”
“I mean, that's one of the magic powers the Farseer gets. But I'll get back to that. Schoolwork really isn't that easy for me. If you give me a worksheet to do, I just, just can't focus on it. Like I have to find the right time of day, get relaxed, make sure to take care of anything else I'm worrying about, and then I can sit down with a worksheet, and then maybe I can focus on it. But most of the time there's just too much other stuff going on in my head. But you, you just think, 'I want to focus on this,' and then you try to focus, and then you're focused. That's how you are. 'I wanted to do it, so I did it.' That's power. It's just automatic for you, so you don't even notice it, but you have power here –” she touched my arm “– and here –” she touched my forehead “– and here –”
She 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 about 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 biting her lip.
“What?” I said.
“The – history. Between the Blood Child and the Farseer...”
“What is it?”
“Listen, before I tell you this, just know that I have a plan, understand? I have a plan for what we can do, so that both of us can stay – safe.”
“Just tell me.”
“You always – The Blood Child always – No... if I explain it like that, you won't get it.” Yali swallowed. “When I was Chosen as the Farseer, I got two powers. One of them was the ability to see possible futures, although it's very weak and hard to use here in the material world. The other was a lot of memories. The memories of dozens of previous Farseers. So 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, wondering if I should feel shocked. But I didn't know how to feel shocked when I didn't know what to make of it at all. “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. Aihael – that's the one from the memories, the one who loved me – I remember Aihael 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...”
“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.” I laughed nervously. “Seriously, I'd rather die.”
Yali's eyes widened. 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. “Sorry about that,” she said. “I just really, really don't want you to die.”
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? There was no way Yali would lie to me. And I couldn't even think of a way she could be wrong…
“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 tasks 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 'tasks' – 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 – let me see if I can remember something.” Yali concentrated for a moment. “That's also not something the gods like. I'm not sure exactly what would happen if you tried that, but it can be harder to... 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 hesitantly.
“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.