Chapter Sixteen: Soulfire
I watched Alchemist walk away, waiting until they were fully out of sight. No matter how serious things where, I really didn’t want to scare Alchemist more than I already had.
Then I turned back to Yali. “So –”
Yali caught my wrist and pulled me down on the mat with her. Before I could react, she kissed me sloppily on the lips.
She did it clumsily and kinda smashed my lip against my teeth, but I didn’t care. All my rage was forgotten in an instant. It had been so long, so long, since anyone had touched me like this. Everything from before the Stern God’s world felt like a lifetime ago. I pressed back into her, my lips and tongue drinking up the warm wetness of her own, my legs tangling together with hers. For the moment, I forgot everything. I could stay like this forever.
Clinging together, we sank down further onto the mat. I lay back and allowed Yali to climb on top of me, her flesh pressing down heavily on the whole length of my body. She never stopped crying, but she kissed me again and again. I closed my eyes and drifted in bliss, drowning in Yali.
I don’t know how long we lay like that. My mind was empty of all thoughts, only pleasure and warmth.
But then, slowly creeping into my awareness, I began to notice that something had changed. Yali’s movements had gotten rougher, and she was sort of clumsily pawing at me… almost sexually? That… wasn’t what I expected. I could feel my skin lighting up under her touch, and for a minute, I just lay there, with my heart pounding, hoping she was going to take it further. But it just wasn’t like the Yali I knew. A tiny doubt was growing inside me, whispering that something was very wrong.
Reluctantly, I pulled my lips away from her. “Yali, what –”
That only made Yali cry harder. Before I could finish talking, she pressed me down on the mat and closed her lips over mine again.
But now that I had started, I wasn’t going to stop. I wrestled her head away from me so that I could talk. “Yali, I don’t understand! I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is fuckin’ hot, but, I thought, you always said –”
Yali struggled and tried to kiss me again, but I kept holding on. Once it sank in that I wasn’t going to let her go without an answer, she stiffened. Her face scrunched up again, sobbing uncontrollably. Her mouth moved awkwardly, trying to form words. “I – I – I don’t want to die!” she blubbered. “I don’t want to die before I ever have sex consensually!”
“I don’t understand, you always said we’re not going to die, what –”
“Justicar is going to kill us!” she blurted loudly, the words crashing at my ears. “She’s going to come for you and then I’ll try to protect you and then she’ll kill us both –”
“Did you See that?!!”
“No, but –”
I gripped her shoulders. “Then it’s NOT going to happen! Didn’t you always say that?! Neither of us is going to die! You’ll always have a plan!”
“But my plans, they… I thought I knew what I was doing! But everything I planned… I almost got you killed! And then Morrow – this was all my fault!!”
“Come on, Justicar tried to kill me. You saved me. How are you even – wait, just because you didn’t foresee it by magic –”
“It’s not just that I didn’t foresee it,” Yali sobbed. “I was the one who told Justicar how you stabbed me. I didn’t think –”
“Look, it’s not your fault, there’s no way you could have known she was going to AFTER EVERYTHING WE’VE BEEN THROUGH, YOU SOLD ME OUT TO THE STERN AGAIN?!?!!”
For a moment, I was stunned. A whole different voice had ripped out of me. And a new feeling thundered inside me, saying that this was the truth roaring up through my lungs, that I was done with trying to sugarcoat what was glaring in all our faces. And in the next instant, I was gripped by the cold certainty that those thoughts had not been mine. I pushed myself away from Yali in terror. “No no no, not now, I can’t let the Blood God take over –”
Yali’s eyes were wide. “When… when did I sell you out to the Stern the first time?”
“Shut up shut up SHUT UP!!” The Blood God was roaring inside of me, desperate to take control. I rolled over and looked away from her, grabbing onto fistfuls of grass and dirt, anything that could distract me from the thoughts that were clamoring on the edges of my mind.
Yali’s voice came ripping from behind me, “I want to hear what the Blood God has to say!”
“I’ll kill you!! I don’t have it under control!”
Yali’s hand came down heavily on my shoulder. She tried to pull me back to her. I struggled away and fell in the dirt. She yelled after me, “In the Stern God’s world, I searched the future for danger and I saw nothing! The Waiting God could have showed me your death, but it didn’t! I need to know! What is the Waiting hiding from me?!”
“Everything!” I yelled back, my voice crying out beyond my control.
“Then tell me! The potion I drank earlier is still protecting me! You cannot kill me even if you try! So tell me!”
Yali would be safe…
All my resistance collapsed like tissue paper. Triumphant power flooded into me – the power of Blood. Effortlessly, I rose to my feet and stood, straightening up to my full height, turning my face against the thunder. I was still half streaked with dirt, but that was no blemish on my boundless body. I flexed my hand, exulting in every muscle. I drew in a breath, the damp and earthy air exploding into my lungs like a stiff breeze after weeks spent cramped in a dusty room. And then… I looked.
There it was. The Farseer. The one I hated with the bottom of my heart, the one I kept insisting on loving.
And we were at a standstill. The sorcery around its body gleamed in my second sight, a shield that would set the world itself to block me if I struck against it. I could not pierce that shield, not while I was still divided. Not while I kept holding myself back from drawing on my true fire.
“Say what you must,” said my voice.
The Farseer spoke. “Blood Child, when did I sell you out to the Stern the first time?”
The answer blazed in my mind with perfect clarity. I struggled to express it, to reduce it to human words. “A… long time ago. At the very beginning of this. It was you! It was you who… who did this to me!”
“What did I do to you?”
“Look for yourself!” I screamed. With a crash, the clouds split apart and a shaft of light landed on me. All over my body, wounds began to appear. A bloody gouge across my stomach. A dozen holes through my chest. Multiple slashes to my arms and legs, that felt like they could have completely severed them. Memories flooded into my mind, of myself, in my dozens of other bodies, crawling desperately as my lifeblood flowed away from me. The pain of the wounds flooded through me, but it felt like catharsis. I was finally laying the truth out in the open. “These are the wounds your Justicars and your laskueh have dealt to me! Now do you see what you have done?!” I demanded. I doubled over, blood dripping from my forehead into my eyes. “I have been blinded, maimed, brought to my knees, shredded limb from limb! You tore down my temple and forced my people under the law of the Stern! Your laskueh have trampled over my body to make your perfect world! But I will not go down without a fight! I will tear the worlds apart before I allow myself to be erased by you!”
The Farseer stood motionless. It silently considered my words, its thoughts unreadable. Even after everything, I was aching to hear how it would answer, hoping against hope for just one word of acknowledgment from behind that stony mask, one drop of pity or remorse. But the mask was as cold as ever.
Guardedly, the Farseer spoke again. “So the Waiting God is trying to erase you? And you kill the Farseer to stop it from happening?”
All at once, a wave of hopelessness washed through me, completely turning around my pride and rage. “To stop you?” I said hollowly. The feelings dropped me to the ground, sprawling with my face in the dirt, and ushered in another torrent of rain, a torrent that flattened my clothes against my back and pounded through them onto my skin. The blood from my wounds pooled and seeped into the soil. “To stop you?” I moaned into the dirt. “I will kill you and kill you and kill you, and when I am gone, you will still be strong. My hands are empty, and I am beating against the mountain. You call me the danger?”
Rainwater swirled around me, pooling and submerging half my face. The Farseer’s voice rang down from above me. “I did see you that way. Maybe I still do. But I’m willing to reconsider.”
Inside me, a thousand feelings blossomed from those words. Hope and vindication, contempt and despair. It couldn’t be real. It was just another lie, another manipulation. What did the Farseer want from me, that it would play at reconsidering? I could feel its sincerity. I wanted to believe. But it had always made lies out of the truth. I couldn’t dare give in to trust.
“Are you… are you okay down there? I don’t want you to drown, or –”
I laughed, a short, painful laugh, gasping bits of water into my mouth. This Farseer was still a human, looking at me as if I was only a human, to be cared for like a human. In a way, it was sweet how sincere it was. I knew I couldn’t trust it, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to be just a little closer to it, just for a while.
I hauled myself up to my knees. Crudely, my wounds began to knit themselves closed again. “My body isn’t going to die from this,” I said. “You know it takes more to kill me than a bit of matter.”
The Farseer crouched in front of me. “I don’t know. I don’t know half as much about the Blood God as I thought I did.”
It was tearing me apart how much I wanted to believe that. “Why are you saying that?” I begged. “Why do you toy with me?”
The Farseer examined me, full of doubt and concern. “If I understand you right, every time you’ve said ‘you’, you’ve been talking about the Waiting God. But what do you think about me – Yali?”
“But you are the Farseer.”
“I may be the Farseer, but do you see no difference between me and the Waiting God? I am not the god! If the Waiting God is responsible for this injustice, I will do anything in my power to stop it!”
I stared at the being in front of me.
Now that I looked at it in detail, it was like an optical illusion, something that couldn’t possibly exist. It was giving me a splitting headache. What – but – how – it was definitely a human! And it was definitely woven into the god! It even called itself a Farseer! But then how – how –
Memories came flooding back to me. How it had worked together with that broken fragment, the one we called Neenu. How it had fought against the Justicar, even bizarrely using deception, to prevent my death. A death the Waiting God itself had planned! And how it had claimed that the Waiting God had hidden things from it! How had I not realized before? It, the one calling itself Yali, was just as much of a broken fragment itself! Like a damaged clock with gears running at two different speeds, like a puppet wrestling for a grip on its own strings, like a parasite using its host’s own strength to devour it, it was a flaw in the Waiting God’s plan, and it was ripping and tearing to widen the flaw at every chance it had.
I tried to shift my focus, to look at the different parts of it. It was hard, because they were woven together so tightly. Every time I tried to see where one ended and the other began, it seemed to shimmer and shift. But slowly, I began to make sense of the shapes. The place where the transcendent web of the god twisted and meshed with… the other part. The human. Yali, I guess.
So Yali was the one I was talking to… Now that I thought about it, what should I even say to her? “Waiting… laskueh,” I began contemptuously. But even that didn’t seem quite right anymore. “You poor, pathetic thing. Did it really not tell you? Did it not tell any of the others?! That monster! So is that what it wants? It wants to commit the perfect crime! It would kill me and make even its own assassins believe their hands were clean!”
“I believe you,” she said. “Can you give me more details? How does the Waiting God kill you each year? How did it start? And you said it destroyed your temple, how did that happen?”
I couldn’t believe it. I was actually going to do this. I was actually talking to her. I was the Blood God, and I was talking to her! A peal of laughter burst from me, a sudden release of a tension deep inside. I doubled over laughing, laughing until I cried, straining the muscles in my sides and barely holding myself up. I gasped out, “I thought I could never live with me because I was trying to kill you! And I thought I could never live with me because I kept stopping me from hurting you! But you weren’t you all along!! Ha ha ha ha hahahaha haha – urk –”
“Steady there. Breathe.” Yali tried to hold me up. I took a minute to get myself under control, tears of laughter still leaking from my eyes. “Can you, can you, say that again, but, but, but –”
“Oh yeah, I guess that was confusing. So, there’s me and me – wait –” I snickered. “I guess I can’t say ‘me’ for either of us while I’m explaining it. So, there’s… there’s Rinn, and there’s the Blood God. And I thought – I mean, Rinn thought the Blood God was trying to kill Yali, but it was only trying to kill, uh… let’s say ‘the Farseer’. And I – I mean, the Blood God – the Blood God thought Rinn was trying to – no, that’s not quite right, the Blood God didn’t understand that Rinn was a separate person? The Blood God thought… we?… were trying not to hurt the Farseer, when it was just Rinn trying not to hurt Yali.”
“I – I – I –”
“I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, we can’t kill the Farseer without hurting Yali. But there’s gotta be a way around that, we’ll figure something out. We’re both amazing. And you too! All three of us are amazing.” I slapped Yali on the arm. I grinned. “I’m so fucking happy right now! I can’t believe it! This whole time, I’ve been fighting against me, and now I don’t have to fight anymore!” I felt like there’d been an oppressive wall inside of me, and it was melting down even as we talked. I shook my fist in the air. “Now I am everything again! I am power! I am passion! I am… Aaaaaaaahhhhhh!” I screamed an exultant scream, shaking the sky with my joy. The power blazed forth from my heart, an unquenchable fire of strength, of sureness, of love.
My fire billowed around me. I rose effortlessly to my feet. Within my aura of flame, everything felt amazing. The rain boiled off of me, leaving me warm and dry. My remaining wounds faded away, my flesh made whole and warm again, my skin smoothed together into a single, beautifully sensitive organ.
In front of me, I saw Yali wide-eyed, a look of both fear and awe. In a husky whisper, she spoke:
The power I feel around me is the fire of my soul.
No wall can hold me.
No truth can hide from me.
No force can break me for as long as my blood still flows.
A thrill rose through me as I heard those words. “That sounds like a prayer,” I declared. It wasn’t a question. I knew this prayer. I had known it for a thousand years. Countless generations of humanity had lived and loved and died, and at every step, they had called out to me, speaking these words, to take pride in their strengths, to celebrate their triumphs, to rally themselves against death and despair. Warriors had spoken them on the verge of battle. Parents had spoken them at the birth of their children. Lovers had spoken them together as they defied persecution. This was no Stern prayer. When you prayed to the Stern, you looked to the spires of distant temples, debasing yourself for the mercy of a power that stood above you. But when you prayed to the Blood God, you looked to your own heart.
Yali answered me. “Yes. A prayer of the Blood God, a prayer I found in an old book in the monastery archives, one the monks didn’t realize we still had. You… I wish you could see yourself. It’s beautiful.”
I smiled easily. “I wish you could be me.”
Getting the details was a lot harder than I had hoped. The Blood God – or at least, the part of me that was the Blood God – had a general sense of what had happened, but it didn’t seem to remember specific things that happened the way a human would. Going through its memories took a lot of intuition and guesswork. Sometimes, something just felt right. But if I tried to think about it more, I’d lose it. Eventually, I settled into saying everything out loud as soon as it came into my head – and half the time, I’d immediately feel like, no, I didn’t say that right. And then I’d have to say, “no, that’s not right”, so that Yali would know to delete it from where she was taking notes on her phone. And then I would try to think of something else and see if that was right.
“Stern take it, I thought it would be a lot easier to just let the god speak through me, like I was doing before,” I said.
“No, it makes sense… The gods can’t form human words on their own. So, it’s less like the god speaking through you, and more like, like… you’re interpreting for the god. So when the god’s thoughts are harder to reach –”
“But the Endless Maze had some puzzles with words in them! And the Codex –”
“It’s like I told you. The worlds are constructed based on our assumptions. Any words we saw came from the five Ravellers, one way or another.”
While I tried to interpret for the god, Yali also tried to look things up. First she checked the encyclopedia on her phone, and then she even manifested some history textbooks, saying, “These should at least tell us some history about the Blood Temple.” But even after she flipped through them for a while, it seemed like she hadn’t found what she was looking for. I looked over her shoulder and read along:
“– there was an atmosphere of fear in the city, as the Blood Temple became increasingly violent. The new generation of Blood Temple leaders had little respect for the ancient treaties between the temples –”
“Bullshit!” I said. “They broke the treaties, not us!”
“‘They’ as in the Waiting Temple?”
I could tell it was an honest question, but it felt like a trap for some reason. “It’s the Waiting’s fault, I know that much!”
“What would be useful to know,” said Yali, “is exactly what treaties were broken, and how. But these books aren’t helping, they’re hardly giving me any details. Can you?”
Eventually, with effort, we managed to get some information out of the god. According to the Blood God, the Stern were being used as a tool, both in the Otherworld and in the city. In the Otherworld, once the Blood Children and Farseers had started killing each other, the Waiting had tricked the Justicars into thinking the Blood Child was always the aggressor. In most years, the Justicar ultimately killed the Blood Child, so the Blood Child was desperate to kill the Farseer before the Justicar was powerful enough to stop them. And in the city, the Stern Temple had violated the borders between the temples, undermined the structure of the Blood Temple until it was weak, and then destroyed it – all controlled by the Waiting, although I still couldn’t figure out exactly what kind of control that was.
And there was a number. Four. The number of years when the Blood God had hesitated before it began to fight back.
“I gave you four chances!” I roared. I was the Blood God again. This time I knew the “you” wasn’t really Yali, but it still felt like the thing to say. “You killed me, and I still gave you another chance! Because you were my – my family! The first time, I thought it wasn’t your fault! The second time, I thought it could have been a mistake! When you killed me the third time, I knew something was wrong! I was in pain, I was afraid, I could feel my temple in turmoil, but I still stayed my hand! I didn’t want to throw away the trust I thought we had together! And for my trust, I saw the life choked out of me! The fourth time… I still did not fight back, because…” My voice broke. “I didn’t know what to do. You were… strong, you were my…” Hot tears poured down my face. My thoughts cracked. Another memory had awoken, Rinn’s memory of this year’s Justicar standing over her. The helplessness… the inevitability of my death… I clung to Yali’s shoulder. “Yali… help me… I’m scared…”
Yali held me, but she was distant. “If only we could verify this from the Farseers’ memories… but of course, I only have the memories from the years they died… so, so… tell me about the first time you killed me!”
A sick feeling crushed in on me, overwhelmed and desperate. “I didn’t even do it on purpose,” I moaned. “No, I did it on purpose, but it wasn’t, like, purposeful… I was in a rage, I wasn’t sure… when I think of it from the outside, it’s so obvious, but as a human, I… I remember, the Alchemist was there, the Farseer was telling them what to do… It was long and slow, they were helping me, they… no…”
I spent a while sorting out the memories. I had to keep going back and forth, trying to get it straight which memories were from one year and which were from another. I couldn’t bear to let Yali take her arm out from around me, but she still took notes with her other hand while I talked.
After a while, Yali looked up from her notes. “So,” she said, summing things up, “the Blood Child had some sort of disease, and the Farseer offered to help, but actually they manipulated the Alchemist into slowly poisoning the Blood Child. The Blood Child got sicker and sicker until they realized it was the Farseer’s fault –”
“I wouldn’t say I realized… they were just the only one in front of me, for me to blame… I mean, I know I was right, but…”
“Right. Eventually, the Blood Child was overwhelmed by bad feelings, and took out their anger by killing the Farseer. But it was too late to save themselves, and they still died afterwards. Does that sound accurate?”
Yali grinned viciously. “This is great! This means that one of me died in the same year as they intentionally killed the Blood Child! Now I should be able to look in my memories and find out what I was thinking!”
Yali put her head down and concentrated, hunting in the memories. Pretty soon, she began to frown, and as time passed, her frown got deeper and deeper. Finally, her voice broke the silence.
“I can’t find them,” she said.
So the question was – did Yali not have the memories of the Farseer who poisoned the Blood Child? Or did she just not remember doing it? Or was it the Blood God’s memories that were wrong? Yali didn’t think it was the last one. She was sure that Waiting God was hiding something from her.
“Ugh,” I said, “I wish I could remember their names. Or what they looked like. But all I can remember is their souls.”
“Would you recognize them if you saw them?”
“I don’t know, maybe?”
So Yali started showing me pictures of all the old Farseers. She had to manifest pictures based on their own memories of how they looked, which weren’t always realistic, but they were close enough. With each picture she showed me, she also told me their name, and a few things about them. She even told me a bit of what it felt like to be them from the inside, in case I’d remember their souls better that way.
Pretty soon, I had a couple dozen pictures piled up in front of me. But they didn’t mean much to me. The names and faces all felt familiar, and some of them gave me bits of regret or anger, but none of them really seemed that important.
“They really don’t feel important?” said Yali. “Every one of them remembers being killed by an angry Blood Child. You – the Blood God – thought it was important enough to kill them –”
“I mean, I technically killed them,” I said. “But they were your laskeuh, that’s not the same as killing the humans on purpose –”
“Er… your laskueh. It’s, like, this word the Blood God uses, I mean, it’s not really pronounced that way, it’s not exactly a word, I mean, like…”
“I understand. The stuff I get from the Waiting God isn’t exactly human words either.”
“Yeah, so, the Blood God has always called you the Waiting God’s laskueh. And I first I thought it meant Raveller, but it doesn’t. It means, like… a servant. Someone who works for someone else.” Trying to explain it in words felt so flat. Saying someone who works for someone else didn’t have the overwhelming sense of contempt that this word had. So I tried to explain. “And, like, to the Blood God, that’s really bad. Like… If you obey someone else’s orders instead of doing what you really want, that’s like, stepping on your own blood.”
“Sounds like victim-blaming,” said Yali.
“No, it’s not,” I said instinctively. “That’s a Stern way of thinking. You’re thinking, ‘well, the person who obeyed orders was doing something unholy, so it’s their fault, so we don’t have to be mad at the person giving the orders’. But that’s not how the Blood God thinks. We do have to be mad at the person giving the orders. The Blood God doesn’t forget where the real fault is just because you point fingers! And it makes them more bad, because it means they forced someone else into degrading themselves!”
Yali was quiet for a while before she responded. “Maybe what you’re saying will make sense once I’ve thought about it more,” she said neutrally. “But I’ve spent a lot of time doing what other people told me to. It’s a lot to process right now.”
“Oh, uh, right.” It had been a while since Yali had reacted that way to something, but I still recognized it. It was probably really upsetting for her, she was just holding back. I made myself shut up. “So, uh… want to show me more of the Farseers?”
“Right.” Yali manifested another photo and handed it to me. “Garthold Brannet. He was a lawyer who worked for some company, he’s all serious about his job –”
I looked at the photo. “That fucker!” I yelled.
“Is it him? The one who –”
“– who killed me? Haha no, this guy sucks. It’s more about when he was a human… like he did something against the Blood Temple? No – it feels like it was about the Blood Temple, but he didn’t do anything himself…”
Yali concentrated. “I don’t remember him doing anything against the Blood Temple either. Most of his work was in the Stern courts, which didn’t even have jurisdiction over the fifth ring back then. Unless that work is what the Blood God is mad about?”
“Nah, I mean, Stern law is fucked up, but it’s not that. It’s…” But I couldn’t remember. The feeling was gone. “He just sucks,” I concluded.
So Yali kept listing off more Farseers. There was a librarian who had respected all the gods and worked to restore ancient scrolls. There was a grandfather who had spent his later years caring for his many grandchildren. There was a farmer who tried to keep the old lore of horticulture alive despite the shortcuts of modern technology…
“Oh, and of course there’s Hiram!” she said. “I almost didn’t think of him because I’m using his memories all the time, to know what to say.”
“Hiram Soleocchi…” I muttered as Yali gave me the rundown on him. Something seemed so familiar, but I just couldn’t place it. A man who talks the way Yali talks… a schoolteacher… a man who likes children, who knows how to be soothing…
And then it hit me. “By my heart’s blood!” I swore. “What gave you the right to use him – to ravel him! He was one of mine, he was part of my lifeblood! And you made him a Farseer?! You – oh gods, oh gods, and I must have killed him.” I looked down at my hands. What had I done? Painful tears sprang to my eyes. “Just when I thought you couldn’t get any more fucked up,” I sobbed. “You made me kill part of my own temple.”
“Part of your temple?” said Yali intently. “He worked for the Blood Temple?”
“Yes!!” I yelled through my tears. “Twenty-five years if it was a day! I was with him when he stoked the fires! And you took him away from me!! How can you –”
“But…” Yali was concentrating. “No, you’re right, he must’ve worked for the Blood Temple before he was a teacher, it feels like it’s right on the edge of my memory. If it was for twenty-five years, I should be able to remember some of it! He’s already middle-aged when he’s a teacher, the Blood Temple must’ve been his whole early adulthood… so if I think back to then… my friend is taking me on a trip to the gardens up in the fourth ring… but that’s a special occasion, I’d normally be back at… at… it has to be the Blood Temple, right? But I can’t remember the rest of that day… what else can I try? You said ‘when he stoked the fires’ – yes, I’m lifting the chopped wood with my hands, so it is there… but, wait, what was in the rest of the room around me? It’s hard to…”
“It erased the memories,” I breathed.
“I don’t think these memories were erased.” Her voice rang out loud and sudden, bursting with anger and realization. “It’s much worse and more manipulative than that. A normal person would think of just erasing all the memories about the Blood Temple. But then what if I noticed that some important memories were missing? No… all the memories are still here, but I can only find them if I already know what I’m looking for. Other memories come to mind if I think of something related, but these ones just don’t. And even while I’m looking, I’m getting a feeling like, whatever I’m not remembering, it can’t have been very important. I’m being guided away from the Blood Temple. It’s just like the Waiting to make the smallest change with the biggest possible impact. ‘Guidance rather than force’. And it almost worked. If it wasn’t for you, I would have never known what to look for. The Waiting God doesn’t just want us to forget the Blood Temple. It wants us to forget that there was anything we were forgetting at all.”
“What else are we forgetting?! If this much was hidden in plain sight and I didn’t see it, there could be more! There could be – there could be – The books!!” she yelled. “I thought they were just oversimplifying things, but they left out the details on purpose! Think about it! The Waiting Temple are the historians, they’re the ones who made these textbooks, this is what all the schools are teaching! The whole way we learn about Blood worshippers growing up is just history teachers saying how they were some bad people from the past who attacked the city –”
“We didn’t ATTACK the city, we WERE the city –”
“– and how would we know to question it? The Waiting control everything we know about it!”
“I mean, I wouldn’t say the schools control what I think,” I said, as Rinn. “Like, before this, if you’d asked me about Blood worship, I wouldn’t have thought of some boring history stuff, I would’ve thought of –”
– a scene from a movie, red-robed cultists with long knives carrying off an innocent girl –
“No!” I yelled. Both of me wanted to speak at once. “I thought they were just made-up villains for cheesy action movies! I never thought about it before, but the Blood Temple was a real religion! Why would you make Blood worshippers the villains unless – it was deliberate!” I manifested a movie poster and threw it on the ground, staring at the cultists around their altar. “How could people believe this?! We never performed human sacrifice! This is the opposite of everything we stood for! And you accused us of this?! The moment my temple was in ruins, you were already spitting on it with your lies!”
“The Waiting Temple doesn’t make the movies, though…” said Yali, mulling it over. “And I don’t think the movie writers are attacking the Blood Temple on purpose, it’s just a lazy plot that won’t make the other temples suspect them of Blood worship. So this part might not be an intentional lie –”
“Yeah, it’s not a lie, it’s TWO lies! Bad enough to just tell a lie yourself, but you told it through somebody else and made it look like you didn’t do anything!”
“Just like the memories…” said Yali uncertainly.
“I can’t believe it,” I said, my voice breaking. “You were right. Everything we’ve ever heard about me and my temple… it’s all a lie, crafted over the last seventy-four years to make us forget everything we were. We’ve been reduced to a caricature, one-dimensional villains to knock down. How much of us is even left? You won’t even stop when I am gone… you will keep erasing until we forget I was even here…”
“Well, one thing’s for sure,” said Yali grimly. “If it’s so important to the Waiting to make us forget, then it’s up to us to remember as much as we can.”
My brain was exhausted
We were sitting in the middle of a huge mess of papers, copies of Yali’s phone, and history books. Yali had laid down a hardwood floor over the whole clearing we were in, and everything else was strewn on top of it. It was a good thing it wasn’t raining anymore. The trees had still been dripping at first, but after a few hours, they had stopped. Our materials were free to sprawl farther and farther towards the borders of the clearing.
And most importantly, they were arranged in a giant timeline. Every year from the last eighty years had its own little section, with pages of information about the news and political events from that year, plus notes about what each of the former Farseers could remember about that year. And a few notes about what the Blood God remembered, although it was usually hard to pin that down to specific years.
“It’s a good thing your monastery had so many old books,” I said. The history books had given us a lot of useful context, even if they were suspiciously terse about the Blood Temple. Most of them had been written after the Blood Temple fell, and they talked about the Blood Temple in the same way as the one we’d read earlier, sometimes even using almost exactly the same words. And the ones from before the fall didn’t mention the Blood Temple at all – or more likely, the ones that had mentioned it had been purged from the monastery archives before Yali was born. The juiciest bit we’d gotten was from a crumbling newspaper. One article mentioned a court case about a Blood priest who’d been arrested by the Stern police. But it didn’t really explain what the case was about. And it was a good thing Yali could manifest it more than once, because it kept falling to pieces.
Yali responded, “Honestly, I’m surprised at how many books you’ve been able to manifest. What with not caring about history and all.”
“What can I say, I love putting my hands all over stuff.”
Yali shuffled some things around. “More importantly, it’s a good thing I already knew how common false memories are. Otherwise I’d be really confused by these inconsistencies. It looks like the only thing we can really rely on is the fact that you can’t remember something that happened after you died. But that’s, that’s… sufficient,” she said, frowning.
After what seemed like forever, we were done. We had mapped out the lives of all the Farseers from Yali’s memories. All sixty-eight of them.
The history books all agreed on the first year the Farseer had been killed. And every Farseer in Yali’s memories could remember at least two years after that.
“I should have checked!” yelled Yali. “I had these memories as soon as I knew I was the Farseer! Seventy years of dead Farseers, seventy sets of memories… but there were never seventy sets of memories in me! If only I had checked that there were actually seventy separate individuals in there!”
“Who in the Endless would think of checking something like that?? There’s no way you could have known about any of thi–”
“No, I should have known! Whatever people think of the Blood God, it was never the god of holding a grudge, the god who would keep a feud going for seventy years! The god of holding a grudge – is the Waiting God.”
Yali gave me an odd look. “You, you, you didn’t grow up in Waiting culture like I did. When something matters to us, we never forget it. There’s even, there’s even a joke about an old Waiting priest who doesn’t forgive someone for stealing a doll when they were children. We never let go. And the Waiting God… Look at all this.” Her eyes traced over our timeline. “A plan more than seventy years in the execution. Every detail carefully controlled. This is the Waiting God I know. I should have been suspicious as soon as I got my powers, because I didn’t know why the Blood Children were attacking us. How could the Waiting God not know something so important? Of course it knew, it always knew. I should have –”
“Okay, but we know now. Maybe you could have caught it sooner, but we’ve caught it now, and that’s what counts –”
“But how much do we really know? We’ve been working for more than ten hours, and even with both of us working together, we barely know any more about the Blood Temple than we did before. Maybe if I’d seen it sooner… maybe if…” She lapsed into silence.
It was tearing me up to see Yali doubt herself. I tried to think of something more optimistic to say. But suddenly, I was too tired myself. The work had taken a lot out of me. And I was starting to come down from the rush of the Blood God, too. It wasn’t gone or anything, but I was mostly Rinn again. The Blood God was still there, a wellspring of strength waiting in my heart, and in every muscle of my body, that would be ready when I really needed to reach for it. It just wasn’t me, not right now.
I looked around. It was like I was seeing everything for the first time, again, but differently. This time, it all looked new because it wasn’t awe-inspiring. It was just ordinary stuff, not the vivid, brilliant, unquenchable true reality I had seen as the Blood God. Just trees. Just rocks. Just the wooden floor. Just my back resting against some hard bark. Just… a mass of blood spread across the soil, seeping into a nearby brook and making it run red with blood?
“Uh… shit,” I said, looking at it. That was my blood. Or the Blood God’s blood, or something like that.
Yali followed my gaze. “Are you okay? I just want to make sure, since that’s technically a lot of blood –”
“I’m fine, I still feel better than ever. I’m literally the Blood Child, I figure my blood is a special case.”
“Yeah, that’s what I assumed, too. Especially since, since, I think that’s more blood than would actually fit in your body.”
I laughed. “That river of blood, though… That’s really how the Blood God feels about what’s happening. I feel like I understand it a lot better now. Like, in the Stern God’s world, I was so depressed and I didn’t know why, but now I do. I think the Blood God realized, when we were in the second layer, it realized that I wasn’t going to let it kill you, and so it felt so hopeless –”
“It knew that you were doing it because you loved me. And the Blood God has power over passionate love, so it took away that part of you so that it could lower your resistance –”
“No I didn’t! I’m not a manipulator like you– Er, sorry about that,” I said. “That was the god again. But it’s right, it didn’t do that on purpose. It just felt so hopeless that it gave up and kind of… withdrew into itself. And, remember, we’re not two separate people, so when it gave up, I lost all my Blood feelings, too. I got so weak that the Stern God started leaking into my head. And the most fucked up thing is, the Stern is all like ‘if you start something, you should finish it’, so the Stern feelings made me go after you again, even after the Blood God gave up!”
“And that’s not the only thing I understand better now! Like, even way back in the first layer, I was mad about you and Justicar working together, and I kind of assumed it was just me being mad about all her Stern stuff. And it was partly that. But it was also the Blood God thinking you were going to manipulate her against me.”
“Oh, is that why you were acting so jealous about it?” said Yali distractedly.
“Jealous?? You take that back,” I laughed. Yali chuckled.
I lay back, manifesting a pillow under my head and gazing into the sky. It was so nice to be able to laugh along with Yali, with the Blood God on our side, not coming between us. But the instant I started to relax, I remembered everything that was coming. I sat bolt upright. “Shit, what are we going to do now?!”
“You’re right. We need to plan.” Yali switched back into full focus mode. “You have your soulfire now, so that gives us a weapon that can hurt Justicar. But she’s still dangerous, and the Waiting God will do anything it can to let her kill you –”
I looked back at her with dismay. It made sense, but – “I meant about the Blood God! I can’t believe I spent all that time telling it to shut up when it was actually afraid it was going to be killed!! But now that we know it was the real victim, I don’t even know how to help it!” When I had first joined with the god, it had felt like I suddenly understood everything, like the solution was going to be so obvious. But now, reality was hitting me. The only way it knew how to fight back was to kill the Farseer. And we couldn’t kill the Farseer…
“Rinn. Listen to me.” She was deadly serious. “I know you feel like, feel like, feel like the god is part of you now. But you have to remember who you are. Are you forgetting how it tried to make you kill me?”
“Of course I’m not forgetting that! That was fucked up! But it’s being killed right in front of us!” The word killed felt wrong – killing was something that happened to humans, not gods. But I wasn’t sure what else to say. There wasn’t a word for eliminating a god, because that wasn’t something that ever happened. “I’m not going to lecture someone for lashing out when they’re still in the middle of being killed! We have to do something!”
“Rinn. What we have to do is keep ourselves alive. Everything else comes second.”
I felt tears coming to my eyes again. She didn’t understand. “It’s all happening right in front of us! Inside us! How can you talk about just staying alive when it’s being killed right in front of us?”
“We didn’t choose this. We’re not obligated to fix the gods’ problems just because they forced us to be their –”
“You’re seriously going to just let the Waiting get away with it?!”
Yali opened her mouth, then closed it again. She glared into the distance, seeming to have a long fight with herself. I knew I had her. There were a lot of things she could ignore, but letting the Waiting God win wasn’t one of them.
“Okay,” she said, finally. “But the Waiting God isn’t just getting away with it. The Waiting God’s goal is to starve the Blood God, so if the Blood God gets to rejuvenate, the Waiting doesn’t win.”
“But it’ll rejuvenate too! That’s such an insult! Next year it’s going to go right back to killing me, and –”
“That’s not all. Even if it rejuvenates, it will rejuvenate from my soul. And I’m going to do everything I can to sabotage it.”
“Nooo…” I held her hand and looked into her eyes, trying to reach something there. “Yali, I know you’re amazing, and powerful, but you don’t understand. It’s one thing to learn how to swim against the river, but it’s another thing to block the whole river with your body. You’ll be swept away. The Waiting God will digest you and come out stronger.”
“But – we always talked about you being able to influence the Blood God – are you saying that was hopeless too?”
“That’s different, I want to be influenced by my Ravellers! But your god is nothing like me. It used you once. It’ll use you again.”
“I – I hope you’re wrong –” I could hear the pain in her voice too, now. “But even if you’re right, it’s the only thing we can do. It’s a god. How else can we fight against it?”
“Aaaaaaaargh!” I leapt up and pounded my fists against a tree. “It’s not enough! It’s not enough!” I roared. “How can this be all there is?! We have to be able to do something! We have to! We have to –”
Yali stood behind me and took me by the shoulders, gently pulling me away from pounding on the tree. Reluctantly, I turned and let myself sink into her arms. I looked up at her, hoping that I would somehow see her strength again, that she would be sure of what to do. But her eyes were troubled.
“Tell me something honestly,” she said. “If we can’t think of another solution, do you think the Blood God will try to kill me again?”
Tears poured down my face. As the Blood God, I couldn’t bear to answer. I couldn’t face the finality of giving up on my only revenge. But with Rinn pushing me along, I forced my mouth to form the words. “No,” I said. “I won’t. It would be going against my own blood.” I was trying my best, but when I heard myself, it sounded weak and uncertain.
“Thank you for saying that,” said Yali. I could tell she didn’t believe me either. “It’ll have to –”
Suddenly, there was a loud buzzing all around us.
We both whirled around, looking for the danger, but it turned out it was just coming from all the copies of Yali’s phone.
“That must have been –” Yali tried to catch her breath from being startled. “I set a timer earlier. Based on what I Saw, Alchemist will be back soon. We must have copied the phone after I set it –”
As soon as she mentioned Alchemist, a whole another set of memories stampeded into my brain, fighting with the Blood God ones for space. “Oh shit, I almost forgot about the whole thing with Morrow!! We’ve been spending this whole time dealing with our god stuff, we still haven’t figured out how to save Morrow! We’ve gotta –”
“Wait,” said Yali. “Your, your relationship with the Blood God is important. It didn’t sound like this was a good time to interrupt our conversation.”
I felt my heart pulsing inside me with the power of the Blood God. As soon as I listened to it, the answer became clear. “It’s okay,” I said firmly. “The Blood God is with me on this. Alchemist and Morrow need our help, and they need it now. You and I… it’s big, but we can save it for later.”
“I just want to make sure – okay, you’re sure. You’re right, it’s not urgent…” Yali looked down, and her shoulders sank a little. It wasn’t a big movement, but I could tell she was exhausted. “I should use the Seeing to prepare. To make sure things go well with Alchemist…”
“Wait, the Seeing? What if it lies to you, like it lied before?”
“It did not… lie. The Waiting God is, is, is… it doesn’t lie if it can help it. It’s not like ‘you must never lie’ like the Stern, but still… the truth is the foundation of the Waiting. You know, like, ‘You must tell the truth a thousand times before you will be capable of telling one lie.’ So… I will be careful, but there are still ways I can make use of the Seeing. Just as long as I know I can’t trust it completely.”
“That’s pretty twisted,” I said.
Yali looked dismayed.
“No, it’s cool,” I said. “It’s just so twisted. Now that we know the Waiting God is the enemy, I was assuming we’d be like, ‘fuck everything Waiting’. But now you’re talking about using the Waiting God’s own power against it. And that’s… badass, but… it’s still the enemy’s power! You can’t make it yours, you can’t make it good –”
“I’m not trying to. At this point, I’m trying to, to, to take advantage of it.”
“Well, I hope it doesn’t come back to bite you.”
“I hope so too,” said Yali. Then she corrected herself. “No. I don’t hope anything. I will make sure it doesn’t come back to bite me.” Yali looked down again. “Now, if you could give me some time to –”
“Yeah, go ahead,” I said.
Yali manifested a new comfy chair, sat down and stared into the distance.
Waiting for Yali to get back to the present, I finally had a moment to look down at myself. I was a huge mess, bits of dried blood caked onto my skin, dirt on my clothes and hair. My whole body was cramped from crouching over papers all day. Worst of all, my shirt and jacket still had all those holes in them – the ones that my blades had made when I was angry about Morrow hurting Alchemist.
I couldn’t let Alchemist see me looking like that. I stepped behind a tree and unmanifested my clothes again, then made a huge mass of cold water above me, letting it slam down on my head and shoulders and flush away all the mess. A few more torrents of water later, I felt clean and refreshed. Then I unmanifested all of the water, instantly drying me off. I finished by manifesting a new set of clothes, about the same as before, but all intact, cozy and warm.
When I came back around the tree, Yali’s eyes looked a little different – she was still staring, but not quite the same way she did when she was using the Seeing. “Hey Yali, are you back –”
A strange feeling struck me. Yali didn’t move a muscle, but somehow, it felt like she wanted to tell me something. Wanted to – but was afraid.
“What did you See?” I said, rushing towards her. She had been looking for – for Alchemist! “Is Alchemist okay?! Tell me they’re okay!!”
“They’re okay.” Yali’s voice broke out stiff and sudden. “In fact – they’ve had an idea that could change everything.”