Chapter Two: The Plan
Content warnings for this chapter:
Description of anti-gay attitudes; verbally abusive language; brief mention of sexual assault.
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)
“This is your mind.”
Yali put a piece of paper on the table in front of us.
“This –” she drew a square at one end of the paper “– is where you are right now. And this –” she drew a square at the other end “– is where you have to get in order to kill me.”
“In order to kill you?”
“Think of it as a board game you’re going to play against the Blood God. Your piece starts here, and the god tries to move it over there, while you try to move it back.”
“Now, this –” Yali drew a line across the middle of the paper, separating the starting square from the ending square. “– this wall is your love for me. It’s a very strong wall, and a very important one. The problem is, the Blood God’s will is also strong. It can batter down the wall, like it did for the other Blood Children in the past.” Yali drew an arrow straight across the wall, from start to finish. “So I want to build more defenses in your mind, so you’ll be ready for it.”
“That… makes sense, but what kind of defenses are you talking about? Would you, like… put a sorcery on me?”
“No, not sorcery. I mean I think we can teach you regular mental skills. Like –” Yali drew a series of boxes “– there are a lot of steps you’d have to go through before you even get to the wall. The Blood God will have to make you angry. It’ll have to direct that anger towards me. And it’ll have to make you think you have to hurt me – I mean, make you think the way to act on your anger is to hurt me, rather than doing something else. And all of those things are things you can resist. Like, you can practice resisting them in regular life, too.”
“Like I could practice calming myself down?”
“Yes. Or –” she went through the boxes in order “– redirecting your anger, or expressing it in ways that aren’t violent, or –”
“Hang on,” I said. I needed a minute to wrap my head around this. “So to stop the Blood God from messing with my head, I can learn to mess with my own head in the other direction. Cool. I don’t quite see how I’d practice doing that stuff, though. But let me guess, you’ve got a plaaaan for that, too.”
Yali smiled. “Well, whenever you’re in a situation that makes you angry –”
“That’s the problem,” I interrupted. “I don’t actually get angry very often.”
Yali gave me a Look.
“I’m serious!” I said. “Just because I’ve been in a few fights –”
“And yell at people in the hallways –”
“Those assholes! Someone had to stop them harassing Nika. Look, I just don’t put up with people’s bullshit. That doesn’t mean I’m actually mad at them. Not really mad, anyway… come on, don’t tell me you don’t believe me!”
“No, I believe you.” Yali stopped and thought for a minute. “That… could actually make things harder.”
“Well, if the point is just to get me mad, so that I can practice getting less mad or whatever…” I began. That was kind of a weird idea, but also kind of intriguing. Like a challenge. “Why don’t you just make me mad?”
“But… how? You just said –”
“It can’t be that hard if we’re doing it on purpose. You could yell at me, pester me… you could even hit me if that’s what it takes, I wouldn’t mind.”
“Hit you?” A tense expression crossed her face. “I don’t want to risk hurting you!”
“I’m the one who’s suggesting it. So if you hit me, it’s no different than if I was hitting myself. Would you stop me from hitting myself?”
“That’s different –” Yali stopped and began muttering to herself, like she was trying to convince herself of something. “No – no – it’s not the same thing I’m worried about – you are asking me to – and we do need to prepare for what’s coming – so if we need to act out hurting each other, as roleplaying –”
“‘Each other’?? I’m not going to hurt you!”
“Even if it’s needed for the plan?” she said gravely. She put her finger on the paper again. “We need to have every form of defenses that we can. And so far, we’ve only talked about the defenses on this side of the wall. But we can also think about defenses on the other side. I mean, in case you do get angry enough to hurt me even though you love me. Even if that happens, we can still avoid the worst case, if you hurt me in a way that doesn’t kill me. So –”
“No way!” I said. “Are you seriously suggesting I practice hurting you on purpose just so that I can do it in a way that doesn’t kill you?! That can’t be a good idea, can it? If I get used to hurting you, that’s like breaking down my own barriers for free!”
“Maybe… But if we don’t break them down here, then when they break down in the Otherworld, you’ll be totally unprepar—”
“And how are you even just talking about this? You’re so calm, even though you’re talking about having me hurt you –”
“But you literally just said – about yourself –”
“That really is no big deal for me. Seriously, I’m not being hypocritical here – we don’t have the same, you know –”
“Stop,” said Yali. “I get what you mean. But even so, it’s to make sure we stay alive. In the long run, if I have to go through some pain, it doesn’t really matter.”
“What you mean, it doesn’t matter? Of course it matters! If you’re in pain, that matters!”
Yali went quiet, but even though she wasn’t arguing back, I could tell it wasn’t over. “I should have known you’d feel that way,” she said. “And it’s not something we need to do right away. We should start with the simpler things, and there are still two months before the Ravelling begins…”
That was true – everyone knew the Ravelling started near the start of November. But the way she said it… it was like she expected that I’d have to agree with her, once I’d thought about it. Was I really going to have to hurt her? How many things was she planning to force herself through, for the sake of the plan? I couldn’t shake a sense of unease, knowing what might be ahead of us.
“Speaking of time…” Yali said, glancing at the clock.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” It was almost the time my parents would want me to be home. I’d have to leave right away if I wanted to get there in time.
“It’s okay. We can talk more tomorrow –”
“No way. I still have a zillion questions. I’m not all those – what were those things you were saying the Waiting God valued? – I’m not Dr.-Patience-Foresight-And-Planning over here. I want to know now. Plus, my parents won’t be that mad.”
“I thought you said –”
“I’ll just tell them I was with you. They think you’re responsible and shit.”
“They don’t mind that I’m a Seti?” she said wryly.
“Ugh, they probably like it.” Yali’s full name was Yali Seti. And Seti wasn’t just any ordinary name. It was a really common name for the rich people who lived in the upper rings of the city. If you called someone “a Seti”, it didn’t necessarily mean someone who actually had that name – it meant someone who was acting like a stuck-up rich person in general. Yali obviously wasn’t stuck-up, but people definitely didn’t look at her the same way after they learned her name.
But Mom and Dad… They were always talking about the “good old days”, which meant “the days before Grandma died and Grandpa got sick and we had to sell our house and move down from the Second Ring to the Fifth Ring”. I didn’t remember that stuff because it all happened when I was just two years old, but Mom and Dad wouldn’t shut up about it. They thought we were so much better than everyone because they lived in a mansion once. So a Seti was much better than someone with a “poor-people” name like Katsín or Monoë, even though half my friends had names like that.
I continued, “They’re only really mad if they think I’m hanging out with, like, secret Blood worshippers or something.”
Yali looked at me curiously. “Do you actually know any secret Blood worshippers?”
“Of course not, but you know how people are. Like you know that time when someone spray-painted the Burning Heart on the side of the school? The cops were all over the place like there must’ve been some evil Blood cult like in the movies. Like, come on, it was just some dude with a spray can, it’s not like there are actual Blood cultists running around sacrificing people. But Mom and Dad actually buy into that stuff, they think anyone named Monoë could be a cultist or some shit. They know an awful lot about the Stern God’s rules, but not much about real people.” I made a face. “Shit, what am I going to tell them about all this?”
“About us being in the Ravelling? Hmm… How far do you think it’s safe to trust them?”
“Safe? You think it might not be safe?”
“I…” Yali trailed off.
“I’m just saying, how would they even react to this? They already don’t know anything about my life right now. I’m not sure they even know I’m gay!”
Yali startled. “How can they not know? You’re – You even introduced me as your girlfriend!”
“I did,” I said morosely. “But now they’re always talking about ‘your friend Yali’ and ‘Yali from school’… Ugh, I don’t even know why I’m complaining about this. With the, you know, literal life-and-death stuff going on.”
Distractedly, Yali said, “If it has an effect on your emotions, it might be part of the literal life-and-death stuff. But…” She trailed off again.
And then I started to catch on. Yali was wasn’t just distracted. She was staring into the distance, weighed down with something much heavier, something far away from my own frustrations. I felt a sense of longing, wishing I could be closer to her, wishing it was easier for her to just trust me with her worries.
“What’s the matter?” I said.
Yali hesitated. “I don’t want to ask you for this,” she said uneasily. “It’s the kind of thing an abuser would do.”
“What!? What are you thinking of asking for?”
“For you not to tell anyone else about this. That we’re going to be Ravellers.”
“There are people who, who, who can’t be allowed to know that I’m the Farseer. I don’t mean because of the magic, it’s a, a, a personal thing.”
My heart thumped in my chest. We were on the edge of something deeply important from Yali’s life, and I couldn’t wait to hear more. “What kind of –”
But unfortunately, Yali shut me down. “I’m not ready to talk about it yet,” she said, her voice tense, as if she was warding off a distant danger. “It’s just, it’s just… The point is, if we tell anyone… it could find its way back to them. But… I can’t ask you not to tell anyone. That would be…”
The muscles in her neck stood taut as she spoke, her eyes drilling into the wall behind me. I couldn’t bear to see her hurting like this. “Look, it’s okay!” I said quickly. “If it’s gotta be a secret, it’s gotta be a secret. And you’re definitely not an abuser, you’re like the total opposite –”
Yali didn’t seem very reassured. “It’s important for you to be able to talk to someone about it. I have the memories of the old Farseers to look to, but you’d only have me. What if I can’t give you all the support you need? What if it strains our relationship and then –”
“That’s, like, way too much pressure to put on yourself –”
“Right, I’d have to be responsible for every –”
“No, I meant the other way around! I mean your – you said you had a ‘personal thing’? I wish I knew what it was here, but I can respect that, but like, what are you going to do – not have a personal thing? And every time you have a personal thing, are you going to be worrying about whether it strains our relationship? Seriously, it’s okay, I’m literally telling you it’s okay. Look, what do I have to do to convince you it’s okay?”
Yali was silent, deep in thought.
At last, she spoke. “I will use the Seeing,” she said.
The Seeing was Yali’s magic power.
“Wait, actually, how does that work?” I said. “Can you literally see the future?”
“Not exactly. It’s more like fragments of possible futures. The way it works is, I think of something I’m planning to do, and it shows me what might happen if I go through with it. So I can think of someone for you to tell about this, and then see if telling them will lead to, to, to anything bad.”
“Awesome,” I said. I didn’t get to see people doing actual magic very often, so I was excited for this.
“It takes a lot out of me, though. I’ve only used it twice before,” she said. “So I’d like to put that off until later this evening. At the very least we should eat something first.”
“Stern take it, I wasn’t hungry until you mentioned food!” I said. Yali chuckled.
“I have some sienkah fruit in the fridge. Want some?”
“Aren’t those expensive?”
“I’m allowed to have some nice things.” Yali got to her feet, walked over to the fridge, and pulled out two sienkahs for herself, then looked back at me. She saw me hesitate. “If you don’t like them, I also –”
“No, I love sienkahs! I just never get to have them, are you sure it’s okay –”
“Help yourself!” Yali awkwardly carried over three more sienkahs and handed them to me before starting on her own.
“Sweet! You’re better than the gods!” I took a huge bite immediately. It was delicious. Before long, I had wolfed down two whole fruits. When I looked up, Yali was still methodically chewing through her first one.
Soon, she wiped her mouth and looked back at me. “Let’s try your idea. See if we can make you mad.”
“Alright, bring it on.”
“What – but I don’t know what to do. Or what you’re okay with.”
“Like I said, you can yell at me, hit me… just about anything!”
“Anything?” Yali frowned.
She swallowed another bite of fruit. “So, if I were to… drag you into the street and smash your face on the pavement…”
“I don’t mean I want to do that, I mean, I mean… you need to think about what your boundaries are. Everyone has limits. If you say ‘anything’, that doesn’t mean you don’t have limits, it means you’re not telling me what they are. And then I have to guess. And then I might guess wrong and hurt you.”
“When have you ever hurt somebody?” I laughed.
“Rinn,” she said, and I could tell it was serious. “Just think about it.”
“Fine, I get it, I haven’t thought of every way this could go wrong. Let me think… okay, let’s not involve other people, and let’s not… do anything that would permanently hurt me, but like, temporary pain is okay.”
“Okay. And, you mentioned yelling –”
“Well yeah, that’s not going to permanently –”
“But yelling the wrong thing at somebody can permanently hurt them.”
“Fine, then, I’m giving you permission: You can yell whatever you want. No matter how made-up and horrible it is.”
“Hmm… what about hurtful things that aren’t made up?”
“Of course – Oh, I get it. True things could actually hurt more. But go ahead, I can take it.”
“Okay!” said Yali. She put down the last of her fruit, faced me, and opened her mouth, then stopped. “Hmm… how should I start…” she muttered to herself.
“I guess you could call me weak?” I offered.
“Okay,” said Yali. She leaned forward slightly. “You’re weak.”
“You’re weak. You’re so weak. You’re such a weakling,” said Yali loudly.
“I’m not though.”
“Uh… You’re horrible? That’s right, you’re horrible. I hate you.”
“You’re a, a, an impudent child.”
“LOL screw off.”
“Don’t use that disrespectful tone with me, young lady.”
I burst out laughing.
After a moment, I realized that Yali was just sort of staring at me. Maybe I had hurt her feelings by laughing so much. “Sorry,” I said. “You’re right, that would piss me off, if someone else said it. But I just can’t believe it when it’s coming from you. You’re just so lovable and… harmless.”
“I’m not as harmless as I look.” Yali thought about something for a moment. “Why do you keep making assumptions about me?” she said sharply.
“I do all this work to be careful and make sure I’m not hurting you, but then you just brush it off! As if I had no chance of hurting you in the first place! Why won’t you take me seriously?!”
“I was just telling you what was true about me –” I began irritably. “Ohhhhhh. You said that to make me mad. It’s not what you were really thinking.”
“I did say it to make you mad. But it was sort of what I was really thinking. Sort of. That’s why it sort of worked.”
“Well that’s a mindfuck.”
“Let’s not do it again,” said Yali.
“Yeah,” I said. “So… you were really thinking that stuff?”
“I mean, that’s not how I would have said it if I wasn’t trying to make you mad on purpose –”
“I know! I agreed to this, I’m not accusing you. But…” I quickly tried to sort out the main point of what she said. “You really don’t like me thinking of you as harmless?”
“I, well – yes and no? I mean, if you think of me that way, that means I’m doing a good job of, of, not harming you. And that’s nice. But I’m not harmless. I know that.”
“I… I think I get it,” I said. “Shit, I said a lot of stuff like that about you today, didn’t I? Sorry. I’ll try to be more sensitive about that.”
“Thanks.” Yali laughed. “We’re solving our relationship conflicts too fast! Now this will never work.”
“That’s terrible,” I joked back.
“But really, I… I know I wasn’t doing it right. I wasn’t trying something that would actually have a chance to affect you. I know what I should try, I just, I just…”
“Whatever it is, bring it on –”
“– or is that too much of a ‘you’re harmless’ thing? It’s not though, I’d probably say that to anyone. Unless they were pointing a knife at me or something.”
Yali laughed. “You’re right. I’m glad we talked about this. I’m okay to ‘bring it on’ now. Whenever you’re ready.”
Yali closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, it was like she was a completely different person. She lurched to her feet, grabbed my arm, and yanked me out of my seat. By the time I had gotten my balance and stood up, she was towering over me. Yali didn’t normally look that much taller than me, because she slouched a lot, but when she did stand up straight, she was almost a head taller than me.
Yali twisted my arm into a painful position. Her voice was cold and unfeeling. “You think you’re so great? Who said you could walk around acting like you’re so great? You’re pathetic.”
“Uh,” I said nervously, “I still know that’s not tr—”
“Shut up. You don’t know anything, you worthless child.”
I glared up into her eyes. But she wasn’t even looking back at me. She was looking past me as if I was totally insignificant. I felt trapped and confused. Who was this monster and what was it doing in Yali’s body? I reflexively tried to shove her away from me. But she just twisted harder on my arm and I yelled out in pain.
“Did I say you could make a sound?! Why do I have to put up with you? Why do I have to do all the work around here?!”
We were just play-acting, right? I looked up into Yali’s eyes for reassurance, but there was nothing there. What was going on? I could feel my whole body starting to tense up.
Wait a minute. I was Rinn Akatura. I could handle anything. I flexed my arm, pushing back against her. “Not bad,” I said with a little smirk, “but it’ll take more than that to scare me –”
I was kind of hoping to provoke her, but she didn’t react that way. She had a blank look for a moment, like she wasn’t sure how to respond. Then she backed away, hunching over again and shaking her head a little. “This isn’t working, this isn’t working,” she muttered.
“You could’ve kept going!” I said.
“How are you feeling?” she said cautiously.
“That was fuckin’ scary!” I said. “Not in a bad way! I mean, that was the point, right? Why’d you stop?”
Yali relaxed, but only partway. “It wasn’t going to work,” she said, a little too quickly. “Also, I had to check in with you to make sure you were okay –” I rolled my eyes. Yali tousled my hair affectionately. “I know you’re tough. I’m not saying I thought there’d be a problem. But the moment you don’t check is the moment everything can go wrong.”
“Okay, but what do you mean it wouldn’t work? If you’d kept going –”
“I saw what happened,” said Yali guardedly. “It only worked when you weren’t expecting it. I thought this might happen – this is how you usually deal with anger, isn’t it? As soon as you noticed you were getting angry, you turned it into a challenge. Right?”
“Stern take it all, you know me better than I know myself. You even expected this to happen?!”
“Honestly? Yes. As soon as you suggested having me yell at you and hit you. You weren’t imagining something that would actually make you angry. Having people yell at you and hit you… those are things you’re comfortable with. In a way. Like they’re things you know how to handle. And that’s going to be… like, the way you can turn things into a challenge is a really good skill. It’s going to help you a lot in the Otherworld. But if we want to find out what your limits are, we’ll have to come up with something else. But I don’t know what that would be…”
I sighed. “I don’t either!”
“I know. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. Maybe… what if you think of a time in the past when you were really angry?”
I racked my brains. If I wasn’t supposed to think about fights, what was I looking for? Maybe I could use that time I broke my leg? Not really… How about sometime when my parents actually managed to force me into doing chores around the house? Nah… “Stern take it, I’m sure there’s been loads of times I’ve been really pissed off! Why can’t I think of them?”
“Well –” Yali began. But her voice faltered a little. I suddenly realized – something had been off about her ever since she switched back from being evil. She was talking almost normally, but there were tiny hesitations that wouldn’t normally be there, and parts where she talked fast like she was trying to catch up…
“Hang on,” I said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said, much too quickly. “I was about to say, how about, how about you think about it overnight? That would give you time to, to, to, get more perspective?”
Huh. Was Yali hinting that she wanted to change the subject? She wasn’t normally the kind of person who would just hint things, but there was definitely something weird about it. I didn’t want to screw anything up by pushing the subject. “Good idea,” I said.
There was an awkward pause. I scrambled for something to break the silence.
“So… the Ravelling!” I said. “What’s it actually like? Tell me everything.”
The Otherworld had five layers, and most of them didn’t sound so bad, but the third layer was going to be awful.
Our journey would begin in the starry void of the Waiting, the god who oversaw the cycle of the seasons, the god who had woven the structure of the Ravelling out of the chaos of souls that had come before. The Waiting God’s challenges for us would be about patience and studying, which sounded like a huge pain, but I could put up with it. And the way Yali described its world – an empty world full of stars – made it sound eerily beautiful.
Second was the riddle-maze of the Seeking, the god of curiosity and invention, coincidence and opportunity. Its world was ever-changing, adapting to each new Raveller to become what they least expected, challenging them to see things from perspectives they’d never considered. It sounded awesome, and now that I knew it was coming, I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.
But then… the Stern.
It was bad enough that we had to deal with the Stern in our own world. The Stern Temple were basically in charge of the entire city, and they always made everything BORING. It was like whenever there was something fun, they had to get rid of it. A few years ago, the park on Mill Street had been a vibrant place. There’d been colorful tents along all the walkways, and it had almost been an open-air market, with musicians playing on the sidewalks, and street alchemists doing tricks, making bursts of colored fire to entertain the passersby. But then the Stern cops had come through and taken down the tents and made everybody leave, and now the whole place was boring and sterile. My parents were happy about that, they were like “good thing they’ve finally gotten the unsightly homeless out of there,” but come on! Mill Street Park used to be my favorite place, I’d always looked forward to hearing the people singing in the mornings on my way to school. Nowadays, usually the only person you’d see there was one cop standing around, like they were making sure no one would have fun there ever again.
“I bet they want to make the whole city as boring as the Third Ring!” I exclaimed. The Third Ring was basically the Stern Temple’s home turf, full of temples and courthouses and shit. Then I remembered we were in the Third Ring right now, because Yali lived here. “Uh, no offense.”
Yali shrugged. “There’s worse things than living in a boring place.”
And in the Otherworld… we didn’t know exactly what the Stern God would do with us, because the worlds were different each year, but it was always the one with the strictest requirements for the Ravellers. Yali said it would show us symbolic representations of principles, and make us endure hard work and suffering to see those principles upheld. She literally used the word “suffering”. That was gonna suck, especially when it came right after the Seeking God’s fun. Why couldn’t it have been the last layer, so we could put it off, or the first, so we could get it over with? Why did it have to be the third –
“Wait,” I said. “Third Ring – third layer – that’s not a coincidence, is it?”
Yali smiled. “That’s right. The rings of the city were built to mimic the layers of the Otherworld. That’s why the First Ring doesn’t allow any lights at night – so that you can see the stars.”
“And the Second Ring – that’s the one with the Seeking, right? The streets really ARE like a maze there, my parents took me to a museum there once and I got soooo lost! So it was built that way on purpose?”
“It probably was!”
“And then the, uhh…” I realized I’d interrupted her before she got to the rest. “Sorry, you can keep telling me about the layers now.”
Fourth was the Broken God, the most primordial of the gods, the god that suffused every part of nature, the god of things that exist beyond human reason or control. Its world was a lush wilderness, where the Ravellers could rest, because the Broken felt no need to impose its order upon them. The Broken God’s followers made no laws and built no temples, because the world was already its temple. And in the city – the Fourth Ring wasn’t all overgrown with plants like the Broken God’s world, but it did have a few parks, in between the mess of stores and houses and abandoned factories.
I couldn’t wait to hear what the Blood God’s world would be like. Would there be monsters for us to fight? Would it have flaming caverns with blood vessels in the walls, like in the movies? But when I asked Yali, she said:
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“I, I died. There’s only one time I make it to the fifth layer alive, and then I barely get a look at it before he’s yelling and his blade is stabbing into me –”
“The Blood Child killed you right after you got there? What are the chances?”
“It’s not a coincidence,” she said grimly. “It’s because of the, the, the passage between the layers. Every time we enter another layer, our gods weave a few more of the threads of their souls into our souls. So each layer gives us new powers, and new… personality changes. Like –”
“Like the Blood Child freaking out and killing you. Shit.”
“Shit, what’s the Blood God going to do when it notices we’re resisting it? What if it gives me threads that are even more violent?”
“Waiting knows that’s a risk we’ll have to worry about,” she said. “But there are two advantages we have. First, the gods are much bigger and slower than we are. The whole winter for them is like a single night for us – and you could say the Ravelling is like their dreams. So the Blood God might not even consciously understand what’s happening, before it’s too late.”
“But people say the high priests can talk to the gods. I mean, obviously the gods don’t have human bodies, but I always figured –”
“It’s not like talking to a person. It’s more like trying to chip bits of wisdom off a big… rock.”
“A wisdom… rock?”
“Sure, a wisdom rock. You ever wonder why we call the gods ‘it’, like an object? That’s why. They really aren’t like people. If the Blood God does notice what we’re doing before the Ravelling is over… it, it’ll still be slow to act. We’ll probably have time to think about how to respond to it. Probably.”
That wasn’t quite as reassuring as I would’ve liked. “So, what’s our second advantage?”
“The same way the Waiting God hasn’t been rejuvenating… the Blood God hasn’t been either.”
“Wait, back up. What’s ‘rejuvenating’?”
“That’s what happens at the end of the Ravelling. After we get through the five layers, the gods take back the threads that they put in our souls. But they don’t take back exactly the threads they put in. They keep a few of ours, and they leave us with a bit of themselves. And that’s how they stay strong, by getting a supply of new human threads every year. But if the human dies early, it’s different. It takes the whole winter to fully link the human threads to the god threads. So if the human dies before that, the god has to pull back its own threads, because when a human is killed in the Otherworld, their soul is actually damaged – they can’t even manifest a new body –”
“They can’t what a what now?”
“Oh, they haven’t covered that in your science classes?” she said. “So, you know how in this world, matter is dominant, and in the –”
“– and in the Otherworld, souls are dominant?” At least my classes had covered something that basic.
“Yes. Here, you need to feed your body, and keep it from getting big holes in it, or you die, and your soul unravels too. But in the Otherworld, it’s your soul that sustains your body, not the other way around. You don’t have to eat, although you can if you want to. You also don’t have to pee, or have periods –”
“– and even if your body gets destroyed, you can technically still create a new one as long as your soul is strong enough. It’s called manifesting – creating things, or reshaping things, using just the power of your soul. In fact, even if you die before you enter the Otherworld, the gods preserve your soul, and you can still run the Ravelling by manifesting a new body. But manifested matter can only exist in the Otherworld, not the material world, so when the Ravelling is over, you’d be dead for real.”
“Man that would suck. I’ll definitely make sure not to die.”
Yali patted me on the head. “Good idea,” she said. “In any case… The other three gods usually get to rejuvenate. But neither of our gods has rejuvenated for the last seventy years –”
“Wait –” I began, suddenly putting things together. “So the Blood Child always dies too?! You could’ve mentioned that earlier!”
“I, I, I didn’t mean to leave it out, I just forgot because it’s not in my memories. I had to look it up. The Blood Child usually gets killed by the other Ravellers after they kill me. So…”
“So if I don’t kill you – when I don’t kill you – there won’t be a reason for the others to kill me either. That’s… well, I wouldn’t say it’s a relief, but, you know…”
“Uh… sorry, you can keep explaining about the ‘rejuvenating’ thing now.”
“Right. So, because all the Farseers and Blood Children have been killed in the Otherworld, their souls have been damaged, and our gods haven’t been able to rejuvenate. So our gods are slowly getting weaker. The Blood God is still dangerous, but each year, it’s a tiny bit less powerful. That’s not going to keep us safe, but, it gives us a chance. And the Waiting God is weaker too. My powers won’t be quite the same as the old Farseers… and the worlds it creates are a little less elaborate than they used to be…”
“Then why do they kill each other?! Wouldn’t all the gods be better off if we just didn’t kill each other? Then they could both rejuvenate, both the Blood God and the Waiting God –”
“They would be! I have no idea why the Blood God started killing –”
“What about your memories? Even if the Blood God didn’t tell you why – wouldn’t you still have noticed something when it started?”
“But I don’t have memories from before it started. I only have the memories of the Farseers who died. I think the Waiting God can preserve your memories if you die, but can’t just copy your memories if you’re still alive… so, so I can’t look back further than that. And my first few deaths aren’t even much different than the others.”
I kicked the table. “For fuck’s sake! I don’t want us to die without even knowing why!”
“I’m sorry. I wish I could tell you something else. I even tried to look it up, back at the start of August when I was Chosen. but the temples are pretty secretive about their records, and –”
Something was bugging me. “They pick us at the start of August? That’s just before when you…” I stopped.
“It’s okay. You can ask.”
I hesitated. I didn’t want to ask this. It felt like I was accusing her of something. But… she was waiting for me to continue. Maybe she just wanted to get it out in the open. “Did you… plan all of this? Did you ask me out because you knew I was the Blood Child?”
“I did know that,” said Yali slowly. “But I didn’t have a big plan at first. It was more that I had literal magic to tell me, that if I asked out the girl I liked, she’d say yes.”
I grinned. “That is so unfair! That is like the most unfair thing –”
Yali waggled her fingers. “Literaaaal maaaaaaagic.”
I jumped up to tickle her, but then I remembered she didn’t like that. Still, the tension was totally relieved. “So if I wasn’t the Blood Child, you’d still –”
“Honestly?” She paused, a somber expression on her face. “I love you to bits. But if you weren’t the Blood Child… Think about it.”
I thought about it. “We could still have dated for three months… and then, you’d disappear, and maybe – Shit, I didn’t mean –”
“It’s okay,” she said. “I wish I could tell you something else. Like that we were destined to be together, no matter the odds. But… ‘we build with the pieces you have left us’.” It was part of a prayer to the Broken God.
“Not many kids our age quote the Broken,” I said. I was kind of impressed. If you asked a random person to imagine someone who follows the Broken God, they’d probably imagine an old wise hermit or something. Myself, I only knew that prayer from talking to an old homeless couple I often saw on the way to school.
“I am a year older than you,” Yali teased.
“Just one year? So you’re seventeen?” She nodded. I was pretty surprised that I hadn’t known that. We’d gotten really close in the month we’d been together, but come to think of it, Yali had never talked about her personal life very much. “I’d assumed you were a little older, since you live alone…”
Yali didn’t say anything.
“Hang on, how do you live alone? And in the Third Ring, too?” The Third Ring didn’t have many houses. It did have a bunch of temples, the city hall, a police station, the city’s one prison – all that Stern stuff. “I thought the only people who lived here were, like, retired people –”
“If we talk about my past,” said Yali calmly, “I’ll have to deal with some emotions. And if I’m dealing with emotions, I won’t be able to plan for the future.”
Shit. I’d really followed the Seeking into the thorns, hadn’t I? Typical Rinn. “Uh, so, the yearly cycle and stuff…”
We kept talking until long after the sun went down. Yali told me all kinds of things about the Otherworld and the gods, the Ravellers and their powers. For every thing she told me, I had a dozen more questions, and she had to tell me a dozen more things to answer them. It was even a learning experience for Yali – apparently, she was able to view the old Farseers’ memories, but she didn’t really know the things herself until she looked through them to answer my questions. We spent hours looking through the memories for weird facts and making guesses about how things worked. It was so strange and wonderful, I almost forgot the whole “probably dying” thing.
Finally, hours later, Yali said, “It’s time for me to settle down for the night. Before I send you home, let’s go ahead and try the Seeing.”
I perked up at the mention of Seeing. “What do I have to do?”
“Let me think. You won’t have to help with the actual magic. But, but… I’m going to try to see who we can trust with knowing all this. But I need to pick specific plans, specific… courses of action for us, to look for how they would turn out in the future. So I guess I’ll need you to think about –”
“– about who I might want to tell.”
“Well, there’s Layo, obviously.” Laökuru Katsín was my best friend since elementary school. I could talk to him about literally anything. “Other than that… well…” I thought about my other friends, and eventually gave Yali a few to try. But even with Layo, it was hard to imagine explaining everything to him.
Finally, we were ready to begin. Yali leaned back against the couch, a relaxed position. “When I’m in the future, I won’t be aware of what’s around me in real life. So just… take care of my body, okay? Don’t touch it if you don’t have to, but make sure it doesn’t fall over or anything.”
“Is that likely to happen?”
“No, but it did happen the first time, when I didn’t know what to expect. And I’m also not sure how much time this will take. Could be ten minutes, could be a lot more.” She paused. “Should I start? Nothing more you need to talk to me about? I’ll probably need to be alone afterwards, so this is our last chance to talk normally for the night.”
I thought about it. There were so many things I still had to ask her, but nothing that couldn’t wait for another day. “No, I’m fine. So this is like goodnight?”
“Yes.” Yali smiled a little. “C’mere you.”
I straddled her on the couch and wrapped my arms around her. As I squeezed her tight, she gently lifted her arms and pulled me in so that she could nuzzle my face. Then she pressed even closer and kissed me on the lips.
We stayed that way for a long moment. I could feel her heart beating heavily against my chest. I felt so close to her. But I also wanted so much more. I wanted to cling onto her forever so that we’d never have to face everything that was waiting for us.
Finally, I pulled away a little. “I love you so much,” I whispered.
“I love you too.”
Yali looked down.
“So…” she mumbled, “I suppose I should get started.”
“Go for it.” I climbed off of her and sat next to her again.
Yali rested her head back on the couch, looked up into space, and unfocused her eyes.
It wasn’t like I expected. I’d seen a few sorceries before, and they had a buzz to them. If someone was doing a sorcery near you, you could feel it in your head, even if there was a wall in between. But this was just… nothing. It was just Yali staring into space. The only thing that looked different was her eyes, which were shifting back and forth as if they were looking for something – but the something was light-years away. I couldn’t resist waving my hand in front of her face, and sure enough, she didn’t see it at all.
Looking at her, I was suddenly struck by how much she was trusting me. She couldn’t tell what I was doing, and no one else was here either. If I wanted to take advantage of her, she’d never even know I’d done it. I could literally just slide my hands under her clothing, and – I shivered. It was scary to have thoughts like that. Even though I knew I would never do that to her. Whatever had happened in her past, I couldn’t let her get hurt again. Not by anyone else. And especially not by me.
I was getting jittery just sitting on the couch next to her. So I got up and started pacing around the room.
Everything in Yali’s house was neat and orderly. Her shoes were all in a row next to the door, with her coats hanging just above. At the other end of the room there was a kitchen area, with a clean sink – no dirty dishes stacked in it like there always were at my place. (“A dirty kitchen means an uncivilized life”, Dad always complained, not that he cleaned up any more than the rest of us.) The only thing that wasn’t in order was my own bags, which I’d just thrown on the floor at random.
I paced all the way to the far corner, where a space heater hummed away, even though it wasn’t that cold today. Then I paced back. Each time I turned around, I glanced over to check on Yali. She was still just sitting there, looking into the distance. The papers she’d drawn on were still lying on the table in front of her, along with her laptop, which we’d opened to look some stuff up. It was eerily quiet, belying the magic that was going on.
But at last, I heard Yali give a heavy breath.
I rushed to her side. She didn’t even lift her head, but her eyes focused on me, so I could tell she was back. “You can… talk to… Layo,” she said dully.
“You okay? Can I get you anything?”
“Future… first. Parents…”
“I can’t tell my parents anything?” Yali nodded. “What did you see?”
“Bad… futures. Don’t… see you… again.”
“Is that what happens when those people hear about you? The ones you don’t want to find out about you being –”
But it could not be? A horrible thought crept into my head. “Do you think it’s the Stern Temple? Maybe Mom would go to the Stern for ‘guidance’… And then they’d…” What would they do if they knew I was the Blood Child? Throw me in jail? Try to brainwash me?
So that was it, then. We just didn’t know. Twenty-four hours ago, that would’ve been a pretty big shock, to think that telling my parents the wrong thing could put me in literal danger. But after everything else I’d heard today, it was just one more thing on the pile.
“Okay. Whatever it is, I won’t tell them anything. Did you see anything else?”
“Trust… Layo. Rest is… details… tell you when…”
“You’ll tell me later? Of course. I get it, you need rest.”
“You too. I can call… taxi…”
“A taxi for me to get home? Seriously? It’s all downhill.”
“If anyone tries to creep on me, I’ll just punch them.”
“Lots to… think…”
“I think better on my feet anyway.”
“Hmm.” I knew that sound. There was the sound Yali made whenever she gave up on arguing me out of something.
I hugged her tight again, but this time her body was limp and unresponsive. I could tell that my touch didn’t mean much to her when she was like this. I stood up, and, hoping my feelings would reach her, I said, “I love you. Good night.”
Reluctantly, I grabbed my things and started the long jog home.
It was an easy route, just like I’d said. But being on my feet always helped me feel more stable, and sort things out in my head. And I had a lot to sort out. The Ravelling was coming, in just under two months. And even before that, there were so many preparations we’d have to make. I had lots more to learn all about the Otherworld and the powers we were going to get. And for Yali’s plan… I’d have to figure out some things that could make me mad. What could make me mad?
As I ran down the nighttime streets, it all still felt a little unreal to me. But when it came down to it, maybe it wasn’t that complicated after all. Protect Yali. Protect myself. When I thought about it that way, it didn’t seem so hard to handle.
The streets near my home were pretty dark from all the burnt out streetlights, but I knew this place as well as the Waiting. I avoided the familiar potholes leading up to my house, then slipped in through the door, careful not to wake anyone. Upstairs, I threw myself into bed. I was asleep as soon as I hit the sheets.