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? Even if that would work… I don’t want to hurt 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?”
“Well, no, but –” Yali laughed suddenly. “I suppose if I’m asking you to be willing to hurt me for the sake of the plan, it’s only fair if I’m willing to hurt you for the sake of the plan.”
“Heh, that is kind of funn— Wait a minute, when were you going to ask me to actually hurt you?! I thought the point was to not hurt you!”
“Oh. I, I guess I hadn’t gotten to that part yet.” Yali put her finger on the paper again. “What we’ve talked about so far are just 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… This is some really grim shit.”
“You were literally just talking about having me hurt you as if that was nothing.”
“That really is no big deal for me. Seriously, I’m not being hypocritical here – we don’t have the same, you know –”
“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 looked down, and for a moment I was worried I had hurt her feelings somehow. But then she smiled ruefully. “I should have known you’d feel that way,” she said. “Well, we don’t have to do it. Certainly not right away. There’s plenty of time before the Ravelling begins proper.”
That was true. It was still early September, about a month after Yali first asked me out. And everyone knew the Ravelling started around the first of November. So we had a couple of months to go.
“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 not saying they’re going to… whatever. 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. It looked like she had something on her mind.
“What’s the matter?” I said.
“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.”
“What kind of –”
“I’m not ready to talk about it. It’s just, it’s just… Never mind. The point is, if we tell anyone… word could get around. But… I can’t ask you not to tell anyone. That would be…”
“Look, if it has to be a secret, that’s not a big deal for me. I’m not sure who I would tell anyway. 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,” I said.
“Right, if I was the only one you could talk to, then I’d feel like I had to do everything –”
“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? You’re allowed to have some personal things! 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?”
“Hmm.” Yali thought about it for a minute. “I believe you, but it still doesn’t feel right. Maybe I can use my Seeing…”
“Your what? Oh, is that the magic power?”
“What does that have to do with – wait, actually, how does that work? 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 will 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 what 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! Thank you so much!” I took a huge bite out of one of them 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.
Yali finished her first fruit and set down the other one. Then 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, as long as it wouldn’t actually injure anyone.”
“Anything? What does that include?” Yali took another bite while I couldn’t figure out what to say. She swallowed it and continued, “Like does it include… publicly humiliating you?”
“I don’t mean I want to do that, I mean… I want you to think about what your boundaries are. ‘Anything’ is scary. It’s so easy to accidentally hurt somebody.”
“When have you ever hurt somebody?”
“You’d be surprised. 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.”
“But yelling the wrong thing at somebody can permanently hurt them.”
“Okay, then nothing that would permanently hurt my body. You can yell whatever.”
“So, like, yelling hurtful things that aren’t true?”
“Is it okay to include hurtful things that are true?”
“Of course – Oh, I see. 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. “What would you actually find hurtful?”
“I dunno. I guess you could call me weak?”
“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 my worries 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 still have more things to try. I’m just not sure about this next thing, because, because…”
“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 when I was sitting. 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 tough? You’re not tough. You’re pathetic.”
“Uh,” I said nervously, “I still know that’s not tr—”
“Shut up. You don’t know anything.”
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.
“Shut. Up. Don’t make a sound, you worthless thing.”
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 forced myself to laugh and relax. It wasn’t even that much pain, anyway.
Just then Yali let go of me, stepped back and closed her eyes again. When she opened them, she was back to normal.
“You could’ve kept going,” I said.
“How are you feeling?” said Yali gently.
“That was fuckin’ scary!” I said. “Not in a bad way! I mean, that was the point, right? Why’d you stop?”
Yali visibly relaxed. “Two reasons. Well, three, actually. First, I needed 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 didn’t really think you weren’t going to be okay, but the moment you don’t check is the moment everything can go wrong.”
“The second reason,” she continued, “is that I’m not sure I can handle doing that for very long. And the third one is… It wasn’t going to work.”
“It almost worked! If you’d gone on for a bit longer…”
“I saw what happened,” said Yali. “It only worked because you weren’t expecting it. And that’s pretty much what I thought would happen. This is how you usually deal with anger, isn’t it? As soon as you noticed that 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 thought this would happen?!”
“Honestly, 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?”
Yali looked really exhausted for a moment. “Hang on,” I said. “Are you okay?”
Yali seemed confused that I’d asked the question. “Uh… yes?”
“Never mind, I guess.”
“So, can you think of –”
“Yeah, yeah.” I wracked my brains. 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?”
“Maybe you’re looking for the wrong kind of thing.”
“Yeah, well, how do I look for the right kind?”
“Well –” There was that exhaustion again. “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, and she’d said she was okay, but there was 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.”
Yali brightened a little. “Right! I’ve gotten so used to having these memories of it, it’s hard to remember only knowing what I learned from – from school. What do you want to know about first?”
“Uh… everything! Yeah, yeah. How about… what’s the Otherworld like? All five layers?”
Yali launched into elaborate descriptions of everything, from the starry void of the Waiting, to the riddle-maze of the Seeking, to the trials of the Stern, to the lush wilderness of the Broken. They all sounded so beautiful – except the Stern, anyway – and I couldn’t wait to see them myself. Obviously, I didn’t want to be involved in all this, but I really wanted to see them, too.
“So…” I said, “Waiting, Seeking, Stern, Broken, Blood. That’s the same order as the city! If you count from top to bottom.”
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.”
“I didn’t know that! My parents did take me to a few museums in the second ring when I was a kid. I remember the roads being all twisty and I got really lost. It was built that way on purpose?”
“It probably was!”
“And the third ring is obvious, it’s boring and strict, just like the Stern. Uh, no offense.”
Yali shrugged. “It’s true, I live in a boring place.”
“What about the fourth ring? It’s not all overgrown with plants like you said the Broken God’s layer was in the Otherworld. I mean, there’s a few parks, but it’s mostly packed with buildings.”
“That is strange.” Yali thought about it. “Maybe it’s because the Broken God doesn’t have any laws of its own. Maybe they just allowed people to build anything they want there, and the structure formed naturally. Not naturally like nature, just –”
“Hang on. I was just thinking, didn’t you say the gods pick the Ravellers based on their principles? But they say the Broken God itself doesn’t really have any sort of intention or purpose, so how does it pick someone?”
“That, that, that’s something I don’t actually know.”
“Oh well. What about the fifth ring, then? How is it like – wait, you haven’t told me about the Blood God’s layer yet.”
“I… didn’t get a good look at it. In my memories, I mean. The only time I got there, I died right afterwards.”
“You died right after you got to the last layer? Well that’s a shitty coincidence.”
“Not a coincidence. 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?”
“I’m… I’m not sure that can happen. You’re imagining the god as if it’s a regular person, but the gods don’t think like we do. They’re much bigger and slower. The whole winter for them is like a single night for us. You could say the Ravelling is like their dreams.”
“But people say the high priests can talk to the gods. How does that work?”
“It works, but 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’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’? That’s why. With any luck, the Blood God won’t understand what we’re doing at all. At least not until after the Ravelling is over.”
“And our chances are even better with how weak it is now.”
“What? You didn’t say anything about the Blood God being weak.”
“I didn’t? Oh. Well, neither of our gods has rejuvenated for the last seventy years.”
“That’s what happens if we survive – our gods get to rejuvenate. It’s the whole purpose of –”
“But you said – wait, the Blood Child always dies too?! You could’ve mentioned that earlier!”
“I, I, I didn’t think of it because it’s not in my memories. But I looked up the records. 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 the rejuvenating thing now.”
“Rejuvenation is the whole purpose of the Ravelling, from the gods’ point of view. When the Ravelling is over, 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 somehow allows them to stay strong, by getting a supply of new human threads every year. If they don’t get that for too long… they get weaker.”
“Does it only happen if we survive all the way? Like if one of the Ravellers gets through most of the layers and their soul is mostly intertwined…”
“When a human dies, their soul unravels. If that happens, the god has to pull back the threads of its own soul, but the human parts just disperse. It takes the whole winter to fully link the human threads to the god threads. So it really only works if its human host survives to the end. That’s what usually happens for the other three gods, but –”
“Then why do they kill each other?! Wouldn’t all the gods be better off if we just didn’t kill each other? Then the Blood God and the Waiting God could both rejuvenate –”
“They would be! I have no idea why the Blood God started killing –”
“What about your memories? Even if the Blood God didn’t, like, explain its reasons – can you think of anything that happened before it started?”
“But I don’t have memories from before. 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. Either way, I don’t know about the time before. 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. “Literaaaaal maaaaaaaagic.”
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. “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 of the city 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 get upset. And if I get upset, I won’t be able to plan for the future.”
Shit. I’d put my foot in it, hadn’t I? Typical Rinn. “Uh, so, the yearly cycle and stuff…”
“I didn’t think about this before, but isn’t it weird that after the gods pick us, they just leave us on Earth for three months before the Ravelling starts? What if one of us dies here? Do the gods get to redo their choice or what?”
“Actually, if you die in the material world, the gods preserve your soul and you can still run the Ravelling with a manifested body.”
Yali began to ask, “You know how in this world, matter is dominant, and in the –”
“– and in the Otherworld, souls are dominant?” It was some basic stuff you learned in science class.
“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 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. The catch is that if you get attacked in the Otherworld, that generally damages your soul too, not just your body. And 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.”
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 the 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.
Back in the other direction was a big window, with some nice curtains. I liked the pattern on them, and it was already dark outside, so I walked over to them and pulled them closed. I made sure to neaten them up so they’d match the rest of the room.
Just then, I heard Yali jerk awake behind me. I rushed over to her.
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 like the back of my hand. 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.