Chapter Six: The Starry Void
I quickly sat up and looked around.
There was a sky full of stars in every direction, but this time, they looked like real stars instead of spooky dream stars. The next thing I saw was a desk with a computer screen, for some reason. Other than that, there was just the sky, the floor, and – there she was!
“Yali! You’re here!!”
I jumped to my feet, then immediately slipped. The floor was unbelievably smooth. I almost fell on my face, but I caught myself with my arms and sprang back up again. Concentrating, I hurried to Yali’s side without slipping again.
“Yali! Can you hear me?”
She was lying face-up on the floor, just like I had been, but she hadn’t reacted at all. I dropped to my knees and grabbed her shoulders, my heart pounding.
“Uhhhhhhh,” she moaned, staring into space.
It was a lot like when she’d been exhausted after she used the Seeing. Could it be another weird magic thing? “I’m here, it’s me, Rinn. Can you –”
Yali lurched upwards and her eyes zeroed in on me. “Your feelings!” she choked out. “Are you having any anger?”
“Thank the gods, you’re alright!” I hugged her quickly. “This is great! We’re both here and –” my brain caught up with what she’d actually said “– and I’m not angry at all, in fact, I feel great!”
“Okay – then – then we’re not in danger for the moment.” Yali sank back to the floor.
“You okay there? Anything I can get you? Haha I guess not but I can cuddle with you while you –”
Yali gently pushed me away. “Why don’t you take a look around? I’ll be up in a minute.”
“But we should look together –”
“Remember, I know this place already.”
“Okay, but tell me if you need anything!” I stood up again, careful not to slip this time, and reluctantly tore my eyes away from Yali to look at the other stuff. Well, first, I pulled off the hoodie Yali had given me and chucked it on the ground. That was much better. I’d forgotten how much that kind of loose clothing just made me feel like a weird blob. Now in just my shirt, I raised my head and took a satisfying breath. This was how it should be, just my body right up close to the world.
Now that I was more refreshed, I took a proper look at everything. We were on the middle of a smooth, softly glowing white platform, a circle about fifteen meters wide. There was really almost nothing on it. The only things here were me, Yali, a desk with a computer, and a fancy telescope mounted to the floor next to it. Other than that, there were no walls, no landscape, nothing – only the starry sky in literally every direction.
I couldn’t even see anything else over the edges of the platform. I carefully knelt down at the edge and looked over… and saw more stars stretching out endlessly below us.
“Woah…” I said, stepping back until I was next to Yali. “Are we just floating in space? What happens if we fall off?!”
“You wouldn’t fall very far,” said Yali. “The gravity goes right back towards the star.”
Yali patted the platform under us.
“We’re standing on top of a star?!” I poked the glowing platform with my foot. “I thought a star was a giant burning ball of –”
“Regular stars are. But the ‘stars’ in this world are different. Every star you see up there is a disk just like this one. That’s what we’re going to be navigating across.”
“Navigating the stars? Do we get, like, a rocket ship?”
Yali smiled. “No, it’s actually the stars themselves that move. You see… you see…” Yali slowly climbed to her feet and brushed herself off. As soon as she was done, I couldn’t resist putting my arms around her again. She idly hugged me back, still concentrating on something else. “I can explain in a minute. But first… Before we get started… I want to check your feelings again. You really aren’t having any anger?”
“Yeah, like I told you, silly.” I leaned into her warmth and planted a series of kisses on her cheek. “If anything, I love you even more than I did before. So much for that prediction, haha.”
“Well, it’s possible… We don’t really know how the previous Blood Children felt right at first. The one who loved me hid his feelings for a long time, so…” She stopped and thought. “Maybe it just hasn’t changed your feelings about me… How do you feel about the Farseer?”
“What? But you are the Farseer.”
“It’s about, it’s about, how you think of me. Here…” Yali pulled away from me. With some reluctance, I let her untangle herself from my arms and step back. Then she solemnly raised one hand and began reciting an invocation. It wasn’t one I could repeat from memory, but I recognized it. “By our ancestors who laid down the stones beneath our feet, by our visions for the generations yet to come, by the Waiting God, –”
I snickered. “Don’t pretend like you’re some kind of holy person,” I said. It came out sounding a bit meaner than I’d intended it. Yali looked flustered. “Uh, I didn’t mean that in a bad way.”
“Don’t feel bad about it. It might be the Blood God influencing you.”
“Really? But it’s not like I felt, like, angry, or anything. It’s just silly that you were acting that way when you’re obviously, like, not.”
“Hmm.” Yali squinted. “Well, keep paying attention. Tell me if you feel anything you don’t expect.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I sidled up and wrapped myself around her again. “Now tell me about how we’re going to move the stars around.”
“Okay. Okay. For that, first, let’s look at… over there…”
“Why a computer?” I said. “I thought you said there wouldn’t be any computers unless we brought them.”
Yali frowned. “I did. There’s never been a computer here before, it’s always been… some shelves with a lot of books…”
“Haha, maybe the Waiting God scanned all the books and now it’s a ‘digital collection’!”
“No, no… Remember, this isn’t a regular place, the gods re-create their worlds every year. So it’s not about what’s physically there, it’s about…” Suddenly, she burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I said. Yali kept laughing. “Hey! Don’t leave me out of the loop here!”
She contained herself. “Oh I get it now… It was never a bookshelf, it was ‘a vast collection of ancient knowledge’! And it’s constructed based on our assumptions, so maybe people USED to think that meant a bunch of books, but the place we’d look for ancient knowledge is –”
“– on the Internet,” we finished together. I grinned. “Hey, does that mean we’ll have Internet here?”
It didn’t. When I started messing around on the computer, I didn’t recognize any of the programs on it. Most of them had to do with some sort of Codex. There was one called Codex, one called CodexViewer, one called CodexSearch, one called KnowledgeBase, and a whole bunch more stuff like that. I tried starting a few of them, and none of them even did anything.
“This is stupid,” I said.
“This is the Waiting God,” said Yali.
“Well then, the Waiting God is stupid.” I said. “What do you mean, though?”
“The Waiting God values patience, foresight, and planning. So everything in this world is built to require those things. To navigate through the stars, we have to examine them using the telescope. To learn how to use the telescope, we have to study the Codex. To study the Codex, we have to, to… to figure out how the programs work, I guess. But if you jump into anything without thinking about what you’re doing, you won’t get anywhere.”
When she said “jump into anything”, it made me think of physical jumping, and how I’d almost fallen over the first time I’d jumped up after I got here. Because the floor was slippery… “Oh for fuck’s sake, even the floor needs planning?!” I glared and stomped on the floor, but it didn’t react. Not sure what I was expecting.
“– whereas in a 3-α cluster, the channels are similar, but the chirality is reversed. Thus, within a 3-α, marker signals propagate in a clockwise direction (when viewed from the direction of the root – although here, ’the root’ may refer to the root of an ancestor cluster, if the 3-α is polyastretic) rather than counterclockwise. Take note: because of this abnormal chirality, the presence of a 3-α greatly increases the chance of signal propagation that exceeds the usual bounds, meaning that signals observed in this area may reflect the properties of a star multiple clusters away. Fortunately, this is limited to the case of –”
“This doesn’t say shit about how to use a telescope,” I said.
“Aren’t you just reading a random part in the middle?” said Yali from over my shoulder.
“Well I STARTED at the beginning! But that was just pages and pages of boring stuff!” For some reason, all of the Codex programs had started working about half an hour after we showed up. But somehow, that wasn’t making things any easier. “And why didn’t CodexSearch show us anything good for ‘telescope’? It’s a freakin’ search!!”
“Maybe there’s another name for the telescope. We should think about –”
“And why should I have to read your stupid Codex?” I shoved myself away from the desk and stood up. “You’re the one who’s good with all this detail stuff. You still have a temple!”
I didn’t realize something was weird until Yali answered me. “Are you talking about the Waiting Temple?” she said carefully.
“Well, yeah, I mean, you’re, uh…”
“The Waiting Temple isn’t ‘my’ temple,” she said sharply. “Was that the Blood God talking?”
I tried to think back to what I’d been thinking, but it was gone now. “Ugh, I don’t know, I guess it must have been? Like, I’ve never been mad about the Waiting Temple specifically…”
“This could be important. If the Blood God is angry about the Waiting Temple, or –” she concentrated “– or about the Blood Temple being gone, –”
“Hang on, what did happen to the Blood Temple?” It suddenly seemed really important, like something I should be able to remember but just couldn’t.
“I, I don’t really know –”
“I thought you knew everything! With the memories and shit.”
“It was a, a complicated political thing. I don’t know if I can explain it –”
“– but the important thing is, if the Blood God’s anger is about the temples, then for us to protect you from the anger, we’d have to –”
“Of course! I’ll definitely notice if I’m mad about the Waiting Temple again. I’ll use the Calming Game –”
“That’s the problem,” said Yali. “I don’t want to tell you not to hate the Waiting Temple.”
“Wait a minute. When I hate the Stern Temple, you’re all ‘I can’t listen to this’. But the Waiting Temple is fair game?”
“Why not? They’re different temples.” That was a bit of a weird thing to say. It was technically true, but to most people, the Stern and the Waiting were kind of just two different branches of the people in charge of the city. The Stern were more of the everyday throw-you-in-jail types, and the Waiting were more of a distant authority handing down decrees, but they were pretty much on the same side. And Stern preachers were always like you must respect the Waiting, too. When I was a kid, my parents had made me go to temple every week, it was so annoying. And that meant a Stern temple. I’d never actually been inside a Waiting temple – at least, not that I could remember. There weren’t many around where I lived, and they were even more boring and old-fashioned.
“Alright then, screw the Waiting. Bunch of old know-it-alls sitting around, not doing any good for anybody.”
Yali didn’t seem too happy with that either, but she let it slide. “In any case, if you have those thoughts again, just remind yourself, whatever is wrong with the Waiting Temple, it’s not me. I’m not like they are.”
But one way or another, we were going to have to read the Codex, so we could navigate the stars.
“The problem is,” said Yali, “I’m actually not that good at studying from books.”
Yali told me her grades in school, and I was blown away. My grades were better than that! Of course, my grades were actually pretty good – sure, I liked to complain about the schoolwork, but I’d always eventually sit down and do it, and it wasn’t that hard. But still – “What?! How can I be getting better grades than someone who was literally picked by the gods for being smart?”
“Not for being smart. For patience, foresight, and planning,” said Yali patiently. “That’s different from being good at schoolwork. If you give me a worksheet to do, I just, just can’t focus on it. Like I have to find the right time of day, get relaxed, make sure to take care of anything else I’m worrying about, and then I can sit down with a worksheet, and then maybe I can focus on it. But most of the time, there’s just too much other stuff going on in my head. The only time I get things done fast is when I know I’m in danger. And that’s made it easier to prepare for the Ravelling… But the Waiting God will give us plenty of time. Studying the Codex won’t be urgent enough for me to focus.”
But in the end, Yali still decided to do it herself.
“I had wanted us to do it together,” she said. “But I know it’s going to frustrate you, and that puts your own frustrations on the same side as the Blood God’s, which could be dangerous.”
“Yeah.” I knew what she meant. It was spooky how easily I had slipped into saying a Blood God thing when I thought I was just complaining.
So that was what we did. Yali sat down, adjusted the chair until she was comfortable, and focused in on the screen. Pretty soon, she found a starting point in the Codex and read for a while. Then she scrolled down and kept reading for a while longer. A few pages later, I realized that this wouldn’t be over anytime soon.
“Hey, how about you use your Seeing?” I said. “Look in the future and tell us how we figure it all out.”
“I, I, I think I’m not allowed,” said Yali.
“The Seeing comes from the god, right? And the god wants us all to plan out our journey the regular way. So it won’t show me futures that let us skip past the process.”
“Of COURSE it wasn’t going to be that easy. What a condescending –” I glared at the screen. I couldn’t find the right words to express how messed up it was that the Waiting God was making us go along with this. Well, whatever.
I settled into watching with Yali work. She was totally absorbed in the Codex, her eyes methodically scanning over the screen. I couldn’t be bothered to read what she was looking at, so I spent most of my time looking at her instead. There was a bit of her hair that was hanging down separately from the rest, going past the curve of her cheek, with the end of the hair barely resting on her shoulder. Each time she moved her head a little, the end almost fell off her shoulder, and sort of flipped from side to side. After watching it for a while, I couldn’t resist playing with her hair a bit. But she sort of shrugged and pushed me away so she could keep concentrating. Then she adjusted her hair again herself. The loose strand was gone now, Stern take it.
Yali didn’t have a lot of idle habits, but that just made it easier for me to get engrossed in the little movements she did do. She had her neck stuck out towards the screen, like she was always leaning to get closer. As she read, her face barely moved a centimeter either way – but it did move, in a slow, repeating motion back and forth. When I watched it closely, it was almost a figure-eight, dipping down a little at each side before lifting back up to read in the middle again. I was hypnotized.
It turned out I couldn’t stay absorbed in that forever. At some point, the feeling dropped away and I was just stiff and bored again. Irritably, I started pacing around. I wanted to get Yali’s attention, but I knew she had a lot to figure out.
While I waited, I thought back to what she had told me, about what she’d need to do now.
Besides just figuring out where we were going, it was also important to find the locations of the other Ravellers – especially the Alchemist.
There were three other Ravellers in the Otherworld with us – the Imminent, the Justicar and the Alchemist. Each of them was going to have their own abilities, motivations, and dangers or opportunities they’d create for us.
The Imminent was with the Seeking God. When Yali had told me about the previous Imminents, she hadn’t gone into detail at first, because they didn’t usually affect the whole Blood Child/Farseer thing. But I had asked about them, because they got the coolest powers. They got a different random power every year – she’d told me about one who could turn invisible and walk through walls, one who could shapeshift into any animal, and one who could eat literally anything and absorb its properties. Of course, this year’s Imminent wouldn’t be able to do any of those things, because they never got the same power twice. And they were almost always temperamental. Half the time, the Imminent would either ignore everyone else and run off to experiment with weird magic stuff, or they’d constantly provoke the other Ravellers, just to see what would happen. Still, I couldn’t wait to see what this year’s Imminent would be like.
Then, there was the Justicar. The Justicar was the Stern God’s champion, so it was pretty obvious what they’d be like. They’d probably act like they owned the place and try to make everyone else do what they told them to. Yali said the Justicar was a powerful warrior, and usually tried to protect the Farseer from the Blood Child. So it was going to be interesting to see how that would turn out. Not that I was looking forward to it.
And finally, there was the Alchemist. The Alchemist was a big mystery, just like the Broken God in general. Even the way Yali had described them was pretty mysterious. First, she’d said that the Alchemist often had a pivotal role, setting the whole direction of the Ravelling. But when I asked her what they actually did to “set the direction of the Ravelling”, she had said they didn’t necessarily do anything at all. I couldn’t get a straight answer out of her.
Either way, though, Yali was convinced that the Alchemist was important. And there was one other thing that was different about the Alchemist: The Broken God didn’t give the Alchemist any knowledge or sense of purpose at all. According to Yali, the rest of the gods did do that – so even if I hadn’t known I was the Blood Child, I would have known it as soon as I was pulled into the Otherworld, because of the magic. And I’d have been ready to go do Ravelling stuff, too. Our gods made sure we wouldn’t get too shaken up from being pulled out of our lives on Earth. But each Alchemist just got thrown into the Otherworld unprepared, like a regular human.
So the sooner we found the Alchemist, the sooner we could help them deal with the transition. And for whatever weird, Broken-God importance the Alchemist had, Yali wanted them to hear our side of the story first, rather than getting their introduction from the Justicar or the Imminent. That made a lot of sense. It was hard to predict what the Alchemist would be like, because they would just be whoever they were before, and that could be pretty much anybody. But no matter who they were, it would be no good for some random person to get magic powers and then get convinced that the Stern God had the right idea of what to do. So it would be a big help if we were the first ones to find them.
If only I had any idea how we were going to do that.
After what seemed like hours, Yali finally looked away from the screen. Then she walked over to the telescope, put her eye to one of the openings, and fiddled with a few dials. After another eternity of her checking things on the telescope, she looked back at me.
“I haven’t figured out everything,” she said. “But I’ve figured out enough to know that we won’t miss anything if we take a break for today.”
“Thank the fucking gods,” I said. “So what’s the deal? I mean, don’t tell me the whole thing, obviously. Just give me, like, the cheat sheet.”
Yali explained a few things. Apparently the “star” we were standing on was already moving at a zillion kilometers per second, we just couldn’t tell because, first, we were standing on it, and second, the rest of the stars were even more zillions of kilometers away. But they were all moving in some sort of ridiculously complex pattern. And every so often, two stars would meet up with each other while they were moving at the same speed, and then you could walk from one of them to the other. Even though we were supposedly “navigating” through the stars, we didn’t actually control which way our star would move. Our only control was, whenever two stars met each other, we could choose which one to be standing on when they moved apart again. So once Yali figured out what star we should transfer to next, all we’d have to do was wait.
Wait. I was already getting sick of that word.
“I thought this was going to be a big adventure!” I complained. “Are you seriously telling me we’re just going to be stuck on a rock together for weeks?! I mean, not that I mind being stuck on a rock with you –” I kissed her halfheartedly “– but, like, I thought we were going to be fighting monsters and stuff!”
“There aren’t any monsters, that’s just in the movies. There will be some adventure, just –”
“– just not until we get to the other layers. Yeah, yeah, I remember what you told me.” The Seeking God’s layer was next, and it sounded way cooler than this one. But meanwhile… “There’s just nothing to do here!”
“It’s okay. I’m sure we can find things to do. We haven’t even…” Yali trailed off and started quietly concentrating. I almost interrupted her, but I wasn’t that impatient. I just sighed and looked around, as if I was going to spot anything new here. But there was just the same old stuff. And the same old stars.
When I looked back, Yali was holding a clay pot.
“Where’d that come from?” I said.
Yali gave an embarrassed smile. “I thought I’d try manifesting. The first thing I thought of was a potted plant I used to have in my room. But I forgot you can’t manifest anything that has its own soul.”
“Plants have souls?” I said. Then I smacked myself in the forehead. “Well duh, of course I knew that. It’s just not something you think about every day, you know? Wait, never mind that! Manifesting! How do I do this, do I just, like, want something into existence –” I waved a hand, imagining that I was pulling something out of thin air. I wasn’t thinking of what to pull, I just pulled.
“You okay there?” I said, moving towards her. She frantically backed away from me, a panicked expression on her face. What was she looking at? I followed her gaze, and that’s when I noticed what I was holding in my hand.
It was a blade of the length of my forearm, black and glistening. Instinctively, it felt like an extra part of my arm. Like a claw ready to reach out and tear the world apart.
“Whaaa –” I threw the blade away from us. It vanished before it hit the ground. “What the fuck was that?”
“That,” Yali panted, “that killed me a lot of times.” She adjusted her shirt. “I’m okay now. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Every Blood Child could summon the Blood Blades, it was probably just the easiest thing for you to manifest. Here, make another one. Go ahead, it’s okay.”
Cautiously, I repeated the gesture I’d made earlier. Sure enough, another black blade sprang into existence in my hand. This time, I got a better look at it. When I looked closely at it, it was actually dark red rather than black. And it had an almost liquid quality about it. There was no clear line where the blade ended and the handle began, and it was perfectly molded to the shape of my hand. As if it had been made for me.
Its sharp edge, though, was ragged and vicious. The side of the blade showed a clear reflection of the stars, but near the edge, it looked grimy and scratched.
Curiously, I touched the edge with my other hand. It flowed around my fingers without cutting them, giving them a warm, wet sensation. “Check it out,” I said.
Yali examined the blade gingerly, without touching it. “Amazing. I’ve never gotten such a close look at one of these before. One of the old Blood Children said that they’re an extension of your own blood. Figuratively, I guess. They said you could even feel through it, as if it was part of your own arm.”
“Yeah, it kind of felt like that. Let me just try –” Experimentally, I reached out with the side of the blade and tapped the table with it. Sure enough, I could feel the table like I was touching it. “Wow, I thought it would feel really weird, but it doesn’t feel weird at all. That’s so weird.”
I immediately tried a lot more things with the Blood Blades. I could manifest more than one of them at a time, and I could make them bigger or smaller, or change their shape a little, just by wanting to. And they wouldn’t cut anything unless I wanted to cut it – but if I did want to cut something, oooooh boy were they good at it. I shredded off a corner of the table in one swing. It wasn’t a clean cut, but it sure did have a satisfying thud and ripping feeling. So I did it again.
“Rinn…” said Yali hesitantly after I made a few more cuts. “Maybe don’t destroy the entire table? You’re getting close to the computer stuff.”
“Oh. Uh, right, of course. I mean, I was about to stop anyway,” I lied transparently. “I’ll just manifest some normal stuff now. Catch!” I made a ball appear in my hand and threw it to her. Yali tried to catch the ball, but she reacted a bit too late and knocked it off into the distance instead. “Uh, sorry!” I said.
“No, no, do it again! I’m ready now.” We played catch for a little while. With the slippery floor, it was impossible to run after a ball when we missed it, so a lot of them just ended up rolling off the edge of the platform. But every time we lost a ball, I just made a new, different one.
“So…” I said, “We can really make anything we can think of? Like…” I stuck out my hand as if I was pulling back a chair, and a solid gold throne shimmered into existence. I slouched on the throne theatrically. The gold was actually kind of hard and uncomfortable, but I wasn’t going to let that get in the way of anything. Next, I made a sienkah fruit in each hand and chomped into them greedily, letting the juices drip down my chin. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Yali smiling at that. So I made a show of it, making an absolute feast and eating as messily as I could. Pretty soon I was stuffed, and I had smears all over my face and sticky crumbs down my shirt. From how she was looking at me, I could tell she was totally into it. So I swaggered up to her and, with bits of food still smeared all over my face, kissed her right on the mouth.
That didn’t go over quite as well. She sort of stiffened up and pulled back. Then she concentrated for a moment, and the smears disappeared from her.
“Spoilsport,” I said affectionately.
“I, I, I –”
“Nah, it’s fine. I’m sorry, I just got carried away. Look, I’m backing off now.”
“It’s not that, I, I…” she trailed off. It looked like she was deep in thought, so I gave her some space and went back to trying things out on my own.
A few minutes later, I noticed her muttering to herself. “We, we…” I looked up and saw that Yali was holding a fruit close to her mouth. “We can actually be as messy as we want, just for fun, and we don’t have to worry about cleaning up after.” She stared at the fruit she was holding. Then she shook her head a little, lowered her hand, and the fruit disappeared.
“Hey, uh, if you want to do it, you should do it,” I said.
She shook her head again. “It’s, it’s easier this way.”
Stern take it all. Are you going to hold back this entire time? I thought. I didn’t say it out loud, though, because that would just make her clam up about it more.
I went back to experimenting with manifesting. There were all kinds of things I do with it. It wasn’t just limited to making things in my hands. I could make a hat right on top of my head. I could change my hairstyle and color whenever I wanted. I could jump and manifest a skateboard under my feet while I was in midair.
I could also use manifesting to make my bruises go away after I landed on my ass.
Not everything was possible. For instance, I generally couldn’t manifest things that didn’t exist. Yali said we could technically only manifest things that were imprinted on our souls. Whenever you touched a physical object, it automatically made an imprint on your soul, especially if you were interested in it. Then you could use the imprint to manifest a copy of it later. You could also manifest complex things if you knew how to make them out of smaller parts you had imprinted. Like my golden throne – I had probably imprinted gold from somebody’s ring, and I knew what a chair was shaped like.
But if you touched something that had its own soul, the other soul stopped you from imprinting its physical body. You could make a soul-level connection with another person (or a plant or animal), but it wasn’t the same thing as imprinting. That was why we couldn’t manifest anything that was alive, even though we could manifest food, which was technically stuff that used to be alive. After something died, its soul slowly left its body, so you could eventually imprint it again.
That would mean I could manifest corpses, I guess. Curiously, I tried out manifesting a dead bird I had picked up in the yard when I was a little kid. It worked. Then I realized that I was holding a dead bird in my hand. It hadn’t bothered me when I was a kid, but for some reason, this time it was really disturbing to be holding something dead. I flinched and made it disappear.
That was another thing we could do. We could unmanifest anything we manifested, just by wanting it to go away. I had done that subconsciously the first time I made a Blood Blade. Things wouldn’t disappear just because you forgot about them, but if you specifically wanted them to disappear, they would.
And the Blood Blades… they were still the easiest thing for me to manifest. Not that other things were hard, but I could basically grab a Blood Blade out of thin air and cut something with it in one smooth motion, without having to think about what I was doing first. It was a little spooky to catch myself creating sharp blades without even thinking about it, but since they wouldn’t cut anything I didn’t want to cut, it wasn’t technically dangerous.
After floating in empty space for hours, I was excited for our first encounter with another star. Yali had calculated the exact time it would get to us. Right on schedule, one of the distant stars started moving slowly across the sky, then quicker and quicker. Over the next few minutes, it got bigger and bigger, until it was finally close enough to see what it really was: another platform just like ours.
The other platform glided toward us with a wide, sweeping movement, and I briefly worried that we’d crash. But then it slowed down and came to a gentle stop, exactly next to our own platform. The very edges of the circles were just barely touching each other, and they’d settled into place without a sound. It was actually pretty amazing.
The novelty wore off almost immediately. The other star was literally exactly like ours. Same computer, same telescope, everything. The only difference was that the other table didn’t have any chunks cut out of it. Well, that was no good. I stepped across to take care of it.
“This isn’t the one we’re going to move to,” said Yali.
“Yeah, yeah. You said it’ll be like half an hour before they separate again, though, right?”
“And we’re never going to see this one again after that? And there’s lots more like it?”
I grinned. I strode up to the computer on the other platform, grabbed a Blood Blade high over my head, and smashed it down through the middle of the screen. “Aww yeah! I’ve been wanting to do this!” I completely trashed the place, chopping the computer and the telescope into little pieces. I knew it wouldn’t change anything, but that computer had really pissed me off, so I was glad to smash it up a bit.
Sleeping in the Otherworld was kind of strange.
Yali had decided to settle down for the night long before I would have. She started painstakingly manifesting a bed that was only just big enough for her to sleep in.
“Why such a small bed?” I asked.
“It’s hard work manifesting something so big.”
“It is?” I held out my hands and manifested a GIGANTIC bed, deep and fluffy, complete with pillows the size of my body. Then I dived onto it and rolled around blissfully. “There ya go. No need to thank me,” I said smugly.
“Thanks. The Blood Child would have powerful manifesting…” Yali muttered. She slowly lowered herself onto the bed with me. “Wow. I’m not going to want to get up from this.”
I had still had plenty of energy, but now that I was lying down, sleeping felt like a great idea too. I cuddled up to Yali and closed my eyes. And that’s when the problems started.
“You keep elbowing me,” said Yali a few minutes later.
“I’m just shifting around!”
“It felt like elbowing to me.”
“Okay, I’ll be careful!”
A few minutes of being careful later, Yali said, “This isn’t really helping.”
“Look, I’m trying!!”
“No, I mean, I… I’ve never actually slept in the same bed with someone else before. I don’t think I’ll be able to get to sleep this way.”
“But it’s intimate!” I said, disappointed.
“I know… it’s not that I don’t want it to work, it’s just… We can try another time. When I’ve gotten used to being away from home at all.”
“Okay, fine.” I rolled away and settled in on the far side of the bed.
The next thing I knew, I was… awake again?
Or was it even the next thing I knew? When I thought back, I could actually remember lying in the bed for hours. I’d been consciously aware of what was around me. I hadn’t had any dreams, or even been properly asleep at all. But I still felt refreshed as if I had actually slept. “That was weird…” I said. “Hey Yali, are you awake?”
“I’m still asleep,” said Yali. She didn’t even sound sleepy.
I laughed, but then I realized it could be true somehow. “Wait, so sleep works differently here? How does that work?”
“It… Later. You’ll wake me up.”
Irritably, I muttered, “Or you could just wake up now.” But then I felt bad about it, and I hoped she hadn’t heard me.
I rolled out of bed, then pulled out my phone to check how long it had been.
“Fuck!! My battery!” I frantically checked where the computer was plugged in, but it didn’t even have a power outlet. Its power cord just went right down into the star somehow. And the computer didn’t have the right port to charge my phone from either. How in the Endless was I going to keep it charged? I’d known I wasn’t going to get service out here, but I still used my phone for all kinds of things. Why hadn’t I thought about how it was going to run out of battery? “Fuck!” I yelled again.
“Battery pack,” said Yali’s voice. She was sitting up now. “C’mere.”
“Oh gods, did I wake you up? I’m sorry –”
“Don’t worry about it.” Yali tiredly handed me a battery pack that I could plug my phone into.
“You brought a battery pack? I mean, thanks a bunch, but won’t that run out too?” I said. But I did plug my phone into it and leave it on the table.
“I’ll manifest another. I didn’t even bring it to the Otherworld, I only borrowed it from someone –”
“Ohhhh. Woah, so you intentionally imprinted a battery pack so you could make as many fully charged battery packs as you want? You’re a genius!”
Yali smiled a little. “I figured if we tried to manifest on our phones directly, it might not work right because neither of us knows how a phone actually works. And if we copied our phones, the copies would be out of battery, too, or they’d be a copy of how the phone was –”
“You are a genius. Absolute lifesaver.” I ran to hug her. I practically tackled her onto the bed.
“Ow,” she said, smiling ruefully. “Now I’m going to have to sit up a second time.”
“Thought you didn’t want to get up,” I teased. She idly tousled my hair, looking past me. “So, what’s up with sleeping here?” I said.
“Ah…” She sighed and gazed up into the stars. “We are… It’s a soul thing. When we sleep in the material world, we retreat inside, so we’re only aware of our souls. That’s where our dreams are. But here, we are the souls. We touch the Otherworld directly.”
I lightly poked her and said, “So our souls are touching each other right now.”
“But that was already true,” said Yali dreamily.
“OMG OMG OMG! That is, like, so cheesy. And so perfect at the same time.”
“Yes…” she said, not quite reacting.
Even though she was being affectionate, I could sense her mind was on something else. “Uh, I could let you go back to sleep if you want,” I said reluctantly.
“No…” She suddenly looked tired again, this time in a stressed-out way instead of a sleepy way. “I shouldn’t. There’s a lot of things I should double-check before we get to the next, the next, one of the stars we’re going towards.” She sat up again, slightly pushing me out of the way, and hauled herself to her feet.
“Yeah, or, uh –” I muttered. Yali was already walking towards the computer. “Yeah, I could just leave you alone to work on that shit. Yeah.”
Travelling through the Otherworld was NOT as interesting as it was cracked up to be.
Sure, there was the looming threat of our possible deaths. But it didn’t really seem like that was going to happen here, on a tiny platform in the middle of literal empty space. Being here was just boring.
We’d been floating through space for days now. We had only transferred to another star once. We still had no idea where the other Ravellers were, despite Yali spending hours with the telescope. Even manifesting wasn’t any fun anymore. Every time I tried something, I just thought of how much I missed everyone from back home. Where was Layo to make things fun? Where was Pèi to say something sarcastic? Even my parents – I couldn’t stand them, and it was great to be away from them looking over my shoulder, but now I just felt empty.
The worst part was, I wasn’t even having much fun with Yali. When she was awake, she spent half her time studying the Codex or looking in the telescope. When she wasn’t doing that, she spent half her time Seeing into the future. It didn’t make her exhausted like it had back in the regular world, but she still spent lots of time on it. “It’s to make sure we stay alive,” she’d said. Well, of course I wanted us to stay alive, but couldn’t she just keep us alive faster? Stern take it all. Not only that, but whenever I wanted to know something from the future, she didn’t know it, because the Seeing had a whole bunch of limitations.
For one thing, it only showed possible futures, so if she looked too far ahead, almost anything could happen. For another, she couldn’t see anything after we went to the next layer. Apparently, at each layer crossing, the gods wove more of their threads into us – and when the other gods did something big like that, the Waiting God wouldn’t be able to predict it. Even some of the other Ravellers’ powers were enough to disrupt the Seeing and make parts of the future unreadable. And finally, it was hard to find specific futures even if you wanted to. Yali said she’d seen glimpses of the other Ravellers, and even bits of conversation, but those were only things they might say in some situation, not a whole picture. So the Seeing sounded great, but it was a whole lot of bother to get anything good out of it.
And then there was our together time. Yali had manifested an enormous, reclining couch that was just the right shape for us to curl up together and cuddle for hours. Which was nice and all. It seemed to make Yali happy, at least. She always had that sleepy, peaceful expression on her face, only occasionally moving to shift her weight, or stroke my hair, or nuzzle into my cheek. And it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it. I’d never gotten to spend so much time with her before, and letting my body soak up her warmth, it made me feel floaty and wonderful. But I just didn’t like doing it for as long as she did. Before long, I always wanted to be doing something.
Or even if I wasn’t doing something, at least we could be talking about something. But whenever I tried to talk to her while we were cuddling, she’d just go “mm-hmm” to everything. She wasn’t really listening.
So I had taken to pacing around the platform. I couldn’t even run. The platform wasn’t wide enough to run in a straight line, and if I tried to go around in a circle, I’d just slip.
One time, I stood right out at the edge of the platform, staring irritably into the void. Why did the Waiting have to stick us on these stupid little platforms? It made me want to step off the edge, just for the sake of it. But that made me remember something Yali’d said – You wouldn’t fall very far. The gravity goes right back towards the star.
I lay down and stuck my arm over the edge, just to see what was there. It felt pretty weird. My arm was getting pressed against the side of the platform. Because the gravity was going sideways…
“I’m going to step off the side of the platform, just to see where I end up,” I announced.
“Good luck!” said Yali, then went back to her work. Stern take it, I had kind of been hoping to get a reaction out of her, but she had probably seen this all ahead of time. Well, at least that meant it was safe. I steeled my nerves and stepped out over the edge.
The stars spun around me, then the glowy white of the platform swung up and tried to smack me in the face. I pushed myself up on my arms and tried to stop my head from spinning. “I feel like I’m going to throw up,” I said.
Yali’s voice echoed weirdly from somewhere. “Manifest a bucket!”
“Nah, I’ll be fine.” I forced myself to look around. I was kneeling on… exactly the same platform, except with nothing on it but me and… a bunch of the balls we had been throwing around earlier? So now, I was… on the underside of the same star? Apparently I could stay sitting on the underside, because the gravity was pointing upwards. Or, I guess, downwards, from my perspective.
I wasn’t going to let a little nausea get the better of me. I immediately got up and stepped off the edge again, falling back around to the side I’d been on originally.
“Check it out,” I said, tossing one of the balls I’d found at Yali. “All those balls just went rolling off the edge and we never thought about what happened to them!”
“Yeah, that’s pretty cool,” said Yali. But she still wasn’t paying attention. She’d definitely seen this all before, Stern take it.
“Yeah, so, uh, I guess I can go hang out on the other side now. So I won’t disturb you.”
“Thanks. I think I’ll be done in, in…” I didn’t bother to wait for her to finish. Half the time she would just trail off and never finish anyway.
Being on the other side was… a bit of a relief, but not much. I had a little more privacy now, so I could just mess around doing whatever I wanted without worrying about how Yali would react. I manifested a lot of weird shit, just to see if I could. But even when I did something cool, I didn’t have anyone to show it to. And the place wasn’t even soundproof. One time I made a tower of junk just so I could kick it down, but then Yali complained about the noise. So now I was stuck in a magical world where I could do anything I wanted, except for all the things I actually wanted to do.
So I ended up spending a lot of time sitting around feeling sour about things. And then the next time Yali wanted to talk to me, I didn’t feel that much better. It went back and forth, back and forth. I couldn’t wait to get out of this place.
I woke up on the eighth day. Not that I had slept exactly eight times since we started. With no sun and no society, we hadn’t really been keeping a twenty-four-hour cycle. But judging by my phone, it was officially more than a week since we had gotten here.
I didn’t even want to get up. It was just going to be another fucking day like all the others.
I sat up in bed. Yali happened to be up at the time, staring into the telescope. Yesterday, she’d claimed she was making progress and might locate one of the other Ravellers soon. Just like she had the day before.
“Good morning,” I said.
“I guess I might as well go to the other side and play by myself. You know, unless you feel like talking about anything.”
“Or doing anything fun. Ever.”
“Fine.” I climbed out of bed and walked to the edge of the platform. I didn’t even want to. But it was either that or keep sitting around here, with Yali right there in front of me, but not being able to do anything with her anyway. I hesitated. I couldn’t stand to just walk away from her, either. I just felt sick inside.
“This is how much I normally talk,” said Yali abruptly.
I looked back over at her. “What?” I said.
“I can’t, I don’t, talk, as much as you want me to, –”
“What are you talking about? What about all those times when – like, we’ve spent entire evenings talking together!”
“That’s a, I’m sorry, I, I didn’t think of, of, I spent so much time planning for the bigger stuff, I just, this kind of idle time, I didn’t think of it. And I’ve, I’ve, been trying, to make this, to, to give you what you want, too, but, I, I’ve been trying, I…” she trailed off.
I waited impatiently for her to go on, but she didn’t. Frustrated, I gave up and turned away. But when I thought of going back to being all alone, something bitter reared up inside me. How could I just let her leave me hanging like this?!
I whirled back on her. The words caught in my throat – I knew it was wrong, but it just felt so right. I spat, “This is your idea of giving me what I want?!”
Yali’s face fell with dismay.
I stomped towards her. “You think you can string me along, acting like you’re such a caring person, like you’re going to make everything right, and then when I’m stuck on a rock with you, you clam up on me?!” I swung my arm for emphasis, but it went farther than I intended, and my hand smacked into the table, bumping the clay pot Yali had made earlier. It wobbled and almost fell over.
“Controlling Game,” said Yali tensely.
I was momentarily stopped in my tracks. “What? You think this is the Blood God?! This is me! Don’t you get it?! Maybe you’re fine being all alone all the time, you don’t understand how much it hurts when you just shut me out like this!” Yali didn’t respond. I shoved my face right in front of hers. “What, you don’t have anything to say? Come on, say something!”
That’s when I noticed the look on her face. It was subtle, but I’d seen her face a lot lately, and the difference was unmistakable. Her eyes were slightly widened, frozen in a stare. The muscles around her mouth were tight.
Something knotted up in my stomach, like maybe I’d gone too far. But I couldn’t just leave it like this! I took half a step back and said, “Hey, uh, you’ve gotta work with me here, alright? Just, uh –” She still had that frozen look. I stepped back further. “Come on, you know I’m not going to hurt you! You can stop looking like that!” She didn’t react. I held up my hands placatingly. “Look, I’m going to leave now, okay? Then you won’t have to talk to me or anything. So that’s good, right?!”
I wasn’t even sure if I was being bitter or just saying whatever came into my head. Anyway, I clearly wasn’t getting any sort of response from her. Just seeing her like this was ripping me up inside. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I followed through with what I said, dashed off the side of the platform and fell around to the underside.
It wasn’t much for privacy, but at least we couldn’t see each other directly. My head was pounding. I just wanted to get away from everything. If only there was somewhere around here to go for a long run, to blow off all this excess energy. But all I had was this tiny platform, with nowhere to really move around at all.
I needed something. With my stomach in a knot, I stuck my hands out in front of me and manifested one of the treadmills from the gym back at home. I climbed on and switched it on, but nothing happened. Because there was no power. Fucking of course. I slammed my fist down on the controls, snapping off a bit of the plastic. Why did this have to happen to me? Even this fucking MACHINE wouldn’t do what I wanted.
Raging, I started “walking” on the treadmill anyway. Since it wasn’t on, it was more like just shoving the belt with my legs over and over. But at least it was a workout. Shove. Shove. Shove.
After a few dozen angry steps, my muscles started warming up. Another few dozen, my head started to clear. The angry, bitter thoughts were pounding a little less hard. I had room to think again.
What had I yelled at her for?
It was so stupid. This wasn’t supposed to happen! We were supposed to be going on romantic adventures and fighting off the Blood God. Not this! I wasn’t supposed to be the kind of person who’d yell in their girlfriend’s face over petty shit like this!
How had this happened?! All I was trying to do was have fun and act normally! Why couldn’t that just work? Why did Yali have to suddenly turn into someone who couldn’t handle it?
But worse… She had said it wasn’t a change. This was how she was normally.
A horrible thought snuck into my head. Could it be that we were actually incompatible? Would we be stuck fighting over how much time to spend together until one of us dumped the other? It was like having my guts ripped out. I had no one else. Not Layo. Not Mom and Dad. Not even some random asshole to rant at. There’d be the other Ravellers, but they were so far away and I had no idea what they’d be like. Yali was the ONLY person I had. I HAD to make this work, somehow. And if I kept fucking up like this, I was going to lose her.
That look on her face, when I’d blown past her Controlling Game… what was that look? She’d been tensed up, frozen in place, like she couldn’t handle what was happening. Almost like… fear?
A sick feeling drilled into the pit of my stomach. That couldn’t be right, could it? She wasn’t afraid, it was just a reaction, like when I’d first summoned a Blood Blade. She knew I wouldn’t actually hurt her, right? I was just blowing off steam! And besides, she had looked way more scared when the Blood Blade thing happened! And then she’d gotten back under control right away, because she knew it was just me and I wouldn’t hurt her! Obviously! So obviously, THIS time, maybe I did some stuff I shouldn’t have, and she got scared, but then I started backing off, and then she was… still acting scared… because… that meant…
I had made her afraid of me.
I felt like I was going to throw up. My hands tingled and my legs shook. I kept shoving my feet into the treadmill harder and harder, as if walking hard enough would change what happened. How could I have DONE that?? Why couldn’t I have just LISTENED to her??!! So many feelings were crushing me from all sides. Loneliness. Guilt. Fear. Nausea. Helplessness. Self-pity. I doubled over, slumping my full weight against the handle of the treadmill. An uncontrollable sob tore out of me. I was barely holding myself up. My tears splattered freely on the floor.
I don’t know how long I stayed like that. Wave after wave of emotion slammed into me. Finally, I was just so weak I didn’t even want to stay standing anymore. I lifted a hand, planning to un-manifest the treadmill and then make something soft instead, like a couch. I didn’t stop and think that without the treadmill, I was hovering in the empty air. As soon as I made the gesture, my stomach dropped out. My arms and legs clattered into a heap on the hard floor.
I couldn’t even bring myself to get up again. I just made a heavy blanket over me and curled up inside it. Parts of me were still lying directly on the floor, but if I wanted to get more comfortable, I’d have had to lift myself up at all. And that was just too much to even think about. I lay that way for a long time, not quite resting. It was half comfort, half pain.
I should go apologize to her, I said to myself. I could just run back to the other side and tell her I knew I fucked up and beg for her forgiveness. What was I waiting for?! I should have done that as soon as I realized! But… was she even ready to hear my voice again? Would it make her feel better? Or would I just be trying to make myself feel better, pushing more of my noise on her when she wasn’t ready for it?
My muscles made the decision for me. I wasn’t going anywhere, not anytime soon.
An eternity went by. There was no way to tell time here. I could have checked my phone, but it was the farthest thing from my mind. Eventually, I found myself drifting off, flickering in and out of the idleness that we had instead of sleep here.
A voice shocked me awake, echoing from under the floor.
“Rinn. I can talk now.”
Oh gods. Oh gods. I was going to have to face her again. She was going to hate me.
I clambered to my feet, shaking off my blanket and stumbling around to the topside where Yali was. I let myself collapse onto my hands and knees in front of her. “I’m sorry, I’m so so so sorry, I should never have done that, I –”
Yali covered my mouth. “Rinn. Rinn.” Her voice was low and soothing. “It’s okay. We can work things out.”
I didn’t even have words to say back. I wrapped my arms around her legs and sobbed into her thigh gratefully.
Yali held out her hand to help me up. I took it and started climbing to my feet. Amazingly, I felt like I was putting my whole weight on Yali’s hand, but it didn’t move at all. She was so strong. Once I was up, she gently sat me down in the couch next to her.
“So…” I choked out, “You don’t hate me? For being such an asshole?”
“No,” said Yali gravely. “To tell the truth, I always expected that there’d be a time in the Otherworld when you would lose control of your emotions. The only question was whether you would catch yourself and learn from it. And you did catch yourself, and you are in the process of learning. So –”
“You… expected this? Even though my emotions didn’t actually change when we crossed over?”
“But they did.”
“It’s subtle, but it’s there. You haven’t been giving me the benefit of the doubt as much, especially when it’s about the Waiting God or its world. So I think we might be seeing the first part of the Blood God’s influence. But…” She frowned. “This isn’t how the Blood God is supposed to operate. It’s supposed to be about anger, like, direct confrontation. Not about contempt, or… feeling like you’re entitled to my help… I mean, this change has to be coming from the Blood God, but I don’t understand.”
Why did it have to be coming from the Blood God? Maybe because… because if it wasn’t coming from the Blood God, that would mean it was coming from me. And Yali couldn’t believe that it was coming from me. I felt like my heart was being pulled in two different directions. Yali really trusted me so much that she couldn’t believe I would have said all those things by myself. But what if she was wrong?
Contempt. Entitlement. She didn’t think it was me, so she hadn’t softened the way she said it. So that was her honest opinion of how I’ve been treating her. It hit me like a punch in the gut.
“What do we do now?” I said hollowly. “I love you, I don’t want to do anything to hurt you, but I –” I’m still trapped here and if you keep shutting me out then I don’t know if I can – I swallowed to stop myself from saying it out loud. I tried again. “I – this wasn’t supposed to happen! We were supposed to be in love and –” and have romantic adventures all day and never stop to rest and – I swallowed again. “I just feel like it’s all falling apart.”
Yali took me by the shoulders. She was gentle, but sincere. “Our love is always going to be real. We can make things work out. It’s just that for that to happen, there are a few things you have to understand about me.”
“I’m listening,” I said, tears coming to my eyes again.
“I’m a solitary person. If I had my way, I’d spend 80% of my time alone. 20% with you. Maybe 2% with everyone else.”
I laughed weakly. “That’s so practical. If I had my way, I’d spend 100% of my time with you. And another 100% with everyone else. And 50% sleeping!”
Yali smiled, but only a little. “I know. It’s what I love about you. You don’t settle for just 100%. But…” she took a slow breath in and out. “I need my alone time. If I don’t get it, I’ll end up… well, you saw.”
“Shit, I’m sorry, I promise I’ll do better, I’ll, like, leave you alone until you call for me –”
“We don’t need to go quite that far.” Yali and I spent a while laying out some ground rules. We agreed on some hours of each “day” when I’d stay on the underside and not disturb Yali unless it was an emergency. Which probably meant never, because Yali would see any emergency coming in advance. Then there were some more hours when it was okay to get her attention, I just shouldn’t overdo it. And then there was our official together time. Yali promised she’d be more responsive during that time, when she’d had the proper rest.
I wasn’t exactly happy with the arrangement, but at least it made things feel more solid. “I’ll do better, I promise,” I said. “I’ll stick to the, uh, what we agreed to. And, like…” I was reluctant to say this next part, because I didn’t really want to think back to what happened. But I felt like it was important. “Next time you say Controlling Game, I won’t mess around. I’ll control myself right away. Any of the other games, too. I get why it’s important.”
“Thank you,” she said sincerely. “That is… yes, it’s important, but…” She looked away.
“You shouldn’t let me control how you feel!” she said agitatedly.
“Wait, what? Isn’t that the whole point? I mean, if I feel the wrong thing, I’ll want you to control it, so that we don’t die.”
“That is, that is, logical,” said Yali reluctantly. “But it’s just, it’s just… Okay. We can agree to that, but if I ever make you do one of the games, we have to have a talk about it afterwards, once the crisis is over. To make sure that I didn’t… didn’t take away an outlet that you needed. I don’t ever want to make you feel trapped. And, and, about that, there’s, there’s, there’s…”
“I don’t know whether this will matter in the Otherworld, but… I mean, I, I should have talked to you about this before, this definitely isn’t the right time…”
“Oh come on, when have we ever stuck to doing things at the right time? Just spit it out.”
“I – okay. I, I don’t want you to feel like you can’t go for intimate relationships with other people, because of me.”
“Woah, like, polyamory?”
“Are you sure? I mean, not that I’m against it, but, uh…”
“Monogamy is such a trap! People act like you can just find the perfect person and then you’ll meet all each other’s needs, forever, and you’ll never need anyone else for anything. But that’s just not how things work in real life,” she said.
“But –” But we were supposed to be soulmates and do everything together and… Even as the thoughts formed in my head, they already felt broken. They were a fantasy that had never been real.
“Are you feeling like that makes our love less real?” said Yali bluntly.
“Uh, I kind of am! I mean, you’re not wrong, but… fuck!”
“Maybe I can help you believe that it can make it more real.”
“Yeah, probably, I mean, you’ve convinced me that black is white plenty of times before. We were supposed to be soulmates, though! Like a hand in a glove, like two jigsaw puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly!”
“Jigsaw pieces have three other sides, you know.”
I sure hadn’t thought of that way of looking at it. It knocked the words right out of me.
“I want to build something with you that’s so solid that it will last forever. And there’ll be a time when the infatuation has worn off for both of us, when we won’t be able to rely on just being head-over-heels for each other. But when that time comes, I want to still be with you. I want to make sure we both get all of our needs met, from, from, from all sides of the jigsaw puzzle, not just one. You have so much passion, you’re overflowing with it, that’s what I love about you, and if that passion ever makes you love someone else as well as me, that’s what I want to happen.”
“That’s… actually kind of inspiring. But, like, you’re sure you’re okay with it?” Even after she said all that, when I thought about the idea of loving somebody else, it still felt like I’d be breaking something. Betraying her.
“Why would I want to lock you in to just me? Trying to force someone to rely on just one person… it’s great if you want to abuse and control people, but… There’s really nothing I want to hold you back from. If you love other people, if you want to have sex with other people –”
“No fucking way! I’d feel like SUCH an asshole if I had sex with someone else first just because you – uh, you know, because you, uh, can’t,” I finished awkwardly. “And that other stuff, I mean, so I’m infatuated, but I want to be infatuated. I want to –” I swallowed. There were a lot of things I wanted, and a lot of them stepped over the boundaries we had just agreed to.
“I’m not saying you have to do anything with anyone else. But I want you to keep it in mind. I don’t ever want to be the one who makes you feel trapped.”
“I, uh, okay. I’ll keep it in mind.” I was feeling kind of weird about that, and I wanted to ask more questions, but I could feel that Yali was getting a little agitated again. I really didn’t want to say something stupid and push her buttons when I had already messed up so badly just hours ago. So we sort of uncomfortably left it at that.
“So, uh,” I said, “if that’s all we have to talk about, I could give you your alone time for now.”
“Just a minute.” Her eyes drifted past me. She was using the Seeing. Then she came back to the present. “Yes. Thank you.”
She hugged me tight, and then, for the moment, we went our separate ways.
The days dragged on.
The freaky thing was that I didn’t feel any different. When Yali had told me about the Blood God stuff, I had expected that it would be a constant struggle to hold on to what I really wanted. Like there would be an invader in my mind that I had to fight against. But instead, it was constant… normal stuff. Just me thinking stuff that I would normally think. Reacting the way I would normally react. Until the moment when I realized I had gone over the edge and hurt her.
I ended up second-guessing myself all the time. Whenever I was about to say something, I hesitated, thinking, is this going to be the thing that sends me down the wrong path again? After our talk, the first time Yali said she was going to study the Codex, my first thought was oh, for fuck’s sake. Of course, I didn’t say that. So I said “sure, go ahead.” But then I noticed that I had said it irritably, without even thinking about it. That was scary. So the next time, I stopped myself, and didn’t say it out loud until I was sure I could say it calmly.
It turned into a routine. I would calm myself down, reminding myself of how much I believed in respecting Yali’s boundaries. It wasn’t exactly fun – my feelings felt kind of deadened, uncertain. But it kept the peace between us. I muddled along, just waiting for the stars to show us something new.
One day, when I was about to say my usual “sure, go ahead,” another thought popped up.
“I’ll help you out,” I said uncertainly.
Yali carefully asked me a few questions, to make sure I really wanted to help. But, to my surprise, I actually did. There was no real way I was going to catch up to Yali in understanding the Codex, but she told me a few basic things about how to use the telescope, and gave me a few things to do watching the stars. I was especially supposed to watch for shimmering stars, which were a sign of the other Ravellers being nearby, and moving stars, which meant the stars were close to us and we could consider transferring to them.
It was boring work, mostly just staring at one stationary star after another. But at least I could feel like I was working alongside Yali, theoretically getting stuff done. So even if it was boring, it wasn’t the isolating, resentful kind of boring I’d been dealing with before.
Eventually, we actually stole one of the telescopes from another star so that we could both use the telescope at the same time. I just cut the other telescope down with a Blood Blade – a little nervously, because if I started chopping things aggressively again, I was worried that I’d break my carefully balanced sense of calm. But it worked. And then I manifested a new base for it on our own star. We actually did the same thing with a few more telescopes soon after, just so Yali could leave them configured in different ways. We even tried to do it with one of the computers, but the computer stopped working once it was separated from the star, and we couldn’t figure out how to power it ourselves.
We spent a lot of time scanning the sky together, almost shoulder to shoulder – although we technically stayed far enough apart that we wouldn’t bump into each other, because it was way too easy to knock the telescopes out of their calibration. We spent hours in near silence, just occasionally speaking if one of us saw something unusual.
And then – it happened.
“Hey, is this the shimmering you were talking about?” I said.
“Let me see.” Yali waved me out of the way and looked into the telescope I’d been using. She started adjusting some of the dials, probably to get a better focus. “This could actually be it. Of course, I can’t be sure because I haven’t seen this before –”
“What about in your memories?”
“Different stars. Different rules.” She hurriedly checked some things in the Codex, and on the other telescopes. At this point, I probably wasn’t going to be much help, so I just stood and watched her work.
Before long, she had come to a conclusion. “It’s the Justicar,” she said seriously. “And they’re close. On course to meet us in hours.” She paused. “I should use the Seeing to find out what they’ll be like. The Waiting God will probably allow it now that we’ve found them the regular way.”
“Yeah… of course.” I was burning with questions, but letting Yali do her own thing was second nature now.
“The Justicar can be a powerful ally, or a powerful enemy,” said Yali. “She already views you as a threat, so we have to be very careful. First impressions will be very important.”
“Got it. I’ll make sure to act extra nice and nonthreatening.”
“Don’t put on too much of an act. She doesn’t miss much. Just… Let me do the talking, okay?”
Yali gave me a bunch more tips about what to say and not say in front of the Justicar. I tried to pay attention, but I had trouble taking it to heart. Could I really trust what she was telling me? I mean, of course I could, but there was something nagging at me, and I wasn’t sure what.
It wasn’t long before the time when Yali had calculated we’d meet up. Just like every other time, one of the stars started to move in the sky, then got bigger. Only this time, I could make out a figure standing there.
As the star drifted closer, I could make out more details of the figure. Tall and proud, she was dressed in gleaming armor from the neck down. She stood rigidly in place, silently watching us as the stars came together.
So this was the Justicar.
The edges of the two stars touched smoothly together, without even a bump. There was a tense silence. Yali and the Justicar had each stood close to the edge of their star to meet the other, so now, they were scarcely a meter apart. The Justicar’s eyes flicked back and forth between Yali and me. I was itching to break the tension, but Yali had told me to let her do the talking. And Yali was waiting for the Justicar to make the first move.
Finally, the Justicar broke the silence.
“The stars spoke of a Blood Child and a Farseer here,” she said. “But which of you is which?”