Chapter Seven: The Ravellers
Content warnings for this chapter:
Graphic descriptions of physical injuries; discussion of suicide
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Now that I got a closer look at her, the Justicar wasn’t that tall. She had only looked that way because she had been standing above me. Of course, pretty much everyone looks tall to me, but really, she was only about Yali’s height.
Still, she had a commanding presence. She wore her armor effortlessly, like she’d been born with it. And there was an actual sword resting at her side, long and straight. She could probably slice you to bits as soon as she looked at you. It would actually be pretty sexy, if she wasn’t, you know, twice my age and also representing the Stern God.
And now she was asking us who was the Blood Child and who was the Farseer.
Yali answered. “She’s Rinn. I’m Yali.” She held out her hand, offering to shake hands. “We’ll have time to talk about our roles later, but for now, –”
“I see,” said the Justicar. “You are the Farseer.”
Even though Yali wanted me to stay quiet, I couldn’t resist. “How the f– Er, how did you know?”
The Justicar smiled grimly. “Her first words were to speak of the future. And now you have confirmed it, as your first words were spoken impulsively.” She stepped towards me, her hand resting ominously on the hilt of her sword.
Yali stood in her way.
The Justicar’s eyes narrowed. “Farseer, why do you stand with your back to the Blood Child? Do you not know the danger she poses?”
Yali spoke again, matching the Justicar’s severe tone. “Rinn is no ordinary Blood Child. She will not harm me.”
Well, hopefully, I thought.
“I do not understand,” said the Justicar, not yielding a millimeter.
“Then I will explain. Through your connection with the Stern God, you have received the knowledge that the Blood God would endanger me. But the Blood God’s will is very different from Rinn’s will. She has no intention of acting on the Blood God’s violence.”
The Justicar’s face flickered with doubt. “A nonviolent Blood Child…” she mused. I wouldn’t exactly have called myself nonviolent, but I wasn’t going to mention that in front of her. “But she still represents the rejuvenation of the Blood God. If it regains its strength…”
“Then it will rejuvenate from Rinn’s soul. It will be influenced by her, just as much as it tries to influence others,” said Yali. The Justicar hesitated. “I know it may be hard to understand, but you will understand in time. For now, I ask that you support me in handling the Blood Child how I have chosen.” Yali held out her hand again.
After only a moment more in doubt, the Justicar straightened up, proud and professional again. “Very well,” she said. She shook Yali’s hand without wavering. Then she turned to me. Yali stepped aside to let her approach.
“Blood Child, do you swear that you will not harm the Farseer?”
I couldn’t stand having some intimidating stranger demand that I swear to stuff, but I was supposed to make a good impression on her. And I hardly had a problem swearing to that. I put on my most solemn voice. “I swear before all the gods that I will not harm Yali,” I said. It probably didn’t sound completely sincere, because I hardly ever did anything solemn. But I was doing my best. I opened my hands to show that I wasn’t planning to hurt anyone, and added, “Look, I love her. There’s no way I could hurt her, it would tear me apart.”
“Very well.” The Justicar held out her hand. I shook it.
“So, uh, I’m Rinn. What’s your name?”
“I –” The Justicar shook her head slightly, as if she was trying to shake off some unpleasant thought. “My human name doesn’t matter here. Call me Justicar.”
Travelling with Justicar was, at least, something new to be annoyed about.
She mostly just sat there stiffly and watched us. Occasionally, she stepped in to work with Yali in mapping out the upcoming stars. To my annoyance, she actually seemed to understand the Codex better than Yali did! I couldn’t really be sure, because I didn’t understand it either, but every time they disagreed with each other, Yali seemed vague and confused while Justicar was concise and specific. Yali was still faster at using the telescopes, but only because Justicar refused to use our extra, stolen copies. She only used the one that was built into the star. Yali seemed happy enough to leave that one for Justicar and use the others herself.
Other than that, Justicar never seemed to want to talk about anything. And not for lack of trying on my part. The first thing I’d tried was just acting casual, saying, “So, what’s it like being the Justicar?”
“I am not interested in small talk,” she said.
“You don’t have to be so – wait, haha, was that actually an answer to my question?”
“No. It was a refusal to answer.”
“Ugh, you don’t have to rub it in.”
A while later, I tried again. “That’s a cool sword you got there.”
She ignored me.
“Can I look at it?”
“A sword is not a toy. I will not draw my sword unless I intend to kill.”
“How can you carry around such a cool, shiny thing and never take it out to look at it??”
“I have learned not to give in to every childish impulse. As we all should learn.”
“Stern take it, are you always like this??”
“If, by ‘like this’, you mean ’honestly answering questions that are asked of –”
“Oh, forget it.”
Another while later, I had another thought. “Wait a minute, if you never draw your sword, how do you practice?”
“Though many things in life require practice, this one does not. Should a tragedy occur wherein I am forced to draw my sword, the Stern God’s guidance will be enough. And I certainly would not practice in front of you.”
“Okay, but you should totally practice with Yali!”
“You want to protect her, right? So isn’t it good if she knows how to defend herself?”
That seemed to get under her skin a little. “That – the Farseer should not have to fight!”
“Yeah, but if she does, wouldn’t you want –”
“Besides, the only one who seems likely to endanger the Farseer is you. Are you implying that you might do such a thing?”
“Of course not! But in this hypothetical situation you’re imagining where I do, wouldn’t you prefer it if –”
“Rinn,” said Yali warningly.
“Okay, fine.” Right, this was one of the things Yali had warned me about. She’d said I shouldn’t encourage Justicar to think about me attacking her. I decided to shut up. Justicar seemed satisfied with that, which was… both frustrating and a relief, I guess. I didn’t like letting her win, but if she just stayed out of the way and kept thinking annoying things all by herself, that wasn’t my biggest problem.
It was pretty irritating having her around, though. Even when she “slept”, she stayed sitting up, with her eyes open, keeping an eye on me. She didn’t take off her armor, either. I couldn’t just go to bed with her watching me like that, so I slept sitting up too, staring right back at her. We sat that way for the whole “night”, my eyes locked onto Justicar’s face for longer than I would have ever wanted. And as the night wore on, I started to notice the lines in her face. Her rigid posture had seemed effortless at first, but now, I felt like I was looking at someone who was very, very tired.
The days went on. Justicar claimed she had found evidence about the Alchemist’s location, although she couldn’t pin it down because of some sort of star resonance or something. And she also kept working with Yali to find our final goal – some magic portals that would take us to the next layer. In between that work, Yali and I tried to find time to enjoy ourselves, although it was hard to loosen up with Justicar watching us like a hawk whenever we were close to each other.
Today, Yali was doing her Seeing, as usual. Justicar was sitting up straight on a hard stool, standing guard over her. I slouched in a plush chair nearby. Theoretically, I could have just left and done something else. I could have hung out in my own space on the underside, because neither Yali nor Justicar wanted to go down there. But if Justicar refused to leave me and Yali alone together, I couldn’t stand letting Justicar be alone with Yali either. Justicar and I had reluctantly agreed to sit exactly the same distance away from Yali, whenever she was doing the Seeing and unaware of her surroundings.
Getting stiff, I shifted in my chair. Justicar moved her own chair slightly, to make sure I wasn’t getting closer than she was. “Stern take it,” I muttered. Maybe she was a little closer than me now. But I wasn’t that picky. I rolled over and got comfortable again.
“Why must you invoke the Stern like that?” said Justicar, unexpectedly breaking her silence.
“What, when I say ‘Stern take it’?”
“It is irreverent to the Stern. And if you do not revere the Stern, there is little purpose in using its title.”
“It’s just something people say! Not everything is about the gods and their principles all the time!”
“This is the Ravelling. Principles are important. And you are the Blood Child –”
I snorted. “What do you expect me to say, like, ‘By my blood!’ or some shit?”
“That would be –”
“But that’s so old-fashioned!” I complained. “I’d sound like a cultist from some movie or something –”
“Blood worship is a far more serious matter – and a greater danger to the city – than it is portrayed in popular culture –”
“– and maybe I’ve said stuff like ‘you’re unworthy of your blood’ once or twice, but that’s just to piss off the old people who care about that kind of thing.” There was an old saying that went, “Am I worthy of my blood?”. It was supposed to be a rhetorical question, like, of course everyone is worthy of their own blood. So if you said someone wasn’t worthy of their blood, it was a mortal insult, like saying they were less than human. That is, if you said it to an old person. If you said it to someone my age, they’d probably just look at you like “what the fuck are you talking about?”.
Justicar sighed. “You have no respect,” she said. She didn’t say it harshly, though, just resignedly. “But there is a value in the gods’ teachings. If you find a true connection with them, it can turn your life around.”
“Sure,” I said, casually stretching out in my chair, “but, you know, my life was pretty good before this all started. So ‘turning it around’ is kind of exactly the opposite of what I –”
Suddenly, Yali snapped out of the Seeing, her body jerking forward violently. “Something’s coming!!” she shouted.
I jumped up, every part of me snapping to alert. “What’s coming? Where?”
“A, a – a human!” Yali pointed wildly towards the sky. “Very fast, going to crash!”
“A human from the sky?” Confused, I looked where she was pointing, but didn’t see anything. But Justicar was already in action. She raised her arms in front of her, in a powerful stance. All around us, a steel dome began to form, with a rigid network of supporting bars making it look almost impossible to break. Where in the Endless did she learn to manifest like that?! I could make some pretty big stuff, but something the size of the entire star was way beyond me. And she did it without even touching the stuff she was creating.
My heart was pounding. I hardly knew what was happening – but there was one thing I knew for sure. “Hey, stop that!” I yelled to Justicar. “Whoever’s coming is gonna smash into this! You’ll get them killed!” Justicar barely noticed me, so I jammed a Blood Blade into the structure of the partly-formed dome, to disrupt how she was building it.
“What do you propose?” she said sharply, still concentrating on keeping the dome intact.
“I don’t know, what about catching them in a big net? Or, like, a trampoline –”
“Do it then – we don’t have much time!” Justicar dropped her hands to her sides, allowing the dome to vanish. Frantically, I filled the space by manifesting a big trampoline.
“They’ll bottom out on that!”
“I fucking know that! We’ll put it up at an angle so it catches them in midair –” I followed where Yali was pointing, and heaved the trampoline up at an angle, barely keeping it steady with my arms. “Now support this with your metal bars!”
“Fine!” Justicar raised her arms again, and more metal beams snapped into place, holding up half the trampoline. “Move over, you’re in the way of the other side –”
“I’ll do this side –” I manifested the first thing I could think of – more Blood Blades, but this time, distorted into long poles that flowed and merged with the trampoline on one end and the floor of our star on the other.
“That’s a weak structure, you need to reinforce it with –” Justicar stepped towards me, arms held out to add to my work –
“GET DOWN!!!” yelled Yali. She grabbed my arm and threw me with her full weight, sending me tumbling towards the edge of the star. And then everything exploded.
In an instant, an overwhelming pain had smashed through limbs I didn’t know I’d had. And then after the first shock, there was a burning so strong it brought tears to my eyes. But then my own fire surged up inside of me. I wouldn’t be beaten so easily. Biting back the pain, I forced myself to climb to my feet and look back at the wreckage.
Belatedly, the sounds echoed into my mind. The loud snap of the Blood Blades shattering and the trampoline tearing apart. The crash of collapsing metal. And the thud and crack as a human body smashed onto the surface of the star.
He lay sprawled on the floor, a mass of blood with one arm torn open and one leg twisted at a horrible angle under him. Massive burn marks covered his clothing and half his chest. My heart caught in my throat as I struggled towards him. For an awful moment I was sure he was dead.
Then he opened his mouth and screamed, a scream that stabbed at my eardrums and threatened to split my head open.
Justicar didn’t delay an instant. She was already standing over him. In a flash, heavy bindings tightened around the bleeding arm. The next moment, more steel slammed into existence around all his arms and legs, locking him in place and yanking the broken leg back around to its natural place.
“Manifest it back together!” Justicar yelled at him. “Manifest your leg back together before the damage gets worse!”
He didn’t hear her. His eyes stared wildly into the distance, oblivious to everything around him. He screamed again, jerking and struggling against the bars, his voice getting ragged. Desperately, I stumbled towards him. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I just knew I had to get there. I cringed as I stepped over the broken Blood Blades – they were part of me and they were lying in pieces. Shuddering, I unmanifested them. The pain subsided a little, and I hurried forward.
“Stop struggling! You’re only making it worse!” Justicar made more steel bands around his elbows and forehead, constraining his movement even further.
“What the fuck, Justicar, you think he can hear you like that??” I was only a few steps away. I stubbornly forced one foot in front of the other. If only I could get to him in time –
“What do you propose?!”
“Let me help him!”
“What are you going to do??”
“I don’t know!!!”
“That’s not good enough! I can’t let you complicate things when he’s in critical cond–” Justicar stepped towards me to block me from getting closer, but she was too late. I fell forward on to my knees, ducking under her arm, and slumped forward far enough to put my hand on the injured person’s chest. Desperately, I tried to wish for anything that could help. I imagined pushing warm, healing energy into him, as if I could manifest him back to health. Please just survive,, I prayed internally. Take my strength, take whatever you need, just survive…
Somehow, under my touch, he started to relax. His breathing got a little steadier. His eyes actually focused on something.
“What did you do?” said Justicar, impressed.
I pulled my hand back and sat on the floor, exhausted. “I… I gave him some of my blood,” I said dizzily, not knowing how I knew.
“That doesn’t make any sen–” Justicar interrupted herself. “Thank you for… whatever you did. Now please, stay out of the way.”
I wasn’t planning to move anyway, but I couldn’t just let that stand. “What gives you the right to tell me what to do?” I said forcefully.
Justicar didn’t look away from the fallen human. “Farseer, is he stable? Is there more we need to do?”
Yali crouched beside me, peering at him intently. Was she looking into the future? Her eyes had that same glazed look. “He is… not at risk of more physical harm,” she said, still looking. Moments later, she added, “You should release the restraints.”
“I understand.” Justicar allowed the metal bands to awkwardly lower his limbs to the floor, then disappear. Once she was satisfied that he wasn’t going to hurt himself, she turned back to me. “To answer your question, someone needs to take responsibility for in a crisis situation. Had you listened to me the first time, the trampoline would have been adequately reinforced. But instead, –”
“Are you fucking kidding me!! If I’d –”
“– your pride required you to do it yourself, when the correct choice was simply to stand aside and let the person with the needed abilities –”
“If I’d gone along with your way, he’d be splatted on your stupid dome right now!!”
“Did I not accept your alternative as soon as it was proposed?”
I opened my mouth to yell another retort, but Yali’s hand fell heavily on my shoulder. “It’s okay. He was in less danger than you both realize. Since his injuries weren’t inflicted with hostile intent, they were only able to damage his body, never his soul. And the body can recover from almost anything, through manifesting.” When she said hostile intent, she said it like it was a special phrase with its own meaning.
Justicar and I glared at each other silently. Before either of us thought of what to say next, we were interrupted by another voice. “Aww yesss, it’s just like she said! Allllll manifested back together!!”
We all turned to look. He was already helping himself up onto his knees. It was pretty freaky to see him completely intact, so soon after he’d been all smashed up.
“Heyyy everybody! I’m Morrow! Morrow Monoë! Nice to meet’cha’ll!” He jumped to his feet and hopped back-and-forth between one leg and the other.
“What the fuck,” I said. “That leg was just broken!”
“’Ow’m I gonna know it works if I don’t try it??”
I grinned. “I like this guy,” I said to no one in particular.
Justicar stepped forward. “If your body is whole again, that means you can tell us what you just did, and promise not to do anything like it again.”
“I was in space! It was great! It was so weightless I actually vomited! I vomited in space, can you believe that!!” Morrow pulled a huge sandwich out of thin air and chomped into it.
“I asked, what did you do to –”
“I think he used a rocket,” I said. “Remember he had burns all over him?” Sure enough, over in the wreckage there was a bunch of torn-up junk that might have been a rocket back when it was in one piece.
With one hand still holding the sandwich, Morrow waved dismissively with the other. Between bites, he mumbled, “I’ll do a better one next time.”
“There will not be a next time,” snapped Justicar. “I will not allow you to endanger yourself and others like that!”
Morrow smiled tauntingly. “You gonna stop me?”
This was great. I couldn’t resist watching Morrow mess with her. She took herself so seriously, and he completely blew her off, it was amazing. Apparently Yali didn’t think so, though, because she promptly stepped up to spoil the fun. “Before we all argue, at least we should introduce ourselves. I’m Yali, and –”
“Yaliiiii! Nice’t’meet’cha, wow, your mind is even better up close! I smelled it from space, but wow, that’s a real emotional shell you’ve got there! Multi-layered and everything! I wonder what happens when it breaks??”
For a moment, we were all stunned into silence.
“You can smell people’s minds??” I said, flabbergasted.
Justicar sized him up, frowning. “An Imminent with powers of the mind? Be warned, if you defile the mind of anyone here, your life is forfeit.”
“Stern take it, do you threaten everyone you’ve just met?!” I exploded.
Morrow was already responding in his own way. “Oh don’t worry, Officer, I wouldn’t touch your mind with a ten-foot pole! I mean, ewww!” He held his nose and theatrically leaned away from her.
“I am not a police officer,” said Justicar stiffly.
“Yeah, yeah, bet you’re a judge or summin’.”
“I am not a –”
“When I lower my shell,” interrupted Yali firmly, “it will be on my own terms, not anyone else’s.”
“Yeah!” I yelled. “Don’t try to mess with Yali, I’ll fuck you up!”
“Excuse me?” said Justicar. “What did you just say about threatening people?”
“Wh– I said you threaten everyone you meet! You’re two-for-two, I’m only one-for-two at worst –”
“At most, I would be two-for-three. I did not threaten the Farseer.”
“Oh you can shut right up about –”
“We can argue later!” thundered Yali. “We haven’t even all introduced ourselves yet!”
“Very well.” Justicar turned to Morrow stiffly. “You can call me Justicar.”
“And I’m Rinn.” I would normally have said my full name, but Yali had only said her first name, so I didn’t want to make her the odd one out.
Morrow tossed his sandwich on the floor so he could shake my hand. “Rinn! Brilliant! Your mind is kick ass!”
I grinned. “You seem pretty kickass yourself,” I said. Then, because I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea, I added, “I’m gay, by the way.”
Morrow did a double take. Then he shamelessly looked back and forth between me and Yali. “Fire and stone. I like it!” It was a compliment. He was comparing us to a pair of lovers from a legend. The lovers from the legend also died, but he probably wasn’t thinking of that part.
Morrow was fun.
Right away, he started showing off all kinds of manifesting tricks. He didn’t just have the rockets. He had a trick where he could manifest a whole new outfit under his clothing, then make the original outfit disappear so it looked like he’d been wearing the new one all along. I had to remember that one. And he made a giant cake and we tried to have an eating contest, but it went on forever because we could just unmanifest the food after it was in our stomachs. Not that it wasn’t fun.
“Whatever, this is getting boring,” said Morrow. “Check out this one!” He waved a hand.
Suddenly, there was an awful squawking right behind me. I jumped and whirled around. Then I heard Morrow laughing. He had manifested a set of speakers right behind my head!
“Hey!” I said. “How come you and Justicar can manifest things wherever you want, but I can only manifest things I’m touching?”
“Justicar can do what??”
“Didn’t you just –” Then I noticed the wire Morrow was holding. He had manifested something he was touching – it was just that the “thing” was “a set of speakers with a long cord that was plugged into his phone”. “Wow, that’s genius!” I said. I tried to do the same thing back to him, but it didn’t work for me. “Why can’t I do that? No fair! I thought I was supposed to have powerful manifesting!”
“Powerful, yes. Adaptable, perhaps not,” Justicar replied.
“Yeah, fuck you too.” I turned to Morrow. “I’ll prank you back somehow!” I ran at him and started chasing him around the star. He was quick, but he kept slipping and falling on the slippery floor. I had already gotten used to the limits of how fast I could run, so I caught up to him easily.
Just when I had cornered him at the edge of the star, he manifested a foam sword and pointed it at me, striking a duelist pose. So of course, I made my own foam sword to challenge him. Then I had an idea. I turned to Yali. “So, this hostile intent thing… What if we fought with real swords? I mean, we won’t intend to hurt each other for real, so if we make a mistake and –”
“Don’t do that!” said Yali and Justicar at the same time. Yali firmly explained the caveats. Even if you didn’t damage the soul, you could still damage the body, and if you had to manifest new flesh to replace the damage, then the new flesh would disappear when you got back to the material world. And the act of swinging a real weapon at someone might even count as hostile intent if you weren’t careful. Yali was pretty insistent – she must’ve thought I was going to be reckless.
“Yeah, fine, I won’t do anything stupid,” I said. I turned back towards Morrow. But he was ready for me, and he bopped me on the head with his foam sword before I could do anything. “Alas! For I am slain!” I joked along, manifesting a spurt of fake blood from my head. “But I’ll take you down with me!!” I tackled Morrow and pulled him over the edge with me.
Once we were both on the underside of the star, we could really go wild. Right away, we were both manifesting huge castles, showing off by making them bigger and better than each other’s. It was a rush, finally getting to indulge my competitiveness, away from Yali and Justicar being serious all the time. I made a golden throne; he made a bigger one. I made an even bigger throne out of Blood Blades, and slouched in it imperiously; he gave a theatrical bow and kissed my shoe, but secretly used the kiss to prank me by manifesting my shoelaces together. He made a battering ram and started knocking down my castle walls; I jumped up on the walls, yelled “Die invader!”, and dumped a bucket of water on his head.
That last one didn’t go over so well. Rather than prank me back, he froze up, bent-over and shivering, as the water dripped off of him. At first, I thought he was just playing along – but seconds passed, and he didn’t snap back. What was his deal? He could jump right up from having his leg broken, but a bit of cold water was too much for him?
I jumped down beside him. “Dude, it’s okay. If water’s not your thing, I can hold off. Just manifest it off.”
“I CAN’T!” he yelled. “It’s YOUR water, YOU manifest it off!”
“What? I’m sure I saw Yali do something like that earlier.” Still, I tried. “I can’t unmanifest it either! Are you pranking me?” It was obvious that he wasn’t, though. Trying to help, I manifested a hair dryer. But of course, there was nowhere to plug it in. Whoops.
Suddenly, Morrow manifested half of a car.
“What the fuck,” I said, laughing.
Morrow grinned. “See, it has an inverter! So you can plug in your – Never mind it doesn’t matter!!” Somehow, he had already distracted himself – he’d completely forgotten whatever happened with the water, even though he was still dripping.
Unfortunately for me, he had also lost interest in our castle-building, already moving on to another wild idea. We kept playing, but every time I started getting excited about one of Morrow’s ideas, Morrow was already bored of it. It was still fun, but after a while, it got tiring – and I didn’t feel like I knew Morrow any better than I had before we started.
“Wheeeee!” Morrow swung around from under the star. I was up on the topside with Yali and Justicar, taking a bit of a break from Morrow’s antics. At least, it had been a break, until now. The three of us watched him careen up into the air, swinging by a rope, partially propelled by a rocket. Then he came crashing down. Justicar and I ducked out of the way.
“Ow ow ow ow OW OW OW ow ow!”
It looks like Justicar was about to tell him off, but I was faster. “Dude, you’ve got to stop using rockets! I know it’s kickass and all, but you’re going to get yourself killed!”
“Win-win,” said Morrow cheerfully.
“You shouldn’t joke about suicide!” snapped Justicar.
Morrow grinned fiendishly. “What if I’m not joking?”
“If you were not joking, you should seek serious help rather than make light of it. Unfortunately there are no trained therapists here, but under the circumstances, the Farseer or I would be able to consult –”
Morrow ignored her, manifested a chunk of meat, and started chewing furiously.
“And another thing,” I said, ignoring Justicar’s interruption, “Why are you eating all the time? You know we don’t have to eat here, right?”
“But I’m huuungry!! I’m always hungry, even when I’ve eaten –”
“Wait, really? I’m not hungry, wait, can’t you manifest yourself into not being hungry?” Curiously, I tried to manifest myself into being hungry. It worked.
“It is probably due to his nature as the Imminent,” said Justicar. “It is the nature of the Seeking God to perpetually want more, and never be satisfied. Thus, it would only be natural for the Imminent to –”
“That can’t be right,” I said. I didn’t really have a reason to think it was wrong, but I couldn’t stand Justicar being all Well the Farseer would be like this and the Imminent would be like that, instead of listening to us as actual fucking people. So I scrambled to come up with a reason. “Hang on, if that was true, then all the old Imminents would have been hungry all the time too. Hey Yali, you have all those memories, so were they?”
Yali froze up, not answering.
“I did it!” yelled Morrow into the silence. “I manifested myself into not being hungry! But it’s even worse, it’s so TIRING to stay like that, it’s worse than just being hungr–”
“No, Yali, what’s up? You okay there?”
“I, I, I –”
“Leave her be,” said Justicar. “A wise Farseer knows that not every piece of knowledge is to be handed out to every idle questioner.”
Yali relaxed a bit.
“Wait,” I said, “so you were keeping it secret on purpose? But why would this piece of knowledge be a secret?”
Yali didn’t answer that either. Justicar raised an eyebrow and said, “I suppose if all Imminents were hungry, she would have no reason not to tell us. So it follows that not all Imminents were hungry, and the difference would allow us to learn something that –”
“Justicar,” interrupted Yali – not loudly, but with a slight edge.
Yali spoke slowly, choosing each word with care. “You understand that I may have my own reasons to keep things hidden.”
“What of it?”
“Then do not take knowledge from me that I have not willingly given to you.”
Justicar’s eyes widened – only a little, but it was the first time I had seen her actually get thrown off her game. Then she composed herself and nodded. “I… apologize. I understand how I overstepped my bounds, and I will not do so again.”
“So that was awkward,” I said. “Hey, Morrow, let’s –”
Almost before I started speaking, Morrow dragged me off to have more fun on the underside.
“I’m getting sleepy,” I said. How many hours had it been? I checked my phone. I couldn’t remember exactly when I had last slept, but it had definitely been a lot of hours.
“But we still haven’t decided who’s the Ultimate Master of Manifesting!!” said Morrow. We’d been playing this game against each other for a while now, if you could call it a game when we hadn’t managed to stick to the same rules for more than ten minutes in a row.
“Yeah, but if we haven’t figured that out in the last five hours, we’re probably not gonna figure it out in one or two more. I’m going to bed.”
Ignoring Morrow’s complaints, I went back to the topside and went to bed. Yali was already in her own bed, wearing her noise-cancelling headphones. I soon saw why. Even though Morrow stayed on the underside while we slept, he made a huge racket. Every few minutes, there was a yell or a crash or a big explosion.
“Can you be quieter down there?!” I yelled.
“No problem! I’ll be so quiet, you won’t believe it!”
I dived into my bed and pulled the blankets over me. Justicar was sitting up on alert and staring at me as usual, but I couldn’t even be bothered to do the “staring back at her” thing. I just wanted to sleep.
I had about five minutes of quiet to get started, then there was another boom and a whole series of clattering noises.
“Hey! I thought you were going to be quiet!”
“Just a mistake! Won’t happen again!” Somehow, I wasn’t convinced. So I checked the time on my phone.
Three minutes and four seconds later, an actual person-sized cart rolled off the underside of the star and crashed near my bed.
“Morrow! That was three minutes and four seconds! Are you kidding me! You can’t give me peace and quiet for three minutes and four seconds??”
“Wow! Did it actually keep rolling on the other side?”
“Are you kidding me.” I gave up and copied Yali, putting on some headphones and blasting loud music through them. It wasn’t my favorite way to sleep, but I had fallen asleep to loud music before. I also copied a dark sleep mask that Yali was wearing. I hadn’t seen her wear one before, so she had probably foreseen Morrow making a bright flashing light or something.
Four hours later, I was impatient with trying to sleep. Not that I hadn’t gotten any rest. More like I had gotten just enough rest that I felt like I could put up with being awake again. So I got up. Yali was still in bed, so, for lack of anything better to do, I headed back to the underside to hang out with Morrow again.
At the end of that day, things went more or less the same.
“Did you ever sleep?” I said, exasperated.
“Why do people sleep?” said Morrow. “We need food and water and air to live, but why sleep?”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t sleep on Earth!”
“How old are you, anyway?” I said.
“Old enough to know better!” said Morrow cheerfully.
“Okay, got it, you’re twelve,” I said. He was clearly way older than twelve, but I was hoping to provoke him into telling me his actual age. It didn’t work. He just jokingly manifested a birthday cake with twelve candles, blew them out, started eating the cake, and then got bored of eating the cake and dumped it on the floor.
“See you tomorrow.” My short rest the previous night had left me pretty tired, so this time I went to bed sooner. Yali was still up. Knowingly, she handed me a set of earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones.
“Thanks a bunch,” I muttered, putting them on and collapsing into bed.
The next time I got up, the star was strangely quiet, even after I took out the earplugs. Confused, I went to the underside to check on Morrow. He was sprawled facedown over a heap of random junk, drooling. He didn’t look injured – it was probably just the lack of sleep catching up to him.
I thought of pranking him while he slept, but it just didn’t feel right. Instead, I manifested a mattress and tiredly rolled him onto it. He’d been lying on some pretty pointy stuff, it looked really uncomfortable.
What was up with this guy? He was fun, but seriously. I liked horsing around with him, but I didn’t like doing it for forty-eight hours in a row! I needed rest. Didn’t he know people normally needed rest?? Like, I would keep going forever, but if I didn’t get my rest, I’d, like, turn into a zombie. Figuratively. Did literal zombies exist? Probably not.
Couldn’t he just learn to give people at least some space? I had learned to give space to Yali –
Oh gods, this was exactly like me and Yali, wasn’t it. I was complaining about the same things I’d been doing last week. I couldn’t help but laugh. Okay, universe, you got me fair and square.
Meanwhile, Yali and Justicar were hard at work trying to find the Alchemist. They spent hours poring over the Codex and watching the stars. They worked together mostly in silence. Yali would draw a star map with circles and arrows and distance labels everywhere, then Justicar would mark it up with corrections, then Yali would take it back and redraw it in a different shape. They made copies of each other’s work and compared them to what they saw in the telescopes, noting down any inconsistencies. They even had a pile of manifested three-dimensional models – a pile that slowly grew taller as the days passed.
I mostly left them alone. But Morrow couldn’t resist pestering them for information – at least, when I wasn’t keeping him busy on the underside. Generally, Justicar fended him off while Yali continued working. It was like Yali was using her as a bodyguard. That kind of irritated me for some reason.
“Heyyyy you two how’s it going? Spotted any cool stars yet??” said Morrow, for the umpteenth time.
“As a matter of fact, we do have something to report,” said Justicar. “We have found clear signs of the Alchemist, and also the portals –”
“The what?” said Morrow.
“The five portals. As I told you yesterday, each of us has to reach one of them in order to leave this layer of the Otherworld and enter the next. We have now located three of them, although we still have not yet found routes to them. We have located the Alchemist as well – we have found the star the Alchemist is on, but there is something strange about its location. It is very far away, and we have not found any other stars that will visit it.”
“Haha who needs ’em? I’ll just go to the Alchemist on a rocket! And then bring him back on another rocket!”
“Or her,” I said. “Or them –”
“Sure maybe, but think about it! Right now we’re three girls and one guy. So statistically, it’ll probably be a dude.”
“That’s not how statistics works,” said Justicar stiffly. “And besides that –”
“Betcha Yali can tell us! I mean, we’re gonna meet him in the future, right? And you can see the future! So you can see us meeting him, so you can see if he’s a he!”
“The power of the Farseer is not to be used frivolously!” said Justicar.
“Hey! She can use it frivolously if she wants to!” I said. I turned to Yali. “So… do you want to?”
“No,” said Yali.
That wasn’t exactly the answer I was hoping for, but I could roll with it. I turned back to the others and said, “Okay that’s it, case closed, the rest of you can fuck right off now.”
Justicar let out a tiny sigh. “…As you say, we can get back to the matter of –”
“Of how I’m gonna pick him up in a rocket!”
“You are not.”
“You gonna stop me?”
“No, it is simply impossible. You were lucky that your original star was close to ours. Most of the stars are at such a great physical distance that travelling by rocket would take thousands of years. The Waiting God’s pattern is the only way to travel there in the time we have available.”
“You and your facts,” muttered Morrow irritably.
With a huge roar, a green, scaly dragon trampled over the wreckage on the underside of the star. It reared back and breathed a long stream of flames, scorching a coil of rope and setting a wooden crate on fire.
“Is that you, Morrow?” I said, impressed.
“Haha!” The dragon leapt down to where I was standing and spun around with a flourish, sending its scales flying off in all directions. Once I batted a few scales out of my face, I could see that it was Morrow, except that now he was wearing shimmering wizard robes with long flowy sleeves.
“Also, how did you breathe fire?! I want to do that!” I said.
“I manifested the fire in my mouth! And then I –”
I tried it. “Owwww! Hot hot hot!” I quickly manifested the burns away.
Morrow snickered. “Haha, you gotta manifest on your mouth so it doesn’t burn.”
It took me a few tries to get it right. I had to concentrate on cooling off the whole inside of my mouth, while simultaneously making fire appear inside and shoot outwards.
By the time I got good at it, Morrow had already moved on to something else. He had made a wooden model city, and now he was hanging upside down from some monkey bars. Naturally, I breathed fire all over the city immediately. But instead of the whole city catching on fire, only a thin outer layer of wood burned off, revealing a metal city underneath. In the background, I heard Morrow laughing at me.
“Here, hold this!” Morrow tossed me a metal rod.
“If this is another prank –” I began as I caught the rod. “Oww!” I yelled, dropping it immediately. Morrow snickered. “Hey! I was just surprised!” I said, defiantly picking up the rod again, even though it was super hot.
It hurt a lot to keep holding on to it, but it was worth it to turn the prank around on him. “Bet you can’t hold on to this without manifesting on your hand!” I said. I pointed the rod towards him, offering him the other end.
“Rinn,” said Yali’s voice, echoing from the other side, sounding very serious. “Don’t do it. Put it down.”
I jumped. “Have you been watching us this whole time?!” Yali was still on the other side of the star, but she could easily have been using some sort of magic power.
“Please, just put it down. I’ll explain in a moment.”
“Fine.” I dropped the rod on the floor, where it clanged loudly. I was more amused than annoyed. “But like, seriously, what the fuck.”
“I’ve been searching the future for possible dangers, and this was one of them. After you challenge Morrow to hold that thing, he goes too far and then tries to use his mind powers on himself in order to block out the pain. But he does it wrong and messes up his own mind somehow –”
“What the fuck!” I yelled at Morrow. “I told you NOT to do stupid shit that fucks you up!”
“You worried about me?” said Morrow, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
I hadn’t planned on making a big deal of it. But suddenly, everything was coming together. His cavalier attitude about his own safety. The way he avoided any questions about himself. His “joke” about wanting to die. “Maybe I am!” I snapped.
Morrow mimicked my voice insultingly. “Look at me, I’m Rinn and I worry about people!”
“Believe it or not, some things actually matter!” I said hotly. “Your life actually matters –”
“It’s no use,” said Yali’s voice again. “If you try to get through to him, he’ll only fight it harder. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
I glanced at Morrow, because we were talking about him right in front of him. But he was pointedly ignoring us. I yelled back to Yali, “When have you tried?!”
“In the future.”
“Just keep distracting him.”
“Fine.” My head was pounding. It was hard to get my mind off how wrong it was that Morrow was devaluing his own blood. But if this was serious, it was extra important to do what Yali said. Maybe I needed a distraction, too. I quickly thought back to what we been doing just before. “Wait,” I said to Morrow, allowing myself to grin a little. “So you were going to block out the pain by magic? You cheating cheater!”
Morrow smirked. “You said I couldn’t manifest on my hand.”
“Oh, for gods’ sakes.”
It was easier to just joke back and forth with him and not think about things too hard. A tiny part of me was screaming that I was doing something very wrong, but as long as Yali was here, things couldn’t go that badly. We settled back into our usual habits, and I just tried not to think about it.
“Everyone, look at this,” said Justicar grimly.
“What is that, some kind of chart?” I said. Justicar had gathered us all on the topside, where she had a bunch of diagrams laid out in neat piles on a table near the telescope. Somehow, she had even convinced Morrow to sit still for a moment. We were all looking on with quiet uncertainty.
“I have recorded the positions of the Alchemist over the last forty-eight hours. Farseer, what do you make of this?”
Yali carefully took the chart from Justicar and squinted at it. “How many stars has the Alchemist visited in that time?”
“Only the one. I have not seen any other star come close.”
“But…” Yali frowned. “This isn’t any of the six trajectories described in the Codex. It looks like it’s wandering around completely at random.”
“Exactly. I can only conclude that the Alchemist has tampered with the star somehow.”
“But that, that should be impossible! The stars aren’t just objects, they’re part of the Waiting God’s design. Changing one of them would be like changing the god itself!”
“Which makes it all the more mysterious that it seems to have happened.”
“So, uh,” I interrupted, “I get that this is really weird god stuff, but what does it actually mean for us?”
Yali kept staring at the chart, a hint of worry creeping over her face. “For all this time,” she said, “we’ve been trying to get to the Alchemist by visiting stars that will move closer to the Alchemist’s star. But now that the Alchemist’s star isn’t even connected to the grand pattern, it will never meet up with us, or any other star, no matter what we do.”
“Oh no!” I said. “So the Alchemist is just going to be lost in space this whole time?? That’s so sad!!”
“Or,” said Yali darkly, “until the Waiting God does whatever it does with Ravellers who fail to reach the portals.”
“We’ve gotta do something,” I said.
But as I looked around, I could see that no one had any better idea of what to do than I did.