Chapter 8: The Alchemist
Note for past readers: I’ve renamed the “layers of the city” to “rings of the city” (so now there are “rings of the city” and “layers of the Otherworld”). Sorry about the confusion, but the good news is that I’ve finally replaced the super confusing physical description of the city in Chapter 1, haha.
“So,” I said, summarizing the last hour of discussion, “the Alchemist is, like, infinitely far away. They broke their star, and it’s not on the pattern anymore. We don’t know if they did it on purpose. We don’t know if they have any control over where it’s going. And we have no way to get off the pattern to follow them, because what they did was probably an Alchemist power. And we have no way to communicate with them. And Yali’s power is useless as usual, because apparently the Waiting God still thinks this is part of the challenge. And even if the Alchemist did figure out where we are, and could move their star on purpose, they might crash into us really fast, because they don’t have the pattern to slow them down at the right moment. It would be even worse than what happened with Morrow, because, uh…”
“Because Morrow was slowed down by air resistance,” supplied Yali.
“Right, because there’s air everywhere, even though we’re in space.”
“Right. The air generally moves along with the closest star. But the stars control the movement of the air, so with the star itself moving, there would be nothing to slow it down. All of our bodies would be destroyed, hostile intent or no.”
“Stern take it.”
“What if we made a really bright light?” said Morrow. “And then used it to flash out a code!”
“If the Alchemist even points their telescope in this direction…” I said.
Yali shook her head. “What we see in the telescope isn’t the literal light of the stars at all. It’s a soul thing.”
“But we can see where the other Ravellers are! So we could move around in the stars and spell out a message! Like skywriting!” exclaimed Morrow. But then he drooped. Even Morrow could see how impractical that plan would be.
“There’s gotta be something,” I said. “We’ve all got magic powers! And if we’re lucky, all we need is to talk at a long distance! Doesn’t any of us have any powers that work at a distance? Hey, Justicar, I saw you manifesting at a distance earlier, can you manifest a message to where the Alchemist is?”
“A distance, yes. But I doubt I could manifest matter a kilometer away from me, much less at the distances of the stars.”
“What about you, Yali? Your Seeing can go any distance, right? I know it doesn’t work for this exactly, but what if –”
Yali shook her head. “A Farseer’s powers only ever gather information, not change the world directly. Not even to communicate.”
“Uh, Morrow…? I mean, you did say you smelled Yali’s mind from space?”
“It’s worth a try,” said Yali. “The mind is part of the soul. A power that works on souls wouldn’t necessarily be limited by physical distance…”
“Ooh! So I could sniff around for the Alchemist! I could totally do that, what if –” Morrow threw his head back, pointing his face up into space.
It wasn’t anything like Yali using the Seeing. Morrow immediately shut his eyes really tight, opened his mouth, and waggled his tongue around. He swayed around, like he was exploring for the best-tasting part of the air, then flopped down onto his knees and started licking the star we were standing on. His ass was sticking up in the air, it was pretty comical.
“Why is he licking the floor??” I said.
“If it is about the soul connection… all the stars are part of the same pattern, so the star itself would have the closest connection to anything on any other star,” said Yali.
“Issh ieh uh ick uhhbehh,” said Morrow, still licking the floor furiously.
He turned his head sideways to yell to us. “It’s like a big puppy!”
“The Alchemist is like a big puppy?” said Yali.
“Can puppies be Ravellers?” I said.
“What is like a big puppy?” said Justicar.
“There’s a human there too! I can barely smell it!”
“A human and a puppy?” I said. “Would the gods bring someone’s pet into the Otherworld with them?”
“It’s never happened before…” said Yali.
“It’s not a puppy! It’s totally different! It doesn’t have paws!” yelled Morrow. He kept licking the star for another minute. “It can’t feel, or see, or hear anything! It’s lost and confused! It had a bright line to hold onto, but it dropped it and now it can’t find it again!!”
“What is it??” I said.
Morrow was still busy licking the floor. Justicar raised an eyebrow. “There is one other mind that should be in this world with us. One that we would call ‘it’.”
“It’s not the Waiting God,” said Yali. “I would know. But… A mind that isn’t human… A mind that’s connected to the star…” With a sudden realization, she whispered an old saying: “Only the Broken God can create life.”
“You think the Alchemist created a new form of life??” I said.
“This doesn’t add up,” said Justicar, unimpressed. “Newly created life would not have a strong soul. But this is something that the Imminent sensed much more strongly than he sensed the actual Alchemist. It would make much more sense if he were sensing some aspect of a god.”
“It’s the star!!” I yelled.
“It’s the star! The Alchemist brought their star to life! Think about it! The star was attached to the pattern, but now it’s not! That’s exactly what Morrow just said! Hey, Morrow! Tell it to come over here!”
“Don’t do that!” shouted Yali. “If it is the star, tell it to come close to here but be careful not to crash into us!”
The next few minutes were a frantic struggle to figure out how to communicate with a living star when all you had was magic mind powers, and when the person with the magic mind powers had zero attention span. Morrow eventually figured out a way to insert thoughts into the mind of the star, so he could read what the star thought back in response. And then there was a problem of how to tell the star where to go. As far as we could tell, it literally had no senses, except for the sense of whether it was on the pattern. And it just wasn’t any more. It couldn’t, like, tell when it was getting closer or farther away or anything.
The only thing it could do was try to move. And since it could never tell whether the moving was working, it had just kept trying to move every which way, hoping something would happen. And it didn’t have a language to express which direction it was trying to move, so Morrow had to try to interpret it for us.
“Okay! This! What it’s doing now! It feels like ‘glep’!”
“Okay,” said Yali, watching the telescope intently. “I’m not seeing movement right now. Tell it to glep as hard as it can, then we’ll wait 10 minutes to see if it just has a slow buildup.”
“It already glepped! It can’t glep any farther! Now it feels like it should kzz!”
“Didn’t it kzz earlier? And that took it farther away from us?”
“That’s when kzz was hard! Like an engine going ba-ba-ba-bam! Now it’s ready to kzz for real!”
“Okay. We can try kzz again, just to see. Justicar?”
“Done.” Justicar wrote down “kzz” in a little notebook, along with the current time, down to the nearest ten seconds.
This went on for hours. It was hard to follow along, because I couldn’t use the telescopes well enough to keep the moving star in view. But I was never bored. From the sound of things, the star could actually be here soon, because it didn’t have to obey the normal rules. And then all five of us would be together! And even though I didn’t have Morrow’s magic or the others’ knowledge, I still had plenty to do. It was my job to keep Morrow on task, because I was the one who knew how to talk to him. Yali and Justicar were too direct, just telling him what to do. But if you wanted him to actually do something, you had to inspire him. Like by hinting at what he could find out if he tried. Or by pretending you didn’t think he could do it. He was a real sucker for dares and challenges, just like me.
“We’re getting close!!” exclaimed Morrow from the floor. “The Alchemist! I can taste him! He’s so lonely and sad!!” he said mournfully. “I’m going to think to him!”
For the next few minutes, Morrow didn’t answer anything we said. He just kept licking the floor, his face turning alternately mournful and blissfully happy.
“His mind is delicious,” Morrow raved. “Would you believe he actually didn’t know he made the star come to life! But then I told her! She named her Neenu!”
“She… her?” I said. “Are there three people there??”
“I just say whatever feels right at the time!”
“Wait, do you mean – Woah, so is the Alchemist, like, genderfluid?” I said. “Also, hang on, Neenu is the star’s name? What’s the Alchemist’s name?”
“I’m in her mind!! Do people normally think about their own name??”
“I do,” I said, smirking. “Every morning I wake up and say, ’Sure is a fine day to be Rinn Akatura!” I was exaggerating, but I didn’t completely make it up, haha.
“You should ask for his, or her, name,” said Justicar. “So that we know what to call him. Or her.”
Unfortunately for Justicar, Morrow was already back in his own world with the Alchemist.
For the next hour or so, Morrow spent a whole lot of his time lying on the floor, licking it and smiling to himself. He looked like he was actually happy. Like… normally, he grinned a lot when he was doing something clever, but it didn’t stick. As soon as he got bored, it would be gone again. But now, he just had this blissful, relaxed expression on his face, and it lingered for minutes after he each time he finished talking to – well, communicating with – the Alchemist. He was practically glowing.
What’s more, in between talking to the Alchemist, he actually paid attention to the mission of bringing them and Neenu closer to us.
“You like them, don’t you?” I said. He just kept smiling and stared past me into space. Haha, he was lovestruck for sure.
Predictably, there was a lot more confusion and miscommunications with telling Neenu where to go. But she finally made it. Neenu didn’t sweep smoothly toward us like all the other stars we’d seen. She zigzagged back and forth erratically, like someone who was trying to juggle but kept almost dropping stuff. Yali spent the whole time half-in-half-out of the Seeing, making sure Morrow’s instructions weren’t going to make Neenu crash into us. When she was finally within a few meters of our own star, she zoomed straight towards it, then bumped and bounced against the edge of our star happily.
Happily? How could I tell that she was happy? She was just a solid platform like all the others.
We all rushed to the edge to greet the Alchemist, who was standing nervously at the edge of Neenu. One moment, their big soft eyes blinked across at us, and the next, they looked down at the gap between the two stars, which kept getting wider and narrower as Neenu bounced. The Alchemist didn’t look like they were ready for this. They were dressed in a loose bathrobe, and it looked like they had just been plucked out of bed and plopped down on the star before they had a chance to wake up.
“Now,” said Justicar, “we only need a safe way for the Alchemist to get across to this star.”
“It’s just a little jump. You can do it!” I said.
“Or WE could all go ride on Neenu!” yelled Morrow, already jumping across. He immediately ran and grabbed the Alchemist in a big hug, knocking them off balance. Then just as suddenly, he pulled back and started being gentle instead, laying his arms softly around the Alchemist’s shoulders.
I jumped across to join them, then looked back to Yali. Oddly, even though Neenu was bouncing around, I felt completely stable now that I was standing on her. From here, it looked like the other star was the one that was bouncing around.
“I can’t do it,” said Yali, standing at the edge and shuddering.
“What do you mean, you can’t –”
“It’s the Waiting God. It knows where that star is supposed to be! This is just… wrong! Or… I should say, the Waiting God thinks it’s wrong…” After hesitating for a while, Yali made a running jump and landed on Neenu, then collapsed to the ground.
I rushed to her side. “You okay there?!”
“I feel like I’m constantly about to fall because I’m in the middle of empty space.”
“I’ll hold you up!” I offered her my arm. She took it.
“That, that… actually helps,” she said.
I sat with her and manifested a huge mat for both of us to sit on. “This is a, uh, a magic mat that can fly in empty space, see?” I joked. Yali gave a half smile.
Now, only Justicar was left on the other star.
“Hey Morrow, now’s our chance to leave without Justicar!” I said.
“Don’t do that!” said Yali.
But when I looked up at Morrow, he wasn’t paying attention to either of us. He was right in the middle of… kissing the Alchemist. They were really going at it. Haha, they sure didn’t waste any time.
“Fine,” I said. “Hey Justicar! Are you just going to stand there, or –”
“I have a duty to complete the challenges set by this world’s god,” said Justicar doubtfully. “Stepping onto this altered star seems to transgress that. But I suppose I also have a duty to make sure the rest of you remain safe.” She gathered her notes, then manifested a bridge – much longer than the gap, with plenty of leeway to compensate for Neenu bouncing around – and strode across.
“Oy, Morrow! And whatever your name is!” I said. They were still all over each other. “Save it for later! We’re all here now, and that means, let’s celebrate!”
“But first, it means let us introduce ourselves,” said Justicar.
“Oh yeah, about that, what’s your name? We’ve just been calling you ‘the Alchemist’ this whole time.”
The Alchemist wobbled back and forth shyly.
“It’s okay!! Rinn’s a friend!” said Morrow.
The Alchemist hesitated. “Well I, maybe, my name? There are, a few different things people call me. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad? To just be the Alchemist? Do some alchemizing?”
“Alchemy,” corrected Justicar. The Alchemist flinched.
“Technically,” said Yali, “The Alchemist’s ability to make potions isn’t alchemy. It has more in common with sorcery.”
“That is impossible,” said Justicar. “The titles are given to us by the gods. They cannot be incorrect.”
“Maybe what we know as ‘alchemy’ is called that because it’s similar to what the Alchemist does, not the other way around. But in any case –”
“Oh my gods, you guys,” I said.
“Everybody shut UPPPPP!” yelled Morrow. “Alchemist has something to say!!”
Alchemist smiled nervously.
“Are you, uh, sure about that?” I said to Morrow. “They don’t seem to be –”
“I said shut UPPPPP!!”
After a very awkward silence, Alchemist managed to psych themself up into saying something. “I – me? I can make potions?”
“It is one of the abilities that the Alchemist can learn,” said Yali. “Once you learn how to do it, you should be able to store parts of the Broken God’s power in a physical medium, like a potion.”
“If I could, maybe, learn? To do that? If you could help me?”
“I, I, I only know what the Alchemist’s power looks like from the outside, but I’m willing to help as far as I can.”
“Yeah that sounds great, but save it for later!” I said excitedly. “Now that we’re all together – all five of us – we can…” I still wasn’t quite sure where I was going with this, but there was something that felt almost nostalgic about the five of us all being together and friendly with each other – or at least tolerating each other, I guess. There was an irritating doubt in the back of my mind, but for now, I just wanted to have fun. “Let’s have a campfire! And then we can tell stories around the campfire!”
“We could also tell stories without setting anything on fire,” said Justicar.
“Yeah, but then we wouldn’t get to set things on fire.” I dropped a pile of logs out of thin air onto the middle of the star. Then I took a big, exaggerated breath inwards, and breathed fire all over the logs. The fire shot out farther than I’d intended, but in a flash, Justicar manifested a glass wall to block the flames from burning anyone. Alchemist, standing just behind the wall, jumped in fright. “Haha, sorry about that!” I said. The logs weren’t properly on fire yet, so I gave them another few fiery breaths until they caught. I was breathing fire more carefully this time, but Justicar still only dismissed her wall once the logs were burning steadily on their own.
“Now everyone sit around the fire!” I said. They all did, to varying degrees of reluctance. Yali and I sat on a camping mat, with Yali sleepily putting one arm around my shoulders. On the other side, Morrow and Alchemist were in a similar position. Alchemist initially seemed nervous about the fire, but once they relaxed and started warming themself, their face melted into a dreamy smile. It was really heartwarming.
Justicar insisted on staying in a stiff chair a slight distance away.
“I’ll go first!” I said. “This one’s for you, Yali. I’m finally going to tell you the one about how I jumped out of my window!”
“This’ll be good!” said Morrow, bouncing up and down. “Tell us tell us!”
“Alllllright!” I clapped my hands over the fire. “So this one time in elementary school I got suspended for punching this annoying kid – don’t look at me like that, I was like nine. Nowadays I only punch people if they’re actually hurting somebody. Anyway, the day I was suspended, my parents grounded me up in my room all day. But the problem was, that day was the day of…” I paused for effect “…the BIGGEST afterschool dodgeball tournament of my ENTIRE life. There was no way I was going to miss that for something stupid like getting suspended. So when afterschool time came, I was gonna sneak out. Problem was, Dad knew my tricks. So Dad had taken a work-from-home day and parked himself right at the bottom of the stairs while he worked. There was no way I could sneak past him, because the stairs were the only way to get down from my room. Or so he thought! There was also… – somebody give me a drumroll here –”
Nobody gave me a drumroll. I thought at least Morrow would do it, but no such luck. So I just kept going.
“…the window. See, right under my window, there was a bunch of big bushes. And they looked really soft and leafy, so I figured they’d make a good landing. My window wasn’t built to be able to open, but I took an old coin and unscrewed it from the wall. I was really careful with the glass, I put it down on my bed without making any noise. And then I jumped out. And, well… Yeeeeaaaaaah so it turned out those bushes weren’t as soft as I thought.”
“Don’t worry, I didn’t have to go to the hospital or anything. I just got some really bad scrapes. But the worst thing is, I didn’t EXPECT it, so I yelled out when it happened. Like, if I hadn’t yelled, I could totally have still played dodgeball that way. But –” I sighed “– Mom and Dad came running and I was totally busted. They patched up the bleeding and then didn’t let me out of their sight for the rest of the day. At least I got this cool scar though!” I unmanifested half of my pant leg so they could see the long scrape on my knee. Alchemist covered their face. Morrow came around the fire to take a closer look and poke at it.
“Haha, that tickles. Anyway, there’s more to the story. See, Mom and Dad had, like, a huge fight about it later. I think they thought I couldn’t hear them, but they were really loud and I could totally hear them through the walls. Mom was like ‘that was too dangerous, she could have gotten seriously hurt, we need to reinforce all the upstairs windows so she can never do that again’. And Dad was like ‘that is Just Wrong, she is our daughter, that would be like putting her in a cage’. And I’m pretty sure they never came to an agreement about that. They just never tried to ground me in my room again, haha.”
Justicar let out a tiny sigh.
“You got a problem with that? Bet you think I’m a total terror and they SHOULD have put me in a cage.”
“I won’t rise to your provocation,” said Justicar calmly. “A child cannot be expected to understand the need for rules. I certainly did not when I was a child myself. And I cannot judge another person’s family from a simple story. All I can say is that it is a parent’s duty to provide rules to structure a child’s life. It seems possible that they were not fulfilling that duty even before this incident.”
“Yeah,” I said sarcastically, “I feel so deprived of rules. What a tragedy. Oh woe is me.”
“Stop fighting, you two!” said Morrow.
“Wait, you? You’re telling us to stop fighting?” I said incredulously.
“You’re making Alchemist upset!! All he wants is for everyone to just get along! And maybe to have some nice stories where people have a good time instead of everyone getting hurt and fighting each other!”
“Wait, so you can just read our minds all the time?”
“No, only Alchemist’s.”
“’Ow’m I supposed to read those two’s minds past how they’re on guard all the time? All I’ve got from them is emotions.”
By “those two”, he must have meant Yali and Justicar. “What about me?” I said.
“Oh I don’t NEED to read YOUR mind. I can already tell what you’re going to do next.”
“Oh yeah? What am I going to do next?”
“First you’re going to deny it, then you’re going to complain that it’s not fair.”
“No, I’m not.”
“There’s the denial…” said Justicar knowingly.
“Hey!” That’s not fair, I thought, but this time my mind managed to get a step ahead. I shut my mouth instead. Yali chuckled.
I tried to think of a nice story. I really tried. There was that awesome time when some other girls had pranked this asshole guy by – no, that was no good. There was the time when we all went sledding on the really steep hill behind the school – sure, they said it was dangerous, but no one had even gotten hurt! Well, not seriously. And having those big scrapes on my hands from the ice was totally worth it for –
Stern take it all.
“YOU try telling a story where no one gets hurt!” I snapped, jabbing a finger at Morrow. “I’d like to see YOU come up with something that –”
Yali gently pulled my hand back down. “I can tell one,” she said.
This is a story that was first told to me by… my mother, when I was very small. It was told to her by her own mother, who first heard it in… a temple, told by a priest who read it from the archives, written by an unknown hand.
In the early days of the city, before the walls went up, there was a family who oversaw the eastern farmland. And in this family, there was a child. She was a quiet child, and while the other children ran in the fields and played games of knights and priests, she liked to sit by herself, digging in the dirt with sticks and burying acorns that she found lying on the ground.
“Why do you always play alone?” asked the other children. “Why do you bury acorns, like a squirrel?” But she just laughed to herself and kept digging.
Seasons turned from sun to snowfall, snowfall to sun. Seed became shoot, and shoot became sapling. In the course of time, the child grew into adolescence. Time found her wandering the orchards, following and listening to anyone who would teach her of nature’s secrets.
“Why do you spend all your time in the orchards?” her uncles asked. “Other children your age are competing at the carnivals, learning trades, finding love. Don’t you want to those things for yourself?” But she just smiled and said nothing.
Seasons turned from sun to snowfall, snowfall to sun. Seed became shoot, and shoot became sapling. In the course of time, the child grew to adulthood. Time found her wandering the city, a bag of seeds in hand. Up one street and down another she walked, and in the course of time, every country road felt her footsteps. Time by time, she stopped at a street corner. Time by time, she knelt down, with her little trowel and her bags of seeds. Time by time, her fingertips pressed a seed into the soil.
“Why do you only wander and plant seeds?” asked the strangers she met on the roads. “Is there not a family waiting for you at home? Do you not have your own life to attend to?” But she just smiled and said nothing.
Seasons turned from sun to snowfall, snowfall to sun. Seed became shoot, and shoot became sapling – and as the years passed by, sapling became tree. And in the course of time, the child grew old. Along the sides of every country road, stately trees rose up. On summer days when the sun was bright, they gave weary travelers shelter from the heat. And when they bloomed, children all over the city climbed in their boughs to pick the fruit. The city’s people were happy when they saw the trees, and time by time, someone would look up and remember the stranger they had seen wandering and planting seeds not so many years before.
“Ah,” said an old man. “Now I understand. The city is richer for your work, and you may now relax in the shade of the many beautiful trees you have brought us. But you and I grow old, and time flows swiftly. Every day I see you bend your back to plant another seed, but surely you must know that you may not live to see it blossom.”
Just for a moment, she looked up from her trowel, smiled, and said nothing.
Justicar applauded softly. I joined in by clapping much louder, and pretty soon we were all clapping for Yali’s storytelling.
“Truly told in the Waiting tradition,” said Justicar.
“Thank you,” said Yali neutrally.
Morrow slouched on the mat, stuffing his face with a bag of popcorn he’d manifested while Yali was telling the story. Alchemist was relaxing next to him, sitting sideways and still looking at Yali intently. They looked totally charmed. Ugh, how did Yali always know what to say? Haha, she’d probably looked in the future to see what Alchemist would like. So unfair.
“Alright, who’s next?” I said.
Justicar tapped her foot. There was an awkward silence.
“If no one has a story to tell, we could talk about what we plan to do next,” Yali offered.
“Yes, that would be wise,” said Justicar. “We still have a long journey ahead of –”
“Bet we can ride Neenu straight to the portals!” yelled Morrow.
“Sounds good to me!” I said. “I’m sick of all this star stuff already.”
“If we are going to do that,” said Yali, “we should think about exactly how we plan to do it. Especially, especially, what order we will visit the portals in.”
I hadn’t thought about that, but it was true. There was one portal for each of us, so each of us was going to have to get off separately. And… “Well, Morrow’s the only one who can talk to Neenu, so I guess he’ll have to get off last.” Even as I said it, I could see the problem with that. Did Morrow even know how to find his way from one star to another? Thinking back to when he first showed up, he had probably just “smelled” us with his powers and gone that way on his rocket. I mean, I couldn’t say I was much better, but I had at least tried to read the Codex. But Morrow…
“I can go with him,” said Justicar, not sounding very enthusiastic about it. “Once we reach the star with the Imminent’s portal, I can disembark onto that star and wait. Then I can travel to my own portal the way we are intended to – by riding on other stars as they arrive.”
“It’s settled then!” said Morrow. “Me and Justicar last, Alchemist second-to-last, that just leaves –”
“Rinn goes before I do,” said Yali decisively.
“Alright, then, I’ll –” I quickly counted up the order in my head. “Hey! Don’t I get a choice about anything?”
“Nope!” said Morrow cheerfully.
“I mean, obviously I’d have chosen to go first, but I wanted to choose to go first, not just have the rest of you stick me with it.”
Justicar raised an eyebrow. “If it helps… there is always a choice.”
“Oh, fuck off,” I said. That saying was basically just something Stern types used to blame other people. Like, if a kid got in a fight but they said the other kid hit first, the Stern would be like “it was always your choice whether to hit them” and punish both of them anyway. I had this history teacher who claimed that the saying was supposed to be empowering – he was always telling this story about how he had given up a high-paying tech job because they were asking him to help snoop on people’s private information, and “there is always a choice” meant you could stick up for your values even if everyone was telling you to just go along with something. I mean, good for him, I guess. The place he worked for sounded like real scumbags. But outside of that, it basically meant everything was your fault. And even that one teacher still got mad when kids didn’t do exactly what he said, so how the fuck did he think he was teaching us to make our own choices?
There was a lull in the conversation. Everyone was quiet, thinking about what was going to come next. Just a few hours ago, I had pretty much been resigned to being stuck on a tiny star with the others for a while. But now, the next world – better yet, the Seeking God’s world – was feeling a lot closer. I could feel the excitement building up in my chest. But at the same time, there was also a slow uncertainty.
In the silence, Alchemist made a small sound under their breath.
“Neenu…” said Alchemist uncertainly. “There isn’t a portal for Neenu.”
“Maybe you can bring her through your portal! Make her smaller using a potion!” suggested Morrow.
“How would a star drink a –” I began before Morrow shushed me.
“I’m afraid it’s impossible,” said Yali. “Even if she was able to physically leave this layer, she is still made almost entirely from the Waiting God’s threads. When the five Ravellers have passed through the portals, the Waiting God will reabsorb this world, and Neenu along with it.”
“So she’ll just be… gone?” Alchemist’s eyes were big and sad, their mouth hanging slightly open.
“It’s okay!” I said hastily. “It’s still, like, beautiful, that she got to live for at least a little while!” That seemed to make Alchemist even sadder. Stern take it, I never knew what to say to make anyone feel better.
Yali put a hand on my shoulder. “She will not be gone,” she said to Alchemist. “She will become part of the Waiting God. So when you remember her, look to the Waiting. She will be there, in a way.” Yali was talking in a weirdly solemn voice. Something about it didn’t feel sincere to me, but Alchemist didn’t pick up on that.
“Oh…” said Alchemist.
Justicar added, “We all must cope with –”
Morrow got up in her face. “Shush you!! He needs time to think about –”
“He can speak for himself. You should not –”
“Speak for himself?!” I snapped. “Like you’d listen to him if he – uh –” I had automatically called Alchemist “he” because that was the last thing Morrow and Justicar had said, but… “Uh, Alchemist, what are your pronouns? Like, should we call you ‘he’ or ‘she’ or –”
Alchemist’s face shifted. I couldn’t tell what it meant, but they looked pretty stressed out.
I held up my hands placatingly. “If that’s a hard question, that’s okay! We could call you ‘they’, it’s, like, gender-neutral, so you don’t have to decide on anything, I know gender stuff is hard sometimes –”
Alchemist shrugged uncomfortably. “You can call me whatever you like.”
I saw Morrow perk up, the way he did when he was about to prank someone. He was probably about to call Alchemist something silly, since they’d said we could call them anything. But then, he just didn’t.
It was weird, and I noticed it more and more as we all spent time together. Morrow acted like a completely different person when he was around Alchemist. He wasn’t just affectionate, he was also patient and reassuring. Not as patient as Yali or anything, but still totally different from his normal self.
It especially made a difference when Yali started to help Alchemist figure out about making potions. Yali had made a little workspace for the two of them, a marble countertop with a wide, shallow bowl shape. Off to one side, there were a bunch of bottles, made of glass and metal. At the other side, there were pencils and paper for notetaking. Then she started patiently explaining what she knew, and suggesting things for Alchemist to try. Like, ways that Alchemist could try to concentrate, to unlock the right mental pathways to access the Broken God’s power. And at first, Morrow hovered around them, asking all kinds of questions. But then, after just a few questions, he cut himself off, telling Alchemist, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to break your concentration!” He looked around frantically, then jabbed his fingers at me and Justicar. “You two! We’re going bottomside!”
“Why does Justicar have to come with us?” I said, laughing.
“He needs a break from all us extroverts!”
It took me a little while to realize what Morrow was implying. “Wait, are you saying Justicar’s an extrovert?!”
“Ssshhh!” Morrow half-dragged me over the edge of the star.
From behind me, I heard Justicar say, “Very well, I will accompany you. But I will not take such an undignified route.” After a short while, a big metal staircase popped into existence near us. Justicar had manifested two staircases, one on each side of the star. The tops of the two staircases were joined together by a big half-circle walkway from one side of the star to the other. With a loud clank-clank-clank, Justicar walked up the stairs on her side, along the walkway, and down on our side. It was much more dignified than just falling around the edge. Then she sat down on her customary hard stool.
“What are you doing?” I said, confused.
Morrow was being way quieter than usual. I tried to pull him into doing our usual games, but he kept looking around and shaking his head.
“Ssshhh! We have to be quiet for Alchemist!”
“You’re telling me to be quiet?!!”
“This one hotel had soundproof walls…” Morrow muttered. He spun around, waving his arms and manifesting rows of big walls around the edge of the star, walls with old-fashioned wood paneling and peeling paint. Before he had even finished, some of them fell over with a massive woomph.
That was fine with me. This side of Neenu had felt pretty empty without the massive piles of junk that Morrow and I had left on all the other stars we’d stayed on. Now there was lots of space to fill up with new stuff. Right away, I jumped up on one of the fallen walls and manifested my favorite couch. But first, I manifested a couple of big cabinets under it so I could sit high up, looking down on everyone else.
Of course, Morrow had to try and outdo me. He stated manifesting a giant stack of air mattresses, clumsily sticking each new one under him as he went. Before long, the stack was higher than my couch. I wasn’t going to stand for that. So I manifested a long spear and started stabbing holes in his air mattresses, making them slowly deflate. He kept adding more on top, but before long, he was losing height faster than he gained it. A few minutes later, he gave up and just let the stack deflate.
I smirked. “That means I win! I totally win.” I manifested a huge, spiky crown made of Blood Blades, and set it down on my head. “See this crown? This means I’m the winner, and I –”
“The Blood Blades are not a toy,” said Justicar severely.
“Oh yeah? They’re MY blades, and I say they are a toy! Check it out, now they’re a –” I let one melt and flow in my hand, reshaping into – what was a toy that was vaguely blade-shaped? “Uh, now they’re ski poles!” I jumped down and manifested more Blood Blades out of my feet, in the shape of skis, and pretended to ski around on the platform. Right away, my legs slipped out from under me and I fell on my face.
Justicar’s voice softened a little. “Have you never skied before?”
“Oh, come on! Like there’s even anywhere to ski in the city!”
“There… is a ski slope to the north, in Walthridge. Have you never been outside the city?”
“Who needs to?!”
“Yeah!!” added Morrow. “You from Walthridge? You some kind of rich person?”
My first thought was that Morrow was being ridiculous. As overbearing as she was, Justicar didn’t seem anything like a rich person. She certainly didn’t seem like the stereotype of someone from Walthridge, living in a huge mansion and relaxing in nature all the time. But with all the little details of how she talked, she definitely wasn’t from down in the fifth ring like me, either.
“I will not say I have not had privileges in my life. But no, I am not from Walthridge. I simply… was there for a time.”
“Cool, cool, I’m just wondering…” began Morrow.
“Yes?” said Justicar.
“…just wondering if…”
“…if you could possibly be any less specific?!”
I snickered. Justicar looked away slightly, as if to say, I can’t believe I actually thought Morrow was going to ask a real question.
“If I was rich,” said Morrow, “I’d buy a big ol’ mansion. And then I’d burn it down.”
“Where would you live then?” I said.
“I’d be rich! I’d have another six houses to live in. And then I’d burn them all down, too.” He snickered.
“What’s the point of buying houses just to burn them?” I laughed.
Morrow danced away tauntingly. “Oh? So you’ve never wanted to burn down a house? Never ever?”
“Okay, fine. But I wouldn’t burn down some random mansions, I’d burn down the school.”
Justicar interrupted. “The premise was that he was rich. That gives you the ability to buy houses, but it does not give you the ability to burn down your school.”
“Sure it does, I’d buy the school. I’d pay for a new fancy school with my name on it, and make the city give me the old school in exchange. That’s what rich people do, right?”
“Fuck rich people,” said Morrow.
“Fuck rich people,” I concurred.
Morrow danced up to me, manifesting piles of gold coins spilling out of his hands. “What would you really do if you were rich, though?”
“Well –” I hadn’t actually thought about it that much. “Well – first of all, I’d pay Layo’s way through art school, so he doesn’t have to work in the summer. And then, um…”
“That’s very noble of you,” said Justicar.
“You take that back!” I yelled. “I’m not doing it to be noble, he’s my friend! And what else would I spend it on, anyway?” I pointed one finger at myself and another down through the star at Yali. “I already have everything I want.”
Morrow leaned close to my ear. “But do you have… a two story tall chocolate fountain?” He manifested a chocolate fountain near us as he said it. It was only about one story tall, but I wasn’t complaining. I stuck my face in it right away. Morrow joined me, and pretty soon we were both licking chocolate off the fountain and grinning at each other’s messy faces.
I smiled across at Morrow. “Okay, fine, this is awesome, maaaayyybe I’d buy one of these –”
“Will you stop doing that??” Morrow hissed at Justicar suddenly.
“Uh, she’s not doing anything.”
“I TOLD you she’s an extrovert! She keeps wanting to be closer to us! But then she SQUASHES it! She keeps SHOVING her feelings down a DUMPSTER! I can’t STAND it!” he spat.
“If you have a problem with the choices I make in what should be the privacy of my own mind,” said Justicar, “it is not my responsibility to accommodate you.”
Morrow was breathing hard, looking at Justicar with an anguished expression on his face. Normally I would have been happy to let him have a go at Justicar, but this was different. I didn’t want him to do something stupid. “Dude,” I said. I grabbed his shoulders and forced him to look back at me. “I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Justicar, but if she wants to beat herself up, that’s really not our problem.” I kind of felt like I was lying, like Justicar being screwed up was my problem. But getting Morrow calmed down was more important.
Morrow didn’t seem to be listening to me, so I decided to distract him instead. “Check this out!” I said, manifesting a whole bunch of fireworks. I messed up lighting them because I’d never actually gotten to use one before – there was one time when I’d been out with some older kids who smuggled them into the city, but I’d barely gotten my hands on one before someone snatched it away to stop me burning myself. So at first, I accidentally shot one onto the ground, where it set a cabinet on fire until Justicar put it out with a fire extinguisher. But then I got the hang of it. “Bet you can’t top this!” I said to Morrow as I made bright trails across the sky.
Morrow started furiously manifesting fireworks of his own.
Suddenly, Yali’s voice echoed from around the star. “Can the rest of you stop manifesting for a while?” she said.
I cursed inwardly. “Sure, but why?” I said out loud.
“It’s the Seeing. It’s –”
“Ooh! Ooh!” said Morrow. “Does it mess it up when we manifest? How does it work? Tell me!”
“The truth is, even though it’s called the Seeing,” began Yali patiently, “it’s not much like seeing with my eyes. It’s more like, sort of… holding very still, to listen for the future. And your manifesting is very… noisy. So it’s hard to hear anything past what you’re about to manifest.”
“Oh! So – wait a minute, you just asked us to stop manifesting! So before that, you were already about to ask us to stop manifesting! So you shouldn’t have seen us manifesting anything in the future! How does that make sense?!”
“I think, I think, maybe it’s about the fact that it was my decision? I mean, I didn’t decide to tell you until after I saw it, so maybe, maybe…”
“If the Farseer could automatically predict the results of the Farseer’s own future decisions,” Justicar cut in, “then what would happen if she foresaw a danger? Naturally, she would act to prevent the danger. But then the danger would never occur as she saw it. That would be a contradiction, so it follows that, until the Farseer has committed to a decision, she can still See the results of alternate decisions she could make.” She looked out over the edge, speaking her next words to Yali. “Is that not so?”
“Something like that, yes. Now, if I may…?”
It looked like Morrow was about to pester Yali some more, so I grabbed his arm and dragged him back to our piles of junk. But what were we going to do now? Manifesting was so second-nature now, it was hard to think of what I’d do without manifesting.
I slouched in one of my new thrones, watching Morrow as he rooted through the piles for Waiting-knows-what.
“By the way, are you gay?” I said. I’d kind of been assuming Morrow was gay based on how he acted around me, but all the times he’d called Alchemist “she” had made me wonder. “I mean, I know you’re into Alchemist, but that doesn’t tell me much about what genders you like, haha.”
Morrow shrugged. “Gay is just who you fuck, right?”
“What? Don’t say that, that makes it sound so one-dimensional! There’s way more to it than that!”
“What is it then? How do you know if you’re gay?”
“Do you actually not know, or are you just messing with me?”
Morrow smirked. “Whaddaya think?”
“I think you’re just messing with me, but whatever, I’ll tell you anyway. It’s never really been a question whether I’m gay. For my whole life, I’ve been, like, obsessed with girls. Whenever there’s a girl I like, I never want to be away from her. I want to know everything about her, I want to sleep in the same bed with her, I want to impress her – I’ve done loads of stupid shit to impress girls, haha. And if she’s good at the same things I am, I want to beat her.” I smirked. “Nothing gets me going like fighting with a girl I’ve got a crush on.” Haha, I had probably made this one girl hate me forever by picking a fight when she wasn’t into fighting like I was. “Or, like, playing sports against her. Girls.” I sighed happily.
Then I looked over at Morrow. He was messing with a puzzle box in his hands, not listening to me at all. Haha, should’ve known not to try to explain anything serious to him.
“You want to play like that?” I laughed. I was about to prank him by manifesting something, but then I remembered I wasn’t supposed to be manifesting. So I just waited for a minute, then snuck up behind him and tickled him.
Morrow jumped and dropped the puzzle box he was holding. “I’ll get you back for that!” he said.
Pretty soon, we were playing games and pranking each other like always. It didn’t feel like very long before I heard Yali’s voice, calling us to come back around.
When we came back around the star, Alchemist was talking with Yali, quietly but confidently. But as soon as Alchemist saw the rest of us, their eyes locked on to us and they went silent again.
“Don’t think about them,” Yali told Alchemist gently. “Just keep doing what you’ve been doing.”
Alchemist nodded, and they looked back at the workspace in front of them. There were a bunch of bottles of bubbling potions, a lot of pictures and notes, and even some little heaps of colorful goo just lying on the table. Before I was done looking at it, Alchemist got to work again. Their soft hands reached out and tugged glowing strands out of nowhere, less like a stage magician waving a wand and more like a heavy laborer wringing magic out of the soaking air.
“We thought we’d have a little demonstration,” said Yali. “Some of these potions are completely safe –”
“Some of them?” I said.
“Yes, only some of them. Don’t drink anything unless me or Alchemist says it’s safe. Fortunately, none of you is likely to do that, or I wouldn’t have agreed to this. We have a few different types of safe potions you can try out –”
Morrow walked up to Alchemist, and Alchemist wrang another potion out of thin air and handed it to him. They must have been communicating silently. After Morrow drank the potion, his eyes went wide and he stated turning around and staring at everything.
“What does that one do?” I asked.
Morrow was still out of it. Alchemist answered. “It, maybe, makes you, see, differently? Sometimes, easier to, see, everything?”
“Can I try it?”
Alchemist made another one for me. It was slimy and tasted like raw fish. As soon as it went down my throat, my vision split apart into thousands of little bubbles, each observing only a very small area. Alchemist’s face in front of me was split into thousands of little bits, like an intricate stained-glass window, but also moving and flowing as I looked around. Up above, individual stars danced from bubble to bubble. And somehow, I could see everything clearly at once, even without moving my eyes to focus on individual things.
I tried to move around to look at things from different angles. My vision was so everything that it was hard to remember how to walk. I managed it, but only slowly.
“This is awesome,” I said. “But, how do you turn it off?”
In a thousand tiny bubbles, Justicar frowned. “The Stern God’s power allows me to remove certain forms of magic, but these potions are beyond me.”
It turned out that Yali and Alchemist had prepared a potion for this, too. A potion that would remove the effects of most other potions. It was actually one of the hardest ones to design, because there was no unifying thread to the Broken God’s power, so it was hard to specifically remove all potions without removing other parts of your soul, too. But Yali and Alchemist had found a trick that made it work safely – at least to remove minor, fun potions like these ones. Yali thought it was important to have a bunch of the potion-removing-potions lying around. That was probably accurate.
I drank one of them. It tasted like gritty ice, but lukewarm. My vision went back to normal, which was kind of a relief, and kind of a disappointment.
Of course, that wasn’t the only potion we got to play with.
“This. Is. AWESOME!!” I zoomed up into the air.
“Before you fly off,” Yali called after me, “take this.” I dropped back to the ground, but misjudged the distance and went tumbling onto the floor. Once I got up, Yali handed me a kitchen timer. “The potion won’t last forever. This will go off when you need to come back.”
“Okay, fine.” I didn’t want to just carry it in my hand the whole time, so I thought for a moment and then just glued it to the back of my arm. Then I realized that I had basically reinvented the wristwatch, haha.
I swooped around in the air, doing lots of spins and flips. I couldn’t resist doing moves that made my stomach flip around, just to see if I could. I hovered upside down in the air and cruised past the others. “Ha ha, you’re all upside down!” I shouted. “People can make flying potions on Earth too, can’t they? Why don’t people fly around all the time?!”
“I think they’re expensive?” said Yali. “Like a once-in-a-lifetime vacation thing, not an everyday thing. Let me look it up, though.”
“How are we going to look it up without the Internet?”
“Oh, I actually downloaded a local copy of an encyclopedia before the Ravelling started…” Yali fiddled around on her phone. “Yes, it says… it’s a difficult sorcery because you have to put the drinker’s will in control of the movement, and… a lot of people died in flying accidents a couple hundred years ago, so now you have to get a special license to make them, beyond a regular sorcery license, and they always have to be combined with slow-fall potions so you don’t fall to your death if the flying runs out while you’re up in the air, but combining them makes it even more complex…”
Before long, Yali drank one of the flying potions herself, and rose into the air. I was a little surprised that Morrow didn’t come flying too, but he seemed to want to stay close to Alchemist. I flew up to Yali and tried to tempt her into doing some stunts with me, but she just smiled and said it was hard enough keeping her balance.
“You gotta have some fun,” I said affectionately.
I wasn’t really expecting her to go along with that, but she did. “I’ll race you!” she said loudly. Then she zoomed off into space.
I zoomed after her. The air whooshed past us. Before long, we were high up above the star, so high that it was only a tiny speck in the distance. It wasn’t much of a race – as it turned out, no matter how hard I pushed, my potion wouldn’t fly me any faster than hers did. I couldn’t beat Yali’s head start.
Just when I was about to yell after her, Yali turned around and waved for me to come closer. She slowed down, letting me fly up to her. I flew straight into her and grabbed her in a big hug. We collided a little off-center, sending us both spinning around each other as we held on together. Or, it was more like me spinning around her while she spun in place, since she was way heavier than I was.
As we tumbled through space, she put her mouth close to my ear. She spoke quietly, seriously. “There’s something we need to talk about, away from certain people listening.”
“Justicar?” I muttered back.
“It’s very significant that she trusts us enough to let us be alone together, too far away for her to intervene if something goes wrong. It hasn’t been easy for me to keep us on her good side when I can’t use Hiram –”
“Can’t use what?”
“Hiram. One of the old Farseers. He was a teacher, he was great at knowing what to say to calm down kids who were upset. So when I don’t know what to say, I think back to what he would say. I’m not actually good at being reassuring, but he is.”
The name Hiram… someone who knew how to be reassuring… Something tugged at my heart, a shadow of regret. But I couldn’t place it.
Yali went on, “His skills are useful for you and Morrow and Alchemist, but in all the futures where I try them on Justicar, it just makes her trust me less. The only thing that makes her respect me is when I directly contradict her.”
“Oh come on,” I laughed, “how come I don’t get credit for contradicting her?”
“That’s different,” said Yali. I didn’t press the issue. “But that’s not the important thing.”
“Right. What is it?”
“We’re going to reach the portals soon. When you enter the next layer, there’ll be more of the Blood God in you. And we might get split up for a while. So… I’ll need you to keep checking yourself. Notice if the Blood God starts having more influence on you.”
“I can do that,” I said seriously. “I know how important it is when you say this stuff.”
“Thanks. I knew I could trust you.”
I grinned. “I love you so much.” I flew up so our heads were level with each other, and kissed her on the mouth. “Wait a minute! Did you know you can trust me the regular way, or did you just look in the future to check if I’d –”
“I, I –”
“Haha, it’s fine. I love you.”
Pretty soon, we realized it wasn’t actually fun flying this high up. It was all just empty space up here, so it was hard to even tell when we were moving. So we both dropped back towards the star. I figured out that I could go even faster by just falling instead of flying at my top speed, but Yali made me fly at the regular speed, just to be safe.
As we got back near the star, I spotted Morrow lying in a hammock. He clapped loudly as we got close. “Aaaaand here they come again, back from their sky adventure! The great – the great – hey, what’s y’all ship name??”
I touched down lightly onto the star. “Woah, I can’t believe we haven’t got a ship name yet! We need one of those!”
Alchemist must not have known what a ship name was, because Morrow immediately explained, “It’s when you’ve got two people in a relationship and you stick their names together to be super cute! Like you take half of ‘Rinn’, so like ‘ri’, and then half of ‘Yali’, and you get… ‘Rili’!”
“Really?” I said.
Floating down beside me, Yali smirked. “It’s better than ‘Yawn’.”
“Oh my gods.”
“What about Riyali?” said Morrow.
“How come Yali gets her whole name but I only get half of mine??”
“Yeah but you get the first part!!”
“Plus, I know a kid named Riyali. That would be awkward.”
“How about your last names??”
I had to think fast. The rest of them still didn’t know Yali’s name was Yali Seti, and if they knew, they might think she was a stuck-up rich person. So I had to use my last name, so… “Yal…katura,” I said uncertainly.
Morrow clapped me on the back. “Brilliant! Here comes Yalkatura to knock the gods on their asses!”
When he put it like that, it did sound kinda awesome. “Yeah!” I shouted.
“I wouldn’t say we’re going to, to, to do that to the gods,” said Yali. “We do have a plan for how to handle them, –”
I laughed. “Now you’ve made it sound like no big deal! So if you were trying to make us sound less badass –”
“I, I, –”
I kissed her on the cheek. “Hi, we’re Yalkatura! We, er, handle gods. Got some gods getting you down? We’ll ‘handle’ them. Heh. No big deal.”
We were getting close to the first portal. The one I was going to go into.
I felt like I was constantly on the edge of my seat, but at the same time, there was nothing for me to do. Morrow and Justicar were hard at work directing Neenu towards the portal, and they didn’t want any distractions. I was excited to get there, but it was taking ages. At least it left a bit of time for me and Yali to sit together before we got there.
“So, there’s something I’ve been wondering…” I said, trying to fill the time.
“Back when Alchemist showed up, you said something about their powers being more like sorcery than alchemy. But if both of those things can make potions, what exactly is the difference between alchemy and sorcery? And manifesting, for that matter?”
Yali’s eyes drifted into the distance. “Ah… I think there’s one of me who’s excited to explain this…”
“One of you? Wait, do you mean your memories of the other Farseers? Are they, like, actual people inside your head?”
“Not exactly. They are only memories. But they do feel like how the person was feeling at the time. So…” She clapped her hands and looked up cheerfully.
“All magic is technically manifesting,” she began. “And manifesting is when a soul, or a thread of a soul, exerts its will on matter, or on other souls. The thing that we call manifesting is when a person does this directly, using their own soul just as it is, without changing it. Our souls aren’t built to influence matter, so this is only possible in the Otherworld. Or if you’re a god.
“But there are other ways to use the power of manifesting. The most powerful way is to remove a thread from your own soul, then wind it into the perfect shape to do what you want. This is what we call sorcery. It’s very powerful and versatile, but every sorcery has a permanent cost to your soul. Our souls have thousands of threads, so it doesn’t ruin you immediately, but you can’t cast a new sorcery every day without being changed. So professional sorcerers usually store sorceries in physical objects, so that a single sorcery can be reused multiple times – or at least saved until the time when it’s needed. If you’ve ever used a magic wand, that’s a sorcery linked to a physical object. So are some potions.
“Alchemist’s power is similar to sorcery, but it uses the threads of the Broken God’s soul instead of their own.”
“Wait a minute, so every time Alchemist makes a potion, they’re permanently sacrificing part of the Broken God?!?”
“No… unlike a human sorcerer, the Broken God can reabsorb the threads after they’re used. A human soul is like a big, complex tangle of threads. You can pull one of the threads out of the tangle, but if you tried to put the same thread back exactly where it came from, you wouldn’t have a chance. Here in the Ravelling, the rest of us can’t perform sorcery even if we know how to, because the gods want our souls fully intact. But the Broken God is, is, is, special.
“Then there’s alchemy. Certain substances have a natural, magical, connection to one of the gods, usually the Broken. And an alchemist – that is, a lowercase-A alchemist – knows how to mix those substances to activate the divine power inside them. So it’s technically the god manifesting on the world, just directed by the lowercase-A alchemist.
“Finally, when we say summoning, that means regular manifesting, but specifically when we manifest using the gods’ threads that are inside us. So your Blood Blades, Justicar’s sword and armor, and Morrow’s, Morrow’s… well, I’m not sure about Morrow… are considered summoned. It’s generally only possible for Ravellers, but rarely, a priest from the material world can pray and receive divine threads that they can use to summon something.”
Yali went quiet for a while. It seemed like she had finished her explanation. I thought about it. Like most people, I had known that alchemy and sorcery were different kinds of magic, but I hadn’t really thought about it much beyond that. But now it made a lot of sense.
“Okay, so you’ve covered… all of us except you. Alchemist is like sorcery, the rest of us are like manifesting. But what about –”
“Technically, Alchemist also has to do regular manifesting the create the physical form of the potions –”
“– what about you? What’s the Seeing like?”
Yali hesitated a little. “I think… I think when I use it, I’m not technically doing any magic at all. I’m not influencing any souls or matter, am I? Only myself, to receive the knowledge. The god might be manifesting on me, to put it into my head.”
“Okay, but like… how does the god know the futures?”
“I, I… I actually have no idea. I mean, it’s a god, right?”
So there were some things even Yali didn’t know. In a way, that was reassuring, but it also made me a little nervous.
I held her hand and waited. The stars moved slowly around us, some gliding smoothly across the sky, some standing nearly still. It was all routine by now, but since we were getting close to the portal, this would be the last I was going to see of this world… ever. It really made me notice the little details again. In the vastness of space, I couldn’t help but think about how many things we still didn’t know.
Beside me, Yali was watching Justicar and Morrow. Even they had gone quiet. Morrow had his lips glued to the surface of Neenu under our feet, presumably talking to her. Justicar was pressing her eye to the eyepiece of the telescope, looking out ahead of us intently.
At length, Justicar looked up, squinting into the distance.
“We are about to arrive,” she said. “The portal star can now be seen from here with the naked eye.”
I jumped up and hurried to the edge to look.
The portal had caught my eye immediately. In the middle of the star up ahead, there was a simple archway made of the same glowy, white material as the star itself. But when I looked through the archway, I saw… blackness, but it was also like a kaleidoscope. Not a kaleidoscope of color, but of some sort of shimmering energy. It felt like it was pulling me inwards.
“What’s woah?” said Morrow. He had pulled his face off the ground when we got close, saying that Neenu could take it from here. “That boring old doorway?”
“It is the Blood Child’s portal,” said Justicar. “Naturally, only the Blood Child would be able to see its true form.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I see, like, a tunnel, leading me into, like, magic.”
Neenu swooped towards the star with the portal on it, and hovered over it in a little wavy pattern. She had been getting better at moving smoothly. Now, she was floating just above the other star, almost halfway overlapping it. The portal was only a step away from me.
It was funny. When I looked at the portal with my eyes, I just saw solid blackness, like it was a black wall blocking off the doorway. But when I looked with my instincts, it was vibrant. “So I’m going to be stepping into that portal? What even is that thing?”
Yali answered. “It will be a lot like when we were pulled into the Otherworld. The same way the Waiting God brought us into this layer, the Seeking God will bring us into the next. The transition is even technically called the Seeking Gate, and the first one was called the Waiting Gate –”
“That’s confusing, that’s the same as what the physical gates in the city are called!”
“Yeah, the city gates are named after these ones. In any case, this will be the same kind of thing you already experienced. So it will be similar, but different.”
“Different how? What’s it going to be like?”
“This is the Seeking God. If I told you what to expect, the god would do something else.”
“Haha, of course it would. Finally, a god who knows how to have fun.” I stepped down from Neenu and ran my fingers along the archway. I couldn’t wait to see the Seeking God’s world. Yali had called it a riddle-maze, a world that constantly challenged the Ravellers with puzzles and mysteries. Except in a fun way, not like the incomprehensible Codex from this world.
The only thing was, I had been imagining going through it with Yali. But now, standing right in front of this door that only me would be going through… I was forced to realize how alone I would be. How sharply we would be separated.
I jumped back up and flung my arms around her, squeezing tightly onto her and burying my face in her chest. “I don’t want to leave you!!” I said plaintively.
Yali lifted my head to look at her, cupping my cheeks softly in her hands. “It’s okay,” she murmured. “I know it’s hard. But I’ll look for you as soon as I get there. And that will be pretty soon from your perspective, because the flow of time is different in the Gate.” She pulled me close and kissed me on the mouth, long and tenderly. “I don’t want to leave you either, you know? But it’s going to happen one way or another. So it’s better if we do it on our own terms.”
I clung to her for ages. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to peel myself away from her soft body that I was clutching onto. But finally, the time came for me to go.
“Goodbye Morrow. Goodbye Alchemist. Goodbye Justicar.”
Yali planted one last soft kiss on my forehead, then loosened her embrace and gently guided me on my way.
So this was it.
“Goodbye everyone! Goodbye Yali!” I yelled over my shoulder. And then, before I could change my mind, I dove headfirst into the portal.