Between the Firmaments by JY Yang (Half Two)
Final yr, we Ebook Smugglers ran our very first Kickstarter–and past our wildest expectations, we not solely funded however hit our stretch objectives. A type of objectives was a brand new serialized story from JY Yang, which we’re delighted to deliver to you this week in three totally different installments.
In an occupied metropolis managed by oppressive off-worlders, Bariegh of the Jungle is a god dwelling in hiding—toiling away day after monotonous day, hoping his godliness will go unnoticed by those that would harness it.
However then an exquisite, daring, godling man walks into his life and not using a care on the planet, his divinity uncloaked, and Bariegh is completely undone.
JY Yang’s Between the Firmaments is a secondary-world fantasy a few romance between two gods, set in an occupied metropolis the place being a god is against the law. It’s lovely, difficult, queer, barely experimental, and 100% superior.
Work had not been going nicely. The blasphemers have been constructing a brand new retailers’ wing to accommodate shoals of airships that got here every day to nurse on the borders of the hanging metropolis. Sure, the town was rising, and like all rising issues it had an urge for food. The rising columns and leaping eaves we formed claimed limbs and lives alike; it wasn’t days that we counted between accidents, however hours.
The woodnymph was on the middle of our issues. She was not previous by the best way her individuals counted the years: nonetheless a sprightly spring factor! Or would have been, had the blasphemers not drained vitality out of her, identical to they did with every little thing else. As staff, our jobs have been totally reliant on her work. All we did was erect picket scaffolding in the suitable shapes for the overseers to seed bamboosteel upon. Then Inette would latch up the collars on the nymph’s neck and wrists and pull the holiness from her, forcing bamboo to bloom and develop into strong basis, the skeleton upon which the hanging metropolis was constructed. Miracles got here into being proper earlier than our eyes.
However the woodnymph’s magic had began to stutter like a river on the finish of an extended, rainless summer time. The ensuing bamboosteel grew crooked and spindly and splintered like bone beneath the slightest strain. The entire development website turned a demise lure. Heavy issues fell upon unfortunate skulls, and once in a while a shriek punctuated the air as another employee plummeted to an extended and bloody dying. The nymph was close to the top of her helpful life, and everyone might see it, not simply me: the boys quieted and averted their eyes when she slunk previous us, pulled by Inette’s gravity, limbs trembling like piles of leaves. Even Sisu’s happy-go-lucky type flagged in her presence. So quite a few have been the wrongs visited upon our day by day lives that we had ceased to pay attention to them. However this punctured the thickest shells of indifference and whispered to the conscience: that is mistaken! One thing needed to be finished. However what?
A venture this sprawling and complex ought to have been serviced by two godkind at the very least. However the blasphemers hadn’t cracked open new lands to plunder in years, and their inventory of captured godkind had dwindled. And whereas their Father-Emperor debated together with his parliament in distant halls, arguing the deserves and pitfalls of increasing the empire, Overseer Inette’s pleas for extra godkind to be assigned to the undertaking fell upon chilly partitions of apathy. And the personal residents of the hanging metropolis—the lawmakers, the retailers, the civilian blasphemers come to fatten their fortunes on our flesh—wouldn’t hand over their godkind thralls with out an Imperial writ.
So the woodnymph continued to toil alone. The pressure of powering the entire website bleached life and color from her; the pores and skin sat white and haggard on her bones, virtually as pale because the blasphemers’. Her work suffered. All of us suffered.
Denied succour from her homeland, Overseer Inette was decided to unravel the issue by her personal hand. “There must be more of these vermin we’ve missed,” she declared, her fingers white-knuckled round her employees of workplace. So the nightly raids started. Blasphemer-priests and their troopers swept the slender, lightless underbelly of the town the place the poor and undocumented lived, combing via its intricate warrens hoping to tug undiscovered godkind from its corners, squirming like fats white grub.
In our room I’d sit with Sunyol and Sisu to both aspect of me, holding on to them as an alternative to holding my breath, whereas outdoors the horrible symphony of trainers and shouting carried on and on. My thoughts would reassure my shivering coronary heart: We move the check. We seem completely odd. Simply three mortals sharing a room, quiet and mundane as anybody else. Sisu would yelp typically: “That’s my fucking shoulder, I have bones in there,” and prise my fingers off in irritation. However Sunyol would keep wordless and nonetheless, curled into my aspect, chest barely stirring. In any case this time, I assumed I might be higher at deciphering the silent ideas that marched via his thoughts. However he remained mysterious because the day I had first seen him, swaying within the warmth of the worksite.
It had been 4 months since Sunyol moved in. He refused a mattress of his personal and slept on the foot of mine, curled up in a pile of rags and previous clothes. I ended asking him to hitch me after a number of nights; he was cussed in that means. We stored intercourse to 3 nights every week: fast and tender and quiet, carried out as humanly as potential. Sisu would shove off and are available again later with luggage of candy yam soup as we sat cleansing the sweat from every others’ our bodies. The woman would grumble—would she be Sisu in any other case?—however her dissent had softened into theatrical train. She would slightly lose her fingernails than admit it, however she’d turn into protecting of this tender, unusual creature I’d welcomed into our lives. On the streets she hissed and kicked at individuals who gave him hassle.
And Sunyol stored his promise to me: he by no means introduced up Sisu’s hidden divinity, in phrase or in deed. Typically I might catch him staring intently at her, maybe out of curiosity, maybe out of pity. Who knew? So long as he didn’t fear on the holiness resting inside her. That was all I needed.
This might have been bliss, you understand, this beatific state of being: quiet evenings of my boy resting subsequent to Sisu, him stitching and she or he studying the newest go-round thriller plucked out of the black market, her ft propped up on the mattress. By some untold magic Sunyol had gotten me to quiet down. We might have remained on this mild valley of happiness for an eternity, untouched by the prying white fingers of the blasphemers. However in fact such issues couldn’t final. And valleys are the primary to be flooded when the river banks break.
The large accident was the start of the top, though none of us knew it at the moment. Every week earlier than the blasphemers had constructed a walkway between two pavilions on the sixteenth flooring of the brand new wing, and one set of crew—twenty staff, together with the boys, Sisu and me—have been on the fifteenth flooring under it, lashing in new scaffolding for balconies. The grasp plan for the brand new wing, and the order through which it will be constructed, was a matter solely opaque to us. The overseers would level and assign—six of you, scaffold right here, as we speak—and we might leap to it. Who would dare query? Who would dawdle lengthy sufficient to think about how the brand new factor match with the remainder of it, and danger the razor kiss of the overseer’s whip? Once we have been pointed to our subsequent process, sweat pouring from sunbaked skins, we merely forgot the work we had simply accomplished. We had burdens sufficient to hold!
Sure, ever so typically curiosity snared my thoughts and I might discover a help strut to lean towards throughout breaks, to survey the entire website like a hunter would. After which I’d catch Sisu’s eye, or Inette would move close by the woodnymph in tow, and I’d assume higher of it.
So it was one other odd day, us simply making an attempt to get to sunset in a single piece. There I used to be—Brick Wall—the muscle— holding up the help poles whereas considered one of our boys—little Kurena—scrambled round lashing it to the others with twine together with her fast fingers. I wasn’t the primary to listen to the noise—Kurena’s head snapped up earlier than mine—however I used to be the quickest to know what it meant. That groan. The walkway above about to break down.
“Run,” I stated to Kurena, however she was already in flight. Terror hones our senses of self-preservation.
The walkway splintered. Within the blur of the physique’s adrenaline I noticed Sisu standing underneath it, frowning up because the damaged halves careened in the direction of her. I moved. Holiness rushed by way of me, turning mortal flesh to rock that met the falling timber with a horrible shudder. I stood wedged underneath the mass of shattered bamboosteel, impervious and unbowed. I used to be Bodeya, the lady who pinned the celebs to the sky; I used to be Nitaya, the tree that separates the firmaments from the heavens. The opposite half of the walkway spun like a toothpick because it plummeted to the roiling earth. The air boiled with screams.
Sisu stared at me by way of clouds of flocking mud. Her large eyes had the glassy sheen of a prey animal. Snap out of it, baby! “Sisu!”
She blinked. I gritted my tooth, coronary heart straining beneath the information of the overseers converging upon us like carrion birds. I couldn’t keep godkind for for much longer. “Sisu, if you don’t move—” I snarled.
That acquired her consideration. However no sassy retort got here hurtling again at me. A troubling, atypical line sat between Sisu’s brows. She scampered to the security of the primary pavilion, supported by foundations laid many moons in the past, lengthy earlier than the genesis of our present troubles.
Gathering one final spurt of divinity I heaved, and despatched my burden tumbling after its doomed, sundered sibling. The top of the walkway barely missed a overseer’s head as he sailed in the direction of me on his hoverplate. It was Arquois, one of many lesser Overseers, pores and skin spattered with sun-damage. His tooth confirmed in his grimace. Earlier than him was a gasping, sweating employee, whom he had simply witnessed throwing a spur of masonry that may have crushed ten males. “I know you,” he stated. “You’re the one Inette calls ‘Brick Wall’. You’re a strong one, aren’t you?”
I bowed my head and stated nothing. It was all the time higher to say nothing.
A stop-work was referred to as for the day. That they had us corralled in a nook whereas Inette swept forwards and backwards, profanities flowing as quick and unfastened as her barked orders. Lesser Overseers swarmed the accident website, assessing the injury, calculating the delays. What did Inette care that I’d saved the lives of the seven within the falling walkway’s shadow? She would somewhat 100 staff died than endure one other day of setbacks. Her footsteps rapped sharp on bamboosteel, lips folded right into a razor-thin valley.
Sisu sat by my aspect, unusually cool and nonetheless, gazing out on the unforgiving sky. Trapped nonetheless, it appeared, in that second of walkway-fall, watching dying come at her in an infinite loop. I touched her frivolously on the hand that was hooked round elbow and knee. “Are you alright?”
She barely blinked. “It wasn’t going to hit me.”
“It didn’t hit you. I made sure of that.”
“No, I meant it wasn’t going to hit me. The bamboo split so that it would miss me on either side. I saw it.”
“That was luck.”
“Some kind of luck.” Sisu frowned. She’d all the time taken the preponderance of Sisu-luck with equanimity, however she hadn’t but witnessed something this bald, this blatant. The suspicions that thundered by means of her—I might solely think about.
She turned her questioning my means. “That blow should have killed you.”
“It would have killed anyone.”
I placed on a smile; I might really feel how skinny and watery it was. “I’m stronger than I look.”
Sisu’s returning stare was prolonged and unreadable. Then she stated, “Suppose you are, old man.” She didn’t smile again.
Inette swept by once more, consumed by fixed movement. In her wake the woodnymph was a piteous symphony of clanking and wheezing, barely held up by the chain round her. When Inette stopped to shout at Overseer Arquois, she collapsed like a whipped canine and lay utterly nonetheless.
My eyes have been fastened on her damaged type; I couldn’t assist it. And there lay my mistake, for in that second the woodnymph’s eyes flickered open and seemed proper at me. My intestine quailed. She knew—she knew! She knew who I used to be, acknowledged previous Bariegh even via the muck-coated human shell. Her eyes bored into mine, pleading and determined. Please. Assist me. Free me from this.
I knew what it was she needed.
The second ended. Glad together with her scolding, Inette strode onwards, jerking the nymph alongside by the neck. I exhaled. To show away a supplicant was the basest crime a god might commit. However these have been extraordinary occasions. Might I actually be referred to as a god, if there was—
Inette’s voice rang out over our heads, indignant and incredulous. “Who are you?”
Like a thousand-headed serpent the amassed staff turned to look. My coronary heart stopped. Mere ft from us stood an brightly glimmering determine: long-limbed, daring and sleek, hair alive within the wind. Fear creased Sunyol’s delicate options. “I heard there was an accident.”
“Who are you?” Inette repeated. “What are you doing here?” She swept in the direction of him like a stormcloud, and my arms balled into fists.
“I have loved ones here,” he stated, his gaze canvassing the trembling herd of development staff. His backbone straightened as he caught sight of me, and his expression softened. Shock lacerated me. I had not anticipated to see Sunyol right here. He had confirmed no curiosity by any means within the affairs of the world. They have been little extra to him than birdsong within the forest. Why had he come right here, and why now?
I fed my surge of adrenaline with straightforward, accessible rage. This silly, loopy boy—was he making an attempt to get himself killed? A avalanche of heated phrases piled up in my chest. I clamped them down for later. Later! The subsequent time we have been alone, I swore I might burn this boy’s ears with my consternation.
“This is a restricted area,” Inette stated, voice low in her throat. “How did you get in here?”
Sunyol shrugged, a easy motion. “Your guards have hungry pockets.”
Beside me Sisu whistled quietly. “Man, that boy’s got some balls on him.” If she inspired him on this, I swear by the earth and the sky, I might—
Inette leaned shut sufficient to odor Sunyol. He appeared unfazed. I, then again, trembled sufficient for the each of us. Now, of all occasions, when Inette’s temper was scorching as molten metal—!
“I know what you are,” Inette hissed.
I tensed, able to leap to my ft. Inette’s head was separated from her shoulders by a mere neck. I might rip it in half if she made the slightest transfer—
Sunyol merely blinked. Was he not afraid? Did he not care?
Her tooth confirmed. “You’re that boy. Aren’t you? The noodle-stall helper. I’ve heard of you.”
Sunyol dipped his head, dipped his lashes. A tiny, elegant motion.
“Your reputation precedes you. I must say, you don’t disappoint.” She grabbed his chin with tough palms. Her fingers parted his lips, exposing his tooth and gums like she was inspecting a beast of burden. With a huff of air—of satisfaction? Amusement?—she pulled him shut, by the collar, and kissed him. Sunyol stiffened. I growled, a chest-noise, and Sisu’s hand closed over mine.
Inette broke the kiss, shoving him so onerous he stumbled backwards. Her giggle cracked by means of the air. “Mediocre!”
Sunyol wiped his lips; blood smeared the again of his hand the place she had bitten him.
“Leave here,” Inette stated, “or it’ll be more than a kiss that I take from you.”
Depart. I glared at Sunyol and willed him to take my trace. Dropping the world I had recognized was dangerous sufficient. I couldn’t bear to lose this boy too.
However Sunyol remained the place he was. His consideration had been caught by the wretched determine crumpled at his ft. The longer he stared on the woodnymph’s barely-conscious type, the deeper his frown turned. Now’s not the time. Simply depart, you silly—
“Not leaving, then?” Inette purred.
“My apologies,” Sunyol murmured, his focus damaged. However the disturbance remained on his face. As he turned to go away our eyes met, and the depth of the sorrow in them might drown cities. It shook me, and like lava extra rage rose by means of the cracks left behind. He was going to listen to from me, oh sure, he was.
“What are you doing? Are you trying to get yourself killed, or worse?”
“I had to see the place for myself.”
The room was too small for us three, and the clamor of all our feelings. I stood shut sufficient to Sunyol to really feel the tremor of his breaths. On the mattress Sisu sat quiet, her expression troubled, a torrent of unease visibly churning beneath the floor. I ought to have been worrying about her and the divinity that was beginning to stretch its limbs inside in, stirred from unquiet slumber.
However my goal was the boy earlier than me, his aloofness a lightning rod for my ire. “There was nothing to see! You have cared nothing for our plight before. This day was no different!”
“I hadn’t realized how dire your situation was.”
My nostrils flared. How dare he admit to such ignorance, after having lived with us for therefore lengthy? “And taunting Inette, was that supposed to improve our lot?”
A spark of anger flashed by way of him, an enervation so not often seen! “It’s rich of you to say that, when you witness such injustice daily, yet do nothing.”
I seized him by the tunic and pulled him in the direction of me. “Do you think we haven’t tried fighting them?”
He went nonetheless however for his respiration, watching me via half-lidded eyes. There was a lot I didn’t find out about my boy. I might navigate the map of his physique with no information, however his thoughts—his spirit, his soul— was stull unknown territory to me. A spot the place I used to be clearly nonetheless unwelcome.
“You two done fighting?” Sisu requested.
I checked out her. She appeared drained, but in addition indignant. The day’s occasions had modified her greater than I assumed. I noticed in her expression a brand new pressure of crafty, as if she had realized a brand new fact about me and was combing by way of the fields of her reminiscence for proof. It was a fear, alright.
“I’m sorry,” Sunyol whispered.
I turned again to him. The power I’d fleetingly glimpsed was gone, the fad and vanity melted out of him. All that remained was the identical previous drained sorrow. “I spoke out of turn. I greatly admire what you have done, Bariegh.”
I allowed him to maintain talking, which was maybe a mistake. He stated: “For years I wandered aimlessly, flitting from one world to the next. Then I saw you from where I stood on the peaks of your world. And you were bold and strong and proud, despite the ravages you had suffered. I saw in you a survivor. So I decided to stay.”
Such flattery ought to have crammed me with ecstasy! However I might solely consider Sisu in alarm, who had sat and listened to all this god-talk. I shot her a glance, and her expression was clouded. However not confused—if something, there was a touch of figuring out in the best way she narrowed her eyes.
I stepped away from Sunyol. “We should all rest,” I stated.
Sleep didn’t come for me that night time. Susceptible on the arduous floor of my mattress I listened to the darkish because the hours spun from one to the subsequent. Above me, Sisu’s breaths slowed into deep relaxation; at my ft Sunyol was a conspicuous lack of sound and movement. But the factor that snagged my ideas with its corroded hooks was not Sunyol’s ill-judged anger, nor was it Sisu’s burgeoning suspicions.
No. What crammed the hollows of my thoughts as I lay with my eyes closed, was the woodnymph’s face. Soiled and hopeless and pleading. Looking for the aid that solely a god might bestow.
Bariegh, what is going to you do?
I sat up within the gloom, sluggish as I might, and put my naked ft upon the uneven flooring. Dust floor into my soles and heels as I stood rigorously, my breaths mushy and sluggish.
Sisu remained asleep on the higher bunk. In his nook, Sunyol didn’t stir. Was he slumbering as properly? Or simply pretending? I stared on the pale form of him within the murk and willed him to maneuver. Give me a touch, my beloved, inform me by hook or by crook. However nothing occurred. Did he not care what I did? Or did he ever?
What uncharitable ideas! How had we come to this? A wave of sorrow handed by way of me, however I couldn’t permit it to linger. I had work to do.
I left the room as quietly as I might, and crept on padded ft in the direction of the top of the hall. Wrapped in unquiet slumber, the town’s poor packed the dense honeycomb of the paupers’ quarter with determined goals. As I unfolded into divinity their unconscious prayers struck like hail, chilly and heavy and fervent. I sucked these distraught entreaties into my bones and grew robust. Or stronger, at any fee: right here I used to be, lapping on the barest dregs of unconscious religion like they have been honey and mead! It was the one strategy to get energy now that the power of the earth and the sky had been denied to me.
I needed to transfer quick. Each minute spent like this was a minute spent risking discovery. The borders of each metropolis quarter crawled with the blasphemers’ guards, sharp-eyed and lusty for blood: ravenous for hassle to sink their tooth into. At the very least the night time’s raids have been occurring within the models a lot decrease down. Commotion boiled flooring under me, shouts of dismay combusting towards indignant, barking orders. A distraction for the guards, so they may not discover the temporary passage of a god amongst them. Thank Mom and Father for the smallest mercies! I slipped into my swiftest type—the noticed shadow-cat—and raced alongside unlit alleys and deserted passageways, hoping the darkish would conceal me as wanted.
And it did, for I escaped the paupers’ quarters unscathed. Now I emerged from the lightless bowels of the town into areas open to the air and solar and stars, the place the blasphemers allowed issues like home windows and excessive ceilings to exist. In racing-cat type I sprang upwards, climbing the crenulated sides of the town, layer by modular layer. The town grew cleaner and its streets grew wider as I progressed. My goal was the Axis of Tranquility, the pristine cluster of white spires centered within the highest a part of the town, the place you would stand in an open courtyard beneath the solar and haven’t any shadow fall upon you. It was the place the overseers let unfastened the sprawl of their lives, the sanctuary the place they bickered and relaxed and performed and slept. It was the place Inette stored the woodnymph chained at night time, by no means a stone’s throw away from her individual.
Luck was not my forte because it was Sisu’s. Stealth, nevertheless, was the hunter’s area. I waited for the correct second, crouched by the orbit of the guards across the Axis, a porous line. I slipped by way of when one among them had their head turned, after which I used to be operating ghost-footed and gale-swift via the shining inside of the Axis, gleaming even within the cloud-choked moonlight. Now my mission started in earnest.
The inside of the Axis was a panorama overseas to me: as if a lowly development employee corresponding to I might ever be allowed admittance right here! It was my god-senses, alive and knife-honed, that I needed to depend on. Surrounded by the bleached bones of what the blasphemers had constructed, the woodnymph—fellow godkind—was an excellent ember within the form of the world. I ran in her course. There have been no locations to cover within the Axis, the place the soothing consolation of the darkish and the mild eaves of shadows had been banished. Velocity was my solely recourse.
Inette’s mansion lounged behind partitions of white, laden with fish-ponds and the boughs of timber torn from the land under. I cleared the boundary wall in a single leap and located myself dealing with an extravagant, angular constructing. Its type was alien and unforgiving, as if a parcel of Inette’s homeland had been scooped up and grafted onto this floating metropolis. All its home windows have been darkish, and a guard stood stone-faced at each door. I counted six of them, absolutely liveried, bearing buzzing electrical spears.
There have been no secret methods right here, no quiet home windows the place I might slip via unnoticed. It couldn’t be helped: they must die.
I began from the left. One by one they fell in fast succession. My shadow-cat type was swift and silent: by the time the guard observed the warmth and odor of me, my tooth would already be closed round their backbone. I broke their necks and shortly, quietly set their corpses upon the bottom. There was no pleasure in these deaths, no poetry on this change from one life to a different, no satisfaction within the triumph of survival. I padded silently into the overseer’s home with the odor of blood lingering round my mouth.
Inside the halls of Inette’s home I lastly discovered consolation in a thick and all-encompassing darkness. The stone flooring have been cool beneath my ft as I slunk downwards to the dungeon the place the woodnymph was locked. There have been two guards; they each met swift and perfunctory deaths. No sooner had the blood of the second moist the ground than the woodnymph stood in her cage. “You came,” she stated. Her voice was barely louder than the wind.
I straightened up into mortal type. “I heard you,” I informed her. “I felt your pain.”
Her skinny, crooked fingers clasped the exhausting iron of the cage bars. “You’ll do it, then?”
“You are not one of my people,” I advised her. This was no weasel-tongued protest: there have been protocols for what I had come to do.
“I am not,” the woodnymph stated. “I am a spirit of the forest, and my tribe is answerable to Opyret, Ripener of Fruits.” She rubbed her arms, and pores and skin indifferent from it in flakes. “But Opyret is gone. They have not heard my prayers since four turnings of the seasons ago.”
My half-cousin Opyret, cussed because the mountains, had chosen to stay on the ruined floor, refusing to go away the land which that they had tended to for therefore lengthy. Their destiny was unknown to me: did they die? Have been they captured by the blasphemers? Neither of these ends have been one thing I might bear to consider.
“So,” I stated, “having been abandoned by your lord and master, you now turn to me.”
“Bariegh of the Jungle,” she whispered, “will you release my spirit from this realm, and to the next?”
“I will. And in exchange, the power you hold in this realm will pass to me.”
“Take it,” she whispered, her voice coarse as sand. “These days it’s no more than a curse.”
The act took no time in any respect. I slid my hand via the bars and positioned it on her feverish forehead; one draw of the breath later she crumpled to the bottom, empty and decaying. The final residue of her energy surged via me: Scorching, operating filaments, searing my veins, setting my coronary heart aflame. Shivers of rapture pulsed by way of my flesh: to really feel virtually entire once more! Virtually! Weak as she was, the woodnymph was the primary godkind I had taken because the blasphemers got here to our shores. This was extra energy than I had consumed in years. For a second—temporary, superb, excruciating—I had a glimpse of who I was. What I used to have.
Motion behind me. I turned, tooth bared, flush with new power. In my thoughts it was Inette, and I used to be coiled to tear her throat from her neck, penalties be damned! If I used to be to have blood on my palms this night time, let a few of it’s hers!
Sunyol stood on the head of the steps, staring on the corpses scattered round me.
I stated his identify. He seemed up and his large, unsettled eyes met mine.
“It was what she wanted,” I stated.
Sunyol picked his method down the steps, his ft making a cautious arc over the corpses of the guards. He squatted by the cage, fixated upon the lifeless woodnymph, deep furrows bisecting his pale forehead. Might he not perceive what was occurring? He’d lived on the earth for months now. He knew the circumstances we have been shackled with. He—
Sunyol’s slender hand reached between the bars. With mild fingers he brushed away the stringy mats that had fallen over the nymph’s face. “You killed her,” he stated, the phrases popping out in a mushy, clean murmur.
I misplaced my grip on endurance and mood alike. “What else could I have done? She needed help!”
“You could have freed her.”
“She didn’t want to be freed. She asked for this. Do you understand?”
I might see from his face that he didn’t. “Do you realise what will happen now?” I requested.
He remained unmoved, however I continued anyway. “Tomorrow the overseers will realise that their source of power is gone. They will intensify the raids. Day and night they will comb the city until they find someone to take her place. All the hidden godkind in this city—like me, like Sisu—will be in danger.”
I pointed down on the nymph. “She knew this. Why do you think she never once tried to escape? This is the unspoken compact of godkind. She was captured, and for all our sakes she bore this burden, until she couldn’t any more. There are so few of us left, we have to do what we can to protect one another.” I allowed anger erupt in my voice. “What I did tonight was a mercy. Do you think I would have done this if she had not begged me for release?”
Sunyol slowly stood. Was he listening? Did he perceive? I stated: “You said you admired my survival in this world? This is what it costs to survive here.” If solely I might shake comprehension into his thick head! “How could you live among us and still be shocked?”
He raised his head to take a look at me. “Dissolve the bond between us.”
I blinked as my coronary heart shuddered to a cease. “What?”
“The compact that binds me to you. Dissolve it. I will remain with you no longer.”
“It was a mistake for me to have wanted it. Foolishness on my part. Hubris. I want you to unmake it.”
His face was a cipher of feelings: lips thinned, brows compressed, eyes flat and impartial. “Do you—”
“I understand perfectly well. Please, Bariegh. Let me go.”
I caught his chin in my hand. His physique stiffened and his eyes fell shut as I tilted his face upwards, urgent my fingers into the bones of his cheek. The place was the daring, creature I had glimpsed all these months in the past, perched on the sting of the world? I noticed no hint of him regardless of how a lot I audited the strains of the face earlier than me. My bones chilled as I studied his silent type. This forsaken world had drained him the identical approach the blasphemers had drained the woodnymph.
I didn’t perceive him. I by no means understood him. The bond I assumed we had was maybe nothing greater than an phantasm.
“Very well,” I stated. The phrases barely made it out of my mouth.
Sunyol’s eyes flew open: shock, disbelief, and a needle-jab of harm. He opened his mouth to talk, however I moved earlier than the primary phrase might a lot as assemble on his tongue. The magic that sure us fell aside, dissolving in a messy flail. What I had pulled along with a lot effort got here undone between one beat of the guts and the subsequent.
There. It was over. It was too late for something besides remorse.
I let go of Sunyol’s chin and he staggered backwards: partly from dropping his stability, partly from recoil. Had he anticipated me to struggle him? I might not do this. I might by no means maintain him towards his will.
“Bariegh,” he stated. His eyes and mouth have been delicate and unhappy.
“Go in peace,” I stated. “Linger here no longer.”
He bit his lip. I ached to kiss him one final time, to seal the reminiscences of what we as soon as had. However his mortal type sublimed in a flash, and earlier than me stood the shimmering, otherworldly celestial hound from between the worlds. The canine who had as soon as been mine forged the briefest look at me, then fled up the steps and was gone.
I sank to my knees, hollowed out, my legs too empty to carry me up. I needed grief to fill me, easy and sharp. However my thoughts was consumed by a thousand ideas and feelings, every one as stressed as the subsequent. Nothing settled. Nothing made sense. My throat labored, however it didn’t know whether or not to howl, scream or cry.
Loud noises rattled within the higher reaches of the mansion. Then voices, and the thump of one thing smooth discovering gravity. Inette. The overseer had been roused by the disturbances, in the end.
A quick imaginative and prescient tempted me: Inette dashing down the dungeon stairs in her nightclothes to seek out one of many previous deities, prostrate amongst demise, arms and snout bloodied. A brand new thrall for her development efforts; an finish to her issues and respite for the remainder of the divine. What want would she have for a bit spirit, if she had the facility of a god at her disposal?
However who will take care of Sisu then?
Worry and panic are the worst bedfellows for reasoned selections. Who can stability the calculus of the larger good when the lifetime of a liked one is threatened? In that second my fear for Sisu overrode all else; I took on cat type once more and vanished from the dungeon.
When Sisu awoke the subsequent morning, the primary phrases out of her mouth have been: “Where’s Sunyol?”
I hadn’t slept, and had spent the stressed sliver earlier than daybreak getting ready breakfast. Rice slurry bubbled over a tiny gaslit canister as Sisu sat up all rumpled, pulling the sleep scarf from her head and stretching. “Not gone and done something stupid, has he?”
I stirred the tin of slurry. “He’s gone.” As she blinked I clarified: “It’s over, Sisu. He’s left.”
“As in you’re not likely to see him again.”
Sisu scratched behind her ear, frowning furiously. “After last night?”
Seconds went by. Then a derisive snort: “Well. That is pretty damn stupid. I’m sorry, old man. How you holding up?”
Ah, if solely I had a solution to that query myself. As an alternative of telling her one thing helpful, I pointed to the slurry, thick with meat oils. “Breakfast. We have to stay in today.”
Her options grew slender with suspicion. “Why?”
“Inette’s woodnymph died last night. There won’t be work, and the city will be full of blasphemers looking for someone to blame.”
She stiffened in alarm. “Died? You mean she was killed? Or—?” She was shaken, and in her shock I watched suspicion rise additional in her. I stored silent—the much less she knew of the reality, the higher.
She exhaled. “I suppose it doesn’t matter. But how’s anything going to work then?”
“The blasphemers will procure a replacement in no time,” I stated. Both they might extract another godkind from the bowels of the town, thrashing and screaming, or their homeworld would lastly consign Inette the alternative she had been asking for. “Until then we should remain as unobtrusive as possible.”
“Why? It’s got nothing to do with us. Has it?”
How pointed her query, how significant! I demurred. “Inette’s bound to be in a mood. Best we stay clear until it blows over.”
Wordlessly Sisu got here and folded herself cross-legged on the bottom beside me. She put her chin in her hand, her options rigorously and intentionally considerate as I turned the gas-can off and began ladling steaming porridge into bowls. “Your parents called you Bariegh,” she lastly stated.
“So they did.”
“After the god of the hunt?”
“It was a fairly common practice.”
“Back when the gods were a big thing, huh.” Sisu stretched out on the ground, propping herself up on her elbows. I used to be too drained to select aside what this newfound jocosity of hers meant. All I knew is that I didn’t prefer it. “Ever feel like you’re not living up to the name?”
A practiced smile stretched throughout my face as I set a bowl in entrance of her. “All the time, child.”
The disturbance began within the afternoon: a distant commotion that swelled like a crest of water. Elsewhere within the paupers’ quarter, shouts echoed and metallic banged towards wooden. Sisu sat up from the mattress, guide dropping from her fingers. “What the hell’s going on?”
I had been busy with needle and thread, mending cut up seams and patching tears within the knees of trousers. I let the darning clatter to the ground as because the noise rushed in the direction of us. “It’s a call to work.”
“Work?” Sisu craned her head to pay attention because the noise reached our flooring. With scary suddenness, a rough-voiced overseer was banging on doorways all up and down our hall, telling us to report back to the worksite instantly or face 100 lashes.
Sisu checked out me, fearful. “I suppose staying home’s not an option?”
“No, little one.” Guilt and worry crammed me in equal elements. Within the mild of morning the choices of the earlier night time have been clearly revealed to be cowardice. I had failed in my obligation, and now we might all endure no matter petty retribution Inette was about to dispense.
Sisu’s ft slapped towards the ground as she swung her legs away from bed. “Well, fuck this.”
I shivered with out letting it present. It was too late for regrets, however they gripped me anyway.
The solar beat down upon our shoulders as we huddled in a miasma of sweat and nervous power. The overseers had us corralled onto a pavilion on the unfinished fringe of the worksite. Half-built and unsecured, the open finish of the construction yawned over the empty drop to the ruined world under. My thoughts conjured terrifying photographs of the blasphemers throwing us over, one after one other, till somebody confessed to the massacre at Inette’s home. As we crouched ready for our destiny I gripped Sisu’s hand’s in mine. She pulled it away with a hiss. “For fuckssake, old man. You’re just making me nervous.”
Neither hair nor cover of Inette. Or any of her subordinates, for that matter. The blasphemers swirling round us have been all lower-ranked, young-skinned and tense and robed in unappealing beige. Because the minutes went by and sweat beaded on brows and lips, murmurs of disquiet grew among the many gathered staff. Nothing good might come out of this, and the longer we waited, the more severe our conceptions of the state of affairs turned.
“Listen,” I whispered to Sisu, my phrases quiet as I might make them. “If something happens to me, I want you to—”
“No,” Sisu hissed again. “Don’t you say that. I don’t want to hear it.”
“If we go down, we go down together. All right? None of this if something happens to me bullshit. I won’t stand for it.”
She sounded indignant, however there was an unfamiliar wobble to her phrases, and she or he refused to show her face in the direction of me. “Child…”
I used to be interrupted by an arrival. Overseer Arquois’ robes shone and flapped as he minimize by means of air on his hoverplate, his head and his spirits excessive. He surveyed the employees huddled earlier than him and an unsightly chuckle bubbled up from his chest. “Upset and grumbling, are we? Oh, how cruel of the overseers, to keep us waiting in the hot sun.”
He leapt off the hoverplate and a boy within the entrance row flinched, almost falling over. Arquois snorted because the trembling boy righted himself. “Listen here, you worms,” he snapped. “Today you will have the privilege of bearing witness to marvels greater than any you’ve seen before.”
He unfold his arms and shouted, flush with enthusiasm at his position as orator and grandstander. “You have seen the miracles we have worked with your so-called spirits. Mere piddle. Today we show you what my people can truly achieve. Today we show you what we can do with one who calls himself a god.”
My mouth went dry. A god. That would solely imply one among two issues. A god. A god. A god. The phrases echoed emptily by means of my head as they blocked out rational thought. Strangling vines crammed the hollows of my chest, changing air with worry.
Sisu sucked in breath and elbowed me. “Bari! Look—”
Flanked by her underlings, Inette swept in the direction of us, her gown an excellent bloody purple. Triumph shone on her sharp options. Behind her, coming slowly into view, was—
JY Yang is the writer of the Tensorate novellas from Tor.Com Publishing (The Pink Threads of Fortune, The Black Tides of Heaven, The Descent of Monsters), which have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and Locus awards, and have been on the Honor Listing for the Tiptree award. Their brief fiction has been revealed in over a dozen venues, together with Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Unusual Horizons, and Lightspeed.
JY is at present based mostly out of Singapore. They determine as queer and non-binary. Discover them on-line at http://jyyang.com or on Twitter as @halleluyang.
Half Two of Between the Firmaments continues tomorrow, October 11th.