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BETWEEN THE FIRMAMENTS by JY Yang

BETWEEN THE FIRMAMENTS by JY Yang

Cowl artwork by Reiko Murakami

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 a phenomenal, 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 unlawful. It’s lovely, difficult, queer, barely experimental, and 100% superior.

Sisu shot up as if lightning-struck. I grabbed her arms and held her as she tried to struggle me off. “Don’t,” I hissed. “Sisu!”

Her breath got here in indignant gasps. “Bari, they’ve got him.”

It was a wrestle, protecting my voice low and calm. Besides it wasn’t calm. “I know. Sisu, I know. Please, don’t draw their attention.”

The blasphemers’ collar appeared heavy and ugly clamped round Sunyol’s neck. That they had taken his garments and put him in a rough brown tunic that hardly reached his knees. A number of accidents garlanded the uncovered swathes of his pores and skin: bruises round his cheeks and lips, bloody scabs ringing his wrists, purple lash-marks striping his calves and ft. Stamped on his neck, slightly below the jawline, was a spherical set of toothmarks, open and ruddy as a flower. I knew that if I seized Inette by the jaws and held her there, I might discover a good match.

Sunyol shuffled to a cease behind Inette. I checked out how swollen his ft have been and my toes curled. His obedience in the direction of his tormentor bothered me. No, bothered was the incorrect phrase to make use of—it terrified me. How had he come to be captured? Worse nonetheless, had he been captured in any respect? In useless I attempted to seize his consideration. Look right here, beloved! Take a look at me.

However Sunyol stored his eyes averted, shifting with such warning I knew it was deliberate. Rattling him. Rattling him to the underside of the cursed realms. Was this his plan? Did he depart me to do that? This silly, silly silly boy—

Sisu shook in my arms, maybe in unhappiness, maybe in anger. Maybe each. I pressured myself to concentrate on her.

“Come here, darling,” Inette stated, beckoning with a finger. Sunyol complied, his gait tortuously sluggish. Inette smiled and licked her lips. “Now, sweetest, remember what we’ve discussed?”

Ever a grasp of dramatics, Inette had positioned herself to offer us the most effective view of the present. She pulled Sunyol shut, physique to physique, the fingers of 1 hand clawlike on his shoulder. “Show me what you can do, my pretty.”

Sunyol’s expression remained clean as she leaned in the direction of him and nibbled on an earlobe. “Make my city blossom.”

The boy shut his eyes.

Earlier than us the air got here to life. The unfinished construction hummed with magic. And in that resonance, the uncooked fringe of the pavilion started unfolding. It began with the bones of basis, bamboosteel extruding in lengthy ribs. Over it grew flesh of mortar and stone. Sunyol’s handiwork was beautiful: the tiling that he conjured was adorned with scalloped edges and floral motifs. A cacophony of gasps and disbelief wove round me. For the employees, mere mortals, what they have been seeing was as unbelievable as a madman’s fever dream, miraculous because the creation of the universe itself. Even the overseers, burning the facility of spirits, wanted uncooked materials to form to their will. Right here, a whole constructing was solidifying out of skinny air.

However nothing might come from nothing. Sunyol was drawing from his personal essence to create bamboosteel and granite. The immensity of his labours bent the world round him. I by no means knew how deep his reserves of energy went. Even I, Bariegh of the Jungle—who had been previous when the mountains have been pushed out of the ocean!—had by no means witnessed something prefer it. This unrestrained demonstration of means would frighten even one corresponding to I.

And certainly, it was terror that ran by means of me, sending hearth and ice by way of my veins. However my worry stemmed from a completely totally different supply. I understood the horrible fact that was unfolding earlier than me. If Sunyol overexerted himself— if he drained himself of energy too quick—he would die.

Sisu trembled beside me, gripped within the unforgiving claws of disbelief. “Bari, he’s a god,” she whispered. “Did you know that? Why didn’t you say?”

I couldn’t reply her.

Sunyol had prolonged the brand new wing by 100 ft, six storeys of sheltered walkways and market halls. An entire week’s value of labor had been introduced into existence in a mere handful of minutes. However the inexorable tide of exhaustion was pulling at him, threatening to tug him underneath. The progress of the constructing’s border slowed. Tile got here into being with growing problem, and the exact patterns that had adorned them turned muddy and ill-defined. Sunyol’s face had blanched to a shade paler than Inette’s, and breath escaped him in brittle gusts.

Sisu hissed by means of her tooth: “No, no, no, no.” Even she might see what was clear to me. Inette was killing him. The fury and frustration that rushed via the woman had began to wake issues that I had tried to maintain slumbering.

Sunyol collapsed onto his arms and knees, and a symphonic gasp burst from the garrison of staff. Inette appeared down at him and her lips pursed. My breath stalled in my chest. That was sufficient for immediately, wasn’t it? She wouldn’t ask for extra. She wasn’t so witless as to push him past his limits—

Inette jerked him upright by the chain. Sunyol staggered and gagged, barely capable of stand. “Did I say you could stop?”

The boy’s lips moved, mouthing phrases I couldn’t hear. Inette barked in laughter. “Stop complaining. You know what you signed up for.”

Accursed white satan! Sunyol swayed the place he stood, blood trickling from his nostril. “If you won’t continue building,” Inette stated, “I’ll do it myself.”

She raised her hand bearing the management bracelet and thrust it outwards, just like the claw of a vulture in search of to eat the world. The shining sunmetal of her bracelet lit up. The collar round Sunyol’s neck lit up. Energy poured from one to the opposite. The ground shuddered as development started once more, tile by agonising tile.

Overseer Arquois ran in the direction of her, a cooler head prevailing. At the very least somebody amongst these nugatory blasphemers understood the consequence of this horrible concept! However Inette was too far gone, hazed with energy. Her face was frozen in a rictus of focus: half a mad snicker, half a grimace. I needed the divinity that rushed by way of her to kill her, to incinerate her to a pile of twisted bones and ash. I needed to tear her to items. My muscle tissue harm from staying nonetheless.

I assumed: She’ll cease earlier than she kills him.

I assumed: I’ll kill her earlier than it involves that.

I assumed: No. No. I gained’t danger Sisu’s life for his. I’ve sworn to my sister. An oath is an oath, it doesn’t matter what the fee.

Sunyol groaned and slumped, his knees folding and arms going limp, held up solely by Inette’s chain. Blood spattered the entrance of his tunic.

Sisu blurted: “You’re killing him!”

I used to be on her instantly, clamping her mouth shut, holding her down, muffling her shout after the second syllable. However I moved too sluggish. Inette had heard. She let go of Sunyol and he dropped to the bottom. Lifeless. No, I couldn’t inform. I clutched Sisu in a vise as Inette’s livid gaze swept our ranks, looking for the one who had the temerity to shout at her. Sisu’s cheeks, moist with tears, trembled beneath my hand.

Thank the earth and sky for Overseer Arquois’s well timed interruption. Seeing an opportunity, he seized his superior’s sleeves whereas her consideration was fractured. “Great overseer!”

Inette turned furious at his daring, however he continued of their offworlders’ language, one denied even my godly information. He gesticulated and pointed, alternating between the yawning scope of their unfinished challenge, and the divinity crumpled at their ft.

A horrible stillness had blanketed Sunyol’s collapsed type. Pink froth spilled from his nostril and mouth, the type that comes from those that won’t ever rise up once more. I willed his chest to maneuver, his eyes to open: please, not like this. The heavy ache in my infected chest burst right into a torrent of sorrow.

Inette, nonetheless listening to Arquois’ pleading spiel, appeared to register Sunyol’s situation for the primary time. Nevertheless it wasn’t pity and remorse that got here out of her: no, what got here effervescent up in thick stutters was amusing. She kicked his inert type. “Some kind of god you are.”

Sunyol remained unresponsive. I hoped that, lifeless or alive, my quiet boy was a minimum of past ache.

However then he moved, breath shuddering via him, eyes opening a crack. Oh, Sunyol. Sisu wheezed beside me, mirroring my aid and agony.

Arquois nodded hopefully at Inette, pleading for her to think about the larger image, the larger good.

Inette spat in Sunyol’s course. “Don’t think we’ve gotten our money’s worth from you yet, dog.” She gestured roughly at Arquois. “Very well. You have a point. Take him back to the Axis.”

Sunyol’s eyes flickered and he checked out me, deliberate and lucid and calm. There was neither worry nor sorrow in his expression, as if he had wholly accepted his destiny. Silly, silly, silly boy. He was nonetheless sporting the necklace I’d given him—someway, he’d satisfied Inette to let him maintain it. I shivered. What different concessions had he wrung from Inette, and at what value?

The second we acquired house Sisu shoved me towards the bedframe, her fists knotted in my tunic. “You son of a bitch. You knew about this and you didn’t say a word!”

“Sisu,” I started, helpless within the face of her anger.

“No. Shut the fuck up.” She let go and stalked the slender confines of the room. “He was a god, Bari. We had a fucking god in our house. And you didn’t say shit.”

Together with her again to me she rubbed at her face. There was little question about it: her godliness had emerged from its lengthy winter of sleep, fed by the happenings of the previous weeks, knocked unfastened by the stresses of the day. The divine elements of me might sense her, new kin in my neighborhood. There was nothing I might do about it.

The movement of her palms over her face slowed, then stopped completely. She turned to me with the canniest look on her face. “You’re a god too, aren’t you? That’s how that falling walkway didn’t crush you.”

“Sisu, please,” I stated. “Leave it alone. Please.”

She wouldn’t depart it alone. She got here in the direction of me, her head tilted curiously, her eyes narrowed. “And what am I, Bariegh? Am I one of you, too?” She thumped her fist towards her chest with rage and desperation and worry. “What is happening to me now?”

“Leave it alone,” I repeated, hopelessly. “There’s no good to becoming divine.”

“How do you even become divine?” Incredulity flooded her voice, then anger and suspicion. “Did you do this to me?”

I shook my head. “It’s your birthright. From your great-grandmother.”

“My—” Sisu blinked, and drew an oceanic breath. “Fuckssake.” Her voice wobbled. 

“I was trying to protect you,” I stated. 

“By lying to me? By treating me like an idiot?” She drove her fist into the bedpost. One thing cracked, bone or wooden, it didn’t matter. “I’m not a little girl anymore. I deserved to know.”

“You’ve seen what they do to godkind in this city,” I stated. “We go to such lengths to keep ourselves hidden. Why would I wake your slumbering gift if you could pass as mortal?”

Sisu swore and as soon as extra turned her again to me. The form of her hunched backbone was an alien language. The bones of my head ached with exhaustion. Sunyol was gone; was I going to lose her too?

Lastly she stood. “I’m not going to let him die.”

Alarmed, I blurted: “What are you planning?”

“I’m going to free him.” Mania danced in her eyes. “I won’t stand by while they carve him up. I’m gonna give that bitch what she’s looking for.”

This was what I feared: Sisu getting all swept up within the euphoria of first discovery, carried away by the intoxication of latest energy. How might I clarify the creed we godkind had agreed to abide by? I moved to face between her and the door. “Do you think I want this, Sisu? Do you think I want to watch Sunyol die?”

“You sure as fuck didn’t fight back when they took him!”

I grabbed her by the wrist. “You think I’ve never fought back against the blasphemers? Do you never ask yourself why there are so few godkind left?” Sisu’s face scrunched up as she tried to tug her wrist free, however I used to be relentless. “We cannot beat them, Sisu. They are too strong.” The final recourse: interesting to her compassion. “Please. I have lost almost all that I have loved. Don’t make me lose any more.”

Sisu’s mouth set in a decent line. “Let me go, old man.”

“No.” 

After which a pointy burst of sound and panic echoed down the hall. A fuel canister had exploded someplace shut by. A lady was screaming, youngsters cried. A momentary distraction, and a second was all Sisu wanted. She broke her wrist from my grip and darted out of the door.

Sisu-luck. A lifetime of it had made her daring, made her proud and cussed and reckless. I ran after her, however she was already far forward. Later I might marvel if the explosion itself had been actual, or merely in my thoughts. However for now my mandate was nothing however the chase.

Sisu’s newfound divinity expanded inside her, altering her very essence, elongating the borders of her limbs. And lo! This might have been a thousand years in the past, my half-sister Edukan racing throughout the treetops screeching in pleasure, from hand handy to tail handy, whereas among the many roots under Bariegh the Hunter sprinted on agile ft. Final to the Bilkan moutains is a rube! And though I was far swifter than Sisu, than Edukan, for some purpose or the opposite—rains, a sinkhole, a stampede in my approach—she would all the time get there first.

However this was not a thousand years in the past, and the town was nothing just like the inexperienced wilds we gods used to run in. Sisu’s management of her powers was nonetheless inchoate, a clumsy-fingered baby-grasp, however fortunate her! The slender structure round us, with its layers and ranges and climbing handholds, was a boon to her nimble, prehensile type. Regardless of my benefit in velocity, the hole between us remained. 

Sisu raced upwards, the place the Axis waited, shiny and ostentatious with demise in its tooth. The late afternoon solar baked markets surfeit with shouting and haggling. Within the tunnel-focus of excessive velocity, I handed by means of consecutive patches of frightened residents, eyes and mouths vast as we leapt over their heads.

One way or the other, regardless of all of it, we weren’t stopped. Sisu, her luck and crafty in full swing, discovered her means via the rings of guards fencing the best way to the Axis. Following in her wake, I too escaped their scrutiny.

Inette had not changed the lifeless guards round her home. Sisu crashed via a window in monkey-form, however by the time I’d leaped by way of the ruins and landed on glass-spangled marble, it was a human silhouette I noticed vanishing down the steps to the dungeon. I snapped again to mortal type and ran after her.

Once I entered the dungeon I discovered Sisu wrenching a niche into the bars of Sunyol’s cage, human muscle tissue straining underneath the calls for of divine power. Sunyol, pale and bloodied, had his arms on her wrist, powerless to cease her besides by means of gentle pleas. “Sisu. You’re making things worse.”

She ignored him and stored pushing. An area barely large sufficient for his shoulders had opened between the bars.

“Sisu,” I stated.

“You can help, or you can stand there and watch. I don’t care either way.”

I got here down the steps, heavy-footed. Sisu spun, baring her tooth in a menace. “Stay the fuck away if you’re gonna interfere.”

I ended with a foot between us. “Sunyol. Look at me.”

He turned his head however stated nothing. His gaze startled me: I had anticipated unhappiness, defeat, ache. However what I met have been the eyes of an previous warrior, exhausting and unforgiving. His physique is perhaps a battered pulp and his holiness a damage, however his spirit remained lit like a furnace.

I requested: “Why are you doing this? For my sake?”

“Yes,” he stated, “and no.”

“Now’s not the time to be cryptic, beloved.”

A shiver took maintain of the boy because the phrase beloved slipped via. A snarl of frustration tore out of Sisu. “Oh for fuckssake, you old men can talk after we get out of here!”

“Sisu.” The woman startled as Sunyol’s hand darted between the bars and brushed her cheek. “Let us talk.”

“But—”

“I will not leave with you,” he stated, gently however firmly. He possessed scary composure for one who had just lately been so near demise. Sisu burst into an anguished “Why?” however he had already turned his consideration to me. “Bariegh. Take her with you. Leave this place as soon as possible.”

“And I will. After you answer my question. Why are you doing this, Sunyol?”

His shoulders sank. “Do you never wonder where the blasphemers got their sunmetal from?”

I blinked, unsettled by this query. “What connection has that got with anything?”

He stated softly: “The sunmetal came from my people. From between the worlds.”

Earthquake. Epiphany. My thoughts refused to consider what my ears have been listening to. “You gave them the technology?” My fists tightened, and Sisu stepped again from the bars, pushed by worry, or shock, or each.

“Gave? No.” He turned to take a look at the shadows. “It was stolen from us. Stolen by one of our own. A trickster. A monkey.”

A monkey god. His phrases— his rationalization of Sisu’s distaste—returned to hang-out me. “Like Edukan?”

The ghost of a smile briefly possessed him. “Not much different, I assume. A lover of chaos. Harmless, usually. Served their purpose.” It pained me to observe him wrestle for breath. “They stole from a vault I guarded. I let them slip past. And they scattered it to many different worlds.”

“Including ours?”

“Including yours. And your blasphemers found it on their planet. It channels divinity, stores divine power for later. We called it an elixir. It could grant immortality to mortals, it could—” He broke right into a match of coughing earlier than he recovered. “Those you call your blasphemers, used it for their own purposes.”

I paced the confines of the cell. Ideas frothed in my thoughts like a boiling sea. “So all this—” I gestured round myself, encompassing the dungeon round us, the hanging metropolis, the complete world— “You blame yourself for what happened.”

“It is my fault.”

The shifting elements of him, the issues I couldn’t work out, have been all beginning to make sense. “When you left last night, you went straight to Inette.”

He nodded. My chest ached. Silly, silly silly boy.

“That’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard,” Sisu snapped. She plunged into the hole she made and seized the boy’s arms. “Come on, you idiot. Get moving.”

Sunyol pulled himself free and staggered out of her attain. “Leave me,” he hissed. “You’ll be caught. Go now.”

I got here as much as the bars, shut sufficient to the touch him, but not daring sufficient. “And what good would your death do? The blasphemers have greed in their bones. Inette will use you up. You’ll die, like the woodnymph. And what then? Another will take your place. Nothing will change.”

“I’ll feel better,” Sunyol stated. He couldn’t meet my eyes.

I snaked an arm between the bars and grasped his chin, discovering it moist with tears. “Sunyol, please.” I tilted his face in the direction of mine. “Come with me. You wanted me to fight, so let’s fight. But together. I can’t do it without you.”

“No,” he stated softly. “What you said—you were right. This fight is not your burden. My captivity will satisfy Inette for a while. Use this time to find a way to leave, both you and Sisu. Find lands the blasphemers have not touched.”

I sighed. Oh, for all his energy and knowledge, how little he understood! “I am bound to this land, Sunyol. I draw sustenance from it. Broken as it is, I may not leave. Beyond its borders I will waste away to nothing, and die. This is our boon as godkind, and it is our tragedy.”

“Wait,” Sisu interrupted. “Are you saying I can’t leave here either? The fuck?”

I dropped my hand. “Not anymore, Sisu. As a mortal you could have left the city and crossed the seas at any time. But now that you have embraced your divinity, you are bound to the rules that govern our powers.”

Sisu spat a small blasphemy, then adopted it up with: “Well, guess I’m not planning any grand voyages soon, huh?”

Sunyol exhaled. He seemed exhausted. “You’re trapped here.”

I stated: “You are the one who is free to leave, Sunyol. And you should. Don’t waste your life on this.”

Breath whistled by way of this throat and lungs. How fragile he nonetheless was! But willpower fortified the delicate vowels in his mouth: “I won’t leave you.”

I noticed that he nonetheless bore my present round his neck, the tooth of my long-dead foe gleaming within the yellow mild. I reached by means of the bars and took his hand. “If you won’t leave, then let us fight, side by side.”

He blinked. One thing like hope briefly filtered into his expression. “Together?”

I tugged him in the direction of the hole within the bars. “Together.”

It was an excellent second, full of hope and promise. A phenomenal second. It couldn’t final. It shattered. A voice, of acquainted and chilling timbre, echoed from the dungeon partitions. “Well, well. So my quarry took the bait. And look what he brought. A friend. We’re in luck!”

Overseer Inette stood on the head of the steps, bearing a smile sharp sufficient to chop via metal. Amassed behind her have been the guards who had been mysteriously absent from the surrounds. In fact. It was greater than luck that obtained us right here. Inette had laid a lure, and we’d obligingly fallen into it.

As she descended the steps metal I stood between her and people I liked, my ft planted. Behind me I heard Sisu hissing come on at Sunyol, and the boy’s pained grunt as he eased between the hole she had wrought. I growled at Inette. My divinity writhed beneath my human pores and skin, craving to interrupt free, fangs and claws crying to rend blasphemer-flesh, lusting for the style of Inette’s blood. However not but. Not whereas the best way out was nonetheless blocked.

Inette smiled at me. “I always knew something was different about you, Brick Wall. But your lanky little girl, too? What a beautiful bonus.”

“Yeah?” Sisu snapped. “Big fucking surprise to me too.”

“Sisu,” I stated quietly. I converted to the previous tongue, the forbidden language, the temple-dialect that each one godkind instinctively understood. “Run when I tell you to—”

Ache snapped although me because the filament of a whip snared my torso. Inette’s wrist was held excessive, the management bracelet singing with energy. She’d charged it up, then. As I feared.

“None of that forsaken drivel in my house,” Inette stated. “We really must teach you some manners.”

The right probability was by no means going to return. We needed to transfer now.

I grabbed the top of the whip and roared. “Run!” Then I pulled on the burning filament. This was Sunyol’s energy, and he was as soon as mine; I had extra management over it than Inette did. She jerked ahead with a cry and fell face-first, jaw assembly flooring with a satisfying crunch. The filament got here unfastened; now it was I who wielded it. With one swing of my arm I flicked it on the assembled guards alongside the steps. Ache. Screams. The heavy thunk of armor because it crashed end-over-end down the steps.

Sisu was on the transfer, dragging Sunyol by the arm, streaking in the direction of the tiny window of freedom. The boy gasped my identify, however we had no time left for anything. I burst into my oldest type, my truest type: Bariegh of the gaze of fireside, horrible and unforgiving. As soon as, I had let Sunyol look upon me like this. That appeared a lifetime in the past. I leapt at Inette as Sisu hauled the limping boy up the steps.

I landed on her again, jaws diving for her backbone. A defend snapped round her. Hearth surged into my mouth because it closed across the defend’s energy. It flung me backwards; I landed, belly-up, and there was Inette, driving a swift blade downwards.

Inette punctured my chest. There got here ache, so vibrant it dissolved the world: the knife was charmed. A knife to intestine the divine with. “I’ll suck the marrow from your bones!” she screeched. I roared in agony as she pulled the knife downwards, slicing me open.

“Bariegh!” Sunyol’s anguish drove him again in the direction of me. Sisu’s scream was a string of obscenities.

“Go,” I snarled by means of the ache. Go. You fools. My blood slicked the ground. I clawed at Inette’s defend: it couldn’t final endlessly, and her mortal type was delicate and edible. Who would die first? I, or she?

The sound of extra iron-shod ft coming down the steps. Sisu yelled, the syllables opaque to me. The world pale, my connection to what sustained me dissolving as Inette minimize me open. I might not see nicely sufficient to learn her feelings. I tore nonetheless at her defend, however I knew the battle was misplaced.

So this was how it will finish. Unusually, there was solely peace beneath the ache. Demise in battle was what I might have most popular. And past the veil: Who knew what was ready? As my arms fell to my aspect I turned my head to take a look at Sunyol one final time. My boy, my lovely, tragic boy. I ought to have accomplished extra for him. He was on his knees, the chains of a guard round his neck. Farewell, beloved. My story ended right here. I solely prayed that his would go on.

In my final gasp of lucidity I glimpsed his tender lips one final time. They moved. They formed two syllables:

Er-lang.

To say her identify is to summon her.

The sky above the town cut up. For a second an empty void bisected the heavens in an extended blade. Then it erupted in spumes of fireside, white sufficient to blind, as if a star had exploded over the sky.

The miasma contracted and took type. A shadow fell over the town, taller than mountains and broad as the ocean. There stood a lady of unbelievable proportions, triple eyes burning like embers, helm as purple as blood, spear glinting shiny as a second solar. Her voice shook the foundations of the town as she let loose a battle-cry.

Her identify was Er-lang the Indomitable, Er-lang the Three-Eyed, Er-lang the Righteous. God of warfare, protector of the weak, traveller between the firmaments, she had been summoned.

Within the years to return a thousand totally different variations of what occurred that afternoon would flow into among the many individuals, passing reverently from mouth to mouth among the many trustworthy. Some stated that a bolt of lightning brighter than the most well liked hearth had sundered the Axis and all inside it. Others stated that a flock of crows large enough to swallow the solar and the moon had descended upon its white spires and carted it away, block by overseas block. After which there have been those that stated that their salvation was a lady who crammed the sky: vanished Mom Fuata herself, reborn to deliver justice to her youngsters with the righteous level of her spear.

All of the tales agreed on one factor: one second the Axis of Tranquillity lorded over the town. Then the air was cut up by the sound of 100 avalanches, and the Axis, and all who have been inside it, was gone.

In our universe there are locations the place time and area maintain no sway. Locations in between, and locations in between the in-betweens. It was on this place that the god of conflict laid down their passengers. That made 4 of us on this gentle place filled with mists and floating rocks: the god (neither man nor lady), their celestial hound, Sisu, and I.

I slipped again into the shape others knew me greatest by. This place, floating and unusual, whispered information to me in a language with out phrases. “You,” I stated to the war-god. “You are…” Truths poured their waters into me. “You are they who used to call this one, who had no name.”

“I am them indeed,” Er-lang stated. “And you are?”

“Bariegh of the Jungle,” he stated. “And this is Sisu, who is blood of my half-sister Edukan.”

Sisu ran up into the gnarled lattice of a factor that resembled a tree and burst again into human type, a tempest of astounded fury. “What the fuck is this? You can’t just kidnap a bunch of people and fuck up a world. Who the fuck are you?”

“I am Er-lang,” the god of warfare replied. “I come from worlds beyond yours. And I came because I was summoned to undo damage that was caused by the actions of my people.”

They stood tall and luxurious, clad in golden armor and purple livery, spear shining within the gloom the place no solar existed. The star-hound, whom I had referred to as Sunyol, curled up at their ft and stated nothing, resting their chin upon their paws.

Er-lang stated: “Your world has been subject to quite some interference, and for that I do apologise on behalf of my people.”

“Bullshit,” Sisu stated sullenly, resting within the cradle of the tree-thing together with her arms folded.

“What have you done?” I requested. They appeared so chilly and distant, untouchable as the good stars within the sky. I had no good emotions in the direction of them.

They merely stated: “Removed the source of that interference.”

I blinked. “The blasphemers—they’re gone?”

“Not as such. I… took care of some of the more problematic individuals.” They tilted their head, as if homicide was not more than an inconvenience to them. “But principally, I have removed from their custody what originally belonged to my people.” They held up a hand, and in it spun a vibrant, twisting ball of metallic, wreathed in flame.

“The sunmetal,” I stated, gazing its scintillating type. The supply of all our torment rested of their hand prefer it was not more than an overripe fruit.

“Sunmetal… yes. If that is what you call it.”

“That’s all of it?”

“It is indeed. The rules of this place are quiet different from what you’re used to. More allusive than physical. But this is it.”

I might barely consider it. “So it’s gone from our world. The blasphemers—those who are left—will no longer have power over godkind.”

“That is the intention, yes.”

My breaths have been hearth in my lungs. Right here on this place the place air was however an phantasm—a metaphor—the beat of my coronary heart was however a cipher for my feelings. “So many have perished on account of that metal,” I stated. “So many lost. Cultures erased. And yet you—you managed to undo it all in a single blink.” My voice rose, anger hardening my vowels and sharpening my consonants. “If it was so easy for you, why did you not come earlier? You could have ended our suffering at any time.”

“It is not our policy to dictate the happenings on mortal worlds,” Er-lang stated. “We prefer to think ourselves guardians and observers.”

The hound at their ft growled, hackles serrating the sides of their type. Er-lang seemed them over with tenderness that bordered on condescension. “Of course, they disagreed with me. So I gave them the freedom to do what they wanted to.”

“And what do you expect from us now?” I requested. “Gratitude?” My fists have been clenched into weapons.

“Nothing of the sort. Forgiveness, perhaps, if you were willing to grant it.”

I hissed. From her perch, Sisu let acid-tinged derision crackle into the mist-thick air.

“If you would like to,” they stated, “you could remain with us. I could grant you the ability to leave your domicile. You could travel between the worlds with us.” They gestured to the hound. “With them.”

Sisu made a noise that would have been laughter. I pressured my voice to stay calm. “You want me to abandon my home?”

“It’s merely an offer,” Er-lang stated. “You are free to ignore it if you wish.”

“We’re ignoring it,” Sisu snapped. “Don’t think we’re obliged to be nice to you because you did a thing.”

They tilted their head, as if in amusement.

“What happens to them now?” I gestured to the hound at their ft. I didn’t like the best way they lay so nonetheless and quiet, barely displaying a response to something we stated.

Er-lang frowned. “They come with me, of course. They called for me. It is time for them to return home.”

I seemed on the hound that lay curled at their ft, the hound that I had as soon as referred to as mine. I remembered the temporary, truncated hope I had seen on Sunyol’s face earlier than Inette had come for us. We have been alleged to battle collectively, thrive collectively. Calling for Er-lang had been an motion borne out of desperation. He wouldn’t have chosen this.

“No,” I stated. I knew, deep in my hearts of hearts, that I used to be in no place to discount. What might I supply to parley with this being, whose energy was set to date over mine? But I needed to attempt. I needed to. “You asked for my forgiveness, and I will not give it. But I will ask for restitution. My world is broken and near destroyed from your negligence and your inaction. You cannot leave us to rebuild alone. You owe us this much.”

“What are you asking for?”

I pointed to the hound at their ft. “Him.”

Lastly, recognizable emotion filtered onto their face. With narrowed eyes they stated, “You ask for something I cannot give.”

“Can you not?” I folded my arms. “How sincere are you in your apologies, anyway?”

They contemplated the hound with a heavy expression. An extended, tense second handed. I felt Sisu’s eyes on the three of us and questioned if I had pushed too far. This stranger, this uber-god, might scale back all of us to nothing in the event that they felt prefer it.

Lastly they stated, “Wait here. I will discuss this with them privately.”

A yellow solar set over a mortal world: watery, tufted with inexperienced, steeped in a skinny oxygen environment. On the sting of an island, a silken-haired boy sat upon white cliffs over a churning ocean, watching the colours of the sky mature, fingering the serrated edges of the necklace resting upon his chest.

Beside him stood Er-lang. He was a person on this world, worshipped by a tradition that didn’t consider ladies must be warriors. “Sunyol, was it? That was what he called you.”

“Do not speak that name,” the boy stated. “It is not yours to use.”

“Ah. I apologise.”

“Why did you bring me here?” the boy requested.

“You heard his bargain. What do you think?”

The boy didn’t lookup. “To take it or not is not mine to decide.”

“But it is.” Er-lang gently laid a hand on his head. “It is your fate it concerns. I will not decide it for you.”

The boy pressed a tip of his necklace into the smooth flesh of his quasi-mortal type. “Do you not want me to return?”

The god of struggle sighed. “It has been long since I had a companion running by my side. And yes, I do miss it. And I do miss you, even if you do not believe it. But.” He ran his fingers by way of strands of the boy’s hair. “You were never well-suited to the task of warhound, even if it was your destiny. I would not force you back into that role, if you did not want it.”

The boy appeared on the sky, gem-blue and stacked with swirls of clouds. “I wandered for so long without a purpose. I was fleeing the consequences of my failure, but something kept drawing me back to world after world where the elixir had warped the fabric of people’s lives. I cannot escape it. But if I cannot escape it, perhaps I should embrace it where I can.”

“Is that the decision you have made?”

“Destinies can change, even for gods like ourselves.” He stood, lastly. “Yes, Er-lang. I would like to rebuild his world with him.”

The rising solar beat upon an oasis of white stone and chaos. We stood upon peaks of masonry on the zenith of the world, a spot the place no shadows have been forged. Beneath us, the world was swept by change. The interlopers, these faithless blasphemers, discovered themselves minimize down and diminished. For the primary, candy time in an extended whereas, they felt the identical worry that that they had been inflicting upon others for years.

On my left stood Sisu, blood of Edukan, trickster and harbinger of luck. On my proper stood Sunyol-of-the-stars, my vibrant boy, my shining beacon.

Sisu seemed down on the mess beneath us, the ashes of the world from which a brand new one would rise. “Well. We’ve got a fucktonne of work to do.”

I grinned, baring my tooth to the earth and sky as if in problem. After which I, Bariegh the Broad-shouldered, Bariegh the Builder of Worlds, leaped ahead into our new daybreak.

JY Yang is the writer of the Tensorate novellas from Tor.Com Publishing (The Purple 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 presently 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.

Learn the primary two elements of Between the Firmaments:

Half One | Half Two

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