Between the Firmaments by JY Yang (Half One)
Final yr, we Guide 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 against the law. It’s lovely, difficult, queer, barely experimental, and 100% superior.
I observed the boy hanging from the sting of the world, however not earlier than he’d observed me. The white devils understand how lengthy he’d had his gaze fastened my means by the time I appeared up into the noonday sear. Crouched within the highest, freshest shoots of scaffold, he was a tantalising lanky blot disrupting the sunbleached sky. He had a queer face, pale as that of the blasphemer-priests, and waterfall-hair darkish because the sky at blessed midnight. A boy, one whose identify I didn’t but know. A boy who watched me like a hound watches a roasting spit. He had such a construct that fools may say, ah, there’s a lady, however not me. Not me! Not Bariegh of the Jungle, who can scent the guts of an individual regardless of what number of lies the blasphemers and their guidelines wrap round them. He was a boy, all proper, and one amongst my sort: proud and superb and beating with life.
I curled my lips to odor him higher, and noticed his wild smile as his eyes met mine. A second of recognition leaped between us. Kinship! He knew what I used to be and I knew what he was. The pink tip of a tongue traced the gibbous curve of his lips. My coronary heart sang a notice: pleasure, pleasure, pleasure. The rarest melody in these occasions of poison and need. From whence got here this boy, striding so daring previous the fences and wards of the blasphemers, to take a seat merry within the inchoate cartilage of their creations with no care? Ah, however my cousins Morough and Opyret had a thousand youngsters, and people youngsters had a thousand every nonetheless: godlings and little-spirits outnumbering stars within the sky, so many I couldn’t probably know all of them. However I needed to know this one. I needed to observe his grinning moon-pale face twist and fill with color. I needed to ululate his identify to the celebs as I put my weight upon him. I needed to tug his type into mine and—
“Whatchu looking at, big guy?”
A full individual’s weight landed on my scaffolding shoot and it yawed in obeisance, up and down and up and down. Sisu! The woman cackled as I shouted and snatched on the bamboo for stability, falling into an undignified crouch, my arse as much as the sky. Her hand smacked sharply into its curve and her snigger tumbled by way of the muggy air.
Mischief lived in Sisu’s bones; it was her birthright. Unknown even to her, Sisulo Mogdiawati was daughter of a daughter of a daughter of my half-sister Edukan the Trickster—a hemidemisemigod you may name it. Edukan the Monkey, Edukan the Fast and the Clever. How I missed her! In Sisu the thread of my sister’s blood nonetheless ran thick and powerful, the magic in her intestine curled up deep and slumbering just like the previous dragons earlier than the blasphemers got here. It was safer there. Sisu had ridiculously luck—the boys referred to as it “Sisu-luck”—and the power to appeal the knickers off anyone she needed; that was all of the godliness she wanted. I might not wake extra, and I might struggle anyone who tried.
I swiped at her in revenge and she or he danced out of attain, her ft cocksure throughout the wobbling bamboo. A fall would imply two thousand metres right down to shattered, foaming earth and a fiery dying. Her snort cut up the air once more. “Don’t be so grouchy, old man!”
Hassle got here up, because it all the time did. This time it introduced itself within the thickly-wrapped type of Overseer Inette, her crimson robes flapping within the slipstream as she hovered over us. A frown minimize by means of her face, a doughy factor the colour of egg-pudding. “What’s happening here?”
Each Sisu and I straightened up. “Nothing, ma’am. Just some banter,” I stated, as Sisu struggled to maintain her scowling in examine.
The blasphemer-priest’s frown grew deeper. “Skiving on the job, are we?”
The punishment for skiving was fifty lashes. In blasphemer phrases, that was a mild rebuke. “No, ma’am,” I stated, wanting appropriately chastened. I nudged Sisu to ensure she was doing the identical.
Inette’s scrutiny slid over me, and I lowered my gaze. To satisfy a blasphemer-priest’s eyes is to disrespect them; to disrespect them is to defy them. I might really feel the load of her frown like scorching iron on my neck. What did she see? Not more than a tow-headed simpleton with a thick chest and sluggish phrases, I hoped. A dusty, unlettered bumpkin from the wild countryside of the land her individuals had torn aside, good for nothing besides the animal power in his muscle tissue. A mule for pulling scaffolding into form for her cultivation. A lowly, unremarkable cow.
Her slender nostrils flared. “Don’t let me catch you again.”
Down she floated on her hover plate of sunmetal, the identical rainbow-hued materials which encircled the wrists and neck of the woodnymph who was chained to her. A skinny creature, white with exhaustion, sucked of her vitality and the issues that made her divine. A horrible sight for all to see. A dire warning! This might be my destiny if I didn’t conceal my nature nicely sufficient from the blasphemers.
Sisu blew out her fear in a gust, then made a impolite gesture at Inette’s again. A lifetime of Sisu-luck made her daring; I feared that it might in the future be her undoing.
I appeared up on the light-smeared sky. Empty! Solely warmth and despair blazed in its whiteness. My lovely, mysterious boy was lengthy gone.
After work Sisu and I went with the boys to the gambler’s quarter that was encysted within the bowels of the hanging metropolis, fetid and tropical underneath strings of electrical lights. In entrance of us the boys had burst into vulgar and off-key singing, a chummy knot of kinship pulled from the slurry of the workforce. They referred to as themselves the boys, despite the fact that a great third of them have been women, and strapping Yadeh wasn’t one or the opposite. Most of them had left childhood far behind, in mud and tears and previous wounds, however what are false names however methods to really feel higher about ourselves on the planet?
We had our eye on a spherical of rubeykans, a recreation of probability and crafty, guessing the worth of randomly drawn tiles. Sisu sat down by the sales space together with her cheeky smile. She was often banned from Gamblers’ Row: two runs towards Sisu-luck and sellers would dispatch her in a hail of pebbles, shouting Witch! Cheat! However the vendor at the moment was some new child, a real youngster, teenaged and gangly, rib-thin beneath his collared shirt. He was new right here, poor lad! Are available with the morning’s ship-dock, harmless recent blood, too sky-lagged to odor hazard. He sat cross-legged beneath the patchy awning, sweat adorning his forehead, hope etched upon his darkish, sharp options. The opposite sellers, bastards all, sat by to observe the unfolding slaughter. The poor baby! To be fleeced so quick and so simply on his first day in a overseas land. However I might not save him. Higher to fall to a gaggle of laughing, foolish boys, than to find the hardness of the world’s fists from extra harmful sources.
The sport took form in entrance of me. Sisu reached into the tin can to attract the tiles. How my thoughts wandered from the vicissitudes of actuality! The apparition of that lanky boy had woken my starvation, and it prowled low and stressed my stomach. My tooth longed to sink into candy flesh, and my loins… ah! It was higher to not linger on some issues, lest they get out of hand.
For the considered this unusual new god lit my veins with nervousness. The blasphemers had declared all deities unlawful, but there he was, wandering the ribs of this metropolis together with his divinity uncloaked. Was it unadulterated bravery, or pure ignorance? Maybe the land he got here from was unaware of those cruelties. Maybe. My information of the world was incomplete, in any case. I used to be merely a god, and what did I do know of issues that have been outdoors my area? 2 hundred years in the past the blasphemers had come to our world of their silver ships and their discs of sunmetal that sucked the facility and vitality from something divine, and we had all folded beneath their may like crumpling paper. None of us knew that such issues could possibly be attainable. They tore by means of the earth and poisoned the waters, pulling each mineral and valuable metallic they might discover from the mountains and the seas. They used my brethren to energy their infernal units, and the variety of the divine dwindled from the hundreds to a handful. Now the few of us left—locked of their cages or hiding within the wild—are a valuable useful resource, irreplaceable as their alien sunmetal.
I made a decision my lovely apparition was a madman. He was inviting Father Demise to his doorstep: a painful, burning, drawn-out embrace. I might be a idiot to comply with him, and an equal idiot if I attempted to save lots of him.
After which merciless Mom Fuata—o vanished Destiny!—determined to taunt considered one of her sons, for what else flashed into sight however the cool curve of moon-pale arms? In his sleeveless tunic an excellent sliver of boy infiltrated the knot of onlookers: eyes brilliant, waterfall-hair unfastened, purple lips parted and empty. The urge to fill them swept by way of me like a tidal wave.
He turned his fairly head and our eyes met as soon as extra. His smile matched mine for need. With that understanding fastened between us, he pale into the gang, his beckoning fingertips the very last thing to fade into the thicket of elbows.
Want was too robust for one thing as methodical as logic! I needed him. I needed to run after him. The hazard solely made it extra tantalizing.
I advised Sisu, within the midst of certainly one of her triumphs: “I’ll be back late.”
She frowned and rolled her eyes, bursting with irritation at being disturbed. “Whatever.”
A path to desert had opened, within the glistering patch of moon-pale pores and skin that surfaced between the jam of sweat-sharp our bodies. I used to be off, chasing that path to happiness.
The sport of pursuit led us away from the gang’s clamour. The boy had the fitting concept, heading in gravity’s path: down, down, down. Clinging to the town’s underbelly was a thick community of pipes and sewers, subsisting on the effluent of fifty thousand denizens. Too poisonous for mortals, too soiled for the white robes of the blasphemers. Good for the 2 of us. One throaty rasp of grating and the boy had vanished into the depths of that metallic swamp. I rolled the metallic shut behind me and leapt after him.
It was an exhaust vent he had chosen, thick with superheated gases, reverberating to our drumming ft. Extensive gaps lay between the service lights, blue rings of bioluminescence that might have left people nearly as good as blind—stumbling infants within the murk. However these have been the eyes of Bariegh the Hunter, Bariegh the All-Seeing: Bariegh who might spy a hare from throughout the ocean, Bariegh who snatched sparrows from the air on probably the most starless of nights! My clumsy mortal type hung compact from my pelt, shucked apart for freedom. As an alternative my true ft—clawed and striped and exultant!—struck the echoing metallic in a symphony I had missed. That is how we did issues within the ages misplaced, hunter and the hunted, the tease, the chase, the sport. Oh, to really feel so alive: how I had forgotten!
In entrance of me the boy’s hindquarters danced, slender and lupine. He was fast, however I used to be faster, and stronger. He was mine. The starvation in my stomach powered my thick legs, my rippling spine. My snout wrinkled eagerly as I closed in. Triumph awaited! Quickly my pleasant morsel would know what it meant to be pursued to the top by a god.
Mild and echo vanished. The boy had led us to the place the place the pipes met, the place the town’s poisonous air funnelled out into the poisoned environment. Into this yawning area darkish because the caves beneath the ocean he had ducked, hoping to evade me. Idiot! He leapt from the left, his physique connecting onerous and scorching with the sinew of my shoulder. We rolled and he sprang to his ft. I roared as he got here at me once more, his fangs making an attempt for the veins in my throat. So this was the sport we have been going to play. I embraced it with delight.
His jaws snagged across the thick fur. How spirited he was, even in his imprudence! I struck him with all of the drive in a single paw, and he flew from me, crashing towards unforgiving metallic. His yelp sang by means of my nerves as I descended upon him, forcing him again down with my weight. I pressed each forefeet towards his lengthy white throat. He struggled, however his tooth couldn’t attain me. I held agency. Beneath me his writhing subsided till his physique went limp, his stomach face-up in full give up.
We slipped again into human form with my palms nonetheless latched strong round his throat. He seemed up at me with half-lidded eyes, licking his tender lips. I needed to start out proper there, take him as he lay pliant and unresisting beneath me. However not but! For I had glimpsed, within the midst of our wrestle, one thing gleaming underneath the layer of wolf-form he wore. A honey-glazed knob of fact I wanted between my jaws and underneath my tongue. I leaned shut, ghosting breath over his purple mouth. “Your true self. Where is it? Show it to me.”
He pulled his lips again, revealing tooth like limestone. “My genuine form I conceal for a reason.”
The primary contact of his voice trilled by means of my pores and skin and bone. Slight and lengthy as he was, I had not anticipated that depth, that vibrating seismic weight. The flesh all down my backbone shivered. That voice, rolling in my ears—! I needed it to whimper issues. I pressed my fingers deeper into his neck. “Show me.”
“Are you prepared to bear the consequences?” he whispered.
What hazard might he pose to me? The lean of his chin was a problem. I tightened my grip; he hissed softly because the air was choked out of him. “Show me,” I crooned once more.
A slanted smile took maintain of his purpling lips. “As you command,” he mouthed.
Magic fell away from him. The bones of his face thawed; his flesh deliquesced and reconstituted in pure elementals. Earlier than my eyes he left the world of mortal physics. In his place bloomed the black hearth within the hearts of planets and the crowns of stars. Wards peeled off in spirals; as the ultimate conjuration dissolved, the factor on the bottom was not hidden from the sight of gods.
In entrance of me, bare eventually, was a celestial hound: burning and horrible, purified of all gender, pink of eye and tooth and tongue. Galaxies blazed within the void of their pelt.
Exhaling, I allow them to go. They slipped away, circled, got here again, ears pricked in puzzlement. I sat again: nonetheless human, nonetheless Bariegh the guide labourer. Bariegh the crestfallen. I folded my arms.
The hound slipped again into boy-form, his head tilted in curiosity, his darkish eyes large and questioning.
“Whose are you?” I requested. “Kumaya’s? Yuusen’s? No, Yuusen has eagles, not hounds. Satriakat’s? The Carrion Twins’?”
I might have sat for hours itemizing my fellow gods of the hunt from the world over, lifeless or alive or fates unknown. However the boy leaped ahead and put his palms over my wrists. “Not any of them,” he stated, heat of breath. Barely trembling. “No name you would know.”
“Are you from the blasphemers’ planet, then? You are pale as they are.”
A shake of the top. Being intentionally coy.
Nonetheless, I pulled my arms away. Disappointment clotted chilly and heavy in my bowels, however we gods have our honored codes. To lie with a slip of a spirit boy was one factor, however with a companion-beast claimed by one other? No. Grudge-wars between nations have been fought for lesser. No quantity of lust was value that.
“Go,” I stated. The boy had been proper; I didn’t need to know his fact. However higher that I did, than to unintentionally offend god-kin. Particularly today, the place our numbers have been so terribly few. How might I bear it in the event that they have been to dwindle additional?
The boy swirled between types, a twister of alluring smoke. He got here to relaxation one lengthy, hungry lunge away from me, flickering like candle flame, from boy to canine to boy once more. “I am alone in this world,” he stated slowly. “She who called for me, calls me no longer.”
Oh. I seemed over his quiescent type with new eyes, a recent set of feelings spiking by means of my chest. Because the blasphemers had devoured the world, their hungry, indiscriminate jaws had sundered untold numbers of the holy. The wake of their horrible passage was suffering from lesser gods torn abruptly from objective, made bereft: servants and companions and beasts of burden. My boy right here was one amongst that pitiful quantity. How had he escaped them when the goddess who commanded him had not? Had she despatched him away whereas she confronted the blasphemers alone, her remaining act a sacrifice?
The boy’s deep-hooded eyes held extra secrets and techniques than a hive has bees. Such unhappiness seized him at that second, the pathos that solely we knew! He fluttered again into hound form and got here to my knee. The creature pressed their spectral head towards my pores and skin and I ruffled the starstuff behind their ear. “You seek another to belong to,” I stated.
They might be dissatisfied, then. I used to be Bariegh of the Jungle, and I had all the time hunted alone. I neither wanted nor needed a companion animal.
I stated: “What now, o strange kin of mine?”
The hound leaped away, and padded in the direction of the exit funnel. They turned to take a look at me: are you coming?
Now that our truths have been within the open there we might face one another like equals. I shed my mortal trappings like seasonfall, chunks of humanity dropping from me as I swelled to correct measurement. There I stood within the lowest bowels of the town in my full glory: Bariegh the Hunter, Bariegh the All-Eater, Bariegh with the gaze of fireside and flesh bursting with the all of the lifetime of the forests within the night time. The world modified round me and I seemed upon it with the eyes of a god. My roar shook the partitions of the room, chorusing together with his wild howl: we didn’t care who might hear us, we might wake the entire firmament, we might shake each bone out of each blasphemer.
Collectively!—we leapt by means of the funnel, racing on air, carving our names within the sky over the burning land. Ahead and down! Their ft created stone out of air, constructing a transient bridge that materialised and dissolved as we ran. Far beneath us the ruined earth seethed pink, churned like a storm-tossed sea, thick coils of lava writhing over one another. The blasphemers had woken the traditional dragons that slept inside the soil, and their poison smoke billowed in thick canopies the place individuals used to stay. However even the sight of the house that was destroyed wouldn’t dampen my spirits now. My hound was main me to someplace solely they knew, and it delighted me. I drank within the anticipation like mead.
Half a mile out we came across an abundance of stone floating within the turbulent air—a marvel by any commonplace—large scales of rock piled up in jagged shapes, as if someone had reached down and scooped up a piece of previous mountain earlier than all of it melted away. My hound leaped onto its igneous surfaces with all of the grace afforded liquid hearth. The stone modified as they touched it, and a thin path shimmied a large cavemouth, which swallowed their type entire. Purring, I adopted.
Inside, flickering mild painted gleaming stone in orange. Brilliant silks, crimson and yellow, slid into being and gathered themselves right into a mattress. My boy reconstituted his human type in exultant nudity, black hair spilling over the white curves of his again. So he too agreed that this was the shape greatest suited to lovemaking: the dextrous arms, the swift tongues, the gaze over the eyes and mouth in the mean time of climax. Nothing else in contrast! I straightened up in a reciprocal form and he tucked a lip between his tooth.
As we circled one another I studied his geometry—the planes of his stomach and the angle of his hips, the width of his shoulders, the circumference of his buttocks. My human type was taller than his, and I used to be broad because the fields, with the identical inexhaustible power. He made a choked noise as I threw him upon the silks and pinned his wrists above his head. Lips curved; I pushed them aside, my hungry tongue diving in. The boy yielded to me, opening himself with the rumble of avalanche, earthquake, fissure, chasm.
I fell upon him. I crammed him just like the ocean, salt-thickened and indomitable and heaving. And my boy, my candy wisp of divinity, rose as much as meet me, an underwater volcano issuing warmth, hearth and water within the place our hips met, geothermal power. Oh, the gorgeous strains his neck made as he arched and cried out! I pressed tooth into his shaking flesh repeatedly, feeling the passage of air as he gasped and he gasped and he gasped.
Ah, my lovely morsel, my delight, my pleasure! Now you’re mine; you’re mine, you’re mine, you’re—
The aftermath discovered us boneless and yielding, skins coated in musky nectar, chests rising and falling just like the tides. My riotous markings adorned his physique, purple and fecund. I delighted within the distinction of our shining limbs. How pink my boy might go in ecstasy! His doeish eyes have been shut and pressed towards the financial institution of my arm, the silk of his hair spilling all over the place. I stroked his quiescent head. “I want to know your name.”
His lashes lifted and his lips parted. After a break of too many seconds he stated, “Sunyol.”
I huffed air. Did he assume I used to be an fool? “That’s not your real name.”
He blinked, woe pulling heavy on the nook of his lips, and remorse crammed me. His phrases have been clipped and stiff: “She gave me no name, and called me only Dog.” Then he turned from me, exposing the curve of his jaw, the magnolia shell of his ear.
“No name?” I tugged at him, craving to look upon the softness of his options once more. A boy with no identify. Sunyol. I understood now. The phrase was a present, one with worth past measure. A factor to name him by. An providing. A leash.
“Sunyol,” I stated, relishing the best way my tongue wrapped across the phrase. I kissed his neck; he settled deep and strong into my arms. “Sunyol.”
How swiftly the guts forgets the buoyancy of affection! Simply as swiftly because it forgets how straightforward drowning is. For weeks I soaked up the heat of my newfound pleasure, consuming in Sunyol’s companionship like a parched subject after the primary autumn rains. My snigger was deeper, my singing louder, my hugs bonecrushing. Sisu regarded me with uncooked disgust. “Look at you,” she stated, “skipping around like a puppy! I would have stopped you that day if I knew you’d become so insufferable…” I grinned and tried to kiss her cheek; she kicked me within the thighs and scampered away.
Sunyol took a job as a serving-boy within the retailers’ quarter. In fact he wanted one: idleness meant dying on this metropolis! The blasphemers changed maimed development staff with recent blood from the streets, and he was no builder-boy, sturdy and blunt-fingered; he would final lower than every week underneath the whips of the overseers.
Worse nonetheless have been the mines within the blood-red under. I’d proven Sunyol the way to defend his holiness from human eyes, however the floor—clouded by sulphur and swimming in molten metallic—would strip him of all pretense of mortality. In these locations the place people withered and curled into shrunken husks in a matter of weeks, his divinity would shine by way of, defending him from the ravages of the flesh. And the way the blasphemers would devour him then! They might not swallow him entire, like a fish, no—they might intestine him mouthful by mouthful, sucking miracles from his bones to gasoline their engines of progress.
Thank the earth and the sky then, that I had an previous good friend who owned an eatery, a daughter of the previous Excessive Priestess of the Temple of Bariegh of the Jungle. Her I might entrust with Sunyol’s security. And he was widespread with clients, too, together with his grace, his guileless smile and his allure. They left him hefty ideas and the occasional marriage proposal. Such a succulent prospect, my boy! He would inform me this stuff whereas I tied him down at night time and I might roar with laughter as I nibbled on his collarbones. Then I might twist my fingers within the skeins of his hair and pull ecstasy from him till he had no phrases left to talk.
The proprietor let Sunyol reside within the attic of the eatery. The room I shared with Sisu within the pauper’s quarters was the dimensions of a coin-box, full of tenants above and under and to the aspect, all of us stacked like dried fish. The one area I had for him was beneath my mattress, with the spiders and the bins of sacred previous issues, locked and hidden from view. Sisu hadn’t been eager on having one other tenant within the room both. “You’re not going to fuck him in here, are you? I don’t need to see that shit!” It’s not like they hated one another, however there was a friction between them that was, in my thoughts, unwarranted.
“She is a monkey,” Sunyol defined, “and monkeys and I have had a long, unhappy history.”
It was true that canine and monkeys have been not often one of the best of pals. Nonetheless I stated, “That is blood of my half-sister Edukan in her. That makes her family. Do you understand?”
Sunyol knew that, in fact. “If you wish to protect her, why do you keep her heritage from her? Does she not deserve to know? How else can she control her destiny?”
To this I responded in anger: “You will not tell her! You will not interfere! Her divinity must never awaken.” Did he not see what the blasphemers did to godkind on this metropolis, even the weakest ones? Sisu was all I had left of my half-sister: all I might discover after the blasphemers took Edukan to put the foundations of the hanging metropolis. My defensiveness about her couldn’t be measured by rational means.
We by no means spoke of it after. Sunyol let me hold my secrets and techniques, a lot as he stored his. I knew nothing of his previous and his provenance, and he was keen to maintain it that method. Each try and prise extra info was met with tooth, after which silence.
However I’m Bariegh the Hunter, and I couldn’t exist like Sunyol did, wallowing in his ennui. I used to be a deity of motion, the one they used to wish to in eradicating obstacles. I wanted the chase. I wanted to be relentless. Frustration ate at me, however this consumption I stored rigorously hid. Sunyol’s companionship was one of many few brightnesses left to me; I refused to spoil what we had! It turned clear that sating my starvation for fact would require subterfuge.
Sunyol’s accent and options have been unfamiliar to me: I guessed he got here from the lands additional west than Atenlen. Of them I knew little or no, save for a smattering of names and fables, none of which spoke of a hunt-goddess who rode with a hound. The firmament was extensive and godkind numbered as many as the celebs. If I had any hope of discovering Sunyol’s origins, there was just one factor I might flip to: the truth-stone.
Ah, the truth-stone! Our biggest, most fiercely guarded secret. A relic of days previous, we—what remained of godkind within the hanging metropolis—had enshrined it in a slender sliver between the abattoirs and the charnel homes: a liminal area, wrapped within the veil between this realm and the subsequent. Oh, the issues the blasphemers would do in the event that they came upon about it! Woven into the very material that made up the world, the truth-stone would reply any query you requested it—for a worth.
That worth was blood. Within the olden days younger males would have provided up their throats to their priestess lords, however these days have been lengthy gone. Fortunate me, I had a workaround. Demise typically visited the development websites to retrieve its bounty: the previous, the weak, the sick, the unfortunate. How superstitious the employees have been! Squeamish across the lifeless, whispering that touching a recent corpse would mark them as the subsequent to be claimed. The development boys would make warding indicators and courageous the resultant lashings from the overseers, who didn’t wish to be reminded that killing gods alone didn’t kill perception. Higher to be crushed than to be lifeless! the boys would say, their backs weeping purple.
It was totally different for me. As a god of the hunt the work of a psychopomp had been mine additionally, and Father Dying I knew higher than most. So any person would die, and one of many overseers—Inette principally—would shout “You! Brick Wall! Take this one to the deadhouse,” and it will be a sure and damaged bundle I hoisted over my again whereas the remaining gave me a large berth (besides Sisu, whose luck everybody assumed would hold her from being cursed; typically she would attempt to journey me). The mortuary would get their lifeless, I might get my vial of blood, and I might slip into that brisket of sacred area and empty it nonetheless heat over the truth-stone.
However I couldn’t simply say “Truth-stone, tell me who Sunyol is.” The reality-stone didn’t work that approach. As an alternative, the primary time I stated, “Truth-stone, show me a map of all the lands west of Atenlen.”
And it did. I appeared on the map and burned the form of its borders and its names into my head.
The subsequent time, I stated, “Truth-stone, tell me about the divinity of the hunt on the Isle of Jiefu.” And so it did.
It was not what I used to be in search of. The subsequent time, I stated, “Truth-stone, tell me about the divinity of the hunt in the city of Kodan.” And so it did. So on, and so forth. I had mere gasps of minutes every time; disappearances too brief for the overseers to catch wind of my doings.
Weeks handed. The reality-stone and I floundered in a wilderness that held no solutions. We tore away on the map of the western world. But the unexplored territory shrank with out turning up the treasure that I sought. With every elimination my doubts swelled like cancers inside me: was Sunyol mendacity to me? Was I proper to belief him? How was it attainable I had discovered nothing? Shortly my thoughts would flip to conspiracy: what if he did come from the blasphemers’ planet? What if he had been despatched to seek out others like me?
I might entertain these heavy ideas within the day, then tuck my apprehension behind a smile once we met at night time. Sunyol would lie in my arms the identical straightforward method he all the time did, and I might idiot myself into considering I’d betrayed no unease in our congress. However suspicion was like a poisoned blade slipped between us. The slightest strain would end in dying.
A month stumbled by. I had pared the map right down to the final two places: each islands so tiny and distant I questioned in the event that they have been even inhabited. What gods might there be the place there have been no individuals to provide them names? And the way might Sunyol have lived on one among these minuscule filets of land?
I knelt in entrance of the truth-stone, heat vial of blood cradled in hesitant fingers. “Yanthal or Xamor?” I stated aloud. I couldn’t determine. I couldn’t admit that I—Bariegh whom they referred to as the Indomitable—was afraid. Afraid of what I might uncover, or wouldn’t, once I requested my questions.
“The answers you seek will not be found here.”
I jumped. The smooth voice had come from behind. My reflexes weren’t what they as soon as have been, and the way fortunate! For I might have struck at Sunyol on intuition and killed him earlier than I knew what I used to be doing.
My hound stood inside the rim of the sacred circle. My boy. My lover. The middle of my universe, unasked for. The directional mild layered deep shadows throughout his face. I stood, warning prickling throughout my arms and the again of my neck. “Have you been following me?”
“I smelled this on you,” he stated, pale fingers separating the blood-vial from my arms. “You brought traces of it home.”
We stared at each other throughout the huge gulfs between us. My questions have been a flame that crawled throughout my pores and skin, however there was such a stillness and weight to Sunyol’s method that I dared not ask them.
Sunyol rolled the blood-vial between the bones of his fingers. His hooded eyelids appeared so heavy they might have been carved from stone. “You will not find my place of origin on your map. I come from a place between the firmaments.”
“Between the firmaments?” My disbelieving gaze searched Sunyol’s face and located nothing however seriousness, undiluted and unmovable. He might barely meet my eyes, however that was not from dishonesty—all I smelled in him was a musk-sharp desperation to be believed.
Between the firmaments. I had heard of such issues, however whispered solely in legend: of the good cosmic beasts that devoured each other with pitch-black mouths, of the daring one who pushed previous the obstacles of the world in pursuit of her love, by no means to return. I knew the place the borders of the world lay, however its partitions have been opaque to me, impenetrable. I might no extra break via them than a mortal human might sprout wings and fly.
I appeared over Sunyol once more. I contemplated his alluring human form, recalled the wild god-form I ran with. Now I doubted any of it was actual. “What are you?”
“A traveller,” he stated. “Someone not so different from you.”
I should have frowned—should have seemed sceptical—as a result of he added, “My true form, when I showed it to you—that was real. You must believe me.”
I smelled the sincerity on him, and but. How might I put religion in its veracity? If he might cross the uncrossable, he might do no matter he needed. He might break the principles governing godkind, governing the universe even. How might I belief something about him now? “What use does the space between the worlds have for a goddess of the hunt? Or a hunting hound?”
Sunyol rubbed one foot towards his heel. “It is not just hunt-gods who have need of a hound. My mistress was a warrior goddess.”
“You were a war hound.” I couldn’t overcome the incongruity: on one hand my pliant, gracile boy, who gently nestled his head towards the heart beat of my internal thighs at night time; on the opposite the ferocious beasts that terrorized the bloodflood battlefields with tooth and claw. These photographs refused to reconcile. It was inconceivable. “Who was your mistress?”
“I cannot speak of her. To invoke her name is to summon her.”
“Summon her? You said that she was gone!”
“I said nothing of the sort. I said that she calls me no longer. That much is true. We—” Right here he hesitated, sucking breath between tender lips. I’d by no means seen him this hesitant. “We made a compact. She would call me no longer. And if I ever had need of her, I only had to summon her, and she would come.”
“She gave you your freedom. Why?”
He hesitated. “Many… things happened. At the end of it all, this arrangement was what we agreed on.”
I seemed afresh at his face, and noticed how ache lived in it. No, no, lived wasn’t the phrase I needed. Whereas ache may migrate transiently by means of our countenances, an occasional customer, it was endemic to Sunyol’s: a part of the terrain of his visage, the bone-peaks and valley-lines of his face formed by a primal sorrow.
“I was tired,” he stated. “I wandered for years. I was ready to dissolve from existence. And then I met you.”
“I am not one you should tie your future to,” I stated. Not I with my sorry situation, doomed to cover from my oppressors till the top inevitably got here for me.
A smile crossed his superb face, each delicate and unhappy. “But I want to.”
I knew it was a craven concept. I knew his ideas and actions have been warped by the good hole that dwelt in his spirit, which I too had felt on nights when the ache of what had befallen my world turned too nice. However motion and consequence fall in a different way for us immortals. When the stretch of time is huge and ineffable in each instructions, previous and future, the one factor that issues is the current. And within the current, my silly, silly coronary heart needed to provide in to his calls for.
“You will be bound to me,” I repeated. Did he perceive what that meant? “The power in you will be leashed to mine for as long as we both live.”
“Yes,” he stated, his voice husky.
“You will be tied to this world. Whatever freedom you have now will be lost.” I lifted his chin so I might see his eyes. “Are you sure this is what you want?”
Sunyol blinked slowly. “It is exactly what I want.”
I surged forth and pulled Sunyol into my arms with such pressure he dropped the vial he held. The glass smashed towards the truth-stone, spilling blood throughout its hungry floor. However I had no questions left to ask. My lips, overcome, might handle not more than a kiss. So I gave Sunyol one, deeply and with out reserve, sealing the 2 of us collectively.
I introduced Sunyol again to the tinderbox that served as residence. Sisu yowled—“We fucking talked about this, asshole”—however she headed out for the night time anyway, kicking cans and grouching all the best way down the hall. One thing had shifted in her face when she noticed how Sunyol clutched at my hand. She was sensible; she understood.
In that tiny room, barely tall sufficient to straighten up in, and so slender even Sisu might contact each partitions when she stretched on the ground like a cat, I sure him to my service. I purified its confines as if it have been a corridor of gold and marble, dabbing the soiled previous timbers with candy water and the oils of sacred timber, putting candles and coils of incense in corners crusted with lifeless bugs. Sunyol’s chin tilted to the heavens as I labored tribute out of him in pearlescent white, thick and bitter, probably the most valuable sort of sap. I lapped it up, swallowed it in order that in time it will grow to be a part of me, absorbed and knitted into flesh, threaded by way of the bone. Then I leaned over Sunyol’s trembling type as I gathered what energy was left to me, and labored my solution to ecstasy.
The magic surrounding us wove via our our bodies: electrical, geometric, epileptic. I willed my cum to bind the boy earlier than me, dedicated him to a practice that had been extant because the daybreak of time. Stronger than an oath, deeper than the ocean, older than the mountains. Patterned with my seed throughout his cheeks and mouth Sunyol lay together with his eyes shut, slowly respiration. Whoever he was earlier than he got here right here, whoever it was that he had been sure to: he was mine now, completely and wholly.
Afterwards, as Sunyol sat combing the tangles out of his hair, I dove into the dust-choked undercarriage of the mattress and pulled out an previous trunk, floor tessellated with runes of the temple dialect. The gold imprinted into the carvings was virtually totally worn away. The boy watched with curious eyes as I pushed a needle into the pad of a finger and drew out a bead of crimson.
The trunk’s lid responded to the decision of my blood. The air inside the trunk was dozens of years previous, sealed away when the blasphemers arrived. I rigorously dug via its contents: vellum scrolls and jade collectible figurines and jars of bone. Lastly my fingers prised out what I sought—a field carved from historic heartwood, redder than the blood I had pricked from myself.
Inside it was a necklace product of tooth—no, fangs: the smallest barely thumb-length, and the most important stretching between the tip of my center finger and the underside of my palm. Yellowed with age however simply as depraved because the day I pulled them out of my flesh.
“What is that?” Sunyol requested.
I held it as much as the dim mild. “These are the teeth of Char-al-gor the Dreadful. He was the first thing I ever killed.”
“Your first kill?” Sunyol’s query was extra marvel than confusion.
I moved to lock it round his neck. “I’ll tell you of that hunt later. There’s a thousand-stanza epic they till sing in some quarters of the city.”
Sunyol stroked the lengthy, skinny blades of the necklace. The stays of my historic foe rested towards his slender chest in a strikingly pleasing style. I rumbled in satisfaction.
He appeared responsible. “Bariegh, I cannot accept this gift. I do not deserve it.”
“Nonsense,” I stated. I stilled his stressed palms and kissed his forehead. “Am I not the best judge of who is worthy to wear it?”
He smiled, however his fingers trembled as they tightened across the yellow tooth. He fell asleep that night time together with his arms curled round my present, as if afraid it’d slip away when he wasn’t wanting.
There was such peace between us for that second. However alas, it was to be all too temporary.
Half Two of Between the Firmaments continues tomorrow, October ninth.