Chapter 29: When the children learn that depersonalized rule is really not all it’s cracked up to be.
Rain decided he liked his old name best. Well, he supposed his old name was technically newer than his new name, “Hasya,” which was actually quite old. Regardless, Rain liked “Rain” best. He felt like Rain, for starters. He didn’t know who Hasya was and didn’t know how to be him. He supposed he might learn again, some day. Not today, though.
Rain also decided that he hadn’t been nearly patient enough with the medium-sized girl. Asina, that is. Asina. She liked her new name. He liked her new name. Asina, Asina. Anyway. He hadn’t thought of himself as having been impatient with her, with Asina, but he’d also never been as patient as he now knew he should have been. A truth which had never been truer than in his current moment, on the mountain, with the Mother and Asina on either side of him, holding him up and telling him to breathe. To breathe, in and out, and focus. He wanted to tell them to eat it, of course, which was proving to be less than helpful, as every time such thoughts came to his head the ground opened up, hungry and biting, and tried to snack on their toes.
The thing was, Rain was in an altered state. A permanently altered state, he was beginning to suspect. And all because of that pecan. That silly pecan. That silly pecan that had taken root in his silly chest, that had spiraled out and sprouted in every spec of inhabitable space his body had to offer. Or at least, that’s what it had felt like.
Now the roots pulsed through him. Through him, then out of him. Through everything else, then back again. They pulsed steadily, heavily. So heavily. Rain couldn’t turn his head without turning the whole world with him. The mountain clung to his steps and the wind breathed with him, in and out, out and in. For obvious reasons, talking had become rather difficult.
And everything hurt. At least, he was pretty sure everything hurt. Everything certainly felt like something. Like a really intense, incredibly unpleasant something. Sharp, in places. Dully thudding, in others. He supposed there were some nice bits, too. A little stream, somewhere, that flowed easily. A bird, comfortably dry, drifting down towards its nest in the crags.
“I don’t suppose you could do anything about this red?” Asina asked. Her voice cut through the everything and brought him back to his body. Her voice also surprised him—it had been doing that, lately—and he wasn’t quite able to quiet his surprise quickly enough. And so there was a small-scale rockslide down the cliffs they’d just finished climbing.
“Well. At least it wasn’t an earthquake,” said the Mother, staring out behind them.
“The red, Rain,” Asina said, pointing skyward, “it’s very harsh.” And then she just stared at him. Waiting. Waiting for him to change the color of the sky.
“You make an excellent point,” he said, doubling over, his stomach erupting with pain as, somewhere to the south of them, a cat ripped into a small bird.
“It’s very red, Rain,” Asina said, pulling him back upright.
“Leave him alone, Asina,” the Mother said, taking both of their hands and pulling them back into motion. “The pain will pass, soon enough.”
“How soon?” Rain asked, teeth gritted, eyes shut tight. A whole host of fungi had taken advantage of the months of flooding to pop up in some rainforest hundreds of miles to their east, but this new sun was too hot and dry. They were withering up, parched and spent.
“…well, I can’t say I specifically know, dear. The only other entity to have held that power was me. But I was created for it, and don’t recall struggling.”
“Why don’t you have it now?” Asina asked, stepping into the Grey, taking them with her. She’d done it a few times already this morning. Rain had been very disappointed to discover that everything was just as heavy in the Grey as it was everywhere else. Just, more still.
“Child, you must pay more attention to where you’re walking,” the Mother said, leading them back into the red world. “The Song is useful, yes, but not wantonly so. You will make a Tear, if you’re not careful.”
Neither Rain nor Asina said anything, and both tried to actively avoid thinking about the mermaid festival they had left mere days ago. And then Rain was sighing, wishing for the millionth time that Hadal was there. And then of course clouds were darkening the sky, suddenly, crackling with static and the promise of rain. Asina poked him, startling him from his thoughts. Lightening struck a nearby tree. But then he was focusing, again, and the sky was red. Again.
“Why don’t you have the pecan now?” Rain repeated Asina’s question, thinking that now would be an excellent time to see about a swap. The Mother looked down at him. Her eyes were black, like his. No iris, no whites. Just black. Her eyes got bigger, the longer he stared. Bigger, then bigger still, until her eyes were all he could see. If he stared long enough, her black eyes grew bigger than the world itself, grew bigger than creation. Sometimes, if he stared long enough, her eyes stopped being eyes altogether. Her eyes became the blackness, bigger than creation, that cradled the whole wide world. The blackness held everything together. Rain couldn’t look away, sometimes. Sometimes he didn’t want to. When her eyes were holding the world, he didn’t have to. He could rest in their gaze, for just a moment, and the deep, aching emptiness would go away, for just a moment. And he could feel whole again, for just a moment. He couldn’t look away from her black eyes, not yet, not now. They brought him back to the garden, back to before the garden. Back to a time and place where nothing had been taken and no one had been separated.
The Mother’s black eyes filled with tears. She pulled Rain into a hug, kissed the top of his head.
“We are still whole, precious child,” she whispered into his hair, “we are all still here. Everyone, you, and me. You just have to look a little harder. Reach a little farther.”
“Yes, this is good,” Asina’s voice cut through the Mother’s embrace. “Yes, good, very good, Rain. Keep it up.”
The Mother sighed, straightening up. She clucked her tongue at Asina, who tried to look ashamed. She failed. Shame was a very specific look, after all, and Asina hadn’t yet managed to figure it out.
The world had darkened to a violet night. The stars, distant, sang a small, sad song. Silvery clouds skittered across the sky, wisps of what they had been. Of what they could be. Rain frowned, hoping that he hadn’t just robbed the world of an entire afternoon and evening. He frowned at Asina, too, hoping that she hadn’t just suggested that he remain in a depressed state for the sake of her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Asina said, looking at the Mother. “I’m sorry that we are stuck in this horrible, terribly loud place?” The Mother shook her head.
“Um. Okay,” Asina said, turning to Rain, taking his hand. “I’m sorry… about the other thing, then?” Her eyes twitched back to the Mother, checking to see if she was getting any closer. The Mother, for her part, just clucked some more. Sighed a little. Rain smiled, stopping just short of actual laughter, thinking that a poorly-timed chuckle would derail all the progress Asina had just made.
“You didn’t do anything wrong.” There it went. But, he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t look at the Mother—didn’t want to see the eye roll—and instead launched himself back into their walk. The Mother caught up in two long strides and took his other hand, steering him a little to the left.
“So does that mean you’re not answering the—“
“Oh, heavens, Asina,” the Mother muttered, pinching the bridge of her nose with her free hand. Well, semi-free. The basket full of flowers was still looped around her arm and lodged in the crook of her elbow.
“No, no. Asina, I am sorry,” the Mother interrupted, sighing again. “It is a fair question, and one you, of all people, are entitled to ask. And I will answer it. I will. But not yet.”
“We’re here, Asina,” Rain interrupted, his eyes partially clouded by double rainbows. The rainbows weren’t there—they were somewhere hundreds of miles to the south, he was pretty sure—but there, past the rainbows, was certainly some sort of “here.” The mountain grass morphed into cultivated grounds, the dirt trail into paved walkways. The manicured lawn was interrupted every now and then by carved stone markers. One of the stones was very large. It towered, a little, and seemed to be the thing around which everything else had been built.
“Welcome, children, to the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo,”
“…thank you,” Asina said. Rain felt a little dizzy. Something, somewhere, was losing a lot of blood.
“Wait, but—“ Asina interrupted her own self, looking like she even might be paying attention to something, for once. “What is that, Mother?” She asked, looking up. Rain felt it too, a sort of tugging sensation, almost as if he’d stepped into a current.
“I told you,” the Mother said, pulling them into the stream nobody could see. “The middle of the world. Well, the city containing the middle of the world. Well. Almost, anyway.”
“What is that?” Rain asked, stumbling a little. The Mother caught him, straightened him up. They walked down and around, skirting the well-kept place and walking a ways. And then they arrived at a small hillock. The grass grew wild over its stony face, which was a little too smooth. A little too circular, too, and polished. And Rain was pretty sure it was actually faintly glowing, as well.
“It’s where I was made, for starters,” the Mother said, “the second time round, anyway. It’s where I became this,” she gestured down at her body. “A bad spirit had stolen into creation, children, and we thought we were supposed to protect everyone from it. We were rulers, of a sort, and felt responsible. The bad spirit had come for us, not anyone else, and we thought we could evict it from this world. But not before we had ensured that creation could function, in our absence. We were rulers, as I said. And so we turned our rule into rules. Objects, I mean, so that we could hide them away. So that the world could keep its rules, and experience them, without interruption, regardless of what happened to us. It worked, after a fashion. But not how we thought it would. We were split. Into so many pieces, we were split. Pieces, everywhere. Into the river, into the tears. Into this body, into another. We became many. We became two, particularly. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. We weren’t supposed to be pulled into bodies. But the song lost a body, there, at the end, and so needed another. We were pulled out of everything and into… these.” Again, she gestured down at herself, “and we were taken. But I was not. No, I was cursed with roaming. The song needed another body, yes, but only one other.” The Mother shrugged, tired of her monologue.
“It was a mistake,” she whispered, “in so many ways, the Ideation was a mistake. There were other ways. I see that now. I’ve had thousands of years to see. There were other ways to deal with Chaos, children. Ways that would not have made you share in our curse.”
Rain sat down, too heavy for standing. Asina joined him on the ground. The Mother knelt down before them, staring first into Asina’s, then Rain’s eyes. Her stare seemed eternal enough.
“I am sorry, children,” she said, tears giving her eyes a sort of glittery sheen, “I am so, so sorry.”
“Yes, well,” Asina said, fidgeting where she sat, uncomfortable and not quite able to remember why she had committed to sitting. “I don’t really think mothers are supposed to apologize for things. It doesn’t feel quite right.”
Rain didn’t think anything felt quite right, anymore, but that was neither here nor there. He screamed a little, his womb preparing to birth a little baby boy. Asina patted him on the back.
The Mother opened her mouth, then closed it. Opened it again. Asina shook her head. Then the Mother smiled. She pulled the medium-sized girl into a hug.
“You haven’t changed at all,” she murmured.
“I have too,” Asina objected, her voice muffled by the hug, “I’ve been stretched a good deal, and now my arms are completely wrong.”
The Mother held Asina out to arm’s length, staring her over.
“Yes,” she said, “well, time can do that to a person. And you’ve got quite a lot of it. When did this happen?”
“After OTC disappeared my mother.”
“Well actually I guess it was after mother sang the necklace away and my chest got all these marks on it. It was very painful, you know.” Asina looked at Rain, who looked like he might very well know.
“What’s this about your mother?” The Mother prompted, trying a little too hard to look casual and calm. But Asina was distracted by another thought, and was too busy frowning at Rain to answer the Mother.
“Why are you the same size?” She asked, the question only just occurring to her. “Nothing happened to him, Mother. Why?” Rain, shallowly breathing, his entire body cramping up, stars exploding before his eyes, wasn’t entirely sure that “nothing” had happened.
“Because space is different than time, Asina,” the Mother said, pressing a hand to Rain’s temple, “breathe, Hasya, breathe. You’re going to erupt Pinchincha, if you’re not careful.”
Rain tried to blink through the red, tried to blink through the world he’d just turned scarlet. Again. Smoke softened the glowing sky. It might’ve been pretty, had Rain not been pretty sure it was smoke from the nearby volcano. He took in calm, cool breaths and tried his best to put himself back into his body. The sky cooled, bit by bit, falling back into a quiet twilight. He was almost surprised that it had worked.
“Wow,” Asina said, fully surprised that it had worked, “you’re much better at that than me.”
“Don’t compare apples to oranges,” the Mother said, patting both children on their heads, “and Asina, dear, if you want a different body, all you have to do is concentrate.”
There was quite a bit more involved than simply “concentrating,” but it would be years before Asina knew enough about body temporphia to argue the point in any coherent, critical way.
“What’s this about your mother, Asina?” The Mother asked again. Asina shrugged. Rain shrugged as well, when the Mother turned to him. The Mother looked from child to child, waiting. She had to wait longer than she had expected to—the children weren’t uncomfortable with silence, as it so happened, and didn’t immediately realize how this game worked—but she eventually got the story. It was not a pleasant one, as you know, and very much lacking in any conclusive details. And then the Mother was crying, again. And who can blame her? The world had grown so heavy, of late, and she felt like all she had left to do was cry. Rain blinked back what he initially thought were tears of his own, but no—it had simply started raining again. Asina wiped at her eyes, her face turned up towards the sky.
“Why are we here?” Rain asked, staring at the perfectly round, gently glowing stone hill just north of the almost middle of the world. The Mother wiped her eyes, one by one, and pulled her gloves on, one by one. She opened the basket and pulled out one of her strange flowers, careful to touch only the stem.
“If you’re ever given the option between faces and things,” she said, needling the stem of the flower into the center of the stone hill, “pick the one that can pick you back.” The stone must not have been as hard as it looked, because the stem sunk into the surface, no problem. The Mother let go, sitting back on her heels. The flower stood in the stone, for a moment, shadows and light pulsing, weaving around each other. And then it imploded. It collapsed into itself. It collapsed everything it was touching into itself, too. And then the flower was gone. The flower, the air around it, the stone under it. It left behind a hole. A hole, and a tunnel, beyond. The current none of them could see ran past them and into the tunnel.
“It’s time you met the rest of me, children. It’s time we woke up.”