Chapter 15: Kevin

He’d been walking for a while, though he couldn’t tell for how long. Time affected you differently in dreams like this.

At least he was himself this time, and more aware of said self than the previous dream. He hadn’t switched bodies or was living two different lives. He, for now, was just himself.

And he hadn’t dreamt up that warm, cozy cottage he’d once lived in with Maïmoú. This place was a void. Darkness went out in every direction, including the nighttime sky. There were no roads, no grass. Just darkness and ruins sticking out from the ground, like the world was half-finished. Columns were cracked and tilted, holding up nothing. Arches crumbled above his head. This dream had an empty feeling to it. Derek would’ve hated it here. He hated feeling trapped.

He couldn’t remember what’d happened before he’d passed out. He remembered Maïmoú trying to break him out, the Líder’s death, that girl. She’d said her name was Viper. Kevin didn’t know why, but out of everything that’d happened to him that day, she came through the clearest.

What a fool a lovesick boy was. Just a look from one of the prettiest girls he’d seen and all of his thoughts went back to her. Had he introduced himself to her? Had he been kind enough and asked her polite questions about her own internment? She lived completely underwater. He hadn’t known that was possible.

He turned the corner to one of the ruins. He’d been snaking through them, trying to find a clue to jumpstart a new dream, though this didn’t feel like an ordinary dream. It felt like a vision, something implanted.

A white and yellow dot appeared, guiding Kevin to the only reference point he had.

Maïmoú was far away with her head down, her long hair cascading over her shoulders.  She had her arms out like she was holding something back. Her nails were digging into nothing.

“Maïmoú, can you hear me?” Kevin called out.

She grunted. The world thumped like a heartbeat. Her eyes, once light and blue, were darker in color, dilated to fit the scenery.

He knelt beside her. “Can you hear me?”

Maïmoú looked up through her bangs.

“What’re you doing?”

“…Keeping up the Muralha.”

He looked around them. “With your mind?”

She said nothing.

“But you’re bleeding again, or breaking. Whatever this is.” He wiped some of the darkness from her nose. “You have to stop.”

“Can’t. Every minute I stop”—her foot slipped—“the more it breaks.”

“But it’s killing you.”

“Nothing can kill me.” Her eyes unfocused as her head sagged. Somewhere off in this void, Kevin heard the sound of underwater cracking.

He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t let her kill herself trying to do the impossible. “Maïmoú, stop it.”

She coughed up blackness.

“Don’t ignore me.”

She wiped her lips as she kept giving him, a person she liked, a person who liked her, the cold shoulder.

“Maïmoú.”

“I can’t let you die again—”

“Okay, knock it off!” He raised his voice and kept it strong. “Please! You have to talk to me. You have to tell me what’s going on. Don’t leave me in the dark. What can I do to help?”

“You can’t.”

“Stop talking to me like that. You’re getting hurt and hurting others and I don’t know what to do. I’m important to you, aren’t I? Important people talk to their people. Am I wrong?”

After thinking about it for a heartbeat, the tenseness in Maïmoú’s arms relaxed, and she dropped her arms and fell into his.

He caught her. Her body was so limp, like she’d just fallen asleep. He checked to make sure, but she was just collecting herself. Slowly, she got up on wobbly arms and sat back against a pillar. Kevin did the same.

She refused to look at him.

“You killed Mikhail,” he said. “You killed one of the Líders.”

“He hurt you.”

“No, he didn’t. I tripped.”

“But they chose to keep you there, and then you got hurt. People who hurt me deserve to get hurt.”

Kevin felt something die inside of him. “Maïmoú.”

“I need to save you,” she reiterated.

“From the Muralha breaking, I know, but don’t you know how badly I feel, knowing you’re hurting yourself for my sake?”

She nodded. “I messed up.”

“How?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

She dared a peek at him. “Because you’ll think I’m a monster.”

“That’s impossible. You’re a kid.” He touched her knee. “Tell me how you messed up.”

Maïmoú looked off to the side again. He went to bring her back when the scene around them shifted. The ruins dissolved into sand. A wind he couldn’t feel took them away. Through the darkness, that day came back to them like a developing photograph:

It’d been gloomy. The sky had been this shade of grey that dyed the town colorless. He remembered it clearly: It was going to rain soon.

Kevin looked down. He was on a telephone wire with Maïmoú, watching a street corner like ghosty crows. Kevin recognized the street as the one they took while picking Nikki up from school. It was the quickest way to Morgan’s.

Beneath him, Past Derek, arms and wings spread, danced over a canal’s steep ledge. His shirt caught on the waves of summer heat as he moved closer and closer to the steep edge. Every time his foot crossed over the chasm or he tried taking flight, Kevin’s heart—back then and now—thumped a little louder.

“Careful,” Past Nikki had said. They’d all been together, that day, him, Derek, and Nikki. They’d always been. “You’re going to fall.”

“I won’t fall.”

“Derek, listen to her,” Past Kevin had begged.

“Why?” Past Derek asked. “Let me live.”

Kevin’s heart hurt. Every move his past self was making was only a reminder of how the day would turn out. He should’ve been nicer to him. He should’ve been walking with him, together.

Maïmoú reached out and clutched her fist around Derek, like she could keep him from doing what he did next.

At the end of the street loitered three guards of varying ages and ranks. They had their hands latched on to their belts, watching for what Derek would do next.

Kevin’s stomach twisted with guilt. He couldn’t watch.

Past Derek sized each of them up. “Look at them. Busy protecting us like the good pups they are. They’re such pieces of shit. Hey!” he called out to them. “Why you on the street corner? Y’all look mighty suspicious doing nothing. I see you staring at us, you’re not slick.”

Kevin felt secondhand embarrassment for him. “He was always so confrontational with the Guard,” he told Maïmoú.

“I was there,” Maïmoú said. “Right there next to you, I never left your sides. I was too weak to make myself visible, but I was trying so hard.” She reached out again. “I could’ve saved you.”

“Derek, no.” Past Nikki grabbed Past Derek’s shirt. “Why’ve you been so confrontational with them recently? We’re not doing this again. Just come on.”

Kevin knew why. It was all because of Morgan, all of her secrets about the Guard and Asilo that Derek and Kevin had just learned from her. It made Derek think he was above the law, that they were somehow special. If only Nikki had known.

“But look at them,” Past Derek said. “They’re begging to be jostled. They’d probably like it. I heard guards are into some freaky stuff.”

Past Kevin placed himself between them. “Derek, please. Let’s just go home.”

Beaten by logic or by Kevin’s begging, Past Derek withdrew. He kicked asphalt down the road with a childish pout, the guards returned to their own alley, and Nikki held Kevin’s hand for safety. Everything returned to normal.

Then a piece of asphalt cracked off Derek’s shoe and rocketed to his left.

One guard buckled into her comrades. A steady flow of blood dripped down her now broken nose as the rock ricocheted through the alley.

Past Derek, as a defense mechanism, started chuckling, undermining the severity of his criminal offense. Nikki’s grip whitened Kevin’s fingertips. Kevin’s heart stopped beating.

Kevin, the real Kevin, almost closed his eyes so he didn’t have to see what happened next.

“Derek, say you’re sorry,” Past Nikki muttered.

Past Derek stood shocked in the middle of the road.

“Derek, say sorry,” Past Kevin begged. “Please!”

“He didn’t mean it!” Past Nikki shouted, trying to save them all. “It was an accident! Derek, say something already, for the Above’s sake.”

Past Derek took a step back, waiting for gunshots or batons or worse. Then, without taking his eyes off the alley, he took Past Kevin’s hand and escaped with him down the street, leaving Nikki to fend off the agitated, bleeding guards by herself.

Kevin and Maïmoú followed them, two idiots running their hardest. Kevin remembered not being able to tell Derek to stop because he was too nervous about the Guard chasing them. Right when they started to flap their wings, the guards yelled at them to freeze. They heard their guns click.

“You were talking to me now,” Kevin said, remembering how confused he’d been. She’d been a little voice calling to him, distorted and broken. It must’ve taken so much energy to reach them.

“I was trying to lead you to safety,” Maïmoú said. “I knew you were gonna get shot and I needed…I needed to…”

“But I’d never heard you up until that point. Were you, like, always there?”

Her fingernails dug into her forearms as she watched. “Always.”

The guards, following their military training, fired at two escaping criminals. Their shots soared through the sky only to stop in midair, defying physics and returning backwards at them, straight into one of their own heads.

He turned away before their bodies hit the ground. When it’d happened in real time, he’d been too stunned to process their death. It’d all come out when he’d entered the Asilo. Honestly, he didn’t know if he’d yet to process it. It felt like something that’d always stay with him, a scar in his brain. “That was you, wasn’t it? You took their own bullets and killed them.”

“Better them than you.”

He couldn’t agree. “You told us to go to the Muralha at that point.”

“And you did.”

And they did. Flying wasn’t new to them, but flying over the tops of houses and then meadows while being hunted down, not knowing if Nikki was safe or not, that feeling had been new. The adrenaline of knowing you were doing something wrong and continuing on with it, becoming more of a criminal when that wasn’t your intention. He hadn’t stopped shivering even when it started to rain.

“We’re screwed,” Past Derek had said, breaking the silence.

“But you hear her, too, right?” Kevin said. “This voice.”

“Yeah. Unfortunately.” He chuckled. “I think we’re going crazy.”

“Why did you run?” he asked. It was a question he’d always had, even to this day. “Why didn’t you stay back and explain yourself?”

“The voice said to run,” was all he said.

Kevin tried not looking at Maïmoú when he said that.

The forest beneath them faded into mist. Their world expanded into lengths Kevin never knew it could reach. The rain was heavier up here, drenching Raeleen into a grey paste.

Continual thunder and mist roared behind the Barreira. Here, connected to the Muralha, it had mass. The material Kevin had once thought was solid shifted like sparkling sludge through an unbreakable glass. He hadn’t learned about this in school. In hindsight, Kevin wondered if only he and Derek could see it for what it truly was.

Past Derek jumped over a large crack in the wall. Small pieces of it cracked and crumbled off the edge into the forest.

“Careful,” Past Kevin said. “Oh, Derek, we shouldn’t have come here. We’re not allowed to be here.”

Derek leaned back as he traced the curve of the Barreira. “The voice said to come.”

“The voice is probably our conscience telling us this’s a bad idea. We shouldn’t have left Nikki. We shouldn’t have done this.”

“You don’t have to tell me that.”

They paused. Maïmoú had been speaking to them.

“I was trying so hard to talk to you,” Maïmoú said as she watched. “You were so close, so close to being free. I needed to put everything I had into getting to you.”

“Your voice had sounded so broken,” Kevin said.

“Their voice’s broken,” Past Derek commented on. “Do you need help, Little Voice?”

“Don’t talk to it like that,” Past Kevin warned.

“Why not? We should know who this person is. Can you speak up, Little Voice? Oh. Listen to that. It  knows our names.” A little color drained from his face. “How does it know our names?”

A blasting air raid siren punctured through the fog. The alarm extended hundreds of miles in repeating, ghostly rings.

Past Kevin covered his ears. “Is this because of us? Is this because we ran?”

“I don’t know! Voice, talk to us! What’s going on?”

Maïmoú slammed her fist against her thigh. Watching her failures must’ve been torturous for her.

The invisible voice took Past Kevin’s hand and pulled him towards the start of the Barriera. Towards the end of the world.

“Wait,” Past Kevin said. “We can’t go that way. We’ll die.”

“You won’t,” Maïmoú said to their past selves. She was talking through grit teeth.

The invisible Maïmoú kept pulling. He’d felt her strength gaining in power.

He tried prying her off. “No! Derek, help me!”

“Help with what?” He kicked where he thought the invisible person stood, but when nothing hit, he wrapped his arms around Kevin and pulled the other way. “Fuck off!”

Derek’s wing hit something and freed Kevin. But only for a moment. Something else grabbed his heel and threw him to the ground.

Past Kevin pulled down his skirt. “Why’re you doing this!?”

“Because I’m trying to save you!” she shouted at them, like a sports-goer yelling at the radio. “Why didn’t you listen to me? I could’ve saved you! I could’ve saved both of you!”

“Fuck!” Derek shouted. He tried repositioning his arms around Kevin and pulled differently.

“Please, I don’t want to become a sky dot!” Past Kevin yelled.

“You won’t!” Maïmoú began getting up, and Kevin took her hand to calm her down. He could feel every tendon in her wrist tighten.

Derek kept kicking and screaming at nothing while Kevin’s foot phased through the Barreira. The air outside either burned or froze. He couldn’t remember. “I thought you were on our side! If you wanted us dead, you should’ve let the Guard shoot us!”

Freeing one of his legs, Derek kicked something physical, and the person—Maïmoú—had screamed so loud in their ears, it muted all the sirens.

Past Kevin’s hand fell into a crevasse. The rock scratched his palm, but he held on. He had to. Or thought he had to. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to become a sky dot.

The grip on his ankle dropped.

Momentarily free, he scrambled to his hands and knees and went to grab Derek. 

Derek, starstruck, was thrown and plummeted through the hazy Barreira and disappeared over the edge.

The memory of that night had never left him, and it only hardened from seeing it from a different angle. His head had iced over. Two seconds. Three seconds. Four. His words failed him. His feet were locked.

He’d screamed through the siren. It hadn’t happened. It couldn’t have. He’d tried convincing himself that this was all a nightmare and that Derek was still with him. Back at the house. With Mom and Dad and Nikki. Back to normal in their normal lives. It seemed just as likely.

Nobody could survive through the Barreira.

The scene vanished back into darkness. Maïmoú’s leg was hopping in irritation at her failure to save one twin and not the other.

“Why’d you do it?” Kevin asked. “Why’d you throw him off?”

“I didn’t throw him,” she said. “The Muralha’s going to fall any day now. I don’t know when or where—I think it’ll be the north, that’s where the most cracks are—but it’ll happen soon and I’m doing my best to keep it up but I—I needed you two out. That’s always been my mission since the two of you were born. You can’t stay here.”

“But why—”

Derek’s alive, by the way,” she added, “on the other side. He’s okay.”

His jaw slipped. He’d been replaying everything Maïmoú had been telling him, but that last minor tidbit scrambled everything from his mind into his own empty void.

“You don’t look too surprised,” Maïmoú said. “I expected tears.”

He shook his head, his empty, empty head. “You know it? For sure?”

“Yes. I’ve talked with him.”

“Where is he?”

“I have no idea, but he’s safe.” She chuckled into an eye roll. “You put too much faith in me. What if I was lying to you?”

He didn’t know what to say to that. “I hope you’d always tell me the truth.”

She smiled, but he knew it wasn’t as heartfelt as he wished it to be. It was as if she was smiling at a joke he’d made.

He touched her knee. “Tell me who you are so I can put proper faith in you.” 

She closed her eyes, coming to terms with herself. “I’m a Deity.”

“And what is that, exactly?”

“We’re not these…” She made a throwaway motion with her hand. “Fairy tale ideas that grant wishes and make wonderful dreams come true. We’re dominant, nearly-immortal beings connected to a Domain.”

“What’s a Domain?”

She got better comfortable sitting on nothing. “It’s what we’re in control of, what we’ve been assigned to. Mine was a group of beings called humans, which I thought had died out up until a few years ago. That’s why I look as weak as I am now. If a Deity’s Domain is strong and thriving, then so are we. If they’re dying or become extinct, we’re done for.”

“Their numbers used to be in the billions, my humans. Billions of intelligent, creative beings living and discovering new advancements to live longer. Sure, they were in wars and were sexist and specist most of the time, but I tried keeping them in line. I was there through it all. But now, I don’t think there’s even a million of them left. It’s just like here with you crossbreeds. It’s pathetic and makes me pathetic as a result.”

“But there’re so many people that live here,” he said. How could anything more than Raeleen exist? He couldn’t fathom a million people, let alone billions.

She sighed. “There were pockets of centuries where it was so good. Hardly any famine and war, progress was boundless. Then, well…” She trailed away, and Kevin waited until she was ready.

“There was a boy,” she said, “born around the same time I was. He was in charge of you crossbreeds, and I can’t say he was weak because he wasn’t, but he was…different from me. He was smarter, and more emotional. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on anything and fought a lot. He took a backseat when it came to how he controlled his Domain that I never understood.”

“Was it just you and him?” Kevin asked. “Was there a Deity for, say, bird crossbreeds, or was it just Shào in control of all of us?”

“Shào was in control of all of you. He’s a crossbreed, too. But there’re other Deities.”

“Like the one I saw today. Zantl was calling out to them. Was their name Unathi?”

At the mention of their name, Maïmoú tightened her core and looked ready to be sick. “Yeah.”

“What do they control?”

“Death. Rebirth. The cycle of taking things away from us.” It sounded like it hurt to speak about them. She moved on. “Then there’s a…water Deity. She’s in charge of the weather, rivers, glaciers, stuff like that. Sabah.” She spat out her name like venom. “Then there’s Tsvetan. He’s this old guy who governs the soil, the trees. Any earthquake you feel is his deal. He’s the weakest outta the bunch, no spine at all, easily manipulable.”

Kevin didn’t like that she knew that word.

She gave pause before speaking again. “There are two Others, technically, two who Sabah, Unathi, and Tsvetan had been friends with, but I never met them.”

“What do they govern?”

“Ataleah was in charge of animals, but she’s been dead for millions of years. According to the Others, the animal population was so exhausted from mass extinctions one after the other, she keeled over and died like a newborn fawn when she was just a kid. This was before my humans had evolved, by the way, so none of it was my fault.”

Kevin hadn’t said it was.

“So I never knew her. Never even seen her. She’s trapped in her own mind like this, waiting to wake up when her animals return to their former glory.”

“And the other one?” Kevin asked, trying to keep up in her world. “Who’s the last Deity?”

Maïmoú looked up to her sky. “Fate,” she said. “That’s just his name, too. Nothing else. Never met him. Don’t even know what he looks like. The Others don’t talk about him much, aside from cursing his name and his literal Domain, so I don’t even know if he exists.”

“Are they like you?” he asked, unsure of what he was actually asking. “Are they…strong?”

“I mean, yeah. I was stronger, don’t get me wrong, but right now, when I’m this week, we are probably evenly matched.”

“Were you friends? It sounds like you were close at one point, and you’re all Deities. Did you talk?”

She made a confused look to the side. “We were…together, I guess. We were like a family, but you know how families can be. We fought a lot.”

The ground—darkness—shifted as she spoke. Grassy fields and animals he couldn’t name were birthed from nothing and spread beneath them like a tapestry being woven in time with her words.

Kevin backed up on his butt, feeling the grass curl around his fingers. Big trees he’d never seen before grew up and over them, the sky turning these brilliant shades of colors. Little animals swarmed the fields in packs like aimless chickens, but then he saw larger ones. Massive ones, ones that didn’t even look like any animals he knew. He arched his neck as one slowly stomped his way. It shook the ground with every step. It had such a long neck and tiny body. He couldn’t understand why Maïmoú wasn’t staring gobsmacked at them.

“Back before humans and crossbreeds,” she explained, “those five—I call them the Others—lived together for billions of years. I don’t know how to describe this, since your history only dates back 500 years, but during this time, animals evolved from little specks of dust in the water to massive, house-sized creatures. The grounds grew into new mountains, oceans, canyons.”

Kevin watched the scenes developed around him with awe. The ground, soft as sand, morphed into mountains, grassy fields became vast deserts and rainforests. The animals changed, starting off small and evolving into newer, better, stronger creatures.

“Then Shào and I were born, and in a couple thousands of years, we altered everything that the Others started for us.”

A jumble of houses, once built from sand, quickly changed into wood, then concrete, then metal towns. Cities, metropolises, growing high into the skies with new technologies and advancements. Time flew by so quicky, he couldn’t take it all in.

“My,” he awed. “And this happened because of you?”

“It happened because of us, of what my humans were able to do. Everything was connected and grew faster than the Others could process. Time works differently for us. A year to you could sometimes be a month for us, sometimes a day, if we’re really spaced out. As we changed the world, the Others couldn’t keep up with it. They hadn’t experienced immense growth in such a short time before us.

“It wasn’t like we could control it. Unlike with water or fate or animals, humans and crossbreeds were born to make, to create things with our own two hands. You could feel your blood boil with new strengths. They learned how to make waterborne breathe outside of water. We created bombs and robots. And we were so young comparatively. We made Earth ours.” She ran a hand through her long hair. A smile was creeping onto her face.

It was killed off by her next words.

“The Others didn’t see it like I did.” The cities she’d created disappeared into darkness, leaving a hollow feeling in the limitless space. “They saw us as parasites on the Earth they helped prepare for us. They never liked us and always wanted us dead.”

Were we parasites?”

No!” she said. “That’s the thing—that’s the freaking thing! We aren’t parasites. We’re monkeys with above-average brain capability. We were allowed to be here.” She huffed. “I hate them. I wasn’t born wrong. I was perfect the way I was.”

Kevin would’ve disliked them, too, if they’d told him that all of his accomplishments amounted to being a parasite. “So why’re you hurt right now? Why’re you in so much pain?”

“If anything in our Domains were to get hurt, we’d receive the damage. It’s also a double-edged sword. If I were, say, happy, my humans would prosper for a few years. If I’m angry…” She shrugged. “Plague, war, anything that hurts the population. It’s all tied back to us. They tried killing me and Shào and couldn’t finish the job, so now we’re like this.”

“Above, Maïmoú,” Kevin said. “I’m sorry.”

Maïmoú just shrugged, like these hundreds of years dragging behind them were only memories she could reminisce about and not the history of this…world. Not just Raeleen, but if he was to believe Maïmoú, the world was larger than just Raeleen. Bodies of water and new cities he didn’t recognize. Those fields Hassan had once relaxed in, it must’ve been beyond the walls. “I’m okay.”

“But you’re not. I know you’re not.”

Her eye twitched again. “You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll fix everything.”

“But—”

Don’t, okay? Don’t say I can’t do what I know I can. I will fix this. I promise.”

That strange sense to protect her sent him off-kilter. He wanted to spend all day arguing that she shouldn’t be hurting herself for his sake. But the more he thought about it, the more he got upset with himself. He needed more answers than she was willing to give him.

He looked up to the distant, black sky. “Where are we exactly?”

“The inside of my head. We call it the Void. It’s the place we go to heal. When I’m in here, I don’t exist. I’m probably floating around the city like an aimless corpse right now, invisible. It takes a lot of energy to become visible since so much of my Domain has been destroyed. I don’t like spending too much time here, though. It makes me feel powerless.”

At least Kevin understood the feeling of being confined against your will. “Who’s Shào?” he asked.

Maïmoú mentally prepared herself with a long inhale. “He was my best friend. We were the babies of the group, so we stuck together. We did everything together. We travelled the world, found hidden treasures only the two of us would ever know existed. It was…nice…while it lasted.”

“What happened to change that?”

She looked away again. She had a lot of trouble looking him in the eye when explaining her life. “I did something I don’t necessarily regret, but it was something that messed the world over so hard, a meteorite would’ve been better for it.”

She hung her head. Her bangs fell into her lap. “Shào was dying, and I was trying to save him. When I did, I made a mistake and hurt the world, and then he didn’t want anything to do with me. He called me a monster for saving him. He said he’d wanted to die. After that, he got fucked in the head. He fought with me. He ruined cities. Countries. He was insane. Then he did something that was…unforgivable.”

The look in her eyes turned savage. “Unlike him, I didn’t kill the innocent, I killed people who deserved to die. I wasn’t a murderer who killed without reason. I never declared war on the only friend I had! I’m not the insane one here!”

Kevin backed away from her words. He touched her knee as one touched a rabid dog in need of compassion. “It’s okay,” he lied, because everything she was saying was okay was definitely not okay. She’d saved one of her friends and they hated her for it? He ruined cities, and she’d been an innocent bystander? He felt like he was missing key details that would’ve painted a better picture of her past.

She exhaled. It hit his cheek. “He messed everything up, not me. I know I’m not the most perfect soul in the timeline, but at least I tried to keep this world alive. I didn’t give up like a coward and want to kill my Domain just because I was depressed. I am, too, Shào!” she shouted above her. “We all are, you’re not the only one dealing with the pain of being alive!”

Kevin cringed. However many years she’d been alive, no child deserved the pain she’d been harboring. It was too existential for her. “I-I believe you,” he repeated, not necessarily agreeing with her but trying to get her to calm down, “but who are you to me? That’s the part I’m having trouble understanding. Why’re you doing all of this for me, for Derek? You said we’re soulmates?”

She nodded. He could feel her body calming down more. “Nearly each one of us has had a soulmate at one point. I think Fate gave us one to help mellow us out. It’s a being that will always love us, and who we’ll always love. They’re the only ones who can see us. They’re our love.”

“So I’m one,” he said. “Derek’s one. You have two?”

“Yeah.”

“Is Zantl one?”

“Yeah. And Marcos, and a few others.” Her grin soured into a snarl. “Shào’s got one, and I should’ve killed them when I had the chance.”

“What?”

“Some soulmates are good, Kevin. You and Derek are good. You’ve always been the good ones. The rest totally mess up their Deity. They change the opinions they’ve had for centuries and make them weak. Shào’s soulmate…” She looked to wrangle someone’s neck in front of her. “They warp their minds and make him…stupid! He gets so, so stupid around them, it’s sick. He used to be so smart, he used to know everything, from every single language to every single landmark, but then came into his life and suddenly, Shào’s a lovesick fool who’d do anything for him.”

Kevin had trouble seeing that in a bad light. “But you said that a soulmate makes a Deity happy. Wouldn’t you be happy if Shào was—”

“No!” she snapped. “I hate Shào, and I hate what he’s become. I hate all of the Others and none of them deserve a soulmate like I do.”

She gripped her knees. “I do my best every day to be a stronger person than I was yesterday, and now a wall those assholes constructed to keep me in is falling apart, Derek’s gone, Shào’s galavanting around with his soulmate that’s been reincarnated as a thorn in my side, and you’re in a 1950’s asylum. Literally nothing about my life is going right.”

“Who’s Shào’s soulmate—”

“And when I try to keep the wall up, something bad happens to you. Every time I try to save you, a little more of it chips away, and the leaders of this world won’t do a damn thing about any of it. Leader,” she corrected quickly, remembering how she’d murdered the other.

Kevin pushed back his hair, trying to air out his head. “The Muralha’s really here to keep you in?”

“Yes! It’s so stupid! The Others  must’ve been so scared about me saving the world that they murdered almost all my humans, weakening me. Then they trapped me and you crossbreeds here 500 years ago, separating me from Shào and my humans. They took away everything that made me strong, everything I ever loved! It’s all gone!”

The world splintered. A night sky opened above them, sprayed with sky dots, moons, and strange circles.

Like a scab spreading over a wound, the darkness healed itself and shrouded Kevin and Maïmoú back in their temporary bubble of nothingness.

Maïmoú held her eye socket as the world stitched itself back together. “I’m breaking,” she conceded, “but I need to save you. You’re all I have left, all that I can touch. Do you know how lonely it is not to be touched for years?”

“Where’re the other Deities?  These ‘Others’? Maybe we can ask them to let you out. Maybe they can help you.”

She choked on a laugh. “Don’t bother. I haven’t seen those jerks in 500-some-odd years. They left me here to die.”

“But they kept you alive.”

“If a parent beat you your whole life and told you how much of a horrible monster you were, but didn’t have the guts to kill you with their own bare hands, would you see that as a loving moment of realization, that they secretly loved you all this time?”

Kevin winced at the thought.

“They’ve wanted me dead from the moment I was bestowed these powers. They thought humans and crossbreeds were a plague. But they failed to kill me. They failed with Shào. You cannot kill something so desperate to live. Now, I need to push myself to get you out of this world they’ve imprisoned us in.”

Kevin tried taking all of that in. “How was Derek able to pass through the Barreira?”

“I don’t know. Back in the day, we found out that soulmates react differently to our powers, so I thought you two wouldn’t be affected by Barriers. Since I can’t get out right now, I figured I could push you and Derek out so you could fly out of here. I tried talking to him—”

“Wait, so you threw him off without knowing if the Barreira would hurt him?”

Maïmoú’s eye twitched. “I said—”

“You didn’t know if he’d survive or not?”

“I—”

“What were you thinking?”

“I tried my best!”

Her shout hit Kevin’s face in black splatters and heated breath. Once she realized who she’d yelled at, she sat back down and wiped off her lips.

“I’m sorry,” Kevin said, knowing deep down Maïmoú would never apologize first, if at all. “I appreciate you trying. But you know he’s alive now, right?”

“Currently, yes.”

“Okay.”

“I’m trying my best,” she said in a softer voice. “I hate you seeing me like this. I used to be so much stronger, so much better.”

“Maïmoú, I believe you. You don’t have to keep telling me that.”

She gave him a look telling him that she had to. “If I don’t see my humans again, I’m gonna go crazy. I wanna feel strong again. I wanna feel whole again.”

Sitting up in the darkness, Kevin stretched out his arms and hugged her. That familial feeling of warmth rose in his chest.

“That dream I had, was that real?” he whispered. “Was that man really me?”

“Yeah. Hassan Kariam. That was, what, the 1100s, so more than 1,500 years ago.” She sighed blissfully. “The 1,100s were so nice, Kevin. You and Derek had found each other like you always do, had taken me in without a second thought, this strange girl with no place in the world. Eating meals around the dinner table, helping you with the harvest, napping on the floor mats…”

He nodded along with the memories. Even though it wasn’t his life currently, he envisioned it perfectly. “He didn’t really look like me, though,” he added.

“Believe me, as someone who will love you the most, your souls are indistinguishable.”

She touched his back. “I’ve missed this,” she said, “a being’s touch.”

“500 years is a long time not to be hugged.”

She held him tighter, almost hurting him, but he didn’t mind it. He liked her hugs. It was like hugging a bear.

He hugged her tighter. “You need to stay here, wherever ‘here’ is, okay? You need to heal.”

“I don’t like being ordered around.”

“Well, deal with it. I care about your wellbeing, so make me happy and focus on you, okay?”

Maïmoú’s laughter sent him out of her Void. Whether she was laughing at him or at the prospect of finally, finally being saved from this mind prison, he didn’t know.

But he’d make sure he’d do his best to help her, however he could.

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