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Asunder

Newsoul 2

by

Jodi Meadows

Dedication

To my dad, for encouraging my love of the fantastic.

I miss you.

1

MEMORY

MY LIFE WAS a mistake.

As long as I’d been alive, I’d wanted to know why I’d been born. Why, after five thousand years of the same souls being reincarnated, my soul had slipped through the cracks of existence and burdened the people of Heart with such newness.

No one could tell me how I happened, not until the night I’d found my way into the temple with no door, trapping myself with the entity called Janan.

“Mistake,” he’d said. “You are a mistake of no consequence.”

I knew, as I’d always known, that I was a soul asunder.

Outside the temple, the night had spiraled into chaos. Sylph burned, and dragons rained acid from the thunder-torn sky. The numinous light of the temple had vanished. The father I’d never known appeared and told me the same as Janan: I was an experiment gone wrong.

My life might have begun as a mistake, but I wouldn’t let it end as one.

Spring slipped across Range, a verdant blanket stitched with new life. Trees blossomed and young animals peeked from the forest, and the people of Heart cleared a stretch of land north of the city, just beyond the geysers and mud pits that steamed and bubbled as winter eased its grip on the world.

Instead of crops, they planted dozens of black obelisks, each carved with loving words, achievements, and the name of a darksoul: a soul who wouldn’t be reincarnated; a soul lost during the battle of Templedark.

Every citizen of Heart took on a task. They gathered physical reminders to place by the obelisks, combed through records to find videos of darksoul friends, or assisted in the construction of the Templedark Memorial.

Sam and Councilor Sine combined their efforts, composing music and writing laments. They created different melodies and lyrics for every darksoul. I wanted to help, though I didn’t know most of the darksouls well enough to contribute.

When spring bowed to summer and the memorial was finished, everyone in Heart met on North Avenue and formed two lines.

Two by two, we passed beneath the Northern Arch.

Two by two, we filed out of the white city.

Two by two, we entered the Templedark Memorial.

Our lines split there, and we followed the iron bars of the fence. Wind gusted through, making the whole place smell of roses and tinges of sulfur from a nearby geyser. Steam drifted through the cerulean sky.

The procession took ages. By the time we all arrived, people stood three deep around the field of high monuments. Everything was silent, save rustling leaves and the gasp-heave of weeping. Next to me, my best friend, Sarit, squeezed my hand tight and blinked tears off her dark lashes. Our dresses tugged in the wind while we waited.

A bell tolled in the center of the memorial, one peal for each soul lost.

What happened after death? Where did you go? What did you do? The scariest possibility was that we might. just. stop.

After another moment of aching hush, Sine pulled away from the perimeter and took a microphone.

“Today, we gather to remember those who fell during Templedark. We come to honor their lives and deaths, and begin the long process of healing not only our bodies and city, but also our souls….”

Most people kept their heads down, the weight of grief so evident in their slumped postures I feared they might collapse. Others stood stoic, blank, as though their minds were somewhere very far away.

But here and there I caught eyes seeking mine; I exchanged sad smiles with almost-friends. Most were people I’d warned about dying during Templedark. There wasn’t much to say about it, but they were nice to me, and our encounters were always cautiously hopeful.

Sine finished her speech.

One at a time, someone stood for each darksoul to recount lifetimes and memories. Sam and Sine performed the music they’d written. Small screens went into the base of each obelisk, set to play a video of the darksoul, or play a recorded copy of the music written for them.

Then we turned our attention to the next darksoul.

At the end of the day, we filed out of the memorial, same as we’d come in. Friends stayed at Sam’s house with us, but everyone was so raw with sadness there was no joy in the companionship, and the next morning, we walked back to Templedark Memorial.

It took four days to remember the lives of almost eighty souls, and as we left the field of black obelisks for the final time, people kept glancing at the empty places in the back: room for more darksouls, because we couldn’t be sure about when a few people had died. Some might still come back.

Over the next weeks, some people went on like it never happened, but there were rumors of people sleeping in the market field or destroying everything in their homes. Others supposedly didn’t leave their houses for weeks at a time.

I went back to my lessons—what lessons were still being offered—and tried to find happiness with my friends and music, but the strangeness of the community’s behavior smothered me. No one seemed to heal.

As summer hurtled toward autumn, the mood sagged from melancholy to disconsolate, and the pulse in the walls grew unbearable. The city wall. The Councilhouse walls. Even the exterior walls of everyone’s homes. The slow throb of life inside stone made my skin try to crawl off.

I couldn’t take it anymore.

“I have to get out,” I told Sam. “I need to get away. Will you go with me?”

“Anywhere,” he said, and kissed me.

We left Heart just before summer faded into memory.

“You’ve been quiet,” Sam said as we left behind the geysers and mud pits, the fumaroles and rimewhitened trees.

“Nothing’s wrong.” Oops. We hadn’t gotten to that part of his questioning yet.

He snorted. “Okay. What’s on your mind?”

I lengthened my strides to keep up with Sam and Not as Shaggy as His Father, the pony that bore most of our bags. We called him Shaggy for short. My backpack straps dug into my shoulders, but I carried only a few essentials—in case we somehow got separated—plus the temple door device, and my notebook.

Sam had taken to calling it my diary, but I didn’t keep track of my days in there.

“Nothing in particular, I guess.” I glanced back at Heart, from here just a seemingly endless expanse of white ripples and curves over the plateau. The immense central tower stood partially obscured by late-summer foliage. The city looked peaceful from far away. “I feel better getting out of there.”

“The walls?” He said it like he understood, but the walls didn’t feel bad to anyone but me.

“Yeah.” I slipped my thumbs beneath my backpack straps, relieving some of the pressure on my shoulders. “Did you see Corin when we went through the guard station?”

“Corin?” Sam raised an eyebrow. “He didn’t do anything.”

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