All four candles are lit in the corners of the small room, wicks burning purple and melting black wax. Her offering sits in a dish at the feet of the small statue - an old, worn piece of paper, bent and torn around its edges - and she herself kneels in the center of the floor, her hands clasped.
“I’ve never done this,” she begins, “but my name is Yang Xiao Long, and I humbly request an audience.”
Nothing happens, though she isn’t sure what she would’ve expected even if it had: the flames flicker, keeping time with her unsteady heartbeat; the blood in her ears crashes as if bottling waves in a storm. For some reason it’s embarrassing, calling on a higher entity who decides to put you through to voicemail.
She tries again, and aims for theatrical exaggeration; maybe the gods like a bit of a show before accepting a request - pay in entertainment, be granted a favor. Well, if she’s making a fool of herself, she might as well do it brilliantly. “O, Great Goddess! I call upon thee - All-Knowing Ruler of the Dead, Empress of the Night, Most Holy Lady of Darkness, Reigning Queen of Entropy--”
“I think that’s probably enough,” a voice comes from in front of her, amusement evident beneath its tone. “What was that one in the middle? ‘Empress of the Night’? I might keep that.”
Her head whips up towards the sound, and a woman in a deep purple cloak is leaning against her own statue, arms crossed and watching her performance with a look that can only be described as shameless delight. Gorgeous black hair framing golden eyes, like the sky wrapping itself around stars; the replica doesn’t do her justice.
And all Yang had to do was toss aside her self-respect for a moment. There are worse trades, she supposes.
“Oh my God,” she says, sitting back on her heels. All the preparation and rehearsing she’d done isn’t enough to conquer the shock of a beautiful, unearthly woman appearing in front of her and--
“Yes, I get that a lot. I liked your previous originality.”
--mercilessly mocking her.
“Well, Yang Xiao Long?” the woman continues after a second of stunned silence. “Why have you called upon me?”
“How do you know my name?” Yang says stupidly.
“I’m a god,” the goddess replies, a smile pulling at a corner of her mouth. “I’m the all-knowing ruler of the dead or whatever. Also, you said your name when you summoned me.”
“Fuck,” Yang says, struggling to regain her composure and failing spectacularly. “I - yeah. Right. Okay. Is it rude to swear in front of gods? And what do I call you?”
“I’ll allow it,” the woman says. “And you can call me Blake.”
“Blake,” Yang repeats; her hands open and close like a nervous tick. The name is a heavy weight in her mouth, settling her into steadiness. “I’ve come to request guidance.”
“Guidance?” Blake repeats, and gently lifts the note from the offering dish, turning it carefully in her hands - whatever’s written on it isn’t important in comparison to its sentimentality. Yang registers faint surprise in her expression; yes, she’d assumed her attachment to it would fetch a rather large price. “This is quite the payment.”
“It’s the last note I have from someone who loved me,” Yang says. “I figured it would be sufficient.”
Those bright, inquisitive eyes glance over to her, and now the playing field has been reversed: intrigue outweighs Yang’s atrocious initial delivery. Whatever she wants, she’s willing to sacrifice for it, and that’s an economy the gods trade well.
“Stand, please,” Blake commands softly. “I want to get a good look at you.”
Obediently, Yang rises to her feet, and with an odd jolt realizes she’s a few inches taller than the goddess. It’s unexpected, and it seems to unnerve Blake for a moment, too. Or maybe that’s the candlelight, throwing shapes and colors, turning the room cavernous. Maybe Blake is shrinking and she’s growing. Maybe once she was so tall the entire world trembled beneath her feet.
“You already have power,” Blake says, circling her curiously, and now she’s seeing what isn’t visible, looking for handprints on her soul. “You have been claimed. Whom do you answer to?”
“I didn’t receive this power from a god,” Yang says quietly. “I’ve had it as long as I can remember.”
“That’s impossible,” Blake says, and her gaze is piercing into Yang’s heart; she sees its strength, but she sees its scars, too. And its emptiness. There is plenty of that; more than she’s ever seen in a mortal.
“Touch me,” Yang says. “You’ll find no prior claim.”
“I don’t need to.” Blake takes another step closer to her, the way you’d inspect a painting in a museum. Hands at her sides, cautious of glass and rope. “I can see your aura. But it’s impossible.”
“I’m looking for something,” Yang says, and Blake glances up, briefly meeting her eyes. “I don’t know what it is. But I’ve been looking for something for what feels like my entire life.”
Quizzical, now. One by one the candles are burning down. The room is collapsing in on them, or perhaps that’s simply the god in front of her, looking like she’d dive into Yang’s veins and unravel her if it were permitted. Inside-out, exposed; you. Let me see you.
“Why me?” Blake asks finally. “You know what I’m the goddess of, don’t you?”
“You guard death,” Yang says, her voice impossibly gentle; dusk flows river-like from her mouth. There is a world Blake can almost see. “But you can’t guard death without also guarding life, right? I don’t know what I’m looking for, but whatever it is, I imagine you encompass it.”
“Poetic,” Blake responds, and waits further. “I would like the truth, please. Our time is running short.”
There’s no point in playing games with gods. “The truth is stupid,” Yang says bluntly, and the corner of Blake’s mouth tilts again.
“I’ll make you a deal,” Yang says, and Blake’s eyebrows raise in amusement. Bold, reckless, and absolutely pushing her luck to the furthest corners it can inhabit. “Accept me as yours, and when the time is right, I will tell you the truth.”
“Is the truth that powerful?” Blake says, captivated despite herself.
The last candle flutters, throwing shadows from Yang’s eyelashes to her cheek. “I think it is.”
“Welcome back, Empress of the Night,” Ruby says upon her return to the Kingdom, giving her an exaggerated bow. “I hope you enjoyed your summon, My Lady of Perpetual Darkness.”
“What the hell was that about?” Weiss asks. “I haven’t even heard you crack a joke for, like, a millennia, and suddenly you’re the court jester?”
“She was interesting,” Blake says, shrugging. “Usually people are so...timid and terrified. I felt like having some fun.”
“You?” Weiss says dubiously.
“Shut up, Weiss,” Ruby says. “You mustn’t speak that way to Our Patron Saint, Duchess of Death.”
“Now you’re not even trying.”
“Don’t you both have work to do?” Blake says, ending the interrogation before it can really begin. She’s not sure she’d have the answers for them, anyway.
Yang journeys east.
Find me again, Blake had said. The closer you get to my temple, the more I can see of you. She’d brushed aside Yang’s bangs, touched a single finger to her forehead. It felt like a teardrop, or a meteor shower. It felt like digging up a grave, or burying herself alive. It felt like the last explosion. It felt like the first breath.
You are mine, Blake had said, and something about it had felt far too familiar.
She crosses from Sanus to Anima, spends days traversing forests and mountains, fending off bandits and monsters. Eyes flashing red and fire licking up her skin. Aura glowing golden before breaking. There is something wrong with the trees, she thinks; there is something wrong with the sky. Like I’m looking at them from the other side.
Nobody is there to answer her, and not for the first time, she wonders how she came to be so alone.
Blake watches Yang’s power unveil itself from above. Yang is hers, now, and though she can’t make house calls to the world below without a summon, she at least has instant access to her claims. There aren’t many of them, and Yang is different.
It reminds her of the God of Vengeance, almost - how he absorbs power before returning it, strike by vicious strike - but Yang’s is personal, sacrificial. She feels the pain before she can utilize it, and her anger is never cruel, her actions never misplaced. And she doesn’t complain.
Sometimes, Blake wishes she would: she can hear when she’s being talked to, even if she can’t respond. Every prayer, every curse, every devastation, every hope.
She waits for the sound of Yang’s voice, but it never comes.
There’s a small shrine in a village called Shion, which is still weeks out from the docks where she can potentially get a ferry to Menagerie, but the locals are kind, and honor her far too greatly for being touched by their ruling god. They direct her to their place of worship deep in the woods, and leave her without looking back. It’s a sacred thing, a bond between a god and their chosen, and law forbids them from watching her ceremony.
Yang pulls the candle from her pouch, lighting it at the foot of the shrine. She kneels down on the stone, worn with the imprints of a thousand prayers, and says, “Blake.”
“I was wondering when I’d hear from you again.” The voice comes almost immediately, as if its owner had been waiting to be beckoned.
It’s still a bit of a shock, though she’s much better prepared for it this time. “Hi,” Yang says, and stops there before she can fuck it up.
“Hi,” Blake says, and seems to be amused against her will. More guarded, less open. Yang can read the warning signs, but she’ll cut them off at the source.
“I’m sorry,” she says, and she means it, getting to her feet. “If I waited too long to contact you. I’m not sure how this is supposed to work, and I’m...not familiar with this area.”
“Don’t worry,” Blake says, somewhat mollified as she lowers her arms. “It’s only been a few weeks. I won’t smite you until at least a month.”
Yang laughs, and unexpectedly to the both of them, Blake goes deadly still. Her body language says Yang’s done something improper, but her expression says she’s hearing music.
The candle is burning. The moment can turn itself over gently, if Yang knows how to guide it. She keeps her smile on, but makes it quiet. “You know, I didn’t expect the Goddess of Death to have a sense of humor.”
It seems to work. “I like to surprise people,” Blake says, and moves closer. “Can I ask you something?”
“You never talk to me,” she says, pretending to be in control of something she clearly isn’t. “Why not?”
Only the forest speaks for a moment, branches creaking, leaves rustling. And then: “Do you want me to?” Yang asks.
“It’s...something people tend to do,” Blake says slowly. “But not you.”
“I don’t want to bother you,” Yang says.
“It’s not a bother.” The words come out too quickly, tone too reassuring. Blake’s own desire is what laces the conversation, rather than Yang’s uncertainty. That’s a new, dangerous line.
Yang takes a careful step forward, her eyes lowered to the ground as if in apology; they raise gradually, trailing over Blake’s form until meeting her gaze. Looking for lines she’s crossed, and should step back over; searching for lights that say go. Instead, she only finds an intense, hungry confusion - I want it without understanding what it is.
“You know,” she murmurs, “these statues - they never do you justice.”
And she lifts a hand to Blake’s cheek, hesitating over her skin - is that Blake’s catch of breath, or is it the wind? - before gently cupping it in her palm. She could lose an arm for this; touching a god without being explicitly asked is the greatest sin a mortal can commit, but Blake only stands there, unmoving, eyes wide and lips parted, the moon sitting in the hollow of her throat.
“Blake,” she whispers, and it can only be a god’s strength keeping her voice steady, “I’m never not thinking of you.”
The candle goes out.
Nobody is waiting for her when she returns. This is how gods give each other gifts - by saying, no, I see everything but I did not see you.
Yang starts talking to her, and changes her routes so that rather than taking the most direct path to Menagerie, she’s able to stop at some of the smaller shrines on the way. There are only two more, and she hasn’t called Blake since Shion. Yang hopes she’ll still come.
“Isn’t it strange,” Yang says, “how much easier it is to think about someone than to talk about them? I think about you differently than I can talk about you. I don’t even know if that makes sense.”
No response; not that she expects one. At this point, she assumes Blake’ll just kill her if she gets too annoying. Maybe a tree will fall on her, or she’ll do something embarrassing like trip over a rock and break her neck. “I can’t remember much about my life. I know there were people I loved, but I can’t see their faces. I must’ve traveled a lot; I don’t like sitting still. I don’t know how old I am, or even when my birthday is.” She’s never admitted this before; never admitted she came to lying on the ground, with only her name left ringing in her skull and a note in her pocket.
“I think you’re beautiful,” she tells the warm night air. “That’s what I was trying to say. Before. Blake, I think you’re beautiful.”
A star shoots across the sky, light trails leaving imprints against the swirling blue-purple-black of the galaxy, but it must be a coincidence.
Another shrine, another candle. This one burrowed into the side of a mountain, a dome of a room with a hand-woven rug for kneeling, several long benches behind. The statue sits against the far wall, centered.
“They’re getting better,” Yang says, getting to her feet. “This one, at least, gets your eyes right.”
“Hm,” Blake says, pressing her lips together. She moves to stand next to Yang rather than in front of her, and they both examine the statue together. “I suppose you’d know, wouldn’t you?”
“Were the compliments too much?” Yang asks, impressed with how light her voice sounds. She nudges Blake’s elbow with her own. Oh, she’ll see how much distance she can cross. She’s already walked miles - she’ll swim oceans, too. “You said you wanted me to talk to you.”
“I didn’t say that,” Blake denies unconvincingly, and then pauses. “And in regards to your first question - I didn’t say that, either.”
Yang could tease her - so even gods like being called pretty, huh - or she could be brave, turn to Blake, take her face in both of her hands and lean in--
“Yang,” Blake says, and does step one of that plan by turning to her. “What do you want from me?”
Maybe the idea’s overwhelmed her to the degree that she can no longer see its risks - its potentially horrible, literally life-ending consequences - and that’s what drives her to do it. Maybe it’s that Blake is looking at her like a poem; something beautiful, not to be understood by anyone but the artist who made her. Maybe it’s that every day she gets closer and closer to the truth.
“What would you do if I kissed you?” Yang says, as if it were merely an interesting, hypothetical concept to explore and not the end of the world. “Is that possible, even if you wanted me to?”
The room is warm and tight and silent. The clay is cracking where the floor meets the walls. A tunneled-through skylight is the only thing that keeps Blake from swallowing the place in shadows, instead coating them in a surreal, amber glow. Like if you mixed the two of them together, you’d still be left with color and light.
“I think,” Blake murmurs, “we’re both going to have to find that out.”
Step two of her plan. Both of her hands cupping Blake’s cheeks. She’s strangely aware of her lifelines - do they mean anything to you, she wants to ask, does my life mean anything to you now and if it doesn’t, will my death - she leans in, their noses brushing, Blake’s breathing as if she needs to, Yang isn’t and she does; teach me about magic, teach me about memory, tell me how I knew you before I knew myself--
Blake kisses her, tired of her caution and hesitancy, lips parting and fists knotting around the fabric of her shirt. Yang expects them to crash together, like comets. She expects them to crumble and collapse under the impact, buried in the ruins of each other and suffocating. She expects them to decay there, reveling in their own destruction.
What she doesn’t expect is sunlight.
Her skin set aflame, Blake’s tongue in her mouth, hands traveling from her face to her lower back and pressing close - somewhere a rule is being written about the gods and desperation - Blake pulls away, gasps, her fingers begging for Yang’s heart.
“This power,” she says, mesmerized, staring at things only she can see, golden gossamer roots running up Yang’s veins. “Where did you get it?”
“I don’t know,” Yang breathes out, and kisses her one last time before the candle burns out. “But I swear I’ve never felt closer to finding out.”
Nobody attempts to stop her from barging through God’s door. Weiss and Ruby, Sun and Neptune; they all avert their eyes. I see everything, but I do not see you.
“What is she?” Blake asks, standing before them with her head bowed. “Please, God. I need to know.”
“If you weren’t already sure,” God says, “you wouldn’t be here.”
She hates it when they’re right.
Yang hits the docks; situated on the outskirts of a fishing village called Ito, and with constant transport to Menagerie, their shrine to Blake is the largest one yet.
“And this one?” Blake asks, before Yang has even begun to pray.
“How did you do that?” Yang says, staring up at her, startled. “Are we, like, super close now?”
“Shut up,” Blake says, but she’s smiling. She extends a hand, helping Yang to her feet. “Your soul calls to me. You barely even have to light the candle, anymore.”
The sound of the ocean knocks on the door; the smell tackles the windows. Above, the seagulls are crying out, angry at all the fish they can’t have. Yang says, “Hi.”
“Hi,” Blake says, and kisses her. Soft and chaste. Something so human and so immortal. “I missed you.”
“I’m your favorite, aren’t I?” Yang teases, her fingers catching Blake’s chin in her hands.
“No,” Blake says, and for the first time, smiles with her teeth. Oh, this must be happiness; no, this must be more - wholeness. “I do this with everyone who requests my presence. I’m very popular.”
“I can imagine,” Yang says, brushing a thumb across her bottom lip. “So what else are you the god of?”
“You had a few of them right,” Blake says nonchalantly, settling against Yang’s body. She could be taller, if she wanted to be, but there’s so much beauty to see when looking up. “Night, and all things within it. Darkness, shadows. Death.”
“What else?” Yang says, watching her mouth shape every letter.
“Forgiveness, and justice,” Blake murmurs. Oh, there’s a fine print for this, and she’s violating every word. “Promises,” she continues. “Seduction.”
Hook, line - a heavy wave rattles the walls; oh, the sea, the sea! - Yang shudders against her mouth, salt sinking into her blood. Leaves her bouyant and floating, the earth bubbling up beneath her. Rising and rising and rising.
“Shockingly,” Yang says, letting Blake press kisses into the crook of her neck, “I don’t find that hard to believe.”
“God,” Blake finds herself standing before them once again, hands clasped and head bowed. She speaks formally in the presence of God, as is customary of respect. “Please, God. I am supposed to be guiding her, but I fear all I’ve done is lead her astray. I need to know where she came from, and where she is going.”
“Blake,” God says, and touches the top of her head with their hand, “she is so close to your temple. Look at her when she arrives, and tell me what you see.”
Menagerie is a busy, populated island, and Blake’s temple is the primary reason for that. Pilgrimages are made from around the world to pray at her shrine and leave offerings at her feet. Protect me from loss, help me navigate my grief, let me fulfill my promise.
Yang is none of those things. And when the keepers of the temple ask the reason for her journey, she says, “I am in love with her.”
“You have been touched,” one says, and bows to her upon entry. “You have as long as the goddess is willing to give you.”
The heavy doors close, but the room shimmers, firelight glittering over golden-accented walls. A large moon is carved into the marble floor, crossing over a sun. Before her is the largest, most intricately carved statue of Blake she’s ever seen, and it looks exactly like her.
“You know,” Blake says from behind her, “you don’t have to do that anymore.”
“No,” Yang says. “But it - it’s been a long journey. And I’m only here because of you.”
Blake’s footsteps echo, her boots stopping at the north point of the sun. “How do you feel?”
It’s enough to make Yang smile. “I know you heard me,” she says pointedly, but her amusement is apparent. “You hear everything I say.”
“I thought I’d give you the chance to tell me yourself.”
For the last time, Yang rises to her feet. Blake’s eyes glitter, mischievous and playful. She looks as she always has, but clearer, somehow; defined and resolute. She carries the truth in the way she extends a hand, in the way she searches for Yang’s mouth. When they kiss, Yang swears she can see another world.
“I’ll tell you something better,” Yang says. “The truth.”
She leans down, bumps their foreheads together. Blake’s arms loop around her neck automatically. Oh, Yang thinks, if I were the god of anything, I’d want it to be this: The pulling-close; the need for contact; the habit of a gesture.
“So what’s the truth?” Blake asks.
“The truth,” Yang says unshakably, “is that it was you. I woke up with no memory and a note, and somehow, I knew I had to find you. The only thing I’ve been searching for is you.”
It’s you, she says. It’s you. You. You.
“God,” Blake says, and this time God is ready for her.
“Blake Belladonna,” God says, and inclines their head. “Come. Show me what you have.”
In her hands is a small slip of paper, worn and ripped around the edges. “It is a note,” she says, and unfolds it gingerly. “It is a note, God, in my handwriting.”
“And what does it say?” they ask.
“Find me,” Blake recites, “and I promise I’ll bring you home.”
“Well,” God says whimsically, “you are the Goddess of Promises.”
Tears build in the corners of her eyes, shipwrecks gaining water. “Yang,” Blake whispers, and now that she is close, she can see everything. Meteors falling from their showers; the day the sun went out. “Yang. I’m sorry. I’m so, so--”
“Shh,” Yang murmurs, pressing her lips into Blake’s hair. “What are you apologizing for? I found you, and you brought me home.”
“Oh, this is exciting,” God says. “I so rarely get to come to Remnant on business.”
“God,” Yang says, and bows her head. The temple doors remain locked; Blake’s hand is clutched tightly in her own. “It’s good to see you.”
“And you, Yang Xiao Long,” says God. “You fell in the last war, over five-hundred years ago. Do you remember this?”
“Yes,” she says. “I was trying to protect my sister.”
“And what happens when a god falls?”
“We forget them,” Blake says. “Their power is forfeit; they are erased from our memories, and our world.”
“It is not a law of justice, but a law of reality,” God says. “Or it was, previously. Only you did not forget immediately, Blake Belladonna. I did not know it was possible for two souls to be so intrinsically bound that they leave traces in the other, but you did not forget, just long enough to leave her a message. It took five hundred years for Yang to fall to the earth, and when she awoke, she did not forget, either.
“Gods are made, and this means that what we are gods of can change,” they continue. “Blake, you were not previously the Goddess of Death. You became it because you believed that Yang had died, and no god had as strong a connection to loss as you. Your power became a beacon, just as it now will be a beacon for Remembrance.
“And you, Yang Xiao Long,” God says. “Goddess of the Sun, of Loyalty, of Sacrifice. You were many things. And now you are the Goddess of Rebirth.”