The moon speeds up, skating across the sky and sinking below the horizon. The sun leaps out from behind the distant forest and soon follows, day chasing night chasing day until the sun becomes a spinning band of light. Water swells forth from the distant coast, filling my useless lungs and painting the sky a hazy, uniform gray.
I uncross my legs and rise from my pedestal on the mountain plateau, sloughing off the centuries-old shell of bronze around me. The world I knew melts before me, like truefrost in rain.
But something drives me to stand nonetheless.
All up and down the flooded mountain, the other statues crack apart, the people within them standing up, and I blink in surprise. There are so many of them now—millions, perhaps even billions, nestled into crevices and plateaus and steps carved into every level of the Roots of the World, encrusted in jewels, or gold, or crystal. When I was laid to rest here, there were but a handful. When I was laid to rest here, even bronze was a luxury of the highest order. When I was laid to rest here—

—I raised one hand to block the gently rising sun as I sat at the base of the lone bronze statue overlooking the forest. Immediately, Iyai rapped my shoulder with her ivory staff. I straightened up and glared at the diminutive bald woman.
“What was that for? I wasn’t going to break it,” I whined, voice still squeaky with childhood.
“Not it. Her,” Iyai corrected. “And it is the principle of the thing. She deserves respect.”
“You shouldn’t hit him, either,” San piped up from my side.
Iyai turned to him, one eyebrow raised. “Oh? And why is that?”
“He deserves respect too,” San said, pointing one slim finger at Iyai’s nose.
I hurriedly lowered San’s hand before he poked Iyai in the eye. “No, no, no I don’t. Come on, don’t draw her attention.”
But it was too late. Iyai knelt down to San’s height—not that the little old woman was much taller than him—and firmly said, “Eisu perfected the technique we still use today to send the greatest among us to heaven. If you are lucky enough to be laid to rest, you will have her to thank. Lin is simply a precocious child. What has he done to deserve the same respect as a deity?”
San huffed. “Lin puts food on the table. Eisu just sits there. I know who I care more about.”
“San!” I grabbed his wrist urgently. “Don’t make Iyai mad, okay?”
But Iyai just laughed it off. The crystal that wasn’t quite ice mounted atop her staff pulsed in time with her hearty laughter. “I wouldn’t expect you two to understand just yet. You’re still young, after all. You are, however, wrong about Eisu.” Iyai bowed her head to the statue. “She doesn’t ‘just sit there.’ It’s very, very slow, but Eisu is—”

—standing up. I turn around, and the woman I was taught to revere as a goddess emerges from her own shell of bronze, blinking in wonder at the legions of bodies now covering the underwater mountains. I shake my head and begin walking.
I have nothing to say to a deity. Not one that could let this world come to be, anyway.
I brush aside the memory and begin moving. The meters of water I now wade through are no more an impediment to my altered body than if they were empty air—just as Iyai had said it would be.
I hate how often that old crone is correct.
A sharp pain jolts through my lip, and I realize I have bitten myself in anger. Iyai had promised our village that, after we’d been laid to rest, the only thing we could be harmed by was each other. It seems that I can still inflict pain on myself, too.
The pain brings me grim satisfaction. If I can bleed, then so can Iyai.
I was laid to rest before her, so I don’t know where she is now, but she can’t have gotten far. I begin walking down the road to the village proper and pause.
Over the past centuries, the tiny village I was born in must have been replaced with a city of some kind, although I cannot see the details. A stone wall four times as tall as I am stands in my way; as far as I can tell, the only gate is rusted shut by centuries spent submerged underwater.
Well. If the stories are true, this should be no obstacle. I walk towards the ancient, stubborn wall.
My body plows through the stone with no more resistance than if I had been wading through a mountain stream. I press my lips together, irritated. Iyai may have been a callous, hidebound monster, but she keeps her promises. I emerge into the other side, leaving a me-shaped hole behind.
As I step into the city, the grey light of heaven reveals an alien world.
I balk in incomprehension at the submerged, ruined city which now stands before me. Those strange, glass-domed farms were once the snowfields San and I played hide-and-seek in. The towering avenue of aged brick markets was once the hill that sheltered my village’s tents. The sad, rotten ruins of that wooden temple in the east was once—

“—the best hot spring ever!” San laughed, lightly splashing me. The bubbling water left a pleasant tingle on my bare chest; the falling snow playfully sparked against my skin.
“Also the only hot spring,” I pointed out, gently poking at my thin beard. I was trying to freeze my hair in the wintry air, with limited success. I gave San’s frozen beard an envious look. Even though he was a year younger than me, he’d somehow grown up faster than I had. He’d styled his beard into a pattern of frost vaguely reminiscent of a boar’s tusks.
“What about the one down by the forest?” San asked. He squinted at my chin and added, “You’re not doing it right. Don’t touch it until it’s finished. You’ll break the ice.”
“Flooded last week,” I absently replied. I poked the beard again. San gave me a pointed look, and I said, “I want to know if it’s done yet.”
“I’ll tell you when it’s done. You’ve messed it up, though. C’mere.” San glided through the water and ran his warm hands along my chin, smoothing out the ruffles I’d raised.
“I’m going to have to start waiting for it to freeze all over again, aren’t I?” I grumbled.
“It’s better for you to start over than to get frozen all messed-up, Lin.” San tutted, putting the finishing touches on his work. He was trying to freeze my beard into a pattern of vines, I think.
I never got to see the finished product. The noisy crunching of fresh snow alerted us that someone was coming. A few loud moments later, I looked up to see Te’an standing above us, her expression disapproving.
“Weren’t you two supposed to be harvesting truefrost?” Te’an asked. She held a similar bone-white staff to Iyai’s, although hers lacked the head-sized truefrost crystal mounted on Iyai’s staff.
“We finished early,” San said. “Here.” He nodded to me.
I waded to the hot spring’s edge, picking up the small cloth bag with a clump of truefrost the size of a housefly. Te’an hopped down, knees flexing as she landed in the snow. She opened the bag and blinked.
“Well.” Te’an muttered to herself. “I suppose I can’t argue with results.” She pocketed the bag and stalked away, still giving us suspicious looks.
“Do you think we should’ve waited somewhere closer?” I asked, watching Te’an leave. “We’re pretty far from the village…”
“Mm.” San slid closer to me. “There’s an upside to that.”
“Oh?” I asked. “What is it?”
He placed one snow-dusted hand on my bare chest, and I squeaked in surprise. “It’s… private.”
I blushed. “Ah. I—I see.”
I leaned into his touch. San found my hand under the water, and he—

—died long ago, like everything else in this cursed heaven.
I swallow my memories, squeezing my eyes shut. I can’t help but think that if I look down, San will still be laughing in the hot springs, frozen in time like vines of frost in a beard.
The urge grows too strong, and I thrust a hand through the wooden floor. It vanishes when I strike it, as if it is nothing but cobwebs and dust. I look through the hole I’ve made, into a flooded, bare cavern, and sigh.
There’s nothing left of the springs. They must have fallen to the rising tide aeons ago.
I stand, my fury newly stoked. I may not know where Iyai was laid to rest, but I know where to find someone who might.
Things may have changed over the years—the rising tide, the fallen city—but those who were laid to rest were sacrosanct, undisturbed. If I move swiftly, I should be able to return to where Te’an was laid to rest, all those years ago.
As I exit the city, choosing to leave through an open gateway this time, I see others roaming the slopes of the mountain. Long-lost family members reunite in heaven, children who will never grow old hugging parents who will never again leave them.
At the sight, I quicken my pace. Hopefully, Te’an has not strayed far from where I saw her last.
As the undersea slopes steepen, I begin to slip on gentle, green, unfamiliar mosses. In days gone past, a silent, swift stream once trickled down these slopes; even now, with the world submerged, the channel it once etched is as clear as snowmelt water.
When I reach the bottom of the valley, I pause. There was only ever one person laid to rest here before it flooded, and she spins to see me as I arrive. Te’an, still clad in her shaman’s robes, preserved forever with her.
“Lin?” Te’an calls up at me, shocked. “Of all people, you were honored enough to be laid to rest?”
Old anger bubbles up within me, and I snap, “Being laid to rest is not an honor. It is simply a matter of who can suck up to Iyai the most.”
Te’an bristles. “How dare you? Have our people fallen so far that a lazy, deviant upstart like you can be given the gift of gods and goddesses?”
“Our people fell far enough to give you immortality.” I laugh, bitterly, as Te’an storms towards me with the same furious expression as when—

—she interrupted San and I in the snow-covered valley.
“San! Lin!” I abruptly pulled back from San as I heard Te’an’s voice echo across the mountain. “Can you hear me? The valley is off-limits! Iyai’s coming to bring you back!”
San sighed, and I felt his chest press against mine. He gently pushed me off of him; reluctantly, I got to my feet and threw on my winter furs. “Seems like they found us, Lin. Someone must’ve spotted us leaving the village.”
San rose to call back, but I placed a hand on his bare shoulder. He gave me a questioning look as I handed him his clothes. “The snow is fairly heavy. If we stay quiet, they might not find us.”
“Enough!” I heard Iyai shout. “Te’an, hand me the burkenroot. And you said you had some of Lin’s hairs?”
I heard a whoosh as something caught on fire; a moment later, a spiralling ball of smoke arced into the air and landed directly on my head.
“There they are!” I coughed and waved the smoke away as Te’an crested the snowbank. “You two! Nobody’s supposed to enter the valley!” Te’an shouted.
“Not that that deterred you. This was just about the only place we could get some privacy,” I muttered.
“You insufferable—argh!” Te’an groused, grabbing her hair. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to find burkenroot? And Iyai had to waste it on a tracking spell—you don’t even know why the valley is off-limits, do you?”
“Rising tide’s gonna flood it. We know. But there’s a bottleneck at the cliffs, and it’ll take weeks for the tide to even reach the hills—”
“As the water flows, it widens the channel,” Iyai barked. She’d finally made it up to the snow bank. “We have minutes, not weeks. Now—”
A sharp crack echoed around the valley.
Iyai swore under her breath. “Run.”
I took one look at the panic in her eyes and took off over the snow, my bare feet aching in the cold. San and Te’an followed suit as a dull, resounding roar built up behind us.
Suddenly, my left foot plummeted into the ground as if it didn’t exist—powder snow, too thin to run on without sinking in. I jerked back, avoiding the natural trap, but San and Te’an were less fortunate. Both of them barely had time to scream before vanishing beneath the snow.
Frantically, I knelt down, acutely aware of the water screaming behind me. “San! San, are you—”
“Just go!” San screamed. “There’s no time to dig us out!”
Iyai caught up, saw the San-shaped and Te’an-shaped holes in the snow, and grimaced. “He’s right.”
I spun on her. “Don’t you dare say we have to leave them behind. I’m getting San out, no matter what.”
Iyai grabbed my arm. “Don’t be foolish, Lin. We may have our differences, but I would not see you killed in such a futile endeavor.”
“Then go. I’ll handle this myself.”
Iyai growled, “You stubborn—fine. See if you can rescue them. I will delay the tide. Stand back.”
Then she turned to face the oncoming wave, her ivory, crystal-tipped staff held between her hands. Almost on cue, the rush of water came to an abrupt crescendo, and on reflex I spun around to see a wave ten times taller than me surge forth from the mist—
—and Iyai hurled her staff like a javelin at the wave. The truefrost crystal exploded with a discordant chime, and the churning, ferocious wave… slowed. Droplets in flight ceased their fall; twigs and snow hovered sluggishly in the water like flies in honey; bubbles popped lazily, like yawning mouths.
I blinked at the sight, comprehending. “You froze the wave in time?”
“Slowed,” Iyai grunted, “and not all of it. The tide will build up behind it in… a minute, at most.”
Then I’d hurry. I knelt and thrust my hand into the snow. “San? Can you see my hand?”
“You’re not offering me a hand, too, by any chance?” Te’an interrupted. Irritated, I reached into the partially-collapsed tunnel she’d left behind.
“...Yeah. I can see you. Barely. You’re pretty far,” San said. From behind me, the rumbling water grew higher in pitch.
“Alright. I’m coming in, okay? You’ll be out in no time.”
I peeked down the tunnel, and indeed, I could see a sliver of San’s face. I perched on the ledge of the powder snow pit, gripped onto the ledge with my hands, and slowly lowered myself in. “Keep talking, San. I’ll find you.”
“Lin. Stop,” San said, quietly but firmly.
I froze. San continued, “It’s… I think I’m in too deep. And there’s not enough time, Lin.” San’s voice wavered, but remained clear. “I can still hear the water. You should run.”
“No, no, no!” I snapped, whirling to Iyai. “Isn’t there anything else you can do? What if—what if you slowed him down in time, so that he didn’t drown, and then we came back and dug him out with divers?”
“The force of the water would crush us,” Te’an pointed out.
“Then—I don’t know, put a shield around them! Put breath in their lungs with magic! There’s got to be something you can do!”
Iyai stared at the two silhouettes in the snow with an empty expression, then narrowed her eyes. “I could slow them in time, such that the damage to their bodies is spread out over years, and wrap them in a rejuvenating field which repaired that damage as it occurred.”
“Okay, so do it!”
Te’an said, “That—what you’re describing is being laid to rest! It’s an honor reserved for the greatest among us—we don’t deserve—”
“Te’an, it is the only way to save your life,” Iyai snapped.
“And San’s,” I pointed out.
Te’an began, “Do you even have enough truefrost left to—”
Iyai was already taking out crystals and herbs from within her voluminous, flowing furs. “Of course.” With practiced experience, she made two finger-sized bundles, added a scoop of freshly-fallen snow to one, and dropped them down the snow tunnel. “Eat these.” She turned to me. “Now run. The wave is still coming.”
“But San—”
“I ate the thing. Just go!” San shouted. He hesitated, then added, “I love you.”
Despite everything, I smiled. “I love you too. See you soon.”
Iyai grabbed my arm, and this time, I didn’t resist. The barrier Iyai had thrown up finally collapsed a moment later, and I heard it crashing down in the distance. We didn’t stop running until we clambered out of the swiftly-flooding valley, the world nothing more than a hazy swirl of snow around us.
I exhaled and dropped to the floor. “Alright. They’re safe. How are we going to dig them out?”
Iyai hesitated, took out a pouch of powder, and said, “I’m… sorry.”
I blinked. Iyai was many things—ancient, unyielding, arcane—but she was never sorry. “For… what?”
“I had to lie. You would have stayed and gotten yourself killed too, otherwise.”
In a flash, I surged to my feet. “Lied about what?”
“There was enough truefrost for the both of them. But not on my person. I could only save one.” Iyai looked down, almost ashamed. “Te’an was laid to rest, but San…”
I froze, unable to register her words. “...What?”
“San is dead,” Iyai said.
I clenched my fists.
Then I screamed and hurled myself at her—
—but she threw the pouch in my face, and I knew nothing but darkness.

“She felt guilty,” I taunt. “More than can be said for you, at least. She gave me immortality because she wanted to say sorry for killing the man I loved. I think she even thought it would be a kindness.”
Te’an’s hand grasps for a staff long since rotted away, face inches away from mine. “You have no right,” she snarls. “What did you do to her? Where is Iyai?”
“Don’t play dumb with me.” She tries to lunge and I grab her shoulder; our bodies meet with the inevitability of glaciers on grinding stone. “You know where she would have been laid to rest.”
“With Eisu, you imbecile! That was always the plan. Those who came after would fill the mountain’s sides, but the first to be saved would stand with their savior.” Te’an stops struggling, catching sight of my face.
“She wasn’t there,” I whisper. “The only one with me was Eisu. The last time I saw Iyai—”

I woke up cross-legged, eyes already open. Iyai’s haggard, withered eyes stared into mine.
I tried to hurl myself at her. Nothing happened.
I tried to scream. Nothing happened.
I tried to beg. Nothing happened.
Then Iyai crouched to lift a copper plate to my chest, and revealed the ancient form of Eisu.
I wasn’t paralyzed. I was just moving very, very slowly.
“They’ll remember you as a hero,” Iyai finally said. “Nobody will know what happened in the valley. Not until the end of days.”
I would have told everyone that Iyai had sentenced San to die and Te’an to live. I would have torn the ancient crone to shreds.
If she hadn’t sent me to heaven first.
“...I suppose that’s not entirely true,” Iyai admitted. “I will know. I will remember.”
Perhaps those eyes looked haunted. In the moment, I didn’t care. But looking back, I should have known.
“Your body should be integrated with the truefrost soon,” Iyai said. She placed the last piece of copper onto my face, a placid, blank mask, and stepped back. “Goodbye, Lin.”
It had only been moments ago for me, and I refused to believe her farewell was final. She would preserve herself too. Iyai had loomed over my shoulder for all of my life; how could she be anything but omnipresent for my death?
The moon sped up, skating across the sky and sinking below the horizon. The sun leapt out from behind the distant forest and soon followed, day chasing night chasing day until the sun became a spinning band of light. Water swelled forth from the distant coast, filling my useless lungs and painting the sky a hazy, uniform grey.
I uncrossed my legs and rose from my pedestal on the mountain plateau, sloughing off the centuries-old shell of bronze around me. The world I knew had melted before me, like truefrost in rain.
But something drove me to stand nonetheless.