On Yara’s wedding night, after matters have been attended to, Ko curls up next to her pillow in the form of a kitten and says, You need to leave.

Yara startles awake and falls back to her pillow, exasperated. “I thought you’d be gone,” she whispers, soft enough not to wake her husband.

You know me better than that, Ko says.

She does, and before the horizon tinges pink she’s packed her bag and crept through the gate. Ko perches on her shoulder as far as the foothills. Somewhere past the edge of the woods, she trips over a rock and realizes that she’s alone.

She goes home the same day, that time. Ko is back by supper, a fox now, distastefully eyeing the dishcloths Yara’s cousin gave her as a wedding gift. They look just like the ones their grandmother used to have. Ko isn’t reasonable about things like that.

It’s time, Ko says, a shimmering cougar.

“Time for what?” Yara mumbles, already reaching for her bag.

Time, says Ko, frustrated. Don’t waste it.

Yara climbs as far up the mountain as she can before it’s too late to get back before dark. She didn’t bring enough blankets to sleep outside this time of year, but she finds herself eyeing a hollow redwood stump and wondering. If she lived in that stump, if she learned every splinter and pebble of it, would Ko ever come for her here?

She goes home that time, too. Her husband asks where she’s been, but when he gets no answer he doesn’t bother asking again. She can see the mountain from her window, snow-tipped and ready, and Ko lets her be for the night.

The next time she walks away from the mountain rather than toward it, and she brings plenty of blankets. She’s been to town, of course, and to the next town over for the doctor, but beyond that is a road she’s never seen.

“Ko?” Yara whispers to the wind. There’s no answer.

She sleeps behind a barn and travels on in the morning. Her husband has certainly noticed her absence by now. He would only be angry if she returned today; she’ll have to wait until he would be relieved.

She stops at an inn and earns a meal in sparkling dishes and floors. They offer her room and board to stay on for a while, and she can’t think why not. For a few weeks, she cooks and cleans and changes the bedsheets. It’s just like her last life.

What are you doing? Ko demands, late at night, as she’s dusting the books above the fireplace that no one ever reads.

“I know, I should go back,” Yara whispers. She doesn’t turn around to see what form Ko has taken.

Why? Ko asks. There must be so many places to go.

“This one’s not much different from home,” Yara points out.

And now you know that. What don’t you know?

Yara never argues for long.

There’s a war to the north, apparently. From what Yara can piece together, someone harvested someone else’s fields and it escalated from there.

That sounds fun, says Ko, padding along beside her as a tiger.

“It sounds stupid and dangerous,” says Yara. She doesn’t bother keeping her voice down when they’re out on the open road with no one in sight.

You’ve never seen a war before, says Ko.

“Have you?” She’s never quite been able to ask what happens when Ko disappears.

No, says Ko. I’m all yours, only yours.

Yara is pleased to hear that, and surprised to be pleased.

I want to see the war, says Ko.

At the next crossroads, Yara turns north.

Yara works on the supply line, and then she helps in the medical tents, and one time she gets caught in a tight spot and tries to shoot someone, and then she gets tired of being scared and leaves. Ko never makes a single appearance. None of it is any fun.

It takes months to get home, because she wasn’t keeping track of where she went and she refuses to ask for directions. Eventually she finds the mountain, and then it’s no trouble from there.

Her husband is eating lentil stew for dinner when she walks in the door. It smells delicious. Yara isn’t sure if he’s learned to cook since she left, or if he always could and didn’t bother.

He looks up and says, “Well. I suppose your mother was right.”

Yara was looking forward to watching him make a scene, but if he isn’t going to, she’s happy enough to skip it. She unpacks her bags and serves herself a bowl of stew. It’s just as good as it smells.

She’s been home for more than three weeks when Ko comes back as a weasel and says, Let’s go.

Yara is still in bed. Her husband has left for the day, and she hasn’t yet decided what to do with her morning. “I missed you,” she says.

What’s on the other side of the mountain? Ko asks, flitting around her, jumping on and off the bed.

“Another war, I think.” Yara rolls onto her back and settles comfortably. “Why were you gone so long?”

Ko bounces in the corner of her eye. You need to get up. It’s time to go.

“Come here,” says Yara. She pats her chest.

Ko hovers uncertainly before tentatively creeping forward and curling up on top of her, vibrating nervously. Don’t you want to go?

Yara smiles. It’s never been a question before. “Why don’t you stay instead?” she says, and lets her eyelids sink.