Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Something From Nothing.


The Caldari had their own name for the small, distant, ruddy star that gifted their world with barely enough heat to live, but it was the Gallentean name that had stuck.

For now, it was invisible. Risen above the horizon, but not the mountains, it had brought second-hand light to the valley to see by, but not full illumination yet.

It was cold in the twilight of a Caldari Prime autumn morning. Cold enough to set even a nine year old girl who was determined to be on her best behaviour fidgeting in the climate-controlled comfort of her coat.

The grown-ups didn't seem to mind it. Even with the chill turning their cheeks and noses pink and raising great clouds of warm moisture with every breath, Silver and Ami were in quiet conversation and Cia was distant, as if she wasn't really paying attention even when she lightly touched Camille's shoulder to get her to stop jigging on the spot.

They were standing slightly apart from a knot of other attendees who had the uncomfortable expression that normal people always wore when in the presence of a capsuleer, let alone two. Camille had always heard that you should wear black at funerals, but nobody here was. Instead, everybody was wearing white, or green, or blue. It looked more like a sombre party than a funeral to her, except without cake. She fought back a treacherous giggle at the thought.

She looked around at the temple again. It was a bit more than she could take in easily. They were by an avenue of smooth, neatly dressed stone that led to the front door, flanked by standing stones and trees that sheltered them under an arched ceiling of copper-hung limbs. The temple itself reminded her of a Scorpion-class battleship, with two arms sweeping forward to create a courtyard in front of the main door where a pyre had been neatly stacked. It was built on a mountain shelf, and to one side there was a stunning view over the valley, and the pinkish glow of the rising sun on the mountain peaks opposite. To the other side, a dense forest of evergreen trees that seemed to swallow the light.

There was another hand on her shoulder and Camille thought she was being stopped from fidgeting again, but the touch was the firm weight of Ami's hand, rather than Cia's light pressure.

“They're coming.” Ami murmured, nodding towards the long flight of stone steps that led up to the avenue from the plaza at the bottom of the mountain.

There were sparks there. Five fire torches, just like the ones from the summer festival on Debreth. It was a small procession led by an old man who looked like he should be freezing cold in his robes, but showed no sign of it if he was, who lit the way with a big torch. Behind him came the bier, carrying a man who looked startlingly like Mr. Verin, if Mr. Verin was old, well, really old instead of just old. Mr. Verin himself and three people – a man and two women – that she didn't recognize were guiding the bier as it floated along on four graviton pads, also holding fire torches.

Mr. Verin caught her eye as he walked past and gave her a little, sad smile and a bit of a wave with the fingers of the hand holding his torch. Camille waved back, but she wasn’t sure he saw before the bier went past.

The guests fell into line behind the bier as they passed between the temple arms and fell into a crescent around the pyre as the bier lifted itself on top and settled among the dry, oiled wood. The priest and family bowed to the body, followed by the guests. Camille had to hurry a little as it took her off-guard.

The priest cleared his throat and when he spoke, he spoke softly, but well enough to carry his words to everyone present.

“We are here to carry out the sad duty that must come at the end of life.” he said. “And to honour Mattias Iroh Kuwabi Hakatain for the life he no longer lives, for the legacy he leaves to us, and persons who will remember him. We pray that his Ancestors receive him in kindness and honour. Please, be silent for a minute to reflect on his life.”

Heads bowed around the half-circle, and for a minute the only sound on the temple courtyard was the swish and rush of wind in the trees and the cry of a bird of prey as it circled in the frigid morning air. It was broken eventually by the priest, who raised his head again and shook his hands clear of the sleeves of his robe.

“We are not the Starsmith's creation.” he reminded them. “It is important to remember that the only thing in all of infinity that the Starsmith made is the stars themselves. Everything else that has come since that moment has been an evolution from initial conditions.

“We are not stars, or planets, or even this blood and bone. We are spirits, luminous minds born from oblivion. The fact that we exist to stand here today to grieve and remember Iroh is a greater miracle than the fact that the stars turn, or the worlds dance. We are creation in its purest and most perfect form, something made from nothing. Impossible, but real nonetheless.

“The spirit does not wither and die with the body. The body is an ordinary creation, something made from something else, subject to all the laws of entropy. The spirit however, the perfect creation, endures. Living proof that the mind – the soul - exists independent of the body stands here today, among our number. ” he bowed slightly to the small knot of capsuleers at this.

“Death is only a small ending. It is the conclusion of one chapter, but the next begins straight away. Our grief is not for a soul destroyed, but for ourselves, forced to endure bound in the chains of matter and entropy while Iroh is free to join his Ancestors.”

Here, the priest stepped forward and lifted a clay jar sealed with a wooden stopper, which he removed. Camille caught a powerful scent that reminded her equally of flowers and of Cia's spicy cooking. As he spoke, the priest poured a drizzle of clear oil from the jar all over the pyre. “All his life, this man has been bound in service. He has raised a son and daughters of the Caldari people, successful in their own right. He sought, and found, wealth among the stars and brought prosperity to more than just his own family. Thanks to his selflessness, it is impossible to count just how many people have had their lives improved by his work. His memory is an example to all Caldari of a life well-lived, and his place among the Ancestors will be honoured.”

He placed his hand over the body's heart, and anointed Iroh's forehead with the scented oil. “Rest, kaashivono haanuu. You are free of your Heiian at last.”

He bowed to Mr. Verin, who stepped forward and murmured, so quietly that Camille could barely hear him; “Okrikaato useuusai fuzasen yn taisaan.Uaaka haokosen nahui arkuu.” and lowered his torch to the wood.

Dried timber soaked in flammable oil lit with a fwoomph noise and Mr. Verin took a step back as the flames spread to the whole pyre in seconds until there was nothing to see other than an impenetrable wall of flame. The heat was incredible, even from several paces away, but welcome after the chill they had been standing in for so long. Something in the fuel made the flames burn with a blue edge that made harsh shadows on the walls and on the faces of everyone present. The sweet flowers and spice scent that had come from the jar became powerfully present, but not oppressive.

Some of the guests stood for only a few seconds before they bowed and started to walk away. In ones and twos, they left the pyre behind, slowly and thoughtfully. Eventually, Cia took her hand and led Camille away as well. Camille wanted to ask her how Mr Verin’s papa could go down the River if he’d been burned up, but Cia’s expression told her that now was not the time for questions.

Camille glanced back as they went. Verin had sunk to his knees, staring as firelight reflected in the startling blueness of his eyes, and off the wet lines on his cheeks. He was, very faintly, smiling.

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