The Living and the Dead
I wake alone in the round, soft bed, surrounded by my childhood home.
I’ve slept here for the last few days.
It’s so strange and familiar at the same time.
Sleep slides away.
I walk out onto the porch, and fill my lungs will the cool morning air.
I remember playing here as a boy, but the memories are fragments of the old Yagrin’s life.
Still, the feelings of love are clear and bright, like today’s sky, free of dark clouds and lightning.
A soft wind brings me the smell of the sea, and blows under the robe I wear.
What a wonderful day!
Shazira and I will shape the circle of joy, the ancient bonding ceremony, today, in one of the old places.
We’ll stand together on a tall platform of green stone, on a flower-covered island, not far from the Watchtower.
Bonding pairs have come there for hundreds of years.
Jiku come there only for bonding celebrations.
Other days, the island waits, with quiet beauty, for the footsteps of Jiku to return.
Another circle of joy will rise near us.
Berek’s adopted parents, Zias and Bintar, will bond, just minutes after us.
Zias and I are winsin, the living dead.
There are few of us, and many Jiku will come, out of curiosity alone, to see us rejoin our bondmates.
The council hesitates a long time, before declaring that the living are legally dead, and most winsin die a real death soon enough.
Zias was caught in an unnatural coma with no hope of healing.
I was killed by the Krale, and transformed into an old one, swallowed up by the dark Tshuan lands.
The council declared: “Zias and Yagrin are dead forever.”
“Whatever remains is Yagrin and Zias no more.”
All connections were taken from us.
Bondmates, relatives, guild, possessions.
Our names erased, masters no more.
Zias and I are the rare exceptions that return to life.
We rise again, and find the old threads that bound us to others.
My parents are dead.
I had one brother, but we separated years before his death.
Today I take back my name, and reconnect with Shazira, Berek, and Tzina.
I barely know Berek, my only nephew, though he carries a face like mine.
Still, we are much alike, and at eleven years, he is old enough for drilik.
Today, Berek and I will perform drilik.
He will call me inta, uncle.
Drilik creates bonds of blood, whether they are related or not: parent, child, brother, sister.
This is not what Earth calls adoption.
The Jiku believe that drilik binds our spirits together, even beyond death.
For six years, Zias and Bintar have loved Berek as a son.
Today, Berek will declare them mother and father, and Tzina, my daughter, will declare me ina, father.
The way of bonding is old, set by tradition.
The robes we wear.
The bond promises we make,
The number of steps we walk apart and together.
The bonding platform is a large stone square, one hundred feet long, with a tall fence of silver metal.
Stone stairs rise to silver gates from four sides.
Within, at the center of the platform, is a circle 25 feet in diameter, divided into two halves.
I choose a trusted friend, Balshown, to lead me, blindfolded, up the stairs, and into the left half of the circle.
Then we walk a spiral path that leads to the center, where Balshown leaves me.
Shazira will rise on the opposite stairs, led by Ilisak, her only sister.
Ilisak hopes that the day’s blessings will give her the child she has long sought.
Ilisak guides Shazira on another spiral path to the center, and leaves her.
At the center of the platform we stand, back to back, not touching.
Balshown and Ilisak call out together, “Yagrin and Shazira, two.”
The crowd waits, out of sight, at the bottom of the stairs.
They cry out, “together,” and we take a half-step, until our backs touch.
We lock arms, and turn three full circles.
Shazira and I cry out, “together.”
The guests then climb the stairs and stand around us.
The ceremony is interrupted for a moment by the song of unexpected guests, three Kishla circling high above us.
Three Bizra hover below them, just out of reach.
Our friends try to ignore these strange guests, and return their attention to the ceremony.
Balshown and Ilisak remove the blindfolds.
Shazira and I still hold each other, back to back, so we don’t see each other.
Each of us recites the bond promise, facing the guests.
When we finish, we unlock arms and face each other.
We stand two feet apart, eyes locked into each other, with smiles that reach out from this platform, and shine across the island.
We hold hands and recite the bond promise again.
Neither of us looks away until both have finished.
Then, we turn to face the crowd, together.
The guests walk in circles around us, voicing their blessings.
We give them our own blessings, wishing them the same joy that we’ve found.
The ceremony changes when one or both of the pair are trained in the ways of flow.
Shazira is a flow master, so we follow her guild’s custom.
We’ll flow into strange bodies of living, liquid crystal, with hearts that glow from within the clear bodies.
Shazira creates the crystal energy mask and changes herself.
She plans to do the same to me, unaware of my skills, taken from the Gen.
I’m not skilled yet using masks to change my form, but my fire body is Gen now, so I can perform a true transformation.
I flow my pattern body, and my physical form follows.
A full transformation has subtle differences from a mask.
Shazira and the other flow masters quietly notice the difference.
Our liquid hands meet and merge together.
Then, we bow our heads together, merging for a moment.
The crowd calls out, “one and two.”
We quickly separate and return to our Jiku bodies.
Tzina and Berek come forward as planned.
Tzina embraces me, her eyes full of tears.
“You are ina to me,” she declares, in a strong voice that would shatter stone.
“I am ina to you, forever,” I answer, without letting go.
She will not let go until Berek taps her on the shoulder.
Then, she and I separate, and Berek and I grasp hands.
“You are inta Yagrin to me,” he declares.
“I am inta Yagrin to you, forever” I add, and he is my nephew again.
Before, we hid from our blood, and he called me master.
We faced the Krale together, almost strangers.
Now, we are family.
Everyone descends the stairs, and wait for Zias and Bintar to begin their own bonding ceremony.
When they finish the bonding, Berek declares them his father and mother.
High above us, the Bizra disappear.
The Kishla continue their song for another few seconds, then fly out of sight.
After the bonding, we eat, drink and dance.
The heads of the four guilds (flow, weavers, healing, and artists) are invited to every bonding.
They rarely attend, except for their own family, and for masters of their own guild.
The heads of all the guild are here for my bonding.
I only recognize Lina, of the energy weavers guild, who was once Yagrin’s master.
When the celebration draws to an end, the guild heads approach, and surround me.
Lina speaks first, her voice commanding.
“Yagrin, come tomorrow to a weavers meeting, and tell us about the old ones.”
The other heads stop her.
“Don’t order him, Lina!”
“He’s not part of your guild any more.”
“You were ready to discard him, before the council declared him dead.”
“All the guilds have an equal right to hear his words.”
“Would you have done differently?” she asks them.
“Would you have defied the law?”
“The law demands that all travelers leave the guilds.”
“Yagrin is reborn,” she continues, “and a traveler no more.”
“He will retest soon, take back his master’s robe, and return to the Watchtower as guardian.”
“He is also skilled with flow and healing,” suggests Shazira, “and has sung in the temple of the old ones.”
“He can choose to train and join any of the guilds.”
Lina’s face grows dark at Shazira’s suggestion.
“Let him join more than one guild,” suggests the head of the flow guild.
“Yes,” agrees the head of the artists guild.
“He should join us all!”
“Wear the masters robes of more than one guild?” asks Lina.
“Unthinkable for one to walk in all the guilds!”
“These are strange times, Lina,” says the head of the flow guild.
“All the guilds claim him, and want his knowledge.”
They argue for a few minutes.
“Please stop,” I interrupt.
“I would be honored to be called master, and walk in any of the guilds.”
“Let the council decide what is best for us.”
“I must tell them about my time with the old ones.”
“Then, I will take the weaver’s test.”
“After, if the council permits it, I will train for the other guilds.”
The council questions me for hours.
I tell them of the old ones, sleeping masters, the armies of Tshuan, and prophecies of war.
They are frightened of me.
I have been a traveler, an alien, an old one, and I carry thousands of years of memories.
I bring news of war and change, and I have strange skills beyond any of the guilds.
“Where is your loyalty, Yagrin?” asks one of the council.
“What do you want?”
“I am loyal to family, friends, and the guilds.”
“I am loyal to peace, so all the guilds can continue to learn and grow.”
“I will fight, if necessary, to protect the guilds.”
“I am still a brother to the old ones.”
“They will stand with me.”
The energy masters among the council watch the energy in my bodies as I speak, to see if I lie.
“He seems to speak truly,” says one of them, “but his fire body is strange, and difficult to read.”
“Perhaps he lies without us knowing.”
“Let me join all of the guilds, as I have asked,” I suggest.
“I will be fierce,” I say, “to protect all my brothers and sisters in the guilds.”
The answer satisfies many of them.
“The old saying is true,” says one of the council, “that the guilds always trust their own.”
The council speaks privately, and then returns with their decision.
“Join all the guilds, as you have suggested, as quickly as possible.”
“You will calm the guilds through your knowledge, and your committment.”
“When you have completed all four tests, we will call a gathering of the guilds.”
“You will help the council to explain to the guilds what you have seen.”
“Then we will decide how each guild should prepare for the troubled times that are coming.”
Some Notes on flow, melting, and transformation
We are made of three bodies.
The fire body, an energy body in roughly the shape of an egg.
The pattern body, an energy body with patterns that support a specific physical form.
The stone body, a physical body that is bound to the pattern body.
When we flow living creatures, we use a mask, a simple, artificial energy body.
The mask binds to the pattern body, and supports a temporary transformation of the physical body into a different form.
During all flow, a physical body must remain.
The mask can be held for a few hours or a day, depending on strength and skill.
When the mask is removed, the physical body returns to its original form.
It’s possible, but rarely done, to transform the pattern body directly.
This also results in a change to the physical body.
This way is dangerous for the Jiku.
The transformation often damages awareness or memories, and some energy forms once taken, cannot be undone.
Outside of the flow masters, few even know that a transformation is possible.
The Jiku’s ways of flow are different from the ways of melting found among the Mehkeel.
The Mehkeel are the furry humanoid race that the Gen are born from.
The Gen’s lives are tied only to their fire bodies.
When they take physical form, they shape a pattern body, and its twin, the physical body.
The Gen transform their pattern bodies at will, and no energy form is irreversible.
The Gen and Mehkeel fire bodies hold a clear consciousness, undamaged by transformation.
Still, only the Gen can live in the physical world without a physical body, independent of all physical form.
When the Mehkeel die, their consciousness lives, clear in their fire body.
Their fire body must flee from our physical world toward the nourishing energy of the sun.
The Mehkeel, studying to be Gen, shift their own shapes in two ways.
Sometimes they melt a second physical presence, a shell, to bind to their their awareness, while their physical body is hidden.
Other times, they transform their pattern bodies, and the physical body follows.
This is true transformation, but the Mehkeel do it without damage.