Honour The Dead

“Emaline! Duck!” Her mother screamed, and she dropped to the dirt without a second thought. Paper thin wings whooshed over her, but their claws missed. A blast of ice chilled her as her mother flung the magic into the beast.

“Mother!” Emaline cried as she watched the woman fall to the ground as the moth shattered into red shards.

Her mother’s veins pulse briefly with a faint glow, and she knew that Sheena would never wake again. She knelt next to her mother, and pulled her into her lap.

“You shouldn’t have done that. The battle was nearly done. If you had just warned me, I could have defended myself. Foolish woman. We could have both made it through this.” She sat with her mother while the last few blasts exploded around her. A few people wailed their grief in the post-battle stillness.

“Sheena too?” Waldomar’s voice rumbled next to her.

“How many did we lose?”

“Four including Sheena.”

“Not too bad, but it should have been three,” Emaline responded grimly as she looked down at her mother’s comatose form.

“Let me help you.” The elder patted her shoulder gently. Emaline wondered if she would ever live long enough to be an elder; forty years seemed inconceivable. She stood and allowed him to pick up her mother’s form.

“She may come back to you,” he offered the false hope.

“I’m not a child, Waldomar. I know very well that the withering will consume her within five sleeps. As it will consume us all in the end.”

As predicted, her mother’s form diminished until it was nearly skeletal. When at last Sheena’s last breath escaped into the ether, Emaline was relieved. The vigil had been endured, and now all that remained was to relinquish her mother’s form to the death plant.

She had wrapped her mother in the finest woven fibers they possessed. All that was left was to wait for the entourage. Within heartbeats, the ceremonial cart arrived, pulled by the four highest ranking elders. The four corpses lay side by side and the families of the fallen trailed behind them.

Kenan, the boy who had lived with her family since he had been a child, hadn’t needed to come, but she was grateful for his presence.

The walk seemed all the longer for the desolate wailing of Karina. One of the slain had been Karina’s very last child, and she wailed as if her sheer will of force could bring her heir back to life.

But I suppose her grief is worst. Her soul will never find peace without her daughter’s consumption, Emaline thought as they walked through the streets of the town and out into the surrounding forest.

Eventually they reached the familiar bend of the Great Vine and she knew their journey was nearly over. The clump of death plants seemed smaller than she remembered but oddly more terrifying with its grotesquely dripping feelers protruding from its pouch shaped mouth. The strongest men in the village picked up the bodies and heaved the first body into the nearest plant.

“May your soul be free, and walk among the Summerlands with the Green Man. Be at peace now,” Sitol spoke as the plant snapped its great maw shut around the wrapped body. The ritual was repeated for the remaining three bodies, and for a moment Emaline thought Karina might follow her child’s body into the death plant.

Don’t be a fool, woman. You may still be able to bear another child. Emaline shook her head at the insane antics.

Waldomar pulled Karina away from the grove of death plants as they departed for the village. Oddly, Kenan remained silent the entire time, simply remaining glued to her side, and she was grateful for that.

When Emaline returned to their plot of land, she immediately went to the glowstone standing upright in the earth, nurturing the plant life surrounding it. She stared at the soft glow of her mother’s glowstone. It wasn’t the first time she had consumed a glowstone, but she had been a child when her grandmother and father had passed. Now, at the age of fifteen harvests, she was an adult in all but the rite of passage.

“Emaline?” Kenan asked softly from where he had been standing beside her.

“Yes, Kenan?”

“What’s going to happen to us now?”

“Nothing’s going to happen to us now.”

“But… our crops will die without Sheena’s stone.”

“We have enough to dried goods to survive until planting season. We’ll endure the rite of passage then, and begin our own crops with our own stones.”

“Why do we eat the glowstones when people die? Why can’t we just let the stone continue to nourish the plants?”

“Kenan, we must!”

“But why?”

“To free her soul.”

“I don’t understand.”

Emaline sighed and picked up the object in question. “When we travel to the Great Vine to select our glowstone, we bind it to us, but we also become bound to it.”

“I’m not an idiot, but I don’t understand what that has to do with eating them.”

“Since we also become bound to the glowstone, the only way to become one with the Green Man is to remove the binding through consumption.”

“So what about all the stones that never are consumed because they had no family?”

“Those souls are tragically bound here, but those people will look over us until the time the Ice recedes.” Kenan looked out across the lush green growth quietly for a moment.

“I don’t think Sheena would be unhappy to look over us.”

“No… But I would be a poor daughter to deny my mother eternal happiness.”

“I think-”

“No, Kenan.” Emaline interrupted any further discussion as she produced a blade from her boot and cut the stone free of the vines holding it onto the staff. She held the glowstone in her hand and stared at it for a moment.

“May you always walk with the Green Man,” Emaline spoke reverently as she pressed the knife against the tough skin until it finally gave. A trickle of glowing yellow juice ran down her arm and she felt tears well up as her skin slowly absorbed it.

She sat on a well-worn rock and began the arduous task of consuming the entire stone. Kenan sat on the ground next to her, unable to aid her with anything more than his presence.

He had to consume both his parents’ alone, and when he was only five harvests old. She gnawed through the tough skin and swallowed the bolus.

Though she knew the plants would not wither so quickly, she swore they looked less vibrant in the dimming light of the glowstone she was consuming. When it was finally gone, leaving only the sweet sap flavour on her tongue, she stood and closed her eyes. “Goodbye, mother. I will join you in time. Wait for me.”

Kenan took her hand and looked up at her.

“Thanks for staying with me, Kenan.” She squeezed his hand and released it to walk back into the house. Her gut cramped and roiled with the flesh of the glowstone circulating through it. To throw up was to give great dishonour to your family, though, so she held it down and huddled in the corner of her room waiting for the last glowstone she ever hoped to consume shape and change the magic she possessed.


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