Chapter 1: Prayer for the Departed
Brown seagulls squawked overhead and a humid sea breeze blew through. There was a series of funerals held close to the outer walls of the massive city-state of Lucent. There has been a rise of funerals lately, mostly due to the budding plague. Rumors of a mysterious epidemic that is spreading through the 10 City-States of Lychinus has come to be confirmed. People started calling it the Derelict Plague because of the disgraceful image of the afflicted, as well as superstitions that it came from one of the Forsaken Gods, the God of Vengeance known as Dereliquit. Symptoms include the darkening of the victims’ blood, and the frequent blood leaking out of their nose, mouth, and eyes. It’s highly contagious and the victims can die in a matter of weeks. Whispers of “beware of the derelicts” are on many lips these days.
Most of the plague victims’ families can’t afford a proper funeral so the Exalted Ones granted Governor Woodrow-Flay the ability to offer free state-organized funerals for the victims of the plague. As such, to save costs several funerals are held at the same time. Today there are 4 jars full of the ashes of the deceased, and 4 weeping groups of family members and loved ones in tow.
Since the cause of the plague is mostly unknown and highly contagious, victims’ bodies are exhumed and their ashes are scattered over the sea, which can be heard rushing below. Also, exhuming the victims’ remains coincides with the tradition of burning the bodies of the dead, which comes from Solisism. Solisism is still a fairly new religion, having only been around for about 400 yeas. The ancestors of the Exalted Ones, priests of the Sun God, led a holy crusade against the heretics that defied the will of Solis and continued worshipping their fallen deities, the Old Gods. It happened hundreds of years ago but the Exalted Ones remain vigilant in spreading the words of the God of the Sun and Light, Solis.
One high priest and few other lesser members of the Clergy stand in attendance in front of the cliff and a fence at the edge of the wall of the city-state. A small church, called an Ecclesiastical, watched over the proceedings a small distance away. The sea below the wall is basically a glorified dumpsite for the ashes and it roared in a small, distant voice. Four tall, ornate tables featured golden vases that held the ashes of the deceased.
The high priest solemnly reiterated the Sun’s Last Rites in a bored, flat voice. “Our holy father, Solis, watch over these poor souls. Embrace them and let them forever walk among your grace as the children of the light…” He finished with, “May the Sun’s rays light your days.” The other clergy priests bowed their heads in response and spoke, “So let it be” in union.
The grieving families stood in front of their departed loved one’s ashes and once the sermon was over, each family went to the edge of the fence and somberly poured the ashes into the sea. The third family to the left was the smallest of the group, and they waited their turn. Three teenagers stood close together. The youngest one of them, he stood in between his sisters, bowed his head down in respect. There were two girls, and the blonde one was sniffling and blotting her eyes with a tissue. The taller one, the quiet brunette with the long straight hair stared off into the distance, her large brown eyes full of melancholy and detachment.
She’s about 19 years old, and she has a slimmer face than her sister’s. Her eyes glazed over, and she was seeing things that are not there. Even though she was wearing large dark sunglasses, her eyes were noticeably weepy and her nose was a little runny. However, she wasn’t crying out of grief or particularly anguished. She slightly shivered and rubbed her arms together. It was cloudy and humid outside but it wasn’t that cold today. It was all side effects of Deleria, a popular drug otherwise known as Deedee.
The girl gazed at the cloudy sky with such wonder and it’s apparent that she’s in another world. However, it wasn’t too obvious to the other grieving families that the girl was high off her ass. “I really hate funerals,” she thought, “but at least I can be anything but sober…”
A brown seabird with an off-white plume flew overhead and she closed her wide round-shaped eyes. She was so jealous of that bird, how free it seemed. Her head tilted back slightly and her mouth lazily fell open. She imagined her body morphing into a bird and feathers sprouting from where her hair was. Talons on the tip of her claws grew from where her feet used to be. Wings sprouted from her useless arms, and a beak grew from where her mouth used to be. As a bird she left this mess behind, soared into the clouds and flying high, higher, and higher still until she couldn’t feel anything anymore…
Abruptly, she was brought back to earth by a brisk yet firm nudge to her right arm. She blinked her eyes open and turned her head to what has disturbed her moment of serenity.
Her younger brother, Kermit looked at her with a knowing expression. Kermit waved at her with his eyebrows raised. His left hand fingerspelled “Del. Hello?” His hands signed out, “Are you high again?”
Busted. Del held a fist to her chest and made a circular motion, “Sorry”.
Kermit sighed and shook his head. His similar brown eyes looked at her in disappointment and his lips were firmly straight. He ran a hand through his messy light brown hair.
“You know I’m not good with situations like this,” Del signed apologetically.
Kermit just shook his head slowly. “Whatever, just snap out of it,” he signed in annoyance.
“What are you guys talking about?” The blonde, Gemma, sniffled and looked at her younger siblings with her eyebrow raised.
Kermit and Del both mumbled/signed, “Nothing.” Gemma just rolled her pretty blue eyes, which featured smeared mascara and tear streaks. Gemma had such a bleeding heart, compared to Kermit and Del. None of them were particularly close with their grandfather, in fact their relationship with him was rather strained. Granddad was harsh, withdrawn, and strict. The kids all grew up hating him. Fortunately he was often gone on his fishing trips, so the three of them mostly had the house to themselves. His fishing trips were long, usually several weeks, and he never left them much money for when he was gone so they always had to fend for themselves. Caring for 3 children means that Granddad, a poor fisherman, never had much money although the kids never had to go hungry. They were better off than many in Shantytown. Gemma has gotten very good with making a small amount of ingredient last for much longer than usual. He raised the siblings after their parents died when they were little, and he was the only living relative they had. Their mother died from complications during giving birth to Kermit, and their father couldn’t bear to live without her so he committed suicide a few years later. The kids were still young when their father died, so they don’t have strong memories of him.
Gemma blotted her tears with a tissue. “I’m going to miss the smell of salt and the ocean at home,” she signed. Granddad always smelled as a typical fisherman, which is to say, he always stank like fish.
“He always wore that damn ragged hat with the stupid fish hooks on it,” Kermit added, smirking.
Del lightly snickered. “It always stank like rotten fish no matter how much we tried to wash it, gods.” The three of them chuckled at that memory.
Granddad was the very image of a stereotypical, rugged fisherman of Lucent. Lucent is right by the ocean so it’s a huge fishing city. A large part of the city-state’s income comes from fishing and trades related to the ocean. As a proud fisherman, Granddad’s hands and arms were covered in faded scars from his many years of working his trade. He died so suddenly, he returned home from one of his fishing trips a month ago and was complaining he wasn’t feeling well. A week later the kids rushed him to the hospital where their fears were confirmed; they learned he contracted the plague. Due to his advanced age, he didn’t last that much longer. Granddad passed away two weeks later. Gemma was the one who visited him in the hospital the most, though he wasn’t lucid for most of the time.
Del realized that even though Granddad was never affectionate towards the kids, he at least cared for them in his own way. He gave what little income he had towards the care of the three siblings, and nobody forced him to take them in after their parents died. He gave them a roof over their heads and made sure they went to school, even though he wasn’t around much.
There’s one thing that always bother Del though, and that’s the fact that Granddad refused to learned sign language for Kermit. He always said that Kermit shouldn’t sign, even though he’s Deaf, and that signing will make it harder for him to learn how to “talk and be normal”. Granddad wanted Kermit to learn how to speak and listen instead of signing. Del sighed with annoyance. Kermit doesn’t even want to speak and pretend that he isn’t Deaf, so Kermit’s relationship with Granddad was the worst of all. He’s always been Deaf ever since he was little and Gemma was the one who figured out why he never responded when they called his name.
It was when Kermit was 5, a year after their father’s death and they started living with Granddad. Gemma tried to convince Granddad that Kermit needs to learn sign language, but he wouldn’t listen. Therefore, Gemma and Del would slip Kermit out of the house, or wait until Granddad went off on one of his fishing trips, and sneak off to a small sign language school, which is just a small storefront wedged in between a pizza place and a nail salon. They would go there a few times a week, and the signing classes were free. Gemma tried time and time again to gently persuade Granddad to learn at least a few signs, but he stubbornly refused. That was something Del could never forgive. When Kermit was old enough to go to school, Gemma and Del had to figure out how to arrange for a sign language interpreter for Kermit in his classes. They had virtually no support from Granddad, but by sheer will, and a little assistance from the sign language school, they managed. Now Kermit is only two year away from graduating, and he’s doing well in school. Del couldn’t help but be extremely proud of him.
“Come on, you two, it’s our turn,” Gemma notified her two younger siblings. Kermit picked up the urn filled with Granddad’s ashes, and the three of them went to the edge of the fence. Del looked down, and all she could hear is the rumble and bubbling of the waves crashing against the rocks below. The high priest, who had been standing a few feet to the right, dutifully asked them if they would like for him to give a quick prayer. Gemma politely refused, and Del knew why.
Granddad disliked the worship of Solis. Their family has always worshipped the Old Gods, and so did many other people, but they had to do so secretly. There could be no church, no shrine, no gathering for the worship of the Forsaken Gods because it’s been outlawed by the government following the Great War. The Exalted Ones would order their execution if they ever found out they still followed the Old Ways. Since they were the last, the high priest and the other clergymen started cleaning up and left them to their devices. Soon the priest and clergymen went back to the Ecclesiastical. It was safe now, nobody was in hearing range.
Gemma cleared her throat, and begun reciting the Old Prayer for the Departed. “For this deceased’s journey into the Eternal Night, gods hear my prayer. Decessus, god of death and balance, ferry this soul to the afterlife. Misericordia, god of mercy and forgiveness, take compassion and grant him absolution…”
As Gemma somberly delivered the prayer, Del and Kermit each took a handful of ashes and scattered them to the wind. The ashes disappeared into the sea below.
“Concordia, god of harmony and peace, give this soul everlasting tranquility. Cognitio, god of knowledge and intelligence, share your wisdom with him. Gaudium, god of hope and happiness, fill this soul with eternal joy. Facunditas, god of the moon and fertility, enrich his soul with the spirit of the Night.” Del and Kermit continued the ritual, and the urn was almost half empty.
Gemma continued, “Concussio, god of wrath and madness, take away any anger left in him. Bellum, god of war and victory, stand by his soul so that none will harm him. Dereliquit, god of defiance and perseverance, grant him the resolution to make it to the afterlife. Provocatio, god of rebellion, let no one defy his journey forevermore. Tristita, god of sorrow and acceptance, let no sadness touch this soul. Iactura, god of pain and loss, console this soul and ours as well…” As Gemma finished the prayer, she took the last of the ashes and let them fall to the sea.
Satisfied, the three of them stepped away from the edge and started the long walk back home.