Aneti and I visited the Necropolis today, where ler sister lies in a small urn neatly shrouded by the ashes of others. The Necropolis of Galasu, which the Taritit did not target during either bombardment, contains row after row of small streets and walkways that wind together, labyrinthine, with no map to put yourself through — just memory. The Shiji and Galasuhi keep the graves of their ancestors outside of their homes because bringing the ashes of the dead into a home is one of their religious taboos.
The necropoles of Shija look similar to one another: All endless shelves lining the walls in the open air, with trees in the center of some of the larger through roads — but only trees of certain kinds — and on the shelves, their oldest ancestors eventually become tucked away towards the back. So many people died during the Occupation that extensions were built at the edge of the North Quarter and to the south of us on Old South Street to house the ashes of the people found in the debris during the reconstruction. I have only visited those with Kati.
We walked in silence because the man at the Necropolis’ gate bound our mouths with red fabric, and we bought red Tveshi veils from the vendors to cover our heads in honor of the official mourning day. The rough-woven fabric frayed over Aneti’s face. Le complained about the veil, but the Shiji don’t wear gyenya and thus don’t know which fabrics work best in heat.
“I visited the graves with my family during the morning,” Aneti said, ler voice muffled, “but they don’t know that I brought my sister’s ashes here. Le was not named in the official rites, so I will make another offering to lim now.”
“I thought you said we shouldn’t speak,” I responded.
“It’s something you need to know.”
We walked down one of the pathways, our hands linked together. Tight-knit family groups made offerings at small shrines on both sides. The masses of silent people lessened as we walked farther and farther from the Skyrail stop. The stones turned uneven. Many smaller family shrines around us had crumbling shelves and urns covered in dead leaves and debris. Some had spilled open, the ashes of the dead washed away in the rain.
Most wealthy families keep their shrines near the Skyrail stops. Kuresa was a firm exception. They keep their ashes in a more private area, in the same one where a non-Tveshi family name, Sari, is written.
“Yours is out this far?” I asked.
“Most of the families here died during the Occupation and no longer tend to their shrines,” le said. “Our matriarch refuses to move.”
In Menarka, of course, the city burned to the ground when the Taritit invaded. We built New Menarka on its foundations. Our homes contain and are built on our dead. No one would have gone back for the ashes in the chaos. “All dead.”
“Kuresa survived because we knew how to play political games,” Aneti said firmly. Le narrowed ler eyes. “One of my cousins organizes Action Days to clean up shrines in the abandoned nooks. It involves coordinating with death-priests and selecting auspicious days. They went out today. I think our family’s section is on the slate for a few months from now.”
“What will they do with the urns?”
Aneti jutted ler chin towards the north. “There’s a construction project one Skyrail stop away for the Forgotten Shrine. That’s where all of the ashes of dead families will go.”
We turned the corner, where a stonework arch bore ler family’s name in bold, syllabic lettering. The family has lived in here for thousands of years, and the Necropolis dates to the 200s or 300s. Most of the family’s urns show signs of laser scarring from when the Taritit pursued those who ran into the shrine alcoves. The Taritit didn’t level this place, though. They allowed families to continue burying their dead during the purges.
If you listen to the audio, Liga, you’ll hear that Aneti had resentment in ler voice. What does that mean for us, that le resents the Taritit? I thought that Daybreak liked them.
Kuresa has so few broken urns, not like my family. Niksubvya has only two from before the Taritit, carried by the founder of our modern family. One of ours went back for our ashes through the fire from Heaven and the ashes spraying down all around lim.
Aneti hooked ler finger through the red gag and pulled it down over ler cheek so it rested on ler neck. I followed suit, unsure of the customs. None of those other groups had removed these before prayer.
We walked about three meters in before Aneti stopped. Le knelt down, pushed aside an urn, and pulled one out from behind it. This urn was a plain stone box. The ancestor name looked like a child had carved it into the stone. Aneti gave it pride of place in front of the deep offering hole. Le beat ler hands together seven times, gave a mourning cry, and beat ler hands again. The skin on my arms pebbled up when le wailed.
Aneti cut ler palm and offered blood to the dead sister. Le murmured prayers that I couldn’t understand, and I waited in silence.
Fifteen minutes later, le wiped the blood from ler hand, sterilized the wound, and dressed it with flesh-knit cream.
“My sister had an ordeal of a life,” Aneti said. “Our family did not appreciate how le spent ler time. Le left home young. It is important to honor the dead no matter what they did in life.”
“I had no idea that the Sabaji honored the dead like this,” I said. I shuffled my feet, my gaze on ler hand.
Aneti said, “My family is in the Eneiji denomination. We offer live human blood to the dead. The denomination that follows the Fadehin is called the Hariji denomination, after Enahari, and the Iturji are all Hariji or Liķruji, after Likhera, because the Meiyenesi family that ascended after the fall of the Old State two thousand years ago built the Temple to Likhera in Vepessa. They consider human blood offerings impure.”
“What is the difference, um, I mean philosophically?”
“It depends on where one throws the stone into the center.” Aneti smiled tensely. “I have something else to say about my sister.”
Le pointed at one of the empty spaces near the front. “When I die, my family will not place a box in the ancestral shrine for me. We paint these in bright colors when someone dies, but the color fades quickly. My sister died, and I could not afford to have it painted without my family’s blessing. In a few centuries, the name of my sister and my own name will never be used to honor and name newborns in front of the ancestral dead. No one will pray to us for our blessings on the living. It ends here.”
“What was ler name? I cannot read old Tveshi syllabary.”
“How old was le?”
“Le was born in 1833 and died in 1860. It happened at the same time as your Narahji riots.” Aneti winced.
The semi-formal name Keptar Kuresa made a pit in my stomach when I repeated it in my head. There’s something about it. Something makes me think of school before my examinations. I’m certain that I had seen some document with that intimate name on it. It’s irrelevant now — I mean, that was so long ago! To Aneti, I said, “You are twenty-seven now, yes? Or did you say twenty-eight?”
“Yes, twenty-seven. And you are barely nineteen. A good family, and your matriarch must already want you to find a wife.” Aneti cleared ler throat and said, “I was married. I sent my husband back to ler family. We fought constantly. Salus, little girl, I have something to ask you.”
“You need to swear it on my sister’s grave.”
“Tell me what it is, and I’ll tell you if I’ll do it.”
“When I die, be it four decads or four decades from now, I want you to remember me. Any Eneiji man or woman could teach you the etiquette for honoring the dead. Come here and pour candied wine into the pit. You are not family, my spirit will not accept your blood, and offering animal blood like the Hariji and Liķruji is inappropriate. Burn kili cakes for me. Don’t forget that I existed.” Le cleared ler throat and wiped tears from ler eyes by sliding ler fingers gently below each of them. “They will not honor me.”
“I swear that I will honor you. I will pour out candied wine and burn kili as soon as I know what that means.” I held out my hand, and le clasped it.
You should know that it took all of my fucking training to remain calm. What the fuck does le mean by all of this? It’s the kind of hotåkhi thing that would make anyone vid the Kuresa home and ask if Aneti were suicidal.
Le squeezed my hand three times and said, “May you have a long, happy life.”
“And you, the same.”
We bound our mouths and left the shrine. When I listened to the audio and reproduced the ghost of what happened in the Necropolis, I thought about how quickly we hurled ourselves back to the world of the living. The image of ler dead sister and my dead fiancée twisted together.
All of us are touched by loss, aren’t we?
I love Aneti. Kitesrati, meanwhile, grows on me at breakfast. Le has so much energy and vitality. We walk to the temples sometimes now. Eventually, I will need to tell Aneti, and maybe le already knows — le made that comment after all, that thing about marriage and coming from a good family. I cannot allow this relationship to end before we know Daybreak’s target.
I have cursed myself so many times for opening up to this woman who bared ler soul to me today. Le could have done this intentionally if le suspects me. Aneti must manipulate people at ler job. How hard would it be to seed doubt in someone trying to sabotage an assassination plot?
Every part of me wishes that none of this were real. I want Aneti to have a long and happy life, the same thing that I wish for myself and everyone in my family. If only Aneti had never involved limself in Daybreak. This relationship has become a slow march to a funeral.
Daybreak must fail. Aneti must fall. I am the only key to their city gates.
I cannot keep up like this.