Sepulcher of Shadows

A short story following the events of The Madness of Light (spoilers). What happens to the pure Zfhi dead?

short-stories/sepulcher-of-shadows.jpg

It was deep inside the Zfhi side of Zfnoctewoohi. It was a monument to Hi that was far from the burnt heart of the Zfhi, the Cathedral of Light. It was a monument that was pale before and even paler now. It was lesser by nature compared to the Cathedral but now that the Cathedral was gone, it was alone and without any purpose for the future. There would be no more true Zfhi and the last of them were destroyed without anything to act as their remains. Nothing to maintain of them.

But, here in this sepulcher of the Zfhi, there were remains that were beyond them and so perhaps…the way of things for Zfnoctewoohi could be restored in some way.

That was why Hepfarish was here before this mausoleum. The remains stored inside of the past Avatars of Light could be the material to create a new pure Avatar. The long dead would be the source for the new living. The pure line of Zfhi would not end.

But that was the intent that led them here. The intent that created these circumstances: Lana and Nielkov Zfhi dead, their bodies destroyed, and the Stave of Light shattered. The latter was not something he could help with, but Hepfarish, as Keeper of the Line, could help with the former.

That was his task and he was not alone in it. He came with the Sacon Tzurohquah. Tzurohquah was an emissary of the Empire, skilled in cloning and the art of bringing things that were dead back to life with the scraps that remained. There would be far more than scraps, hopefully, but…Lana Zfhi had said otherwise. She had claimed there would be nothing for them. But if there was even a sliver removed from nothing, if she failed in any small way in that end, Tzurohquah and Hepfarish together would be able to use it.

Beyond that possibility, Tzurohquah was an advisor to this process, an advisor to his…admittedly potentially vain task.

“You must prepare yourself that what she claimed was true,” Tzurohquah crisply spoke. “That there will be nothing for us.”

Her arms were folded as she stared at the stout white building. They had both been staring at it, lined up next to each other. Her green suit blended into the grass below while his dark blue robes mirrored the darkening sky above. His robes were not the only thing that mirrored this area. His skin was starting to flush with light. How could it not? He was so close to this…religious…monument.

Was that what this was now? It was a reminder of the gone before and it still was, technically. A monument to the deceased—once to just the deceased Avatars and now to the concept of the Avatar of Light entirely. The last intact remnant of their culture…

Unless…

Hepfarish stepped forward a few more paces, breathing steadily. Ringing in his Neraq were Lana Zfhi’s words regarding what would be waiting for them—her claim that there would be nothing for them to use. Nothing for them anyway, regardless of this. The end had come—even Rayacha Chajaran agreed that any attempt to salvage something of this would be vain. The line was dead and even beyond that, greater than that, worse than that, was that the Stave of Light, the God of Light, had been shattered and destroyed. It was beyond repair, beyond use, and so…

Even if Hepfarish and Tzurohquah found something to recreate a pure Avatar with, they would be an Avatar of nothing. Unless they worshipped and prayed so deeply what was done was undone…but who would they worship to now?

He sighed and looked to Tzurohquah. She cared not for this dogma but she was here anyway for reasons that were beyond either of them. Beyond and greater and yet this fell to the two of them.

“I am prepared. We must know that her words are true without fault,” Hepfarish said and yet there was a trembling fault in his tone and in his steps.

Tzurohquah had to have sensed that off of him or read it off of his Neraq’s chittering. Either way, Tzurohquah strode forward to match his placement. “So knowing, so shared it will be, and so what comes next, Hepfarish of Zfnoctewoohi?”

“What comes next now is that we enter, Tzurohquah of Sacon,” Hepfarish returned.

And so he led the way forward. He had to—this pertained to him more than it did to her. This was of his race, not hers.

And even though it was, this matter was of importance to more than just Zfnoctewoohi. And so someone else had to be here to represent the Empire. Someone to advise, to aid…just as the Jalon Gar’ful’zar had. Or so that was the concept…and regardless of his presence, the end that was intended for by Lana Zfhi was unchanged.

Regardless of what either of them did, the end would probably be the same. Probably. The truth of the end that would come would be known soon enough.

Soon that came when Hepfarish opened the door to the interior of the mausoleum. It silently opened, beckoning him forth.

It was brighter inside than it was on the outside, despite the shadows creeping forth from it. A radiating light pooled out from the mausoleum, striking against himself and the edges, casting deep, flickering shadows. He curled his tail inward and stepped into its keep, uncaring if Tzurohquah followed him or not.

Encircling the circular space were neatly arranged rows and columns of preserved Vacore of the deceased Light Avatars of old. Levels cascaded up and beneath the platform Hepfarish was on. All with bodies of the pure Zfhi that were flushed white with light that was artificially conducted and garbed the same. They were a facsimile of what they were in life made from their remnants. Remnants that had been repaired and purified as to be displayed so. To gaze down, up, and at those that walked forth with their perfectly posed and set forms…

But there was one form that was radiating more intensely to him than any other.

It was Kharenela’s.

Hepfarish stared at Kharenela’s body. It stared back at him. There was something twinkling in those eyes that were different than when he was here before. When Kharenela’s body was added here. It was an age ago now…ages…maybe…

“Did you want this?” Hepfarish asked softly. His voice still echoed through the space that seemed darker, paler than it had to be.

“There is no sense asking such a question aloud to them,” Tzurohquah spoke. Her steps were muffled as she entered forth into the mausoleum. “They have been altered but not to answer your mundane queries. His want is immaterial now. It is the will of Lana Zfhi that lingers here still that is of importance.”

“So she has…set it up for destruction.” He hesitated, careful now of his every movement. And yet emboldened just the same. “Can you remove it?“ Hepfarish asked, glancing back to her.

It was brighter on the inside—it had to be—and yet she was cast in shadows. The Sacon was silent for a few moments. Hepfarish shifted to face her instead of the dead.

“Ensuring destruction is perhaps the most complicated thing to defy,” she spoke after a few moments of contemplation. “For destroying without care is simple to execute if focus is dedicated to it. Lana Zfhi was not careless—she was calculated. It will not be trivial, but in time, we will be able to do it. Lana Zfhi’s will will break to the Empire’s if so desired. If so desired of you, Hepfarish, Keeper of the Zfhi line.”

He sighed. This…quest of sorts was what he was responsible for. He was tasked to handle this…this was his role…and yet they all knew that it all could be in vain.

Or, and perhaps also, that he could ensure the vanity of this by his actions.

It was his choice.

But it really was not. Lana Zfhi chose this and Hepfarish was merely an attendee to the will of the dead. The dead dogma…

“What do I desire…” Hepfarish murmured. “The will of the last Zfhi Avatar was to see her be the last. The will of some is to see this be recovered as much as possible.” He sighed. “What is the assessment and will of Sacon and the Empire in this matter?”

The Sacon smoothly moved forward and he tilted to her. “There is nothing meaningful to recover. The Stave will not be repaired and the Stave of Dark will eventually shatter as well. These are events that foretell an ending of an era of such worship and culture,” Tzurohquah answered cooly. “There is no use clinging to them. It would be as if worshipping the old God of Magic and Knowledge.”

“But now there would be no God of Light or Dark,” Hepfarish returned. “No replacements for them.” Not that had been…shared, anyway. He shivered.

“Does there need to be?” Tzurohquah asked, eyes piercing. “They are too akin to Titans. They are not necessary for order and balance.”

Hepfarish’s tail flicked side to side. He had to click his fingers to that. There was a time before Gods—before the Gods of Dark and Light. They had been for eons but they were not always. He shifted around, gazing at the other Avatars of Light. Anyone of them but Kharenela.

As soon as he tried to do so, the Sacon stepped forward and inspected Kharenela’s form. He hissed at her and then…had to gaze again at those…knowing eyes. Thankfully, Tzurohquah’s glance at him stole his focus away from it and back to her. Back to the living, breathing moment…

“Do not be foolish, Hepfarish, I am in more control of myself than you are,” Tzurohquah spoke. Her feet were barely touching the ground.

“I suppose that is true, but imagine if I were…someone who intensely clung to the old ways,” Hepfarish mused.

“If that were the case, this moment would not be happening, if that were the case. They would realize this conversation is superfluous as they would already intend for us to extract and recreate a pure Zfhi Avatar.”

Hepfarish had to click his fingers to that. But it was all of a hypothetical world…this was reality. “Vehk. Was there anything else included in your analysis of these events? Or the Empire’s? Whichever.”

“Aye,” Tzurohquah answered. “The other part of analysis concluded that there are things still happening, still churning beyond our knowing. We are not interested in extreme involvement in these matters. They will happen as they ought to by wills beyond us. We will aid and advise if asked but no more at this time.”

Tzurohquah was asked and so she was here. But she was doing more than that—or was this still…aiding? Or was it more than that?

He was the one driving this conversation, though.

Who drove this to this end? Lana Zfhi, of course, but she could not have been alone in this plot. These…circumstances. Twin children of Kharenela…both mad in their own way… This was orchestrated and planned.

Planned so that he would come here and trigger whatever Lana Zfhi had planned to destroy the remnants of her pure ancestors.

“What is the right way forward, Tzurohquah?” Hepfarish asked. “I am too close to it to know what is right here.” Too exhausted as well…but there would be time soon for suitable retrospection. Soon.

Soon after he made whatever choice he had to make.

“You are, Hepfarish,” Tzurohquah said bluntly. “But you are the one who must choose. But I will advise as asked. The concept of right and wrong do not exist here. This is akin to the fusion of Sargon and the Grim Reaper. It is the rational way forward. Let the old way end. Discard your sentimental connection to the old dogma.”

Hepfarish breathed heavily. “I know I need to.”

“You all will,” Tzurohquah said. “It is only apt. The concept of the Avatars was always an oddity. If a Zfnoctewoohi is to exist with such power, better them be Gods than whatever they were. It is aligned with the Ascended and God-King Haeihlseth Magayak. This is bringing things to the order that has been charted by other Empirians. Delaying it relegates Zfnoctewoohi a prior age.”

“An age of established order,” Hepfarish said.

“An age that is in the past,” Tzurohquah said. “You may choose to attempt the vain or you may simply push it forward and prevent any clinging to the dead. There were those that vainly stood with Magus and opposed God-King Haeihlseth Magayak. This is the same.”

“Is it?” Hepfarish whispered. He sighed. “This age of order is at an end. The age of the Staves of Zfnoctewoohi…of the crisp balance of it.”

At an end in a way that shattered any meaning of what came before. How could a Stave that was a God be shattered? There was something that would be shared eventually that would explain all of this and…Hepfarish felt sick already from it.

“It is not the same, then,” Tzurohquah mused. “It is weaker for it is diluted. It will be stronger now. We will be stronger.”

“If we survive this,” Hepfarish spoke.

Who was ‘we’? Not all of Zfnoctewoohi cared as some did. And was he even part of that some anymore? He sighed once more. He already had his answer on what to do.

Now…

Now he made sure to face Tzurohquah and bow.

“Wa,” Hepfarish breathed out. “Etae to, Tzurohquah. I will…do whatever has to be done to see Lana Zfhi’s will concluded in this matter.”

“I will be here to observe and chronicle it,” she said, bowing in return, “and provide assistance if need be.”

“Etae to,” Hepfarish whispered out as the Sacon moved back towards the exit, giving him space.

It was time now.

He stepped towards Kharenela’s body once more. Kharenela with his smooth, calm features. He wore the same garb as all the rest did. Burial garments. He was staring out and away, past any of the living or dead ones here. Kharenela was the last one to be interred here…he would be last and the first to…

Well, they would know what that was now.

Hepfarish reached out to touch the former Avatar’s chest. His light flushed and he did not try to stop it.

But before his fingers could even hit the ceremonial cloth, Kharenela’s form began to darken. All the white of his being shifted into a musky gray color that began to dissipate. The charcoal dust that was once his radiant form moved on its own accord, swirling about, flurrying upward and downward to the other bodies. The ones nearest faded away and the cloud spiraled upward, engulfing those above in quick succession.

Hepfarish stepped forth and gazed into the drop that led to the lower catacombs. As much as he could see, he could see that one by one they were fading away just the same, spreading to each corpse until there was nothing left of the line of Zfhi. And when there was only the dust left, it too faded away into nothingness.

And so it was done. The space was vacant, empty, and filled with pale shadows now save the two of them.

And so it was, so Hepfarish breathed in and stepped back. He turned away from the edge, from it all as much as he could, and he looked to the expectant Sacon. He felt his Neraq tingle with her whispered thoughts and he whispered back. There was nothing to be said here in the physical realm. There was nothing more here in the physical realm.

There was nothing to recover, nothing to reclaim, and nothing more to do with it. Lana Zfhi’s will was done and Hepfarish’s purpose was obsolete. Their purpose here had been concluded.

Hepfarish led them out of the sepulcher silently. They were back under the dusky sky of Zfnoctewoohi, gazing at the structure. They stood there for a few moments, gazing at it, no words, spoken or otherwise shared, until Tzurohquah asked:

“Should it be destroyed now or leave it to slowly fall apart?”

The answer came easy to Hepfarish now.

“Leave it,” he answered. “The Cathedral of Light is gone but this…this Sepulcher of Shadows will remain.” Remain to what end…that was beyond him.

Tzurohquah hummed and folder her arms. “So it will. And so named it is now. And now—now do you require me anymore?”

“I do not require you anymore,” Hepfarish returned.

Again, his mind shuddered with her words and his near-audible responses.

She stayed anyway.

They sat down on the ground before the mausoleum and watched as the remnants of the day faded and turned fully into night. The Sepulcher was shrouded in dark but it still shined with dimmed light. It was empty but it was not gone. The ground beneath it, the space above it, would persist, and it would too, but for no reason besides to be a testament to the gone. An effigy to the whisked away—whisked away by the last of them that had been burnt and destroyed at its opposite.

But…still…

Here they were.

“They were probably right, but it still…hurts,” Hepfarish whispered. He breathed in and let white light glimmer from his tail and fingertips. It sparkled against the dark air.

“It should not,” Tzurohquah said. “Maintaining it would have been more wrenching for you all. This is easier.”

He clicked his fingers to that. There was nothing more to say or do…and yet they could not stay this way forever.

“Vehk,” Hepfarish uttered as he stood up. “We must report back what has happened and let this be truly done with.”

Tzurohquah rose without question. “Aye ky.”

The Sacon and the Zfnoctewoohi walked away and did not turn back.

Released: 25 July 2020