“I don’t get it,” Lexine said.
“You mean why Jayko died for you,” Reira said. “It’s not complicated. In that moment, you reminded him of his own powerlessness when we lost Gabe. He didn’t want me to suffer like he has, so he acted.”
“I see,” Lexine said. “I… I didn’t know he was still holding that in.” She looked up at the sky. “Do you think the two of them have reunited in the underworld?”
“I’d like to think they have,” Reira said. “Some people believe that the souls of the virtuous are kept waiting in the Elysium, unfeeling or thinking, until those they loved most dearly come to join them and the souls of the wicked feel every painful second of parting within Tartarus as though it was a century. If that is the case, I’m sure Gabe doesn’t even know any time’s passed.”
“There’s something both beautiful and cruel about that idea,” Lexine said. “What happens when a virtuous soul and a wicked soul are each others’ most beloved?”
“Maybe the virtuous soul gets to buy their beloved’s place in the Asphodel Meadows by sacrificing their own place,” Reira answered. “Why? Thinking of someone in particular?”
“Not really,” Lexine said. “Just curious. I hadn’t heard that idea before.”
“We’ve gathered the bodies,” Lennard reported. “Well, most of them.”
Reira knew exactly who was missing, even without reading his mind.
“It can’t be helped,” she said. “We’ll put the pieces of his scythe on the pyre and give him his last rites that way.”
“I somehow knew you’d say that,” Lennard stated. “I had Florence gather them up already.”
The three walked over to the makeshift funeral pyre. A pile of helmets had been made to the side. Lexine added her own helm to the stack before continuing.
Reira took her place in front of the pyre and cleared her throat. “We’ve lost a lot of beloved comrades, friends and family today. Some of whom we loved more than life itself.” She glanced at Zero when adding that last part.
“Our loved ones are at peace,” Reira continued. “They fought and lost their lives as heroes and their souls are surely at peace now. We… we are not at peace. We are keenly feeling their absence and our hearts and souls cry out in grief. But, we must remember. We must remember those parts of themselves our loved ones left us. We must remember the time we spent with them. Yes, the totality of their lives and the impact they had on ours must be remembered, not just the way they were taken from us. In that way, a part of them will always endure within us until we can meet them again. Please, bow your heads and reflect.”
Those assembled did as they were bade. A complete hush fell over the crowd. Shin found himself thinking of the time he hadn’t been able to sleep and his uncle Lulu had told him to sleep in a pile with the wolves. It had been a very comfortable night. He thought of the training he’d done with his uncle Jayko. How he’d tried some of his uncle’s agility exercises and fallen on his ass. Jayko had laughed heartily at that one. At the time, Shin hadn’t found it very funny, but looking back on it… he allowed himself a momentary smile.
They spent over an hour with their heads bowed like that. Then, one by one, they started raising their heads and opening their eyes.
Reira scanned the crowd. “Now, with these thoughts, these memories of how they enriched our lives, let us honour them in their passing. Let their earthly remains be consumed and let us carry on for their sakes as well.”
She stepped away from the pyre and nodded. Isaac and Zero sent two balls of flame into the wood at the base. The flames quickly reached the bodies.
Those watching put their hands to their foreheads in a respectful salute, letting the tears fall from their eyes.
Eventually, the burning was complete. Those at the ceremony quietly retrieved their helmets or hats. Some talked quietly among themselves, some went off to be alone. Lennard grabbed his horse and rode for home by himself.
Isaac approached Reira. “It was a lovely ceremony,” he said. “I’m sure that Lulu would have been honoured.”
“It’s funny,” Reira said. “Before he died he thought about how all of us were heroes, people who tried to make everything better, except himself.”
“He never could give himself credit,” Isaac said.
“You should return to the Academy,” Reira said. “They’ll be missing you and Moira.”
“I’d like to,” Isaac stated. “But there’s something else I need to do. Something…”
“Lexine and I are going to tell Elaine about Lulu,” Reira interrupted.
“You’re sure?” Isaac asked. “I was his brother.”
“And I his sister,” Reira said. “Perhaps not by blood, but all of us shared a strong familial bond after the whole incident with Zenas and the gauntlet. Don’t argue. I was with him in his mind when he died. There are some things that only I can tell her.”
Isaac nodded. “All right, but who’s going to tell Jayko’s comrades about what happened to him?”
“Lennard,” Reira answered. “He’s already on his way. He could’ve told someone, but he’s Lennard so he didn’t.”
“Well, that’s Lennard for you,” Isaac said.
The two looked back over at the ashes of the pyre.
“Goodbye, Lulu,” Isaac whispered. “Goodbye, Jayko.”