When you die, one of the first things they teach you is how to forget–or rather, what to remember, and how to remember it. I guess the problem is that I remember everything. That’s what makes this so difficult.
I uncurl my fingers, and stare at the small stack of disks in my palm, turning them slowly so the moonlight reflects from them like gemstones. I count them. Over and over again, I count them in my head, but each time the number stays the same. Only five. Five disks. Five names. Five people in the universe I still care about. And I hate the idea of letting them go, but I have to.
You don’t notice it as much when there are more of them; it’s only when the stack gets small that you realize how much you’ve lost by coming here. And then you wish that you’d listened. That you’d forgotten their names, and their faces, and their voices, just like everyone said that you should. But you didn’t. And now you’re here, and they’re out there… somewhere. And you remember.
It’s nearly First Dawn when a lantern floats past me, almost brushing my arm. It’s close enough that I feel the heat of it on my skin. I watch it rise; I wonder who it’s for. What name–what person–does it belong to?
When it disappears, I lean forward against the railing and stretch my neck for a better view. I try to see where the lantern came from, but the streets below are too crowded. I couldn’t see that before. In the dark, they looked empty. But now, they glow. They stretch for miles in all directions, a giant web of light that flickers like embers in a fire. The threads weave through the buildings, solid gold in the distance, but beneath me, it’s different. It’s pixelated by people–hundreds of thousands of people–dressed in white, their faces illuminated by the lanterns they hold.
So many, I think. So many have come. More this Season than any Season before, and I wonder if it’s merely coincidence.
I as I watch. and a word comes to mind: Heaven. I’d almost forgotten, but for the first time, I see the city, its beauty, all of the lights from this height, and feel that I’ve finally found it. That place my mother described, back when I was a boy–before I got sick, and died–and a part of me wants to smile. The part that remembers her, and wonders what she’d say, what she’d think, if she were here, if she saw it. But I don’t smile, because even though it looks perfect, it feels wrong. And it occurs to me for the first time since I’ve been here that maybe my mother was right. About Heaven. About Hell. Maybe they do exist, just not as two separate places. Maybe you can’t have one without the other.
The Commemoration begins, and the city comes alive as people in the crowd begin releasing their lanterns. The silence is overtaken by a low, static hum made of whispers. Prayers for the ones we left behind.
The lanterns float toward me in a swarm, and when they finally reach me, it feels like standing between the stars. Like I could reach out and touch them, if I wanted.
But it’s time. I take four of the disks and set the other aside. I squeeze my hand into a fist to ignite them.
“A light for William,” I say as the first lifts off. “A light for Dora. For Alice. And Louise.”
The disks swell in size, growing hotter and brighter, and I watch them float away, and disappear. They merge into the others, and then they’re gone. Just like that–they’re gone forever.
I grip the railing, clench my jaw. I try to convince myself that it’s better this way, that it’s time to move on. To move forward.
“You’re awake?” A voice calls from behind me. I turn to find Aidus crossing my room. “I half-expected to find in bed.”
I scowl at him. “Couldn’t sleep.”
He steps onto the skydeck, pushes back his hood, and runs a gloved hand over his head to smooth his hair.
“So kind of you to visit,” I say to him sharply. I see he’s already dressed in his formal attire, so it’s obvious why he’s come.
“You know I’m not visiting, Aaron,” he says. “Solace called for you earlier. Did you know this?”
I nod. “Yes.”
Aidus sighs, and shakes his head. “How’d I know that’s what you’d say? You’ve chosen to ignore your own king then?”
“No,” I answer. “I’ve chosen to delay. That’s different.”
“Is it?” Aidus laughs. “Well, I wish I’d have known that when Solace asked that I wake you, afraid his own General might be late. Could have used the extra rest myself. You’re right–I should have delayed.”
I look away from him. “I’m entitled to that much at least, aren’t I?”
“Entitled?” He says the word coarsely, as if it has a sour taste. “You of all people should know of what you’re entitled.”
His statement is answered by the silence between us. Nothing–that’s what he means. That I am entitled to nothing.
“What should I tell him?” Aidus asks when his point has been made.
“Whatever you like,” I reply without thinking, but then I change my mind. “No… Tell him I’m angry. Tell him that.”
“Aaron…” Aidus moans. I hear exhaustion in his voice. “Come, now–don’t do this. It isn’t befitting for a man of your status. You know this.”
“I don’t care,” I tell him. I move the last disk I have between my fingers. “I am angry, Aidus. I am. I won’t say it again, not out loud. But I had to tell you… to tell someone.”
His gaze drops to my hands, where he sees what I’m holding, and then his voice softens. “This is about her, then?” he asks.