THIRTEEN YEARS AGO
My father rubbed my head lightly. “It’s going to be okay, Red. Dry your tears.”
I sniffled, trying as hard as I could to pretend there were no tears. Dad wasn’t crying, so I couldn’t either.
On the other hand, Mom was weeping and blubbering on the floor, hugging Murasaki so tightly my sister was going blue in the face. Midori managed to separate them, and Mom immediately latched onto her instead.
Murasaki rubbed her eyes and looked down at me, before turning to Dad. “Why do you keep saying that? Shiro is…” she started crying again, unable to speak.
I tugged on Raven, the sword hanging at my father’s side, in order to get his attention. “Daddy, why can Murasaki cry and I can’t? You told me not to cry…”
“Because he hasn’t given up on you yet,” Midori spat bitterly, still holding our weeping mother in her arms. She glared at me with the bright green eyes that had earned herself her name. “He still thinks you can earn his sword one day, even though it killed Shiro—”
“That’s enough,” our father said firmly. “I know you are upset, but I am in no mood to take the blame for this.” I belatedly noticed a quaver in his voice.
Was he barely holding on?
“I’m eighteen years old, Dad!” Midori shouted, disentangling herself from our mother and striding up to our father. “I’ll blame whoever I choose! You’re the one who—”
“Midori, that is quite enough,” Mom’s soft voice floated through the air. We all turned to see her slowly regaining her feet, wiping her tears away as gracefully as she could. “If you have something to say to your father, you can do so later.” She indicated the room with her hand. “You are embarrassing us.”
It didn’t seem like it. The Hall of the Dead was crowded with grieving families, come to visit the names engraved on the walls. But no one was paying attention to us. Why should they? We were far from the only crying family, and I could hear shouted arguments echoing from the floors above and below.
I decided to ignore my mother; she did tend to be worried about appearances too much, so this was nothing new. Instead, I turned my attention to the wall—granite, I think—we were standing in front of.
Every person had four lines dedicated to them. The first was their birth name, then indented underneath was their nickname or title, and then indented under that were their dates of birth and death, and finally a few words about the person.
I loved this place. There were thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of names on this floor alone, and it was only floor ten out of fifty. The Halls recorded all the dead since the Zero Forge was first lit, every soul who died on Domina’s soil or seas immortalized in stone.
Immortalized was a new word. My Dad was the one who taught it to me.
I liked it. Immortalized.
‘Shiro Akiyama,’ my sister’s engraving read. Then the single character of her first name, and the two of our family name. Then the dates—born December 4th, died February 5th. She was fourteen years old when she died. It seemed like forever to me, but everyone else was going on about how young she was.
I read the last line aloud. “’She died smiling.’”
My father patted my head again. “Yeah. There wasn’t…” he momentarily gripped my hair hard enough to hurt, but I didn’t cry out. I don’t think he even noticed what he was doing, but either way his grasp quickly loosened. “There wasn’t much of her left, after the explosion. But they found her head. And she was smiling.”
“I suppose that is all anyone can ask,” a thick, breathy voice declared from behind us.
We all turned to see a man about Dad’s age, wearing a white lab coat and standing in front of the wall with a woman and two children, a boy and a girl. The girl looked about my age, but the boy was way older, like ten.
“Isaac,” Dad said with a smile. “Thank you for coming.”
“Always a pleasure, Akio. Even at times such as this.”
Mom wiped her face again. “I don’t believe we’ve met,” she said to the woman at the man’s side. She extended her hand. “Yasu Akiyama.”
“Janet Gertrude,” the woman replied, shaking my mother’s hand. “This is David,” she patted the boy on the head. “And Robyn Joan. You’ve already met my husband, Isaac, I believe?”
Mom smiled as best she could and shook the man’s hand. “Doctor Clarke? No, we haven’t met, but I’ve heard so much about you.”
He grinned in return. “Likewise, my dear.”
I shied away from the new family, gripping the sword belted at my father’s side for comfort. I’m not good with new people, and these ones had just come out of nowhere…
“I’m touched you invited us,” Miss Gertrude said with a sad smile. “I know this is a tough time, and you need friends to get through it.” She glanced around. “Speaking of which, is anyone else coming?”
“I invited Maria and Victor, but they’re always pretty busy.” Dad adjusted Raven a little bit. I guess all my pulling on it was uncomfortable for him. “Artemis, of course, couldn’t make it.”
“That’s quite a few people, Akio. Were you planning a funeral after all?”
My father smiled sadly. “No…no, unfortunately not. We don’t have the time or money for something like that.” He gestured at the wall. “Musashi’s sword…if the engraving wasn’t free, we might not have even been able to afford this much.”
“Quite right, quite right,” the doctor muttered, shaking his head. I noticed his daughter staring at me, and looked away. “The same thing happened with my first wife. We had our differences, but I would have preferred…” he trailed off, a pained look on his face.
There was a long, awkward silence, punctuated only by Murasaki sniffling off to one side. At Miss Gertrude’s silent urging, the Clarkes turned to the wall, studying the names engraved with such care.
I tugged lightly on Dad’s pant leg to get his attention.
He rubbed my head, smiling down at me, but I could still see that pained expression on his face. “What’s wrong, Red?”
“It’s just…” I whispered, not wanting to disturb the silence for some reason. “…about what Doctor Clarke said…”
He frowned. “What exactly—?”
“What’s a funeral?”
My father blinked owlishly. “What?”
“That thing Doctor Clarke mentioned. What’s a funeral?”
“I’m—you…you can’t possibly…” he trailed off, staring down at me as if I had suddenly grown a second head.
I bit my lip. “Is it something bad?”
That pained smile came back again. “No…no, of course not.” He patted my head again. “A funeral is just…a sort of party for someone who has died. You invite over everyone who was close to them, and spend a few hours telling stories about when they were alive. That’s all.”
I thought about it for a second. “But…that doesn’t make any sense.”
His eyebrow quirked upwards, and he smiled a little more genuinely. “Oh? How so?”
“If people spent that much time on everyone who died, there wouldn’t be time for anything else.”
My father’s smile disappeared like a rat down a hole.
“Yes,” he said very, very quietly. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 151)
Yes, Midori has green eyes. No, they are not a toy, she was born with them, and she is fifteen years older than the toy maker. Normally, such a thing would be nearly impossible for a pure Japanese girl, which confused her parents to no end. However, a paternity test confirmed that Akio was her father. It was just one of those random quirks of genetics.
Oh, and Akane is about six months away from being 6 years old here. Midori is three days past 18, and Murasaki is almost 13.