It was a bitterly cold evening. Edward shivered as he trudged the lonely path up through the darkened forest, twigs crunching underfoot his boots, his winter clothing barely keeping out the biting wind as it gnawed away at his bones. He hated the cold. It sapped away at one’s strength and willpower, and he had seen the worst of what the combined might of Mountain and Storm Wind could do to mere men and women unfortunate enough to fall afoul of their fury. Edward angled his head towards the sky, observing the greenish hue of an Aurora Borealis illuminating the night sky, rippling softly in the void. His feet came to a halt, pausing momentarily as he marvelled at this most unusual sight, at least to him. His reverie was interrupted by the low rumbling of distant thunder, heralding the imminent arrival of Storm Winds manifestation. He resumed his journey, as it was of the utmost importance that he reach the shrine before the ominous clouds on the horizon did.
The mountains beyond the City of Rhamnus on Assiettes VI was not the Kaalakiota Peaks on Cephalin, nor was it Landfall Shrine on New Caldari Prime. It mattered not to a follower of the Way of the Winds, not to Edward and least of all to the keepers of the shrine that resided here. Assiettes has a sizeable Caldari population dating back to the initial period of colonisation, and most had resolutely rejected the State’s offer of evacuation in the waning days of the State occupation of Sinq Laison in the First Caldari-Gallente War, preferring to remain in solidarity with their fellow Ethnic Gallente colonists. This collective decision resulted in the wrath of the State being brought down upon this world and its people, scorched earth strategies rendering settlements and people alike into ash and echoes, as was the case with many others in Sinq Laison.
Edward knew about what his countrymen did to Sinq Laison through his study of the history of the war, but never to the extent as the locals, as he had been brought up in the regulated environment of the State. Therefore, it did not initially bode well for him when he led his followers to the City of Rhamnus in his self-imposed exile. The culture of the Caldari residents in the city was almost completely alien to what he was familiar with in the State, exemplified with his initial interactions with some of the citizenry. An elderly Deteis man bluntly informed him that although “you are of our blood, you are not one of us.” The experience had left Edward feeling hollow, all the more determined to cling to the spirituality that both State and Federation Caldari shared.
His destination came into sight at the trails end, as he crested the summit of one of the lesser peaks in the mountain range. Stone and scree littered the flat surface, interspersed with soil for the mighty evergreens to spread their roots. A rocky outcrop jutted across the edge of the summit where an oval mound of sticks and branches lay, the stone visible beneath scorched to an obsidian colour. A large wooden cabin, built sturdily into the rock, was his port of call. He reached the door, knocking three times firmly on the solid wooden door.
A gravelly voice called from within. Edward gently pushed the door open, his eagerness to escape the environment outside not precluding his respect for such a place, permitting him entry and respite from the cold. Three white-robed figures stood within, two of them attending to a shrouded figure lying motionless on the table, rubbing an oily herbal mixture underneath the cloth with their hands with the greatest care. Their clothing bore the stylised roaring head of a Storm Bear from Cephalin on their chests, renowned for their legendary fearlessness and as avatars of the Mountain Wind. The third, a Civire woman in her advanced years, greeted Edward as he walked past the other two, glancing at the shroud with some hesitation.
“Edward, you’ve come.”
She smiled, her features wrinkling as she looked up at him. In her hands was a small, wooden cup of steaming tea, which she offered to Edward as she greeted him. It was rude, after all, not to offer a guest tea in one’s house.
“Yes, Steward of the Mountain.”
Edward bowed his head deeply in a respectful manner, his tone reverent as he accepted the tea from the Steward. The Stewards of Wayist shrines were held in considerable regard in Caldari culture, for they were instrumental in the funeral rites for all those that followed the faith of the Way. Each shrine is constructed to venerate one of the many nature spirits in the Wayist pantheon. This example that Edward found himself in paid homage to Mountain Wind, atop one of his many peaks, as well as his relentless teaser Storm Wind.
“He is almost ready for the ceremony.”
She motioned to the still figure lying under the shroud. She canted her head to the side slightly, posing a question to Edward.
Edward did not answer, as he approached the shrouded figure. His hands slowly pulled back the white cloth, revealing a familiar face concealed beneath. It was that of his own, the figure concealed beneath was his clone, recovered from the aftermath of his capsule being destroyed in an engagement with pirates in the Nadire District. He had brought his shattered body here to be treated in accordance with Wayist customs so that his clone may be granted his last rites.
Cremating one’s dead is the exclusive method of burial utilised by Wayists, in order for the trapped spirit of the person within to escape their corporeal shell in order for them to join the spirits of their ancestors. Edward had pondered for a considerable amount of time how this applied to capsuleers such as himself that followed the Way, as his spirit did not join his ancestors but rather quite clearly found its way into his clone, another body. Thus, did his corpses require cremation at all? It was a conundrum that had confounded Edward for quite some time, and yet still he followed Wayist customs, recovering his fallen clones whenever he could. Tradition must still be followed, adhered to, regardless of supposed obsolescence considering his ability to come back from the dead via cloning.
Sometimes it was impossible for Edward to recover his prior bodies, as they were already destroyed, taken by opportunists or simply lost to the void. His heart felt heavy as his latest failure came to mind. Arsia . Once his friend, now his foe on the battlefield. She had managed to best him in the field, and when he had enquired as to whether he could have his body back to fulfil his cultural obligation, she replied with an attempt to extort him of the sum of ten billion ISK. Edward remembered his shock and anger at her lackadaisical attitude and lack of respect for his personal creed, which she would deny him from satisfying purely out of spite. He eventually reconciled that as she was raised with the Imperial Rite, taught and convinced of the superiority of the culture of Amarr over that of all others, that it was not her fault for her disrespectful action but rather that of her societal upbringing. Ultimately, he forgave her, as he invoked a contingency to immolate an effigy of himself in the place of the corpse she had in her possession, as is allowed when bodies of the fallen are inaccessible.
He took one last look at his face before replacing the shroud. His fallen self’s eyes were closed, his features calm and at peace, without any hint of the violent death that he had suffered. Edward looked at the Steward and nodded softly. The other robed men began wrapping the body, sewing it shut to bind it together.
“Good. Then we shall begin.”
Edward observed the two stewards carrying the shrouded body out to the mound that he saw earlier. The sky was completely obscured now, with swirling grey clouds and a steady downpour of rain inundating the summit of the mountain. Lightning bolted towards the earth in the distance, the booming thunder resonating within Edward’s body as the shockwaves roared across the skies. That the ceremony was timed to occur during this bout of foul weather was quite intentional. Edward descended from one of the many minor great families within the State, one with a long, proud and storied history of military service and mercantile prowess that spanned from the era of the Raata Empire to the Gallente Command, the Federation Navy and the Caldari Navy upon the proclamation of secession. For Caldari members of the Caldari and Federation Armed Forces that fall in battle, their funerals are often held in poor weather as an offering for their patron, Storm Wind, as he reflects the constant conflict between man and each other, as well as that of man versus the elements.
A brazier had been ignited near the mound. Its orange flames flickered in the wind that had started to intensify as the thunderstorm neared, the emissary of Storm Wind would not falter and neither would Edward in his resolve to carry out this sacred task. He marched forward, approaching the stewards that had laid his body to rest upon the mound and daubed it and the mound with a black tar-like substance to act as an accelerant. One of the stewards came up to Edward, unfazed by the gale that had now begun to tear at both men. He offered Edward an unlit wooden torch, coated in the same substance, without a word to be said. Edward accepted the torch without hesitation, and continued his march until he was stood by the mound and the brazier.
Adopting a defiant posture, as befitting an Adams, he stared into the swirling vortex in the sky, exposed to the rain and the wind. His lips parted, as he began to speak in his authoritative tone to identify himself.
“I, Edward, son of Wilhuff and Hana, descendant of the line of Adams, have come before you, oh Storm and Mountain Wind, to commit the spirit within this body to join you in the afterlife, as the Maker is my witness and my ancestors are my guide!”
A flash of lightning, and a deafening thunderclap crashed across him and the mountaintop in reply. The downpour accelerated, lashing out at him and impacting the ground around him with such force it appeared to bounce off. Edward continued, raising his voice as if to yell at the winds themselves. Storm Wind was not known for his calm personality. His expression and tone became increasingly hostile in response to the weather, as the onus was on him to prove his own resiliency and fortitude in the face of the Winds.
“May the spirit of this man rise to join those of his ancestors without hesitation, may he be accepted into your ranks willingly and welcomed in the realm of the Maker with the greatest vigour!”
He vociferated, continuing to plead his case towards the violent squall. The wind and the rain were relentless in their assault, frigid in temperature, yet Edward continued. His fists clenched as he hollered towards the heavens. Another flash of lightning, and the report of thunder mere seconds after.
"And may be join those of our fallen in maintaining vigilance over us all, watching and guiding us to good fortune and victory in our struggles! For we will all meet again when it is our time to pass on from this world!”
With that final statement, he plunged the torch into the brazier, igniting the substance that coated the end. Raising one arm to shield his eyes from the onslaught of rain, he staggered towards the mound slowly and carefully to avoid being swept off his feet by the whipping wind. Once he was close enough, he tossed the torch into the mound, causing it to erupt into a great conflagration. Edward stumbled and fell backwards as the fire spread across the mound rapidly, a beacon in the darkness, belching black smoke up into the sky.
As he gazed into the smoke rising into the clouds, lying there on the cold, hard surface of the mountain, he tried to imagine the imprisoned spirit within his fallen body soaring upwards like a phoenix from the ashes. His practical, sensible side won him over after a few moments of contemplative thought. Until the day of his final death, his spirit would remain in whole with him, and he should not fear that it would be diminished in any way by his capsuleerhood. He scrambled to his feet and retreated with the others back to the safety of the cabin, whilst the fire continued to burn behind him.