Posted on December 3rd, 2021 by Emilaina Acacia
The Island with Many Names, Modern Name: Betazese
Several thousand years ago…
The night had come, and Falika was sitting in the Ending Tent where she had spent most of her time since the outbreak of respiratory disease within the tribe. She wore a mask that held a mixture of herbs close to her mouth, though admittedly she would take it off from time to time, something she felt comfortable doing since she had caught the disease and recovered from it already.
The tent flap opened and Falika looked up, expecting another stretcher and another patient. Instead, a man she knew well ushered in a little girl, somewhere around seven years old.
“Is she a patient?” Falika asked softly, recognizing her uncle and her young cousin. The little girl stared wide-eyed at the cots lining the tent walls, and the sick people languishing in them.
“No,” Jurias spoke, pushing the little girl closer to Falika. The girl, Ashei, stumbled a bit and sucked her thumb for comfort. She was shy, Falika remembered this.
Falika took off her mask and extended a hand to Ashei. The little girl considered for a long moment before taking the hand, accepting guidance to come sit next to Falika. Falika looked at Jurias expectantly, hoping he would explain. Jurias came and sat with them, the three now sitting around the fire pit in the center of the tent. A beat passed, then Jurias finally spoke.
“She has the trait,” Jurias said grimly. Falika frowned, knowing what this meant, and knowing that the little girl probably hadn’t processed it yet.
“I see,” Falika said simply.
“I was hoping you might have some guidance for her,” Jurias said expectantly.
“I… might,” Falika was uncertain. She had received guidance from the Deathkeeper who came before her, but she hadn’t been ready to meet another so soon. She had only been the tribe’s Deathkeeper for a few dozen moons, she felt she still had much more to learn.
“Falika,” a groan came from one of the cots, and Falika jerked her head to look at the woman speaking. She quickly made her way to Kailani’s bedside, taking the old woman’s hand and giving it a squeeze.
“Kailani,” Falika said softly, holding the old woman’s hand tight. She quickly retrieved a few black seeds from her pocket and popped them in her mouth, chewing them.
“It’s time,” Kailani wheezed.
“I know,” Falika said softly, shushing the woman. Falika closed her eyes and extended her mind to the old woman’s, the two connecting minds and intertwining. Falika was in control of the connection, directing the flow of pain towards herself, and emotions towards Kailani.
The black seeds were from the ohaki flower–a native painkiller that numbed the user’s body. With the numbing she was able to endure the pain, though she still struggled for breath as she watched what was happening in the old woman’s mind.
The first image was of a Korasi holiday celebration, her whole family, kids and grandkids all gathered to celebrate. She remembered their smiling faces and their joy, vivid sensations for an empath. She remembered the birth of her first grandchild, and the birth of her first great-grandchild. Though the image was blurry, Falika remembered all their names and faces as if the memories were her own.
A few more vibrant images played in their minds, then the last one faded to black. Falika felt the familiar sensation of falling, consuming blackness surrounding her as she dropped. Suddenly she gasped and jerked awake, once again only in control of her own mind.
Ashei had approached the two, still sucking her thumb and watching with wide eyes. A beat passed, then the child spoke, “Is she dead?”
“Yes,” Falika said softly, placing the old woman’s still-warm hand back in the cot gently.
“What did you do?” Ashei asked, obviously concerned.
“I took away her pain,” Falika answered honestly, “And I saw her last memories, in exchange. Come on.”
She let the young girl back to the fire pit, where her father was still sitting, keeping an eye on the two. Falika retrieved the big black book sitting beside the fire and opened it to an empty page. She wrote down the name of the deceased, then detailed in the book what her last moments had been like. Peaceful, thoughts of family, and without pain. The writing was a bit wonky, as always, as the ohaki seeds were still having their numbing effect on Falika. Ashei watched over her shoulder, reading what she wrote.
“Why do you write that down?” the little girl asked earnestly.
“It gives people comfort to know that their loved ones passed peacefully,” Falika once again did her best to answer.
“How do you take away her pain?” Ashei asked.
“Well,” Falika thought for a moment about how to explain it, “You know everyone is an empath, right? Able to feel other peoples’ emotions as clearly as they see their face?”
“Yes,” the little girl answered from an islander’s perspective.
“Well, people like you and me can also feel the physical pain of others. Have you ever noticed that?” Falika lead on.
“Yes,” Ashei’s eyes widened even more, if that was possible.
“This is a rare trait. It allows us to, basically, reverse empathy on others. Take away their emotions–if we wanted to, or take away their pain by taking it on ourselves.”
“Take away their emotions?” Ashei looked at the dead woman with an air of concern.
“We usually don’t do that. It’s rude, after all,” Falika continued, “but when someone is dying, it feels… almost natural, to direct their pain toward ourselves, and let them experience their last moments in peace.”
“So that’s where the name Deathkeeper comes from?” Ashei eyed the black book, the Book of the Dead, warily.
“Right,” Falika anwered, “And of course, you don’t have to be a Deathkeeper if you don’t want to. But you have the trait, so you could.”
“I see…” Ashei looked deep into the small fire at the center of the tent, considering this. After a long moment she came up with another question, “You feel their death?”
“The ohaki flower helps numb the pain. But yes, I do feel their death,” Falika answered, “It is my sacred duty. I feel death on a daily basis, and in exchange, my tribe is blessed with peaceful deaths.”
“What does it feel like?” Ashei got straight to the point, as kids are known to do.
“Like… something icy sliding down your spine. Like warmth one moment, then coldness the next. Like being full after just eating, then suddenly feeling hungry,” Falika did her best with the metaphors, as no words could truly describe the experience. Ashei considered this for a while, then grabbed for the book. Falika let her have it, and the little girl began flipping through the pages.
“My grandma died of the sickness,” Ashei began, “is she in here?”
“What was her name?” Falika directed the question at Jurias, who was still quietly watching.
“Alzoina Kureshi,” Jurias answered. Falika quickly found her in the book, then handed it back to Ashei to read. The little girl scanned the page slowly, taking in every word.
“So you felt the pain of the end of the sickness…” Ashei thought aloud, “And my grandma felt… memories of my dad and my siblings, and happiness.”
“Precisely,” Falika smiled warmly.
“Thank you,” Ashei mumbled in disbelief, somewhat relieved.
“Of course,” Falika bowed her head, “It’s what I do.”
The questioning went on for a few hours, after which Jurias thanked Falika and apologized for overstaying their welcome. Falika refuted him, assuring him that his daughter was always welcome around her work, given when they now knew about her. Ashei, naturally, had a lot of thinking to do.
That night two more passed of the sickness, and Falika was there for them as she had been there for so many others. The tradition of the Deathkeeper would come in and out of fashion over the next few thousand years, but the trait would be present in the tribe for a very long time.