July 11, 2008
By Kathryn Mahan, Fredonia, KS

His robes were black and heavy; they seemed to pull him into the twilight darkness of the cabin. His features were dark, too, though his skin was pale. His eyes were brown but dark. Reflected in his pupils was the flickering light of red and green flames.

The flames were contained in a flat bronze dish engraved with ceremonial symbols and figures.

The watcher knew only ceremony, only the companionship of the flames.

The air of the cabin smelled vaguely sweet, like something pleasant faraway. This, too, was the work of the fire.

The fuel in the bottom of the bronze dish was a small grey block. Alone, the block had an earthy scent, a scent that made his chest ache with sentimental recollections.

Though he watched the flames dance over their fuel, his mind was elsewhere.

He would be leaving soon, gone for three years, to serve his Saint. And his wife…he would be leaving her at the Base…she did not want him to go.

But he must.

On the far wall of his cabin, a collection of ancient blades sparkled and broke the tinted light of the fire into multicolored fragments that he found beautiful, graceful.

He drew a deep breath and rose slowly. Clenched tightly in his right hand was a small amount of white powder. With the whispered words, “Mantaya sha’ ni”, from the ancient language of the ceremonies, he opened his fist over the flames.

With deep regret, he watched as they died.
The air thickened with a pale, pungent smoke that had a sour scent.
He waited to find the bits of sweetness as they passed.

Then, they were gone.

When he could no longer pretend he had a reason to stay, he adjusted the cloth folds of his robes, took the last of his possessions in his hands, and, without looking back, walked out of the cabin.

His Saint was waiting.

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