The funeral procession wound its way up the sacred mountain. The path was difficult, steep and narrow stairs roughly hewn directly into the stone. Only the priests and monks walked this path, and they bore the headless skeleton on their backs, the bones gleaming opalescent in the afternoon light. On the first day, the flesh had been returned to the Three Limits of the World, Earth, Wall, and Roof, cremated and scattered into the wind. On the second day, the memories and wisdom had been returned to the community, the skull enshrined within the arcane devices of the thought archives. Months later and the stars were right; now the soul would be returned to the Gods.
At length, they came to the peak, and the Altar of Return. It was a broad circular structure, as high as two of the People, stepped to allow the priests to climb up it and place the skeleton in the offering bowl inset in the otherwise smooth top. It was made of the same opalescent bone as the skeletons of the People, the matter of the soul.
The priests were wrapped tightly in sacred cloth as they ascended the stepped sides of the Altar of Return, shielding their earthly flesh from contact with the divine matter. Down into the bowl the skeleton went, and the priests took up their positions around the perimeter of the bowl. The high priest rose back on his hind legs, spreading his other limbs to point in the five cardinal directions.
"Great gods of the endless void!" he cried, the lesser acolytes echoing him. "We bring before you a spirit in need of passage. From you, his spirit descended. In flesh, he was a faithful servant, a loyal son, and a loving father, who did honor to himself, to his house, and to you. Now his time in flesh has passed, and his soul must be brought back up into the void from which it came."
"Great gods of the endless void! We have divested his spiritual frame of its earthly shell, and brought him to the peak holy mountain. His peace has been made! Nothing more remains for him on this sphere! We call upon you! Bring him up! Bring your son home!"
The ritual call made, as one the priests stepped back from the bowl and drew heavy veils over their faces. For a second the bowl glowed with an inner light; then an unwavering pillar of brilliant light bust from the bowl, spearing through the sky into the endless void beyond. The radiant column could be seen for dozens of miles around; in the town far below, the people stopped to mark the passing of a soul from the world. The priests would have suffered permanent vision damage without the veils.
After a minute, the light cut off. Of the skeleton within the bowl, no trace remained.
When his awareness resumed, at first he had no idea where he was. He... had died? Yes, he was pretty sure he had died, and was now in the Realm of Spiritual Matter. He began to remember. Or rather, he began to reintegrate into a greater self that he had forgotten as his exocortex connections were restored. Now, he knew where he was. He had returned to the great gods of the endless void. He was on an orbital habitat as big as a continent. He was home.
A message entered his awareness. From a friend. He encompassed it; it was brief and to the point. Put into text, it was something like:
"So, how was your vacation?"
By Xandeross, 2020
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