Unpacking Returned

Here is another unexpected interlude to the story I wasn’t expecting during my initial outline. It serves as a fitting send off for a fallen friend, and allows for some character development at the same time. It amazes me how the needs of the tale manage to create these turns, even long after I began to map them out in advance. Let’s unpack.

The Opening

Yes, “I won’t leave” him is another classic story cliché, but I simply couldn’t imagine Jeremy leaving a friend like that. I’m fairly certain if he’d tried to do so Ama would have refused to budge until their friend was properly cared for.

Walter wasn’t incorrect about the danger. Without Sheilak and Minnik the friends of the people who’d attacked them would almost certainly had arrived and taken them prisoner. Jeremy’s ability to sense what Sheilak was up to was not only a sign of his growing affinity for the Guardian, it also signify his own Prismatic abilities are beginning to surface.

The Burial

The people of The Valleys only practice cremation. There are no cemeteries anywhere in it’s borders, and the very concept of burial is alien to them. The ashes are mostly scattered in places where the deceased felt most free and alive, but as small portion is always kept in a sealed vial around the necks of their closest kin. This way they keep the deceased close to their hearts.

Jeremy, on the other hand, has never heard of cremation. His people practice shallow burial, so bodies may decompose and return to the soil. Among his group of Prismatics the deceased’s head is always pointed toward the ancient Prismatic city. His people, however, also do not have cemeteries. The memorial stone is kept in place while the body decomposes, and is then removed and kept as a cherished remembrance by the family. The plot in which the deceased was buried is then either turned into a garden or has a tree planted in it.

Tollen and Terrin had, of course, came across descriptions of the practice of returning someone to the soil in the Presidential Archives, but had no idea anyone still followed the practice. The reason why it fell out of favor in The Valleys was the lack of space in The Ravine, there simply was no way to create a garden for all those who die in the city’s early years, and most people feared to leave the confines of the young city to bury people elsewhere. After a generation or two cremation was simply established as the norm.

As a pastor, I have conducted many burials and overseen many funerals. Actually, of the two “official” functions people assume clergy must be present, I prefer the rawness and honesty of a funeral over the hype of a wedding 1. The words Jeremy speaks over Talum’s grave certainly resonate with a phrase from the book of Genesis, “You are dust, and to dust you will return 2.” I’ve said those words many times over the years, the pain of the moment is raw. And yet the love of people being expressed in grief is also beautiful — it’s a reminder how people who touch our lives are valuable. It’s what I was trying to express in the reactions of the party as Terrin was buried.

Sheilak’s sadness

We touched on this last week, but Sheilak was extremely loathe to take a human life — even to save her companions. In ancient days the bonded human exerted the power which was used in the Extinction War and, while it grieved the Guardians, it was deemed “necessary.” There were few times when the Guardians directly attacked humans with lethal force, and when it happened it always pained them deeply. Minnik, who had been bonded for far less time than Sheilak is especially distraught by what he had to do — at the time Jeremy spoke to Sheilak he was still off in the woods deep in sorrow.

Terrin’s memorial marker declaring him, “a guardian of life” is significant. This is how the Guardians see themselves.


Jeremy’s memory won’t return all at once, but small details and bits of his abilities are starting to emerge. Stress has been the trigger so far, but as he moves further South familiar sights will trigger his memory more and more.

Soon he will know his own story.

  1. I’m also tired of explaining to the groomsmen how it’s not “funny” to try to get the groom wasted in the Church basement prior to the ceremony. 
  2. Genesis 3:19, in case you’re interested