“And then the Twice-Lived said to the Heroic Inquisitor ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’
“But the Inquisitor was not a fool, and he said, ‘you died once before and chose to take possession of a body not your own. This is the very definition of wrong. All of nature cries out against it. Decency demands that we cast you back into the grave where you should have stayed.’ Or Elm, that is at least what I sometimes say, the Drama of the moment is important.
“And all of the village people cheered because they knew that a corruption that they had not know had been living among them for years would now be cast out. That was why there was always an inquisitor present these days during the final naming ceremony. When the holy status box first appeared it would reveal any of the deceiving Twice-Lived who were hiding in the bodies of the people. And then they could be purged.’
My father stopped and looked at me. “Elm this is important. This is our way. If a Twice-Lived were living among us. Say it was your friend, Carob or the maid’s child Rhubarb. Or even yourself. If you were Twice-Lived. Status does not matter.
Twice Lived can be nobles or peasants. It is said the very first Twice-Lived ever found was a child of the King who envied the King’s throne. So listen to the story.”
It was hard to know if Dad somehow knew about my past life. Or if he just enjoyed inflicting terror on children, or if this was some sort of traditional religious instruction on this world or in this kingdom. It was hard to tell. Nor could I stop and tell him that I’d once had a vision of his world that showed me that every single soul on the planet was from the earth, and probably had been for the last few hundred years. Or that with the Reincarnation system which surrounded the planet, it was highly likely that even native souls were born, died, and reborn countless times.
Still, my father continued, “The Inquisitor took the Twice-Lived and attached ropes to his arms and legs. The inquisitor chained the Twice Lived’s body to the bloodied marble block that we have decreed be erected in every town square these last two hundred years. Ever since the day we finally understood the plague of Twice-Lived upon our nation. Four oxen were bought by the Inquisitor from nearby farmers for this purpose, and each ox was secured by rope to an arm or a leg.”
This is where my father’s voice took on an overtone of pure joy. “Slowly. Carefully so as not to let the Twice-Lived die too quickly. The oxen were led, inch by inch, out of the village. It was important for every final moment of the Twice-Lived to be of excruciating pain. We want them to fear coming back when they die. We cannot have them becoming a Thrice Lived.
“Each ox, Elm, slowly led by the farmer the Inquisitor had bought it from, or if that farmer was not strong enough in the stomach, by a volunteer in the village. The oxen were led in a different direction representing the most perfect purity. One ox going North, another one slowly moving South, yet the third oxen traveling towards the East, and the final one heading into the embrace of the West. Pulling, pulling, pulling for hours. Sometimes we let the oxen rest. But it is a steady pressure, and eventually with a pop the body of the Twice-Lived is torn apart and his screaming stops.”
“Then the oxen are slaughtered and the meat is given as a feast to the village. It is important Elm, that the inquisitors pay for this expense, and for the festivities afterward. We are taking away one of their own. It is for their own good, but it would be easy for them not to love us for it. Sometimes the Twice lived is popular or the child of somebody important. And it would be easy for simple village people or city folk to hate us. But if we feed them and get them very drunk, then they see us as a benefit to their community, and not killers of their friends."
“Afterwards, the Inquisitor packs the head of the Twice-Lived in Ice and when they leave, the head is sent off to the Medical college in Hapistrel for study.”
My father shifted in the chair that he was sitting in. “How did you like the story Elm,” he said.
I had, of course, heard variations of this story dozens of times before. It was one of my father’s favorites. Not that I minded. Every time he told that little gem of a tale, it reminded me to be extra careful.
“Father, how is it that Twice-Lived can be found out? How can I search for them to bring them to justice.” I said.
“Often the Inquisitors catch them early. This is our job. They speak of foreign places such as Dirt or Amurica. Or they might speak in a strange language. Sometimes they might call themselves by other names by accident. There are many ways to uncover them as a child. But if not, on the day of Naming, when the holy status magics are imprinted, they are always discovered then. For they have the title Twice-Lived and thus they are known.”
Status magic. I wanted to shout for joy and cower in fear about status magic. Every Gamer’s dream was just out of reach. The irony that the moment I got access to my stats, my father or one of his Inquisitor buddies would have to draw and quarter me. Eight-year-olds should not have as many stressed-out sleepless nights as I did worrying about their Stats. There just had to be a way to get my status early, or hide my title.
Try as much as I could I couldn’t figure out how to get access to magic. The reason I figured, was that magic was somehow tied into the tradition of naming. And growing up everyone in this culture got three names.
When you were born, you were given the name of a plant to signify your weakness. Commoners, of course, got everyday kinds of plants. Vegetables like Carrot, Pea, Broccoli, flowers like Daisy, Marigold, Lily, bushes like Bower, Dogwood, Chokeberry, weeds like Dandelion, Hemp, Crabgrass etc.… Trees, of course, were saved for the Nobility. Thus I was named Elm, by virtue of the fact that I was the third son of a middling important noble who lived close to the frontier.
My father was also an Inquisitor but he rarely mentioned that directly. It was as if the status itself left a bad taste in his mouth. Though he did enjoy the stories of violent, gruesome deaths.
If a child was lucky enough to live to be 12 they gained a second name. Presumably, this name was of something was more alive — or just higher up — on the food chain. A twelve-year-old was when most people in this world started to learn trades when they began to access their magic if they had them. The pattern held here too. Those with fairly common skills and trade even among the nobility got named after herbivores. Skills and trades which were about wealth, medicine, battle, magic, clerical, bureaucratic or pedagogy were named for an omnivore. Finally, those who demonstrate extreme talent, i.e., young geniuses, certain ceremonial trades like Inquisitors, Priests, Extremely powerful Magi and those who were simply so wealthy they did not have to ever work (even if they did) were named for carnivores.
Royalty was of course named for mystical plants and legendary animals but I had never met royalty and personally, I thought this was just pretentiousness. I had heard a rumor that beggars and slaves were named after insects, but way out here at the edge of the civilized kingdom, I had yet met or seen someone that lowly in society. And lastly every solstice the entire community would get together.
Every boy and girl who had turned 16 the year before would come before an Inquisitor and gain their status magic, and to be judged not to be a Twice-Lived. This day signified the transition from childhood to adulthood in this culture. And it was only on this day when a new Adult chose their own final human name. Thus it was possible to meet Aram Rabbit Broccoli, known to one and all as Aram. Or Deah Squirrel Willow know as Deah.
My father’s name was Harrion Wolverine Oak of the House Lysturgus and the Clan Naato. But I just called him Father and knew he had a soft side when he was, presumably torturing to death 16-year-old kids for the penalty of being just like me. I was simply Elm and I was on this day about eight. My family had at first thought I was slow-witted because I didn’t speak much. They had been worried when the first words out of my mouth had happened well after other children had usually said theirs. It was only when I was three that they had realized that I was intelligent, just cautious. That I would weigh what I said carefully before I spoke, and often would not speak and would just fade into the background to listen.
From my own perspective, I had grown up hearing gruesome stories about Twice-Lived. Sometimes just general stories, like the one my father had just finished telling me. Other times, rarely, when Dad had discovered one at a Naming ceremony and had put them to death. Let me be blunt. It only takes two or three times, listening to a story about a boy or a girl, whose only crime is that they are exactly like you, being torn apart in the most gruesome and most barbaric manner possible, to make a child first learn to carefully guard his words. And then to learn how to put on an act whenever someone was nearby.
Of course, my Father loved me. He told me this often when he hit me. Even when he used his belt. And he promised me that when I was a little bit older, he would let me see an execution up close when the next Twice-Lived was discovered. When I heard this, I pretended to be utterly enraptured, but when I was alone, I found some plants in which to vomit.