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Two rows of people lined the nave: members of the Di’sallach clan, with his parents at the head of each line. They, and the invited guests, were gathered underneath the flickering light of torches set into sconces perched far above on pillars.

Josym moved down the aisle in the solemn way required by tradition for this ceremony. To be inducted as a Paladin in the ancient order of the Chatos Knighthood was supposed to be the first great honor heaped upon him as heir of the Prestature. But what was unfolding around him wasn’t overwhelming. None of this inspired an appropriate sense of awe within his spirit. There was no fluttering in his stomach from reverent nervousness.

He felt ridiculous.

This ceremony was peculiar, full of pompous circumstances extracted from old texts that only existed in binary form, and translated into this spectacle. It felt like being in the middle of a modern theatre production using partially translated text from an ancient play. There was a sense of unreality about the affair. Josym had been to many strange gatherings on this world he had to call home. Birthday balls, christening galas, commemoration banquets, cotillions, debuts for the heirs, marriage festivities for the heiresses, all of these events blurred together in his memories to form a mélange of endless extravagances and gaudy grandeur that looked more like delusions.

But this ceremony would probably go down in his personal history as the biggest delusion he would ever witness, or participate in for that matter.

All of this fabulous trinketery in honor of reaching the Age of Ascendancy. Tomorrow morning, he would come to his eighteenth year of breathing…the first stage of his transition into adulthood. The second phase would come in three years when he attained the Age of Authority. At twenty-one years old, he would have the full rights and privileges granted to a Prestat Apparent. For any young heir who wanted those rights, it was one of the two great milestones all the sons of the Lordships looked forward to with impatient anticipation. It wasn’t enough to use their fathers’ keys to the manses when they could possess their own instead.

Neither of these supposedly auspicious benchmarks actually held any meaning for him. The rights granted an heir were incomplete for someone who wanted true freedom outside the closed loop of a dead society. What rights would he get after he passed through the last great nothing gate into the rest of his life? An arranged marriage to a daughter from one of the other Houses…then he would be held responsible for the continuation of the Di’sallach line by producing more than one son and just enough daughters for other arranged marriages to keep the “auld alliances” intact. But in a perverse example of this world he was entrenched within like a nivit caught at the center of a firespider’s web, it was expected of him to create offspring with a future wife--but he must never love her. A Prestat had a spouse assigned to him, not granted by the Most Holy Ones, so the divinity of love was not allowed into such a functional arrangement. If the man were inclined to feel love for a woman, then he could give those feelings to a cortigia. A courtesan was a woman he could choose, unlike his wife.

Josym glanced up ahead to the altar where his parents had now gathered, along with his uncles. Just behind the gaudy spectacle of his family stood the more discreetly (by Deiu standards, anyway) attired women that belonged to his father and uncles. Second in line after his father’s latest acquisition, was Uncle Reunahn’s courtesan. But tomorrow night, she would be in charge of his initiation into the sensual realm. After that, she would be his cortigia.

Palai was standing beside the Apprentice Pillar, glowing soft and golden under the light of the four brilliant torcharims mounted high above her. It was just like the first night he saw her across the ballroom, a few months ago. Yet another party held in honor of something that nobody even knew about, because they never knew why these gatherings took place. It was a genetic compulsion to convene large groups into tiny rooms, apparently. On that night, there was something different in the energy field of the usual assemblage. She was bright and silvery, shimmering like Najahal in her full glory shining down into one of the courtyard fountains in the time when evening and morning blend together. Then, and now, Palai was beautiful. Even dressed in the preposterous confection of indigo shimmersilk, with her ebony hair swept up into the twisted embrace of three gold combs, she was a bright spot of color and life that stood out in the midst of the assembled dark monotones of black, purple, and deeper than deep red.

She was the only reason he decided to go through with this charade rather than stage a protest by absconding off to the city. He had made the suggestion last night, after the rehearsal. Palai thought it might be interesting, certainly better than going through this dumb act. But she was fearful of his father’s wrath. This was a legitimate concern, given his father’s history of retribution towards those he felt had offended the name of the House.

Josym pushed that line of thought to the backstage, where it belonged. If he simply treated this spectacle like a masque, it would pass that much more quickly. Then he would be reunited with Palai at the obligatory banquet afterwards, and then they could sneak out into the gardens. Even though he was supposed to wait until after his birthday gala, he wanted to take at least one step along the carnal path. Just an innocent one, certain sure, not a full-blown tumble in the kiloran bushes. He had never plucked courage from the wine and tried it earlier, though the desire was present from the opening minutes of their first meeting alone. But youth can create a timid heart, and Josym unfortunately suffered from an overly frightened one, probably more abnormal than many boys of his age. Given the enforced separation of the sexes, it made sense he would be nervous. But he didn’t want to be afraid. He wanted…well, he wanted Palai. There was nothing immoral about that. She was beautiful, whether under the brilliant light of the lunar visitor’s sojourn in the sky, or in the smoky light of this odd chamber, even with her hair pinned and pushed up into torturous design that resembled a collapsed pastry. She was a beacon of graceful hope in this place where all was forlorn. Maybe one of these days, they could hop on a ship and leave this world to let the place decay. They could move along into the flow of life, bouncing around from one planet to another like vagabonds in a late-night movie. Maybe he could become an actor…so they would need to head straight for Lacace or Adarlon…but that could take awhile…okay, what would either one of them do for money? Wouldn’t they need a plan first before getting off this rock? And why did he think she would agree to run away just because he wanted to?

Palai smiled at him.

Now his stomach began to flutter. But he had to push the feeling aside, down into a corner of himself so his walk down the processional way could proceed. The urge to run out of the hall was still in his mind, but it was now tempered by the urge to press forward. The knighting itself would only take thirty minutes, with a babble of words extracted and simplified from the more intricate archaic ceremony, along with the touching of his shoulders with the Sword of Destiny. Although it was made dull for the occasion, Josym still wondered what kind of reaction he might get by jumping up afterwards and screaming, “Help, I’m bleeding!” It did provide the potential for an amusing diversion from the monotony. But it would be an immature action, and he wanted to let everyone know he wasn’t a kid anymore. Especially Palai…the best way to do that was staying the course. Even through the benediction and prayers for the continued grace and good fortune of his present and future. If they really wanted to bless him, they could restore the Force aspect back into the knighting ceremony script. It was a terrible injustice to every young man that ever participated in this ritual. Even those sons of the Houses deficient in the necessary midichlorians still could partake of the grace bestowed by the Universal Power to all willing to walk under the benevolent gaze of the Light.

But the Purge took that chance from him. Now it was a figment of the aristos’ sad daydreams enacted with shadows and clouds under the fuzzy torch illuminations. None of this was real, even as it surrounded him in this antique chapel. Though this ceremony was taking place in three dimensions, its meaning was a ghost. So it could only be treated as one of the old-fashioned masques once so beloved in the Old Society.

Fine, so he was wearing a funny costume, walking towards the altar. And he was participating in a ritual so archaic it was wearing cobwebs. But it was all part of a long jumble of inanity that had one redeeming quality at the end. Palai would look upon him with pride. Which meant he could prove himself to her as a man who always kept his word, no matter the circumstances that might be insurmountable or absurd. That was how the Jedi used to act, when they were allowed to exist. Just like his uncle used to be, or so his mother had told him about the nature of her brother.

Some of that man’s nature must exist within himself, especially since he also held his long departed ancestor’s first name. If there was any truth to the legends of namesakes, then fragments of personal characteristics and physical traits were incorporated fiber by fiber into his soul. He definitely possessed a strong Force inclination, with a certain aptitude for using the ability in mock combat sessions when he was deep in Kishenua practice. Uncle Josym (Huranz, his brain added) was renowned for his prowess in real-world battles.

It was there, and it was his. Contained for life in every cell of his body. One day, the galaxy might shift on its axis, and switch the balance back in favor of justice, and the Jedi might rise again. Then he could travel far away from Deiu to study the ancient mysteries, and he would never have to return to this world he only called home as a formality.

Of course Palai would also come along on the journey.

He was almost near the altar. It was time to take the stage, in the lead role. If he could remember his lines, plus the stage directions that told the pre-paladin when to move, then he could pull this ceremony off like a professional. Then it would be over with…and then he could maneuver Palai outside, to stand underneath the visiting moon. They could make wishes to Najahal, silent prayers of mutual deliverance from this stagnant society, out into the galaxy, where they could start over, together.

Anything was possible, after all.

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