The new year’s story continues, with Losyrki reconsidering her position as she experiences an ancient ceremony in the frosty north of Kylan.
Ishkisa, Kylan, 40th Nivos 997.
It’s been two hours since touchdown and Losyrki has quickly acquainted herself with her spiritual home in the north. The biting chill is a challenge for most, but the senator has bundled herself up in the warmest coats she could find for sale back in the capital.
After some time exploring the centre of the town, neat rows of once-colourful shop windows turned blue with the kiss of frost, she visits her arranged lunch with a local guide. The cold makes it a struggle to keep her phone in her hands as she navigates to a mountain that’s supposed to be a café. Losyrki has to brush the slivers of snow from her glasses before she can see the cabin buried in the pale hillside.
A steep and narrow pathway winds around to the front door, and she nearly gets lost in the blur. She keeps an eye out for the well-kept, bright green plants that sit underneath the main window of the building. Once she finds her way, she stands almost in a stupor at the entrance, reminding herself that she doesn’t need to knock before entering.
She scans the establishment, a mixture of café and bar, but the guide waves to her before she spots him. He’s a tall, firmly-built man with hints of ink on his skin beneath a wildly-wrapped scarf. He looks almost foreign, and Losyrki is thrown for a moment in the sudden warmth of the room before he calls her name. Brought back to life, she takes a seat opposite him and a waiter slides a menu in front of her.
She folds her arms. “So you must be Gorel.”
“Yes, that’s right,” he says, his voice a little shaky, “It’s nice to meet you, Miss Losyrki. How has your trip been?”
She winces. “Not bad.”
The waiter returns and Losyrki orders a local drink, a specialty named after the Ispuras temple. It’s supposed to recreate the experience of it in a glass. She’ll find out this evening whether it lives up to the real thing.
“I have been told you’re a senator. How is it going in the Tower?”
Losyrki drinks too fast and her skull feels full of ice. She hesitates. “It’s all going well.”
Gorel seems unconcerned as Losyrki peeks around the mostly-quiet café. There’s a woman thoughtfully tapping a laptop, a pair of headphones lying next to her, and a couple with ears only for each other.
“I don’t know if it’s frostier here than in parliament on big decision days…”
This sounds like an attempt at a joke, so Losyrki puts on a frigid, sharp laugh.
“This is your first trip to Ishkisa. Is it?”
Something about his tone makes him seem honest and unthreatening, which only increases Losyrki’s concerns about him. She nods and inspects the menu. In the corner of her eye, the typer glances at her.
“Out of interest, what made you-”
The woman gets up, grabbing her glass and making her way over to Gorel’s table. “Hi, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
A lump of snow crashes off the roof of the cabin. The door bashes into the wall as a disgruntled waiter hurries outside to check the plants.
“Yeah, I do mind. I don’t have much time, and- who do you think I am?”
“Ah, you see, that’s the point,” she continues, almost unfazed, “I write a sort of travel blog. I thought my readers might be interested to find out a little of who you are.”
She stares at Losyrki, who can see her eyes deciphering this first impression of the senator.
“I’m Losyrki Devig, a senator for Tarclan, and I’m here for the big ol’ ceremony tonight with the big ol’ ice block. Is that a good start?”
She takes another swig of her drink and the blogger smiles. “Works for me. You know, I always wanted to be a senator, when I was a kid. It all looked quite exciting on television when I saw all those arguments going on up at the fourteenth floor. Of course, that would’ve been around the time of the Corsin murders, so I don’t think my parents found it hard to talk me out of it. Too dangerous to be a senator. You’re brave, Losyrki.”
Gorel coughs and reminds her to order some food as the waiter comes back in. While she does so, the questioning shifts onto the guide himself. He waits for the waiter to leave and lowers his voice before answering.
“Truthfully, I’m from the Seluam. You know, you don’t have surnames there. I’m just Gorel. When I came over here, they said I can’t just be Gorel. I’m now Gorel Ryuz. Names are strange.”
“The Seluam?” interrupts Losyrki, “Are you serious? Why would you come here? Aren’t we kind of… ordered?”
“My grandparents were in the war. They were big fighters for the Seluam movement. My parents always said ‘Gorel, you should be grateful, they gave us our freedom.’ I couldn’t tell them I didn’t want their freedom.”
The writer starts taking notes, waiting for him to continue, without giving any suggestion that his story is unusual. “Everyone is hungry back there. Somebody killed my parents and tore my home and took all the food. Other people just told me that happened all the time. That it was part of living in this country. I didn’t want to live in this country. I knew a bit about the rest of the world – I’d seen the things people had found on the border with Tregrihi – and I wanted to try it.
“I went north, and I tried to join the culture of Tregrihi. It didn’t work. They put me in the company system, but nobody still trusts foreigners. My boss told me about someone who was taking people to Kylan in a boat. She said that Kylan would take me in and treat me well. It’s not always true, but at least some people want me here. This place and this god have given me a new purpose. I guide people through his temple. It’s beautiful.”
A small cluster of travellers stand entranced in the mouth of the temple. A neon arch bathes them in pale blue light as if they’re miniatures set up for a photoshoot. The stone facade seems to rise and drift like it’s formed from the snow.
Gorel’s boot crunches over buried glass shards. He rambles about the history of the temple, built in ancient Lirrinth as a monument to the god of ice and as a way to preserve and celebrate the mountain’s frozen formations, as they reach the end of the gleaming archway and enter a tall chamber glowing with a light unseen.
Losyrki turns to look back, peering over her scarf to see the town of Ishkisa at the foot of the mountain. Sparks of streetlamps glimmer like fairy lights wound together by wire roads. She remembers that the vote will have happened by now, but melts the thought from her mind. Instead, she thinks about Gorel, still stunned by his story and the lengths he’s gone to be a Kylani.
The guide goes on, gesturing towards sigils chiseled into the walls of the round cave, pointing towards passageways that lead further down into the temple. “I won’t go to the ceremony with you. Once you go through there, everything is set up for you. It’s clear how to proceed. It will be as if there is no-one in the world but you.”
A promising thought. Losyrki wonders where the famous Ispuras ice itself is, until she realises what Gorel is standing on. What she assumed was a frosted glass floor isn’t glass at all, but the top of a ten-thousand-year-old glacial form, enshrined in this temple for a tiny fraction of that time.
As she leaves her guide behind and wanders through the passage, she sees a crack along the side of the glazed stone, a shadowed glimpse into the innards of the mountain. One day the temple will fall, and one day the ice will melt.
Losyrki’s resistance to thinking about politics fades as she considers how lucky she is to be able to influence the world in the meantime. Now that she’s alone in the grand, gleaming passage, she feels more powerful, more in control.
She’d always been pushed towards the fourteenth floor by friends and parents who’d taken notice of her little speeches about her troubles and suggested she be a senator. Once she’d made it there, knowing she counted had always given her a smile, but the less-exciting side of parliamentary work began to weigh on her. The time-wasting meetings she was forced into, the compromises she had to make for her party, the stress of regularly making decisions on issues that affected nearly a hundred million people. She kept asking herself if it was worth it, but today she’s sure it is.
Because at least she’s not Gorel, she thinks. At least she still has her parents, at least she hasn’t had to flee her country twice. At least she has the chance to make his life better. At least she can take part in a ceremony for fun instead of out of fear.
The senator finds herself in a room that looks small but feels vast. Glowing baubles bounce light around the cavern, the reflections reminding her of preparing herself for public announcements, now inverted as she readies herself for a private experience. A locker that’s trying its best to look like a natural part of the temple is set up to take her belongings, leaving her naked and unburdened. It’s designed so she can retrieve her heavy winter clothing and paper-stuffed rucksack from the other side – from the new year.
Losyrki peers into a second passage, one ringed with lights that will lead her forward once the countdown begins. Six steps will take her through an opening in the ceiling, from which a barrage of water falls, melting from the Ispuras glacier, the ancient elements in greater motion for this brief moment, once a year. When she researched the ceremony online, she heard longtime visitors call it the Cold Open. Now she can feel why, although she’s been assured the water is still heated enough not to cause harm.
She breathes. The temple has a scent of old books, like the stacks of papers on the tenth floor archives back home. Losyrki had visited there a few times as a student, long before she got a job in the government. She searched through the poorly-organised cabinets, unsorted documents abandoned on top of full ones, taking out charts and certificates that interested her. She always went in with a vague idea of researching something or looking for clues but had never worked out what she wanted.
The time has arrived. A burst of energy swims through ancient wiring to illuminate the first ring. Losyrki steps into the passage, cautiously waiting for the next ring to light up. She shivers as a drop of water slips down her back, but takes the next step forward. The heat from the lights burns against her feet. They’ve been preserved as best as possible, which meant they’re still inefficient and wasteful, but retain the harsh, true-historical shine.
The last three rings seem to go faster. Before she’s had time to consider, it’s a moment from midnight. The sound of rushing water pulses through Losyrki. The opposing wall suddenly glows and she steps through-
the waves crash across her skin – a shock she didn’t expect – everything from the past year crashing through her mind – inflamed with the cold
-and then she’s out, and into the new year.