Stepping into the open-air grand entrance, I was immediately struck by how different the Temple of Rijora was, compared to the city that had grown around the ancient structure. Even at that early hour, the people of Gemma hummed like a hive of pareas, just as dense and just as focused on completing whatever task they had set out to accomplish. Yet inside the ancient walls of the Temple, a stillness permeated the space like the cool dawn mist that still clung to the intricately carved floor. The sun had yet to rise high enough in the sky to breach the grounds, but the subtle purple glow of the Jalan sky provided enough illumination for me and the thirteen other Tevarin to don our lightweight kiari, a traditional woven mail designed to allow the wide range of movements needed for the ceremony.
Even though I’m Tevarin, like many of my people I had never been to our former homeworld. Raised on Borea, I spent my formative years trying hard to show that I was not that different from my Human neighbors and friends. However, with the recent unearthing of the ruins on Kabal III, I have discovered a new desire to learn about the history of my ancestors. So, when I heard that the Tevarin Preservation Society was attempting to recreate a lost ritual, I leapt at the chance to connect with my heritage on a new level.
For ancient Tevarin, the Lioraj ceremony was an important ritual used to connect with past ancestors and future descendants. It was believed that by performing a specific series of chants and movements at the Temple when the planet was at a precise location in its orbit, a harmony would be achieved with all those who had repeated the act before and after them, granting wisdom and insight. While the broad gist of the rite has been to known to scholars for years, it was only thanks to a new collection of writings discovered on Kabal III that historians were able to begin piecing together the intricate details and specifics required to perform the Lioraj.
For the seven weeks prior to the ceremony, I left my home and moved into a dormitory nestled into the Seven Hills neighborhood only a few blocks from the temple itself. There I was to live and work with my thirteen co-ritualists as we learned the complicated choreography that we’d be expected to perform. A series of ninety-eight distinct poses and tones, each would have to be perfectly executed in order to harmonize fully with Lioraji of generations past and future. Not only would living together allow us to exhaustively practice, but cohabiting would further help us learn to operate as a cohesive unit. Until the ritual we would eat, sleep and groom together. It was strange at first. All my life I was used to being the only Tevarin in the room, but now, everywhere I looked, there were others who looked and moved like me. Cut off from the outside world, I was amazed by how quickly we formed a pack.
By week two, our routine was well in place. Several of the volunteers were from Branaugh, and they taught us how to prepare traditional Tevarin meals. Waking at dawn, we would break our fast with narina, a ground mixture of various seeds, grains and nuts, seasoned and boiled into a thick, nutritious bar. Afterwards, we would practice till the sun set. Guided by the historians, every movement was drilled again and again. Even more difficult proved to be the chanting. Unused to speaking Tevarin, the words and tones felt strange and alien. For weeks, my throat was sore as my muscles adjusted to the new demands I was placing on them. I was not alone in this, and soon our conversations were reduced to whispers.
Progress was slow and hard earned, but by the end of the first month the effort began to pay off. By now the movements had become almost second nature. We practiced now, not to learn, but to achieve perfect synchronicity with each other. My mind, no longer focused on how high to raise this elbow or where to place this foot, drifted into a meditative state. It was easy to see how my ancestors believed that time collapsed into a single point during the ritual. Already, my days at the dormitory had become a single blur. Before I knew it, the seven weeks were over and the day of the ritual had arrived.
A large crowd had gathered at the temple to observe us. Completing a ceremony that hadn’t been enacted in several centuries was a big deal, not only for Tevarin but for the many Humans who had come to embrace the Preservation movement. It was shortly before we were scheduled to begin that the protesters arrived. Carrying signs like “Never Again” and “Keep the Purge,” some were Tevarin who believe that our people’s past should stay buried, while others were members of the anti-Tevarin movement known as Nemesis. According to a statement on the group’s spectrum, they are dedicated to “ensuring that Tevarin never again pose a threat to the Empire.” It is their fear that if Tevarin reconnect with our ancestors that soon we will want to war against Humanity just as they did. However, for me and most of the others, reconnecting with our Tevarin heritage was not about removing ourselves from Humanity, but rather finding our place within society. How could we know where we were going as a people if we didn’t have truer sense of where we had been? In many ways, this is what the Lioraj itself was about: reconnecting with past to connect with the future.
I was already nervous to be performing in front of such a large crowd, but now I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate thanks to the ruckus Nemesis was creating. Clearly this was what they were hoping, too. My heart was pounding and my skin grew rigid, but as the fourteen of us took to our position in the hall and held the first pose, the crowd, protesters included, drifted into the background. I wasn’t me anymore. I was the Lioraji.
Together we moved. Our voices rose as one and fourteen sets of feet and hands gave form to the ancient words. Crossing paths, we weaved across the floor and consecrated the space, a warning that the ritual had begun. The pace quickened and the heart of the ceremony took hold as we bathed in the warm light that filled the morning sky of Kaleeth, our people’s homeworld.
When we struck the last pose, time hung still for a moment, and then came rushing back with the cheers of the crowd. We had done it.
I am not sure if I became one with Tevarin throughout history, but I do know that I grew closer to what it means to be both Tevarin and a Citizen than I ever had before. And that the next time Jalan hits aphelion, I will be back to perform the Lioraj again, along with countless Tevarin before and after me.