“Theia, I would just love to go visit the Congregate. I’ve heard its beautiful. I’ve always wanted to go there. I might just go study something there and keep you company, how does that sound?” Aunt Pora gushed, her long colourful nails fluttering in the air.
Oh Senno, I’d quite rather you never come anywhere near me, I thought nastily to myself. But I forced a sickly smile on my face, knowing I had to be on my best behaviour before leaving for the Congregate.
“I’m not quite sure you’ll enjoy it there, Aunt Pora. Energy studies don’t seem to be your cup of tea. Minato is much more vibrant and suited for you!” I said instead, trying to keep a not-quite smile on my lips instead of snapping at her as I was wont to do. That would not do at all. After all, I was turning twenty that year, and had been a veritable brat in my adolescent years. I needed to prove that there was no reason to keep me from leaving this house. No uncontrolled outbursts and no childish fits.
Aunt Pora looked like she wanted to say something else, but was distracted by the helpers bustling around the table, carrying in the farewell dinner. The thin woman’s face lit up, “Ah, I lost weight you see, I can eat all this good food now. I saw a Congregant the other day and he balanced my Yin – he says that was what was causing all my extra weight.”
I ducked my head and rolled my eyes. She never had any “extra weight” to begin with. Aunt Pora was a noisy, superficial woman that I never wanted to have anything to do with, but my parents believed in supporting family. And so the woman still appeared regularly as a house guest – one whom I was supposed to show respect to, though she had done nothing to earn it.
Mother patted me on the shoulder, “You’ll be missing this food, eat well.” I thought I’ll gladly forgo the food if it meant not having to see Aunt Pora and hear her shallow remarks.
“Eat the fish. It’s good for you,” Dad said, pointing his chopsticks at the steamed fish. That was “take care of yourself, remember to eat and study hard” in dad-talk for you, I thought, digging into a slice of fish.
“Aletheia!” Aunt Pora said sharply. “Where are your manners? We have to thank Senno for the food first.” I put down my chopsticks and mutely folded my hands into my lap, trying to act appropriately as Aunt Pora led us all in prayer.
Inane chatter went on throughout dinner – about the recent weather, the recent attempts to develop Yin energy for electricity, the current Communion appointments. But most of it was superficial discussion. Non-congregants did not have many dealings with energy after all, and did not understand much of the work that went on. We -- no, they, left it to the Communion to make the decisions.
Before I realised, something Aunt Pora said had agitated my parents and a quarrel ensued. I kept quiet as Aunt Pora and my parents dredged up irrelevant past grievances. She stood up hastily, the chair screeching against the marble floor before toppling backwards. With a loud bang, Aunt Pora slammed the door on her way out.
What was the point of inviting Aunt Pora over for dinner if it always ended up in squabbles? Something else I will not miss, I thought. I excused myself and cleared my cutlery, thanking the helpers for dinner. Slipping into my room, I locked the door, and sat in the middle of it. My final belongings were strewn haphazardly around as I tried to figure out how to pack them properly.
A knock came at the door, and the locked door handle jiggled. I reached over the mess and pulled the lock free, and Suren, my elder sister, poked her head around the slightly open door.
“Almost done then?” Suren commented, giving the mess a glance. I nodded, concentrating on folding my clothes. I knew what Suren was there to say, and I did not want to hear it. We had never been on particularly good terms, though our relationship was on more neutral terms now that I was leaving. But our fundamental beliefs have always been different, even if our characters were both stubborn to the core. For that, we took after our father.
“Are you sure you want to do this? With our family’s non-Congregant history and your results... you could do better elsewhere. The career progre-”
“I’m quite sure thank you. I’ve made my choice. I’m sorry, I’m rather busy with packing right now.” I cut her off rudely. Ah, I’ve got to control that temper.
“Well. If you’ve made up your mind. Here. Something for you. I remember my years away from home. Maybe this will be useful,” Suren’s thin, pale arm came through the door and she laid a worn black leather book – Scripture, I think – on the bed and retracted her hand.
“I’m on the early shift tomorrow, I won’t be seeing you. Take care, and don’t let ma and pa worry.”
I lifted one shoulder. “Yeah. Thanks. You too.”
Suren closed the door behind her. I blew at my fringe. It was not that I particularly disliked my sister. She was well-liked really, by family, and an accomplished mechanic in her own right. But I could not understand how she so readily accepted Scripture and all its beliefs when I knew her to be the logical, rational type. I also never cared much for how her mechanic background meant that she scorned “unnatural states of the mind”.
The lot of them probably would be Yang users if they ever went to the Congregate. Ah nope, hold that thought, they would never do that. Too much hocus pocus for them, even though our whole city basically ran on Yang energy. Better to stay here in Minato, become a rich merchant or mechanic, even if it meant never understanding the intricacies of all the energy that runs through our meridians and surrounds us.
A flash of lightning lit up the sky and the resounding thunder reverberated through the walls, distracting me from my thoughts. A smile came to my lips at the rain splashing against the windows. I loved thunderstorms.
Recently though, the weather had been completely unnatural, with scorching days peppered with random flashes of rain. It was almost as if a trapdoor would just open from the sky and someone up there would dump a bucket of unwanted water down. One day, it had even hailed big chunks of ice, shattering one of our painted glass windows. Father had not been pleased.
Maybe the “someone” up there was not happy with us. All the excess Yang energy consumption and Yin production recently must be provoking some deity. I snorted. That was Aunt Pora and Suren’s business, not mine. They could go pray for forgiveness on all our behalf.
Looking around my room, I realised with a pang that I would miss it. A grimace turned my lips back down as the thought that nobody - except for my parents – would miss me comes to mind. They too, had each other after all, and that will ease the pain. I hoped that pa will come to agree with my choice. Entry to the Congregate was not easy after all.
Though the non-Supplicant graduates were not always well paid... I needed what they taught. Senno, I needed to know what Yin and Yang was and how to use it. I had waited for this day for so long, hoping that I would find my meaning – my Ikigai, as the people across the seas called it – in the energy that swirled around us. I believed I was not wrong.
At least maybe the Congregate would be a new start, one where no one knew who bratty little Aletheia was. One where maybe I could write my own path, find my truth.
I wondered if I would make friends at the Congregate, if I’d find someone to argue about the intricacies of Yin and Yang, about good and evil and all that is in between. If someone would be willing to confuse themselves about our meaning in life with me or discuss Senno and Neewa and why all of it was a great big sham, really.
I shoved the black book into the corner of my trunk.
A/N: Seems like Theia is really against religion huh?