"Grand Duchess, it has begun."
Priests of The Order of Angels led the procession, lending it credibility the Grand Duchess could not deny. In Rancho Nuevo no monarch could stand in opposition to The Order, and certainly not a figurehead who represented a Queen who would not take the throne. A place keeper against an ancient order that represented the earliest eras of Rancho Nuevo down through the ages was a battle not even worth waging.
"Take me to the procession."
"Acceptance, your highness?"
"Has there ever been another way?"
"When was the last time you cried?" the girl asked him.
"December 10, 2011," he answered immediately and without emotion.
"Why did you cry?"
"Someone I cared very much about made a decision. She decided to stay in a place with people who were not very kind to her instead of making a different decision. I could see her future in that place. It made me very sad."
"Yeah, I know how that happens."
Grief is personal. Sorrow is universal. The fall of an ideal encompasses both, enveloping on an individual and a universal level. The Grand Duchess had been appointed overseer of the Third Kingdom of Rancho Nuevo. She never held anything other than a figurative role, of which there are many in the land where people never die but are only reassigned. Her only power came from not having a representative in the waking world, an identity in samsara that affected her in Rancho Nuevo. Now that power was a weakness. She would not be reassigned. She would simply cease to exist as an idea that never came into maturity.
The Priests of the Order of Angels were followed in the procession by the Sisters of Memory, their faces obscured by veils, their sorrows remaining personal. The Soldiers of The Realm followed, bearing no weapons other than those they never needed to use. And at the end of the procession came the Great Coffin, empty but large enough to contain much more than one body.
"The angels themselves, they do not come."
"They are too disappointed on this day, your highness.
"If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would you change?"
"Too dangerous. Everything bad that happened set up something good, and it would be too tempting to change something that for example saved someone's life. I have too many moments like that in my history. I'd never want to be faced with that decision. However, I think I might want to reorder my life. I think there are a few things that happened in the wrong order."
"Back in the 90s I used to talk in my sleep. Apparently I spoke Latin."
"You know Latin?"
"I don't know the first thing about Latin."
As the Soldiers of The Realm quietly set fire to the Great Coffin, the Grand Duchess took the hand of the leader of the Sisters of Memory. She nodded quietly and led her and her contingent away from the procession and out into the wastelands. The desert still thrived, after all these years and there was somewhere she needed to lead them. Amidst the nothingness of the great desert of Rancho Nuevo sat a quiet adobe monastery, a single bell on a rope at its entrance.
"You already know what to do," she told them quietly before ringing the bell and disappearing, her time as a concept within the framework of Rancho Nuevo now well passed.
"Dreams, insomnia, and a sense of unfinished business. Finishing one mission does not, apparently, mean I get to retire to a villa somewhere. Thing is, I don't know what the new mission entails."
"Make it what you want to make it. You taught me that, Jack."
"It was always defined for me before. Now I'm working without a net, writing a story without an outline, without a structure. Everything is cloudy in a way I haven't seen since... well, since before I was dead."
"Or punishment. I'm not sure which. Maybe a little of both."
"Baby, it is always a little of both. You have a lot of problems practicing what you preach, don't you?"
"Shitloads of problems with that, yeah."
"The angels know his name."
"For us he is Jack and will always be Jack. Stay focused, sisters, this is going to be a bit of a twist."
"Always has been."
The caretaker answered their call and opened the door to the monastery. He stepped aside as they entered and offered no further direction or assistance. They walked forward, into a graveyard, an absurd concept in a place where no one ever died, but it was filled with headstones and they were led astray in their attempts to examine them. They could not read the names, for there were none, but they tried nonetheless. Then, from the center of the graveyard appeared a spirit, warm and welcoming and they all turned their eyes towards it. A woman in white, her arms stretched downward, granting them a moment of comfort before disappearing.
Mortality concerns Rancho Nuevo more than it does in samsara. The very idea is disturbing, although they are in constant contact with it. Almost every resident of Rancho Nuevo has a mortal extension of themselves in the waking world and their only connection with it is maintained through that which keeps the worlds connected, the Jacks of Rancho Nuevo, those who came and then went back.
"Of course he does."
"I need to get some sleep. Wake me if I start ranting in Latin."