We turned to stone during the day, stiff and still along the rooftop causeways, listening to all that happened and unable to respond in kind. I learned secrets I repeated during the night, many of which were inconsequential to all but those involved, but there came one, just one, that clawed me to pieces with its heartache and left me a wretched half-thing.
Her name started as Hima, a good child-name, combining her infant-name ‘Hi’ with the more adventurous ‘ma’ so that the sum of her name was “beloved” and “audacious”—perfect for a little naked girl running the keep corridors and causeways, her hair a whirlwind of tightly woven curls that frizzed at the touch of a brush. She had a voice that pierced my stone ears, so I could always triangulate where she played despite that it wasn’t possible for me to turn my neck while the sun beat down on me.
She had an imaginative game, one that left berry dye depicting intricate drawings of people and creatures in flight across my skin whenever I stretched my limbs after a long day stiff. Left me with the dreams of my youth a thousand years past. A thousand years since I’d run mountain paths with a name half-shared—Loma, which claimed me to be both “innovative” and “audacious.”
She disappeared one day. Right after her twelfth birthday, an anniversary that first-lifers cling to like my claws cling to stone, which made her disappearance all the more wrenching for those who loved her.
At night, when I could roam, I walked the walls and flew the perimeter of the keep. And then I stretched farther, out across the city.
I sought Hima in the darkness, listening for her high voice with its lilting happiness. Heard her in the echoes of the keep as most slept on, oblivious to the little girl who’d gone, gone away to never return.
The lord of the keep had also recently passed to the shades, leaving yet not leaving, his shadow a constant presence above the tapestries, among the curling buttresses in the main hall. I could hear him, Lord Tulirabalo, whispering in his Lady Kisiminohu’s ears. An advisor of the highest accord, he had become.
Neither Lord nor Lady had known Hima, and neither of them would have cared about her if they had.
Yet both of them straightened and took note, one on a throne, the other a shadow in the rafters, when Mahivo joined the stone-care guild as an apprentice.
For different reasons, the lord and lady both gave blessings to his success, noting his ability: his hands deft, his carving fluid, the eye he held for facial nuance and reflected personality such that even the adepts paused and nodded in appreciation.
Yes, they said, here was one who would stand the test of time, one who could be as great as the first carver herself, Milomatena...if he might last through the toiling years of practice and perfection.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t also sat up and taken note, particularly after that comparison, for I did, in much the same way the keep murmured over the birds he’d gifted during his presentation. They now perched on Kisiminohu’s throne, their wings stiff like mine during the day but attempting stuttered flights during evening hours, little feet hopping from armrest to the variegated points along the back of her throne.
But it wasn’t the birds that had my attention.
Mahivo walked my causeway that first afternoon, his hand gentle when he rested it on my still, stone-stiff back, in the space between my wings. His skin cooler than the heat I harbored from lingering all day in the sun. He walked while murmuring to each of us stone second-lifers in turn. A comment to old Dancer on his frozen pose. Appreciation toward Fighter and the abject fierceness in her locked expression.
A warm smile for me as he told me I’d not washed the berry dye off my cheek.
I knew I hadn’t, for those faded drawings were all I had left. All I could claim as remembrance, for Hima had been too young—still only a child, with only a child’s two-part name—for a stone carving to hold her spirit. Too young for even an apprentice like Mahivo to bother setting to stone, as practice. Her shade, if it still existed, had been too small, too thin to be bonded with a carving for a second-life.
So she’d never received one. Now she only dwelt in my memories, and even there, her face, her voice, her stories, felt like they were fading from me. Hima’s existence was as slippery as mine was solid.
Hima used to tell me stories. Not real ones, of course, just ones she’d made up, often on the spot. She’d hold onto my wings as she lay on my back, my insides taut with fear that she’d crawl too far past my shoulders in order to see the grounds below and lose her balance, with me unable to move to catch her with the sun still out.
Her stories tended toward the imaginative, just like her drawings: “And then the princess crafted a ship of stars made from the memory of light and sailed into the thousand isles of starlight. She would return but would never be the same.” I never did get to ask her questions about her tales, as her bare feet pattered back home before the sun sank.
Mahivo lingered though, as stone-care apprentices are permitted to do. The first words I uttered to him, moments before the stone dove he’d been holding burst free from his hands, were, “There are animals other than birds, in case you weren’t aware.”
Farther down the roof, Dancer laughed. Then he spun and swooped off and away, whirling through the air. In his wake fluttered the dove with a much more erratic flight, all but smashing into Fighter as she lowered her arms and stretched.
“The first carving I did was a unicorn, none of its four legs in line, and it hobbled about until the stress fractures caused it to crumble to nothing but a torso and head.” Mahivo shrugged. “I need to practice wings if I’m to make one of the true stone-race second-lifers one day and not have them fracture on me. Lady Kisiminohu has said herself that she has expectations.”
I wondered if Mahivo had heard Lord Tulirabalo murmur his own expectations as well, his tone slightly different than the Lady’s but no less fervent when it traveled down from the rafters. I’d heard the lord though, heard the desire underpinning his murmurs as a burgeoning hope for his own stone form for his second-life.
Out in the sky, there came a popping and then a cracking, and the dove sank like the stone it’d been carved of, wings following to the courtyard below.
Normally, this would have been the time I’d bid my adieus and follow Dancer and Fighter and Ravager and all the others from the top of the keep into the night. Something held me there. I think it must have been the way Mahivo tucked his hands behind his back, as if he’d been about to grab a hold of me but had resisted. Or perhaps it’d been the way he’d pressed those hands to my stone back in greeting when he’d first arrived.
“You want to study me?”
“I want to talk with you. What’s...” He licked his lips, the dryness of the weather stealing from him what it could not take from me. “What’s your name?”
So I told him I was called Dreamer, just like on my ancient carven nameplate.
He looked incredibly disappointed, but he had not earned my true name, so I presumed him to harbor a level of arrogance perhaps grown in the wake of too much praise.
Yet, as I winged above the city, with my mind faltering into a long-ago past when my name had grown and grown, I wondered if my resistance to telling him my true name had more to do with my tumultuous connection to those five syllables that had been bestowed on me.
Mahivo, like many apprentices before him, came to the causeways often. Walked the roof maze of the keep and found my people, second-lifers, hidden in its crevices, many of whom had never received carven nameplates like the oldest of us. He would tell me every time he visited of who he’d met, those who’d speak to him and those who would not. Asked me a thousand questions.
When I couldn’t answer, usually because I realized I knew less about my own people than I’d thought, I would remain silent and allow him to fill in the holes with his own guesswork.
“She was from the fourth century, I’d imagine, given the way she’d been dressed.” And, “I saw scars on his face. Reminded me of the great warrior Susukoli, who had never earned his last name, his elder-name.” And, “Her wings were clipped by the stone-carer’s hand. Yet who would take the time to create one of you only to sabotage it at the last?”
“It happens,” I said. “When one is considered unwhole. Likely a woman of prestige, yet her fame undermined shortly after her death.”
“Ah. That would be Boharulori, the great stone-care adept who took shades she despised and embedded them in river rocks, the same ones still on display in the Hall of the Never Forgotten.”
“I remember her,” I said, sitting back on my haunches, unconsciously preparing for a long discussion. “Thought that because she disagreed with them in their first lives, they’d lost the privilege of being given second life.”
Mahivo settled himself against the opposite wall. “Do you remember who they were? Those she damned to their second life without voice?”
I hadn’t even remembered Boharulori herself. Six centuries on, she had been. This Dreamer’s perch had been mine for near a thousand, with my culture evolving minutely down below, my people walking along my causeway only cyclically changing in dress and speech, all blending together, one after another, their names growing, growing, then disappearing into the ever-expanding roof maze or out into the mountainside after a stone-carer gave them second life.
“I knew someone who’d desperately wanted to run the roof maze the way you do,” I murmured, thinking of one who, like those in river rocks, would never speak again.
Mahivo looked up with a question in his gaze. So I did the only logical thing when my wakeful eyes threatened to water: I dropped off the roof, caught an updraft over the keep’s wall, and winged my way through the stretching paved city streets. Far, far away from where Hima had used to clamber over me, her limbs gangly, her grip unfaltering, only tiny traces of her presence left behind when dusk settled.
Secrets never did matter to us. Our first-life bodies were long gone to the dirt, buried in fields to provide nourishment for the generations next, while our stone wings opened and stretched for the first glorious time. Secrets were pointless frail things, built out of ethereal gossamer. They could blow away, leaving whatever had been built on their tendrils to collapse.
At least that’s what I’d used to think.
Yet I’d been Hima’s secret, her sneaking from her mother, bringing berries up to draw maps against my skin so I’d “always find my way back to her.”
And I became Mahivo’s secret without quite realizing.
“The skill is passed on, but in a straight, unoriginal way,” he said one day as the dryness had him reaching for his canteen and rubbing his scalp more often than usual. “What the stone-care guild needs is originality. Or, no, that’s not right...”
We sat in the glow of electric light, and I could faintly hear the buzzing that had a century ago replaced the crackling of the torches. Mahivo’s mutters waxed in and out as he caught onto then dismissed new trains in his thoughts.
“You need?” I prompted.
“We need people free to be remembered how they’d thought of themselves, not how we think of them. Do you know, I’ve been taught more than just carving techniques? My teachers want me to envision what a person looked like in their prime, to depict them as our people saw them, but so much of it is false.”
I twisted my body so I stared at him upside-down, one of my wings scraping the causeway. “How so?”
“Do you feel your second-life body reflects your first-life body?”
My first life had been so long ago, my true name rarely dwelled upon, yet it was impossible to forget one’s childhood, those endless, wingless days of running with callused feet through foothills in order to find solace in solitude. “Possibly,” I pondered aloud, still lost in foothills smudged with time.
“There are those who don’t. Not just those who were placed in river rock, but those placed in bodies they never feel whole within.”
“You mean like Resituwaro, the man with one leg?”
Mahivo jerked, then stiffened like one of us. “No. Not quite like him at all. He’s happy the way he is because he says with wings, a leg doesn’t matter. What I mean is... People who aren’t.”
“People who aren’t happy?”
“With the way they’ve been presented in their first lives, yes.”
I couldn’t shake the feeling that he may have been referring to someone specific. And the more he spoke, giving examples of women in dresses they despised and had only worn when forced or once-thin men carved larger in false exhibits of suggested strength, I began to piece together a reality. A reality that sought to push me into admitting that it was me he was referring to. My false visage that he referenced; that kept him coming back to converse at my side.
Yet he didn’t know me. Not my true name.
I straightened my head so he became right-side round once more, and then I stood to leave.
“You can’t—” He licked his lips in a now-familiar gesture of nervousness, the only part of him he allowed to crack past that confident manner. “You can’t tell the guild leaders.”
“Tell them what?”
Mahivo relaxed, and only after he’d gone did I realize he thought I’d been promising something I hadn’t.
I hid inside the roof-maze the next few days, repeating Mahivo’s words to myself and ignoring the others who drifted in and out of my view.
“Myself. Happy with myself.”
Beginning from my claws, I worked my way up my body, touching each section gingerly and remembering just how different I had become from my first life. Claws, yes, a slight elongation to balance my new form. Wings, yes, now considered a signifier that I had reached the age of maturity and could fly through the world. The rest of me though, my knees, my elbows, my stomach and face, it all felt perfect. Perfectly me.
I couldn’t remember a time when I hadn’t felt that way, not in my second life at least. My first life, though...
As I pondered, another person came to me who might align with Mahivo’s new ideas. Another he might have been referring to. Lord Tulirabalo still hovered between his first and second life, after all, in that liminal world where he had no body that might represent himself.
When the shadows turned their darkest and the few shades with no stone-care began to hum their longing, I swooped down to a balcony more long than wide, its base riddled with gashes and guild-gifted stone animals hopping and slithering and flitting about.
“Lady Kisiminohu?” I called, keeping my wings out from my body. “Lady Kisiminohu!” My shout rattled the panes of colored glass and brought two silver-bedecked servants to the door with hushing motions. I ignored them both and called again, waiting there until Kisiminohu herself strode out, her hair wrapped high and her dress a simple cerulean tube to compliment her bronze skin.
The bangles on her wrists jingled as she dismissed the servants. “Dreamer. You’ve not given me the pleasure of your company in many years. To what do I owe your attention tonight?”
I settled, folding my wings as a stone dragonfly darted past my face and a trio of chipmunks bounded one after the other between the stone balusters of the railing.
“Why hasn’t your lord’s shade been given to his second life?” I demanded, with more fervor than I would usually possess. Yet I’d heard many secrets, as I’d said, and I rarely kept them for myself.
Kisiminohu crouched to allow a gifted peacock to rub its neck against her arm. “He gives me advice.”
“He could do so in his second life if he wished to. So why not let him move into stone?”
“You haven’t cared what happens in the keep since before I can remember, Dreamer,” and she said my name with a strange twist, a sardonic lilt to her voice. “Why so intrigued now?”
“You’re answering questions with questions.”
“I’ll give you another. Why are you so sure it’s me holding him back from a second life?”
She must have taken my silence as confusion, for she went on.
“I’ve tried different adepts, but each one has failed to imbue Tulirabalo within stone care. He resists each and every attempt. So I wait for a day when there’ll be an adept with skill enough to overcome his reluctance. I have hope, though. You’ve met Mahivo? Give him a little time and he’ll be capable, and our lord will join the roof, or the mountainside or wherever he wishes.”
But his secret crept from my lips. “What sort of stone had you carved for him? His masculine clothing? The hard cuts of his face? Reflecting what the people saw? Rather than who walked his rooms at night where only you and us would see.”
Her face did not change, though she stood slowly, a sense of sadness seeming to lie against her shoulders. “Whatever he might have worn in private moments does not change who he was to the rest of our people.”
“Don’t you think a second life should be who we think we are, not who others think we are?” But even to my own ears I sounded hesitant, repeating an idea that hadn’t been mine. At least not for a long, long time.
“He chose not to show that part of himself to the world during his first life. If we were to change him now, no one would respect his stone-care form or his advice, for they wouldn’t understand that he was the same person. He needs to be shown as our people saw him, so they trust that my advisor is who he says he is.”
Her answer, though understandable, a leader’s explanation, did not seem to encompass the whole of the issue. “So by forcing him to linger so long without a body, you’ll risk damning his shade to a frail existence until he withers and is no longer strong enough to be pressed to stone?”
She waved a hand gracefully as she turned to head back inside. “Eventually Mahivo will be strong enough to embed Tulirabalo’s shade, and who he is will become cemented in stone.”
“Mahivo won’t do it,” I said with a quiet chuckle. “He’s the one who believes people ought to be shown as themselves. As their real selves.”
Kisiminohu paused at the threshold to her rooms, her head cocked as she fell into thought, making connections between me, Mahivo, and her late lord.
Had I not been a thousand years removed from culture, I might have realized what I’d just done.
Mahivo did not return for days. Days and days, in fact. I presumed, in my ignorance, that he had given up on me when I’d hidden from him in the roof-maze, had turned his studies practical with more stone-care doves likely cracking their wings each sunset. As the evenings grew longer I reconsidered my last conversations with Lady Kisiminohu and him, and I began to wonder if something worse had happened. If my reveal of Mahivo’s intentions had turned the Lady’s ire toward him, torn his future in the stone-care guild from his grip.
I worried he would disappear then too, in a way.
I found myself aching for Hima, more and more. Her little hands dotting maps across my body, her voice an echo of memory telling me tales of girls turned hunters, turned monsters, turned kings. Power over herself rising up through all her stories, and me the confidant who kept her adventures secret and safe.
Reminding me of another little girl centuries before, one who had grown up to claim her youth-name, her adult-name, and finally her elder-name, yet who had never been quite content with any of those names, nor what they represented. Not until her hands turned to stone-care.
A drizzle deigned to reach the city from across the flats on the morning Mahivo finally appeared again. Morning. He came when my claws were stiff and clinging right above my name plate, my gaze staring fixedly out toward the unseen mountains I’d grown up on. I could sense him behind me, his pace measured, his step heavy. His clothing rustled more than normal, and faintly I could hear the clinking of his apprentice bands when he moved his wrists. So he had not been abandoned by the guild, though I felt no relief from the thought.
With the utmost of care, Mahivo placed something small by my side, just out of sight. Whatever he’d set down gave the muffled scrape of stone on stone, like one of his creations. Then he remained, his breath catching occasionally as the drizzle wore on, as if he attempted to speak but kept pausing.
“You haven’t washed the dye off.”
I could not answer, but I desperately wanted to dryly tell him his observational skills were impressive.
“I thought you would, after I pointed it out, but you never did.”
Something crept up and shook me violently in my core. Something in the tone of his voice, in the echo of meaning. Shook me until the reason I’d stayed to speak with him that first night stirred from deep inside me. A familiarity that I’d recognized yet hadn’t been able to conceptualize. A similarity within the voice, within the face, within the yearning to create, only now with stone rather than berry dye; with tools rather than story.
As rain dripped into my eyes, I strained against my second life, struggling to turn, to see, to do more than just hear his voice.
“Which means you didn’t want to remove it, and I became convinced that it was a sign of sentimentalism. That you remembered me. And accepted me.”
Could I crack my neck, I wondered? Could I taste the inklings of my first life, when flesh had ruled me rather than stone? I wanted to scream a name, but I wasn’t sure which. The child-name of the little girl who had clambered over me? The name of the young man standing next to me, proud and sure of his youth-name and his apprenticeship?
I wanted to cry, and though the drizzle did it for me, it allowed no release. Just painted me wet.
“I thought you of all people would understand.”
Fury laced his tone: that quiet, aching fury that pulled from stony depths and made one’s very spirit seem to float, permeating the air with a tortured aura.
“They’re going to make me look wrong in my second life. Like this.” His apprentice bands clinked together, accentuating his scorn for whatever clothing and its stringent perception they’d foisted on him. “You don’t look wrong. You must have hid it. Did you do it by not trusting anyone else? Always alone, avoiding the world because you can’t respect its people. I can see why no one would trust you. You’re so far removed from life you think that first lives have no value at all.”
Wrong. Wrong, so wrong. But I couldn’t argue. Couldn’t tell him what had really happened. What I truly thought. Is that why he’d come when I couldn’t speak—to make sure only he had a voice?
Or, because he thought I might fly away?
“I thought you’d understand,” he repeated. And then he left, his skirts rustling.
He had done so much since he’d played on my stone back and drawn maps across my skin. He’d worked so hard to be who he was. And I had lost it all for him with a careless word to the Lady.
I shrieked after him, but only inwardly. Hima—Mahivo. Trying to scream his child-name and his youth-name, from a throat that could not scream. My apologies, nothing but words locked in the stony prison of my mind.
When the sun finally sank behind the horizon, there came the normal snap and crack of stone stretching across the roof-maze.
By my side, a flutter of movement, then a dove swept past my face as I finally turned. It flitted into the dark on freshly carved wings, becoming nothing but a whisper of wind.
I’d mourned Hima. Mourned her like I’d mourned myself. And now I mourned her—him—again. This time bearing my own envy into my grief. I’d never thought to change my name. To twist my pieces to become the me I’d always meant to be.
I’d taken my youth-name like the good little girl I’d been, in order to become the young woman that long ago mountain tribe had expected. Then I’d taken my adult-name. I’d been too stuck then, or so I’d thought, mired in stone in the ways of my people, to do anything but take my elder-name. Dutiful, yet filled with doubt.
Only later, when I’d lived a whole life in wrongness, had I clambered away with my tools and found giant-cut marble to chip. Obsidian to form. Until, in a blaze of self-possession, and perhaps desperation, I’d formed something just a little different than the other carvers; something that called to the shades of our forbearers so they might live again.
Though I searched for Mahivo at the guild halls and quarries and all the spaces in between, I could not find him. I often heard Lord Tulirabalo’s muted advice to Lady Kisiminohu and the creaking of the roof-maze as it came alive each sunset. I sank into distress, becoming a half-thing, wings folded over my face to block out my guilt for guiding Kisiminohu to Mahivo’s secret.
Kisiminohu had professed surprise at my interest in the goings-on of first-life people. Mahivo had condemned me for thinking first-life people had no value. And I sat there, above my carven nameplate, and wondered if my long apathy had come from the devaluation I’d implicitly accepted of regarding my first, wrong life.
That didn’t mean his first life must be wrong too.
If someone had asked me, I would have said it impossible, but that would have been only because we of the second, stone life had no reason to put chisel to stone, to peel back that hardened carapace bit by bit and find the form beneath. Yet, the tools felt natural in my hands, as natural as they had a thousand years before when I’d tapped out figures at the base of a mountain a hundred thousand kilometers away.
I called to Lord Tulirabalo’s shade where he remained hunched in the rafters of the throne room. Called to him as I undercut a deep crevice to exhibit the thick grand chain with the Lord’s sigil then a smaller crevice to indicate the delicate jade pendant he used to set on his chest in the privacy of his own quarters. As I nicked out curves and tresses and folds of a sheath skirt under his glorious lord vestments, that split open at their front so that both parts of him might blend into one. As I crafted feather-tips in gently curled wings. As I crafted him in all the ways he viewed himself.
He came, quite willingly, sighing with relief as I bonded him to his second-life shape.
I found Mahivo finally at one of the lower quarries, its insides steep and filled with mechanisms that hadn’t existed when I’d watched the first hole dug in this place. I remained perched on the tip of a crane, the electric light casting shadows up and over my head. He stopped below, his trousers stained with dust and the luster on his apprentice bands faded, his dark curls half left free in the recent woman’s fashion and half leather-banded in contrasting layers to signify his resistance.
“I heard what you did,” he called.
I swung upside down to let the light cast across me. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Mahivo.”
The bitter edge faded from his attitude. “You’re one of a few who still calls me that. Half the city insists I should be Vohima.”
“Half the city lives on the roof of the keep and doesn’t care.”
He snorted out a laugh that reminded me so much of when he’d been little and would huff when the berry dye smeared. “Was helping Lord Tulirabalo an apology?”
“No. I just wanted to know whether I could still carve, as I am now. I wondered. Since...”
Mahivo shifted, cocking his head in a way that made me realize his neck must hurt from craning up at me. So I dropped, snapping my wings out to roll and land right-side up to look him in the eye.
“Since there are a great many first-life people, and out of a great many people there are bound to be some like Lord Tulirabalo. Like you. Like me. I’m an adept in the stone-care. And I don’t need to be part of a guild to practice.”
A hint of tempered glee tugged at the corner of Mahivo’s lips. “The guild won’t like the competition.”
“The guild didn’t exist before me. And the guild won’t exist long with me if it isn’t willing to change. I could fly to the mountain and dig the stone out myself, as I did a thousand years ago.”
“Won’t change their minds.”
His bitterness eroded some of the satisfaction in my spirit, reminding me yet again of the little girl a thousand years ago who hadn’t been as brave as him, who had taken to stone to vent her feelings instead. “You wanted to know my names.”
Mahivo stilled in overt expectation, as though he were already stone, waiting for the dusk to settle that he might move once more.
“Lo. Loma. Miloma. Milomate. Milomatena.”
“The first adept,” he breathed, his awe a wild sparkle in his gaze, reminding me of those long ago days where dreams of sailing ships made of stars ruled his world.
“I was always seen a woman in my first life. I did not attempt to be anything else, no matter what my insides said. I do not share that name usually, no matter the prestige that accompanies it, for it’s not really mine. Not since I made myself a second life in a form of my choosing.”
“You made your own form?”
I shrugged, shoulders rippling down through the tips of wings I’d carved myself. “Not for my first life. You are a braver man than I and... I’m sorry I did not keep your secret.”
He fumbled, torn between frustration and a level of awed reverence I hadn’t experienced in quite a long time. “You’re the originator of the second form, and you used it to show your real self. That’s why we even have our second lives to look forward to! Why the guild exists in the first place.”
I shifted uncomfortably, tempted to fly away again, but I stayed because I owed him that much, if not a great deal more.
“So I could...”
He didn’t need to finish to understand the implication of what I’d admitted. A secret I’d unwittingly kept for a thousand years.
I hardened my voice into confident encouragement. “...you could make your own stone-care body for your second life in the way you see fit, yes.”
Slowly, the stars sparkling in his eyes under the electric lights became a glint of steel. His mouth set into a firm line. His chin lifted. He reached up and bound the last strands of his hair into a leather band, turning the visages of softness of his face into harder angles.
“Not until I claim whatever I can of my first life.”
I never had thought about being anyone other than Dreamer. That carven nameplate where I sat, given to me when this first causeway had been built on the keep. When I and others had groped our way up to stare out over the burgeoning town, I’d thought it enough. Until Hima had come telling tales of girls that reminded me of when I’d claimed my claws.
Until Mahivo had come.
I think over those old names of mine. Lo and Ma, given by parents to claim I had an innovative and audacious soul in my childhood. My youth-name Miloma, given by my people as I showed my affinity for the mountains and rock, that I be called stone-hearted to show my steadfastness. Then Te, my adult-name added to my others, the only one that was mine to claim myself; and I, in my infinite hypocrisy, had chosen a name to mean adaptable, thinking that was what I’d always had to be. And then the elders had called me Na, a bringer of hope, when my stonecare craft brought them their second-lives, guiding that name, Milomatena, into the fame and awe it’d held for a thousand years after.
All these names both mine and yet not. Representing a version of me that wasn’t quite right, was just slightly off-kilter to who and what I am. But they are still mine. Still bits and pieces of me, broken up like a stone puzzle where cracks and crevices must align perfectly in order to achieve that seamless smooth face.
Yet I think I can arrange them perfectly. Solve the puzzle I’d attempted to understand when I’d first took chisel to stone to make a new self before my first life had ended. Take all the parts of me that are true—Lo and Ma and Mi and Te and Na, that bringer of hope, still innovative yet audacious, who became adaptable by way of the very rock itself. Yes. That is the correct order of my pieces—Nalomatemi.
My adaptability clings to the rock, and the hope I bring to everyone like me is to become louder and stronger than ever. For when they hear the name that should have been mine from the start and realize one of their own constructed a core tenet of our vast culture, they will, I dream, lay claim to both their first and second lives in the same fearless manner as Mahivo did.