Just beyond the wide antechamber doors, the muffled cheers from the Review of Aun Ist beat like a nervous heart.
Neeraja fixed her Aunic disc behind her head. Four hands across, the flat, circular electrum plate hovered in place. Majestic. An martial honor like no other.
Her stomach was in knots. She brushed smooth the front of her white dress uniform.
A small door, gilded, crusted in crown molding, opened next to the larger set before her. A third in robes stepped through, older, a spray of white hair around their temples.
“Daughter,” her patria’s whisper carried in the high-ceilinged space. “How are you?”
“I feel like I’m going to be sick,” Neeraja said. “With excitement. I’m nervous.” She reached up to adjust her disc, moving it just a little. “How many are out there?”
“Four. With you it makes five.” Her patria walked to her, took her hands in theirs.
“A good number,” Neeraja nodded. “And my Ofanim?”
“It is one to be proud of.” Her patria dipped their head. “Beyond that, I cannot say.”
The antechamber door opened again, and another robed figure leaned in.
“Sister, we are about to begin.”
Neeraja stepped forward. Halted. Reached out, touched her patria’s shoulder.
“You are blessed” her patria said. They reached up and grabbed her hand. Held it tight. “And this will end. There will be peace.”
“An end?” Neeraja asked.
‘An end to Union.” They moved Neeraja’s hand, balled it into a fist and held it between them, kissed it. “Aun, ascendant.”
Neeraja felt tears at the corner of her eyes.
Cradle would be smashed and Aun would be, once more, the center of the firmament and all the heavens. The Path, found again.
A swell of music from beyond the antechamber doors.
The doors to the antechamber swung open, and the wash of crowd, choir, and trumpet rolled over them.
Penitents crawled forward, unrolling a rug before them, their heads hidden under peaked hoods of gold.
Opposite the Review, her Ofanim. It was perfect, shining.
The Review, an open-air arcade, was lined with stands brimming with revelers, seething with life.
Soft white petals fell like snow from the gondolas suspended from the high mosaic ceiling, carrying party functionaries and temple officers of notable rank.
Light, blessed light from Aun Ist and her sister, Aun Yaa, shimmered the air.
It had rained earlier in the morning, and the world Neeraja could see between the Review’s columns was a calico palette of bruise and sunset rose.
There would be rainbows over the city.
It was Confirmation, the holy day, and even the light had worn its finest robes.
Neeraja heard her name uttered from everywhere, echoing above the crowd from the thousands of recessed speakers that dotted the Review.
Her patria stepped aside and bowed, swept their arm towards the waiting Ofanim.
Penetints rolled the rug to Neeraja’s bangled bare feet.
Four of her Chosen compatriots already waited at the end of the Review. She walked.
Trumpets and drums marked her approach across the thick carpeting.
The Ofanim’s unpainted, shining armor caught the light and reflected it, a mirror to the setting sun.
From some distant observation box, the Glory See cried out the new Chosen’s names, and one by one Neeraja’s peers stepped forward to enter their Ofanim.
Neeraja heard hers, and she moved through a dream.
The Ofanim crouched forwards, its core opening to reveal the gimballed throne inside its cockpit.
Her throne, its chamber suffused with soft red light and the dim glow of instrument panels.
As Neeraja stepped forward, that soft red light coalesced into a humanoid form.
Another — like her but made from light, captured — The Ofanim’s soul. It dropped to a knee and bowed, sweeping an open hand towards the open cockpit.
“Enter, my Chosen.” The soul spoke. It looked to her and smiled, warm.
Neeraja did as she was bade, ducking into the cockpit. She turned and sat, settling into the throne as it settled around her.
Her Aunic disc melted, cold, around her head, forming her helm.
It was a thought, a command interpreted as she formed it.
Her Ofanim stood, its chassis sealing.
For a moment, the cockpit was dark but for the soft crimson safelight.
Then, with a flicker, the world appeared around her in perfect clarity.
It was as if she sat on her throne suspended in air, one with the soul of her Ofanim.
She grinned, she couldn’t help it.
“Core is stable,” her Soul muttered in her ear. “Subjective pairing complete. Telemetry nominal. Motor control nominal. Secondary and tertiary systems are nominal. When ready, you may call up weapon system requisition forms.” Her Soul paused.
“You may also name me.”
Neeraja raised her arm. Her Ofanim raised its arm as well. They were as one.
She looked down at the priests who moved about her Ofanim’s legs, blessing it with holy waters and oils.
“In time,” Neeraja said. Today was her day: her Confirmation, the day she became a pilot.