“So you would just accept being damned in this system, even though you saved a life at your own cost?”
“I told you. I interfered with the flow of life. If I hadn’t done anything, or if I’d stopped at a certain point, Kumari would have died.”
Baldo only shook his head.
“Forgive me. I cannot understand; to the Virulk, saving a life is nothing less than heroic. To condemn—”
Brendan suddenly slammed his hands on the counter, leaning close and staring Baldo in the eye. His gaze was less angry than desperate, and his shoulders were trembling.
“Listen to me! I gave life to someone who should have died there. What I did that night was borderline necromancy – the only things which saved me from that were the facts that a little air was still moving through her lungs and her soul hadn’t left her body yet!”
Baldo leaned back, his eyes wide with shock at the force behind Brendan’s words. The Fearan’s voice had risen in pitch, the emotions there causing it to fall further into the rolling accent common among his people.
“Yes, it’s possible! Why do you think that going this far just breathing out is forbidden? It’s dark, taboo, and no one mentions it, but I swear, if I’d done this in view of the clans I’d be sporting a scar right here!”
With his right hand, Brendan reached across to his left shoulder and drew a crossing pair of lines in the air. The vision of another Fearan’s shoulder, proudly bared despite the scars marring the knotwork there, rose to the forefront of Baldo’s mind.
“And that’s not to mention a death-bounty to rival Carey’s,” Brendan continued, lowering his hand to the counter again. This time he seemed to be bracing himself against the wood, and his gaze dropped to stare at it. “No, I never brought back the truly dead, but I came close enough to be marked. If I ever went back home, I sure would be; you picked up on the signs reading a scholar’s take on it all. True Fearans would know at just a glance.”
Baldo wasn’t sure what to say.
Fearans are a race of humans capable of altering the flow of life in the world through their own bodies. They refer to this ability simply as 'Breathing' or 'Breath' because of the way it simulates said act: drawing life into themselves from another living thing is inhaling, whereas pressing life out of themselves into another living thing is exhaling.
The very name of their race reflects this: it is derived from the word Feha, an onomatopoetic term for the full cycle of a breath itself (Fe for the inhale, Ha for the exhale).
To perform this ability, a Fearan simply needs direct physical contact with the thing being drawn from or poured into. Anything with a life may be used: plants, animals, or even other humans.
Due to the frightening implications of this power, the Fearans eventually developed a combination religion and philosophy concerning their own lives and the afterlife. Balance is revered; to hold yourself in a perfectly neutral state of breath, never taking in more than you let out and vice versa, is a state to be admired. Those who have maintained such a balance, it is said, find themselves in a plentiful paradise after their death, incarnated in their prime of health.
The rest generally will go to a realm very similar to the living one, where it is possible to go without and where one must work to alleviate the suffering of hunger and thirst. It's not a bad afterlife, but it isn't ideal.
There are, however, exceptions. Sometimes a Fearan will push himself almost to the bounds of what is still permissible in one way or another: he might either draw in excessive amounts of life energy or he might press it out. Both acts will typically land you in a miserable, dry wasteland, where nothing grows and there is no water to be found.
And then there are the Taboos. One is where you completely consume the life and, it is said, the soul of another sentient being. The other is to animate the dead. In either occasion, the soul of the Fearan who committed the taboo is cursed to utter oblivion upon death, with no hope of redemption in this life or even the later one. In addition, should the Fearan clans discover the act, the Life-knot tattoo on the perpetrator's shoulder would be symbolically scarred with an X-shaped cut. He would then be delivered to the 'normal' human race's government on Saelis for execution; the Fearans themselves refuse, for religious reasons, to kill a human being with their own hands, though in this particular case they will request it of another.
Should the disgraced Fearan escape, a Wanted Dead bounty would immediately be placed on his head, with an alert put out across all the worlds. At the time of this story, Lorcan Carey is an escaped Fearan-turned-opportunistic serial killer with such a bounty. Despite lethal force being generally approved, he has been on the run for several years now, and nobody knows when he'll ever be taken down.
By contrast, Brendan here breathed out to save the life of his best friend. She was technically still 'alive' when he did it, saving him from truly performing necromancy and allowing her soul to remain in her body (rather than the body becoming little more than an animated corpse), but she was also so far gone that the act really took it out of him. He originally had red-brown hair, and though you can't see it here, the right side of his face is now covered with a splotchy birthmark-like stain.
They weren't on the world of Saelis when this happened, and thus were nowhere near any of the Fearan clans. However, due to the lingering physical effects and the particularly faded state of Brendan's life force, should he ever return his people would instantly know him as a necromancer. As such, he hasn't returned home since the incident, living instead in a sort of self-imposed exile.
I would also like to indicate here that the beliefs listed above are just that: beliefs. Whether they are true or not is about as murky as any human belief concerning what comes after death, simply because nobody really knows. Still, Brendan does believe that he will wind up in that wasteland after death...but in his own words, if he got there saving a life, then it was still worth it.
Too long, didn't read?
That's Brendan in the afterlife he expects to go to in time, because he saved a life in a way which was no-no in his people's views.