Tenrek staggered through the ruins of the Sequestered Tabernacle, his saint hanging heavily to one arm. They couldnâ€™t have been more different. Amaya was beauty incarnate. Even now, her rough clothing torn and tattered, soot staining her face and tangling her hair, she was a shining goddess. Her Twilight Castemark shone faintly on her forehead, a beacon of hope even in this darkness.
Tenrek was a monster. Grotesque scales covered his face, and a thin shell caused his back to hunch outwards. The turtle beastman was a Zenith, his own castemark shining brightly as he hurried through the rubble, but he could not be more different from the imaginings of much of the Cult. That he was still aliveâ€¦
â€œWhy is this happening? How can they be so blind?â€ Tears streaked Amayaâ€™s face, and Tenrek could only shake his head mutely. The attack had been so sudden, so savage. He could not imagineâ€¦
A man stepped out from the shadows of the building, snow settling around him like a shroud. For a moment, Tenrek started to shift into the stances he had been taught, and then the image of the man became an endless tunnel, falling backwards through his own mindâ€¦
â€œTake her away!â€ Gabrielâ€™s roar as the celestial lions descended, spinning to pick Amaya up and throw her across the gap, turning back as the first of the lions closed jaws around his flesh, Tenrek shouting uselessly as he and Amaya stared in horrorâ€¦
â€œYou will be welcome here.â€ A hand on his shoulder, the beastman looking up into kind eyes, the knowledge of home.
Wandering through the tundra, the endless cold chilling his sluggish blood, hopeless and despairing. Turned aside by any who saw him, a monster, a creature of the Wyld â€“ chased even before they knew the evil truth of his heritageâ€¦
The years rolled backwards in his mindâ€™s eye. Vaguely, he recognized that time was passing, that he had to force his way free and save Amaya from the man approaching, but the memories continued to come, his life being lived in reverse, and he was trapped in their embrace.
Exaltation. A moment in which he felt that he at last understood the world, standing strong, as he took the swords of the bandits on his body and laughed at their sudden fear, as he shattered the caravan that would have taken him for a slave. The sudden loss of certainty as he turned to help the slaves themselves, seeing their horror and helpless attempts to escape from him.
â€œYou must leave the city.â€ The magistrateâ€™s kind smile, so very sad. A passage of years that Tenrek had not understood, now realizing that he had known how slim the beastmanâ€™s chances were, but determined to do his part to help this victim. A kinder man than he had realized. â€œHouse Peleps will not long allow you to live, without a patron, having embarrassed them so thoroughly.â€
The years were retreating to that moment. The one he would not relive. Could not. But he could not prevent it.
Blood on the walls. Blood on the bed. Bent over, voiding his stomach on the floor as he realized the truth. Back. Seeingâ€¦
A sudden, fierce pressure on his chest. With the suddenness of a shattering storm, the memories collapsed. Once again, Tenrek was standing in the ruins of the present, freed from his memories.
Venerable Silk, Master Attendant of the Sequestered Tabernacle, nodded once to Tenrek. â€œIâ€™m sorry I was so late. There has been so much to do.â€ His anima blazed around him, cerulean blue, as he turned to face the man standing directly behind him, shifting his grip on the blade of the daiklave that had been dropping towards Amayaâ€™s face. The girl blinked, looking as shocked as Tenrek, as Silk raised an eyebrow. â€œThe Two Score Mirror Glance? I did not think you so cruel, Juren.â€
â€œIt is a kindness to free them to examine their lives.â€ The other manâ€™s anima blazed a deep red, and he shook his head. â€œBut you â€“ the Fallen Ivory Defense? And so broadly applied. I did not know that you had advanced so far along the Scarlet-Patterned Battlefield â€“ your third Art, if I recall. You have been training heavily.â€
Venerable Silk nodded gently. â€œIt took some practice, and I cannot hold it as long as I would like.â€
â€œHence why you were not present sooner.â€ Juren frowned. â€œBack away, Silk. I remember you, and I remember your last incarnation. You donâ€™t have what it takes to stop this. Donâ€™t break the laws of our kind.â€
â€œYou broke those laws first.â€ Venerable Silk shifted his posture, sliding through the stances of the Prismatic Arrangement Of Creation Form, glancing back to the two Solars. â€œCall of this attack, Juren. We will not stand by and let you destroy Creation.â€ He paused. His voice softened. â€œDonâ€™t make me do this.â€
â€œI would say the same to you.â€ His own Charms were already prepared. Juren leapt forwards, through the stances of the Unnatural Many-Stepped Stride. Silk ducked, rolled, and came up with his eyes closed, seeing all the world around him.
â€œVery well. I donâ€™t know that I can defeat you, my old friend, but I can hold you here.â€ He turned his attention to Tenrek and Amaya. â€œI wish I could be there to see what you will do. You can change the world, and they fear that. Remember.â€ He gestured.
The world shifted, slid. A moment later, Tenrek and Amaya were standing on the edge of the school. In the distance, Tenrek could see animas springing up â€“ blue, and red, and green and purple and yellow locked in combat across the destruction. Gods flew in the air, and tore at one another. He and Amaya looked at each other hopelessly for a moment. When she spoke, it was softly.
â€œWhat do we do?â€
â€œWe do as Master Silk requested. We run.â€ Tenrekâ€™s voice was rough. â€œThe Tabernacle is lost. But the Cult will live on as long as we do.â€
Casting a look back to the battle raging behind them, the two Solars vanished into the evergreens surrounding the mountains.