Ouch, another week and a half between posts. My apologies - the work hours of freedom that I've been traditionally posting in have been severely curtailed, and I haven't found many other places to write. Anyway, the story now continues.
Tenrek stood on the bow of the boat, watching the clouds pass by beneath the keel. The sun shone above, the light shining brightly down on the boat. From this height, the land far below was nothing but a patchwork of blues and greens and muddy browns, seeming peaceful even in the day. If only that were the case.
There was a soft sound behind him, subtle but deliberate, and Tenrek glanced backwards, unconsciously drawing his fur cloak tighter around him. Crossing the deck towards him was Thetram Nash â€“ the Sidereal walked with the solid steps of a man unused to being stopped, but his eyes were troubled. Tenrek nodded to him as he joined the young Solar at the bow, looking over the side.
â€œYou didnâ€™t join us for breakfast, Master Tenrek.â€ Nash looked ahead, his eyes reflecting the blue of the Inner Sea, its southern coast now faintly visible on the horizon. The ship was passing over the Blessed Isle, keeping high enough to avoid the notice of the Dynasts far below, engrossed in their own battles against the demon courts.
â€œI wasnâ€™t hungry.â€ Tenrekâ€™s reply was clipped, and Nash simply shrugged, sinking into a companionable silence. After several moments, Tenrek glanced over to him. â€œWas there something else?â€
â€œWellâ€¦ yes.â€ Nash continued to look out over the waves, his expression carefully blank. â€œAmaya told me that you were trained by Master Venerable Silk. I was wondering ifâ€¦â€ He broke off, swallowing, and then continued. â€œIf you would tell me some tales of his guidance at the Tabernacle.â€
Tenrek stared in confusion for a few moments. â€œYou knew Master Silk?â€
â€œIntimately.â€ Nash turned from the bow, looking at Tenrek. â€œWe were students together, in the dying days of the Contagion. Two chosen of Serenity, brought into Heaven within a month of one another. It was, perhaps, inevitable. We trained together, fought togetherâ€¦ for several centuries, we were lovers.â€ His expression was distant, and Tenrek stared at him in surprise. â€œIt was long ago, butâ€¦â€
â€œWhat happened?â€ Tenrek kept his voice soft, surprised by the sudden revelation.
â€œOur philosophies drove us apart.â€ Nash returned his attention to the distant sea. â€œSilk grew ever-more discontent with the Bronze Faction. He looked at the world and saw it broken, and felt the pain in his soul. He believed that the Solars could be returned, recovered, and guided to greatness. Whereas Iâ€¦â€ He trailed off, and shook his head. â€œI was afraid. I saw the damage that had been done, the horrors of the First Age. Our discussions turned to arguments. Our lovemaking turned to fights. A century ago, we stopped speaking to one another altogether, except when work forced us into proximity. All over a point of philosophy â€“ and one that, at the time, was entirely moot.â€ He smiled sadly. â€œSuch a small thing to drive us apart. I always meant to speak with him again, one day, once the sight of him stopped causing me pain. But then the Solars returned, and the Gold resurged, and there was Venerable Silk at their forefront.â€ He looked back to Tenrek, the smile dying from his face. â€œAnd then came the war, and he died. And now here I am, stepping into his footsteps. Guiding his students on their journey. It isâ€¦ beyond belief, in many ways.â€
Tenrek nodded slowly. â€œI think I understand. When the attacks came against the Tabernacle, it was Master Silk who saved us. He didnâ€™t want to fight his friend, but he gave his life so that we could escape.â€ He lowered his gaze. â€œI donâ€™t know if the trade was worthwhile.â€
â€œNever think that.â€ Tenrek looked up in surprise at the anger in Nashâ€™s voice. The Siderealâ€™s expression was intent. â€œYou are his legacy, Tenrek. He knew what was important, and he acted to defend it. That purpose, that conviction, is what it means to be a Sidereal. To do whatever you must to safeguard Creation.â€
â€œLike allying with the Demon Courts?â€
Nash smiled slowly. â€œAh. We come to the heart of the matter.â€ He leaned against the bow, looking down towards the ship. â€œYou think this is a bad plan.â€
â€œOf course!â€ Tenrek waved a hand in anger. â€œTheyâ€™re demons! Do you believe that we can trust them?â€
â€œWe can trust them to be true to their natures.â€ Nashâ€™s voice was soft, and Tenrek found himself leaning in to listen. â€œShe Who Lives In Her Name desires adulation. Zuratha longs for purpose. Cecelyne strives for hierarchy and boundaries. As long as our desires align with theirs, they will be steadfast allies. If those desires cross, they will betray us without hesitation.â€
â€œAnd you believe that we can compromise with them?â€ Tenrekâ€™s voice was dubious.
â€œGaia does.â€ Nash looked over to Tenrek, grim-faced. His ponytail flopped in the wind, curling around his throat. â€œBecause that is her nature. To seek alliances, to forge allies from enemies. Look around this boat, Tenrek. Two members of the Wyld Hunt dine with two Cultists of the Illuminated. Five Solars work alongside a member of the Bronze Faction. A Fair Folk sits married to a Lunar. Ancient enemies have come together, transformed into allies, friends, and lovers. This is Gaiaâ€™s nature, and her working.â€
â€œThatâ€™s good, right?â€ Tenrek spoke carefully.
â€œNo.â€ The word fell flatly, and Tenrek blinked in surprise. â€œI have lived my life serving fate, and I have an eye for co-incidence. How is it that so many connections were drawn between the one Solar Circle that could find Autochthon, before we could know he was needed?â€ Nash shook his head, and then smiled faintly. â€œIâ€™m probably just paranoid. A lifetime of service to the Maidens. But I canâ€™t shake the suspicion that there is something more than we see happening.â€
â€œHave you told anyone?â€
â€œWho would I tell? Gaiaâ€™s avatar? Her husband?â€ Nash shook his head. â€œKieran and Alina are too trusting. I intend to bring this up with Fokuf, at least. He is wise in the ways of political demigods, he may have further insight.â€ He shook his head. â€œI didnâ€™t mean to bring it up with you. It just slipped out. I think that we can trust Gaiaâ€™s intentions. It is her methods that concern me.â€
Tenrek nodded slowly. â€œWell, we will have to take this as it comes.â€ He shivered, pulling his robes closer around him. â€œItâ€™s getting cold up here. Why donâ€™t we head back below, and Iâ€™ll tell you about Silk.â€
Nash bowed slightly to the Solar. â€œThank you, Master Tenrek. I would like that.â€
Together, the allies, who might have been enemies, returned to the warmth of the shipâ€™s inside, and Tenrek began to tell the tales of the man who had taught him what it meant to be a Solar.