Chapter VI

Shrine of the Faithful

Lumi walks along the cobbles beside Rashid. The flicking flames atop the streetlamps cast an comforting glow before them. Lumi had not traveled to the shrine yet, but had been told by Nina that it was a place for the Faithful to gather.

There is an air of awkwardness that clings to the two while they make their way past the market district. Rashid walks several paces ahead of Lumi, his mouth proceeds to open and close several times as if he wants to speak. Maybe he’s out of breath? Lumi wonders, noting the elderly man’s crooked gait. Rounding a bend, Rashid pauses beneath a palm, the light from the lamps illuminates the vibrant fronds while they shake in the sea breeze. The heavens shine bright above Rhaz, typical of their beauty across the entirety of Aldorria. The Desert Cities, he had been told, were the only place where all the stars of Talmus could be seen with a keen eye.

Rashid rocks back and forth on his heels, the babouches tap softly over the tiles. Lumi looks at his own bare feet. Maybe I should wear sandals, he thinks, wondering how the other acolytes may treat him compared to those back at the temple. He raises his foot and grabs his ankle, appraising the bottom of his foot.

“Lumi,” Rashid begins, catching him off-guard.

Lumi lifts his eyes to Rashid and smiles. “Huh?”

Lumi had spent little time with Rashid, other than the night he stayed up with him and counted the wares the caravan brought to the temple. That night, they had spent the majority of the time discussing Khimi and Rashid’s relationship with him. Lumi had been afraid he was too forward in revealing his affections for Khimi. Yet, Rashid himself had been kind and understanding towards him.

“Y’re gonna have to ease off of Khimi a bit,” Rashid says, awkwardly crossing his arms. “The lad has his mind full of things that are distractin’ him as is…”

Lumi blinks slowly, regarding Rashid in a new light. “I-I haven’t even seen Khimi…”

Rashid brushes his fingers through his beard, “Listen, kiddo. I think y’re great and all for what it’s worth…but Khimi has a duty to the Cerulean Star. He’s too kind-hearted to tell ya so himself.”

Lumi’s face twists, his nose pinches with a snort. “I’ve seen Khimi more at the temple than I’ve seen him in the days since we’ve arrived!”

Rashid clears his throat and brushes his fingers through his beard with a sage and thoughtful expression. “This is going to be an adjustment for ya both…y’re gonna need to give him time.”

Time?” Lumi scoffs and drops his foot back onto the cobblestone. “Rashid, I-I haven’t asked him for anything.”

Rashid looks panicked and begins to tilt his weight back and forth. “I j-just. Y’re in his head..he can’t focus…”

“I just want him to be himself!” Lumi growls, looking around them as passersby stop to watch their exchange. “What do you want me to do then?” He asks, throwing his hands into the air in resignation. “I don’t see him as is…should I stop existing, Rashid?”

Rashid pushes his fingers in front of his lips in thought, “Lumi, just listen to me,” he begins quietly. “Maybe it’d be best if ya spend some more time at the shrine until things settle down. It’d do ya some good to learn a bit more about the Faith…meet some other people. Some other acolytes. Khimi needs to clear his head.”

Lumi bites his lip and looks down at his feet. “Did Khimi ask you to talk to me?” He questions, his fingertips pulling at the hem of his acolyte chiton. “Did he?!”

The silence pierces Lumi like a dagger in the chest. His chest rises and falls as he searches for something to say through the foggy numbness forming in his mind. His body trembles, his hands shake with the pristine fabric in his hands. Bastards…I’ll kill hi–

“No,” Rashid confesses with a sigh. “But I can already tell ya are far too emotional for y’re own good. Just look at y’reself.”

Lumi pulls his hand back from his chiton, rusty streaks mark the fabric where his palm had just been. The blood drips from the small wounds on his palms. With a curse under his breath, he recites a hasty incantation. The small crescent shaped wounds on his palm recede in a flash of blue light. “Y-You forced me!”

“Forced ya?! I didn’t force ya to do anything!”

“I…can make it to the shrine on my own. I am sure I can manage,” Lumi says suddenly and skirts past Rashid.

Rashid’s grabs hold of Lumi’s wrist, “Don’t ya start like that with me, boy,” he says between his teeth. “Now listen to m–”

“Listen to you?!” Lumi shouts and yanks at his wrist. “Don’t touch me!”

Rashid tightens his grip and holds Lumi still, “I wasn’t tryin’ to start anything…I’m just sayin’ Khimi needs to focus on what’s important now.”

“And I’m not?” Lumi says, swinging at Rashid with sudden ferocity. “What’s wrong with you?”

Rashid rolls his eyes and whispers foul curses under his breath. “Lumi, by the Gods…listen to me!”

Lumi’s nails rake across Rashid’s face, four bloody lines left in their wake. “Leave me alone…” He pants, releasing a heavy breath.

With a look of calm and understanding, Rashid releases Lumi’s wrist. “Ya mean a lot to him already…I can see it when he looks at ya.”

Lumi steps away from Rashid, nursing his wrist. “I-I can make it to the shrine on my own…” He whispers and he begins to backpedal.

Lumi runs across the cobbles, merchants, and small crowds stare at him. Rashid calls out to him from behind, “Come back!”

Lumi runs as fast as his feet can carry him into the darkness. The light from the lamps slowly fades the further he gets from the sound of the central markets. He grasps at his chest, feeling his heart racing, while he looks back over his shoulder. I-I should tell Khimi. He turns back on his heels. None of the buildings are familiar. Even during the short few times he had wandered outside the estate grounds, he had only walked a few streets before returning. I’m lost. He groans and drops his face into his palms, his tail sways behind him, displaying his anger.

Pinching his hands into fists, Lumi strides along the streets with furious determination. I’ll just find the damn shrine. Just as his tribe had done when he was younger, Lumi looks up to the stars. The brightest star in the sky, the big one or the giant. Many other names had been given to the star, and during his time at the temple he had heard acolytes refer to it as Stella Solaris or Jabbar.

 Eyes set on the star, Lumi begins his walk through the dark streets. Oil lamps inside the wood and mudbrick homes shine over the cobbles while Lumi passes. The sound of laughter causes him to stop and peer through one of the windows. A woman dressed in a linen shift sits on the ground with a chalice to her lips and a babe curled in her arms. Two young girls, across from her, spin tops upon the stone floor before quickly adding a third wooden one. The tops bash into one another and spin out of control, stopping on their side. The mother laughs once again, the girls pick up the tops and prepare to spin them again. Must be nice…

Lumi turns his back on the window and staggers backwards, a woman stands just behind him. Despite his superior sense of hearing, he had not heard the slender half-elven woman approach. A calm smile crosses her lips, her expression relaxing while she brushes a lengthy swath of dark hair behind her pointed ear. She stammers while trying to find the words before she finally lowers her head with a sigh.

“I’m Cecilia,” she finally manages. She adjusts the shoulder of her chiton over her sun-kissed skin. “You must be an acolyte.”

With his back pressed against the wall, Lumi looks up and down the street. “H-How did you find me? W-Who are you?” He asks, his tail rattling cautiously behind him.

Cecilia offers a smile and extends an open palm to Lumi. “We passed each other a while ago…and I was curious because you’re wearing clothing traditional for novice acolytes…”

Lumi sighs and relaxes, pushing himself from the wall. He takes Cecilia’s hand. “I’m Lumi,” he grumbles, trying his best to offer her a smile.

“I know,” Cecilia confesses softly. “Saint Nina told me that a new acolyte was going to be coming to the shrine…and well, you’re the only aslan I’ve seen around Rhaz in a while.”

Lumi’s eyes grow wide and hopeful, like two deep pools. “Nina is here?”

“N-No…saints can send messages over great distances,” Cecilia says softly.

“I forgot…” Lumi whispers in a dejected tone. “It would be nice to see a familiar face. Rhaz is,” he pauses thoughtfully, “different.”

“She seems fond of you, Saint Nina that is. If there is anything I can do, please allow me to help you while you’re in Rhaz,” Cecilia says with a gentle squeeze on his hand.

“Can you show me to the shrine?”


The central area of the shrine hosts a circular, open-faced shrine. Beneath the arches and columns are five faceless statues. Each of the figures is ambiguous in their features, yet profoundly beautiful. In the center of the circular building is the symbol of the Faith, the wheel. The wheel is crafted from a material with a vibrant pearl-like sheen and though there are fourteen orders, only thirteen are represented with symbols. The area around the white marble columns and the covered veranda is surrounded with thick, lush greenery. Palms and thick brush keeps the shrine isolated from the excitement of the city. The area is calm, the acolytes in prayer chant quietly, their words reverberate through the clearing.

Dozens of other acolytes stand about in the late hours of the night discussing the Faith and theological values of the various orders. Lumi stands about the center of the shrine and looks up at the fading stars. It will only be a few more hours until the sun rises, and Lumi’s thoughts are filled with worry. Rashid is going to tell Khi–

 Lumi’s thoughts are interrupted. Several acolytes walk towards him, many of them wearing brooches or symbols of the Temple of Life. Cecilia, at the head of the group, offers Lumi a welcome with her arms extended wide in greeting. The group approaches him, surrounding him with excited conversation. Lumi rubs his cheek anxiously, finding himself crowded by other acolytes who had dedicated themselves to Nina’s order.

One of the acolytes with a softer voice pushes his way through the group. “Heavens,” he begins, scrubbing his fingers over his bald head. “It really is an aslan. I’ve seen Tigre and Pantera in Rhaz, but…never an aslan. I’ve only ever seen them south of Porat.”

“Shut it, Calix,” A youthful boy says, his brilliant golden eyes reflecting the light from the braziers. “Ignore ‘em, Lumi.”

Lumi rubs the back of his head nervously, his ears twitch. He chuckles at their exchange. “I didn’t take any offense. It’s kinda like that wherever I go, anyway!”

“Either way, you don’t have to feel alone here,” Cecilia adds and claps him on the back. “The shrine can be like your second home while you’re in Rhaz,” she pauses briefly, tapping her finger on her chin. “Where is home anyway?”

Lumi rubs one foot over the other while his cheeks grow flush. “I’m staying with Khi– I’m staying somewhere south of here…I got lost in the markets,” he lies, looking down at his feet.

The golden-eyed youth smiles and crosses his arms. The pristine chiton hangs loosely over his thin-frame. Lumi almost gasps as he notices the light reflecting through his eyes, a telltale sign of those with nocturnal sight.

With a knowing smirk, the golden-eyed youth hangs his head and eyes Lumi from beneath his pearly-silver hair. “Ya don’ ‘ave to tell us if ya don’ wanna,” he says, his curious accent rises and falls in a melodious sing-song lilt. “But,” he pauses. He leans forward and lifts Lumi’s chin, a confident grin on his lips. “It mus’ be somewhere special, ain’ it?”

Lumi blushes and turns his gaze to Cecilia. “I-I,” he stops himself, reminding himself of the things the acolytes had said about the Zeybek family back at the temple. “Just a house…it’s really nice. But it’s nothing like the temple!”

Right,” Cecilia says suddenly, grabbing the golden-eyed boy’s wrist. “Get your grubby hands off of him, Javi.”

Yes,” Calix adds, giving Javi a roll of his eyes. “Don’t admonish me when you’re the one acting a fool.”

Lumi raises his palms in the air, “It’s okay. Really.”

“Be that as it may,” Cecilia says, pushing herself beside Lumi. “Since this is a shrine of the Faithful, you should understand that not everyone here belongs to the Temple of Life.”

Lumi nods, “I understood that from what Nin– Saint Nina told me.”

“Then…you should take some time to study some other Faiths while you have ti–”

“I can show ‘em bout if ya wan’,” Javi laughs and flashes a smile.

Calix laughs and pushes himself to the front. “Rocks have more brains than you, Javi,” he says with a cold smile. “Allow someone who has undergone years of study to teach you about the Faith.”

Cecilia sighs and places her hand on Lumi’s neck. “How about we start from the top of the wheel? It’ll be easy…”

Lumi rubs his eyes and follows her guidance to the top of the wheel cast along the inner circle of the shrine. “They never really spoke of the other orders at the temple,” he confesses softly, glancing about at the other acolytes sitting around in small groups.

“When you’re at a central temple such as the Temple of Life, there is no reason to discuss other orders…unless of course there is something that applies to your order,” Cecilia rambles, waving her hand to and fro while she walks. “And this,” she pauses at the top-most disc along the Wheel of Faith. “This is the solar domain.”

The sunburst sits in the center of the disc, expertly tiled with a crimson mosaic. The sun’s rays reach out, wanting to burst beyond the circle of the disc. Cecilia’s words fall on deaf ears while she begins to explain the meaning and symbology behind the strange sunburst. The symbol pulses and glows, radiating a luminous shimmer. His eyes are glued, voices, distant echoes, call his name.

Lumi?” Cecilia calls after a moment, shaking Lumi’s arm. “Are you still with us?”

Lumi shakes himself from his stupor. “Uhm, yeah…I’m just distracted. Can you repeat that last part?”

Calix claps his hands together and forces air through his lips, “She said that there has not been a Chosen from the solar domain in hundreds of years,” he exclaims, slapping his hand on his thigh.

“Their temple is up in Loria, ain’ it, Cecilia?” Javi coos, raising his brow at Cecilia.

Cecilia shrugs and shakes her head. “I haven’t been for a long time…not since I was a girl, but the Sun temple is one of the most respected and wealthiest.”

“Cecilia and I could have been acolytes in Loria…but our calling was to the desert, to the Temple of Life,” Calix says with a sigh of annoyance. “We could have stayed in the capital and lived our lives comfortably without a care in the wo–”

“What happened to the last Chosen?” Lumi inquires without thinking, his eyes still focused on the sunburst mosaic.

“Don’ ya wanna know bout the other orders?” Javi inquires with a quick motion around the wheel. “There is still a lot fer ya ta learn…”

Lumi looks around at the circular wheel on the ground and then back up to Cecilia. “Do you think it’s okay if we learn about the other orders later? I think…I just want to start with something easy.”

“You can join the other acolytes during vespers if you would like. The sun will be up soon, so we can all eat together when everyone awakens…and if you want, you’re welcome to stay with us here. There is a communal living area close by.”

“I…I have a home,” Lumi says with a cheerful smile on his lips. His tail sweeps behind him, and he tilts his head thoughtfully, “At least for now…”