Chapter 26 - Finding Religion
The Celestial Church was in the middle of the commercial district, and aside from the tree growing around it, looked just like some of the cathedrals that Mikaen had visited back home. It had the usual decorations: spires, gargoyles, buttresses, and the like. The only real difference was the shape; the cathedrals on Earth were built to resemble a cross when viewed from above, whereas Celestial Churches resembled triangles.
"It symbolizes the eternal balance of the cosmos." Tirinia told him as they stood before the massive doors, "Light, Void, and Chaos with Balance in the center. It's not just the church either; the symbol of the triangle has been used throughout Vintan history." Seeing his questioning look, she blushed and added, "I considered minoring in theology."
"Oh? Are there many gods on Vinta?"
"A few." She told him, her hand in his. "Though most of those religions aren't practiced anymore. The Celestial Church and the Unending Cycle are the most followed religion."
"The Unending Cycle?"
"Of Creation. They believe the universe is ever-growing. It's a bit more complicated than that, but I don't want to bore you."
He swung her around and caught her easily. "Hey. Do I look bored?"
Smiling, she gave him a kiss that threatened to make him forget why they were there.
Someone coughed politely. "Pardon me, but can I help you?"
Mikaen broke away reluctantly and turned to address the speaker, a middle-aged Galden wearing a fine set of blue and green robes. He had a kind face, slightly balding brown hair, and wore a small triangle pendant reminiscent of the symbol on the door of the cathedral.
"Oh! Hello, Father." Tirinia said, blushing, "We were just-"
Hugging her close, Mikaen interrupted, "My fiancée and I wanted to take a look at the cathedral."
"So you're considering a wedding in the church?" The man seemed pleased, if a bit surprised.
"Er, yes." Tirinia said, her eyes darting to Mikaen's for just an instant.
"Well then, come inside!" He turned and opened the doors for them.
The inside of the Celestial was nothing short of breathtaking, at least to Mikaen's eyes. The delicate woodwork of the walls was accented by ivory, ebony, and opal, depending on their location within the church. The rows of cushioned pews were flanked by tall pillars of sculpted marble while crystal chandeliers illuminated everything from high above. Beautiful stained glass windows had been set into the walls and ceiling, each depicting a different person of some importance. "Probably saints of the church." Mikaen surmised, thinking of the churches he had seen back home.
"So," The priest asked as they continued toward the large triangular alter in the center of the church, "I'm guessing the two of you are followers of the Light."
They stopped short of the altar. Turning to them, the priest asked, "So, have you decided on a date?"
"We're still in negotiations with my parents." Tirinia told him.
"Ah. They want a traditional tigreth ceremony, I'm sure."
Tirinia chuckled, her cheeks pink. "Mom's the traditional one. Still, we'd like something a little more ... modest."
"I can certainly understand that." The priest said with a chuckle. "So, you two plan on settling down here in Muonsol?"
"Actually, we plan to settle down in Homestead." Mikaen said, rubbing Tirinia's shoulder, "I've made a home for myself there."
"Ah, Homestead. It's a lovely town." The priest let out a sigh, "Such a wonderful way to live, too. Sometimes, with all the technology available to us, we fail to grasp the true beauty of the simple life. Wouldn't you agree?"
Mikaen felt a brief moment of homesickness. He missed his house by the lake and the evenings spent watching the suns fall from the sky.
Tirinia nudged him. Shaking his head, Mikaen said, "Actually, I heard that the Church wants to build a monastery in Homestead."
The priest gave them a curious look. "Mo6nastery? In Homestead? This is the first I've heard about it."
"Before I left Homestead, Elder Thistlethorn told me he had been approached by two monks."
The priest chuckled. "I'm lead the group that makes the trip to Homestead, and I can tell you truthfully that I have no idea what you are talking about; we haven't made a trip for at least a month."
"Ah, probably just rumors then." An idea formed in Mikaen's head. Coughing, he continued, "People like to talk. It's just natural. I mean, you should hear some of the rumors about the disappearances of late."
"Gossip is a negative influence that should be avoided at all costs." The priest said casually, "So, what silly rumor is going about now?"
"Well, I heard someone mention something about people being snatched away by some mysterious organization."
Clutching Mikaen's arm close as though spooked, Tirinia whispered, "My sister told me that the people were kidnapped by the Remnants of Calliban."
The priest shook his head, a sad look in his eyes. "It never ceases to amaze me that the mad king continues to have supporters so long after his death. It has been over three-thousand years since he was killed. I'd like to think that people realize that he was just a sick man, but sure enough, there's always some who believe he had the right idea. What nonsense!"
He looked at them and smiled. "I mean, look at the two of you. You obviously don't carry any racial prejudice."
Tirinia and Mikaen shared a smile and hugged each other a little tighter. Before either of them could say anything, however, a pair of doors set against the side of the massive pulpit, revealing another priest and Jyle. There were two guards there also; from the color of their uniforms and the triangle patch each wore on his shoulder, Mikaen guessed they were part of the Celestial Church.
"Of course, my old friend." The priest was saying as he patted the Cygros's arm, "Feel free to stop by anytime."
"Thank you, Father Tercas." Jyle's eyes turned to Mikaen and Tirinia.
For a long moment, no one said anything. Tirinia hugged Mikaen's arm a little closer, glancing at him uncertainly.
The priest to whom Mikaen and Tirinia had been speaking bowed his head, saying, "Good day, Father Tercas."
"Good morning, Father Tyson." Father Tercas replied, bowing his head politely. "What are you about today?"
"This couple is considering a wedding in the cathedral. Seeing as he's one of the representatives of Homestead and she's a Daughter of Longshore, I think it an excellent idea."
Father Tercas looked at both of them with a knowing smile. "How intriguing. Well, if they want to be married in a Celestial Ceremony, I see no reason against it."
Jyle narrowed his eyes at Mikaen and Tirinia. "Father," he said, "Could I have a word with the young couple?"
Father Tercas bowed slightly. "Of course. We can catch up during your next visit. Father Tyson?"
"Well, it was nice to meet you." Father Tyson said to Mikaen and Tirinia, shaking their hands, "I hope you'll stop by later; it would be an honor to host the wedding of such an auspicious couple."
As he followed Father Tercas off, Jyle approached Mikaen and Tirinia looking more than a little angry.
"What the hell is this?" He demanded, keeping his voice low, "Just what is it you're trying to do?"
"Get married." Tirinia said defensively, hugging Mikaen's arm closer, "Not that it's any of your business."
It was the sort of response that Teria would have given, and Mikaen could tell that Tirinia knew it. As she no doubt had expected, Jyle was caught off-guard.
Taking advantage of his old friend's silence, Mikaen said, "We were just trying to do a little low-level reconnaissance. Hell, it's worked; we've already verified that someone's running around, masquerading as monks of this church."
"We've also discovered that at least some of the other missing people were last seen not far from where Mikaen and Jeronem were attacked." said Tirinia, "I think it's safe to say that something is going on."
"You can't know that, not for a fact."
She replied tersely, "I don't need to open my eyes to know the suns are out."
"Jesus, Maria!" Jyle snapped, "Just for once could you not take his side?"
Mikaen and Tirinia stared at him, both surprised. Realization dawned on the Cygros's face, followed by a look of embarrassment and shame.
"I beg your pardon, Mikaen ... and you too, Daughter Tirinia." Chuckling, he added, "I'm guess I'm getting forgetful in my old age."
"Jyle," Mikaen said, putting a hand on his old friend's shoulder, "You know you can count on me if you need help, right?"
"I know, I know. All I have to do is ask." Jyle shook his head, smiling. "You haven't changed a bit … still going around looking for trouble."
"Why go looking? It usually finds me on its own." Mikaen replied with a grin.
"True enough." Jyle let out a sigh. "Give me a few days; if my security force and my shadows haven't found anything by then, we'll consider this a matter for the Knights of the Star. Fair enough?"
With that, Jyle left Mikaen and Tirinia alone in the cathedral. As they watched him go, Tirinia commented, "It's bothering him."
"I know. The Council is stressful enough, but the disappearances are taking their toll on him."
"And to top it all off, he's got Rydiana's situation." Tirinia shook her head, adding, "I don't envy him, that's for sure."
There was a long moment of silence as they both thought on Jyle's problems. At least, Mikaen was thinking about them; Tirinia's thoughts seemed strangely subdued.
"This is a lovely cathedral." Mikaen said, running his hand along the smooth back of a white-wood pew. He glanced at Tirinia, but she seemed to be avoiding his gaze. Something was bothering her.
He rubbed her cheek, turning her head toward his own. She looked at him with her soulful purple eyes.
"Mikaen," She asked in a quiet voice, "Tell me about Maria."
"Oh." The request shouldn't have caught him by surprise, not after what had just happened, but he nevertheless found himself feeling awkward. "Well, she was a tigreth, or the earth equivalent of-"
"No, I mean ..." Tirinia's cheeks went pink, but she nevertheless looked him straight in the eyes as she finished, "Tell me about her."
Mikaen stared into her eyes for a few moments before replying, "She was kind-hearted. I saw her take on a behemoth without a weapon just to rescue a kitten."
"Was it ..."
"Yeah, it was Kyren."
Tirinia smiled with him as they took a seat in a nearby pew.
"She put on a tomboy attitude, not unlike your sister. Still, when you spend a lot of time with someone, you learn to see past the masks. She hated seeing people suffer, which is why she joined the Revs."
His gaze slid to the alter as the memories rushed through his mind. "She worried a lot, about me and Jyle mostly. She never said as much, but I always thought it was because her own family was taken by the Devastation."
"But you lost your family too, right?"
"I suppose so, but I don't remember them. She told me once that she was raised by her aunt and uncle along with three other sisters: Jennifer, Ruth, and Lydia." His smile widened as he continued, "She used to talk about all the trouble the four of them got up to pre-Devastation. We checked out her hometown, but there wasn't much left to see; what little of the city remained was infested with imps. Nasty little things."
"But they could have survived, right?" Tirinia asked, her hand resting on his.
"Perhaps, but there is no way to tell where they could have gone. So we were her family. We all thought of each other as family, to be honest."
He fell silent, memories of the past momentarily overtaking him. Tirinia must have misunderstood his nostalgia for sadness; she bowed her head and said, "I'm sorry to bring up old ghosts."
"I'm glad you did." When she looked at him in surprise, he continued, "It's been on my mind ever since I first saw you. If your fur was white, the two of you would've passed for twins. You have her strength, her kindness, and even a bit of her attitude at times."
She watched him silently, waiting, perhaps sensing his need to explain.
After wrestling with it for a few moments, he said, "But you aren't her. You aren't Maria."
"Is … is that wrong?" She asked hesitantly.
Mikaen looked at her, startled. "No! No, of course not!" He put his arms around her as he continued, "I like you just the way you are! You're fantastic!"
She blushed, but didn't look away.
Smiling somewhat weakly, Mikaen continued, "I just don't want you to think you have to be Maria."
A shy smile spread across her face. "I know."
"You … you do?"
"I could feel how uncomfortable you felt when Jyle called me Maria." She took his hand and set it on her chest, above her heart. Her gorgeous purple eyes caught his and held them fast as she said, "This is me, Mikaen: Tirinia Aerith Myssohn. I'm not trying to be Maria, I promise."
Letting go of his hand, she said, "If I seem a bit different now, it's ... well, I've always been shy around new people. It's when I get comfortable that they see how annoying I really am."
"Oh?" Mikaen said, grinning, "How annoying are you?"
"When I get nervous or excited, I talk too much." She looked down at her hands. "Teria says I ramble like a Rimstakken."
"Does that bother you?" asked Mikaen.
"A little." She hugged her knees to her chest. "I got picked on a lot at school because of it."
Mikaen didn't remember going to school (or if he had gone at all, for that matter), but if his time in the Knights had taught him anything, it was how cruel people in general could be to someone just for being different.
He rubbed her cheek, saying, "You can talk until the suns die out, and I wouldn't care. I like the sound of your voice."
"You say that now, but-"
He kissed her gently on her lips. It took her by surprise, but Mikaen could feel her happiness swelling in her chest.
She gave him that wonderful shy smile of hers as she slipped her hand into his again. "I'm hungry. Let's go get something to eat."
"Sounds good to me," said Mikaen, giving her hand a squeeze.