Arys had been riding the whole night. He rode his horse long and hard, and his whole body was sore by now. The night air was below freezing, and he was chilled to the bone, but he pressed on. They were almost to the temple. Once they arrived, he could rest.
After the king died, the High Serjient had marched on Ause with the army of Cori. Kiyye, the seneschal, was the rightful ruler until the heir could be installed on the throne, but the High Serjient butchered the heir and sent Kiyye and the few serjiens loyal to her fleeing with little more than their retinue and the clothing on their back — and reasonably so. He had the bigger army, and he was determined to claim the throne for himself. Aria had been Kiyye’s personal assistant, and she was loyal to her, but Arys convinced her that they needed to flee for their lives. They could seek sanctuary in the temple of the Radiants, he knew — or at least, he had been told — and that was where they were going. Regardless of whether or not they were simply servants, they knew that the High Serjient would not simply kill the people of importance. According to rumor, the man had once set a whole village aflame and butchered everyone indiscriminately — man, woman, and child — to kill a few rogue brigadiers of Aia. Joranil il Cori had been wise to keep him on a leash; he was the king’s dog, the type you give your unwanted (but necessary) business to so you can keep your own hands clean. With the death of Joranil, the High Serjient was given greater freedom by his son, Joranil’kka. And now the dynasty of Cori was ended. Joranil’s son was dead, the throne was in contest, and the High Serjient would kill all the servants of the hold, every last one of them, and install his own.
So they fled.
Arys had a really hard time convincing Aria to leave Kiyye behind, but in the end she came around. She was prepared to die for Kiyye, but she would not leave him; and he was not prepared to die. Not for Kiyye, at least. Maybe for Aria, but he didn’t tell her that.
He was driving the horse too hard, and she was behind him, with her arms wrapped around his waist. She should be driving the horse — as a synthetic, she couldn’t get tired or sore from it — but she had grown up in Ish, the greatest city of Ynodiu, and had almost no experience riding horses. Arys, on the other hand, had grown up in Aedrol, and had to ride horses every day to commute. It must have been nice growing up in Ish, despite the large-scale poverty and the fact that the city was practically ruled by the post-mortal.
They had entered the city now. It was night time, and not a soul was out in the street, so he rode hard. The moons were out, and one of them was full, so they had just enough light to see where they were going. Riders from Cori were probably hot on his trail, but he was safe now. He doubted they would so much as enter the city, but he wasn’t going to stake his life on that assumption, so he rode hard. The temple wasn’t much further.
Religion had always left a bad taste in Arys’ mouth. He had never wanted to join the Radiants, but he had to. Nobody would dare touch a member of the temple, the Radiants were too powerful, too dangerous. If the High Serjient killed a member of the temple’s retinue, he could just as well consider his life forfeit. He might not be found dead the next week, or even the next month. But some way, somehow, the temple would get him, and he would be burned at the pyre. The second king of Aia had suffered much the same fate, and that was before the temple had grown into its current power. Arys and Aria would be safe with the Radiants, he knew.
They had reached the temple. He climbed off first before helping Aria get down. His feet landed on a patch of ice, which broke under his weight, soaking his feet in the ice-cold puddle of water that was below it. He cursed and stepped out of the puddle.
“This is the Radiant Temple?” Aria asked as he tied up the horse.
“This is it. The Radiant Temple,” Arys said as he motioned with his hands toward the temple. “Magnificent, isn’t it?”
“Oh yeah, it’s definitely impressive. It’s just— I was expecting something... bigger,” Aria said, “more imposing.”
“It seems bigger on the inside,” he said as he made his way up the stairs and toward the wrought-iron doors. “Trust me.”
Two wardens were standing to either side of the temple entrance. “Excuse me,” Arys said, “we are here to seek sanctuary in the temple.”
The warden was trying to stand tall and imposing, but he was a rather short man, so it just made him look funny. “To be given sanctuary, you must be admitted to the temple retinue. Are you two prepared to serve His Radiance?”
“We are. We— we don’t have any other choice,” Arys said before wincing at himself. That was the wrong thing to say.
Thankfully, the warden didn’t seem to mind. “Very well, I’ll let you into the temple. Head down the main corridor and hang the first left. Then, take a right, and claim an empty room for yourselves. Tomorrow morning, talk to any one of the priests about joining the temple retinue.”
The warden opened the door for them, and they made their way inside. Arys was impressed with what he saw. It was just as he remembered it from so many years ago. A hundred candles lined the polished chrome walls to either side, casting a hundred looming shadows off their bodies in either direction. He heard Aria gasp behind him. “You were right,” she said. “It is more impressive on the inside.” They made their way down the main corridor at the end of the entrance hall, hung a left, and then a right. There were a number of empty rooms to either side of the corridor. A couple of them were occupied — which was made evident by the closed doors — but most of them were open. They took the second room. It was small, almost cramped, with a small bed shoved against the far wall. It was almost too small for a single person, much less for the both of them.
“You can take the bed,” he said to Aria. In truth, she didn’t need a bed — she could power herself down anywhere — but he had been told that a synthetic person’s sensory inputs were designed to experience comfort or discomfort. Plus, it would objectively be shitty of him to take the bed for himself without offering it to her at all. He really wanted to rest his weary body on a proper mattress, but he loved Aria, and it was only right that he give her the bed.
“No, that’s alright. I don’t need it.”
“Are you sure? I genuinely don’t want the bed,” he lied, “like, I have no preference. If you want the bed you can have it.”
“I want you to have the bed,” she insisted. “That is my preference.”
He didn’t continue to argue. He had offered her the bed, so now nobody could say he was selfish for taking it. “Alright,” he said as he climbed into the bed, still in his wet clothes. Aria sat down on the floor. There were two thin blankets over the bedsheets. “Here, you can have one of the blankets.”
“Thanks,” she said, accepting the blanket. She laid down on her side, shifted a little bit, pulled the blanket over herself, and powered off.
It must have been nice to control being able to fall asleep, Arys thought as he himself drifted off to sleep. Arys smiled. They had made it. He was finally safe.