by Kale Night

The walk to the temple was begrudgingly taken on days of prayer, but today Keita didn't dread reaching their destination. He'd seen the things Auryn could do with energy and had distant memories of Reisen using powers other than his own to treat the wounded, more interested in arcane medicine and strange plants than his family.

The holograph towers were malfunctioning, replacing a pastoral wonderland with rock walls. A jarring reminder of reality. Several men in white coats stood around scratching their heads, trying to figure out what made the projectors stop working. The air had a stale tinge, but it was pleasantly warm. At least their climate controls were fully functional.

They paused at the entrance to the temple to remove their shoes, following the sound of running water to the worship hall. Holy water flowed from rows of gold bowls, emptying into a sacred pool for use in purification rituals and blessings. They walked past rows of pews, each equipped with its own coil of barbed wire, wrapped around the fingers of a parishioner to drive away impious thoughts. Once the mind was purified, or the sermon was over - whichever came first - bloodied hands were washed in the healing waters of the fountain and rinsed clean of injury.

There was no smoking inside the temple and Keita chewed his bottom lip in the absence of a cigarette, anxiety twisting sharp knots in his chest. He drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly, over and over again. Unfamiliar situations and settings amplified the feeling of constant, irrational panic. All he could do was trust Auryn wouldn't subject him to this without good reason, and did so implicitly. He felt safest with Auryn, the only thing standing between him and a full-blown panic attack.

Auryn knew better than to ask if he was okay. Keita would only get defensive and deny the obvious. He was okay. He was fine. It was only his own body turning against him, fighting him from the inside, filling him with unnecessary fire.

A private chapel stood to the left of the vestry, accessible only through an armed door. Auryn keyed in the code and ushered him inside, "You can smoke in here, if you want."

"The Gods won't strike me dead?" asked Keita, fumbling for a cigarette with shaking hands.

Auryn smiled at him. "They'll have to get through me first."