Kharaad listened to the sound of his footfalls, he had walked thirty-nine miles today but he had learned that distance was only relative, relative to faith. Faith could cross any distance—faith, he knew, was absolute. With faith he would turn the Cyr'mi from their ways and lead them to The Daughter's Land.
Three years ago when he had passed his eighteenth year and so into manhood Damhas had come to him and told him what he was and what he must be.
It was on this time that his thoughts now focused. Damhas had come from the temple and spoken briefly to his father, what he had said Kharaad had never known and supposed it likely that he never would. Whatever it was, his father had obviously seen some merit in it for, at day break the following day, he had escorted Kharaad to the Divine Temple of The Holy Order Cr'mdas and given him over to Damhas. He may have resented this at the time but the only thing worthy of resentment was the arrogance and conceit of his people. Damhas had explained to him how the Cyr'mi were becoming forgetful of the true path, he had told the young man of how he had been advisor to the clan leader—Rakeem and how they had searched for the Holy Land until he died from an unknown illness. The Priest had also divulged to Kharaad the way in which his people had become reticent in their faith and ceased their search choosing instead to settle and attempt to live off the unclean desert earth in the way of the heathen.
A small bead of perspiration caused the whole town to become blurred and convex before him. He swiped his hand across his face, wiping the sweat from his countenance which once must have been white but was now browned and even red in some places from the rays of the sun. The small minaret atop the temple was making a futile reach for the heavens and the base was lost in a shimmering haze that the Cyr'mi referred to as Trind'f which, in the Old Tongue, meant simply Journey's End. Kharaad would look upon those Cyr'mi that referred to it that way nowadays with spite as they were no longer toiling, sweating, reaching for the horizon in the endless quest for fulfilment and the appeasement of the Holy Daughter.
These thoughts occupied the space between the dull thud of every heartbeat, each one bringing new pain but also bringing new confirmation of the unshakeable resolve instilled in him by Damhas and the power of the Daughter. The subconscious effort of continually placing one foot before the other came to a halt as Kharaad felt stone beneath his feet. He gazed up at the tall imposing figure of the High Priest.
"Welcome" said Damhas. Kharaad said nothing and stood lost in an almost paralytic state of exhaustion.
"The way of the Cr'mdas is to speak when hailed before your elders" the Priest intoned.
"Hi" said Kharaad, then, sensing this to be insufficient, added "I trust the Daughter looks well upon our land.
"The Daughter looks well upon our land but does not see us upon it." replied Damhas. Kharaad nodded and anger overrode his weariness:
"I will seek out those that defile the daughter and send them to their graves!" declared Kharaad in a sudden fit of delirious anger.
"No. Now you must rest and prepare for tonight's lesson—".
But suddenly the younger man had forgotten everything and was shouting. "I swore to be ceaseless in my service and cease now I will not!" Damhas' vicious backhand sweep brought him to his knees, perspiration was pouring down Kharaad's face and his breathing was furiously accelerated.
"Sleep is not a ceasing of your duties but a time in which the Daughter may speak to you and your spirit may be replenished" Damhas stated coldly. His hard exterior, however, hid a feeling of guilt; he looked down at the shivering form of Kharaad, cold with shock. He knew, as he had always known, that Kharaad's body couldn't cope with the concentration of amphetamines and stimulants he was feeding it. It was an inadequate frame to house such a great honour, as had been the last one. This time though Damhas had time to work and knew that a body of faith was as good as any of flesh and bone. He learned from his mistakes; Rhakeem had been too old. Damhas had started Rhakeem's tuition at twenty-nine and only two years later he had died of what only Damhas knew to be massive internal haemorrhaging.
Damhas looked down at the now limp figure of his latest student and in a fit of pity carried him to his bed in the temple's left wing.
That evening the two men sat opposite each other in the temple's main chamber.
"Kharaad what I witnessed today was a sign that you are not yet ready to perform your ultimate duty" the Priest told the young man. Kharaad said nothing he merely bowed his head in acknowledgement of the truth in Damhas' words.
"Your training must be continued although we only have twenty days until the time of Garneej, then you must be anointed or I fear the people will sink to far into their own conceit ever to be retrieved. You must go from here and prepare; I will be waiting for you in the upper chamber in ten days time. I have no interest in you until then, when you will come to me and I will reveal to you the true wonders of the Daughter and the Order.
Kharaad left the temple wondering why Damhas always spoke like the people in the Scriptures. He never used plain, normal language but instead was always ready to spring forward some proverb or deep thought provoking sentiment. This must have been the hundredth time this thought had occurred to him lately but this time, an answer materialised almost instantly. Damhas spoke as if he was in the Scriptures because he was in the Scriptures; all of the High Priests were merely an embodiment of the Daughter. Damhas was the same as all the Priests written of in the Scriptures, simply in a different physical form. Damhas was, in a sense, immortal. This thought shocked Kharaad but slowly his shock changed and an utter conviction more compelling than anything he had ever felt before welled up inside him. Starting in his stomach and slowly consuming whole body in a sensation of true enlightenment—when the time of anointment came he would be ready, he would cast away the shadows of complacency and lead his people into a new era.
Kharaad strode through the town towards the temple, as he walked he encountered a group of Cyr'mi labouring to install a pipe; part of the system intended to distribute water amongst the people. One of them noticed the athletic looking man and called to him:
"Can you come n give us an and with this pipe?" Kharaad proceeded over to the large hole around which were gathered a dozen or so men all struggling to guide a length of steel piping to its correct location. Another man was attempting to co-ordinate the situation. "Thanks, you want to watch your back though, it's hard work."
"Work!" yelled Kharaad "This is the work of the misguided! We are sworn to wander now you defile our purity and defy our Goddess. Get to the ground and eat from it like the heathen." So saying Kharaad brought his open hand down upon the man's shoulder shattering his collarbone with an audible crunch.
The unfortunate workman howled in pain as he dropped to the dry desert earth. Kharaad turned and walked away.
"Hey, get your bloody hell-bound arse back over here now" shouted another workman. Kharaad turned to see the enraged man bearing down on him wielding some sort of large metal implement. Instantly Kharaad had the man's weapon arm in a crushing grip with his left hand and a second later drove his fist into the man's nose sending shattered fragments of bone spearing their way through the upstart's cerebral cortex.
Kharaad once again walked away, this time uninterrupted and trudged up that temple steps oblivious to the crimson blemishes in the polished floor left by his sanguinary right hand.
"Greetings." said Damhas and made a point of not offering his hand to Kharaad in welcome. The young man was ushered into the washroom by the Priest he was a first mystified until he noticed the state of his hand. He washed it immediately then made the sign of the daughter across his face and down his left arm. It was, as he well knew, a sin to carry unholy blood to the temple chambers.
"Come my son", Damhas lead the pensive Kharaad through to the inner sanctum. Pensive because he had never been inside that part of the temple, indeed only the High Priest had entered that place during Kharaad's lifetime.
Damhas indicated a chair set beside the High Altar and Kharaad was seated as asked. The older man positioned himself on a stall opposite.
The Altar now before Kharaad was intricate in carving and design and stained with the blood of a hundred sacrifices. His mind wandered back to the men outside, they had paid for their blasphemy it was their blood that now lay upon this Altar, it was their blood that had lain upon it for generations. Generations ago it had, of course been carried by teams of eight men on a giant rostrum. They were the fittest, the strongest, the most devoted in their service—
"Kharaad" Damhas' soft voice—soft only with respect, for normally it was harsh with the wear of many years—cut into his thoughts.
"You understand it is only ten days until your anointment?" It was a rhetorical question, he had been born for that day; it was the only meaning to his life. "Before that day comes there are things that I must show you, this being the first" he continued. Damhas reached forward and grasped the Altar, his hands contorted in a surprising show of suppleness. There was the small but distinct sound of a latch in perfect order after decades of inactivity. He raised his hands and a section of the Altar lifted off. He caught his breath suddenly for what now confronted him was something he never believed he would see. He looked at the Priest.
"It is." said Damhas in simple confirmation.
"I thought that the heathens took them all"
"They did. All but this one" Slowly he carefully lifted a piece of parchment from the edifice.
"This is the only piece of the original Scriptures remaining to the Cyr'mi, it is also unique in that it contains something that, amongst the thousands of its kind, has only been seen once."
Kharaad sat in awed silence.
"You have read the Scriptures" The Priest's statement was just that as he already knew the answer.
"Then you know that they contain no prophecies" continued Damhas
"Yes, only truth"
"Truth yes, but in this page there is written a truth of the future"
This said Damhas proceeded to relate the contents of a small part of the page to Kharaad.
"And It shall, with Its final cry, silence that which is conceited and has grown arrogant within itself. It shall bring ultimate salvation to the Cyr'mi and those of the Order Cr'mdas. Upon those that would condemn them It will bring fiery damnation"
"What is the holy object of which the Scriptures speak?" Asked Kharaad his features focused intently on the Priest.
"That is the second thing which I must show you"
With another contorted manipulation of the Altar, Damhas wrenched the whole upper section of the block away. Kharaad stared at what he saw.
A titanium-cast SIG-Sauer P228 semi-automatic handgun with strips of platinum picking out the sides of the barrel. Damhas picked it up slotted the single clip into the base of the exquisitely made weapon. It was immaculate; better cast and shaped than any piece of equipment he had ever seen. Better even than the Colt Government .45 sitting in the safe at the back of the armoury to the south.
The High Priest proffered it handle-first to the young man. He closed his hand around it and admired the balance thinking of the holy duty it must one day perform.
"You must go now and speak to the people" said Damhas "they need to see that The Daughters way is not lost."
"They have already seen, the workmen made adequate examples."
"No-one knows about the workmen, it would not be good to allow that sort of news to escape prematurely. All their colleagues died in a freak accident at my request."
"Why?" shouted Kharaad suddenly jumping to his feet. "Why, you tell me why the people shouldn't see the truth. They should know the truth, they should be allowed to see the way The Daughter punishes the sacrilegious" Kharaad was now screaming a fierce anger blazed in his eyes and Damhas felt a shock run cold through his blood. He knew that look, it was the look of an animal as it is leaping for its prey, it was the look of a beserker closing in for one glorious victory, it was the look of a man boiling over into insanity and he was out of control.
"You. You are the only one who does not see! You will never see. You will only see the bloody damnation of the worthless, heathen's, HELL!"
The anger in his eyes now consumed his young body; he burned with searing fury. The pure, insane anger radiating from his body drove Damhas back against the wall. Speechless, thoughtless Kharaad strode forward. He raised the gun and then spoke:
"Daughter, bless this moment"
"No. Stop, hold yourself." Damhas moved towards the young man and seized his arm. But, Kharaad was no longer a young man, he was a monster with the power of fury ebbing and flowing within him. As Damhas grasped his arm he felt the inhuman blood of insanity pulsing through Kharaad's flesh.
In an instant Kharaad had flung the High Priest off his arm and sent him reeling back into the wall.
"In the gaze of The Daughter may the prophecy be fulfilled" shouted Kharaad steadying the holy weapon.
The bullet entered the old man's abdomen. Blood splattered up the inner sanctum's rear wall, Damhas dropped to the floor—a grotesque hole gaping in his back where the bullet had left the body. An anguished groan escaped the High Priest's mouth.
"Silence!" yelled Kharaad. He kicked the still whining Damhas over onto his back and blasted a shot into the front of the crippled figure's neck at point blank range.
Everything went black for both men at once.
But whilst the world of Damhas faded through shades of black into an eternal void, Kharaad wiped the warm blood from his eyes and looked down at the contorted frame of Damhas. Its head horribly disjointed, torn from the body and lying open at the base of the skull where the projectile,s passage had left its fatal mark.
Kharaad laid down the weapon upon altar—gifting fresh blood to the sacrificial platform—and made his way to the temple steps where people who had heard the gunshot were beginning to gather. There were shouts of accusation and gasps of horror as the bloody image of a young man emerged from the darkness of the dilapidated structure that passed for a temple.
"Hear me, people" Kharaad's voice carried across the barren desert. " Today a sacrifice has been made to The Daughter. The Daughter, whose way you are forgetting. You have become arrogant, you believe that you can create here in this shit-hole anything to rival the beauty of the Holy Land. Well, let me tell you, you're wrong! And in your conceit you have angered The Daughter, you have brought such wrath upon the Cyr'mi that today the High Priest Damhas himself is sacrificed"
He paused at this point allowing the gathered masses to absorb his words and recognise the truth in them.
"Now I will lead you to a new age, I will lead you to the Holy Land, we will go forward as one and we will be victorious" he spoke loudly and clearly completely convinced of his cause and he knew that finally he had reached the time that he had lived for. From now on he knew that his faith would lead him. He felt a cold wave of ecstasy flow through him, his whole body lightened and he lifted his hand in salute and shouted:
"Onwards in the name of The Daughter and the Holy Order Cr'mdas. May the Cyr'mi find the Holy Land and live forever in The Daughter's eyes"
He looked down at the crowd; some shouting, some cheering, some merely standing transfixed. Then walking through the assorted Cyr'mi came a figure. Walking serenely through the confusion. Her neat mincing step set her garments flicking about her heels, her elegant body twisting inside the clothes that hung over her shapely curves. It was Chareeda, he loved her still, he had had to leave her to serve The Daughter but now he would return to her and turn her to the true path. The true path that they would walk together. She would understand, she would see now that he had seen the future of the Cyr'mi. He stood lost in her beauty, lost in thoughts of their future together in the pursuit of ultimate salvation.
He reached his hand out to her as if to bridge the gap between them. She too raised her hand.
Her hand was red, red with the blood that ran down her arm—crimson against her skin. The hot desert sun glinted on the platinum and burned shining lines down the titanium barrel. She continued to raise her arm until she pointed at Kharaad the sunlight piercing his eyes until she appeared only as an image in a dazzling white light. She spoke, only in a whisper but it carried the hundred feet to Kharaad with perfect clarity:
"We have had many heroes—many righteous leaders. We don't need another"
Then the shot rang out. There was blood, yes. And pain and shouting, but as Kharaad dropped to the ground, his heart punctured, he thought only one thought, not of love or hate, nor of The Daughter or of his life. One simple fact sung itself in his head. The last piece of knowledge remaining to him. He knew she was right.