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RANDTS will last a thousand years.

- Albert

Chapter 1. The Stone Floor

I lay prone and exhausted on the floor, arms by my sides, the smooth stone against my forehead hard but pleasantly cold. I was midway into the last hour of prayer for the day, the hour of The Prayer of Repose, and I could feel the polished stone chilling my sweat and pulling the excess heat from my body. I remained motionless in my thin white Initiate robe. After the previous grueling hour of The Prayer of Weakness, it would be so easy to drift and relax and dream. But that would be a fatal mistake.

I am Ilias, and tomorrow will be the first day of The Holy's Year 8235 and the beginning of the 52rd year of the reign of Abdul Quddus, the 83th Great Cunif Califar and First Servant of the Holy. The numbers signify a year of Jubilee. It will also be the year I reach twenty-one years of age, and as such tomorrow I will be at the last of the three great gates of my childhood. In two days I will either be an adult or dead.

The faint sounds of my classmates' breathings are totally ignored. My senses are tuned to one purpose, to detect the presence of Fateen as he walks among the Initiates in his clothed feet. He is Citizen-Level 13, only three levels below royalty, and it is somewhat unusual for such a high ranking Priest to work as Imul with children. But Fateen loves his work, and he is a master of silent walking.

When I was very young, two years before my eighth year and the first of my childhood gates, a group of my classmates and I had quietly discussed Fateen's age. Recklessly ignoring the danger of the conversation, we had all concluded he must be at least a hundred years old, and probably much more. It was impossible to tell by outward appearance of course. With the anti-aging drugs, Fateen looked exactly the same as when he completed his own journey from child to adult. But to all of us though, the image of Fateen as child was beyond our comprehensions.

There has been no detectable sound, but I sensed the vibrations of footfalls along the stone, and then, stillness. Fateen was standing a meter in front of me. I did not have to open my eyes to know upon whom his gaze was fixed. For all the hundreds of Initiates in my class, only I had never received demotion in Open Prayer. In all the years, I was the only Initiate Fateen had never managed to trip up, and we both knew tonight was his last chance. I focused myself in a Prayer of Suspension, and kept my heartbeat slow and resting.

There was the slightest sound of a touch as Fateen's onyx rod came upon the Summoning Apex of the stone before me. My head snapped up in obedience with my eyes wide open, alert and bright. Any sign of drowsiness now would be a sign of drifting and impure thoughts. Such a mark of weakness so close to my control gate could well be a fatal handicap in my imminent competition for survival with my classmates. By holy Law, one tenth of Initiates do not survive each childhood gate. I gazed into Fateen's eyes and waited for his test.

"Ilias, describe the holiness of the digits."

I kept all expression of surprise from my face. Fateen had asked me a question proper for a child approaching his first gate, not his third. Any slip now with such a simple question would be a disaster. I quoted verbatim from my earliest Catechisms.

"The digits two, three, five, and eight are holy, ordained by the Holy for His Greatness. The digits four, six, and nine are the digits of the Earth, not directly holy but formed by holy products. The digits zero, one, and seven can not be the product of holiness, and thus must be the digits of Shaitan."

"Ah, very good young Ilias. But how do we know this is true?"

A dangerous question to ask, especially for someone below royal level. But it was an even more dangerous question for an Initiate not to answer. I worked to keep my voice calm as I spoke the correct affirmation from The Book of Bel'dar. "Because it has been preached, and the Holy is One, and Bel'dar is His one true preacher. Thus he preached, therefore thus he preaches."

Fateen stared at me, his eyes hard and cold. I returned his stare in obedience, and almost didn't catch the slight lifting of his rod off my Apex. I immediately snapped my head down and closed my eyes. There was the softest of sounds as the rod gently touched the stone again. Damn him! His summoning call was far softer than appropriate. But it would be hard to debate the issue if I were dead. My eyes snapped up and locked with his. I watched him glare at me.

"And what is the order of the day?"

Another question from my early youth, this one going so far back my response came from my nursery days, when females encapsulated in blue body coverings watched and cared for us as the priests taught their lessons. I replied immediately. "The order of the day is based on the holiness of two, three, and eight. One third of our time is for The Holy, one third for Earth, and one third for Shaitan. The holiness of two divides the Holy time into morning prayers and evening prayers."

"And what is the direction of the day?"

"The four morning prayers take us from Shaitan to Holy. Then in a state of Holy grace, we work eight hours for our masters the Priesthood and the Guilds. The four evening prayers return us from Holy to Shaitan, leaving us eight hours to dream in his low impurity."

"And what are the names and directions of the prayers?"

"The morning direction is mind to body to church to Holy. The names of the four hours are The Prayer of Ascension, The Prayer of Purification, The Prayer of Wonder, and the Prayer of Counted Failings. The evening direction is the reverse, from Holy to church to body to mind. The evening prayers are The Prayer of Uncounted Failings, The Prayer of Joy, The Prayer of Weakness, and the Prayer of Repose."

The rod left the Apex. My head snapped down. There was the faintest whisper of a click. My eyes and head snapped back up, none of my internal fury visible upon my face.

"Tell me Ilias," Fateen whispered without a sound, moving only his lips. "You are the top student. There's no doubt you'll pass tomorrow. We're all expecting you to book the run. How far will you ride the lion?"

Was he mad?! To begin chatting as an Initiate during Prayer, especially about personal ambition, would mean instant death. And yet, not to respond on point to such a direct question would also disqualify me from adulthood. Did he really hate me that much? If I spoke to such a question, even with my lips alone, my death was assured; and his also, once the security videos of this conversation were reviewed by the local execution council. But if I remained silent, it would be up to Fateen to decide whether to press a charge of disobedient silence against me.

I realized my Imul had entwined us, both of us holding both our lives in our hands. I had first choice, to decide whether we both would die, or if we both had a chance to live. If I voted in silence for life, both our fates were in Fateen's hands. I stared at him and thought, "Perhaps he missed his last chance for promotion, or perhaps he is so old the anti-aging drugs are about to fail anyway. Does he hate me so much, that he will drag me down with him into oblivion?"

I had no wish to die. My mouth remained closed, my lips unmoving. I waited for Fateen's decision.

The rod left the stone. My head snapped back down. After a timeless period of utter silence, I heard the whisper of my Imul's dry voice. "Excellent Ilias. Your discipline serves you well." I sensed the faint clothed footfalls moving on.

4 mad rant(s):

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  1. Arbitary Juggernaut said...

    Part one of a mini novel im writing.

    Please please please tell me what you think :D

    Think Cradle the year 7960 AA (after apocalypse)


  2. Comrade Cripple said...

    Your story reminds me of Warhammer 40k, Final Fantasy X, Equilibrium and Berserk. Very good indeed.  

  3. Arbitary Juggernaut said...

    Well... I try. ;D

    Prob is there seems to be nobody bothering to read it.

    Oh well...


  4. stmaverick said...


    I like this story very much. Actually, I love it! Particularly the fact that you've thought out some elements of this religion. I'd be interested to know more about this religion as well.

    Will there be elements of skullduggery that threaten the people of this religion? Or another religion vying with it for power and influence?

    Whatever you cook up next, I'm definitely looking forward to the sequel. =)



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