oun Shi’ehl Ei’dhar leaned his back against the wall of his cabin and panted. He pressed his hand hard to the wound at his side. He had managed to kill the Deuil who had attacked him, but the wound was grave, and he was losing a lot of blood. With a moan, he slid down the curved wall of the ship and sat down, managing to pull his tail up before his bottom connected with the floor. He needed water and he needed to stitch his wound, but his energy was swiftly depleting. He felt lightheaded and dizzy.
He rested for a few minutes then got on all fours and began to crawl towards the door. He moaned and stopped, closing his eyes against the wave of darkness that threatened to pull him under. He was panting fast, his tail whipping around frantically. He prayed as he began to crawl again, more slowly this time.
The door to his cabin slid open and there was a gasp.
“You’re wounded!” his cabin mate, oun Benska, hissed. “Lie still. I’ll stitch your wound.”
oun Ei’dhar lay on his back gazing distantly at the ceiling.
oun Benska moved away, rummaging through his belongings before hurrying back with a curved needle and thread.
“Let’s see,” oun Benska said, pushing Ei’dhar’s hand away. “Ayi! But it looks like it only hit muscle. Good, good. Now, lie still and let me work.”
oun Ei’dhar fought to maintain consciousness. He hardly felt the pain as his cabin mate sewed the wound.
“Tell me what happened,” he gasped. “Why were the priests of Ya’ih-Ael attacked?”
oun Benska made a sound in his throat. “The Deuil have rebelled. Against the Gods and the order.” He shook his head. “And we worried about the nieh boueli.”
oun Ei’dhar turned his head to look at his friend, even though his sight was darkening at the edges. “They have won?”
“Ye,” oun Benska muttered and again shook his head. “Ye, they have won. I don’t know about the other arks, though, oun Shi’ehl. Only this one. It has been difficult to find out what is happening. All is chaos on this ark.” He bent down to cut the thread with his teeth.
The yank on his wound made Ei’dhar gasp. He bit back a mewl and watched distantly as Benska went to the altar, where he laid the needle and filled a bowl with filtered water and carried it back to where Ei’dhar lay. He knelt, lifting Ei’dhar’s head and feeding him the tepid, tasteless water.
“I will assist you to your sleeping mat, oun Ei’dhar,” Benska murmured.
“I must go and–” He mewled in distress. “We can’t give up!”
“Ne,” oun Benska told him. “It is done. Here, up with you.”
The world tipped precariously as oun Benska assisted him to rise, holding most of his weight and half dragging him to his mat. oun Benksa covered him with the furs. He then sat crosslegged on the floor next to the mat.
“I think you should rest, oun Ei’dhar,” oun Benska told him. “We will talk after you wake. I will clean this room while you rest.”
oun Ei’dhar closed his eyes. The darkness behind his eyes swirled and spun and he panted his distress, afraid of vomiting the water he had just consumed. Gripping the edges of the sleeping mat, he centered himself, taking great gulps of air. After a while, exhaustion won out and he lost consciousness.
oun Ei’dhar opened his eyes. He walked upon a world of obsidian rock and red skies filled with violet clouds. The mountains rose, black as space, looming to the west. A strange, oily ocean roiled to the east. The air had no odor and no temperature.
Where am I? he asked in his mind.
You are on the planet where I was born, Ya’ihone. I am your God.
oun Ei’dhar looked around, but nothing lived in that desolate world.
Why have I been brought here?
My time is not finished. We must now go into hiding, like it was once before. The God of the world you have found is too strong; we must proceed with care lest I be wiped from history.
oun Ei’dhar straightened his back. I am your priest! You will not be forgotten!
Proceed with care, Ya’ihone. There is no place for pride in survival. Upon you I place the order to go and find five others who believe as you do. Practice my faith in secret and silence. Sacrifice animals only. One day we will return to greatness, but the time is not now. One day the ground will be sopping wet with the blood of higher beings, but that time is not now. I choose you, oun Ei’dhar, as my prophet and High Priest. You will write my commandments in your blood and the blood of believers. I will come to you in dreams, so be aware and remember what you see.
Ye, ean sk’oi.
Find one who is not you to enter among the unbelievers as a spy. Infiltrate their ranks and bide your time. I will reveal to you what you must do. For now, survive and become strong. I will find a way, Yai’hone, to grow strong. Allow me time to circumvent this god of this world. I have done it before. I might be able to do it within your lifetime.
Ye, ean sk’oi!
He came to hours later, weak as a newborn kit, his throat and mouth parched.
oun Benska shifted and peered down at him. “How do you feel, oun Ei’dhar?”
“Water,” he croaked.
oun Benska lifted his head and fed him water. He drank his fill before rising on his elbow. He already felt stronger.
“The God visited me while I slept,” he told his friend. “We will continue to worship in hiding, writing down His commandments in our blood.” He looked at his friend. “Help me rise.”
Once on his feet, it only took him a few minutes to become steady.
He thought for a moment, going through his memory for the most devout of the oun Shi’ehl he knew. “Bring me oun Tamos, oun Efreit, oun Sabos’h, and oun Itilehn,” he told his friend. “We must prepare for the future.”
oun Benska bowed. “Ye, High Priest.”
oun Ei’dhar watched as his friend hurried away. He went to the refrigeration unit and withdrew a bowl of meat. He consumed it with ravenous hunger, tearing the flesh until it was gone. Then he drank more water.
He sat on the prayer rug and waited for his friends.
They arrived a few minutes later. Wordlessly, they sat in a semicircle before him.
“I have been asked by Ya’ih-Ael to gather to me my priests. I have chosen you. We will proceed with stealth and patience,” he told them. “I will receive new commandments in my dreams. We must write them in a new holy book in blood. Our blood. That is covenant with the Lord.”
oun Sabos’h, the youngest of them, shifted. “The time of Ya’ih-Ael is past.”
oun Ei’dhar showed his teeth. The youngster flinched.
oun Ei’dhar chose his words carefully. “If you abandon the God, you will not live long.”
oun Sabos’h bowed his head. “Forgive me.”
oun Ei’dhar nodded, making a mental note to keep an eye on the young oun Shi’ehl.
“I have chosen you for your faith in the God and your purity,” oun Ei’dhar told them. “Do not fail the God. You do so at your peril.”
“Ye, Yai’hone,” they murmured.
“How will we sacrifice to the God?” oun Benska asked.
“The God wants animal sacrifices for now,” oun Ei’dhar told him. “We will grow the faithful in silence. We will convert the many in darkness.”
oun Itilehn leaned forward. “We are to live in an island filled with jungles. We will find a way to kill for Him.”
“No higher beings at first,” oun Ei’dhar warned. “We are too few. If one goes missing, it will be apparent. The God has given his order and we must abide. Have kits. Many kits. Teach them in darkness, so we may grow our numbers. One day, the order will be given and we will be victorious.”
oun Ei’dhar did not say that the God of the world was stronger than Ya’ih. It would not do to reveal such knowledge. As his worshipers grew in numbers, Ya’ih would grow in strength. He had no doubt of that.
He looked at oun Benska. “There will be a new council on the planet that will rule. You must become part of that council.”
“I, High Priest?”
“Ye. That is your task, to infiltrate and gather intel. Influence those you can, but most of our new believers will come from our own wombs.”
He looked at the others. “The God will reveal your roles to me in time. Be patient and know He acknowledges you.”
He rose smoothly. “Now, we will leave the ship with the rest of the populace. We will find the weaknesses of the inhabitants of this world and our descendants will conquer them. We will leave a blueprint for them to follow. Rise. We’ve work to do.”
His priests left to gather their belongings and oun Ei’dhar washed at the altar, pulling on clean robes. Summoning two nieh boueli, he had them carry his crate from the room. He followed them until they found the rest of the inhabitants of the ship. They were drawing lots to see when they would be leaving the ship on the shuttles.
The aun Deuil were prancing around, proud and victorious, and oun Ei’dhar had to pray to keep his head. The orders were given and he returned to his cabin to pack whatever belongings he would be allowed to bring. He packed the majority of his clothes and blank tomes, ink wells, ink and pens. They would not need the old holy books. They would write new ones.
Before he was allowed to take his belongings into the shuttle, two aun Deuili examined the contents of the trunk. oun Ei’dhar bristled but said nothing as the filthy soldiers touched everything he had packed away.
When they were finished, oun Ei’dhar commanded two nieh boueli to pick up the trunk and carry it to the shuttle bay. He followed them, ruminating on what he had learned thus far. The arks would be landed on the moon and hidden in vast caves there. One day, the Sha’jeen might again take to the stars, but oun Ei’dhar thought they might forget what they knew. One day they would forget they had ever traveled the cosmos.
He watched the nieh boueli set his trunk against the wall of the storage area of the shuttle. He turned and headed to the passenger area, finding a seat next to oun Benska. The oun Shi’ehli listened passively as an aun Deuil gave them instructions for when they reached their new home. The aun Deuili were now in charge. How long had they planned this betrayal? How quickly and thoroughly they had swept through their ranks, killing indiscriminately. How many Shi’ehli had perished? Holy breeders! He made his face impassive. He would abide his time. Revenge would not take place in his lifetime, he knew, but he also knew it would come. They would infiltrate the ranks of the aun Deuili and they would return to the natural order of things. The future was unwritten.
Around his neck and hidden within the folds of his robes lay the red beads of Ya’ih-Ael. He pressed the palm of his hand to his chest, feeling the large round beads bite into his skin.
“A new government will be chosen on our new home,” the aun Deuil who seemed to be in command was saying. “This colony is called Colony Xema, the first of many. Once we land, we will chose council members for the collective.”
“Who is he?” oun Ei’dhar hissed at oun Benska.
“aun Sjir’phal,” oun Benska whispered back. “He orchestrated the uprising and he is the de facto leader.”
oun Ei’dhar stiffened. “An aun Deuil cannot lead!”
oun Benska looked askance at him. “You will have to get used to this, oun Ei’dhar. Do not forget the God’s plan. Pride has no place in survival.”
oun Ei’dhar gasped. The God put the same words from his dream in oun Benska’s mouth! He bent his head, humbled and so grateful the God was with him.
“Ye,” he whispered. “You are correct. I forgot myself, oun Benska.”
oun Benska inclined his head. “Ye. But the God knows and will prevail. He must hide for now, but it will not always be so.” He reached his hand and clasped oun Ei’dhar’s. “I will make my way into the Council, my friend, as you directed me. I will try to influence, but I will also steal knowledge that we may use. We must use stealth and subterfuge. We must be clever and patient.”
“Ye,” oun Ei’dhar agreed and smiled at his friend.
The shuttle shook itself awake like some great waking beast, its engines deafening for a few minutes before they dropped from the shuttle bay into space. oun Ei’dhar wondered what it looked like, to fly into a planet. He had not been born the last time they had attacked a planet. It had been hundreds of years prior. But the shuttle had no windows in the main cabin. Once the shuttle left the ship, they felt weightless. The only thing keeping them tied to their seats were strong straps. oun Ei’dhar closed his eyes as sickness roiled in his insides. He felt disoriented and dizzy. It would take hours to reach the planet. He settled into the long trip, his mind scheming on how to proceed from here to ensure Ya’ih survived.
He had to find the faithful and they had to secure the future. There had to be aun Deuili who believed as he did, who respected the natural order of things. He would become impregnated by these. Their kits’ line of descent had to be pure. Only believers would come from their wombs; only believers would donate their seed to the future. If the God found a way to succeed in his lifetime, so be it. He smiled to himself. Anything could happen.