Chapter 2

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Fallen

He had lived a life of being nowhere. He needed little to survive – stealing some of it from the Terran Guard in small ways that they would never notice. A half-filled bottle of water here or a morsel of food there would find its way to their compost. He lived on discarded things – that and the occasional root plant he could find and tuck away in a bag he wore over his shoulder. Attached to a frayed rope made from strips of wood from a cord tree, the bag looked like it had been made from rags, just like the robe he wore.

His life droned on this way, from one day of wandering in one direction to the next day of turning back and doing it all over again, never venturing more than a day’s walk from the Terran Guard who had not only failed to protect his people, but didn’t even know of his existence.

Something burned inside that kept him alive, something he did not understand and knew to keep buried deep. It was forbidden and echoed from another time when such things rampaged through his world.

But then he had let it loose. The Forbidden had come pouring out of him, bursting through the sentries of his mind who had tired over the years and finally succumbed to the power of that which all Shoahn’ were forbidden to see: themselves.

And now he had tortured a man with it. His only regret was that he had not done so before – and often. There was justice in it. But there wasn’t enough. He had prayed long and hard, trembling in the dark, terrified by what he had found inside his own soul. The prayers didn’t last long. The trembling subsided.

He realized it was a beginning.

The Pyramid, the last of its kind, had been his temple. There, he had practiced his rituals and prayed for enlightenment, even though there were no Shoahn’ left to guide through the spiritual necessity of The Way. There was the girl and her mother, who carried on even after he had left countless moons ago, but they were the last and he had left them there to pray to each other and wind out the days that led to extinction. The Pyramid had also been a museum of sorts, guardian of reminders from the past that The Way was the only path to salvation for all.

But it held secrets. The vast expanse of the Pyramid’s interior was a place no Shoahn’ eyes had ever seen. The myth spoke of Old Scrolls that revealed those secrets and he had pocketed on odd thing called a Revealer before he had left. Perhaps it was lies, nothing more than tales to compel the masses to relinquish their souls to the teachings of the priests. But he had dared ask: what if there was more?  It had been his first brush with the Forbidden and he smiled now as he thought of how childish it was compared to the things he had done since then.

There was one last step that had carried him through the gates of the Forbidden and past the point of no return. He had ventured into the Fallen – that great expanse of desert that was prohibited for any to enter. He had studied the myth, had burned every line of its ancient verse into his mind. It began with a walk under the stars as they turned a certain way. It began with a walk that took him into the depths of the Fallen.

Shoahn’Fal felt the sands of the Fallen grind against the thick hide of his bare feet. Most of Shoahn’Tu was desolate. In most places, scrub clung to the dry clay of ancient seabeds and the wind chiseled deep grooves in the sandstone rises, but none of it compared to the sweeping desolation of the Fallen. As far as he could see, Shoahn’Fal saw nothing but sand. Gusts of wind swept over the ground, brushing lone patches of sand that rippled like water on a vast ocean and whirled up into the night.

It was clear that nobody could survive more than a day in this never ending wasteland, so Shoahn’Fal didn’t understand why it had been drilled into the mind of every Shoahn’ for generations that transgressing the Fallen was akin to genocide. As a child, he was taught that entering the Fallen would awaken a great beast that would consume the world and wash them all away in a river of fire. As a priest, he made sure that same lesson was repeated to every Shoahn’ from the moment they came into the world. He thought of all this and waited for the world to end with each step he took.

The end never came. He hunched his shoulders against the cooling night and pulled the collar of his robe tighter around his neck. He had decided that once he had crossed the threshold, he would just keep walking. Soon enough, he would run out of strength and collapse to the ground. He would start to hallucinate and his throat would dry up and choke itself closed. He would lose consciousness and then the wind would cover him over with sand. He accepted all of that because he had been promised the world would be swept away in fire. If the Shoahn’ were to become a whisper in the night that nobody would ever hear again, then let the same happen to the humans. Let the fire bear down and burn Shoahn’Tu bare.

The fire never came. Shoahn’Fal crested a low rise to find himself looking out over another sweeping plain of sand that stretched out as far as the eye could see. The first of three moons peeked over the horizon and washed the land with a thin yellow haze. He studied the stars and waited for them to turn. He stood there, not even counting time so that it just stopped except for the turning of the sky. He crouched down and peered into the vastness above him, holding the picture he had formed from the myth in his mind, not even knowing if the stars would align themselves that way. He would wait and the stars would either reveal their secret or he would fall over and be covered up by the wind and sand. The universe would be just. Or it would not.

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©2016 Michael J Lawrence