It was the 12th moon of the Damah. The Jida River would soon flood yet again and the crops would be planted the following sunrise. The citizens of Akhaliqia were all gathered at one of the many different local ceremonies held throughout the empire. Both young and old, male and females were attending them to praise the deities for their blessing of fortune, and to pray for the Damah of coming.
In the Crater of Khatiya, the most divine temple was to be found, often described as the heart of Akhaliqia. A temple larger than anything most common men ever could have imagined, filled with drawing of the most legendary heroes in Akhaliqia’s history, such as Shaliqia the Forgiven, Eras II of the Sakehra, and Farius the Benevolent. The temple featured a statue representing each of the 8 deities and symbolised the god king himself, Sayaj. It was the most sacred temple of the empire for good reason, it was the first temple.
The Temple of Sayaj was built in the Crater of Khatiya to remind the mortals to never allow the demons of Sins to corrupt their vulnerable souls, or Sayaj and the eight deities would punish them yet again. The ceremony in the Temple of Sayaj was held by the head priestess Sarjess, the most respected and influential individual within the borders of Akhaliqia.
“Ever and always shall we, mortals, be indebted to thee wardens of all.” Sarjess said with her loud powerful, yet genuine voice standing tall and proud on the central pedestal looking over the crowd of thousands of citizens. She had often been praised for her way of speaking and giving any sentence a sense of importance. The priestess held her arms out moving them slowly but gracefully to above her head, so the snow white linen robes where gently falling from her arms giving her the figure of an angel.
“We praise your generosity of past Damah, and we shall pray for fortune to be blessed upon us mortals for the Damah of coming.” She lowered her arms and turned gracefully turned around to a young boy patiently standing just a few paces behind her, holding a thick, used, leather covered tome in his weathered and roughed yet still young hands.
Rhaqit looked into head priestess Sarjess’ dark eyes and extended his yellow hued arms and placed the thick tome in Sarjess pale, soft hands. Sarjess turned around to the crowd and slowly and carefully opened the tome, as if opening it too fast would break some kind of spell holding the ancient tome together. She then loudly read out one of the pages, Rhaqit couldn’t clearly see which one but he already know it was the first page of the documented history of Akhaliqia.
“Flames of war and death plagues the known world, but this nation will not be part of the known world. This will be the unknown where the plague of war will not reach. I Shaliqia shall lay my sword down for the last time. – Shaliqia the Forgiven, the first moon of the first Damah.” Sarjess carefully closed the book and returned it to Rhaqit, then promptly returning back to the pedestal. She stretched her slender arms out in a welcoming gesture and spoke loudly to all the crowd of listeners.
“Feast till the sun sinks and the Iris rises, and look up into the abyss of stories and see the celestial bodies of heroes and gods, and remember that one moon, it will be you and I that lights up the sky on these grounds we walk on today.”
As the crowd of listeners started dispersing back onto the streets and markets, Rhaqit went down, down into the sacred basements of relics. Due to its sacred status, the basement’s entrance had been enforced with all the security measurements possible. The basement chamber was surrounded by the strongest and most durable rocks they could find.
The entrance way was blocked off by a solid iron vault door that was said to keep anyone who did not possess a key out, no matter what was done to the door. Rhaqit dropped his hand into the inner pocket of his linen robe and retrieved a large golden key with cuts going all four directions. The key had a thin intricate silver wing engraved into the handle, with a tall plain golden shaft resulting in a key taller than Rhaqit’s hand. He inserted the key into the crossed keyhole and began twisting the key with all his strength, and slowly the sounds of the bolts moving was heard through the thick vault door. He swung the door open with his remaining strength and stared into the chamber he had seen more times than he ever could imagine to count.
The basement was as decorated as the main chamber, if not more. The walls were filled with every memorable hero that had lived within the borders, items from hundreds of Damahs ago, even the sword of forfeit swung by Shaliqia herself. Furthest back in the chamber was an old pristine bookshelf filled with hundreds of books, all as old as the bookshelf itself and some even older than the temple itself, one of these books that was older than anyone could remember was the book of sins. Rhaqit could still remember when he had been even younger and had just been chosen as one of the scholars of the temple.
He has been trying to study the given texts and books but no of them held his interest, as they were mostly just more stories of the heroes and legends before his time. He had wanted to find a book that would keep his focus throughout, and so he searched through all the old books and tomes until he came upon the book of sins. He had just begun reading it when the head priest before Sarjess found him and quickly took the book away from the young boy. At the time he did not understand for why he was not allowed to read that particular book, but as he grew up he began realizing his mistake and had him forever feel guilty. It was the book that had corrupted multiple individuals and would corrupt even more if it wasn’t contained. It was said it was the book that the demons of sins would speak through. Shaking off the memories he started pacing forward until he had passed the bookshelf and stood beside a pedestal made out of carved rock with thin golden cresting decorating the 5 sides, each side having a different symbol embedded in the rock. He gently placed the old tome on the smooth rock surface and then hastily made his way back up to the main ceremony chamber.
When he reached the top of the stairs he felt something was missing. He checked through his pockets starting with the inner chest pocket and quickly realised that he had forgotten to close the vault, and that the key was still in the vault’s keyhole. He hastily turned on his heel and rushed down the stairs going 3 steps at a time. When he reached the bottom of the slippery staircase he heard a scream from above, from the ceremony chamber. At first he couldn’t tell what kind of scream it was. Was it a scream of pain he heard? No, that couldn’t be it, why would there be any reason to scream in pain in the most sacred temple of Akhaliqia. No, it must have been a scream of joy Rhaqit concluded as the started to push the vault close. Then came another scream, then another scream. Soon the only thing Rhaqit could hear was the screams of people from the upstairs. Something had to be wrong.
As the stress and fear grew inside of him his impulses got the better of him. He released the key and let the door stay open as he started running up the stairs, almost climbing up with his arm helping him go even faster.
The first thing that took his attention was the foreign strangers. At least he thought them to be warriors as they held thin long objects with point ends. He had never seen anything similar to it in his life, or had he. He thought of all the times he had walked pass the sword of forfeit and he quickly realised what the objects the strangers were carrying. They were weapons, something that had been banned inside the border of the empire for as long as anyone could remember, and especially within the walls of the temple of Sayaj. He quickly realised that these were not mere strangers, but they were warriors, and by the way they cut down the townsfolks that they were hostile. A particular warrior got his attention, a warrior with wide hips and a thin waist, decorated armour that felt more powerful than the other warriors, with golden cresting decorating her entire figure and a demon like helmet, black as night could be with sharp features. It was clearly a woman, and by the looks of her armour she seemed to be a sort of leader. But for Rhaqit, the warrior had no features resembling anything remotely living, as for him, she was a demon of death. She cut through those in her way like cutting butter and by the blood staining her weapon and armour, she had been doing this for a long time. The demon turned around and faced the direction of the stairs, and even though the demons eyes, if she had any, were hidden, Rhaqit clearly understood that the figrue stared at him. Pushing down his fear he promptly jumped down the stairs as fast as he had ever moved in his life. This time he didn’t go down 3 steps at a time, he jumped them ever only touching the stairs every 6 steps or so. As the boy jumped from the last step of the stairs towards the key to remove it from the keyhole, heard the sounds of footsteps in the stairs. Then he could clearly hear mumble from the individual. The mumble sounded foreign, unclear and undecipherable.
Every step got louder and louder and Rhaqit knew what he had to do in order to survive. With the key in his hand, he slid through the half-opened vault and into the sacred chamber and shutting the door from the inside. The vault shut close with a heavy sound, and as Rhaqit started turning the bolts and the usual sound of metal scraping metal was heard, although Rhaqit couldn’t really tell as the only sound he clearly heard was the sound of his blood rushing through his ears. As the bolts were fully locked in place, the young boy fell down on this floor breathing heavily. Then the sound of something large banging against the iron door, sending electricity through the boy’s spine. He was sure that there would be no way of entering, but that didn’t comfort him as he was now locked inside a room of relics, with the only exit blocked by a demon of death. The banging kept on going, and as the banging became less powerful and more desperate, the boy started drifting asleep.
Hours had passed since the boy’s energy had given out and he finally started opening his eyes. The only thing he could think of was the painful thirst. But there was nothing to relish the thirst with, as he was still locked inside of a chamber filled only with relics and stories of the past, and opening the vault was not even a question as he could still hear and feel the steps of creatures above, walking the floor of the temple. He knew he had to find a distraction to not go into madness. The only distraction he could think of, that he had access to was the forbidden book. The book of sins, and so he did the unthinkable and for the first time of his life, he started reading the book of sins, and this wouldn’t be the last. As the pages were flipped the more obsessed did the boy become of it. He became so absorbed by it that he never noticed the smell of burnt flesh filling his nostrils.
When the time came and he felt safe he started turning the bolts open and pushed the vault open. This time he didn’t feel any fear as he had broken yet another rule of the empire by arming himself. Arming himself with the sword of forfeit, a sword symbolising the basis of empires founding ideals of pacifism. He took step by step up the stairs until he reached the top and was greeted by an image that was burnt into his mind for decades to come.
Where the temple had stood was, there was only pillars of smoke visible, filling the sky with ash of centuries of history, spreading by the weakest of winds. The presumed bodies of the people he had once loved and served were stacked on top of each other around the boy. All of them unidentifiable due to the lack of skin and facial features, and some even missing limbs or even heads from their bodies. But the boy wasn’t scared, he wasn’t angry, he only felt nothing, and as he took his first step of the ruins of the heart of Ahkaliqia, the corners of his mouth were raised. The boy formed a grin, and then suddenly burst into laughter, a laugh so mad that if one were to hear it, they would not think of him as a human, but as the void itself.