The temple was empty, but not abandoned.
A single figure with thin features calmly entered the main chamber, his red robe lightly flowing as he walked inside. He was careful to step over the shattered wooden remnants of what used to be its front doors. Those pieces were holy relics now. Only a few more paces down a narrow hallway and he had reached his destination, the Spike of Foundation.
Yelis bowed his head and knelt before the tall obelisk. He raised his right arm skyward and gave a prayer to his deity. One of the five original gods, the god who was represented by this Spike. El-Kazir, the god of foundation.
At the completion of Yelis’ verbal offering, the ground lightly shook and the obelisk glowed. Mist, blue as the sky, hummed and spun around it.
‘I prayed this day would come, and yet, I can’t be thankful for it,’ Yelis thought.
His prayers to unite this power with the god who built it had brought about the end of his world, and possibly others. His small planet – which was one of many – housed the Spike built by El-Kazir. Those of his order were called upon to pray to it and present a specific offering until El-Kazir would return and claim the power held within. After thousands of years performing this ritual, and somehow during one of his rotations, the god had answered. It didn’t answer by appearing however, instead it pulled his entire planet towards itself. At least that’s what Yelis hoped.
The force of its movement caused earthquakes and storms to rage across his world. Buildings crumbled, crops burnt, and chaos befell his homeland. After only two years of hurtling through space, everyone else was gone. Granted, only the priests of his religion and a few industries ran by people to feed and support the order occupied the tiny sphere. His holy station as the caller of foundation had kept him alive while others starved.
Yelis shook his head. ‘Had it been one of the larger planets like Marin or Nolise, we could have lost millions.’
His solar system was made of several tiny planets and moons circling three large ones. While the stature of his own world was small, its importance was immeasurable. It held the only Holy Spike amongst their worlds. He had no idea where the other four were located. Maybe one rested in the other system he had seen. It was different from the orb like planets Yelis was accustomed to. Rather, they were small islands connected together by tiny land bridges, like beads on a necklace. Of course, he wasn’t simply a passive observer of those strange lands. Yelis’ planet had crashed through one of the land bridges. Thankfully, the Spike’s blue energy had shielded his home world from any damage during the collision.
“I wonder where the others reside, maybe I’ll get to see them when my travels are through?” he said to himself while approaching one of the cave temple’s craggy walls. Hoping the question would distract him from the shame of knowing he played a part in the destruction of another world.
Reaching up, he snatched a few branches of a brittle root growing through the rock. He continued crunching them down in his hands while pacing back to the front of the Spike, where all the teachings were carved. He poured the crumpled roots into a gold chalice, which sat on the ground before it, then approached a large bowl carved out of marble. Looking straight up, he observed a hole in the ceiling of the cave temple where sunlight had once shone through. It was one of two holes, the second was a large opening over the Spike. He cupped his hands and took some of the water, then carefully brought it back and poured that in the chalice as well. It had taken him years to perfect this technique. A sharp pain jabbed his stomach as he remembered Yorin, the priest who first taught him this ritual.
“I won’t forget you, old friend,” he said while swallowing down the bittersweet memory.
After mixing the roots and water with a thin metal stick, the two elements created a blue liquid. Yelis dipped his fingers in the small chalice and painted a few of the lines and symbols marked in the Spike. After he was done, he took a swig from the cup. During his previous performances, nothing happened when he drank the indigo tea. This time however, his entire skin tingled and his mind grew more focused. The light of the temple felt brighter, and he could hear the rush of wind racing over the holes in the ceiling above.
What was he preparing for? He had performed this task countless times with his fellow priests, who had followed in the footsteps of those before. And yet, none of them understood why they did it. Yes, they knew it would lead to the return of El-Kazir, but none of them knew of any specific meaning to the individual steps. The praying, the stirring, the painting, the consuming. What had it all meant? Before, they simply had faith in the process. Now, his body was humming and he had no inclination what he should do with this newfound enlightenment.
A sudden force shook the temple, sending Yelis tumbling forward and slamming into a small stone pillar. A jolt of pain rushed from the top of his spine to the ends of his toes. He groaned and rolled onto his stomach. Collecting himself, he slowly climbed to his feet and leaned against the structure. Loud cracks rang out above as the temple ceiling itself was ripped in two. The pieces tossed away as if being discarded like chicken bones.
Then he heard it.
“Who has called me?” a booming voice bellowed above.
The arrival of a god.
Yelis knelt on one knee and bowed his head out of sheer instinct. His heart thumped so heavily he thought it might rip through his chest. No amount of rituals, scriptures, or lessons could have prepared him for this fateful moment. All he could do was stare forward and look at the jagged tiles beneath him. Hoping that focusing on something simple would ease his mind. It didn’t.
“Answer, creature!” the god demanded.
Yelis swallowed, eyes bulging. “I…I come seeking El-Kazir,” he finally managed to stammer.
“You have found him. Now, who are you to call me back to power?”
Yelis lifted his head slightly, barely peeking towards the ripped opening where the ceiling once resided. He could see a large ebony figure outlined by a thin line of white light. El-Kazir was so massive that only what appeared to be his upper torso was visible to Yelis. As he loomed overhead, Yelis wondered if the god’s outline only mirrored a human form to ease his fears. A familiar appearance could make this dominating presence less frightening to such an insignificant observer.
Yelis finally broke his silence.
“I am Yelis, Master Emissary for the Keepers of Foundation.”
“Foundation…” the god answered.
Yelis couldn’t tell if the response was quizzical or affirming.
“Yes, Holy One. We worship you, the God of Foundation, bringer of the First Worlds,” Yelis replied.
The god spoke, “Those names. You were our original creation. If you have held faith and ritual for this long, you’re clearly worthy to wield this power.”
El-Kazir plucked Yelis from the ground and slammed him – spine first – against the Holy Spike. His hand was so immense that its fingers completely surrounded the priests’ waist. Suddenly, Yelis felt jolts of sharp pain surge throughout his body, as if someone were ramming nails through his skin. He wanted to move, to scream, to break free from having his back pinned to the stone pillar. Yet, he knew this was his destiny. He prepared his entire existence for the moment when he would finally meet his god. That time had come. It was best to abandon his own decisions. The surges continued snaking between his body and the pillar. He thought he should feel pain, but it was far worse. The sensations coursing through his veins eclipsed what he once thought was pain and entered another threshold entirely. Fear gripped his bones as he sank into the pillar. Reaching out with one hand he furiously swiped for anything to stop him from being absorbed.
His eyes shot open in a flash and he was now looking down at the tip of the Holy Spike. He was floating in the air above, flying somehow. Yelis looked above him and saw a smattering of stars in the distance.
‘They don’t feel so far, though,’ he thought while reaching out to them.
Then he was upon them. One of the bright orbs of light only a mile from his face. He began to feel its bright heat, until he tore the sensation from his mind and placed it elsewhere. Like setting a cup of water aside on a shelf. He made the mistake of looking down. The vast, lonely ocean of infinite black space was the only thing beneath him. Yelis panicked, swinging his arms and kicking his legs like a drowning pup.
“Enough.” El-Kazir’s booming voice echoed throughout Yelis’ skull.
Yelis fell to his knees on a floor made of white marble tile. He took a moment to gather himself. Feeling the comfort of having solid ground beneath him. He stared out and saw rows of long wooden benches surrounding the large circle of tile he was kneeling on. Scanning the walls, he saw decorative stone carvings of important priest of the past. He appeared to be in the preaching chamber of his church. El-Kazir appeared at his side, but was now the same size as Yelis.
“I believe this place will calm you,” the god said.
Yelis stood up slowly. “It does help, your holiness.”
The god nodded. “We are one now. We must make the most of our time before the other three return.”
Yelis turned towards El-Kazir with a quizzical look. “Aren’t you one of five?”
El-Kazir stared back at Yelis; his black body was veined with thin silver lines. He looked as if he was chiseled from a mixture of smooth black granite with dashes of white molten lava. The mixture comprising his body was constantly swirling within the white line that outlined his figure.
“There were five, before one of us died,” El-Kazir replied calmly.
Yelis inhaled deeply and gave a silent prayer for whichever god had fallen. He opened his eyes and saw the church was gone; he stood before the shining star again. Yelis breathed through his fear and tried to snatch it. He wanted to discard it like he’d done with his other senses before.
“You should know that when we merge and occupy this realm, we can be struck down.”
Yelis felt a chill knowing that El-Kazir understood his intentions so easily. He’d forgotten the god lived in his mind now. He went to fly away from the star, but El-Kazir interrupted him again.
“This heat won’t harm you, Yelis. However, know that discarding your human senses does not mean they aren’t real. We are powerful, but not completely immortal.”
Yelis nodded knowingly, despite feeling completely lost. It was difficult to comprehend his new station. Every gesture or decision seemed to inspire his god to deliver another nugget of wisdom. But unlike previous advice he’d received from mortals, the information only sparked more questions. He took a moment to decide his next move, rubbing his chin. Yelis noticed his hand still looked the same. His body had not changed to El-Kazir’s form. He still wore his original dark brown skin, littered with beige freckles. He took another moment to steady himself while running his hand through his curly black hair, then spoke to his god. “When we traveled here, there was another solar system. It was unlike our own, not planets, but islands. My world collided with them on our way here. I feel duty bound to fix them before I begin your work.”
“There is no time for rebuilding the Fourth and Fifth Worlds. We must focus on our new creation. It must be completed before the other three come,” El-Kazir instructed.
Yelis listened to his god and tried to swallow back his guilt.
“Do not worry, disciple. They will survive. Reach out to them, you will see…”
Yelis closed his eyes and visualized the cluster of islands. The longer he focused on them, the closer he was drawn there. Soon he was staring above one, which was covered in a vast jungle. Several people had large pieces of timber they were lugging back to a tall stone pyramid.
“You see, Yelis, they have moved on. Your worship has not destroyed them. All worlds end, but rarely are those finales brought about by our kind.”
Yelis closed his eyes once more and visualized the star. He opened them and found himself back there.
“It’s time to build our foundation for the Ninth Worlds, disciple.”
Yelis nodded and stretched out his hand. Small balls of light fizzed and popped before him. He was creating life.
“How much time do we have?” he asked.
“Until another priest’s prayers are answered. Thankfully, I believe there aren’t many left who worship the other three.”
Again, he was left with more questions.
“Shouldn’t we be excited for the return of your brothers and sisters?”
El-Kazir’s figure appeared beside him while shaking his head. “I lost one brother after the creation of the Eighth. I believe coming into this one so uneven will be the death of us all. This foundation must be our strongest ever, if this realm wishes to survive our eventual demise.”
The power of El-Kazir’s words struck Yelis’ consciousness like a fist to his belly. Internalizing the immense pressure of his task, he felt the newfound godly force nauseously swell inside his stomach.
‘Every time I begin to allow my human emotions to seep through, it clouds my control over this power,’ Yelis realized. He steadied his hand and continued building another moon. Gathering his resolve and pushing past his fears. ‘I must understand how to wield this skill under any condition, if I’m to achieve what El-Kazir expects from me.’
He wanted to shove the feeling away like he had the others, but something told him he needed every ounce of motivation he could find. He was responsible for the creation of a new cosmos. One that would be tasked with saving existence itself.