Tazkiah: Hour 8
Faisal tore off another piece of passef, washing down the dry, flavorless loaf with a cup of water. The prescribed meal was unappealing, but tolerable, and he had endured worse in the Great Satrap’s service. The Greater Cleansing had only started, but the young man had full confidence that the so-called “ordeal” would be straightforward and easy. At least he could keep himself occupied with exercise. Most supplicants undergoing the first stage of Cleansing continued their daily routine, observing the fasting and the elaborate prayers, but if the others were going to cloister themselves for the one thousand hours, Faisal could hardly do less.
Waliyah will be a whimpering cur by the end of this, if the spoiled brat even manages to last through the first half of the fast. Majid is going to have a hard time too; likes the sweets too much. But when this is complete, I shall stride gloriously through the Flames and take my rightful place in the Goddess’ service.
Tazkiah: Hour 296
Faisal choked down another mouthful of passef, longing for else to eat. Almost two weeks of nothing but bread and water had brought incomprehensible thoughts to the warrior’s head.
Even Eiliyah’s camel-tongue soup would be a welcome change from this garbage. At least Majid is probably just as sick of it. If there is any justice, Waliyah has choked to death on it by now.
Tazkiah: Hour 848
Five weeks of praying, waiting, and eating passef board had left Faisal weakened and ill-tempered. He had snapped at the temple servant who brought the evening tray, sending the poor boy scuttling from the small room. The young man had been forced to stop his daily training exercises to conserve his strength, and the lack of distraction was grating on his patience.
Majid is probably stabbing his eyes out with his fingernails by now. He never had any patience or discipline for this sort of thing.
Tazkiah: Hour 1000
Faisal knelt in the temple antechamber as the Dawnsisters completed the rites. The young warrior’s stomach was knotted in trepidation. He would not have to choke down any more flat-bread, but now the truly difficult test would begin. Five days in the harsh desert sun without food or water was nothing to take lightly.
Faisal had been as pleased to see Majid arrive as he had been annoyed when Waliyah had entered the ceremony. The girl looked as smug and arrogant as she had when the Brethren had announced who would be allowed to undertake the Cleansing. But the forty-day fast had taken a lot out of Majid; his friend’s sunken eyes and pale complexion made his almost unrecognizable.
Goddess! Do I look that haggard? How does not look taxed by the fasting? And why is Dawnsister Batinah performing the more complex prayers only for her?
Tazkiah: Hour 1016
Everyone had warned that the first evening meal would be the hardest to miss. Faisal could not believe that he actually longed for the tasteless wafers that he had loathed so viciously just twenty four hours earlier. He felt more than hunger; a lightheaded giddiness ran through his body, pushing away the exhaustion and pain from the day spent under the scorching rays.
Too excited to rest only a few more hours and I can take my place in the sacred light of the Goddess I wonder if Majid is able to sleep or if Waliyah has given up yet why do I feel so tired but so awake at the same time?
Tazkiah: Hour 1088
Faisal struggled to lift his body from each prostration of the maghrib-salah, every nerve in his body screaming in agony with even the smallest movement. The blisters on his skin had long since burst and the raw tissue underneath felt as if it were on fire, despite the rapidly cooling evening air. His prayers were little more than animalistic croaking, the sounds passed over his cracked dry lips like a thousand needles dripping acid. He ducked his head as the pink-green bird made a third pass at the star fruit that hovered before his left shoulder.
Away, foul feathered fiend! That morsel awaits the return of the Goddess’ four servants. Only when the golden horse slays her twelve legged foe may you build the last of your tiny statues…
Tazkiah: Hour 1100
The fog of pain and confusion lifted slowly as the acolytes completed the last of the bathing. The fiery pain from his raw skin had dulled to mere agony and most of the hallucinations were gone. Majid looked as terrible as Faisal felt, and appeared even more confused. By contrast, Waliyah looked burnt and exhausted, but much less worse for wear, as Dawnmother Aludrah completed the girl’s final rites.
Naturally, the is accorded the attention of the The Goddess’ Chosen One. Perhaps her aura of arrogance protected her from The Sarenrae’s Pitiless Rays.
The young man was unsurprised as Waliyah passed unscathed thought the raging flames of the Cleansing. The smug look on her face twisted away the beauty that had once brought Majid to his knees.
Faisal managed a weak smile as Dawnbrother Jareer completed his own rites. Like the Dawnmother, the kindly priest performed a more complex ritual than was prescribed in the Book of Forms, gesture of goodwill to one of his favorite pupils.
As the young man rose from the Sacred Waters and approached the roaring flames, he paused only for the briefest of seconds before stepping into the conflagration. He smiled broadly as he felt nothing more than a soothing warmth and emerged unscathed on the far side. Giving Waliyah a scornful smile, he turned to watch the completion of Majid’s Cleansing.
Faisal groaned inwardly at the sight of Dawnsister Rabiya performing his friend’s rite. Not only was it a subtle insult to have Majid’s harshest tutor perform the blessings, but she offered the young man only the barest minimum ritual as prescribed by the Book.
Waliyah leaned toward Faisal and whispered gleefully, “He has already been found Unworthy. They do not require a third.”
Faisal’s attempt to puzzle out the young woman’s meaning was lost at the first sound of his friend’s agonized screams…
Faisal kneels in the temple garden, staring at the wrapped bundle before him. The acolyte had arrived moments before to inform him of the successful Ritual of Return, and that Dawnsister Scarlet was resting comfortably. The warrior is surprised at the sense of relief that greets the news, but now feels compelled to turn his attention to the second, less important dilemma.
The charred body in the bundle is all but unrecognizable, yet Faisal is certain of the woman’s identity. The brief glimpse of her wild look, moments before the magical flames consumed her, had been shockingly familiar, and his examination of the charred flesh had only reinforced his belief in the identity of the Fallen Dawnsister.
He knows what he needs to do.
A simple message is not enough. I must take Waliyah back to Qadira myself, and discover why my sister was in this forsaken land.