Empires Of Faith

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Chapter 20: Idealization

23 Sha’baan, 1663

The sun was a glowing orb, veiled behind the motionless masses of gray fluff. Almost all of its remaining light was blocked out by the collective presence of trees and leaves. Under all the green brush, deep within the forest, there lie the old ruins of a past nation. Centermost, with only a few remaining walls, there were the remains of what seemed to be a small library. Captain Dhul-Kifl and his companion Tariq ibn Sulayman had incidentally discovered it during their exploration of the ruins. Now they had taken up camp within its walls, seeking safety from the violent natives and seeking information on the past nation, information which could be key to defeating the dreaded Kwaadi nation.

Inside the tiny library, the two endured an uneasy darkness within the walls, and thick, humid air which was barely breathable and carried a nauseating odor. The damp floor and moldy walls made for an uncomfortable stay wherever the two attempted to rest. That, and the many insects that came crawling through the cracks in the walls were enough to keep them awake at night. After their initial food supply had run low, the two were eventually forced to resort to eating some of the insects or small lizards that dwelled within. That was all they had to sustain themselves with, fearing any exploration outside might result in another conflict with the natives.

The two men had just finished their afternoon prayers and Tariq was penning another journal entry. Dhul-Kifl had been rehearsing his recitation of the Quran when he took notice of one of the library's better kept books among a pile of torn and damaged scrolls and books. Kneeling before the messy pile of old writings, Dhul-Kifl reached his hand out and pulled at the book. As he removed the book, it brushed over the back of a small, hissing lizard whose neck expanded as it swayed its tail before scurrying off into the remaining pile. Dhul-Kifl sighed before turning his attention to the book.

It had a red cover with a broken spine; faded black letters were drawn across it. There were small symbols around the lining which Dhul-Kifl couldn't make out as either words or simply fanciful designs. He shrugged and turned the book open. Blowing out the layers of dust, he squinted his almond eyes to try and read over the pages. Ignoring the tears and mold stains, Dhul-Kifl focused on the shapes and signs in the book. Just as with all of the other books, this one was written in some type of code, similar to the type of inscription that lined the library walls. Dhul-Kifl flipped through the pages, hoping for some visual clue as to what the book was about.

His eyes scanned each page, searching for some sort of pattern, any hint as to what sort of method of reading was suitable. What did it all mean? As he turned page after page, he began to grow weary of finding any clue. Nearing the end of the book, he began just rapidly turning the pages one after another until his eyes caught sight of a large image with a different type of writing beside it. His mind had barely noticed itafter he'd flipped through two more pages and so he quickly turned the pages back and gazed upon the image. There stood the ever present image of man, holding in one hand a branch of leaves and rose petals, whilst in the other was a vine lined with thorns and spikes. What stood out this time was the inscription beneath the picture.

Among the various shapes and symbols, Dhul-Kifl was able to recognize a few from one of the three languages he himself spoke. "I...E...A....." he read aloud. Tariq looked up in curiosity. Dhul-Kifl continued. "I....A...I...O."

"IEAIAIO?" Tariq queried. "What are you reading?"

"Come," Dhul-Kifl spoke in his soft voice. Tariq left his pen and paper and crossed the small room, carefully avoiding the muddy puddles that lined the way after the most recent raining. "See?" Dhul-Kifl pointed his index finger and showed Tariq the picture and symbols beneath.

"I-E-A-I-A-I-O. What on earth could that even mean?"

"I do not know; your English is better than mine and even you don't? Hm...Perhaps it isn't English. The language of these lands, wasn't it Spanish long before? Do you think maybe this writing, this word, is in Spanish?"

"My father used to speak Spanish and I learned some from him as well, but I don't think this is Spanish."

"Hm."

"Where did you find this book?"

"In this pile along with the others."

"Perhaps our clue to figuring this out is in one of these other books. I see this one has the same image as the others we've seen. Perhaps it means something as well. It's really emphasized in this one, just look at the size of the image."

"You are right; perhaps we should examine more books?"

"My thoughts exactly." Tariq pulled back the whitish ghutrah on his head and kneeled at the pile of books. One by one the two began scanning through the books. They were determined to find an answer. Their hopes being that something could be found before the sun set and they were in total darkness yet again. It was a race against time. Their eyes never left the books, other than an occasional glance up when startled by the pitter patter of a scurrying lizard or insect across the room.

Book after book, scroll after scroll, they flipped through everything until Tariq paused over yet another finding. This one lay on a tattered old scroll whose writings could barely be made out. Still, clear enough was the same set of letters. "I-E-A-I-A-I-O," Tariq read aloud.

"Is it the same?" Dhul-Kifl inquired.

"No, this time...this time it's different." Dhul-Kifl crawled over by Tariq's side and Tariq held the scroll up higher for better viewing. Above the writing there was a peculiar image of squares and rectangles all slanted outwardly. Above that was a chain of dark triangles spread out over them. Above that was the figure of a single man, his arm outstretched and a curved line descending from that to the triangles below. "Hm...What is this?"

"It look like a man pulling on the shapes, uprooting them. Perhaps this is describing the scene of someone stealing something important? I think maybe there is a relation between the images. The branch and the vine held in the other image are taken from the forest? Perhaps an outsider visited and stole with him two highly important plant specimens and they are detailing this?"

"Hm...Maybe...But what could be so important? This is my study and I've never heard of any discovery or stealing of any special plants from these lands. No, I, I don't think that's it. Hm." Tariq squinted at the image, taking a closer look while stroking his beard. "I think...maybe..."

"What is it?"

"Well, in the past, in their sciences, triangles were a symbol for heat. So if we take a chain of them to represent continuous heat, then this would be a fire, no?"

"But why would he pull a fire?"

"He's not pulling fire, he-he's spreading it! The fire follows the path of whatever that is in his hand, perhaps a whip."

"How is that-"

"Those shapes below...hm...They don't look like they’re being uprooted...they're being blown back! Those are trees and buildings! The fire is destroying them!"

"I see! But then, is this man spreading the fire or is he burning in it? Perhaps he is in Jahannam?"

"No, no... Hm...Ah! I got it. The man his above the fire, and the fire is burning the trees, it's above them! This is a fire in the sky!"

"A fire in the sky?"

"Yes! Now what that means, I do not know. Allahu ‘Alam."

"Yes. I think we have accomplished much today, Alhamdulillah. It is near Maghrib; we should prepare ourselves and our places for when darkness descends. We'll continue our work when the day returns In Shaa Allah."

"Yes," Tariq sighed, rolling up the scroll and setting it aside. "Tomorrow In Shaa Allah we will finish..."


24 Sha’baan, 1663

Tariq and Dhul-Kifl had risen early to continue their research through the ancient books. Rummaging through every book and every scroll, they searched for whatever information they could gather. If they were unable to determine the meaning of anything presently, they would save it until the Amir sent a new exploration crew, perhaps with more learned men who'd studied the cultures of this region. In any case, the information locked within that library was invaluable and had to be learned. Nothing could stop them from their new mission. Nothing would distract them from their studies, except...

Just before noon on the second day of research, Tariq and Dhul-Kifl were startled by the sudden boom of voices outside. Strange chants and shrieks echoed through the forests. Drumming and stomping, shouts and bellowing calls. Tariq and Dhul-Kifl stood on edge, unsure of their surroundings. They reached for their weapons and stood back to back, ready to face whatever came their way. A strange, high pitched clicking sound rang through the air, then it all stopped. Silence...

Outside, shadows shifted through the tall grass. Their numbers were indistinguishable as a silent stampede of native warriors scurried all about. Low chants resumed as the painted warriors closed in on the library; their tan bodies lean and fit, dancing through the forest like leaves in the wind. Green and brown paint masked their narrow eyes, with hair as dark as the night reaching down their backs. Their calloused hands held spears and darts, bows and arrows, as their bare feet crept along the cold rainforest grounds. They quickly surrounded the library on all sides and began drumming their spears on the ground outside.

Tariq and Dhul-Kifl recognized their tune; they were about to attack. The two carefully watched the shadows dancing through the cracks of the walls. They waited anxiously for the first attack, ready to defend themselves from every side. To their surprise, the attack was not coming from the side, rather from the top. In a move that caught them both off guard, the men came crashing through the roof of the old stone building. The rubble crumbled and the heavy rocks came falling down. Tariq and Dhul-Kifl barely had time to dodge at all before the stones were crashing into the center of the room.

Immediately, a swarm of natives dropped into the library from the out of the sky. The two Muslims stood on opposite sides, both wielding a sword in their hands. "Die not a coward's death," Dhul-Kifl spoke below his breath.

"But live a martyr's fight," Tariq completed the saying. He gave a determined smile and tossed off his ghutrah. He gripped his long, thin edged sword with both hands and charged the center. Dhul-Kifl similarly raised his weapon and charged to fight the natives. They would not go down without a fight.

The shrill call of the natives rang loudly as they moved to fight the incoming warriors. Tariq made first contact when he brought his sword up from his side and slashed through the wooden spear of one of the natives. He swung the sword down and the man stepped back, barely dodging. The swift blade cut through his jet black hair as he spun around with his broken spear and swung the lower end at Tariq's head. Tariq brought his blade back up to deflect the attack and sliced through the man's arm. Crying out in agony, the man dropped his weapon to hold his arm. With his guard down, the man barely had time to notice the flashing light coming down before a swift cut to the neck ended his life. "Allahu Akbar," Tariq shouted victoriously.

Dhul-Kifl wasn't far from the action himself, already engaging in a duel with two men at once. He grabbed one man by shoulder and stabbed his sword up his abdomen before withdrawing it, spinning it over in his hand and stabbing it through the man's back while tossing his dead body to the ground. With the sword still facing backwards, Dhul-Kifl slashed through the other man's bow with a punching motion. He drove his knee into the man's stomach before busting through his face with a hard elbow. The man hunched over, his jaw broken and the wind knocked out of him. Dhul-Kifl did a horizontal spin over the man's back before he struck his sword behind him, stabbing through the man's side.

As he continued fighting, a small dart skimmed past his right shoulder and pierced his flesh. Ignoring the sudden surge of pain, Dhul-Kifl kept on fighting. Tariq kept a careful eye on his companion, all the while defending against the native warriors. He sliced and stabbed his way through several men while taking on only minor injuries. That is, until one of the sneakier warriors crept up from behind him while Tariq was defending against two other warriors. Creeping closer and closer, the man held in his hand the rocky tip of an arrow. The long pointed arrowhead was dripping a greenish liquid from the tip. Shifting his feet in the same pattern as Tariq moved, the man moved undetected until finally he leapt up onto Tariq's back and drove the arrow into his right shoulder.

Tariq roared in pain as the sharp arrow pierced his armor and dug into his flesh. A wicked smile spread across the man's face as he twisted the tip into Tariq's shoulder. Tariq lashed out ferociously, swiping at the two men in front of him until they fled back further. He then reached over his back and caught the man by the hair on his head. He flipped the man over onto the ground, slamming him on his back onto the rough edges of the boulders in the rubble. The man reached his arm up to defend himself but only worsened his pain as Tariq stabbed the sword through his arm and the end came out through his forearm before finally stabbing straight through his heart. His eyes rolled to the back of his head and his body went limp against the rubble. Tariq stomped over his body and charged the two men from before.

He rampaged like a beast, mowing through the enemies with his large, brooding figure, spreading death every which way he went. The two men met their end after witnessing the brutal slayings of their comrades attempting to save them. "Do not fight like an animal," Dhul-Kifl calmly called out from behind a group of men that he was engaged in fighting. "Do not let anger take over. Fight with all your might, but not with blind rage." Confused, Tariq briefly looked over to his Captain with a questioning stare.

Seeing him fight with a graceful precision and a peaceful mind, Tariq suddenly broke from the berserker rage and began reflecting on his own state of mind. In a daunting flashback, Tariq came to the realization of his own actions through the crowd. He didn't just defend against and slay the enemy, he fought with the savagery of a beast. Slicing and dicing, hacking up their bodies and breaking bones. He saw the past moments flashing in a shuttering show of brutality. One man had charged him and he grabbed him by the stomach, gripping through his flesh and tossing him through the stone wall. He saw himself breaking the arm of one man then stabbing through him with his own spear, then beheading him. Even as one man had attempted to surrender, Tariq had punched him to the ground and drove his sword into his head.

Looking around him, Tariq noticed that even the braver of the men were fleeing from him, preferring to die a swift death at Dhul-Kifl's hand than suffer a brutal slaying by him. He wanted the enemy to fear him no doubt, but the concerned look in Dhul-Kifl's eye was causing him to fear himself. He drew a deep breath and sighed. His anger had always managed to get the better of him, and when he went on a rampage, it was never pretty for his enemies. Still, as a Muslim, he knew that he should have had better self-control and not give in to blind fury, a trick from the Devil.

Suddenly, Tariq felt pain all over his body. In his blinded anger, he hadn't noticed any of the injuries he'd taken on. Now, however, he felt excruciating pain all throughout his body. His knees felt weak, his arms twitched. He released his weapon and fell to his knees. His breathing was heavy as he slouched over onto his hands, sweat running down his face. The room was spinning, he could hardly see straight. It seemed to be the end for him.

But then, no son of Sulayman had ever been a quitter. Desperate to go on, Tariq reached his shaking hand for the blade he'd dropped. He needed to fight. Dhul-Kifl was outnumbered many times over and the numbers were finally enough to overwhelm him. Dhul-Kifl was taking on cuts and hits even whilst dishing out his own attacks. There were too many of them. Tariq had to help his Captain, he had to fight until the end. He rose to his feet and staggered across the room to keep fighting, but to his dismay he arrived at the crowd just in time to see Dhul-Kifl felled by the back of one man's bow. "No," Tariq said in disbelief. "It-" he began before a dull pain came to his head as he too was knocked down by a heavy blow. He heard the loud chatter of the strange natives growing faint as he faded into blackness...


Hours later, Tariq felt a cold splash of water run down his face and he awakened in a daze. His initial response to wipe away the water was restrained by the ropes he found himself chained in. He opened his eyes and found that it had become dark. The sun had set and the moon had brought with it a dark chill. There was a fire nearby, with quite a few natives gathered around it. Surrounding that were small tents of leaves and vines; they were in the home village of the natives. Looking closer, Tariq could see that the figures sitting around the fire those of women and children. The native warriors whom he'd fought earlier were nowhere to be found.

He felt a cold stinging sensation on his right shoulder and hissed in pain. He looked over only to see a short, old woman standing at his side, cleaning his wounds and applying some sort of medicine. His armor had been removed and he was stripped of his shirt. Many of his wounds were bandaged up, and the woman was now dealing with the most serious of his injuries on his shoulder. He jumped at her touch, and she gave a puzzled stare.

"Coem esot," the woman spoke, holding her hand up and offering what looked like twigs and roots.

"What?" Tariq instinctively asked.

"Coem esot!" Shaking her head, the woman held her hand and performed the motions of eating to demonstrate to him as she repeated her words. "Coem esot. Se anu atíndoto."

"You should listen to her," a man's voice spoke up. Tariq looked around and spotted an approaching figure. Standing over two meters tall, a large warrior approached. His body was bulkier than the others, and he had one feature different than any of the others, a bearded chin and a bald head. His long, gray beard reached down his naked chest in a braid. On his right arm was a band of painted feathers with an amber gem in the center. Just as all the other men of the natives, he covered his lower half with the skins of animals and the leaves of the forests. Unlike the others however, the held around his waist a long, curved sword. The glimmering blade caught Tariq's attention the most, distracting him from what the man was saying. "If you do not take the antidote, the poison will kill you before the morning."

That brought him back. Tariq's eyes widened as he turned his gaze to meet with that of the man speaking to him. "Who are you and how do know my language?" Tariq queried.

"I am the chief of these peoples, and I know many things which shall be revealed in due time. But you will not live long enough to hear them if you do not eat the medicine our healer offers." Tariq gave him a distrustful glare, his eyes squinted as he tried to decipher if it was a ploy to further poison him or not. "Well man? Do you wish to die?"

"How do I know this won't kill me even sooner?"

"Had I wished you dead I would have ordered my men to kill you earlier."

"Why didn't you? Why keep me alive? Where is my Captain? What do you want from me?"

"Patience my friend, all in due time. First, you must allow my healer to save you. Take your medicine. Your Captain is safe and has already been healed. If you wish to see him again, eat the herbs she is giving to you." Tariq relented and opened his mouth. The old woman shoved the brown roots and twigs into his mouth and shut his jaw. His eyes opened wide in shock as the unsavory taste of dirt and bitter roots ran through his mouth. He chewed the plants as best as he could and swallowed them. The chief nodded his head and suddenly Tariq felt the vines around him drop to his feet; they'd been cut loose from behind. Two native warriors stepped out from behind the tree.

"Wha-"

"Please, allow my men to escort you to your residence."

"Residence? I-"

"Must rest for the antidote to take its full effect. I promise you, in the morning at your prayer time I will answer all of your questions."

"But how did you-"

"Including that one."

Tariq sighed and followed the two men to where they were guiding him. They led him towards the fire and he walked through the villagers. He looked around at the small children and the woman gathered around, all staring back at him. Remembering his shirt had been removed he walked faster through the crowd, feeling ashamed and exposed. The warmth of the fire was delightful as he passed it by, still, he couldn't dwell for long. So he rushed along with the two guides and followed them until they took him to a hut carved into the trunk of an enormous tree. "Etran," one man said, pointing to the entrance. The two stepped aside and motioned once more. "Etran e deursem auíq."

Tariq cautiously entered the small hut, finding in it only a bed of leaves and a sheet of skins. Eying the two carefully, Tariq sat on the bed and crossed his legs. The men nodded their approval of his actions and walked away. Tariq sat, confused about everything. What had happened to him while he was unconscious? Where was the Captain? Why were the natives who were trying to kill him, now suddenly sheltering him and treating the wounds they had caused themselves? Who was this strange chief and what did he want with him? So many questions, so many thoughts to ponder.

"You answers come soon," a light voice spoke. Tariq looked up to see the curved figure of a young woman approaching.

"Wh-who are you?" he asked.

"Name Empratrisa, father chief."

"Huh?"

"Father chief."

"Y-your father is the chief?" The woman nodded. "What does he want with me?"

"I bad speech language. You speech noc le."

"What?"

"Father. You speech father. Chief."

"Speak? With the chief?"

"Yes, tomorrow. Insh...insh.... you speech tomorrow. Sleep night."

"I don't understand what you're saying."

"You speech father tomorrow inshal."

"In Shaa Allah?"

"Tomorrow."

"Um...okay? Is that what you came to tell me? Your father has already said tomorrow we will speak. But how does he know about our prayers? And where did you learn our language? And where-"

"You strange foreign. Ask so much. I teach you quiet maybe?" The woman smiled and put a finger to his mouth. Tariq nearly jumped out of his body, flying back against the wall of the hut.

"No touch?" the woman curiously asked.

"NO! No touch! Very bad!"

"I sorry. Why touch bad?"

"It just is. Men and women do not interact this way, it's indecent." The woman leaned her head in a puzzled manner and Tariq sighed. "It very bad."

"Oh," the woman nodded.

"If you no touch, how you-"

"Why're you here?"

"I-I sorry. I go now." The woman stood up and walked away. Tariq sighed in relief. He didn't care to know why she was there, just as long as she left. It was bad enough that he had had to walk around without a shirt on, but to be stuck in a small hut with a strange woman who didn't know about personal space, he was ready to blow. He was glad his wife Ruwaydah wasn't around to see that woman touch him; her jealousy was insane!


25 Sha’baan, 1663

Journal Entry #10, Tariq Ibn Sulayman

Alhamdulillah we have survived another day. The natives ambushed us in the library yesterday at mid-noon, and though we fought our best, we were eventually captured. The Captain and I were both knocked unconscious, presumably through the use of poison. Alhamdulillah, for whatever reason our wounds were treated by the very natives who attacked us, and we were given an antidote for the poison. We are now dwelling within their village, having met the chief and spent the night here. We have just now prayed Fajr and are awaiting an appointed meeting with the chief wherein he promises to answer our questions. I just hope that his speech doesn't fail like that of his daughter. We may yet find all of the answers to the hidden secrets within the library. In Shaa Allah.

- As-Salaamu Alaikum


Tariq closed his book and set it in his lap. He looked around him to observe his surroundings in this room of the chief's hut. It was a spacious hut, with sheets of leaves sewn together stretching across the way from several trees. The ground was clean and smooth, free of any rocks or other unwanted blemishes. There were rose beds and berry bushes lining the room. In the middle, there was a curtain, which the two were waiting behind. There were armed guards standing around every corner of the room, all of them holding the same stern expression on their faces. They were clothed in the tanned hides of several animals stitched together. They held long wooden spears in their hands as their eyes carefully watched the two visitors.

Emerging from behind the curtain, the chief walked in with two scantily clad women at his side, each carrying a bowl of different fruits and plants. They bent down and placed the bowls before the two men while wearing wide smiles on their faces. Tariq and Dhul-Kifl lowered their eyes towards the ground and the chief let out a hardy laughter. He spoke some strange words and dismissed the two servant women before walking over and taking a seat before Tariq and Dhul-Kifl. "My apologies," he spoke. "I forgot how you all are about covering and that kind of stuff." Tariq and Dhul-Kifl sighed and looked up. "You," the chief spoke to Tariq. "I hear my daughter visited you last night. Is this true?"

"Yes," Tariq replied. "She briefly came into my hut but-"

"You didn't do anything did you?"

"No, Authubillahi min thalik!*"

The chief laughed aloud once more. "Hahaha, of course not. What did happen though?"

"I asked her questions she couldn't answer, then she left."

"After making an unwelcome contact right?"

"How did you- yes."

"Hahahaha. Ah yes, you'll really must forgive her. She isn't cultured in your ways at all, not like I."

"Huh?"

"Hm. Eat men. What is the matter with you? It's been nearly a day since you've eaten and when food is placed before you, you refuse to eat? Do you not like my food? Do you worry if it's halal?"

"How do you-"

"It's fruit man. Eat it."

"Sorry," Dhul-Kifl softly spoke. "We meant no offense. Do you have water for us to wash our hands first?" The chief snapped his fingers and spoke some strange words before one of the guards left the room. Seconds later he returned with a basin of water and a bowl. He sat the bowl on floor before Dhul-Kifl and when Dhul-Kifl held his hands out the man poured water into them so that he could scrub them clean. Then he moved on so that Tariq could do the same. The chief snapped and the man took the bowl and basin and left the room. Tariq and Dhul-Kifl dug into the bowls of sweet and tart berries, their first food in hours.

"Now, onto my questions for you."

"Hm?" Tariq asked, swallowing a mouthful of sweet red berries. "What questions?"

"Well, you do wish for me to tell you why I've spared your lives right?"

"Mmhm."

"Then first you must tell me what I want to know. So, first I will ask you this: what are you doing in my jungle?"

"I am Captain Dhul-Kifl of the United Muslim Forces," the Dhul-Kifl spoke. "Under orders from the Amir, Muhammad ibn Abdul-Muhaymin, I was sent to lead a small group of men to find and retrieve a small amount of cactus roses. Our leader is ill and these will be used to treat him."

"Mmhm. And have you found what you are looking for?"

"Yes, Alhamdulillah. We found them some time ago, and even as we speak my other men are travelling the sea to return home and give him his medicine."

"And why did you not go with them?"

"During our exploration, we discovered the ruins and I made the decision to stay in hopes of finding some information of value."

"What information?"

"I do not know it yet."

"Mmhm. And is that what led you to our sacred library?"

"Yes, we found your library after your men attacked us during our exploration of the ruins."

"Yes, I see. What did you find in the library?"

"Books and scrolls of ancients. We have yet to learn their meanings though."

"Interesting. You spent so much time inside there, I thought for certain you were filling your mind with their words."

"Not yet. Only searching for a clue to the meanings of the words and pictures."

"Mmhm. Tell me, would you like to know why I have spared your lives and given you shelter?"

"Yes, thank you."

"Our library is sacred to us. Information is sacred. The lives of those who have gained information are sacred. Despite what crimes you have done to our own people, we did not destroy you while you hid inside our library because you were in a sacred place. However, your stay inside worried our people, and a worrisome spirit overcame us. And so, we put aside one taboo to prevent another. Do you know what that is?"

"No."

"Information is sacred and must be preserved as it is. Were we to allow outsiders to come and take our information, it would be spread and distorted by every one of them until it became nothing but myths and legends. Had we allowed you to stay, we risked you gaining all of the information and then escaping whilst we were unaware. Perhaps you would flee to your homes and spread the information in false tales like others have done. Our information is sacred to us, we could never allow this."

"I see."

"Knowledge is life. The only things is in this world that don't know anything are those inanimate beings. Knowledge is also death. Too much knowledge may kill the spirit. Those who know much of the world are people who rarely smile and feel no joy here. So to be ignorant is misery, and to have too much knowledge is also misery."

"I understand the first part," Tariq spoke up. "But this second part is not agreeable. We were told by our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that it is incumbent upon every Muslim, male or female, to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave."

"I see. But your Prophet, did he not also say, 'if you knew what I know, you would laugh little and weep much?' Certainly none of you would claim to know what he knew, or more than that, so you would agree that he had much more knowledge than anyone. And he said himself that if one of you knew it all, you would be laughing little and weeping much. Isn't that misery?"

"Do not bend the words and meanings of what our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said while you know better. And in any case, what do you know of our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)?"

"I know many things about your Prophet and his religion. I was after all a follower."

"WHAT?!" Tariq and Dhul-Kifl asked in unison, their surprise clear as day.

"Yes. I was once a Muslim, just as you are. I grew up in a city just outside your precious Madinah where your Amir leads from. I was abandoned as a youth, being conceived of a so-called illegitimate relationship. Hmph. In any case, as I grew older, I took an interest in the military field, seeking to make a name for myself, perhaps find riches and fame through it. I joined early on, fighting in a few battles against the growing Kwaadi nation. During one such battle I was given my chance for the recognition I so desperately craved. A rumor spread that Kwaade himself was at the enemy camp, and he was injured. I knew that if I could sneak in and finish him off, I would be praised as the hero of all lands. So I snuck into the enemy camp against my General's orders and went on my quest for fame. The rumors proved to be false and I was quickly apprehended. I was about to be sentenced to death by the actual commander of the enemy army until he decided that I could be of some use to him."

"And how was that?" Tariq queried.

"Well, seeing my lust for fame and fortune, he promised me all that I could desire of both. All I had to do was lead him to the Muslim camp for a surprise attack at night and I would be a hero of the Kwaadi. A young and foolish man, I took his offer and led him to commit one of the greatest atrocities the Muslim armies had suffered. I had effectively defected from the Muslim army, and was now amongst the Kwaadi forces. I led them to several other Muslim encampments and cities and opened the gates for Kwaadi entry into the Muslim lands. I made my name of infamy amongst the Muslims, and gained my fame among the Kwaadi. Life was well enough, but still.... I wasn't fulfilled. I had the fame, and even earned a fortune through military pay, but still, I wasn't fulfilled. I always had a burning pain inside, a blackness aching in my heart. The Kwaadi taught me that it was the remains of my attachment to Islam. They told me to completely forsake Islam and all religions and then I would be free of worry and stress. And so I sought to do just that. I wanted to live the carefree Kwaadi life. Hm, funny that. What hypocrites they are."

"What do you mean?" Dhul-Kifl asked with a curious eyebrow raised.

"The Kwaadi are the biggest advocators of secularism and anti-religion belief. A movement of total atheism they say. But what are they but a new religion of idol worship. They worship Kwaade as an idol. His word is law, his mind is considered perfection to them and anything that differs is rubbish and unfit to exist. I found that I could no longer agree with the Kwaadi lifestyle either, so I moved on. During the time, I was stationed in the Kwaadi controlled lands north of here. So I became a nobody, fleeing all inhabited lands to seclude myself from religion and all of its constraints. I came to stay in this jungle here, having peace at last in my private seclusion. Or so I thought. The Kwaadi came after me, tearing through much of the forest and destroying the remaining nature. I was captured and nearly killed, until the old chief of these natives found and saved me."

"How did you become the chief," Tariq asked. "You yourself are an outsider. They just accepted you to rule like that?"

"No. I had nothing. We didn't share a language, culture, or anything. But the chief knew that I was just a lost soul, seeking answers. 'Knowledge is sacred,' he taught me. I learned the language of these peoples through the years, being taken in by the chief himself. I learned their way of life, their culture, and their beliefs. I was molded into the perfect son of the aging chief. I was his pride and glory, having been taught everything he knew. Before his passing, I was made chief, the ruler among all the people and the most knowledgeable among them. I was tasked with guarding our sacred library and the information within, as well as overseeing the wellbeing of our people. I am the preserver of knowledge, and so it is for that reason that I spared your lives. You were presumed to have gained our sacred knowledge, and so your lives became sacred and we could not kill you. However, now that you have told me you haven't learned anything of our knowledge-"

"Wait!" Tariq interrupted. "It's true, we couldn't read your books and understand everything. But we have learned at least one thing."

"And that is?"

"Well, aside from all of the information you yourself have just shared with us, we also learned something from your book. There were the letters, IEAO- IOE- I-I..."

"IEAIAIO," the chief corrected him. "And what does that mean, hm?"

"Well, we know it has something to do with the image of that man with the two vines. The man....the um,"

"He put fire over the sky," Dhul-Kifl spoke.

"Ah yes. You have made the connection. Hm…"

"What does all of that mean?" Tariq asked. “What is that words?”

"Hm. Song lyrics."

"Song lyrics?" Tariq and Dhul-Kifl both asked.

"One of our folk songs about history. ‘IEAIAIO, IEAIAIO, light up the sky.'"

"The man with the fire!"

"Yes. That man, that is the great deceiver."

"The deceiver?" the two asked with great concern.

"No not your Dajjal*, not that deceiver hahaha." Tariq and Dhul-Kifl both sighed in relief. "No, we don't have any information on that man, and you would not take it if we did. He is not from our beliefs and even so, you would do better to follow what your Prophet says about him. In any case, this deceiver is Kwaade himself. "

"Those books are-" Dhul-Kifl began.

"Old? Yes I know. Kwaade has been around much longer than you think. At least, in spirit." Tariq fought to keep from rolling his eyes at this. He did not want to hear any false babbling about spirits and mystic beliefs. Fortunately, that wasn't what he was about to hear. "There have been many Kwaades in the past. The Kwaade of today is just our most recent and more successful one. But the evil mind and twisted beliefs have been around since the Great Wars, possibly before that even. Tell me, do you know where that saying, 'IEAIAIO, light up the sky' comes from?"

Tariq and Dhul-Kifl raised their curious eyebrows and the chief let out a chuckle. "It is from the time of the Great Wars. The Kwaade of that time had this belief of so-called idealization. Idealization: that is where the saying comes from. You should recognize that, it is your language. These are simply the vowels of said word. I-E-A-I-A-I-O."

"That, that actually makes sense," Tariq said, stroking his beard as he began pondering the deeper meaning. "What is this idealization about though?"

"Well its roots are in racism, seeking to make an ideal nation or world through the genocide of all other races. However, Kwaade's idealization is the extermination of religion. The first Kwaade fought in the Great Wars, and attacked the small, defenseless populations practicing religion. His tactics were reliant on some sort of weapon that could wipe out entire towns at once. No one knows what this weapon was, but it allowed him to blow away cities in an instant. He would set fire to the sky it seemed, with a booming cry and in a matter of moments the city was no more. This, we believe, is the cause of the destruction of the past peoples from here and many other nations. Over time though, the people here repopulated and lived off the land in secret. Taking inspiration from the ancients, we adopted a tribal system of spirits and nature to help us survive and get along with the natural life of the forest. Our people have been living here ever since. And we keep record of the past in our scrolls and books hidden in the library. Knowledge is sacred. Do you understand?"

"We understand," Dhul-Kifl spoke. "And we appreciate the knowledge you have shared with us."

"I'm glad you do. I am willing to share more with you, to teach you about Kwaade and the history of the war and our relations with he and his people. Everything is recorded in the books of the library. I will personally teach you the language and the reading."

"That could take years," Tariq said to Dhul-Kifl. "Do we have time for that?"

"Of course you do," the chief spoke in a solemn voice. "Because you are never leaving here again...."


GLOSSARY/TRANSLATIONS

Authubillahi min thalik: I seek refuge in Allah from that

Ad-Dajjal: The Anti-Christ (the Deceiver)


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