The Burning is a sort of prequel to Countless as the Stars; in the time of Countless, The Burning has become part of the mythology of Tellus, and an integral part of the Creed.
I'll be the first to confess the story is not stunning in its originality or style; it's like a scale prototype, written so I could get the feel of the genre and whether the concept could possibly be made to work on a larger scale. I hope you'll still take the time to read it.
Reproduced here is an early draft of the story; a more polished version does exist, but on another, less easily accessible hard drive, so please don't be too harsh in your criticism :). I have also broken it down into easy to digest segments, which I will post here periodically (i.e. whenever I don't have anything else to say) until you all tell me its rubbish and I should stop. (Nothing like a little self-deprecating humour, is there? I think it's an English thing.)
R'Leef hurried through the streets of a city which had rejected him, keeping his head down and his placard under wraps. The message he preached here was not a popular one, and away from the relative safety of the shopping centre R'Leef tried not to be noticed. These streets were the domain of vagrants, addicts and beggars; dangerous streets, but R'Leef wanted people to believe they were his home, so each time he visited the city he came back the same way, doubling back later to reach his suburban home.
R'Leef turned down a narrow alley, walking into a wind thick with industrial fumes and alcohol. He heard footsteps behind him, but had only begun to turn when the first blow hit him.
Something big and heavy struck him in the small of his back, knocking him flat on his face. His hand painted sign clattered to the ground ahead of him, advising his attackers to repent while they still had time. Unfortunately, they had another agenda.
R'Leef was trying to get to his feet when another blow knocked his face into the ground. Turning his head cautiously to one side, R'Leef saw two men out of the corner of his eye.
"Repent," one mocked. "For the end is nigh!"
The other laughed raucously with him. "What have you got to repent?"
"Nothing," the first man answered, kicking R'Leef in the side. "Yet!"
Pain filled R'Leef's head and his hearing dulled, only a few phrases like 'lunatic' and 'religious bigot' drifitng just within earshot. His nose was bleeding, and he spat a tooth feebly onto the pavement, watching through tearful eyes as his attacker wielded a heavy metal bar, mercifully blacking out before it struck.
R'Leef looked down on his body as it lay motionless on the floor. The two thugs nudged it with their boots, looked around guiltily, and ran. R'Leef seemed to drift weightlessly up and away from the scene, wondering if he was dead. He found he could look up, and saw the bright blue sky stretching all around him. The air smelled clean up here, felt refreshing and cool against his face.
"R'Leef." The voice came as if on the wind from a distance, softly spoken, but as clear as if R'Leef himself had spoken.
"Yes, Lord," R'Leef answered, not looking for the source of the voice.
A tiny point of light appeared before him, and grew rapidly to the size of the full moon, burning more brightly than the summer sun.
"Mankind has become evil," the Lord said solemnly, the star pulsating with the rhythm of his voice. "I created them to care for my world, but they have become corrupt and violent, and are destroying what I have made beautiful. Now I have come to regret creating mankind, and though it pains me to say this, I have decided to wipe mankind from the face of my world."
R'Leef listened, shocked, but deeply moved by the sorrow in the voice of God. "No second chances?" he asked, hesitantly.
"You have had your share of second chances," the Lord went on. "I have not reached this decision lightly, but mankind has insulted me, and must pay the price. All that I have created, I will now destroy, I so regret that I made them all."
R'Leef was part of this, he knew. But he also knew he had tried to live a righteous life, and to lead others to do the same.
"Yes, you are a good man," God seemed to read R'Leef's mind. "You have walked with me, although it has been hard; you alone have found favour in my eyes. I like you, R'Leef, so I will show you what I will do, and how you can be saved."
"Thank you, Lord!"
"You and your family must hide yoursleves underground for a time," the Lord explained. "I will lead you to a safe place; a bunker beneath a long abandoned research laboratory. I have detsroyed a distant star, and soon the shockaves of its explosion will reach Tellus, and destroy all life upon it. Every creature I have placed under man's rule will share his judgement. Everything on Tellus will perish. But I will provide for the future through you and your family, and I will establish my covenant with you. You are to save all living creatures so that the world will be repopulated later. Every kind of animal, all creatures if the sea and the air will come to you, and you are to preserve all of them. Make rooms in the bunker for you and your family, and convert a part of it for the animals which you will take with you. Take provisions for many months, and store them in the bunker for you and your family."
"But I wouldn't know where to start!" R'Leef protested. "I will gladly do as you say, but I need some more help!"
"You will know all you need to know," God said.
As R'Leef watched the star it grew in size and brightness, and a strong, warm wind blew past him and around him, circling him, holding him in the centre of a whirlpool in the sky. A rush of wind in his left ear pushed his head to one side, and R'Leef found he knew about architecture. He knew the intricacies of the building trade. Gardening, biology, survival - knowledge filled his head far too quickly for his conscious mind, and he passed out again.
A familiar face was looking lovingly down on him when R'Leef finally came to again.
"I knew this would happen sooner or later, Dad," Zalbeth said.
"Where am I?" R'Leef mumbled.
"In my lab," his daughter explained. A couple of my colleagues saw you and recognised the religious nut who preaches in the square. I sent them home and came to find you."
"My head hurts." R'Leef rubbed it gently. Zalbeth must have bandaged it while he was- "having a vision!"
"Listen to me," R'Leef stood up, gripping Zalbeth by her arms and pretending it wasn't just to steady himself. "This is very important. God has judged mankind, and we are to be punished. He has told me his plans because I honour him and live according to his rules. He will save me, and my family too if they have faith."
Zalbeth was slightly scared by her father's actions - but she could see the conviction in his eyes, and did not belive her father ready for the asylum just yet.
"What do I have to do?" she stuttered nervously.
"What I am telling you comes straight form the heart of God. You must believe it, believe it is God's word, and obey it faithfully."
Zalbeth paused for a second - this was not something she wanted to take lightly! - then nodded.
"Good!" R'Leef smiled, and hugged his daughter.