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Short of Allah Himself sending down an angel to see it done, there was no way Hasan was going to see sleep this night. Across the city chants and cheers echoed against explosions and gunfire as the cleansing continued. Some elements of the CCD and its cronies wanted to hold onto power by a fingernail, a hair, a breath. The harder they tried to hold on, the more fiercely they resisted, the harder God's wrath came down on them.

Those who made the first step on the path of righteousness -- admitting they were infidels, throwing themselves upon the mercy of God -- those had a much greater chance of being spared the birth pangs. For that was indeed what was happening tonight, the Kingdom of God springing forth from its womb into daylight and taking its first breaths. And the new child of the world was glorious.

No birthing was bloodless, and the afterbirth was not nearly as pretty to behold. This birthing would cause serious wounds that would take time to heal. Battle continued to rage as pockets of resistance at the airport held out, and clashes sprang up between followers and CCD soldiers who were caught outside their perimeter. Hasan traveled to the Um Salama hospital near the airport to see to wounded as they were brought in, and perhaps help as needed. Medical teams were strained tonight, and there were some wounds that the Keramat could heal when medicine and science failed. God was never limited.

Reports trickled in to him as the night wore on. Baghdad, Karabala and Basra had fallen, as had most of the Arabian peninsula. The Emirates remained divided. The Port of Dubai and parts of the city center was still in CCD hands, though only barely. The air port had fallen and Al-Jazeera News had defected. The capital of the Dominance was teetering on edge and it was only a matter of hours, maybe, before it fell. Kuwait City remained firmly in control of the CCD. The tiny country would wake up in the morning to find itself besieged.

Hasan let these thoughts stir in the back of his mind as he focused on the unconscious man before him. He placed his hands upon the man's skull and let the Gift of Keramat flood through him as he drifted into the man's mind. The man had no visible wounds, but Hasan suspected he had taken a severe traumatic brain injury from a concussive blast. This was one of the areas where opening the man up on the operating table could still do more harm than good. While he delved into the man's mind, he could not only see but feel where the injury had happened. He focused, and fed the power into the wounded man.

His eyes snapped open. "Allah be praised!" the man exclaimed. He tried to stand.

Hasan held the man down with a gentle but firm hand. "Rest easy, child of God. You have done well and Allah has willed you be healed. Now you must recover your strength."
He signaled for two attendants to take away the man on his stretcher.

The man laid back and let himself be carried off. Hasan stood and released the Keramat. He was growing still stronger and more gifted, but he knew God's mightiness was still too much -- would always be too much -- for his limited body to handle without serious restraint.

Commotion down the corridor caught Hasan's attention. Two men were trying to carry in another stretcher, and a third man was arguing with them. "--him, I don't care! Get him out of here. Don't bring him before the Mahd--" The man cut off as Hasan approached.

He knelt. "Glorious Mahdi," he said.

"Praise and glorify Allah only,"
Hasan replied, but made no other effort to stop the man. He looked over the stretcher. A plainclothes man who looked like he'd lost a boxing match with a tiger lay unconscious in the stretcher. He was tall and his face was distinctly European in heritage. He didn't seem mortally wounded. "Why do you not want me to see this man?"

The one who'd protested stood. "Mahdi, I do not want to trouble you with such filth. This one is obviously a foreigner and an infidel. A shame on our land and an insult to God. We would do better to just throw him out with the refuse and not waste time treating him."

Hasan shook his head. "Allah is ever merciful. The infidel cannot come to believe and submit if we do not give him the opportunity."
He stretched out his hand and prepared to offer a prayer for receipt of the Keramat, but the foreigner stirred.
For what seemed the hundredth time that week Michael wished he remained in a dreamless slumber where there was no pain, no burden. His body had other ideas though, and perhaps it was a good time to regain consciousness.

He felt himself being jostled while voices argued in angry tones nearby in what must have been Arabic. He was met with a moment of panic before he found his inner steel again. He had given Dr. Weston his orders. His men would be safe and perhaps his work may be appreciated. Even so, he was wary. Who knew who these people were, and what they were capable of.

His head still throbbed but was robbed of the intensity he had suffered in his escape. At least he could think relatively clearly, even if the danger of the situation still eluded his senses.

As the anger mounted Michael resisted the urge to grasp the power. He hadn't even the strength to open his eyes, any attempt with the power could end in disaster worse than an angry mob. But he was prepared. He had no intention of being killed here.

And then a voice cut through the din like a knife through butter. It drew Michael's attention and he felt somewhat soothed by what seemed to be the sound of reason amidst chaos.

His eyes fluttered open and he blinked as the light of sight stung his watery eyes. He took a moment to adjust to his surroundings which slowly stopped spinning, and looked at the face staring down at him.


It was a face he had not seen but knew very well. One he had not expected to see, definitely not in this situation.

Alarms rung in his head as if an entire city were set ablaze. They told him to run, hide, escape.

But the encounter with the monster had left a bitter taste in his mouth. Besides, the man was an enigma.

Michael cleared his throat and spoke in clear English, his eyes now sharp despite lingering pain. "It appears I have you to thank for my life. How would someone like I express my gratitude to the 12th Imam?"

Edited by Michael Vellas, May 3 2014, 02:00 PM.
[[Continued from Hunt the Hunter]]

They were taken to Um Salama Hospital on the edge of the city.

Whether it was the closest hospital or not, Torri didn't have time to look. She was busy filling out as detailed a medical report as possible while on route. Everything from Michael's stats, age, weight, height, to allergies all went in the report she intended to swipe to the ER nurse station the second they were within range. She was used to far better tech upgrades than proximity swipes, but at least her tablet reported the hospital was a Tier C minimum institution. It could be worse, she surmised, but not much.

They turned the ramp into the ER bay and Torri's jaw dropped. The place was a clusterfuck of red and blue lights, ambulances, staff, and cars. No wonder the driver gave her a dirty look the entire ride.

They looped around the edge of the ramp, but rather than stopping at the curb, the car sped around the side of the building. Torri gripped the doorhandle and snapped at the driver. "Where are you taking us! The ER was back that way!"

He did not lift his gaze to the rearview mirror. "You're Custody aren't you? Both of you, yes?"

Torri paused. There was no way to escape the car without Michael, and she wouldn't leave him.

"Look. This man is in need of medical attention. I am a physician, his physician. And if you don't take us back, he could die. Do you want a man's life on your conscience?"

The car jerked to a sudden stop. Torri threw an arm across Michael's chest, but when she looked out the window it was with a fear of what she might see. It was just a pair of sliding glass doors. Her brows narrowed, confused.

The driver turned around and looked at her. His face was a statue. "This is employee's entrance. My nephew, I drop him here to work in mornings. You go in, take two rights, and you be in middle of Emergency Room."

Torri was shocked, but she didn't forget herself, and Michael made noises like he were trying to speak. "Thank you,"
she said and breathed deeply.

The pair of doors wooshed open at their presence, and right inside was a wheel chair that she used to take Michael into the ER proper. She raced down the hall, white robes billowing behind her like a physician's white coat. The medical report was ready to swipe to their staff physicians the second she saw the correct hub. She pat Michael on the shoulder and squeezed it encouragingly. "You're going to be fine, Michael. Just a little farther."
She licked her lips and took the second of the two right turns.

She came face to face with a wall of armed civilians. Arabic civilians. Male Arabic civilians that each in turn looked them up and down and one by one, their expressions darkened when they realized what they saw.

Torri swallowed viciously. A hospital overrun? It couldn't be! Not yet!

Behind them sprawled the glass bays of the ER. Every gurney was full. People on the floor were hooked to IV's that were slung to doorknobs over their head. Staff was yelling at one another. Alarms were going off. If she thought the unloading bay outside was a clusterfuck, she was utterly speechless by this chaos. And then she saw him and her blood ran cold. He ghosted by but even at this distance she knew his face when he turned to glance behind him.

She had no more thoughts for Hasan, only Michael, who at that moment slumped in the wheelchair. She sprang back to life and snapped the handles beneath her grip. The model wheelchair was a few years outdated, but the triggering mechanism worked well enough. The seat reclined into a flat surface that lay Michael back supine. She plucked a telescoping footrest from the seat on one end and yanked out a similar headrest on the back and suddenly his chair was transformed into a stretcher.

She rounded and attempted to push through the wall of Arabs. "Let me by! This man needs medical..."
but was cut off when one of them grabbed her arm. It took everything in her to not throw an elbow into his face. Instead, she twisted out of the grasp in a flurry of white robe that showed the gray of her uniform underarmor beneath. The man blinked with shock at her deftness, but his companions were more quick on the draw.

From the corner of her eye, she saw the rifle only a moment before she could disarm the man who raised it against her.

And all went dark.

Hasan nodded at the stranger. Yes, he was definitely a foreigner, but a curious one at that, to have addressed Hasan as the Twelfth Imam because it implied the foreigner's belief in the Major Occultation. Either that or he was simply attempting to be respectful for his own reasons, including decency or self-preservation. Considering that fear and hope were the first steps on the road to true faith, that wasn't altogether a bad thing.

Hasan hadn't spoken much English in the past couple of months -- most imams from English-speaking countries were fluent in Arabic and chose to use that language -- but he quickly fell into his fourth learned tongue without any real difficulty. "You may thank almighty and merciful God for your life, for each breath is a gift from him alone,"
Hasan replied, a soft but obvious rebuke of the man's slightly off-target statement. "But it is a good thing that you recognize your continued existence is not entirely in your hands."

The English was a definite change of pace from Hasan's usual speech. Ideas and thoughts that flowed naturally from Arabic did not always have their immediate counterpart readily available for appropriate expression. "Islam" itself was an excellent example, as it did not mean "submission" so much as "perfect submission of a form where a man's will becomes aligned with God's." But even that was only just getting closer to the real concept. As a result, the intended recipient of the message was at risk of losing something of the message.

Something was wrong with the man's eyes. They hadn't dilated evenly when the light had struck them. He probably had a concussion if not a more serious injury in the brain. Perhaps he was hurt much worse than Hasan first thought. If the man was Custody, he could prove useful. "We can discuss in a moment whether there is something you can do for me,"
he said to the man. Yes. He wouldn't want to lose someone who might have tactical knowledge that could be put to use during the fighting. "For the moment, if it pleases Allah, it would be helpful if you were feeling better."

Allah protect me. Allah, guide me. Allah show me the true path.

The Keramat flooded into Hasan and he felt Air, Water and the Spirit flow through him and weave together in answer to his prayer as he reached out to touch the man's forehead.
Michael was not sure what he was expecting from al-Hasan, but it certainly was not this. His words spoke of his arrogance but there was nothing in his voice that suggested superiority or haughtiness.

It was worse than he had expected. A part of him wished the man would start denouncing him then and there to be ravaged by the mob of bloodthirsty fanatics. Perhaps he would not survive long with his injuries, but he would tear the place to pieces and bring down the havoc that al-Hasan wished to wreak on his very own head.

al-Hasan showed no hint of malevolence, although he was not sure how reliable his own senses were. The man said he had not yet been treated. Certainly his head pounded at regular intervals but it was far better than when he had collapsed on the streets.

As al-Hasan placed a hand on Michael's forehead, he did not have to feign his shock, if it was not for the reason al-Hasan would likely suspect. He knew the feeling well. He had even suspected that al-Hasan's miracles were related to the mysterious power.

What shocked him was the cloud that lifted from his mind like the dawn in summer. The power raged treacherously close and for a moment Michael reached out before recoiling. He would rather not test the limit's of al-Hasan's temperance. He did not think there was enough room for a thirteenth Imam in Mecca.

"Your...miracles are certainly amazing,"
his words were honest, if not as amazed as a startled man should be witnessing a miracle. Tony was the actor, not him.

Michael took a moment to gather his surroundings. The wails and screams of the dying assaulted his ears as much as his headache had done moments before. Hospital beds and equipment were strewn in chaos that ignited his muted anger.

He had spent far too much time in a hospital bed of late. But he was not done here yet.

"Thank you, your generosity is appreciated,"
he said to al-Hasan. "Is there anything I can do to repay you?"
Torri's world was a blaze of throbbing pain. Her head was a bowling ball, but she managed to lift her chin from where it lay limp against her chest. She winced and a curse mumbled out before she could catch herself. The left side of her face felt like a giant bruised peach, and when she parted her lips to test out her jaw, she cringed at the moving of swollen skin across the sensitive bones in her skull, a swollen slug dragged over a dead log.

Pain tolerance was a trick of the mind, she told herself, and focused on breathing in and out at steady paces, keeping her throat lax, and embracing the sensations as sheer electrical activity rather than a crippling headache.

As her faculties returned, she was able to take a better stock of her current situation. Her arms were behind her, and the bite of handcuffs around her wrists kept them there. The sounds of noise from the ER were distant and muffled. The space was dark but for what light leaked around the edges of a door, but from it, she could tell she was in a small room. The floor was cold beneath her.

She tested the bonds. The ring of metal dinged a hollow, iron sound up and down what she surmised was a pipe that she was handcuffed against. A likely sewer pipe, the faint scent of cleaning solutions, and a small room added up to her being in a cleaning closet. With the bucket, ammonia, and borax likely on one of the shelves overhead she could build an incinderary device that'd give her the chance to escape, but being handcuffed to a pipe and essentially staked to the floor, they did her little good.

Shuffling revealed she was wearing only the underarmor of her uniform. That meant the Arabic robe had been ripped from her shoulders and with it, likely, went her Wallet. They'd have a hell of a time breaking into it, but the device in enemy hands worried her none the less.

Michael. Anyone carrying a CCD issued Wallet, wearing the underlayers of an army uniform, and knowing their way around a rifle was likely to raise suspicion. "You better be alive,"
she grumbled. "I'm not going to be a POW for a dead guy."
Why did this foreigner intrigue him so? Perhaps it was how out of place he appeared. He had to be affiliated with the CCD presence here. He showed no signs of being a believer, so why else would a foreigner come to Mecca if not to defile it? And he did not seem frightened. This was unusual for someone who had witnessed a miracle first hand. Hasan did not disapprove. Truth be told, he disliked it when people came to believe because of the miracles they had seen. God was not some performer out to amaze and entertain. Seeing was not believing; rather, believing was seeing. But it was another oddity.

"They are not my miracles,"
he replied, simple and patient but firm. "Give thanks and praise to God alone."
The man was almost like a child, blaspheming in almost innocent ignorance. Either that or he was digging his heels in refusal to accept and submit to the truth. He had already been corrected once. Of course, that was before his injury had been healed. Hasan would give the man the benefit of doubt -- for now.

"If Allah wills it, perhaps you were sent to deliver me the golden calf of the CCD and end the coming war tonight."
That was unlikely, though all things were possible. If God made things so easy all the time, humans would never have the chance to grow strong in faith and character. Their souls would forever lie dormant and shrunken, like withered plants kept away from the sun.

Why had the man been delivered to Hasan? "Otherwise, there is very little that I can ask you to do if I do not know who you are or what you are doing here. Why have you come to Mecca? And why are you not afraid?"

They were God's miracles?

Perhaps they were at that. It was as good an explanation as any. But Michael doubted that this Hasan would believe there were dozens, perhaps hundreds or thousands, of others with the power of God.

It was not so difficult to see how the man had come to proclaim himself the twelfth in the line of Imams. A man of unwavering faith and zeal struck by a sudden and irresistibly intoxicating power. If he weren't so dangerous, Michael would have pitied him.

As it was, it seemed that Hasan was not merely a blind devotee. He at least had enough sense to use a potential asset before he purged an infidel.

As Hasan laid his careful questions, Michael shuffled from the damn hospital trolley and stood. Some of Hasan's followers eyed him suspiciously, some with open hostility but Michael paid them little heed. From what he knew, it would be Hasan who would decide his fate. If he chose death, they would soon regret their eagerness.

However, in the middle of Mecca, Michael doubted he would survive long, and he had no intention of dying.

He briefly toyed with the idea of lying to the prophet, but itching anticipation of the challenge that gnawed at the iron chains of his self-control was spiked by his recent frustration. Even so, he was not without caution. "I came to Mecca just as many have lately, because of your meeting with Nikolai Brandon. Of course I came with the Custody. I have no interest in either your or the Ascendancy's goals, I came to prevent needless deaths,"
after a slight pause he added. "As much as one man can, anyway."

Michael had studied Hasan and his people, he could not say he understood them fully, but he grasped enough to answer the next question without arousing suspicion. "Why should I be afraid of the man who healed my wounds? We all die eventually, but I doubt I would be blessed by this miracle for no reason. Perhaps I can help avert a war."
For now, anyway. War would be inevitable. Neither Hasan nor Ascendancy would yield until the other was destroyed, but perhaps he could minimize the slaughter. "I have been unconscious for a while, however, what has happened that would spark a war?"

Edited by Michael Vellas, May 9 2014, 09:34 AM.
Torri's shoulders ached. The stiffness with which they were wrenched behind her was creeping down her ribs, and she did her best to stretch, but all it did was tingle sparks through her fingertips. She hated to think what this was doing to her brachial plexi, the tangle of nerves and vessels slowly being pinched to death under her clavicles.

The light around the door frame shifted with movement outside, and Torri seized what was likely a risky opportunity to call for aid.

She yelled. The universal word for distress.

The door wrenched open. The light that spilled in blinded her momentarily, but not before realizing the silhouette of a towering figure moved close.

Her head wrenched around, face exploding with the force of his kick. Her mouth welled hot with blood that drained simultaneously over her lip and sickeningly down her throat. A molar wiggled loose in the stream she spit out.

Upon the heels of some not so nice foreign words, the door closed, and she was left alone. Once the stars faded from her sight, she tried to plug the tooth back into place, if only to help the wound clot. Her eyes still stung.

So that didn't work out so well.
That explained the man's lack of fear. Complete and total lack of reason and the desire to ignore the irrationality of his own behavior. The man was like a lodestone that had lost its magnetism. Now it simply pointed any which way and declared that to be true north.

As the man stood, Hasan fixed the stranger's eyes in his own gaze. "Tonight is the night the faithful began to take back for themselves the ability to guard their most precious gift from God: their lives and the choice to live them in submission to Allah. We are ejecting the outside influences from the cities we control, and this will lead to further conflict."
A birthing, albeit a painful one at that.

He held up a hand. "But this is not the cause of the war. War happens when man thinks he knows what is best for himself, and thinks he is perfect and can create perfection without error."

He took a breath. Only Allah alone knew why it was so important to teach this man the truths. "But I know, and you know, that man is not perfect. He is frail, and vain and petty, and when there are three in one room they are of four minds on how to best rule. This is because he has fallen from the grace of God, who alone is holy and perfection.”

“Do you understand Americanism? It is the idea that a nation can rise and prevail built upon laws and ideas, and principles, rather than personalities. This gives rise to the notion that America will prevail as it is greater than any one person. But it will fail because its ideals and laws are the ideas of men. Indeed, the ideas of many men, with the irrational belief that some synthesis gained from two opposing philosophies will somehow be a rational true path to follow. They do not trust in God but instead follow their constitution of manmade rules in some crazed attempt to make everyone happy. When one attempts to please everyone, he pleases no one. Instead he should seek to find and please God. ”

The attempt to please everyone was such a distinctly human emotion, in that it possessed the ability to utterly fail so completely.

“Here in the CCD we have another evil entirely. One known to be true throughout the ages. The CCD at its core exists the idea that a nation can rise and dominate the world on the whims and will of one man. One single man. Brandon is Pharoah, is Caesar.

“So we have Americanism, and we have the personality of Nikolai Brandon. Two visions for world peace. But they are entirely incompatible with each other. The United States will never, never submit to Nikolai Brandon.

“This means that Brandon's promise to the dominances, to lead them to greener pastures of world peace, unity, and prosperity, are impossible for him to give. So they are false promises. To trust in Brandon is to trust in a lie. And it is better to die a million deaths than to follow the deciever. The adversary. Shaytan.”

With a chill, an unbidden memory returned to him. A young man, alone, in bed, wracked with fever and aches, calling to God for guidance. Show me the true path. Do not let Shaytan cloud my vision and put me on the wrong path.
He brushed off the memory. “We must pull away and establish for ourselves God's kingdom, for it is the time to do so. Demons walk the earth without shame and children bear the touch of God. Now is the time and this is the place.”

A runner came up to Hasan and handed him a sheet of paper. He took it and glanced over the scrap. It was a simple status update. Custody troops were holding out in one of the airport terminals. Apparently there were a large number of civilians trapped with them there. There were maybe 200 to 300 soldiers altogether. They would be overpowered – it was a certainty. But for how long would they hold out? The civilians – such as they were, no man could truly be a bystander in any war – were essentially the CCD troops' hostages and human shields, though undoubtedly the soldiers thought they were trying to protect them.

Could he – should he – persuade the soldiers to surrender? Hasan mulled that over in his mind. But he was not done with speaking with the stranger.

Hasan raised his hands, palms faced up, and weighed them separate from each other.

"You claim to come under the direction of Nikolai Brandon, but do not profess allegiance to his goals. This is the behavior of a mercenary or a prostitute who sells his entire being to another. Who is your true master?"
He raised one finger and pointed it at the man. "Is it yourself -- to further your own self interest --”
he raised his other hand and pointed it upward – “Or do you follow as you claim the desire to protect life, which is an absolute moral truth from God that life is His gift and as such is sacred?”

He put his hands together. "No man can serve two masters. He will love one and hate the other, or be true to one and despise the other. Any attempt to serve two masters is destined to fail. We cannot serve God and a man who tries to make himself God. So we choose to resist and to fight the deceiver. What about yourself? Will you allow yourself to be split and be used, and allow Nikolai to use you up, or will the gift of your life mean something?"

Hasan turned away from the man. Yes, he must leave this place and see if there is something he could do for those at the airport, perhaps get them out. But he didn't want to leave this man alone, either. He was curious to find out what the man would have to say about learning certain truths. For some reason he felt the need for this man to believe in the truth. But would his old habits and the lies of the world cloud his mind?

“There is fighting at the airport. It is no surprise that the CCD does not want to give it up so easily, and I cannot profess to control the selfish passions even of those who look to me for guidance. Left to their own devices, it is likely both sides will commit unnecessary bloodshed. More than Nikolai Brandon's pride has been wounded. I must see what I can do to minimize the commission of sin in this birthing. Come with me for the time being.”

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