Chapter 4: Cleansing ritual
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As they were approaching the temple, Daren noticed a man in a brown robe appearing very much like a friar’s or monk’s outfit from the 15th century. He glanced toward Haraiel for a moment to follow her lead. She kept walking forward, but he caught that she glanced back in his direction and had a slight smile on her face. It was the kind of smile a person had when they knew something they didn’t want to share.


Well, he didn’t find anything out of the ordinary about this before, but now that he saw that look he was keeping his eyes open. The only question was whether or not that look had anything to do with the man who walked in ahead of them.


When they entered the temple, it was kinda dim and gloomy. The man ahead of them conjured a 3-candle candelabra, already lit, and placed it on a fairly central pedestal in the small chamber. The addition of the light illuminated the small space, revealing two brazers hung up on two large supporting pillars at the center of the room. Both of them were unlit, but only one of the two brazers showed signs of soot dirtying the pillar it was attached to. The other was clean and pristine as though it had never been lit.


Daren looked around the room a little more and noticed a lot of simple murals along the walls depicting various scenes. They were somewhat reminiscent of Egyptian carvings, and Daren might have thought that if it weren’t for the fact that some appeared to be showing some primitive depictions of modern day buildings. It looked a little more like some quirky artist had just decided to depict modern day things in an Egyptian mural style.


He saw scenes of a mother serving food to her children at a table. Scenes of some children out in the street. However, there was something else he noticed as he looked across the murals. The ones near the entrance seemed to have a thin layer of some kind of mold in some places, but as he looked deeper into the temple that mold grew thicker until there was one scene in the array of murals that was coated over with so much mold and fungus that you literally could not make out a single detail under the mess.


The robed man who came in ahead of them walked right up to this most obstructed mural and then sighed and shook his head, then he looked back over his shoulder. “I guess I will get to work on this one.” He said. “This could take me a while, how about the two of you work on the rest of the hall.”


After those words, he conjured a bucket and a wash cloth. He dipped the cloth in the bucket, and then started scrubbing the wall.


Haraiel smiled down at Daren again and conjured her own bucket and cloth, then offered them to Daren. “Well then, how about you work on the murals closer to the entrance first?” She offered. “I will see what I can do about cleaning the soot off that brazer up there and then sweep the floors.”


He looked up at the brazer she had mentioned again. He’d never had to clean soot, but he heard the stuff left by a fire like that can be a serious pain to clean. Plus, there was the fact she would probably have to climb up on a ladder to do it, making for an extremely precarious situation. She had just voluntarily taken what might just be the worst job for herself. The sweeping afterward would be the easiest job, and she probably deserved it in compensation for what she was taking on with this. Plus, it made sense to do that second. Cleaning the brazer would probably rain down all sorts of debris.


“Uhh… Ok.” Daren said hesitantly as he accepted the cloth and bucket, but he didn’t move immediately. “Are you sure you don’t need someone to hold the ladder for you or something?” He asked, getting a gentle but somewhat superior smirk from her in response.


“Don’t worry about it.” She said. “Believe it or not, this actually happens to be a part of my regular duties after bringing a new soul before the lord. I have done it many times. I have my ways around this task.”


Ok. Going for the mysterious points on this one, huh? Well, that’s one more point on the list of things suggesting there’s more going on here than meets the eye here. He’s literally in the temple of God right now. The place where he actually lives here in heaven.


He was left watching as Haraiel walked up to the pillar and conjured an entire set of scaffolding rather than just a ladder, and immediately wanted to roll his eyes at himself. She has her ways around this task, huh? Well, yeah. Guess so. That part about this being in her regular duties still rung in his ears though.


Daren took another look toward the man scrubbing at the far wall in the back of the temple, and then took one last look around. Aside from the doorway they came in through, there were no other ways in or out of this room. It was just a square box full of all these murals, the two pillars in the middle of the room, and the pedestal the man who entered before them had placed the candelabra on. And, in this room, there was Daren, Haraiel, and the man who entered just ahead of them.


Suddenly, a flash of an image of Morgan Freeman wearing a white suit in a completely white room as he addressed a certain news anchor flashed through Daren’s head. He couldn’t help but smile and shake his head at this thought. Well, guess the only way to find out if his suspicion here is true is to see out the task he was set to. Haraiel had said that ritual is very important here, and it seems the ritual here is cleaning the lord’s house.


Cleaning the mold and rot from the lord’s house, huh? He couldn’t help the feeling that there were probably more layers of symbolism burried in this act than he could possibly ever untie in the time he had here. Well, better get to work.


He took his bucket and rag over to the first mural. It depicted someone wearing a green outfit and a mask covering his mouth holding a baby, as well as a few other similarly dressed people, all surrounding a woman laying flat on a high bed of some sort and looking up at the person holding the baby. It was pretty clearly a hospital birth scene, the green dressed people being doctors.


Seeing this was the first scene though made Daren freeze in his tracks as the pieces started clicking together in his mind about everything he’d been told so far, especially that last mysterious comment from Haraiel.


He remembered hearing his grandmother harp on him about drugs and smoking. She’d told him how his body was the dwelling of the lord, and he had to take care of it and keep it clean. Was this seriously? He looked back up to Haraiel cleaning the brazer. One brazer that was covered in soot and had burned out, and one that had never been lit. He stared at the pristine brazer as he began to grasp it’s meaning. The possibilities started dancing through his mind.


He swallowed hard and set his eyes back on his task. He went to a the mother… his mother… serving food to her three children. He was the middle child, then there was his brother and his sister. He noticed there was a lot of the mold covering the image of his older sister. His hands started to feel numb and his stomach twisted in disgust as he saw this. He dunked the rag into his bucket and started to scrub fiercely at the mold covering his sister’s simplified and stylized image.


He scrubbed and scrubbed with all his strength, finally freeing his older sister of the rot and mold that covered her image, and then he looked at the scene with tender eyes and gently brushed her image. He felt his throat tighten, and his eyes started to grow misty. This task. God was really asking him a lot with this one.


Now he realized exactly why Haraiel was doing the tasks near the middle of the temple and was not dealing with the murals. She knew this task was meant for him to deal with.


Now that he understood exactly what kind of ritual this was, Daren wasn’t sure he could finish it anymore. He did not want to move from this spot. There were still quite a few more murals to clean, and as he looked down the wall they were coated with varying degrees of mold. He bet the ones with the worst of it were going to be the scenes he wanted to see the least.


“You are allowed to ask for help, you know?” Daren heard the masculine voice of the man who came ahead of them speak from directly behind him. As paralyzed by fear as he was, Daren nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard the voice an tripped over his feet as he spun around, sending him slamming back against the wall as he looked up wide-eyed at the man who’s identity he was becoming increasingly certain of.


“Heh, bastard.” Daren cursed under his breath. “The hell is this fucked up task? Are you trying to gouge my heart out even after I’m already dead or something? Yeah. My life was already fucking hell, and where were you during all of it?”


Despite his rant, the man in front of him didn’t even flinch. Daren’s back slid down the wall as his legs failed him, and he crumpled into a fetal position leaning against the wall. The man just sighed, and then stepped around Daren over to the wall, and then turned and leaned his own back against it before performing a far more emotionally controlled imitation of Daren’s actions as he took a seat next to him. All the while, he didn’t say a word. He only looked over at Daren with a patient but obviously pained look on his face.


“Why?” Daren asked. “Why Casandra? Do you have any idea what that did to our family?” Daren felt like an idiot as soon as the words left his mouth. Of course he knew. And, of course, the man KNEW that Daren knew.


The man sitting next to Daren continued to say nothing. He was just there. Just… waiting. Fucking hell! He knows! He knows every damn thing that’s going through his mind! He knows that Daren is fully aware anything he can say as a complaint is just misplaced anger. That Daren is logical enough to realize he is angry at the wrong person. He knows. And he also knows that by simply sitting there, he’s forcing Daren to confront those feelings. As long as he sat there, Daren felt obligated to say something. It didn’t matter if what came from Daren’s mouth was a curse, the mere act of cursing would force him to examine what he was saying, and it would eat at him until he resolved his feelings.


Daren sighed and forced down all his anger. It was pointless. He knew it was pointless. So, if it was pointless, then… he might as well set it aside and try to make something productive out of this.


“Casandra… is she here?” Daren asked.


The man sighed heavily and shook his head. “That young woman.” He said. “She truly hated herself. She came here in much the same manner as you have. I made her an offer to retain herself and to help her achieve transcendence, but she rejected it. Instead, she purposefully spent her time here transforming herself into different people she wished she could be. People she saw as having a better life than her. As a spirit, this hastened her own loss of self. She was reborn very quickly as a result. She is five years old now in her new life. I can assure you that it has been a far happier life than what she experienced in her last.”


Daren sighed. That was good at least. She definitely deserved it. But, it also meant the sister he knew was truly gone now. It was by her own wish, but still… Would knowing this be enough to give Daren the strength to finish this task?