The Malurus Chronicles.
The sun glinted slickly off the oil-covered sections of the AK-47 as the man disassembled and cleaned his weapon. The action was practised, mechanical; the result of the process having been repeated every day for the last fifteen years.
His mind wandered as it always did during this time, reflecting on the Qur'an, and the ever-present heat, and the patrol he was due to embark on in two hours.
His name was Cain, and shortly he would become the single greatest human influence the world had ever seen, greater than Christ, than Mohamed, than the Buddha. But he did not know any of this under the hot desert sun, and so he continued cleaning his gun, blissfully unaware of the part he would play in the war to come.
Cain finished what he was doing smoothly and calmly, and walked back to his house, a small and weather-beaten brick building that was home to his wife Rana, and his little twins, a boy and girl only six months old.
He ducked his head under the low lintel and called out to his wife. She appeared from the rear room, smiling at his unexpected presence.
"I thought you wouldn't be home until after your patrol! I've nothing prepared for your meal."
Cain smiled. He did count himself blessed that he had been betrothed to a beautiful woman who made it the simplest task in the world to love.
"I didn't think I would be, but the second-in-command still needs to be able to make time to eat with his family, does he not?"
She laughed. "He does if he wants to eat at all."
After the simple meal, they made love slowly, relishing each other's body and the heat that they created between them.
They rested briefly together before Cain had to wash and get himself ready for his next patrol. There was a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he paused before leaving and looked at his wife with a peculiar light in his eyes.
"You know I love you, don't you?"
Rana cocked her head, slightly confused. "Of course, Cain. I'll see you tonight. Be careful."
Cain hesitated as though about to say something further, but then nodded and left. It would be the last time he ever saw his wife alive.
He walked swiftly back the way he had come, back towards the main barracks. On the way he met his companion for the patrol, a relatively young driver named Saïd. Cain liked Saïd, but sometimes found him a little naïve for the work at hand.
They chatted casually on the way to the vehicle depot, but stopped upon seeing the imposing figure of the camp commander waiting for them.
Mahamud was 53, and a veteran of countless hostile engagements. He smiled as Cain and Saïd came closer to him.
"Ah, Cain. Off to your patrol then? Don't let him fool you, Saïd, this man is one of our greatest assets. Don't let him out of your sights, and don't let anything happen to him. If we weren't short-staffed due to the push in the east, I wouldn't even let him go!"
Cain laughed easily. "You know very well I requested to go on patrol. It's been too long. You've kept me stuck in offices for too long now, I've almost forgotten which end of the gun to hold. I need this, clear my head."
Mahamud looked mockingly at him. "My heart weeps for you, little girl. I've no one better at inspiring the men. They would walk through the fires of hell for you where I would have to drive them through the fields of paradise! Just be safe, you hear? I don't want to have to spend the time training a new replacement for me once I'm gone."
Cain chuckled. "Always looking ahead. Well, don't worry, mother, we'll be fine, isn't that right Saïd? We'll return in eight hours. First report in an hour."
The two saluted Mahamud, and walked over to their vehicle, a battered and scuffed old Jeep the colour of the sand.
Cain nodded to Saïd. "Alright, jump in front, and I'll keep watch from the rear."
The driver nodded in acknowledgement, and swung eagerly into the front cab.
As they drove slowly out the front gates of the camp, they waved a goodbye to the commander still watching them from behind the fence. Soon, he was hidden by a billowing cloud of dust and sand as they drove away into the bright afternoon sunshine.
As they approached the halfway point of the patrol, Cain noticed a small plume of smoke about a mile in the distance. He shouted out to the driver, who turned the car towards it immediately.
Once they drove a little closer, it was apparent that the smoke was coming from a small twin-engine plane that had crashed some time ago. Cain could see that it was still burning slowly, the flames having not reached the fuel tanks in the wings yet.
The Jeep was still travelling at speed, and Cain shouted down to the driver to slow down so that they could park a safe distance away before investigating. But at that precise moment, there was a colossal bang from the car as two of the heavy-duty tyres exploded.
Both men shouted in surprise as the car began to slew from side to side, the driver trying valiantly to control the heavy car with only two functioning wheels. Too late, Cain realised that they would not be able to stop in time to prevent crashing into the volatile plane. He screamed for the driver to jump out of the doomed car, and made to leap out himself. But it was too late.
The car struck the plane with an impact that saw the engine ripped straight out of the hood, and straight through the unfortunate driver.
Cain, who had been poised to jump, was flung across the sand like a ragdoll as the car's impact did what the flames had not, detonating both of the plane's fuel tanks as well as that of the decimated Jeep. The force with which he was thrown across the ground sheared off much of his flesh, leaving a massive gory stain behind him that was swiftly erased by the shockwave and flames of the explosion.
Darkness swirled around Cain like mercury in water. Then there was a voice, deep and thunderous, lecherous and cold.
Cain answered, "Here I am…"
"You're fucked, Cain."
Cain started to panic. He could not see anything, but worst of all, he couldn't find any trace of his body. He was just a mind, formless and floating in the void.
"Who are you?" his mind screamed.
The slow voice chuckled before responding, "Your new God, Cain. You got it wrong, Cain, you got it wrong. You aren't headed to the good place. You're mine. You're right on the brink, between life and death. Only I can help you now."
Cain whimpered in fear. "Who are you?"
The void suddenly filled with voices from all around him. "Pain." "Suffering." "Hatred." "Evil." "Perversion." "Rape." "Pain."
The voice laughed once more. "I am who I am."
"What do you want from me?"
Cain tried desperately to block the voice from his head, but it overwhelmed his defenses and left him crippled and terrified.
"You are to be my shining light, Cain." The voice seemed to take a perverse pleasure in repeating his name. "You will return to the world of men and do my work. You will spread my name to the world, and make them worship me."
Cain was losing the capacity to communicate, to hear anything but the screams in his head. He barely had enough strength to cry out, "What is your name?"
In the seconds before his world disappeared, he caught the faint reply, so quiet he could barely hear it.