With my usual frown of determination, I arrive at the derelict Temple of Chawmi. The sun is high in the sky, providing a radiant perspective of this place that has held a dark placemark in my mind since I learned of its existence three days ago.
I had not known Chawmi’s influence extended to Cenobar Trinordis, but Artor Binere revealed the little known truth. Not only did Chawmi attract followers on this world, but Cenobar Trinordis had in fact been the secret “fanatic world” from which all the posthumous propaganda had spread. For almost five decades following the doomed messiah’s untimely demise, his most devoted followers had performed rituals and research in his name. And they did it here, in this building that now looms before me.
The main building consists of a flat metallic dome. Three smaller domes surround it at equal intervals, connected to the main building by round metal passages. The air is still. Not a sound emits from the place, and my own breathing is loud in my ears as I approach the large central dome.
More questions rattle in my head as I walk towards what looks like the entrance, a semicircular archway in the central structure. Why was the building abandoned? What happened to all the followers of Chawmi? When I asked Professor Binere three days ago, he simply shrugged and smiled. Perhaps he was unable to tell me. Perhaps he was unwilling.
A tall woman emerges from the shadow of the archway and approaches me. As she descends the dozen or so steps, I watch her shadow like black liquid, sliding down ahead of her. I am not yet close enough to read her facial expression, but the slow deliberation of her movements is unmistakeable. She has been expecting me.
A month ago, I would have bellowed a hello, waved my arms in as friendly a gesture as possible, and smiled as wide as a child in a naive attempt at diplomacy with what I feared to be a backward people. Today, I am serious, as my legs do their part to close the distance between myself and this woman. My eyes examine her carefully, as proximity allows. I try and fail to wipe the frown from my face. Her own face is broad, beautiful, and calm, with a kind of cold fire in her eyes. Her lips rest on the very edge of a smile, and I wonder if she is amused by me or simply expressing her own personal bliss.
“I am Phethala,” she says, and coming from her lips this strange name sounds like it belongs to the most beautiful flower in the galaxy.
“Sol,” I stammer my own name. “Dr. Lemel Sol.” I thrust out my hand in that ridiculous Homeworld gesture, and she laughs out loud. Her laughter is like the ringing of a carillon, melodious and rich.
“Qualamo said you would come here.”
“How did Qualamo—?” I begin, and stop myself. Of course everyone in the colony now knows of the scowling academic roaming about in the desert, tripping over hot meals and questioning the fabric of society. It is a small town, after all.
“You have come to see the Temple,” she says, and looks back at the building behind her. “It is quite empty, but you’re free to explore. I will accompany you as a guide.”
“Thank you,” I reply, feeling a bit uncomfortable. I sincerely hoped I would have the place to myself. Phethala’s presence is charming, but part of me fears she may encroach upon my headspace somewhat. “Do you mind if I look around alone first?”
“Not at all,” she smiles. “I will wait in the shade of the arch.”
We climb the steps together. With a nod, I leave her in the archway, entering the deeper shadow of the main building.