8 The ritual

Khalid

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"Is everyone on standby?" Khalid asked, walking up to his friend.

"Yes," Sayf said with a nod. Pointing towards the third wind wall, he said, "The boys are thoroughly screening everyone who's coming from outside."

Khalid looked in the direction. There were at least twenty of his pack members standing at the entrance. Humans trickled through the narrows passageway that was kept open for them by the few wind elementals who stood on either side of the opening. Tall torches were flickering ever so slightly next to it, forming a from the area towards the temple premises. Dressed in dark green robes, the human passed one by one through the entrance. The men of his pack were doing a pretty good job, he observed. Not even a child was let in without a thorough inspection.

"Good," Khalid said appreciatively. Putting a heavy hand on his friend's shoulder, he said in a grave tone. "We cannot afford mistakes, Sayf. Access the pack link if you sense anything at all. I'll be here within no time."

Sayf nodded with an earnest look. "Go in now. They'd be looking for you." He continued, smiling enthusiastically, "Also, do not do the big reveal before all of us reach."

Khalid laughed, shaking his head.

"Haha. Sure." He replied, pointing towards the entrance. "Stay alert."

Turning around, he walked towards the temple with a slight smile on his face. If everything went right during tonight's ceremony, then he was going to announce in front of everyone about Fatin. No one from the pack would know if she was his mate or not until they had intercourse. And then, it would be too late to reverse things. This time, they'll have no other option than to take him on his word, and by the looks of it, at least both his parents seemed convinced that he was going to marry his mate.

As he walked further ahead, he could see the outline of the goddess's temple getting bigger and bigger. Perhaps, this one could only be compared to the great temple of Al'lat in the destroyed ancient Tadmur of which he had only seen paintings. Compared to the old temple, the one rising in front of him was more elaborately decorated. Geometrical shapes were carved into the enormous rock-cut structure. His grandfather had once told him how it took them hundreds of years to rebuild the temple from scratch. Following the tradition, magic or even the help of elementals had not been sought. The entire structure was carved and placed by hand.

Khalid paused beneath the flight of stairs and stared at the looming structure with pride. The blood and sweat of generations of Nabateans went into this project, he thought fondly. Suddenly a beautiful brown head appeared at the top, waving at him with a sense of urgency. He chuckled, watching Luna Manar fuss as always before a function. Within seconds, he reached the top of the stairs, smiling innocently at his mother.

"Khalid! There you are!" His mother exclaimed. "We've been looking all over for you. The ceremony is about to start." She said, pulling him towards a pair of elaborately decorated doors.

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"Haha. Forgive me, mother. I was only making sure that everything was in place." He said as he followed her in.

When they entered the ritual chamber, it was already heavy with the smoke of incense. Humans, elementals, and wolves alike huddled in front of the high altar, staring at the priestess in awe. Khalid's breath hitched as his gaze landed on her. Fatin was breathtakingly beautiful in the garbs of the high priestess. It made her look nothing short of a celestial being. She looked like the moon goddess herself, at least how she was in his mind.

The cackling light of the fire burned high from the gigantic fire pits on her either side. It made her skin glow like a freshly polished gold figurine, sharply contrasting the dark curls of her hair, falling beautifully on her breasts. Khalid's eyes met hers for the flash of a moment.

'I love you,' He mouthed, smiling warmly at her.

She broke into a bright smile, displaying her milk-white teeth.

"Fatin looks so beautiful today." His mother remarked from beside him.

"Indeed." Khalid quickly agreed.

Soon they took their place along with the Alpha and some other significant members of their community. From where he stood, just below the altar, his view of his beloved was just perfect. Turning towards his father, Fatin raised her brows in question. As soon as the Alpha nodded in reply, she turned towards the crowd.

Her hands moved with much elegance as she made the first bows to the community, the heavens, and the bright white stone that stood high above them all. The square-shaped Betyl has been the only thing that their community possessed that was from the destroyed temple of ancient Tadmur. The pure white stone was believed to have been a gift from Al'lat herself to one of the earliest chiefs of their community. The stone was ever since placed and revered in the stead of the goddess, in hopes of pleasing her.

Khalid wasn't sure if the legend was true or not, but he believed that the goddess was the reason that they were all alive today. The wind inside the room picked up its pace as Fatin started the ritual.

"For all the sacrifices that she made for us, for all the blessings she bestowed on us, praise the moon goddess! Praise Al'lat!" Her voice rang deep and clear throughout the room, filling it with powerful energy.

"Praise the goddess!"

"Praise the goddess!"

The crowd echoed.

Khalid bowed to the Betyl with the thousands of Nabateans inside the room. He closed his eyes for a moment of spiritual contemplation.

'Please let it be Fatin.' He prayed silently. 'Let her be my mate.'

The fire roared high as Fatin's chants picked up its pace. Khalid looked up at the woman he loved. Her long white garb was flying beautifully with the wind as her arms stayed raised towards the Betyl. Warmth filled his heart as he sighed happily. Suddenly he heard a voice in his head.

"Alpha Tariq! Brother Khalid !! We have a breach!" Sayf's voice pushed through the pack link, alerting all the wolves present.

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