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The Monk
Author:Ruari McCallion

The Monk by Ruari McCallion





1



Sacrifice


He cleared the altar and signalled for the gift. The two servers brought the pure, holy body, laid it carefully on the altar and assumed positions at either end. A third held the chalice for the blood. He put his hands over the offering, closed his eyes, tilted his head back and silently recited the prayer. He spread his hands, palm upwards, and turned towards the circle of his followers. He dropped his eyes to the ground and spoke.

“This is our body which we give up to you.” They repeated after him. One of the servers rang the bell and he knelt, bending his head in concentration and silent invocation.

He stood and reached for the scabbard. He raised it above his head in both hands and pulled the curved knife clear. The server rang the bell again and the circle knelt and bowed their heads. He turned back to the sacrifice on the altar, brought the knife down and cut straight into the body at the base of the ribcage. The child - a boy: young, unsullied and perfect - jerked in spasm and tried to curl away but the servers had him held secure. He slashed down to the groin then reached with his left hand into the wound and felt up under the ribs until he found the heart. He inserted the knife into the wound and quickly, but carefully, cut the veins and tissue away and pulled the heart free. It fitted easily into his palm.

He put the knife down and showed it to the boy, whose blood had flowed out of the gaping gash down his stomach. Before he died he managed a small whimper. The priest raised the dripping lump of flesh high above his head, holding it in both hands. The bell rang again and the heads of the kneeling congregation bowed and raised again. The heart still pumped a little, spasmodically. Their chants rose higher and the heart gave out one final, convulsive heave. A gout of blood shot out and splashed onto the child’s body, which might have twitched a couple of times. The servers turned it over and the third collected the ebbing blood where the central channel emptied at the end of the altar.

The priest brought the heart down to his mouth and bit deeply into it. Power started to flow through him like fire as he chewed and swallowed and bit again. It gained in intensity and his hunger for it was so great he forced the rest into his mouth, chewed perfunctorily and swallowed it almost whole. He was filled with terrible glee. His own blood burned in his veins. He was trembling with power but he knelt again and managed to offer the prayer though his brain was on fire and he turned eagerly to the server who handed him the chalice, now filled with the victim’s blood.

He snatched it out of the acolyte’s hands then raised the cup above his head, as he had done with the heart. His hands were shaking and a couple of drops spilled onto his upturned face. The bell rang and a sigh went out and round the circle in a great release but he was not done yet.

He drank eagerly and some blood spilled round his mouth and down his jaw and some drops fell to the ground which responded with two great booms! As he drank, the Power collected itself within him, curled, gathered and then sprung like a torrent throughout his body. It raged through every fibre, every muscle, every vein, every hair, every pore, every cell and burst through his skin to burn him with its strength, with its fire, burn and burn and burn him.

Blood was spilling out of his mouth and rolling down his chin. He spread his arms wide and threw back his head and screeched an ecstatic yell of triumph. The circle looked on with awe, with terror and with horrible, consuming delight as their leader became transparent, incandescent and pulsated with the Power. His triumph was theirs. Their hearts’ desires were his to grant. They saw him transformed. He glowed and he seemed to grow. No, he didn’t grow. Something grew out of him. It took shape around him and he was enveloped in it. The eyes glowed with hunger as he surveyed the circle and all of them knew that he would take them as soon, as eagerly and as easily as he had taken their sacrifice, for he was one of them no longer: He was the God who Walked, He was the god who ruled the ancient land, He was Cromm Cruaich, Moloch, eater of souls and Master of the Pit, cast down but risen unbowed. They had burned the Wicker Man to him and they would again. They would fill it with the living bodies of their enemies and burn them to his glory. He could give and he could take away and nothing could stand before him.

He looked around the circle. He threw His head back and roared in defiance, the roar that had shaken the foundations of Heaven before the Earth was made. He sent his spirit hissing into the air looking for who would challenge him, for there could be none. He looked down on the circle, the stick figures, no more than kindling for his fire. He knew what they wanted and granted their desires with a thought. A petty advantage for this one, a woman for that one. Something lost to be found. And gold - there was always gold. They loved their gold. Some reward must be given. They asked so little and brought so much, they would never understand the bargain they made until it was sealed in their own souls and in blood. He wanted souls and he wanted blood: the blood of sacrifice, of murder and of death in battle. The sweet, warm taste of blood. He gave the vessel the Power that he wanted; the Power to See into men’s minds, to influence and to conceal, and to See the future that he decided. He went higher, higher and higher and looked out over all the land. It was dark, silent and fearful, as it should be when he walked. He grinned at the service they did him, knowing or not, the blood that flowed into the ground and would trickle down to his ever-eager maw. Who would dare to stand against him!

There were points of light in the darkness and he felt outrage. He felt fear. Only a god could throw down a god and he had looked in the face of the One who had cast him down and the sight had sent him crazed and gibbering into the darkness to join his fellows.

Some of the points of light sent weak fingers out. They touched others and coalesced into larger spots, which grew and drove the darkness back. He remembered he was in possession of the man’s body and what he thought may filter back into his mind. He turned his eyes away, so that darkness was all they saw. He threw back his head and roared again, in triumph, in defiance and in horrible delight. The light was small, and weak, and pitiful, and in the hands of these brittle weaklings! Then he returned to the earth and left the vessel with thoughts and visions that he provided, that would fill him with despair and would bind him to his god for ever.

The priest shuddered as the entity left him. He would never get used to the feeling of omnipotence and he could never get enough of it.