Beckwith woke up. The sun’s dying light had drained out of the sky and the faint red glow of Mars was visible. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been gone, and he didn’t always know where he was coming back from. He sat in the dirt of some well-used trail. In front of him, the ground dropped away. He felt the stone cliff face at his back.
"The Temple," he murmured. This was the trail leading up from the village to the Sacristy. He could hear the beating of drums down below. But when exactly was this? He looked around. Everything appeared as it had before. Had the great art that She had wrought been completed? Was it time to end all of this?
Slowly, Beckwith rose to his feet, using the cliff for support. His body ached, muscles screaming from some previous exertion. Looking down from the narrow path, he could see that the bonfire was lit. The acolytes were dancing to the beat of the war drums. This was a celebration.
Beckwith still could not place when this was supposed to be, but he could see now that this wasn’t the end yet. He’d been ahead of here already. She had shown him everything that She had intended. Beckwith looked left, the direction that would take him down to the village, and then right, which led up to the Sacristy, his own dwelling place.
Which way to go?
Suddenly, it was cold. A slight dimming of his vision, as if a shadow passed over all the absentee Father God’s creation. The ghostly sensation of a lithe hand on his shoulder. He was not alone. Beckwith stood still, eyes shut. Waiting.
He felt the feather-light caress of lips next to his ear.
"My children are waiting"
She whispered once, and then was gone.
Yes. Beckwith understood where he was now. He turned right and began to walk the path to the Sacristy.
The sky was now full dark and moonless, but Beckwith did not need the light. He knew the path well. The incline was sporadic, sometimes gradual, sometimes steep and there were four sets of switchbacks crisscrossing this side of the mountain. The path itself was treacherously narrow. A disembodied spine jutting out of the ground, pointing towards the heavens like an accusing finger in the face of God. Given what waited at the end, that wasn’t too much of an exaggeration.
As Beckwith climbed, his thoughts drifted back to everything that had led to these days, disjointed and out of order they may be. He knew what was to be done, and in a way, the work was already complete. And not yet begun. Happening right now. Centuries in the future. Eons in the past.
Right now. Not yet.
Beckwith did not concern himself with details. He did not know Her mind. He did not need to. She needed someone to lead Her children. She came to him when he floated in the darkness. She showed him how She meant to remake the world. She extended Her hand and asked for his help. He agreed.
Beckwith cleared one switchback and climbed a steep rise to another.
God had given Man the world and dominion over all things within it. But Beckwith knew what Man had ultimately done with it. He had seen it firsthand. He had done their bidding, far to the east in a great Desert. The great desert that had swallowed him whole. He slipped down into the endless dark, submerged in an obsidian ocean. Pure, velvet, blackness. There he rested, dreamless. Warm. No more pain. There was fear at first, but once he felt how warm it was, there was only calm. It wasn’t hard to let go and drift away.
No, Beckwith thought.
It was perhaps the easiest thing he’d ever done.
There was no sense of time, but out there in all that nothingness, he had become aware again. A small spark inside. A sense of not being alone. Soft breath on his neck. Something inside. Something not felt in...
He did not know. It surely didn’t matter. But still...
That something inside, it was a very human impulse. Fear? Paranoia? Contempt? Guilt?
’Love’ She had whispered.
His eyes opened for the first time.
He saw Her. She saw him too.
She reached out Her hand, and when he took it...
Beckwith navigated the third switchback with ease. The final one was very close by, and at its termination was where the path flattened out. The gates to the Sacristy, a great stone arch, would be illuminated by two torches. Beckwith turned. It was easy to get lost in thought while climbing, and not realize the distance covered. The glow of the bonfire in the village below was reduced to a small sphere in his vision. Only the faintest trace of the drumbeat floated through the air. He stood there a moment. There were days, long ago, where climbing at this speed at this altitude would have noticeably fatigued him. He recalled another mountain, further north of here. He and others like him...
"Our battalion was there, about a month I think. To acclimate" He mumbled to himself.
There were faces. Ones that belonged to his friends. He couldn’t quite place them. The memory was shattered.
Then it was gone. Beckwith blinked, brushed his hair out of his eyes.
"Doesn’t matter now"
He turned and began to navigate the final switchback.
Lee and the two women had done well. This night was their reward. On his own, he would have had his doubts about the younger woman. She tended to shake like a lost kitten. When he spoke in the village, he would feel her eyes on him. Mystified. Adrift. Deep in the ocean of fear. Still, she proved that she had the fire within her. She was ready to see the Truth. The Mother had not been wrong. The Mother had never been wrong.
Seeing the Truth, however, is a tricky thing. Once the veil is peeled back, and the true animal nature within Man is allowed to reach out into the endless dark, become symbiotic with it, Man would then be difficult to control. All human programming is cast away. One measure of obedience must remain. One last holdout from life inside the womb.
"Fear" Beckwith mumbled, climbing over a waist-high blockade of roots.
Paul was necessary. A disgusting maggot, worming his way into Her garden. But necessary. He was there to absorb their hate. Even Beckwith, ever unquestioning of The Mother’s guidance, had pause for thought once he was allowed into the Temple. But She showed him what must be done. And even after her new children turned that lonely and desolate field into holy ground through one great and decisive act of carnage, even after they had awoken the beasts that lay dormant in their hearts and set them to tear and claw and hack and bite and consume, he felt their hate change into pity. When he took this loathsome
in his hands and tore
to pieces, he felt their fear. That necessary fear. Not just the fear of Beckwith himself. Fear of The Mother.
And what She does with disobedient children.
They saw. They understood. He felt that, to Her satisfaction.
And tonight, these newborn beasts would pad out into the darkness for the first time, and come to heel at their Mistress’ feet.
Beckwith reached the end of the switchback and the climb was done. He saw the gateway, adorned with twin flames. Beyond, the great stone structure, a broken and wicked thing. Like the ribs of a massive, insidious predator spread out to the sky, nestling a courtyard in the empty space where a twisted heart would have been, occupied now by fire. The children waited, just as She had bid them all.
Beckwith passed through the gates.
The Truth was a treacherous thing when unguided. But precious. So precious. Ever since the Father God cast His failed experiment out of His domain, Man had sought out the Truth. Their most brilliant minds poured every fiber of their being into it for ages and ages. Countless lives poking and prodding at the thin membrane, digging deep in the earth and touching the stars, but after millennia, had not even come close.
She had come to show Man the way. The way a Mother guides a child’s hand.
Here, in this Temple, were the first children of a new world. Even now one could silence their mind and hear the faint heartbeat of it emanating from Her womb.
But Her children were not the only ones on the precipice of the Truth. There were others, yes.
"Traitors" murmured Beckwith.
More old men, bewitching younger ones into doing their bidding. Lapping up every last drop of precious blood from the battlefield to prolong their wretched existence. Old men who grew fatter, the wells of their greed deeper, the slime of their obscene lust slickening their pitiful members with the desire to fuck their disease into the new world and choke it out as dead as the one they ruined.
Old men without the decency to die.
Not in Her new world.
But She had shown Beckwith. There was a traitor in their midst, A despicable insect, a worm in Her apple. Bringing the rot and decay and filth of the outside world, the sick stench of the old men and their avarice. It disturbed him still, but he did not question Her. Beckwith obeyed. And so this traitor walked among them.
The emissary of the old men could not stop what was coming. The old men knew the Truth...
"But they do not see"
Passing through the threshold of the old stones, Beckwith immediately felt the warmth of the fire burning in the center of the Sacristy garden. Between the fire and where Beckwith stood, the three acolytes knelt. After their task was completed, they were allowed no rest, and they were denied the Grey Flower. Stripped of their clothes, washed off their holy markings, they were to walk the same way Beckwith had come. Barefoot, over stones and roots all the way here. Naked and cold, they remained in quiet reflection, forbidden to speak. This was the final test. Released from the warm embrace of The Mother, they would wait for Her. Lost infants in the woods. Helpless. Until a fire was lit. Nine of Her Children stood around this fire now, in a half circle.
A great centipede. And inside, an egg.
There’s a tenth, Beckwith thought, still out there. The old men would have him now. Beckwith did not deny that those decrepit cunts had considerable power. But old men are just that. Men.
Beckwith stood still, surveying his congregation. The three acolytes stared up at him, tired, hungry, numb. On the ground behind them lay a white sheet, upon it three wooden bowls containing the sacramental ink. Three chisels of bone for each. Each chisel had an edge to cut the lines. The other end to dip in the ink.
Next to these, the syringes containing Her essence. The last dose they would ever need.
The Children stood proud, faces glowing in the fire. Eyes deep shadows. Ever seeing, as Beckwith saw, into the endless dark.
As these three acolytes would see.
The air went cold again.
Beckwith felt the deep obsidian hatred within himself reach into the Endless Dark.
And the hand of The Mother reached back.
And Beckwith was gone.
There was only The Other now.
All went dark but the fire and those who stood within it.
A lithe shadow, above the fire.
She was here.
The Other pointed to the man.
"Name thyself, Acolyte."
"Lee Yamakawa. An insect of Man. Unworthy of The Mother’s Love. I seek Her mercy and the glory of the Endless Dark."
The Other pointed to the dark haired woman.
"Pamela Marsden.An insect of Man. Unworthy of The Mother’s Love. I seek Her mercy and the glory of the Endless Dark."
The Other pointed to the final acolyte. The young woman.
"Name thyself, wretch."
The woman, shaking, on the verge of tears, spoke in a small voice.
She was full of fear.
For the final time.
"Chloe Tilmitt. An insect of Man. Unworthy of The Mother’s Love. I seek Her mercy and the glory of the Endless Dark."
The Other stared into her.
Beyond the fear, there was something. The Other could not name what it was.
A whisper drifted out over the fire.
The Other looked.
The Other nodded.
And raised his hands over the heads of the insects before him.
"Your names are the names of insects. Cast them away now. You have shed the blood of Men, blasphemous priests of the old world. A world of rot and decay. A creation of the Father God. Man was made in His image. "
"His image is of Hate. "
The acolytes lay on their backs.
"His image is of Disease. "
The nine Children stepped forward, three to each Acolyte. Two to hold them down.
"His image is of Greed. "
One to give them the Flower.
"His image is of Cowardice"
One by one, the acolytes took the full measure Her essence within them.
"His image is of Fear."
"His image is of Rot."
"His image is of Decay."
They begged for death.
"His image is of Lies"
They were gone.
They were silent.
Their eyes became shadows.
"He abandoned His Creation. A helpless, suffering animal. The Mother will slaughter it, in Her infinite mercy. "
The Other spread His arms wide and turned his face upwards into the Endless Dark.
"You are Her Children. Praise be to our Mother, whose name is ERESHK."
"MOTHER BE PRAISED!" shouted the Children.
Their brothers and sisters set to work, etching Her marks into their skin for all time.
Above the fire, they saw Her.
She saw them too.