The full moon shone the deep red of spilled blood high above the ruins of Tel Megiddo. Gaspar glanced at it only briefly, thinking it somewhat unusual, before his thoughts went elsewhere. There were more important matters to worry about than the colour of the moon, after all.
His hands weren’t bound and he wasn’t being restrained. The kidnapper had been clear that he should walk freely, as if it were his own choice to be there. Perhaps he could have run. But the truth was that he was afraid to. He knew nothing of the man walking several steps behind him, not whether he could run fast or even if he had a gun, but there was something about him that made Gaspar go cold. He just knew that if he tried to run then the man would make him pay.
He hadn’t even gotten a good look at the man. That was part of the problem. The way he had just appeared in the back of Gaspar’s car – no, he must have smuggled himself in and waited for the right moment to reveal himself, surely? Either way, it had shaken him up enough that he hadn’t questioned the command to turn off the road and he wasn’t questioning the one to keep walking now.
Leaving the car park and the illumination of the street lights, the world around him quickly darkened. It was almost silent, too, save his own footfalls and the occasional whoosh of a car going down Highway 66. There was no wind, making the heat of the summer’s night stifling. He could feel the sweat forming on the nape of his neck and under his arms as he climbed.
The dead city-state was not a large place by modern standards. Moonlight reduced the distance to a silhouette, the shape of palm trees rising above the crests and troughs of rock and stone around the hill. His immediate vicinity was grey, his eyes barely making out the carved trenches, the ruined rock walls, the dry, hard ground which crunched underfoot. But he wasn’t here to admire the scenery, the presence of his captor still looming just behind him, and so he pushed on across the excavations.
“Here we are.” The man said, his voice low and rough as though he had spent a lifetime smoking.
The only thing that Gaspar could see nearby was a deep crater in the ground with grass overgrown around the walls. The steps here were far more modern than the site, freshly-painted handrails at their edge. They led down into total darkness. His heart rate quickened and his legs felt less steady than they had been. He took a deep breath and took hold of the handrails.
“What – why are we here?” He asked.
“It will become clear soon enough. Go on.”
The voice brooked no argument, and so he went forward. The steps took him into the rock, where the underground shaft quickly enveloped him in black. The steel clang of his footfalls became a wooden clack as he reached the older stairwell. There was something odd about the sound and he couldn’t put his finger on it, until he realised that he could only hear one set of footsteps. He looked back.
It was too dark to see anything, but a voice just above him said, “I’m still here. Don’t worry.”
It would have been easier not to worry if the man hadn’t been there. Still, there was nothing else to do. He pushed ahead blind, willing his heart to beat slower and his breath to come softer – in both cases to no avail. There was a tightness across his chest which only increased when he saw the black give way to a green glow up ahead. He had reached the spring. As the light from the waters came up to meet him, he was able to see the partition erected to stop tourists getting wet.
“And even now He Himself accompanies me, and He Himself keeps and protects me.” He recited under his breath. “And in His power I fight with Âz and Ahriman and teach men wisdom and knowledge and save them from Âz and Ahriman.”
When he had gone as far as he could, he turned to see the shadow of a man separate itself from the darkness. It stopped before it reached enough light that he might have been able to make out features. Gaspar’s heart pounded in his ears.
“So, then.” The man said. “It is time that we were properly introduced, is it not?”
Gaspar had no idea what to say. “It – yes. Yes.”
“Well, then, your name?”
“Uh, yes. Yes, of course. Gas – Gaspar. It’s Gaspar.”
The man stepped forward and Gaspar saw that he was dressed in a black suit and a lilac shirt. “It is nice to meet you Gaspar. My name is Lucius.” His hair was short and neat, his face plain and his skin white. He moved close enough to clap Gaspar on the shoulder. “I would like to apologise for the circumstances of our meeting. I’m afraid it was necessary. The moon will only shine with blood for so long and the offering must be made in very specific conditions.”
“Offering?” Gaspar asked, his breath quickening so much that he struggled to take in air. “What offering?”
Lucius put a hand on his chest. “You’re having a panic attack. Slow your breathing. With me; in.” Gaspar breathed in, Lucius pressing firmly on his chest. “Out.” Gaspar breathed out again, his head already starting to clear with that rush of air. “And again. In. Out. In. Out. Feel better?”
Gaspar swallowed and nodded. “Yes. I do.” He couldn’t contain his surprise.
Lucius put an arm around Gaspar and guided him to the spring. “Now, you’re here because you were raised in a faith that is supposed to be long dead. Manichaeism is rather bland and derivative as cults go, it must be said. But for some reason, the blood of true believers has more than its share of uses in ritual.”
His blood? Gaspar’s stomach seized up.
Lucius’s grip around his shoulders was strong, but fear had frozen Gaspar anyway so that he couldn’t struggle. “A craven faith, yours. Which I suppose makes it an irony how useful the blood of your true believers can be in the dark arts.”
Gaspar’s head pounded. Blood pulsed in his ears. His legs felt as though they were collapsing under him, though Lucius’s grip meant he wouldn’t fall.
Lucius raised his free hand and glanced at his watch. “Anyway, time is wasting.”
In response Gaspar offered only a choked grunt.
The sound of steel being drawn was unmistakeable and a moment later the tip of a short, curved blade was at his throat. Sharp and cold.
“Why?” He managed to say. “If you’re going to kill me, at least tell me why.”
“Why would I do that?” His killer asked as he drew the blade across his throat. “It’s not as though knowing would make a difference to you anyway.”
The bite of the blade caught Gaspar’s Adam’s Apple mid-swallow. He gagged as the blood filled his throat. His body arched forward, and Lucius bent him over the partition to the spring. His stomach roiled. His throat grew tighter and his mouth fell open, the blood spilling thick from both there and the gash in his throat.
His strength fled him quickly, but it felt a lifetime before Lucius let him fall limp onto the partition. The world spun and his vision went from green to grey before fading to black. All senses fled him and he met the mercy of the Great Spirit.
Far above where he died, in the view of the red moon, a hail of shooting stars scarred the night sky.