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Author Topic: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread  (Read 8336 times)

Offline xiagan

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[Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« on: December 01, 2014, 10:03:16 PM »

Thor's Fight with the Giants by Mårten Eskil Winge

December. The darkest month with the longest night of the year. Harsh and cold days and mankind struggling in winter's iron grip.
Separated through walls of snow from others, one feels tiny and alone.
What better time to remember that there are Gods looking out for you? Gods, who may help you through these hard times for a little prayer or one or two blood sacrifices? Gods, created in your image - or the other way around?

This month you're going to write a story seeped through with a religion, cult, sect or other belief system. Or more than one. Malevolent, Benevolent, even consistent. I don't care what kind of religion, as long as it's a big part of the story. Or somebody living one, suffering through one or (why not?) creating one.

Have fun writing and remember: Everything is believable with the right amount of faith, delusion or denial. ;)

Rules:

1. This can be prose or a poem.
2. The story must contain a religion (or more, or... see above).
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-500 words long.
5. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That's why they're called limits.
6. Your entry can't be published somewhere else before.
7. This is a writing contest, not a "I have written something like this ten years ago" contest. So if you happen to have a story that fits one of the themes, I'd like it to have a mayor overhaul/edit. Work for it. ;)
8. Please add your story's word count and, if you have, your twitter handle.
9. Please put your story in [ spoiler ] tags to make the thread easier to handle. :) You can find them above the smileys next to the 'youtube' symbol:

Entry will close January 1st 2015 and voting will begin somewhere around the same time too.*

Please post your entry below. All members are eligible to join. If you are not a member you can join here. Sign up is free and all are welcome! :)

The winner will have their piece displayed on the main Fantasy Faction website sometime in the next months.

Remember that this thread is only for entries. Discussion or questions can be posted here.

*I seem to never be home around the end of month, so please excuse me if I'm not always on time (which is hard in an international contest with all the time zones anyways. ;))
"Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis." (Laplace)

Offline jamesr

Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2014, 06:02:58 PM »
My first submission. I hope I didn't miss the concept. 880 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
   Now, it was the end. This was to be the divine moment when a life of worship and sacrifice all came to a head, and she was rewarded for tireless efforts. She had never missed a day of worship and was constantly out to spread the word of the church, just as she had been told she was to do. She had supported every cause that the leaders of her religion had ever informed her were right, and damned everyone the leaders deemed to be wrong. Regardless what her mind had told her, she knew to resist her basic thoughts and emotions because the good people of the church had informed her of what was right. She had always done an excellent job of setting aside her own thoughts in order to adopt those of the church. Now, she was to be given entry to the eternal bliss that was Heaven.
   She waited calmly in the darkness, without a doubt of what was coming. She perused the memories of her life as they played across the emptiness. The images of those she had silently judged to be living their lives in an unholy manner filled the void before her, and she pitied them. As the images of those happy, yet completely unholy heathens, played on, she remembered the desire she had to join them. She had wanted so badly to take part in the fun, but always feared she would go too far and spoil her chances at eternal happiness. She was always sure to repress those instincts to join in and let herself experience the joy she watched others take part in. So, she always sat off by herself and watched, and waited.
 She continued to watch as the memories played on. Those poor souls, enjoying Earthly pleasures instead of simply waiting the short span of an entire lifetime for their Heavenly reward. They could have all been there with her, moving on to the joy that had been promised to them if they could just resist their urges. And now, she waited.
   An image of her sister began to play out on a nearby section of the emptiness. Her heart felt heavy that she would not see her dear, beloved little sister, again. She knew they would not be together in eternity for her sister was not deserving of so high an honor. Oh, she had been kind, and sweet, and loving, and charitable, but she was far from devout. She never worshipped as they had been taught, and she was known to over indulge when the opportunity presented itself. She had taken a number of lovers, and yet, never married. She gave birth to a child outside the confines of marriage, and although she raised that girl with love, she would never be forgiven by the religion she had turned her back on. As the elder sister, she had wanted to tell her how proud she had been of her, and how she admired her strength. But, she knew the church had to have been right, so she kept her thoughts to herself, once more. Now, she wept quietly in the dark as she waited.
   Time continued to pass, and still no one came to deliver her to her destination. A new image took shape in the dark. It was her son as a newborn. Joy filled her heart as she was able to watch every memory she had formed of him during his younger years, making sure to revel in the happiness they had once had. The time passed much too quickly, as it had in life, until a scene she had been dreading filled the emptiness. It was the day her son had given her the news about himself. Once again, her mind told her what to do, and again she resisted as the church had told her. He left on a Tuesday.
   As the images of her son leaving consumed her, she felt the anger welling up in her the way it had so many times before, and in this time of her life in particular. She believed the church was mistaken. She believed, with all of her heart that she should have taken her son into her arms and told him that it was alright, and that he was perfect the way he was.
   But, as she had done in life, she now continued to do after. She repressed her own silly thoughts on what was right in favor of the things she had been taught were right.
“This is my final test,” she thought. “They’re leaving me here to further test my devotion!” She had always been told that everything was a test in life. That any time you had a thought that contradicted what they taught, you were being tested. And, if you went against their teachings, you failed the test. “I waited my entire life for this happiness,” she thought. “I can wait a little longer!” She continued to look on at the memories that now surrounded her. The images of her life continued to drag on, reminding her of how much she had witnessed in her years. An endless parade of memories of herself watching others throwing away their eternity for a brief lifetime of happiness.
And she waited…
« Last Edit: December 05, 2014, 06:20:48 PM by xiagan »
Please don't judge me on my punctuation! I have to pay people to show me my mistakes!

For anyone interested:
http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Dunamy-James-R-Landrum-ebook/dp/B00I7LGNH8

Offline bdc11

Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2014, 08:45:48 PM »
Woohoo! I finished something! It was a close call with 1,497 words. Sometimes I say stupid things on twitter @BDCavet.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Father and mother had me relentlessly remembering the spells from the book of the dead. They knew my passing was imminent after I’d torn my leg open on a jutting rock near the great Nile River. The wound had festered and the discoloration of skin was spreading rapidly. Often times when mother poured over me reading the texts and asking me to repeat them I couldn't focus. My body was very hot and very cold at the same time. Nothing could relieve my fluxing temperature and as the days turned into nights I could no longer balance the time well. One moment mother would be there weeping beside me in the daylight as Ra rose above the sky and the next I was alone with Khonshu holding the moon disk high above.
A moment of being unable to breathe passed and suddenly I was standing. A small but sturdy boat swayed beneath me and the blistering heat from above shown the ever expanding river that led through a flat sandy wasteland. At the front of the boat stood a very tall sturdy being that was holding a rope that led far into the sky. He turned suddenly and I was shocked to find a feathered face and large sharp beak. His predatory eyes widened and then narrowed as he took me in.
He turned back to the open river and shrieked towards the never ending distance. The boat was being directed by the long rope that this Falcon being was gripping. It went up and up into the sky where my eyes could not look without pain. The boat began to move steadily forward at a great pace causing the cool water to splash about. As the time ticked on I watched as the rope went from straight up to slightly leaning forward.
By being distracted by the ropes progress I didn't notice the large thick of palm trees that lay clustered near a turn on the river. The great falcon man shrieked and pointed with his free hand, frightening me and causing me to fall back in the boat. I peered over the ledge in the direction he pointed and noticed a grotesque figure laying beneath the shade of the trees.
It had the head of a Nile croc and the same reptilian skin but was shaped just as a man should. With long arms and legs and a neck that didn't seem to be thick enough to hold up its large protruding reptilian mouth. It must have heard the slap of the water against the boat because it rose on two legs and turned in our direction. It slowly walked into the water and began to come towards the boat. While swimming its back perfectly resembled a crocodile in the water but the clear water showed his human limbs pawing forward and backward.
He hit the boat with his scaly snout and it shook hard to the right. The falcon man shrieked in outrage as he turned his feathered head in my direction. I realized it was my task to keep the croc from capsizing our small barge as the falcon man held onto our lead. My mother’s voice chimed in the back of my head a passage that could be helpful. It was supposed to bind extremities to the beings body. I uttered the words as my hands grasped the edge of the boat focusing on the croc man that was preparing another assault from the left.
He suddenly went ridged and thrashed helplessly in the water. His jaws opened and closed repeatedly as he sunk beneath the flowing water while our craft moved past him. I turned to see the little waves he had created hit the embankment the croc man was laying on and then every trace of him was gone.
The falcon man shrieked into the sky without turning around and the boat sped up once again into the never ending distance. We continued on while other creatures found us along the wide watery path. A beetle much larger than our boat was found scuttling along an island that lay in the middle of the river and I drove him off with fire. A being made of fire attacked as we passed through a cavern and I used the water to splash him out. A dog with feathered wings met us in a group of reeds and tore at my flesh as it passed overhead. I knocked him far and away with my words of wind.
The battles continued until we met a dock along the way. The rope had slithered down and was pointing nearly straight forward. The falcon man finally turned to me and pointed towards the dock indicating this was my stop. As I walked across the rocky path to a stone temple not far from the bank I turned to see the falcon man ushering forward with one last shriek. The light in the land grew dim as he progressed forward. To my left I gazed towards the river that we had already passed and watched as another beam of light was heading this direction. It wasn't as bright and darkness seemed to be following in its wake.
As I entered the temple a jackal headed man stood to the left of a giant archway. He held the end of rope that lead to a great beast. Like my first opponent it had the head of a crocodile but a great bushy mane of fur circled its slender elongated head. Its hind quarters were hairless and smooth its slender legs were held up by large paws that were equipped with retracted claws. The paws were quite disturbing since they were covered with the same gray hippopotamus flesh of the hind quarters.
To the right stood large column that did not quite reach the ceiling of the temple. A spiral staircase of stone wound its way around the column. At the tip top a knee high scale could be seen glimmering reflections of light from the various placed torches in the room. The jackal man watched as I approached and lifted his hand in a stopping motion. He blinked once as he undid the rope from the beasts’ neck.
I prepared a spell in my mind even though the freed beast sat back on its hunches. The jackal man cut through the silence with a great voice that echoed across the walls.
“I am Anubis. To pass through here mortal you must pass a test. You have helped Ra guide the sun disk through the river of the underworld but one more task is needed before you may proceed. I must weigh your life’s merits against Ma’at. If you have proved yourself to be worthy over a lifetime then you will certainly be allowed to pass into eternity unscathed. If you have not proven yourself and the scales tip against you the beast Ammit that you see before you will end your journey now.”
I knew there were no more spells available to me. Each one from the book was only to be used once.  The beast Ammit would certainly defeat me if Anubis judged me to be unworthy of an afterlife. He continued to stare at me as the echoes of his voice died down in the large chamber. He placed his hand forward palm resting up.
“Present to me your heart and your merits will be weighed.”
I did not know how to present my heart. I stood there for a moment and then was propelled forward. His hand entered my chest as my unwilling legs walked forward. I was able to finally stop as my chest reached his elbow. He retracted his hand and held a large veiny red organ there. It did not beat and make noise. It did not bleed. It did look as if it was gleaming with sweat though. 
Anubis walked past me and began the trip up the staircase towards the scales. The beast Ammit sat there while a great tongue protruded from its toothy snout and dribbled spittle into its mane. Its feline eyes stared and reflected a hunger behind them.
Anubis’s echoed footsteps stopped and he leaned down and placed a very long and fluffy feather into one plate of the scale. They tipped ever slightly. He leaned forward once more and I heard the chink as my heart hit the other plate. I could hear the creaks as the scale tipped back and forth before it came to a halt. There was no beating in my chest but the anxiety racked my body as I watched Anubis considering what neither I nor the beast Ammit could see. Anubis shook his head slowly and sighed as his eyes closed.
“Ammit you will be fed.”
Anubis tossed down my heart from the great stone column and the beast Ammit snapped it up with a clack of his jaws. He swept forward and I followed the darkness down his gullet.

Offline SJBudd

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Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2014, 02:44:52 PM »
Spoiler for Hiden:
An Impossible Task by SJ Budd

“Madame Shadowfaith, you can use your powers to help me? They’re going to kill me.”
The witch stood in the dark shadows of her altar, it was pointless trying to change her mind. You cannot change a witch’s will once it has been cast.
“Millie this is something you must do yourself, to prove yourself worthy of our coven’s tutelage.”
   Everything had been going so right, but now it had taken a rather unfortunate turn. Everything stood against her, she was running out of places to turn to.
   Only a few weeks ago, Millie had been trapped in marriage and Shadowfaith had turned up at the right time, offering her a way out; the chance to become a witch’s apprentice.
   It was her dream to learn the true nature of things, to feel power resonate within and use it for purpose. No one was going to mistreat her again.
   What she hadn’t realised was just how hard it was to become a witch despite her commitment to hard work and dedication. Her probation was almost up and to receive her 1st degree initiation and be accepted into the coven, she was going to have to find her craft name.
   Millie knew how important it was to find her craft name. Without it she would be naked and prone to curses, for to know the names of things was to yield power over them. To become a witch Millie needed to cast aside her birth name and assume her craft name. It could not be found or chosen, only given by the powers above.
   Shadowfaith hadn’t told her how to find her craft name. She couldn’t just make one up, the witches would know in a heartbeat and expel her. If she didn’t become a witch’s apprentice she would be out on the dirty rough streets. She’d make an easy target for Beaufort’s men hunting her.
   Her initiation was three days away. The men were knocking at her door, they had found her already. They had been very quick. They had even tried to enlist Shadowfaith’s services to curse her and reveal her, not knowing that it was Shadowfaith who harboured their fugitive.
   Millie was on her own, Shadowfaith was refusing to intervene.
“Millie, learn to deal with your problems rather than run away. A witch never runs, she always fights. She always wins.”
“If I don’t run, they’ll get me. I’ll miss my initiation and my chance to find my name”
“Only if you let them.”
   It was no use, Millie needed to get out of here and find somewhere to lay low for three days. She was clever and quick she already had a place in mind. Shadowfaith said nothing as she left, the disappointment in her face said it all. Millie hated letting her down but if there was one thing she knew, it was how to survive.
   Outside she pulled her cloak tight around her, it was an unforgiving night. Too cold to be hanging around, she quickly turned east. That’s when they came.
   Roughly she was seized by hands pulling at her hair, her arms and legs. By their strength she knew they were men, Beaufort’s men. Silently they bundled her into the waiting carriage, before she’d had a chance to look upon them they hit her head hard. Her eyes trembled in their sockets. Everything went dark.

   Millie woke and had no sense of how much time had passed. She was on the floor under their feet, and they were travelling fast.
“She looks harmless to me. What’s she done?” One of the men said.
“That’s Millie Beaufort, the servant girl that managed to marry Fredrick Beaufort, the richest heir of Looen.”
“How she manage that?”
“No idea, but once she wed him she left him, made a fool of the Beauforts. And that my friend is how she’s ended up here with us. It doesn’t pay to mess with the Beauforts.”
“How does Master Beaufort want it done,” He kicked Millie as he spoke to make sure she was still out.
“He doesn’t want it done quickly. She deserves to suffer, his words.”
   Millie stayed very still, it would not do to grow fearful now. There was nothing she could do to help herself. If only I knew magic, all her problems would be solved. What was Shadowfaith thinking when she said I had to face these men by myself? How can I defend myself if I don’t know magic?
   So far she’d counted two voices. There would be at least one more out the front with the horse.
“Hang on why have we stopped?”
The driver called out, “The roads flooded, there’s a high tide. I’ll need to check we can carry on.”
“We need to carry on, Master Beaufort doesn’t tolerate failure, and I don’t want to end up like this one.” He gave Millie a sharp kick to her ribs.
“There’s a full moon tonight, it’s unusually low down.”   
   The two men checked that Millie was still out and got down from the carriage and went out to investigate. Millie waited until she could no longer hear them and slowly opened her eyes, she was alone. Her hands were bound behind her back and her shoulders ached. The odds of survival were against her still, but somehow she knew this was an intervention. Had Shadowfaith called down the moon for her?
   Wasting no time she got up despite feeling dizzy and sick and managed to open the carriage door. There were three captors ahead of her and quickly she ran out onto the road to the cover of the dark woods. She fell as soon as she encountered the shrubs and bushes before the trees and managed to crawl out of sight before anyone noticed.
   Millie knew she was still not safe. There was no way she could run, not with her hands bounds. Even in the darkness, if she ran, she would leave a trail of snapped branches and sodden footprints. That’s what they would expect her to do.
   She crawled through thick brambles that tore at her and found a hidden spot to crouch in. She was only yards from the carriage but they hopefully would not look for her here.
   Once they had noticed her missing they split up and searched shouting to one another as they frantically searched. They seemed just as scared as she was. Millie couldn’t risk breaking cover. As long as she stayed hidden, she was safe.
   Feeling cold and lonely her only companion was the moon. She had always harboured an affinity for the moon and took comfort in it gracing the night sky.
    Millie knew she was going to die tonight. You could only run for so long until someone caught you. She wished more than anything to have been initiated as a witch. Oh moon, if only I could have learnt your name, to have known all that you have seen, all that you do see and all that you know. I’d have done anything for those gifts.
   Millie remembered what Shadowfaith had told her; to know thyself and trust the power within. It all made sense now that she knew this was her last night. A tear ran down her cheek and she let out a whimper.
“I promise that should I live, I would serve you until the end. I’ll listen to everything you impart and to learn all you have to offer.”
“What do we have here?” Roughly a hand came down and pulled her hair. As she was dragged up she caught sight of a huge chunk of moonstone illuminated under the moon’s luminescence. It had not been there a few moments before. She hastily picked it up as she was swung over the man’s back as they headed back to the carriage.
   “They’ll be no special treatment for you now little girl.” He snarled as he roughly put her down. Whilst his back was turned Millie drew up her bound hands holding the stone and brought them down with all her might on his head. She’s never known she possessed such strength.
   He went down instantly. Quickly she moved to his side and took the knife from his waist and cut the rope that bound her hands. She kept an eye out for the others, she couldn’t see them but it didn’t mean that they couldn’t see her.
   Quickly she cut the horse loose and mounted it. She turned in the direction from which they had come and bolted like a wild animal.
   It was early morning when she got back to Cawkingsan, her hiding place no more. She let herself in and found Shadowfaith amongst her crystals. She proudly placed her moonstone down in front of the witch who looked impressed.
“I found my name.”
“And will be accepted into the coven,” Shadowfaith applauded, “Tell me.”
“I’m Moonscholar.”
« Last Edit: December 08, 2014, 02:51:57 PM by SJ Budd »

Offline JMack

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Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2014, 10:54:22 PM »
As promised, "Wardu's Wager".  1,499 words, and boy did that take some shaving.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Glatinu and I sat in the market square, mourning for our life in the capital, trying for some flavor of home by  adding ahtene to the stuff that passed for food here in the north.  It was a daily competition, to see which of us could stand a stronger dose of the fiery stuff; just one of the many contests with which my brother officer and I had always passed the time.  Drinking, racing, wrestling, a little light magicking, and best of all, womanizing – these were the staples of our friendship.  But we ate peppers for now in this dull, religion-soaked city of Kath, with its small, odd people.  Why had we even bothered to conquer them?

Our waiter had stepped up to our table quietly.  “Honored citizens,” he began, with a hesitant smile and an accent on the edge of gibberish.  “You new to city.  I be first to welcome you?" He was perhaps the one hundredth complete stranger to welcome us, but never mind, we knew what was coming.  “May inquire - you have found a church yet?”

Found a church yet.  It was the refrain Glatinu and I had been hearing since our ships had arrived in Kath, relieving the men that had marched over land, surprised the northerners and taken the city.  When we'd taken  rooms away from the barracks, the landlord asked if we’d found a church.  When we'd had our kit delivered from the docks, the gang chief took our money, then asked us if we’d happened to have found a church yet, since he could highly recommend one.  From street sweepers to random passers-by it was the same.  I commented on this to the Governor, expecting him to laugh at the locals, but he looked at me seriously and said, "Make yourself useful, then, Wardmulidan and enlist.  Someone on my staff needs to understand these people.”

I was thinking about this as Glatinu chased off our proselytizing server.  Somehow I’d not been able to bring myself to cross the threshold of any church, temple or anchorage.  The Emperor was my God: who needed another?  But, there it was, the governor’s request-cum-order.

“I tell you what, Glati,” I said, in the moment the thought occurred to me. “I will take a dare.  If the very next girl who walks by our table can be persuaded to invite me, I will sign up today, no matter whether she have three eyes and an extra nostril.”

“Alright, if you insist,” said my friend.  “I dare you.  But I think you will be bored five minutes after the chanting starts.”

“It’s a wager,” said I.  “I stand drinks for the next week if I fail.”

“The next woman we see?” he said with a sly look.

“The very next,” I replied.  As a wicked smile crossed his lips, I turned to see one of the witches of Kath moving across the plaza like a ship in a high wind, wrapped in a sea-green robe from head to toe, on business that surely did not include me.

Thinking I would be a pauper by the end of the week – Glatinu was a ferocious drinker – I rapped the table for luck, spit over my shoulder for protection, and sallied out.

But trying to stop the witch was like trying to hold back the sea.  “Subject,” was all I could address to her before she sailed past without a pause.  I half-ran to get ahead of her to make another attempt.  I stepped into her path, swept a bow, and started, “Honored subject, –“, before a gloved finger reached toward me, and I found myself stumbling in sudden pain.

She had magicked me.  Touched me, and turned me!  Shame prickled, and anger, that an officer of the Empire, me, was being swatted aside without the slightest effort.  I spun back, and without thinking summoned fire to my hands.  It flashed through my mind that the witches had held our armies at bay for more than a month before surrendering.  But wisdom sometimes comes too late; my spell shot at her like a whip.  And disappeared with no effect into the deep green folds of her cloak.  She stopped then, a full one hundred paces distant, and pivoted toward me.   I heard Glati yelling, sensed that Kathians all around were finding better places to be.  I fell beneath a wave of power.

It seemed to last forever, and left me breathless, battered, and blind.  When the weight and roll of it lifted, I was on my knees, gasping.  Glati was at my side, calling for our men.  My head was spinning, but I was conscious enough to wonder how we’d ever bested such women.  Soldiers were running to us from their posts around the plaza, and I had the sense things could get out of hand quickly.  My anger turned to fear of being the agent of a situation I wanted nothing of.  “Hold!” I croaked.  “Stand down, Glatinumishdan!  Stand down, everyone!”  I stood carefully, pulling on his arm for strength.  The witch smoldered where she stood.

“Your pardon, lady,” I called, using my shipboard voice.  “There has been a misunderstanding.”

I do not know what might have happened then, for I sensed her rage even at this distance.  But the moment passed, because another figure appeared at the witch’s side.  She was a twin of my opponent, but in the palest blue.  They stood like competing depths of the sea, and inaudible words passed between them.  My assailant stalked away at last, while this second came toward our group.

She regarded us neutrally, her expression hidden by her veil, except for extraordinary, cool eyes.  I wanted to bandy with her as I did with all women, but I was learning not to presume with these witches.

“You wanted to speak with us, foreigner?” she asked in an arresting voice with just a slight northern burr.  She was as short as all of her countrymen, but carried herself with great dignity.  My wits were returning quickly, but those eyes and that voice unbalanced me anew. 

“My apologies, lady,” I replied.  “I simply wished to ask a question of one who clearly must have great knowledge.”  I thought I sounded quite diplomatic, but Glatinu bit back a laugh.

“My sister is not one for words with the empire’s men.”

“But you?” said I. 

“A realist.”

“I am thankful, lady.”

She looked at me steadily, and I reddened, thinking about the bet with Glati, and how I had thought to play with these people.  Seeing my chagrin, she softened.

“A question, you said?"

“Yes,” I answered.  Our men, with calm restored, moved back to their posts.  “Since we arrived here, I have been the, um, honored recipient of many invitations to join a church." I smiled with a bit of my usual humor, “I think I‘ve been invited to join every church in Kath.  Could we have been invited over fifty times, Glatinu?”

“Maybe twenty,” he corrected.

“Ah,” said the witch, “I see.  Have you found a church yet.”

“Exactly.”

“And you have no idea, foreigner, why people you have conquered, whose armies you have blasted, would want you to join them in worship?  I will tell you.”  I saw a smile in her eyes then.  “You see this city.  It is a great wheel, with eight thoroughfares as spokes meeting in this plaza, and a great church at each joining.”  She paused, as though perhaps this was too complicated for me and I nodded understanding.  “In twenty days, at the turning of the moon, it will be our great Festival.  Each congregation will compete in prayer, in artistry, and in strength.”

“Strength?” I repeated, meeting eyes with Glatinu.  Strength was something we knew.

“We bring forth images of our saints, and each church competes to be first to drag its avatar from the edge of the city to the heart.  It is a glorious day for us, when we remember who we are, and what we are.”

“But,” said I, plainly: “I am the Emperor’s man, a foreigner.”

“Look at yourself, soldier.  You stand a full span taller than any of us.  You bore the fury of my sister’s magick.  We look at you,” and she laughed suddenly like a land breeze after weeks at sea, "and we think ‘This one could pull a rope!’”

Which is how Glatinumishdan and I found ourselves twenty days later stripped to the waist, sweating, swearing, and laughing with our fellow congregants as we dragged the heaviest damned block of carved weirdness I’d ever seen from the edge of the city to the very center.  I’d found a tale for the governor, but I’d found much more.

She walked ahead of us, clad in fairest robes of blue, like foam on a cresting wave, calling us to strength and speed.  I’d found my church, oh yes.  And she could have my heart, my soul, my very being for the asking.
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
www.starlit-lands.com

Offline Alex Dutson

Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2014, 10:35:30 PM »
Ordination - 1,249 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
Apostle Meric had his mission. The High Priest had chosen his name from the book of apostles and the bone priests had called him to their sacred hall and told him what he must do to prove himself worthy to serve the God of death. Success would mean he could finally don the long black robes of a priest and paint his face with the white bone chalk. He would move to new quarters and begin to learn the higher arts of the priesthood: poison and weapon-less murder.  He would be shown worthy to serve Iras and to carry on his work in this glib, pathetic world.  Failure would mean service of a more immediate kind.

Meric looked into the mirror and didn’t recognise himself. Instead of the normal drab grey he wore robes of bright yellow.  The colour would have given him a sickly hue but for the red rouge he had rubbed into his cheeks.  His hair had been allowed to grow and curl so the small ringlets bounced when he moved.  Meric pulled his lips upwards, practicing his smile. He looked like one of the farm boys that passed the temple on market day.  It was the perfect disguise.

***

The cart finally rolled to a stop by the gates of the temple of Siru, God of Hearth and Home. Meric climbed down, practiced smile firmly on his face, and joined the group of waiting apostles, their matching yellow robes marking them as guests of the temple.  Soon the gates were pulled open and the twenty-strong group spilled inside.

“Welcome friends! Welcome to the temple of Siru. May your hearth stay warm and your home stay safe.”

The man speaking wore robes of deep gold and had with him three apostles dressed in deep yellow. He raised his arms wide and bowed deeply to welcome the group. Meric suppressed a sneer.

“Too long have the priests of the Gods been warring among themselves rather than celebrating the glory of the faith. This will be the year that the rifts are healed.  You all serve your own Gods but today you come here, dressed in the colour of Siru, to foster understanding between us all. As the High Priest of Siru I do give you safe passage and warm welcome.”

Meric clapped with the others but his eyes did not leave the High Priest’s face. This was the man he had come to kill.

***

They were taken on a tour of the temple complex by the three apostles. Meric tried to follow the High Priest but one of the apostles slipped her arm through Meric’s before he could slip away.  She chattered to him about the temple songs and the special feast days they celebrated as they slowly walked through the halls. Meric smiled and nodded while desperately looking for a way to escape. Her grip was like a vice and it was not until the tour was finished that he managed to get back his arm.  The temple had set out food and drink for the guests and the apostles of the other Gods gratefully filled their plates, marvelling at the excess of sweetmeats, fruits and fresh bread.  Meric was disgusted; the priests of Iras had no need for frivolous extravagance. Porridge, bread and water were enough to keep them strong and ready to serve.

For appearances sake, Meric half-filled a plate then slipped quietly towards the back of the room looking for an entrance to the inner temple.

“There are some cushions over there if you’re looking for a seat.”

Meric jumped and bit his tongue to stop the curse already forming in his mouth. It was the girl again. He turned and smiled.

“Thank you, I’m quite tired.”

He walked over to the cushions hoping it would be enough for her to lose interest. Instead she followed him, settling herself down next to him and giving him a friendly nudge.

“Do you like our temple?”

Meric forced another smile.

“It’s lovely.”

The girl’s smile widened and she leaned into him, her voice lowering to a whisper.

“There’s plenty of parts you haven’t been shown. I could give you a more private tour. The library, the offices, the bedrooms...”

Meric tried very hard not to smirk.

“I think I would enjoy that.”

The girl might be harder to lose when they were alone but Iras would not mind meeting one more soul before he greeted the High Priest.

***

They snuck through a hidden door and down the winding temple corridors, ducking into rooms whenever they heard the sound of footsteps.  The girl giggled and pointed things out to Meric in a theatrical whisper,

“That’s where the canton keeps her robes.”
“This is the smallest library.”
“Through there are the novice dorms.”

Meric thought about how he would kill her. A knife through her lung would work. No screaming but it should still be slow and painful. There were plenty of rooms to hide the body in. She could die slowly, gasping for air, hidden under a pile of unwashed sheets. But first he had to know where the High Priest was.

They reached the bottom of some stairs and the girl paused.

“That’s the way to the High Priest’s rooms.”
“Let’s go up.”

Meric gave the girl his most winning smile. She frowned,

“It’s forbidden.”
“Just a quick look.”

He winked and she giggled again, her frown breaking into a smile.  Slowly she led the way up the stairs. Meric slipped his hand into his robes, searching for his knife. They were almost at the top. He slid the knife out and moved forward. The girl turned.  Meric lunged but she caught his arm.  Their eyes met and for a moment neither moved. Then the girl slammed her foot into his knee and Meric tumbled back down the stairs.

***

Meric swam back to consciousness in a brightly lit room with a painted ceiling.  He was spread eagle on his back, his arms and legs tied tightly to the table with rope. Meric tried to struggle free but found he could barely move.

“Seems they don’t teach you escape tricks in the temple of death.”

Meric turned his head. The High Priest was there, still dressed in his golden robes. His smile was no longer jolly and welcoming but dark and coldly amused.

“I’m not-”

“Yes you are. Those that serve Iras can never hide as well as they think they can.  You came here to kill me, to keep the wars going, but you failed.  Your priests will pretend they never knew you and the faith will get the chance at peace, at least until their next ridiculous plot.”

The High Priest turned away,

“I leave him in your hands. Show him how Siru teaches us to treat those who come into our homes with ill intent.”

The girl came forward into Meric’s eye line. She wasn’t giggling anymore but stood very close and watched him with a mocking smile.  Meric sneered at her,

“I serve Iras, God of death. He is in my blood and my soul. Do you really think there is anything the God of hearth and home can do to hurt me?”

The girl smirked at him.  She stood and moved to the edge of the room out of Meric’s sight. Something crackled and hissed. She stepped back into view. The end of the poker was glowing white with heat.

“Shall we see what the hearth does first?”

Offline Doctor_Chill

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Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #6 on: December 18, 2014, 04:19:16 AM »
Free time and plot bunny does not do well for me. Eh. 716 words not counting the title. Find me on Twitter @Caleb_GH where I haven't said anything in months.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Blood to Blood, Dust to Dust



“Tell me, Señor Alvino. Do you believe in life after death?” The prisoner was a fat man with rolls on his jowls and a stomach that could feed half the district. To make matters worse, he was sweating. “Hmm?”

   The man refused to answer, buttercups swollen in this summer heat. I loosened my palm and let the knife dangle like rain drops. Around his back. To his throat, where it rested there for all to see. His eyes grew wide, and I said, “Don’t make me ask again.”

   He swallowed. Hard. “I do.” The tremors returned.

   “Good.” I took a step back, away from him to the table behind and placed the knife down. Was going to make this smooth sailing. No half-measures or hesitation from me. “Now for the easier questions.” I stayed in his shadow. “Why did you send soldiers to the Conclave? What good would you have if your position at court was lost?” He could rightly answer that now.

   His face contorted into a grin. I had let a piece slide. “Do you believe in life after death?”

   “Perhaps,” I said, just to toy with the churchman. He didn’t fall for it. “But why not send holy men to do your biding? Why mercenaries? Why at all?”

   “I didn’t expect an Assassin-Prince to be there.” I smiled. Ah yes. Didn’t think about the diplomatic knife, and truth be told, that’s all we were. Persuasion at the end of a blade. Shape it however you want, but the nobility bought us as bodyguards. And torturers. And killers. I was happy to do all three today.

   “That still doesn’t answer my question.” I walked to the striped window, watching birds fly over the harbor. “You like heights?” Time to find something. “You with the High One? Or the Almighty? Whatever they call it?”

   “What? No.” He sounded positively insulted. “I’m part of the Church. Why would I—?”

   “Attack the clergy then? I don’t know.” And that’s when things fell into place. Again. “The Church paid you to intervene. So the peace offerings would never reach fruition.”

   Fat-man scowled. “Heavens no. Why would they want those tariffs on tithes and donations?”

   “I don’t know. Why is money ever a good thing?” He caught the bite in my words. I came closer. Close enough to smell the salt rubbed in his wound; salt in the sweat he was excreting. “Tell me, Bishop, what would you have me do to a man who committed treason?”

   “I’d let him go.”

   “Smart man.” I went around to pick up the dagger. “But if exile was out of the question? What then?”

   His face grew pinched. “I’d say you’re wrong. The Church didn’t pay me.”

   “Ah, then somebody did.” I ran a finger across the tip of my blade. “Then who if not the clergymen? Who else would want to stop the peace talks?” Who would be affected by the tithe tax? The poor? The helpless? They could hire a band of mercenaries? “Hmm?” I pricked my finger and licked it. Tasted sweet. Then wiped the blood on my trousers. “Who?”

   “Him.”

   I cocked my head in mock humor. “Who? The Almighty?”

   “No,” he said, face stonework. Then a shift. Almost unperceivable at the switch. Deflated. Light rippled in from the window, casting a pale reflection of a man who had given up. Who had given up on something deeper. We had been at it for days. This was going nowhere. The same circles. And oh how I had been stupid.

   “My employer.” Of course. The Grand Duke of Lorraine could appease the poor and move power away from the Church if the populace blamed them for a closed-quarters attack. It was brilliant. And yet, risk his life? Risk mine? All a part of the job, I chided.

        Then a knock on the door. A letter. From the man upstairs. It was time to stop. Lovely. Just when I had reached the good part. "I'm sorry. It's over." I needed more, for me. For the Guild. But ah, better to not get tangled in higher powers.

   Fat-man ended with a nod. Assurance. Understanding. That’s the deadliest religion in the world. I let him cower there for a second. Let his voice rise from a mumble to a plead. “Can you drown me? Where I can be with the Lady of the Lake?”

   I took a step forward, went to his back. Dripped the knife on his jugular and sliced. “Of course,” I whispered. Let him drown in his own blood, like the honorable. He would get his ashes sprayed across the lake. Anything for the Church of Her Holiness.
« Last Edit: December 18, 2014, 04:24:51 AM by C.Hill »
“It’s a dangerous thing, pretense. A man ought to know who he is, even if he isn’t proud to be it.” - Tomorrow the Killing, Daniel Polansky

Offline oldmanmitchell

Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #7 on: December 21, 2014, 03:33:31 AM »
Hi all.  I'm a long time lurker and a big fan of the monthly writing contest.  I liked the topic for this month's contest and figured it was probably about time I signed up and got involved.  1497 words.

My Twitter handle is @oldmanmitchell.  Not that I tweet much, though that could change at any moment.

Hope you enjoy!

Spoiler for Hiden:
Keeping the Faith

Crouching beside the corpse, Karsten laid his hand upon the dead man’s fur-cloaked shoulder.  He glanced at the blood pooling beneath the body, watching it eat into the snow, still warm.  There was no need to turn the body over to know who it was.  Grinhold was a giant even amongst his own people.  ‘Fear not, brother,’ Karsten told him.  ‘I’ll see your ashes cast to the Seven.’

Karsten pushed himself to his feet, tugging his own cloak tighter to him, letting the warmth of the heavy fur envelop him.  He peered ahead, trying to see past the snow flurry and through the mist... but it was only when the wind shifted slightly that he caught sight of the second body, lying just a few yards ahead.  ‘My thanks,’ he whispered to the Seven, before stumbling on.

After a short distance he found a sword lying in his path, half buried in the snow.  He could see blood spattered along the length of the blade, which was curved in the Basillian style.  That does not bode well for our friend, he thought, quickening his pace.  I should have been here sooner...

...as he would have been, of course, had everything gone to plan.  He would have reached the foreigner before his countrymen, stealing her from under their noses.  Instead, a blizzard had swept in across his path, stranding Karsten in the midst of a white storm that not even the Will of the Seven could clear in time.  The gods denied, he reflected now, still not really believing it.  How could they be?  This is just the beginning.  The true storms are yet to come.

He recognised the second body at once. Thurmon.  Grinhold’s brother.  An ivory-handled dagger jutted from the man’s bearded face, marking him as dead as dead could be.  Karsten could only marvel at the skill involved.  Though smaller than his kinsman, Thurmon was no less deadly with a blade.  For the foreigner to have bested both of them was special indeed.  Leave her with us, Chadra, Karsten pleaded with the darkest of his gods.  We’ll need her talents for the task ahead.

But he should have known better than to plead with the Black Wind.  When Chadra desired a soul, he would take it, no matter how strong the Will of the other six.  Karsten was reminded of that truth moments later, after following a scuffed, blood-soaked trail away from Thurmon’s corpse to where the last of the bodies had fallen.  There he paused in his stride, breath catching in his throat.

The thick grey hide of the Old Bear stood unmistakable against the whiteness of the snow, as did the tattooed arms of Siginhard, the man who wore the famous bear’s pelt.  He lay face down in the snow, his blood scattering the scene around him.  Chief of the Blue Hands, thought Karsten, awestricken.  Chief of the Blue Hands and the twins who followed him; all dead at the hands of a lonely woman.  Most impressive.

Karsten felt a flicker of hope as his gaze swept the scene.  He could see no sign of the foreigner.  Perhaps she escaped unharmed, he thought briefly, desperately... before a muffled whimper drew him back to reality.  Fearing the worst, Karsten surged forward and heaved Siginhard’s corpse aside, rolling the man onto his back to reveal the smaller body hidden beneath him.

The woman’s eyes – the brilliant blue of a clear summer’s day – stared back at Karsten wide and fearful, her breath falling out in ragged, misted clouds, her face almost as pale as the snow in which she lay.  Karsten’s gaze drifted down from those terrified eyes to the woman’s belly, where blood stained her clothes and pumped freely from a vicious wound, the sight of which made Karsten wince.

The woman stretched for her sword, but Karsten kicked it from her grasp before she could reach it.  ‘No need for that, One God,’ he told her in the broken tongue of her people.  ‘I come to help.’

‘You’re one of them,’ she said hoarsely.  ‘Why would you help?’

‘I am not one of them.  Basillian, yes.  But these ones do not hear the Wind as I do.  As you could.’

‘There is only one way to hear the wind,’ she said stubbornly, squeezing closed her eyes as a fresh wave of pain washed over her.  It took a moment before she could force the rest of her words out through clenched teeth.  ‘It is the howling of winter.’

‘Yet it is so much more than that,’ enthused Karsten, crouching beside her.  ‘It is the Will of the Seven.  You have heard their voices in the darkest of storms, have you not?  Calling to you?  You could hear them now, if you would only listen.’

The agony etched on the woman’s face faded slightly as the pain subsided.  She studied Karsten more closely.  ‘What would they say to me, these gods of yours?’

Karsten sighed.  He could see the disbelief in her eyes.  ‘No one can tell you that,’ he replied.  ‘You have to hear it for yourself.’

‘Then what do they tell you?’

‘They told me to find the five who walk in the shadow of the Wall,’ said Karsten.  ‘They told me to find you, Brinya of the One God, and open your mind to the Will.’

The woman’s laugh turned into a bloody cough.  ‘It’s too late for conversions, I think,’ she wheezed.

‘It’s never too late for that,’ said Karsten.

He leaned forward to probe at the woman’s wound with his fingers, brushing aside her feeble attempt to stop him.  The cut was small but deep, penetrating into her gut.  Though the blood was still flowing, it was slowing now, weakening.  ‘You may not have long left,’ he warned, ‘but I can help you.  I can take you somewhere safe.  I can heal you.  All I ask in return is that you follow me to the Mouth.  There your mind will be opened to the Will.’

The woman shook her head.  ‘All you ask is that I forsake my god for the chance to live a little longer.  And to pay for that chance with the worship of false gods.  These things I cannot do.’

‘Yet your god brought you here,’ said Karsten, pointing to her wound, ‘to this.  My gods will save you.  All you have to do is listen.’

‘And what would they ask of me, I wonder?  To bring down the Wall, perhaps?  The only thing that stops your people from slaughtering mine.’

‘If that is the Will,’ said Karsten reverently.

‘The Will?’ the woman scoffed, her voice starting to rasp.  ‘That’s just the voices you hear in your head.  You’re insane, Basillian.  You’re a madman.’

Karsten could only smile.  ‘Why?  Because I choose to dedicate my life to gods that speak to me?  Well, you follow a god who speaks to no one, girl, and in return he has led you here, to death.  That is madness.  Come with me and I will show you the truth of this.’

The woman lifted her head to inspect the wound herself, gingerly probing with her own bloody fingers.  With a grunt, her head fell back and she sighed, resigned.  Yet not entirely, thought Karsten.  It’s there, in her eyes.  She wants to live.

‘Come with me,’ he urged.  ‘Let me save you.’

‘The price is too high,’ she replied, tears in her eyes.  ‘You’re right: the One God led me here.  But I have to believe he has his reasons.  I’ll not forsake him now for fear of what lies at the end of the path.  Not when I can feel the warmth of his light calling me home.’

Karsten nodded respectfully.  ‘Your faith is strong,’ he said softly.  ‘I can see why they want you.  Few enough have the strength to sacrifice themselves for the calling.  But it matters not, Brinya.  I will find the others who walk in the shadow of the Wall.  They will help do the impossible.  They will bring the Wall to ruin.’

‘We shall see,’ the woman said, her eyes fluttering slowly as she struggled to keep them open.  ‘The Light burns through shadows and wind and all.  No one can hide from it.  Not even you...’  Her voice trailed off as her eyes slid closed.

Rising from his haunches, Karsten glanced down at the corpse of Siginhard, remembering too the bodies of Grinhold and Thurmon lying somewhere in the mist.  Great warriors, all of them, killed by a foolish woman who chose death over life.  Faith is a funny thing, he mused.  It turns even the strongest of us into fools.

The wind shifted suddenly, carrying the snow east.  ‘I’ll be back,’ Karsten told his fallen brothers.  ‘I’ll cast your ashes to the Seven.  But first I have to find Torbin of the One God.  He has work to do.’

And with that Karsten set off east, in search of the next.

Offline Danno43

Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #8 on: December 22, 2014, 08:17:36 PM »
My first submission is below:

"Curate of Souls" - 1129 Words

Spoiler for Hiden:
“Do you remember, Gerard?” the angel asked me from across the battle-scarred table.  “Remember how it felt the first time you accepted His will?  How good it felt?  How loved you felt?”  His gaze was intense…burning right through me.  His eyes were a brilliant silver color.

I must be dreaming... and I really hoped that the bikers that surrounded us were totally ignoring this conversation.

“Don’t you want to feel that way again?”

I couldn’t answer.

“You still believe.”  It was more of a question than a statement.

I just stared at him.  The silence was answer enough.

“Don’t you?”  Baleful.  Chiding.

“I don’t know what I believe anymore.”  Fifteen years of doing His work on earth left me scattered emotionally and faithless.

“You were tortured by leaving the work.  Can’t even describe how it feels, can you?”

“I have enough to answer for without adding that to His list.”

“At least you had the option of walking away.  Some of us don’t get that luxury.  But the price for walking away is what you’ve been feeling.  Just a tiny taste of Hell.”

“How do you know that?  How could you know that?”

Occasionally some biker would glance over at the table and wonder what I was on, sitting by myself and staring intently at the empty seat in front of me.  The whole conversation was silent, strictly in the minds of the angel and I.

“You are the curate of lost souls.”  The words rang like steel against marble.

My temples started to throb and I felt my blood pressure rising.

“Ezekiel 25:17.”  The angel was clearly hopeful that this meant something to me.

“What?”

“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children.”

“Why me?  Don’t you need someone pure?  Someone like you?”

He smiled.  Indescribable eyes.

“No.  We need someone… He needs someone who can think like they do.”

“Who are ‘they’ exactly?”

“The damned.  Lost souls.  Eternally suffering.  God’s lost children.  Just like you.”

I felt the creeping sting of shame and anger, like anyone stung by deserved insult.

The angel continued, “You’ve been astray yourself, thinking your deeds unseen.  But they weren’t unseen, Gerard.  No matter how hard anyone wished they were.”

“So what is this then? Punishment?”

“Atonement?  I can see why you might think that.  But you never really believed Him to be that way, did you?”

“You were the one who just mentioned my tiny taste of Hell.”

“That wasn’t Him.  That was you.  Your own soul feeling the pain of knowing His love and then turning your back on Him.”

“I didn’t turn my back… I just simply couldn’t do it anymore.”

The eyes.  The angel’s eyes started to glow.

“Couldn’t or wouldn’t?  You lost your faith.  You lost your belief that your strength came through Him.”

My anger cranked up to full steam.  “What is this?  I did it.  For fucking years I did His work.  What did I get for it?  A paycheck and the burden of knowing what the true nature of this life is.  I saw and I felt the agony of good, faithful people handed tragedy that they did not deserve.  I saw countless unanswered prayers from bedsides of the dying…prayers that ‘never fail’.  Novena after novena… all the while I’m having to taking dead babies from their mother’s arms…it was just...”

What was that I saw in the angel’s eyes that changed?  Did the pain I felt slip in and scatter his focus a bit.  I saw an opening and decided to keep digging.

“Where was He when these horrible things were happening?  Where was He?  It’s a fair question.  Go ahead and think about it.  I’ll wait for answer.”

The waitress slipped past the table, trying not be noticed.  She wondered why I hadn’t said a word since walking in.  I hadn’t asked for a drink.  She was grateful I hadn’t.

No answer came.  I knew it wouldn't.  Long ago, in my studies, I came to the conclusion that when the prayers of His own Son went unanswered, my own would be quite farther down on the list.

“What is it exactly that I am to do?”

There was no answer in the angel.  His look intensified.  “They will be drawn to you.  To destroy you.  All you need to do is make them notice you.  The rest will just happen.”

“’Drawn to destroy me’…sounds wonderful.  You’re not really selling me on this gig.  What if they catch up to me?  I don’t like the idea of spending my life as demon bait.  Tell Him I said ‘no thanks.’”  I got up and headed towards the door.

I walked out and threaded through the row of choppers and bikes, cautious not to touch any of them.  I was a lot more afraid of pissed-off bikers than I was of supernatural trash.

My car was parked just up the block.  I slid in the seat and keyed the engine.  As it cranked up, I glanced to my right and nearly jumped through the driver’s side window.  The angel was sitting to my right, hands folded in his lap.

“How shall I put this?  You really don’t have a choice.  Well, you do have a choice.  You can either do this with our protection, or do it without.  But you will be pursued by them.  You always have been.  You’ve just never known about it.”

“Why me?  What have I done?”

“You’ve simply been chosen.  Chosen by both sides,” the angel continued “before you were ever born.  You are of the Nephilim bloodline.”

I remember reading of the Nephilim in my seminary days.  They were the offspring of Angels and human women, known by their large size and were sought out and destroyed as abominations.

But they must have missed one.  One who was able to be sheltered and protected.  One who would go on to father future generations.  But enemies remained, and they still hunted.

My gut started feeling hot and loose…pure fear.

“You remember feeling terrified at times and not knowing why?  It meant that one of them was very close to you.  Close enough to feel your heartbeat.  You were in the gravest danger and your instincts were putting you on alert.  Even though you couldn’t see anything, you could sense the danger.”  The intent stare was back.

“But nothing ever happened. It was just nerves. Nothing ever happened.”

“You don’t think so?”  The angel’s look was long and telling.  “No thanks necessary.  You’re welcome.”
« Last Edit: December 24, 2014, 03:07:53 PM by Danno43 »

Offline Carter

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Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #9 on: December 23, 2014, 04:28:01 PM »
Here's mine after a month's hiatus.  Excluding title, it comes in at 1429 words. 

Enjoy. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
Ailurophilia

“It’s just a cat.”

The whisper tore the reverential silence like a gunshot.  Marius smirked as heads turned, angry, judgmental frowns distorting the faces of all around him.  He did not see his mother move but he felt the effect of her stinging hand across the back of his skull.

“Oww!  What was that for?”

Surprise rather than pain elicited the brief cry, his petulance feigned.  All his actions, all the likely consequences had been carefully considered and he intended to milk his time in the limelight for all it was worth.  His mother glared at him, unwilling to be the next person to break the sanctity of the temple, trying to compel him into silent submission.  However, he harboured no such compunctions and ploughed onwards. 

“It’s the truth.  It’s only a cat.  And not even a dangerous one.”

He gestured at the dais.  Positioned on a pedestal at the front of the temple, the cat slept.  Curled into a tight ball, its whiskers occasionally twitched.  Its sleek calico fur was unruffled and barely moving in time with every slow breath.  The deep, blasphemous rebellion stirred even more within him.  It had not even deigned to be awake for the latest bout of religious adoration, let alone his virtuoso performance. 

“If it were a lion, or a tiger, I could understand.  They’re cool.  But it’s just a housecat.  And you just have to sit here.  For an hour.  Even though it’s asleep.”

He tried to keep his tone disinterested but couldn't help himself.  The first creeping, stirring flashes of humour cut through his words and his lips curled into a genuine smile.  Everyone had turned to look at him now, his mother’s face a mask of outraged horror.  And oh how he basked in its warmth.  How he revelled in their shock and righteous anger.  How he craved every scrap of attention.  After all, it was the reason he had allowed his mother to convince him to come to this ridiculous ceremony in the first place. 

The commotion roused one of the priests from his position at the base of the pedestal.  With sinuous, feline grace, he came to his feet.  The figure-hugging, leopard-print outfit he wore almost made Marius burst into a fit of giggles.  The headdress sporting ears and whiskers had his stomach churning with suppressed laughter.  As the priest crept closer, he watched smug satisfaction replace fury on the faces of the congregation as they anticipated holy punishment meted out to the blasphemer. 

Up close Marius was surprised to see just how old the man was.  Deep wrinkles and dull eyes belied the smoothness of his gait.  Under his gaze Marius straightened, shuffling against the cold, hard seat so he could sit proud and uncaring, meeting the priest’s stare with one of his own. 

“You doubt Our Lady?  Our Goddess?  You do not believe in Her divinity?  Her power?”

He had expected vehement bluster.  From the shock on everyone’s faces they had imagined a verbal lashing.  The mockery in the priest’s tone and the twinkle of amusement in the corner of his eyes came as a complete, sharp shock.  A heartbeat of mental acrobatics was all it took for Marius to adjust. 

“Yes.”

A nod emphasised his decree, the single word intended to slice through any pomposity and act as his own denunciation of all those who chose this temple and this deity out of the plethora available all along the Avenue of a Hundred Gods.  After all, other temples, other priests, offered more entertainment, more evangelical performances that stirred the soul and enraptured their audience.  To say nothing of the other gods themselves who all looked more impressive, more powerful than a silly, little cat.

Instead of embarrassed spluttering, the priest’s lips merely quirked upwards into a smile as a low, disapproving grumble swept through the temple. 

“Why?”

If there had been anyone observing the inside of his head at that moment, they would have marvelled at his brain’s gymnastics, the aerial improbabilities he performed to regain his balance and find his feet.  If there had been an award for such things, he would have beaten all competition in that single instant.

“My neighbours have a cat.  It’s lazy.  It sleeps all the time.  It barely hunts and they have to feed it themselves.  Yours probably can’t even manage that much and it’s supposed to be a god.  Gods do things.  Everyone knows that.  They do miracles.  They have powers.  They help people.  They can look after themselves.  Yours can’t even be bothered to wake up for its followers.  Cats are just animals.”

Marius came to his feet, literally rising to the occasion and addressing his audience with sweeping gestures.  Everyone stared in horrified fascination and he loved every glance, every intake of breath. 

“Come with me.”

The outstretched palm and the calm voice almost undid him.  It confounded all expectations.  After attacking the cat’s divinity, he ought to face severe punishment, ought to have incurred divine wrath.  For the first time he felt a sliver of an inkling of doubt.  Stealthy and cautious, it crept into his consciousness and prepared to pounce.  But he had come too far, had enjoyed himself far too much to turn aside now.  Instead he took the proffered hand.  The priest’s smile broadened. 

“Why him?  I’ve been coming here for years.  I’ve been faithful.  I’ve – ”

The priest’s roving gaze found the speaker and subdued her in an instant.  An annoyed frown marred his face and Marius grinned.  Knowing that others considered him blessed and chosen, somehow singled out for special treatment, made the farce all the more hilarious.  He stood tall and lengthened his stride as the priest led him up the aisle towards the cat. 

If anything, up close the animal looked even less impressive.  The black and ginger patches that had seemed so precise, so defined from a distance almost looked as if they bled into each other and the apparently pristine white was speckled with fine, dark hairs.  Geometric patterning was revealed as a lie as randomness prevailed.  His lips curled in distaste and he opened his mouth to utter fresh obscenity. 

“Touch her.”

The command stopped him before he could begin.  The dare dripped from the priest’s voice, the desire to make him baulk, to return silent and chastised to his seat, evident in each syllable.  Clearly everyone in room willed him to rethink his blasphemy.  Instead he reached out in defiance.

Beneath his fingertips the fur was fine, soft and velveteen.  He rested his palm against it and smiled at the priest, hoping for some sign of shock that he had actually risked touching the priest’s god.  From the faces of the watching throng, they at least had expected some response from the cat, some sign of divine displeasure at his temerity.  Yet nothing happened.  His touch provoked no retribution and yet the priest continued to smile. 

The cat stirred.  Subtle, slow movements under his hand alerted him to the beginnings of wakefulness.  Soft vibrations travelled through his hand as the cat started a deep, buzzing purr; all resonance and little sound.  Subconsciously, his thumb moved, tracing the curve of the cat’s spine and the thrum intensified. 

A languid eyelid cracked open.  A dark, slit pupil stared out at him rimmed in almost fluorescent gold.  Muscles stretched and pressed back against his hand and the purr flooded his senses. 

Yes.  You can serve me and mine.

The voice, feminine and sultry, slipped through his mind; quick, nimble and inescapable.  He tried to jerk his hand away but it remained traitorously in place and continued its caresses.  With every movement, every display of bliss from the cat, he became increasingly transfixed, unable to look away, to focus on anything except the sleek form before him. 

You can call me My Lady.

For a brief moment, resistance flared.  Words and protestations tried to force their way towards clamped lips only to stick in his throat like a hairball.
 
“Yes, my Lady.”

The cat’s eye closed as it settled back into sleep.  Yearning cascaded through him.  He longed to see that eye again, feel her gaze and her beauty turned towards him and her voice in his head.  Enraptured, he could only stare, his hand finally motionless.  The priest took his hand between his own, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes.

“I welcome you into our fellowship.  You have truly been blessed by our Lady.”

Around him the crowd stared, mouths agape, his mother’s among them.
 
“Come.  I shall introduce you to the kittens.” 

Offline Elfy

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Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #10 on: December 23, 2014, 11:14:57 PM »
Getting better at this word count thing. This month it comes in at 1290 words, excluding the title. It's called Duty Calls and it's not meant to be anything, but a bit of silly fun. @ChrisElfy on Twitter if anyone is interested, although at present it's @ChristmasElfy, because hey Christmas!

Spoiler for Hiden:
Duty Calls

Ignatius was playing cards with three other cherubs when their supervising seraph, Raphael, flew into the room.

Seeing a seraph at any time rarely boded well for cherubs, and when it was during their scheduled relaxation from active duty (although whether cherubs actually performed any useful function was highly debatable) it was even worse.

The seraph slowed its flight slightly to fit in through the doorway, and hovered in front of the four cherubs, all four wings flapping lazily to keep it aloft and easily assert its superiority over the lower order. Cherubs only had very small, almost vestigial wings, and as they all tended to be rather chubby it was not easy for them to stay in the air for a long period of time. Hovering was an even harder maneuver, and the smallest of the angels were envious of how easily the seraphs could perform it, as well as of their four fully formed wings.

It was then that Ignatius saw the straws clutched in Raphael’s glowing fist, and bit back a groan. It may have seemed primitive to celestial beings, but it was a fair method of determining who got to perform a less than pleasant task.

The cherubs put their cards down on the table and exchanged glum looks.

“I bet it’s one of the saints posing for a picture,” Thomas whispered.

Simon nodded, his downy curls bobbing angelically as he did so.

                                                           ****

“As you know,” Raphael said. “It’s portrait season. An important Italian painter will be struck with a vision soon, and this will inspire him to paint a picture of our very own Saint Cecilia…”

“Cecilia!” all four of the cherubs exclaimed in dismay.

As saints went Cecilia was relatively nice. She was an early saint, being venerated sometime in Earth’s 5th century. She was the patron saint of music, and as such, whenever she was painted, insisted that she be seen playing an instrument of some description. To do that she required sheet music and that meant whichever cherub decorated her portrait would more than likely be holding up the music for her to play. It was a tedious and unwanted task and besides, the cherub’s little arms got tired holding the notes up for the saint to play. It wasn’t like the artists really cared, they usually painted Cecilia with her eyes raised towards the heavens, although how she saw anything through the golden halo that surrounded the heads of all the saints, Ignatius never knew.

With the other saints the cherubs often got to play in the background, whether that was flying around, fighting, stealing fruit or trying on crowns. Ignatius could fondly remember playing a game of catch with another saint’s halo on one occasion. He had found it a really fun game and wondered if the practice would somehow catch on in Earth, although to be honest, halos were in fairly short supply amongst the mortals.

                                                            ****

The cherubs quailed under Raphael’s stern gaze, stopped their vocal protests and shuffled nervously forward to select a straw from the seraph’s glowing fist.

The angel had arranged the straws artfully and they all appeared to be of equal length as they protruded from the hand. Ignatius frowned as he put out a trembling hand to choose a straw from the three remaining. Thomas had gone first and Ignatius could see from looking at what the cherub held up triumphantly, his plump little lips curled up in a victorious smile that he had not drawn the short straw.

Ignatius withdrew one of the sticks that Raphael had cut into varying lengths, and shut his eyes tightly. He opened one slightly and looked down at what was held between his forefinger and thumb. He suppressed a groan. It was very short. Simon was even smiling as he selected another straw and it was longer than Ignatius’ one.

The cherub’s only hope was Zachary. If Zachary got a shorter straw, then Ignatius was off the hook, and the remaining cherub was notoriously unlucky. He’d lost the last eight hands of the card game that the quartet had been engaged in prior to Raphael’s entrance and announcement.

Thomas, Simon and Ignatius all held their breath as the straw was pulled from Raphael’s fist. Both Simon and Thomas sighed as it was shorter than theirs, but longer than Ignatius’ straw. Ignatius raised his eyes towards the shining city of heaven overheard and had it not been for Raphael hovering ominously nearby he would have uttered some very unangelic language at his misfortune.

                                                           ****

Simon, Thomas and the normally luckless Zachary were unmerciful in their teasing of Ignatius after the drawing of the straws. They collected their harps from the card table and fluttered out of the room strumming the song ‘Loser’ which would one day be made famous by a mortal musician by the name of Beck.

Ignatius glared at their departing backs and hoped that they would be struck down by a stray bolt of lightning the next time the archangels practiced, or that they would run foul of a demon and end up in the Other Place, as the Host referred to the domain of Lucifer.

The cherub did not sleep that night. He tossed and turned, trying to mentally prepare himself for the coming ordeal. The other cherubs all spoke in hushed voices of how awful it was to pose with Cecilia, and it was even worse when you saw your fellow cherubs cavorting happily in other works, when you were stuck holding up Cecilia’s sheet music for hour after endless hour.

Then a thought struck the unlucky cherub. To most of the saints and the artists all the cherubs looked exactly the same. They had no way of knowing which of them drew the short straw, if some other cherub was found holding the straw, that one would have to pose with Cecilia and maybe Ignatius could tag along to the fresco that was being done in the Palazzo Reale in Turin. Some of the cherubs were planning a battle royal in the corners of that one.

Ignatius threw off the clouds that comprised his blanket and tiptoed over to where Simon lay curled up under his own downy soft blanket, snoring gently and precious straw clutched in his fist.

Ever so carefully Ignatius tried to withdraw the longer straw from Simon’s grip and replace it with his smaller one. Once he’d done that he would have to make a run for it and hope he wasn’t discovered until it was too late.

The devious cherub allowed himself a sly smile as with the straw in his keeping he slipped out the window and aimed for the courtyard below as dawn began to break. Cecilia was a notoriously early riser and would be in the courtyard outside the cherub’s quarters wondering where her cherub helper was.

Halfway down Ignatius’ tiny wings failed him, and he tumbled gracelessly from the sky towards the unforgiving stones below. He found himself caught in a pair of strong, sure arms and looked up into the smiling face of Cecilia.

“Oh!” the saint exclaimed. “You were so eager to meet me that you couldn’t wait. That is just darling. Come along little one, we’ve got a busy day ahead of us, and I have a lot of music for you to hold up, so that the artist can catch me at my most productive.”

“But…but…” Ignatius protested, holding up his straw.

“Oh, that’s okay, little one,” Cecilia said kindly, taking the straw from the cherub’s hand, and tucking it into her belt. “You don’t have to pay me. I do this for the love of the Lord. We all have to do our duty.”
I will expand your TBR pile.

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Offline Raptori

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Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2014, 03:46:20 AM »
My first submission too, and also the first creative writing I've done ever (ignoring school, which was a decade ago anyway).  ???

It's 1,500 words excluding the title, and it's a bit different to what everyone else has posted...

Spoiler for Hiden:
Beneath The Stars

The stars are a lie.

Splinters of agony punished every movement.

How can a world of pain harbour such beauty?

In vain he hoped each breath would be his last. He held each one as long as he could bear, but each fight was a losing battle.

How cruel to never behold one without the other.

The roaring was ceaseless. It ebbed and flowed in harmony with his pain, malevolent spirits dancing in the wind. His pain felt like fire but the roar was stronger still, a torrent wearing down the mountains themselves.

Perhaps they are the same.

He rolled onto his back, and was rewarded with another blast of agony. Thankfully it subsided, and he was able to breathe more easily. His thoughts shied from one another, shimmering like fish in a stream.

As the sharpest edges of agony receded, he tried to focus. The rough ground was cold and moist. The bass notes of the roar resonated through the rocks and deep into his bones.

I've never seen a sky so calm and clear.

The stars were confined to a band in the dark, everything below was lost in gloom. He had seen a sky like that before. He clung to that memory, using it to order his thoughts.

He had explored a slot canyon years ago, a narrow corridor that cut deep into the rock. Light was scarce except at midday, when sunlight plunged into the depths of the canyon and revealed the majesty hidden below. The walls flowed with mesmerising curves and rich layers of colour half hidden in shadow.

He had spent a night in the canyon, at a point where the floor was only a couple of dozen feet from the surface. A sliver of the night sky was visible through the gap, a thin strip of glittering fabric ripped out and sewn on a cloak of black. The stars above him now had the same sudden, rough edge, the same darkness enclosed the light.

But I cannot recognise a single constellation.

He could see nothing of the world beneath those stars. He clenched his fists, earning another flash of pain. He maneuvered onto his hands and knees, his breath rasping through gritted teeth, and started to explore. Better to feel a bit of pain than to lie on your back and wait to die.

In one direction was a sheer rock face. He would have no chance climbing it until he gathered his strength. Besides, he had to wait until dawn to see whether the ascent would be possible. Climbing blind would be suicide.

The opposite direction lead to water. He clung to the rocks and reached out, but could not touch the other side. He dipped his hand into the water, which dragged it sideways with surprising strength. A river, not a stream. That direction offered no hope of an exit.

He moved upstream, restricted to a narrow strip of rock between the river and the cliff. He found a dead end. The roar was louder here, almost deafening. Defeated, he returned to the wider section of rock which offered him less precarious shelter. He stared at the unmoving stars, and drifted into a deep sleep born of exhaustion.

How is it possible to know nothing of the heavens?

He awoke in a violent fit of shivers. Once it passed, he rubbed his bruised arms and legs and glared at the sky. The stars calmly returned his gaze. The canyon was still shrouded with shadows. He must have slept through an entire day, although oddly he was not hungry.

The sleep had been welcome—he could move more easily, and the stars were clearer. In places he could see faint shadows outlining the undulating cliff face above him. Still not bright enough to climb safely. That left one avenue to explore.

He inched downstream, one hand touching the wall and the other sweeping the floor ahead. The roar faded as he progressed, losing its intensity and giving him space to think.

The noise had been too strong, too deep to be caused by rapids. He could only think of one possibility: a waterfall. That would explain his injuries, but why had he been on the river in the first place? Nothing made any sense. He didn't remember being in a boat, or even being near to any rivers. Certainly none that travelled through chasms like this.

He was chilled to the bone, battered and bruised, and had no possessions other than the soaked rags that clung to his body. He had no idea how he got here, and no idea where 'here' was. The only thing he knew was that the stars above him were wrong.

Could those be the stars of the underworld?

He didn't believe in such things. Couldn't. They never made sense. Most religions insisted something existed after life, but none agreed what that was. An eternal dance in the halls of the mothers? A call to battle against the evil that preyed on the weak? Ecstasy for the chosen few, with the rest left drifting in formless despair? No mention of a dark river under an unfamiliar sky.

Besides, he didn't remember dying. That, he would have remembered. The last thing he remembered clearly was dinner.

He had travelled far to the south, to study the tribes that dotted the lush valleys of the continent's interior. They honoured him with an invitation to view the rituals that marked the summer solstice, something outsiders rarely witnessed. The thought still sent shivers down his spine. Human sacrifice was not something he had ever expected to watch.

The night before the solstice, he had been summoned to dine with the high priest. The priest had explained that through sacrifice, the power of the world of the dead could be drawn into life and captured, allowing them to twist the fabric of the world and work miracles. The food had been exquisite, and the wine intoxicating. He didn't remember leaving the table.

He glanced upwards again, and froze in shock.

Stars don't move so quickly through the sky.

The constellations had shifted. Patches of stars that had been directly above him moments ago were now far behind. He shuffled back and forth along the ledge, eyes locked on the heavens. Sparks of light shifted in and out of view as he moved, as if they were scattered on the slopes of strange mountains in the sky.

They aren't stars at all.

Abandoning all caution, he groped towards a curved section of the cliff and began to climb. Rough edges bit into him, payment for the purchase they gave that allowed him to work his way upwards. The curve of the wall helped, but with numb hands he didn't dare climb far. He didn't need to.

What had seemed like distant stars were noticeably closer every time he glanced up. Some had been hidden by an outcrop, and were mere feet away from him now.

They moved around slightly, and some were clustered close enough together to reveal their true nature. Strings of glistening droplets hung near each blob of light, which throbbed at the end of a muscular worm. Unlucky insects that stuck to the strings were reeled in and consumed.

No longer able to trust his grip, he returned to the safety of the rock floor, but couldn't bear to remain still.

I'm in a cave.

He could remember a blur of motion and sound punctuated by brief moments of clarity. Light on glittering metal, chimes in the wind. Rustling fabric and confident footsteps. Incense and fire. Darkness and the sensation of falling.

His breath came in ragged gasps, his hands clung to the rock face.

The convulsions passed as his training took over. Observe. Analyse. Draw conclusions.

Scholars agreed that sacrifices were drugged into a state of panic and killed in a manner that caused utter terror. They speculated that the tribesmen believed this strengthened the connection to the world of the dead, increasing the power they could gain from the death. Some sacrifices supposedly involved throwing the victim straight into the world of the dead itself, to be swallowed up by the dark.

The world of the dead didn't—couldn't—exist.

They must have thrown him into an underground river, which brought him to this cave. The cave must lead outside—the worms above ate insects that navigated by starlight. Their strings would tangle in the faintest breeze, so the exit must be distant. The ledge clearly didn't lead outside, and he doubted he could find a way out by climbing.

The remaining option made his heart race.

The river had to surface somewhere upstream for them to throw him in, and it would return to the surface again downstream. He was a fair swimmer, but rivers could be harsh—ones running through narrow channels were often deadly. Surrendering to the cold and the dark was a far more certain death.

Waiting will only make it worse.

He threw himself into the abyss.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2014, 07:20:39 PM by Raptori »
I wish the world was flat like the old days, then I could travel just by folding a map.

Offline OnlyOneHighlander

Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2014, 03:27:15 PM »

Here is my submission for this month (just in time). I've taken quite a broad reading of 'religion', so my story is influenced by the nature-centred belief systems of north american First Nations peoples rather than any kind of theism. It is called 'The Reaper's Gale' and is 1,136 words.

My twitter handle is @David_Mac13 but I admit I don't really use it much.

Good luck everyone and Happy New Year.

Spoiler for Hiden:

The Reaper’s Gale
[/b]

The wind in Salakar blows west. It comes down from the distant mountains and brings moisture from the further distant sea, seeding the weak soil surrounding the small, solitary city. Sometimes it drifts languidly across the plain, barely enough to ripple the thin cloth curtains in the windows of the squat ochre houses that cling and coil back and forth across the face of the high desert cliff into which Salakar is built. Other times it charges forward in repeated gusts, lulling only to fill its chest with sand from the near desert so that it may pour the fine grains through every shutter and against every scarred, worn door. On rare occasions the wind becomes so fierce, whirls itself into such a frenzy, that the city’s buildings  groan and crunch, as if their mud-brick walls were made of twigs and the immovable cliff on which they are fixed was a weakened, rotten tree ready to topple at the next vicious, heavenly blast. But always the wind blows west. And the city faces into it.

It was a gentle wind that accompanied Iben up the Red Stairs that morning. It tugged playfully at the Watcher’s robe, feeling for all the world as if a small child, Tainin perhaps, was gripping the fabric around his knee and skipping up the stair beside him. This was impossible of course: the narrow steps leading to the summit and the endless desert beyond could only accommodate a single person at a time. Even then, only the Watcher was permitted to climb.

Salakar was a small city but it was also a free city. Iben was not its master. In the desert there is only one master and the people of Salakar knew it was no man, no beast or god. What is an army against the sand? What is a temple against the soaring heat and the wearing wind? But, nevertheless, Iben was charged with keeping Salakar’s freedom; its prosperity and safety too.

Looking back from the summit of the Red Stairs, his eyes travelling down the steps, over the tiered reservoirs where dew drained off the cliff face and stubborn rice grew, over the highest row of buildings where merchants and rich men stood on balconies counting their worth, across the lower rows where the houses became smaller, shorter, squinter, as crammed into the poor space as their own occupants,  over river and the thin green banks which gave the city food and trade, out into the near desert, Iben watched the threat to Salakar’s freedom draw ever closer.  No contact had been made with the approaching force. Three times their herald had been turned away, despite his promise of goodwill. Actions are more revealing than words and one does not need an army to carry peace.

Iben had watched the column of men for days and days as it trudged across the near desert, winding its way from watering hole to watering hole but always turning towards Salakar. It was a grand force. No rag-tag band led by rich, bloated fools: this army was disciplined, ordered and contained more fighting men than Salakar had raised in the last fifty years. They moved with purpose. They did not rush.

The people had cried to him for action when they saw the army approaching. They had cried even louder when the herald arrived and was turned away. Now that the full mass of the army had taken up camp and was drawing into ranks on the plain not two miles away they begged him to do something, to save them. But the Watcher told them, he had already done all he could. It was not in his power to save them, he was not master here. The desert would choose who was worthy: Salakar or this army of steel and fluttering banners.

Iben turned from the army and the city below. He took the final step of the Red Stairs and walked out onto the summit of Salakar’s great cliff. The endless desert lay before him, still and empty and vast. Golden dunes formed ranges, even slants broken only by fan shaped slides in the fine grains. Rocks lay bare where the west wind had exposed them, all pointing onwards into the never-ending sea of sand. There were no watering holes on this side of the cliff. It was a barren ocean of graves some filled, some waiting.

The Watcher climbed on a small, smooth rock, sat down and crossed his legs. He unwound his head-scarf. Long white hair drifted down across his weathered face. He closed his eyes. He set his hands, brown and wrinkled, lined with sand, palms upwards on his knees and waited.

When the army first came into view and he said to the people he had done all he could, he spoke the truth. He had seen the great host first of course, and he knew instantly what needed to be done. That morning, two weeks ago, he climbed the Red Stairs and sat as he sat now. He sat and asked the desert for aid. Prayed, one might say. He prayed all day and when the sun was setting behind him, casting his shadow across the sand he took from his robe a small box. He had opened it and took the delicate creature from inside, cupping it in his hands. He whispered to it the prayer he had been repeating all through the day and then, with a breath to ease it on its way, he released it into the desert.

Now, with the morning sun warming his eyelids, he felt a flutter of silken wings on his right hand. He opened his eyes and looked down. A butterfly, its wings a shimmering blue and set with points of silver, rested in his palm, slowly beating. He looked up at the desert and smiled. A gentle breeze cooled his face, lifting wisps of hair and pushing them back towards the city and the army that stood before it.

Iben replaced his headscarf. He lifted his old body from the small, smooth rock and turned to the Red Stairs, ready to return to the city, the east wind at his back.

Soon the fluttering banners of the army will drop, only to rise again in the other direction. The people of Salakar will run for their homes. They will bolt their doors, draw shutters over their windows, stuff cloth in any gaps and huddle as close to the cliff as they can. The army will look on in triumph as the city cowers in fear. And fear it will be that drives Salakar to hide. But not of the enemy, not of the army. They fear a far greater power. The Reaper’s Gale is rising and none can stand against it.

“Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it's much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world!” Neil Gaiman

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Offline Bardo Thompson

Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #13 on: December 31, 2014, 08:43:26 AM »
That old teacher, pain    1,490 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
The Neophyte kneeled before the Hierophant, in the cleansing heat of a forge being awoken.
Both were of different age, with the initiate being older than what was common, and the priest younger than what was the custom. They both wore simple garb, though for the ceremony, the Neophyte had to forgo his robes of gray, white, and red, while the Hierophant stood in his meager regalia, slowly circling around the man. Around them, metal was being heated and hammered into place with a rhythm borne of reverent and practiced hands.
“In the beginning,” the teacher said, circling around the neophyte, “all was one.” The Hierophant felt and thumbed past single links in a chain as he spoke, each one lined with glowing sigils.
“All was a place of flux where substance and space was without boundary, where time crashed against matter like waves against the shore.”
The Neophyte was laid down upon a stone plateau before the Hierophant, his eyes closed and listening to the story he had been told before, hearing the symphony of creation that surrounded him as bellows were roused and metal struck.
“It was in a single moment, a moment where the chaotic forces of this place had flown and crashed against itself with such intensity, that chaos and flux inverted, and this affectation of all things had then had rebelled against rebellion itself.”
Cold water was being washed along the calves and forearms of the Neophyte as he lay by hooded nuns that had devoted themselves to various healing aspects.
“What came forth,” the Hierophant continued, “Was a being self-caused and distinct from the chaos that surrounded it, that enveloped it. With a word, worlds and stars and heavens the things that lied within the interstices were defined into being from pristine entropy. With a resounding peal of force, it crafted an explosion so fierce that its effects could be averred to still exist today from the theosophists and the astronarches. This explosion forced all things apart, so that each may fully form without interference.”
With every pause of the teacher’s words, the Neophyte heard the hammers of the forge increase the pace of their labor, never missing an instance of disharmony between them.
“As it resided within planar fields, the being meditated on the work that it had wrought, troubled by a lack in its designs that it could not perceive.” The elder looked at the markings of the chain he wore around his arm.
“For eons did this entity lie inert, unmoving as the heavens swirled and scattered around it. In one moment, however, did it learn both of its own name and what the worlds that he helped craft lack. Its name being Haalthrek, That Which Binds. The moment that Haalthrek learned of its name and title, it had learned of what his worlds lacked.” A stone block was carried by nuns to be rested at the Neophyte’s right arm as he lay. With his eyes still closed, meditating on each breath he took, on each choice he had made, the hooded women placed his arm against the warm stone, his palm facing upward.
“Haalthrek, as it observed on each plane, in every place, saw that there were no laws that governed the worlds. Black could become white, up could become down, and the states of things could be both and neither.”
“Even then, Haalthrek saw as it traveled, on the surfaces of worlds beset by solar maelstroms and desolations beyond yours or my imaginings, it saw from inert materials things forming from the chaos that prospered and triumphed in ways it could never have foreseen.”
As the teacher spoke, forge masters had begun the final strikes against metal to form it into meaningful shapes. “As Haalthrek learned of this great truth, he coalesced bindings of thought and significance, forged chains of energy and logic and even ways to upend both should the need ever arise, and bound all things up into a latticework the likes of which no creature of breadth and dimension could reproduce.”
“Yet as the being did so, it understood that for all his creation, all of his desires for things to transcend from the chaotic mire from which they began, it knew that all would come undone, as is the natural order, the one thing closest to a law that existed before Haalthrek had imposed its will. All things break down.”
A second stone slab was placed before the Neophyte’s other arm, both limbs now outstretched for the ritual. Water and oils were being washed upon the Neophytes arms and legs as the one presiding over it all spoke.
With a word, The Hierophant began the ritual and continued his story.
“Haalthrek knew of this truth, but nonetheless crafted edicts and laws and innate ideas that bound lives to one another, and when life had risen to a certain complexity from inarticulate masses of particles, it had bestowed upon that life these laws that bound living creatures to one another, that bound brother to brother, parents to children, teacher to child, master to student, knowledge and action to consequence.”
With those last words, the nuns that sat at the sides of the Neophyte braced his arms against the stone as on each side and bound his legs in simple cloth. The masters of the forge had gathered in a procession to the Neophyte, each holding with blacked tongs a single chain link that glowed a warm shade of orange. They came by four apiece to the lying Neophyte, and with practiced motions, plunged upon the wrists and the top of each foot their burning labors.
The Neophyte screamed in pain and rage as his flesh sizzled, but he never once opened his eyes as it would have broken the last tether to the beatific state his mind was in moments ago. The chain links were taken off almost as quickly, and just as quickly, another four smiths came up and seared their links into the Neophytes flesh next to the first burns. This would continue until the Neophyte would be marked with every chain made.
“In the edicts crafted by Haalthrek, it was stated that thinking life is bound to one another by obligations and debt through degrees. We are the only entities that can improve ourselves through others. That for us to transcend our animalistic desires and chaotic whims, we are to sculpt others and be sculpted in turn into things greater than what we began, that as we improve ourselves, others are aiding and guiding us, and in turn you are bound to them and they to you.”
As he spoke, the long line of smiths lessened, each one leaving a mark that interlocked with the previous one. The Hierophant put his hand on the man’s shoulder, remembering this same rite and how he’d said he couldn’t live with the scars at first. In time, the marking stopped, with tears falling from the Neophyte’s closed eyes. The nuns began to pour ointments and balms and soothing mixtures of every kind upon the man’s arms and legs, being sure to only alleviate the pain, but not to lessen the scars that will be left.
The Hierophant kneeled before the broken man the slab, breathing weakly from exhaustion.
“We do this,” The Hierophant spoke into his ear, “to remind each of our order of what we are, an anchor for others.” He paused, gathering his thoughts. “Each mark you have been given represents the multitude that will come to you for aid. The scripture that you’ve studied, the life you have lived before you have taken the chain, the choices you have made, these will be your tools to better those around you.” With that, the Hierophant breathed words neither learned nor created, but found in a moment of epiphany, and laid his hand on the Neophytes head unlocking hidden images all are borne with but seldom ready to recieve.
Through the fugue of exhaustion, The Neophyte saw. His body was drudged up from inky blackness by chains of starlight. For an eternity did the Neophyte gaze upon the god who gave him his visions as he laid dying in the street, as his body was overtaken by the sickly sweet poison he had filled in his veins, as the man had forgotten himself as others had forgotten him.
 It was like a warm sun bound in brilliant filigree, surrounded by a thousand wings of blades revolving around the center, each shining feather interlocking like mail, and as each wing beat or fluttered a flash of chains spread across realities were seen.
The pain the Neophyte suffered ceased for this time as he saw the divine, and the Hierophant was given the chain made from the burning links that seared the initiate’s flesh. He placed it on the man’s chest, and bid him to keep safe as he slept and left to preside over another right.
The world is a weird place, lets keep it that way.

Offline Giddler

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Re: [Dec 2014] - Religion - Submission Thread
« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2014, 01:12:13 PM »
Here's mine, Happy New Year everyone.

The Second Coming, 1471 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:

It had been a fairly steady New Year’s Eve at Crownhill station until the tramp walked in.

“I am Cruachul the Maggot God.” intoned the skeletal man in a cold, dead voice. “All will rot before me. All will feed my hunger.” He had arrived at the station naked under a stained police blanket.

The desk sergeant barely spared him a glance. “Right you are, sir. Let’s find you somewhere to have a lay down,” he said, nodding at the constable on duty with him. The man let himself be led to a cell.

Sergeant Finch looked over the booking-in desk at the crowd that made up the bulk of his work every weekend. It was strangely quiet. He shrugged, putting it down to New Year’s Eve blues.

Something felt off, though, as though he was missing something. Shaking his head, he went to boil the kettle. When he came back, Constable Nelson had returned from the cells.

Sgt Finch handed him a coffee. “How’s the 'Maggot God' settling in? Did you get a name?” Nelson chuckled and shook his head. “Well, keep an eye on him, eh? I don’t want him choking on his own vomit.” He leaned back in his chair and took a sip from his mug.

“Quiet tonight, isn’t it?” said Nelson.

Finch nodded. “I was thinking that.”

Nelson shrugged and carried on with his paperwork. “By the way,” he asked, “have you seen the state of those people out front?” Finch shook his head. "They're all wearing the same tracksuit. It's bloody creepy, they look like they're in a cult or something."

Finch looked over the desk at the lobby. Realization dawned at the root of his earlier feeling. Nearly all of the people in the waiting area were wearing identical white tracksuits. 

“They’ve been sat there since we came on shift,” said Nelson. “The other team didn’t say anything about them?”

Sgt Finch shook his head. He checked the log again. “No, and there’s nothing on record either.”

The constable frowned, clearly perplexed. “So why are they all here?”

Finch shrugged. “One can only guess, Constable Nelson. Why don’t you go and have a word with some of them while I check the cells.”

All the cells were empty except for the one currently holding the new arrival. Finch opened the hatch in the door and peeked through. He retched as a waft of foul smells competed to ooze their way out of the cell. The cell was completely dark inside.

“Hello? Are you alright in there?” he called. There was no answer. Finch swore under his breath. The lights in the cells were supposed to permanently on so the duty officer could check on the prisoners. Either there had been a electrical fault, or the prisoner had broken the light and was waiting in the dark with bad intentions.

Swearing under his breath, Finch went back up the stairs. Nelson was still in the lobby but came back to the counter at a shout from Finch. The sergeant briefed him quickly and they both went down to the cell.

Finch opened the hatch again and peered through, careful not to get too close to the dark hole.

“Hello?” he called. The smell was nearly overpowering and he turned his face away. As he did, he heard a noise from the cell: a damp, racking coughing.

“He sounds ill,” suggested Nelson.

Finch nodded. “He might well be. Then again, he might be standing there wielding a fistful of broken light bulb. Either way, we can’t do this ourselves. I’m calling for backup.”

Suddenly, a gurgling scream floated towards them from the hatch, devoid of dignity or humanity; a sound of pure agony. The officers looked at one another. Finch reached for the handle, then paused.

“What’s wrong?” demanded Nelson.

“It could be a bait,” muttered Finch. It had happened before: a career criminal would feign illness just to catch an officer unawares; so they could boast in prison about how they maimed a copper. A good friend of his had had to retire on medical grounds for just that reason.

Another desperate howl came, and now neither man could doubt the sincerity of the pain in the voice. Nelson moved towards the door.

Finch stopped him. “No, we’re waiting for backup. I don’t like this.” His words were drowned out by a wet tearing sound issuing from the hatch.

“He’s dying!” cried Nelson over the shrieking prisoner. He pushed past Finch and wrenched the door open. “We can’t leave him in there to-”

Something long and sinuous shot out of the darkness and grabbed Nelson by the throat. It retracted with sickening speed, dragging him into the cell before he could make a sound. The cell door slammed shut after him.

Sgt Finch stood, stunned, his mouth twitching as his mind tried to process what had just happened. He groped numbly for the door.

“Stop!” The voice rang out from behind him. The tracksuit-wearing group from the lobby had entered the cell corridor. At their head was an old man.

“Don’t open that door!” The old man had a commanding presence despite his chirpy Cockney accent.

Finch blinked at him uncomprehendingly. “Who are you?” he croaked.

The old man, clearly the leader of the group, moved over and put a hand on Finch’s shoulder. “I’m sorry about your friend,” he said, “but we can’t save him now.”

The incongruous calm of his tone stung Finch. “Sir, you and your friends need to leave, now,” he snapped, seeking refuge in professionalism. “I have a hostage situation here-”

The old man’s gaze didn’t waver. “That ain't what happened here, is it Sergeant?” he murmured. He walked over to the cell door and put his hand against the door, then examined his palm. It was greasy with something, and a hand print had been left in the discoloured paint of the metal door.

“Look: the metal’s rusting,” said the old man. “It's eaten, and now it’s getting stronger.”

“This is ridiculous!” snarled Finch. Before anyone could react, he opened the hatch.

“Now, listen to me, sir,” he called into the cell. “I’m Paul Finch, and my colleague in there with you is called Matt Nelson.” He could hear shuffling in the cell. "Now, before you do anything you regret-"

A ropey, muscular tentacle whipped from the hatch, missing Finch’s face by a hair. It struck one of the group, a middle-aged Asian man, gouging a welt across his face and knocking him off his feet. He lay whimpering on the floor. Two of the flock ran to him and carried him to safety. The old man slammed the hatch closed and turned to Finch, his expression dark.

“Now, I know what you’ve seen is hard to take in,” he said with dangerous calm, “but if you get anyone else hurt because you’re too scared to believe your own eyes, I’ll throw you in there with that thing.”

Finch looked at the assembled followers. All of them had produced weapons from their clothes.

“Just mind out of the way, there’s a good lad.” The old man gently pushed Finch aside like a child. “Do you remember what he said when he came in?”

Finch stared at him blankly without answering.

 “‘I am Cruachul the Maggot God,’” recited the old man. “‘All will rot before me, all will feed my hunger’. I’m afraid your colleague's been eaten by an entity older than human consciousness. I’m Dennis, by the way.”

He nodded to a woman who produced a metal canister from a shopping bag. As Dennis held the hatch open, she carefully poured petrol through the hatch. The shuffling from inside the cell intensified into a wild thrashing. Heavy impacts shook the corroded door which began to bow outwards. With a curse, Dennis struck a match and threw it into the cell.

An unearthly shrieking came from the cell as the monster’s violence reached a crescendo. Suddenly, the door smashed open with brutal force. Everyone stumbled back, scrambling over each other.

From within, an awful flaming shape strained to heave it’s bulk into the corridor. The doorway was too small for it’s mass, and it writhed desperately in the cramped cell to escape the burning flames, but to no avail. With a final burbling shriek it fell still.

Finch stood in a dreamlike state as the monster burned in the cell. Vaguely, he registered Dennis standing next to him. The others had filed out.

“Well, that could have gone a lot worse,” said Dennis. He produced a card and handed it to Finch. “If you ever want answers…” He nodded at the card.

“Cheerio, then,” said Dennis and left Finch standing numbly by the burnt remains of an elder god.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2014, 01:16:31 PM by Giddler »