First round on a new idea, the writing has begun! Luckily I set intentionally vague timelines for getting this done. Hurray for procrastination!
The screams sounded like they came from every direction at once, echoing back and forth across the immense chamber. They were not very long screams, most of them, usually rising in pitch and ending quickly. Some, though, some of them lasted for minutes or longer. These screams were immediately followed by frantic chanting and fervent ululations.
These screams signaled a truly ardent sacrifice; an acolyte who prolonged his gift to Huz J’lan was guaranteed a spot in his celestial army. The weak who rushed too quickly into the other realm would be reborn again in this, doomed to repeat their miserable existance until they pleased their god and fulfilled their duty. The truly worthless would toil in mortal agony for eternity.
Benaxes had not yet toiled enough. He was perfectly fine to live in the cycle, biding his time. He had lost count long ago how many times he had traversed the wheel, but he had a plan, had much so much preparation left before he was ready to sling off into the other realm. There could never be too much preparation. It is no easy thing to kill a god.
The line shambled forward as each scream crescendoed and passed. For some, waiting in this line could last a lifetime, its own small slice of the realm. There was the line behind, and the line ahead. The line is all there is, all there was. All there will ever be. Benaxes knew better, knew that in reality the line was only a few years long. But what is that amongst the immortal? When there is no true end, and dying is just a setback, years are nothing. Moving in line, always downward into the deep, the trick was not going mad.
Benaxes moved forward again, as the cries and chants swelled. Another soldier for Hul J’lan, he thought grimly. He cast his eyes about, unfocused, taking in the surroundings he knew so well. The line began, eventually, back at the entrance to the mountain Citadel. The great maw of the First Gate glowering menacingly as the denizens made their pilgramage. Some travelled more voluntarily than others. Not all the pilgrims arrived unshackled.
Once inside, the only light came from crackling blue sparks spread evenly along the chamber walls hundreds of feet above. Looking directly into the those lights was a good way to give your sight to Hul J’lan, as well. Not that there was much else to see. The men ahead and behind, the soft sand floors. Occasionally there would be pools of blood or a limb from a sacrifice that didnt quite last until the Second Gate. Many of the pilgrims would be the old, the infirm; their bodies, gifted to them by Hul J’lan, slowly rotting from the inside out. Waiting that long was not exactly pious; either you were avoiding your celestial duty or couldn’t make yourself worthy before time exacted its toll. Benaxes wasn’t sure which was reviled more.
Still, the gore and entrails scattered along the way helped him keep track of time. Always forward, a few steps at a time. The stab of a tooth in his heel reminded him how much he missed his sandals. They had worn away early. He had forgotten to repair them before he entered the Citadel. The first thing he would do when he was reborn was to steal a pair of sturdy sandals. Sandals and a hat. He always did like a good hat.
Benaxes almost started whistling, thinking about the nice hat he would be getting after all this unpleasant sacrifice business was over. He caught himself, lips pursed, remembering where he was. He was sure Hul J’lan would frown upon such frivolity on this sacred journey. He was always frowning, that god. Maybe he could do with a little more whistling, less of this incessant screaming. Ten thousand years of experience told Benaxes that nothing was likely to change. He’d mention it, though, if asked his opinion on the matter. Unfortunately, Hul J’lan did not have a suggestion box.
As the line continued forward, Benaxes could see a faint light up ahead. He was finally close to the end. Passing the Second gate, he was grateful for the change in scenery. The shambling line began to spiral downard much more sharply, curling inward towards a great chasm thousands of feet across. In the center, half a mile down stood Hul J’lan. So great was he that his head was nearly even with the Second Gate, staring balefully at the sacrifices as they came. His gaze was fixed, unmoving as if he was cut from the mountain rock itself.
Hul J’lan, like many gods, had a vague man-like form. His scaled body coalesced with a faint blue glow, occasionally sparking off into the dark. Despite his quiescence, the life and power of the god filled the room, suffocating all those in his proximity. The god’s very mind seemed to push in at Benaxes, probing and washing over him as he made his descent. The glow swelled, faded and swirled as if the god were breathing.
At his enourmous feet stood the altar, the Chosen always knee deep in a pool of churning blood and viscera. As each sacrifice approached their doom, they were lain on the altar. One acolyte would place a large, serrated knife into the sacrifice’s hand. The other would begin to methodically dismember their body with an identical blade. As the denizen began to scream out to the god in righteous agony, they could choose to end their own suffering and be reborn, or endure until the end and exit this realm into service.
Most could not last, cutting their own throats within a minute. Any who sustained themselves through to the bloody conclusion were sent on their way with cries and shrieks from the Chosen at the altar. After they pulled the heart from the sacrifice, glowing a bright, crackling blue, the next sacrifice moved forward.
As Benaxes moved to the front of the line, peering up at the looming god, the acolytes glared at him. “Benaxes,” they intoned, speaking as one.
“Been awhile, hasn’t it?” Benaxes said. The Chosen did not reply. Benaxes shrugged, and grabbed his knife. “See you next time!” he said, smiling. He quickly slit his throat and handed the blade back the Chosen to his left. As the blood poured from his body, the room began to dim into a diffuse blue glow. His final thought as he sank into the churning red tide was, I wonder what sort of hat I’ll get?