“The whole earth, perpetually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, the extinction of evil, the death of death”.
Joseph De Maistre
“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.” Salman Rushdie
“If you love something, set it free. If it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it.” Anonymous
Ulua e’Vanoa placed on the last of her ceremonial bracelets and other garb. As the daughter of Vanoa, tribal elder, it was her responsibility to remain calm, clear of mind, and composed. This she would do. Soon, she would walk down to the ancient place of worship to O’lorhan, and she felt like once again, she could remain clear and focused, throughout the Scattering, as she had done every year, it was after all, her birth duty to be calm.
As she was about to duck around her domicile’s roof into the rays of the First Moon, she heard footsteps approaching. The slow and familiar sound of her father’s sandals.
“Good evening, daughter”, spoke the elder.
“Good evening, Chief Elder, Protector of the Ata’uh un”, she returned, repeating the greeting everyone gave him, regardless of stature.
“Are you prepared for the Scattering?”
“I am,” said Ulua simply. Looking at her father, the chief, she noticed a wearied look, he seemed lethargic this evening. It never occurred to her perhaps until tonight, how it would feel to be the one whose actions chose the sacrifice, but asking her father about it would not be tribal custom, and so it had never been discussed.
“May I walk you to the beach tonight, daughter?” Ulua nodded, smiling. The Scattering custom was not an ancient one, so it’s custom was still in some ways unknown, but nonetheless, he had never offered before. “You are a Princess, Ulua, calm of face and mind. You make me proud to be your father. “
“Someday, this ritual will end. Our hunters will find the key the Seeker searches for, and our tribe will finally come to know peace here, on this isle of dread. We will increase our numbers, and return to our native isle where we may defend ourselves from the Takers and their large ships. Peace will return, we must only trust in the ways of O’lorhan.”
“I know, father”…
“Yes, father. I do. I believe it will all my heart.”
“And what if you were chosen then daughter. What if your stone stood closest to the Coral? Would I still be your loving father? Would you still understand the actions I’ve taken. The pact I’ve secured, with….with the Seeker?”
“Father, I am but your daughter, and but a member of our tribe. We are but one people, and we all must work together. The hunters seek the key in the interior, many have not returned. If I must, I will lay down my life for the tribe tonight. For you father, for the others.” As they talked, others came out from their sleeping places, and began to walk slowly out into the trails of the camp. A slow procession began to wind it’s way down, around them, behind them. Few spoke.
“Father? You have never spoken of how you and the Elders created the Pact with the Seeker.”
“You know better than to ask that which you are not meant to hear. Daughter, as I have told you, we made the Pact to protect us, many years ago, when I was but a young man, and newly appointed chief. We protect ourselves from the Takers, and from the Wrath of the Seeker. That is all you need hear, child.”
As they came to the center, Vanoa and Ulua moved near the altar where her father would perform the Scattering tonight. “You….will someday make…. a great chieftess. You are…”, Vanoa paused, turning to kiss his daughter’s cheek, he removed the Coral from his satchel and placed it in that of the ceremonial bowl where each tribal virgin had placed her stone earlier that day. Whatever she was would have to wait. He seemed to be caught up in the actions of the ceremony now. He turned to her though, and smiling, touched her cheek tenderly with the back of his rough hands. Ulua knew then how much he struggled as chief. One day, would it be her duty to perform the same? She certainly hoped it would not. This was not a position to envy.
Ulua glanced down. She could see her stone there, mixed in with the others. A small, darkened stone. The one she had first chosen during her first Scattering. Some years the bowl seemed to contain fewer than others. Tonight, her stone lay next to the Coral, giving her an ominous feeling as she took her place next to the other unwed girls.
“We have come here this night, to perform the rite that will choose the offer to The Seeker. Let us not forget that we perform this ceremony in the light of all three moons, for did O’lorhan create them in order to guide our way, as he did for all living things on our earth and in our sea. Through this sacrifice, we, as one people, are kept safe from both the Takers and their slave ships, and the Seeker himself. We have but one duty besides, to find his key. Many of you have searched. Many have died. The thunder beasts and other horrors have taken our husbands, brothers and sons. Tonight, I wish to renew our oath anew. Let us search harder, farther. Let us seek with new effort. So that the Scattering next year, may never need be done.”
A slow chant in response came then, slowly repeating the chief’s wishes. It slowly rose from the assembled mass. Around the chief stood the other elders, In front, the virgins , those whose stones now appeared in the bowl sat, heads bowed.
“Let us begin.”
“Mighty O’lorhan. It was you who discovered the innocent goodness of man, your mighty creation. In our extreme hour of pride, we thought we could steal that which only you can give. We thought we had the power to change that which only you could create!!!! We humbly acknowledge that now, in your guidance we trust, and we affirm our innocence to you. We accept our lot in life, our destiny. It is not for us to decide, but for you. Please choose our Sacrifice with your infinite mercy.”
Lifting the bowl above his head, the chief held it up to the night sky, as the moonlight now from two of the three moons silhouetted his frame. All around, the cascading resonance of the song of the Ata’uh un rose and pulsed. And then, as he had many times before, the chief brought the bowl down and walking to the sand, cast the contents of it far and wide.
Stones flew and landed, the coral coming to rest in a small valley between two beach dunes, as it finally slowed, Ulua watched it carefully sliding adjacent to a small, dark rock. It was hers.
Ulua looked out through a web of hands. Some were familiar, some just were there. Her father’s worn, and cracked hands seemed to be closest, surrounding her face. Other hands, softer, seemed to be gripping around her arms, holding her over the surface of the sand, a voice, The Voice, of Umlat, Tribal Father, telling her what he had told all the others before, “Congratulations daughter of Ata’uh, by your strength and generosity, are we all spared.”
Later, as Ulua was being led to the Waiting Place, she realized how little time the Chosen were given to say their goodbyes. First, there had been the tear filled last talk with her father. She could see the mourning in his eyes, even as he told her to be brave, how he was so proud of her. Of course, the elders and Tribal Fathers completed their prayer ritual to her and wrote the rune signs on her body as they did whenever someone’s soul was sent to O’lorhan. Others came, those of her childhood friends, even the hunters that she had spent much time with, being of course a Warrior Princess, as she had been raised to be. Then, of course, there was the few minutes she had with her Husband to Be, always supervised by the elders. Not much had been said, as she had known there would be little. She had never loved this man. And in a strange way, seeing him here, helped her find peace as the elders tied her arms and legs to the rings the Seeker had once given them.
It was a cool night, a night that would keep the thunder birds in the interior, preferring the smaller animals that still found warmth there in the open, rather than the less numerous fish that would seek deeper water on a night like this. A wind sprang up, coming from the East, blowing her hair through her vision, even though much of it had been tied up, beautifying the gift that she now had become. A gift to the jaws of what would soon come for her.
She knew in the tree-line, even though it would be ordered that they were not to be there, would be many of the tribal youth, and even some of the adults as well. She knew once she had done the same, and the memory of that night, years ago when she was but a little girl, now filled her with terror. She prayed to O’lorhan that she would be taken swiftly, taken and consumed. Gifted to the Seeker, her being united with O’lorhan, she would live on in the tribe, the way the elders preached. The knowledge gave her peace, but as soon as it came it disappeared once more.
The water near the shore began to swirl and rise. A vast shape erupting from it so fiercely that it’s form could not yet be made out until the water had time to pour from it. Salty spray covered her, temporarily shrouded what little vision she had left through the wind in her hair. As she waited for her eyes to regain their sight, her heart began to beat, and she felt an uncontrollable tremor. Looking directly into the jaws of the same beast she had seen those many years before, Ulua collapsed around the post she was tied to. Her body slumping to the ground, she could only just make out the jaws widening, teeth as large as the tips of spears in a zenith coming for her. The large, dark body lifting itself slowly from the water toward her, mouth agap. A hot, retched stench bringing heated tears to her eyes as her skin burned. Searching inside for guidance, a portion of a prayer her father had often used to comfort her about her mother’s death came to her. She began to recite it as both nausea and fear overwhelmed her into oblivion. I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.” And then she knew no more.
Abraxas, the Ancient
“Do you believe it, daughter of the Ata’uh?” A voice, firm and authoritative, yet somehow tinged with a sense of conviction and neutrality came from the darkness. It was a man’s voice. And it was speaking her language perfectly, not the crude speech of the Takers.
Ulua tried to sit up, found she already was. And spoke into the warm and humid black air “Who…who are you?”
“What makes you believe you are not with he whom you were last with?” This time, the voice had a clear edge of satisfaction to it. Ulua felt a sense when it began that it was a voice accustomed to listening to itself speak. And something else, a subtle, yet powerfully unstoppable quality, like gravel scraping over gravel at the ocean’s edge. An ancient quality, each word in it’s speech seemed to speak more than it’s sum parts.
“You claim to be The Seeker?” The words kept coming, Ulua daring not to think about how she found the courage to speak them.
“Claim? Oh, you do have spirit, Warrior Princess. I CLAIM to be he who seeks. This is the claim I have given to your tribe these many years. Who I am is ABRAXAS. Abraxas, the ancient. As the voice spoke, Ulua could just make out the tell-tale sign of echo, indeed, the darkened veil before her eyes was also beginning to lift, she could tell a form moved in front of her. The silhouette of a shoulder and head began to inscribe itself in her darkened view.
“Are you yet scared Princess? One of the chosen of your tribe, given to ‘The Mighty Wyrm’ so that others might live…” Ulua made out a hint of laughter in it’s voice as the form now, clearly that of some manlike creature moved to the other side of wherever they now were. “And what of your dramatic prayer, to O’lorahn no doubt, are you still but just the sum of all that you ever will affect….?”
Ulua had no answer for the voice. Too many emotions had finally overwhelmed her, first fear, then grief. She recalled the enveloping wave of acceptance as death came for her. Now there was fear of the unknown. Confusion. She simply waited, slowing her breathing to control her mind, the way she was taught to do before battle.
“Your people have always interested me, even before I learned of their proximity to the key. Your language is beautiful. I often practice it still. It was, one of the few languages surviving the Enslavement. Mine was not so lucky. But look at how well we are getting along, you have yet to answer my question.
Do you believe it?”
The figure shrank, or perhaps it was merely sitting. Suddenly, she heard a flaring noise, like an ember in the communal fire erupting. A blinding light filled her view, filling her eyes with pain. How long had she been here? She covered her hands with her face, peering through her fingers she saw a slender hand gripping a small yellow object. A flame from a stick was placed inside it, and the yellow item erupted in warmer, softer light. The hands placed the object before her.
“You are beautiful. A beautiful sacrifice. Do you truly believe that your sacrifice will save your tribe?”
“Save us. From..the Seeker…from you? Is that not why I am here? If so, then why not finish it. I do not wish to be toyed with!”
“YOU are here because your tribe believes it can save itself by sacrificing part of it’s own For the Sake of All. You could say that it’s a tradition that has been around a while…”
“Save ourselves from you? From what? You speak in riddles. If I am not here to save them from you, then what am I supposed to now save them from?”
And the light rose by the hands holding it aloft to a face. A rugged, and remarkably handsome face, of a man with dark, night black hair, and mesmerizing night black eyes. Two lips came in to view giving origin to the voice. “Why Princess…to the Darkness that will surround it…”
And with that, the lips blew out the light, casting all into oblivion once more.
In The Lair of The Seeker
Of the many days Ulua spent in the chamber, she learned of few things beyond it. She slept on an odd device that ultimately hurt her back so much that she would sleep on the cold of the stone at her feet instead. Several of the items which Abraxas called “candles” were lit giving her vision in the small chamber. Bars of metal rose from floor to ceiling around her. She was never shackled and found that food appeared near her cell upon waking. It was always plentiful, and even the water brought her was as refreshing and clear as the streams her tribe found it’s water from.
As time dragged on, she was visited by the man calling himself Abraxas most evenings. He would pull up a chair near her cell, and talk with her. Just talk. He had a quality about him that even though he was her captor, she found herself debating with him, discussing with him. They talked of many things. Of faith in higher powers, of her tribe’s philosophies of the past. She never once brought up her release or her eventual fate and she had an inner perception that it was for this reason primarily she was still alive. She never asked him about how he came to be both in this form and that of the Seeker, but as time passed she began to doubt he was indeed both. She also had a growing sense that he was enjoying these talks, although he would never show it, she was sure. Ending them as pointlessly as whenever he cared to. Still, his visits seemed to come more frequently, and they lasted longer. One night, Abraxas asked her about the end of the world., what her tribe often called “Night Without Moon”.
“And what says the Ata’uh un of the Darkening?”
“…We believe the lands will Darken again if man ever angers O’lorhan like he once did. O’lorhan will cast the moons from the sky, and bring night throughout the day. He will release the creatures that man once made in an attempt to live in his mighty image. All will perish. This time, his wrath will be all consuming.”
“And what of those who have not angered him? Will he not spare them?”
“The Ata’uh un believe that all people are one. We believe that we live, breathe, and pray as one. Our souls, our energy are just an extension of that which was first given to the people from O’lorhan himself. When the Night Without Moon comes, there will be no innocence.”
“And what about you child? Do you believe that all on that day are guilty? Guilty to be ripped apart by the hideous monstrosities that you declare they once created themselves? Is that the extent of your faith in man?” Ulua could see he was clearly becoming angered, his voice taking on a strange quality, seemingly coming from all around the chamber, not just from him. She opened her mouth to answer, but he continued “Do you believe that those who walk in the Light should be thrust in with All the others? If you could choose, would you allow it?!!!” His voice was now a roar, reverberating in the cavern.
Knowing that she must answer, Ulua quickly stammered, “But it is not for me to decide. That is for O’lorhan. I am just a part of him. He is a God! The Mighty One. The creator!”
“But daughter of Ata’uh. Listen to yourself?!!! Don’t you hear what you say? If you are but a part of O’lorhan, then it IS up to you to decide. And so it shall be, as it once was before. So I ask you again, Princess, what would you do?”
Abraxas’s eyes stared through the cell into her. His handsome face a mask of emotion as it always was. A long while passed before unblinking, she spoke more confidently than she had since the night she was tied to the beach.
“I would save them. Save them All.”
With that, Abraxas rose, and as he was want to do during their talks, turned his back on her and left the chamber without another word.
Escape and Capture
Time passed, and Ulua began to lose track of it. For a time, Abraxas’s visits became less frequent. Food continued to appear though, and one morning, very early, she discovered by whom. A creature like a man, with the head and tail of a serpent. Wings attached to it’s backside. It looked similar to that of the Seeker itself. She had never seen it’s like before, and it did not speak.
And then one day, Abraxas returned for a discussion. But this time, his questions were less philosophical.
“The Scattering comes soon, Princess. A new sacrifice will be Chosen.” He paused, Ulua sensed from their many discussions that he was waiting for her to speak.
“For you, Seeker?”
“Yes, for me. Your tribe has failed to find the key I seek once more.”
“And so now you will kill another member of my tribe. Along with me no doubt.”
“I will take. It is our Pact.”
“And yet you question the faith and courage of man these many nights. You are nothing more than a hypocrite, mighty Abraxas. A killer. A monster pretending in our human guise!”
For a moment, a look appeared across his brow. Ulua had never seen her words affect him like this. He seemed…if she wasn’t imagining it, to be pained by them. “You who consent to follow the will of others lecture me about the ways of the bold! You who would follow the will of that which you believe wrong because of faith would tell me of hypocrisy?!!!
“I know you are a monster! Nothing more. Your disquise does not fool me, mighty Abraxas! I saw you once as a child. You are a foul beast!”
“A beast? And what of those who made the pact, Princess? Are they beasts as well?”
“You are hideous, cruel!”
A shudder passed through Abraxas. Ulua had never seen him appear anything but calm in her presence. But not now, he seemed larger, as though he had somehow grown in size. Perhaps, it was her imagination. A trick of the low light she had grown accustomed to this past year. He seemed to be reaching a conclusion, and when he spoke she knew he had made one of some kind. “You will learn what blind faith is. You will become a disciple of it. And perhaps someday I will ask you again what you think of faith.”
And then, speaking in a language she had never heard, he called to something outside the chamber. Four large creatures, like the ones she had seen days before, came into the cell, picked her up and brought her to him. Face to face, he was even more regal, noble even.
“Goodbye Princess,” he whispered. “I will tell your father you served him well. He was most displeased when the elders decided upon your stone to be the chosen one. But then, like you, he decided to give in to his beliefs, even in the face of his daughter’s destruction.” Strong clawed hands gripped her, dragging her away. Abraxas smiled, as a sudden thought occurred to her. She fought through the claws, twisting down and around, she ran back at Abraxas, stopped by her captors just inches from his face.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN? WHAT DO YOU MEAN MY FATHER ALLOWED THIS!!!?”
“Why, surely Princess, you do not think your Scattering ceremony is meant to choose. Your elders choose! It is only for your tribe to be placated. Just as you have been these many years. Just as you will continue to be in your new life. Fairwell, daughter of destiny, your fate, once again, has been chosen for you as you lack the courage to make it yourself!”
Screaming, Ulua was dragged through dark tunnels and smooth passageways. Ancient chambers of magnificent construction. Her head swimming, she remembered seeing a grand ceiling, and a vast opening to the sky. Light hurting her eyes, she gazed at her first view of the Light in what must be a year, streamed down through the center ceiling above. A grand cavern in which a river roared nearby. Steam and warmth. And then, for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime, she found herself among green and fresh earth below her feet. Dragged, Ulua was then blindfolded, fronds and branches slashing her as she was taken forcefully through some kind of path. She could just make out the light through the cloth over her head, even knowing it was there was both pure joy and pure terror. Would this be the last time she viewed it’s rays?
Several hours passed. Ulua felt herself go in and out of consciousness, she no longer attempted to walk, but rather let her captors drag her.
Finally, she was laid down on the dirt, the beasts then spoke. She could hear other noises from something or someone else around them.
“This is a grand gift from my master,” spoke one of the captor creatures in a raspy form of the Taker language. “You may take these chests as well as this young prize for the yearly tribute. These lands are sacred to him and are to remain off limits to your Sasserine Circle.”
“Grand indeed! Grand she must be to keep us from taking the slaves from the Southern Tribe. Tell your master, the tribute is to be increased this year. We know there are more jewels and magic in the ancient ruins of this isle. The items you have brought are but a portion of what we can take for ourselves, should we choose!”
“My lord wishes to remind you that you do not know this isle as he does. You are….unwise…to challenge him, as the last group was. He wishes you do not fail as they did to keep to the borders of his agreement with your leaders in the East. The Southern part of this isle is his. You have been warned. Now, take this slave girl as my master’s prize to you. She is a mighty gift for your lords to the East. A Princess of the Ata’uh. A Princess given by the chief himself, willingly.
“We will judge her beauty as we have judged the others….but beauty does not pay as well these days as jewels and magic, beast! We will return to this spot in a fortnight. We have business to attend to elsewhere but will remain nearby. When we return, tell your master we will expect a higher tribute, or else these lands will soon be ours to decide with as we wish. The Sasserine Circle will claim this land, and he will be put from it.”
“I will tell my master, and he will be most displeased,” came the hoarse reply.
Ulua was then lifted by several sets of hands, but this time, by those of people. Carried aloft, she felt herself being carried down, the sounds and smells of the sea came to her. She felt herself aboard a canoe, and taken out to the ocean.
Lifted onto the Slaver Ship, Ulua’s veil was pulled back as she came face to face with Cervantez De Leon Sandurkan himself.
“Why hello, my flower….,” he said, brushing aside her hair. “Do you wish to dine with me tonight?”
As Ulua looked around, she saw the men and beasts of the Takers on board their mighty ship. Cervantez smiled. Below her the waves crashed against the ship’s hull. She knew that in this area, the coral would be razor sharp. Sharks would be plentiful here. The words of Abraxas came back, ringing in her ears. “They chose you…”, “Blind faith”. Her father would have known she was to be chosen, perhaps even consented to it. Known her stone would have been selected. By some magic, perhaps? Was this a trick? Her instinct told her he wasn’t lying.
It was but an easy decision for her to turn and taking two steps launch herself from the ship’s deck into the water below. Abraxas was wrong about one thing. She would choose her destiny from now on, even though the only choice she had left was when and how she would die.