Copyright 2001 by Eric J. Juneau. All rights reserved.
This story is in no way intended to infringe on the established copyrights and trademarks of Monolith Productions, Inc. It is for entertainment purposes only and is not intended for sale. It may be freely distributed providing that no alterations to the story are made. The characters and incidents portrayed and the names in this story used herein are fictitious and any similarity to the name, character, or history of any person, living, dead, or otherwise, is purely coincidental and unintentional.
By Eric J. Juneau
Richard Manning stepped forward. He trembled with fear, convulsing under the ceremonial robe of the unholy he wore - black to symbolize the putrification of his soul by his misdeeds. The burn scars on his body were hidden under it, fresh enough so that the pink sensitive layer of skin lay exposed, glistening with forming pus. Flickering torches illuminated his pain-stricken and worn-down face in brief flashes.
The Chosen stood beside Tchernobog, sneering with glee. Gabriel and Ishmael on one side of the throne, Ophelia and Caleb on the other. They grinned and glowered down at the fallen one. Their eyes glowed red with the insatiable Bloodlust the Dark God had instilled in them long ago. They were eager for a sacrifice, the sacrifice they had deserved, but had not yet had. The trials that fallen ones would undergo were no easy task to be sure, scarcely survivable. Those who weakened the cause deserved much worse. Through all this he had failed to perish though, an unprecedented feat. And the Chosen hungered to see the blood of the tainted spilled already. But now they knew it was to come soon. It would come here and now with the final word and judgment of Tchernobog.
"YOU STAND BEFORE US AS A TORN ONE. YOU HAVE WITHSTOOD THE TRIAL OF FIRE, THE TRIAL OF BLOOD, AND THE TRIAL OF PAIN."
Richard shakingly nodded his head. The fear and suffering he had endured left him with tremors running down his body, muscular exhaustion.
"YOUR CRIME HAS DEFILED THE PURPOSE OF OUR EXISTENCE AND BROUGHT SHAME AND DISGRACE ON YOUR SOUL. wHAT ARE YOUR PLEAS OF MERCY BEFORE MY WRATH?"
"I can offer no pleas, for they would only fall hollow upon your mercy. My sin was small, but no sin is small in service to the One that Binds. I only ask that your wrath show courtesy and example to those who may do the same."
To the Chosen, these askings fell on deaf ears. They hungered only for blood, not mercy. Though the suffering they had incurred upon him was delightful in itself, the grand finale was yet to be heard. Caleb licked his lips in anticipation of what was to come. There was no justice in the Cult, only punishment. There was no room for justness or fairness, no room for mistakes. Perhaps Richard had believed that since he had survived the trials he would be set free. If so, Caleb couldn't wait to see the expression on this putrid man's face when the verdict was finally delivered. And this one seemed so devoted to the cause as well. His greedful passion made him a noted cultist, an evil man indeed. Unfortunately, this greed also led to the crime which became his downfall. And the Chosen couldn't have that.
Tchernobog tapped his slender bone-like fingers on his throne's armrest. The quiet clinking echoed through the hall's chamber.
"LET IT BE KNOWN FROM THIS MOMENT FORTH THAT THIS MORTAL HAS SINNED AGAINST THE CULT OF TCHERNOBOG. NO MORTAL HAS DARED SURVIVE THE TRIALS SET BEFORE HIM AND GIVEN NO PLEAS FOR MERCY ON HIS FORGOTTEN SOUL. RETURN TO THIS STAND IN A YEAR'S TIME TO SUBJECT THE CONDITION OF YOUR SOUL TO SCRUTINY. IF I AM DISPLEASED WITH THE RESULT, YOUR SOUL SHALL BE CARVED TO SHREDS AND YOUR CARCASS WILL BE FED TO THE SPIDERS THAT THEY MAY HAVE A LONG, SLOW FEAST UPON YOUR UNDEAD BODY. IF YOU FAIL TO HEED MY WORDS, YOU SHALL BE SOUGHT OUT AND RETURNED."
"What?" Ophelia said.
"What th'?" Caleb said. "Master, this is no ruling."
"This is unprecedented, I must say," Ishmael said.
"GO NOW, YOUR TIME GROWS SHORT."
Richard spoke not a word but turned and walked out of the Hall of Epiphany. Caleb waited for Tchernobog to lash out his unholy Power on the mortal. Destroying him as his last thought was the hope welling back inside him - it would be the most perfect punishment of all. But no reaction came. No fire, no blue iridescent spheres of inferno. Nothing. Neither did the mortal give even a glimmer of thanks for his freedom. No gratitude. No vow to mend his ways. What sort of cult was this? Never in Caleb's time here had he ever heard or seen such a display of thoughtless mercy. This was a farce, a ridicule of the Cult's power. This was an embarrassment with unimaginable repercussions. How did something like this happen? Where did it go wrong? When did we just start letting the impure simply leave skipping out the door? Did Tchernobog actually believe he would return of his own free will in a year's time? By then, he may have organized a coalition against their purpose. Was this a test of his faith? Was faith to show him the way back to his calling as a servant to the Dreaming God? What were Tchernobog's motives?
"I HAVE MADE MY DECISION." He held up a massive skeletal hand to stop His esteemed generals before they had a chance to protest, as He knew they would. He knew they had desired a sacrifice out of this one. The powers of Bloodlust He had given them were growing stronger, and with this He was pleased. However there was no rank in his army that gave the privilege of questioning His decisions. Not the lieutenants, not the Chosen, no one. A god is a god.
"MY CHILDREN, THIS MORTAL HAS GIVEN HIS DUE."
Ishmael said, "But master, I could count a thousand reasons why this judgment is errored. Th-"
"I DO NOT ERROR. GO NOW. YOU HAVE DUTIES TO ATTEND."
The Chosen knew better than failing to heed the word of Tchernobog. They hadn't served under Him for so long and not learned the price of disobedience. However, it seemed the price was dropping sharply.
Caleb, Ophelia, Gabriel, and Ishmael did as their god said and walked out of the Hall of Epiphany. "Ain' nuthin' right about dis," Gabriel said.
"Quiet, Gabriel. He'll hear," Ophelia said.
"I for one do not believe this to be a wise decision."
"He's not gonna come back in a year."
"What do you think, Caleb?"
Caleb said nothing. The fire in his eyes burned with scorching passion and hatred. He grinded his teeth against teeth, clenching his jaw tight, so tight he might have shattered his entire mouth. His fingers slowly curled into a tight ball. They eagerly desired something to hit. His fingernails dug deep into his palm, making small crescent shaped lacerations.
But he said nothing.