yxNote: Firstly: Sorry. It's been a while since I've been able to update. Hope you haven't lost interest. Secondly: A big fat thank you to all of you who have been reading this far and honored me with your great reviews! Thanks a lot, they are a big part of what keeps me interested in writing and they also make me happy. I'm not as happy with this on as I wished to be, but I hope you like it anyway.

Chapter Seven: The Ritual

The thick heavy smoke curling into the warm air in grotesque arabesques filled my nose, lungs and head and its sweet smell made me feel dizzy and slightly nauseous. For about the fifth time in the past minutes I suppressed a violent fit of cough and tried to keep absolutely still and silent as the En or kalû or whatever I was supposed to call him had told me. Bill was on the ground in front of me with his shirt off, lying in a pool of sweet smelling oil that the priest had poured out over his head, face and upper body after he had dumped the contents of a large silver bowl filled with water over him. Bill was calmly and patiently going through every strange new thing the priest was doing to him without complaint but I was starting to feel slightly ridiculous squatting there in the dark, watching this guy covering my boyfriend in all kinds of strange smelling liquids. He had explained to me earlier that all this was necessary because every item and every person taking part in the ritual had to be clean for the gods, meaning freed entirely from all the kinds of evil that could invade a living being or an object every minute and second of every day. With Bill, he had told us, it was particularly important because if the gods should drive the evil spirits from his body that possessed his soul and made him the vampire he was, first his body needed to be cleaned so he would be fit to be in the presence of the gods. Since I would only be playing a smaller part, it had sufficed to fumigate my body with a bundle of the dried herbs the en had thrown into the fire earlier and to rub of drop of the oil on my forehead, both my temples and wrists. Boy, had I been glad when the creepy, skinny guy had done nothing more than touching these parts with the white, white tip of his bony finger instead of asking me to strip half naked and lie on the floor like Bill. I had still no idea what I would be expected to do and was beginning to feel horribly nervous. From the way Bills hand clutched mine I could tell he too was tense, and had I not known my courageous, brave and rock solid vampire better, I would have guessed from the way his beautiful solemn lips were pressed to a thin line that he was frightened. Not once had he asked the priest what was going to happen to him, not once had he asked how exactly this would work. I could only guess that they had talked about this alone earlier but still I couldn't help but marvel at the way Bill endured this procedure, seemingly without the slightest hint of doubt or mistrust. I looked down on him, taking in – and it came to me that it might well be for the last time - the dim glow of his pale skin in the scarce light of this dark and glum place. His gaze found mine and we looked at each other for seconds, the desire to just pull him up from where he was lying and run for the door building up in my chest. But it was too late for doubts now, and instead I leaned down to kiss his oil covered lips, when I felt a soft pressure against my chest, holding me back. The sudden and close presence of the priest, who had moved over noiselessly, startled me and his touch gave me goose flesh.

"Don't touch." His voice was almost a whisper. "The touch would defile his cleansed body."

I gulped heavily and drew back. Instantly I moved my hand away from where it had held Bills only moments ago. I dared not tell him that we had been holding hands secretly whenever he had turned to get some cultish instrument for the procedure so I kept my mouth shut and so did Bill. We just exchanged another long look and I felt the familiar pressure of a violent sob building up in my chest when I put my hand in my lap and moved away from him several inches. Silence fell again as we waited for the procedure to continue and the priest vanished again in the darkness of a far corner of the room, where I could see him crouching over something soundlessly. By the time he stood before us again, my anticipation was stretched to the point of ripping me apart and I was about to ask if he intended to keep pouring out smelly stuff over us the rest of the night or if would actually start doing anything, when I was surprised by the sudden movement with which he emptied another silver bowl over the smoking fire, which flared up suddenly only just to die down without even a spark left in the fireplace. The room went pitch black.

"aššab ekleti la namrute aššab ekleti la namrute." I heard the priests' voice, smooth and cool into the darkness, although I couldn't make out from where it was coming. I felt horribly uncomfortable not being able to see this creepy stranger, who I knew was so much older and therefore faster and stronger than Bill and could rip him apart in a second to be free to suck me dry in another. All I knew about him was what Anna and himself had told me, how did I know this was not a cunning trick and he was using Bill and me as a sacrifice of some sort to undergo the procedure himself? A huge wave of fear crushed over me and I crawled forward a few inches, groping for Bills body in the dark.

"Bill?" I whispered, but I could not hear him answer and I dared not crawl further. Instead of Bills voice, the En spoke again.

"liltaṣama etamar nūr šamši, liltaṣama etamar nūr šamši."

Suddenly I could make out a soft moaning sound somewhere in the black before me, a little farther from where Bill had lain down earlier and an unpleasant shock shook my body when I realized that it was his voice, that it was him groaning in pain. I started to crawl forward again, gabbing and groping for Bill in panic now.

"Sookie." I heard him moan, pain obvious in his voice but another voice stopped me dead in my movements.

"Do. Not. Touch. Him!" There was nothing of the mildness and friendliness from earlier in these words and I couldn't help but think that I should have known. I should have known not to trust him. He had said it would be dangerous, but I shouldn't have trusted a vampire as old as him. He was hurting Bill and that could not be right, could it? I started to cry then, crouching there on the ground and too much fear and not enough light to get to Bill and to save him from whatever was happening feeling helpless and stupid.

"What are you doing? Are you hurting him?" I cried.

"alsikunuši ilâni mušiti, iltikunu alsi mušitum."

My eyes were very slowly getting used to the dark but still I could not see anything that was going on in this utter absence of any kind of light, when suddenly in the far corner of the room, a dim glow rose from the ground and started to gather in several small balls illuminating the room slightly so I could make out Bills body on the ground not far from me. He looked completely lifeless, his eyes open, but staring cold and unmoved at the ceiling of the room.

"Bill?" I sobbed again but there was no sign of consciousness in his features and my gaze was caught again by the moving, glowing shadows that were slowly starting to move and shift, taking the vague and adumbrated forms of people. They were seven, all of them sitting on high pedestals, clad in strange garments and wearing crowns of horns on their heads. I could see that one of them had the features of a woman, most of the others seemed to wear long beards. Cold, silent and unpropitious they sat there and the stillness of their cruel eyes frightened me. The En priest almost looked like he was one of them himself, as I watched him sanding between the unconscious Bill on the ground and the shadowy figures behind him, bare chested now, his hairless, skinny body glowing eerily in the darkness almost like the skeleton of a man.

"bînu lillianni ša qimmatu šarû."

Again the strange sound of this long dead language hung in the smoke thickened air that was not stirred by the slightest breeze, when one of the smoke figures, the one sitting in the middle, with a high horn crown, a long gown that left half his chest bare an a long beard slowly rose from his seat under the icy stares of the six others.

"gišmmaru lipšuranni maḫirat kalû šâru."

Squinting in the dim glowing light, I could make out the en kneeling down next to Bills lifeless body and raising his arms, holding a thick, pointed stick that he rammed deep into Bills chest before I could realize what he was about to do. When I screamed out at the top of my lungs not a sound broke the silence and when I tried to leap to my feet my body did nothing. I could only feel the hot tears running down my cheeks as I sat there in silent horror and stared at Bills still body, the stake sticking out of his chest. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was wondering why he didn't melt or explode like the staked vampires I had seen before, but it was only a vague thought, lingering behind the pain of seeing the man I loved on the ground like this. The smoke figure that had risen was standing close behind the En now, staring down on Bill with his dead eyes. I could not look away from him either, not even shut my eyes. Even when the En took a long dagger, scarified Bills flat stomach with a swift cut and covered the cut with a bundle of what looked like dried grass I could not take my eyes of this unspeakably cruel and horrid spectacle. I could only watch and cry and suffer.

"maštakal libbanni ša irṣitim malāta

ina maḫrikunu etelil etebib azzaku."

There was a blinding flash of light when behind the back of the smoke figure beams of sunlight flashed and for a moment he looked almost solid and substantial, like a real being. The light grew brighter.

"ašib ekleti la namrute, aššab ekleti la namrute

ašib ekleti la namrute, aššab ekleti la namrute

liltaṣama etamar nūr šamši, liltaṣama etamar nūr šamši

liltaṣama etamar nūr šamši, liltaṣama etamar nūr šamši."

Before the light grew to bright to see, I could make out nothing more than the figure of the bearded man bowing down towards Bills body, then my eyelids grew heavy as if pulled down by some invisible force and I shut them. I could not see for what felt like a long time. Silence fell and I felt like I had lost all sense of time. Somehow I could feel the darkness was around me again and I was alone. The seven figures had disappeared, somehow I knew that, and through all my sadness I wondered if they had been the gods the En had spoken about many times before the ritual had started. I might well have sat there for minutes or hours or days, but somehow some time something brought me back to my senses. It was a sound, like stone rubbing on stone, then the feeling of hot air on my skin and the sound of a light breeze skimming over stony ground. And suddenly I could move again.

When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was Bill lying before me on the ground. I hardly noticed that we seemed to be in some other part of the Tell than we had been in earlier, a small cave like room with an opening to one side. Sunlight was seeping through this entrance. I crawled over to where Bill was lying, everything that had happened coming back into my mind at once, crashing in on me and brining the tears again. The first thing I noticed was that the injuries the En had inflicted on him were gone without a trace, the second was that there was no smoke rising from his skin although the daylight was, even though weakly, touching the bare skin of his face and upper body. Hope filled my heart with joy, but unfortunately the third thing I noticed was that, when I touched his face, cupped his smooth cheek and softly shook his body to wake him, his skin felt cold. I pressed my ear to his chest and heard… nothing. It hadn't worked. The realization was violent and knocked the air out of my lungs. It hadn't worked. It was the moment I broke down. After everything we had been though, there was nothing left for to do than to cry. Without holding back, I sobbed and wept hugging the cold and dead body of the man I loved in my arms with only one thought in my head. It hadn't worked, It hadn't worked, it hadn't worked.

The Translation of the akkadian sentences: (They are taken from three actual akkadian rituals but mixed together to fit my purpose in this story.)

"The one who dwelled in the dark, where there is no light,

The one who dwelled in the dark, where there is no light,

He may come out and see the light of the sun,

He may come out and see the light of the sun.

I have called to you, the gods of the night, I have called the night.

The tamarisk, whose treetop is high, may cleanse him!

The date palm, who catches all the wind, may unfasten him!

The maštakal-weed, who fills the earth, may make him shine!

Before you he has become bright, become shining and clean.

The one who dwelled in the dark, where there is no light,

The one who dwelled in the dark, where there is no light,

He may come out and see the light of the sun,

He may come out and see the light of the sun."