Inside his room, in the innermost part of the sanctum, the old man was standing. His hands, trembling from both old age and emotion, were caressing curves sculpted in black obsidian. His eyes went teary, his old lips trembling with excitement. He did not know how many years went by before this moment, his mind being clouded by the cruelty of time. But now, it was different. Focused, as sharp as it was when he wrenched the scepter from the dying hands of his old master. Now the Idol had spoken, awakened from His slumber and awakening the old man’s mind with him.
Once again, he tried to commune with divinity. He had to be sure, that all he felt war real and not a cruel trick played by his mind. Once again, he closed his eyes and let his left hand sway, flesh on cold stone. For a moment, he felt nothing from it, and his heart swayed from conviction. He was old, after all, and his mind bore the scars of time. But the voice came again, soothing like a gentle breeze. The old man dropped to his knees, shuddering in ecstasy. The Idol had spoken again.
After collecting himself, the man strode off his room, his mantle swaying behind him as he walked towards the temple’s exit. In his eyes, a renewed fire burned, and for the first time since ages ago, he had a new purpose in life. He passed by the paintings that adorned crude rock, without paying his usual respects to the sacred figures. He had no time for that, for the Idol gave him a new task.
Sunlight bathed the area outside the temple, making his eyes hurt as the old man left the cave. He looked back, for a moment, taking a quick glance at what had been his home for over two decades. He remembered now, his memory clear as flowing water. Twenty five years he spent in that place. He found it, a small cave overlooking the plain where his tribe had been exiled. He dragged the precious idol there, secluding it in the innermost chamber of the cave. He thought the silence there fitting, as the Idol too went silent when they left the sacred land. In time, he molded the cave with the strength of his hands, sculpting, painting, until it was no more a mere cave but a suitable temple for the Idol and his lone priest.
He had stolen it from the old temple, the night they left the sacred lands. He did so in secret, for it was a thing precious to the tribe. He did so in spite, to rob them of their precious Idol. But the God spoke to him through the stone, and he felt to his knees when he heard His whispers a long time ago.
Marduk remembered, his hands trembling in the air when he first heard the whisper coming from the black stone. It was not something of this world, both the stone and the voice were something coming from the dark veil of night. He remembered the stories that his master told him, about the Star that fell, about the Idol that was forged from it, carrying the voice of a God older than time itself.
And he heard that voice, for a time.
But time was cruel, and the Idol went silent for long ages, leaving Marduk to wonder first, to madness later.
But now, it was time to leave all behind, for the Idol had spoken again.
Standing at his temple’s entrance, the old man cleared his throat before making a speech that would change his tribe forever.
His voice bellowed, echoing through the small canyon that hosted the exiles. Commanding and deep, like it was in his prime years. For all the people looking at him, it was a shock. They had seen the old priest wither in his cave, the light of reason fading away in his clouded eyes.
But now, the old man was different. A new strength in his voice called all the tribesmen, rallying them under his shadow. And they saw his figure, standing tall against the sky.
They knew that the withered old man was no more, and Marduk, their High Priest, their leader, was back.
Marduk spoke, and they listened. First with doubt, then a rising feeling spreading among them. Marduk’s words strung the deepest desire inside each tribesman’s very soul. Something that they knew not possible was now promised to them, and their hearts were swayed by the promise made to them.
For the Idol had spoken, and his words were true. From the High Priest’s lips, the Idol spoke in thundering voice, promising their return to the sacred lands of old.
And the tribesmen bent their knees, abiding to Marduk’s words.
The old man gazed upon his brethren, and he was pleased. He had conquered their hearts, swept away their doubts. Since the Idol went silent, he had lost respect from the tribe, as they saw him as no more than a senile, withered man.
But the Idol spoke again, and in His words he found strength, and a promise.
Now, all he needed to do was set up the ritual, as promised.
Night came, and the small canyon where the tribe resided was bursting with life as it never had. Drums resounded in the night, chants and dances around fires that burnt so bright against the darkest night. The Eyes did not shine in the night sky, only innumerable and fickle fires shone in the blackness above.
And Marduk was staring at them, tracing their form on the ground below. Connecting them with lines, his hand firm and steady as he traced the forms with the blood of a newborn lamb.
Some of his tribesmen cringed when he demanded one of the tribe’s precious lambs to be made a sacrifice, but it was all for the greater good. For the sacred land was promised in return, and a lamb, although precious in these times of famine, was nothing but a small price to pay.
When the lines were completed, Marduk poured the remaining blood over the Idol. In order to prepare the ritual, he had ordered the Idol to be moved in the center of his village. Around it, all the tribe was chanting, praying with all their might, raising their voices and shaking their limbs in a frenetic dance.
All but Marduk and another man were praying.
The old man was standing in front of the Idol, pouring blood from a brass cup that he held with both hands.
All around him, blood was painted on the ground, tracing the lines representing the constellations seen in the sky above. And in the center of it, a young man knelt down. His chest bare, painted with the same celestial symbols laid on the ground. The tribe’s mightiest warrior, a young man with seventeen years on his back, but capable to bring down a Fjalte on his own, despite his young age.
He wore a necklace adorned with the beast’s teeth, each as long as a finger, curved and jagged. On normal days, the boy would wear the Fjalte’s skin as a trophy, showing off the black mane that belonged to his prey.
But this was not a normal day, for the tribe’s destiny was about to change.
The old man looked at the youth, his hand trembling a bit when he took out the ceremonial knife. A slight doubt touches his mind, for a moment. He steeled his hand, resolving himself to complete the task given by the Idol. After all, how could he let his heart doubt the words of a God?
The young warrior was looking straight at Marduk, no hint of fear in his eyes, his stern and dignified expression greatly pleased the old man.
He will make a good sacrifice, thought Marduk. After all, he was the best warrior among his tribesmen.
Marduk lifted the ceremonial knife high in the air, chanting his prayer as he walked towards the kneeling youth. In his right hand, the blade shined, reflecting the swaying red light coming from the fires lit all around. It was a small curved blade, made in ancient times with the same sacred stone that the Idol was built with.
Marduk was now behind the knelt young warrior, holding his head with his left hand as he muttered the final words of his prayer.
He asked, his voice gritty and coarse.
A wide smile blossomed on Marduk’s face. He was moved by the young man’s courage, his unwavering faith. He knew that he would make a good sacrifice.
Marduk’s voice echoed in the night, followed by the tribesmen’s roaring cheers.
Again, the old man yelled, and the crowd roared.
<<Hail, to the Old God>>
This time, Marduk whispered. He slit the boy’s throat, letting his young blood bathe the rocks below.
The tribe went silent, hundreds of men holding their breath in anticipation.
But nothing happened. The skies above were silent, the falling stars tracing their white lines in the blackest void above.
Marduk was shocked. He followed all the steps as the Idol whispered him to do. He grated its surface with the knife, made with the same, celestial matter of the Idol. He mixed the black powder that came from it with blood and herbs, as he was instructed to do. He traced the stars, breaking the taboo that separated heavens with this dirty soil.
And yet, nothing happened. The ghastly sounds coming from the dying boy were the only noise inside the canyon, and the priest’s faith wavered.
Did the Idol lie? Or was it all a trick played to him from his old, withered head? Could he just have reaped a youthful life, robbing the tribe of its best hunter, following the delusion of a senile mind?
Yet, the Idol did whisper him about stars falling from the sky, and they were falling, tracing lines of silver light as if weaving a web in the dark canvas of the night. Then why nothing was happening?
He did everything right, following every order that the Idol gave him, every action done with the utmost care and precision. He uttered the prayer, word after word, even if the language was unknown to him, for it was the Word of God himself who taught him the prayer.
Absorbed in his doubts, he failed to see the faint glow coming from the ground below, as the red lines started to shine with a dark light. He failed to see the twitches of the youth’s corpse, and the cracks forming on the Idol itself.
But his eyes gaped wide as the Idol broke, shattered in thousands of glistening splinters. The fragments moved, like a swarm of insects, flying, buzzing, moving towards the corpse.
Under Marduk’s incredulous eyes, the splinters pierced the corpse. No, they merged with it, entering the body without leaving scars behind.
Again, there was silence.
And in silence, the lifeless body rose to its feet. It stumbled, gurgling unintelligible sounds while attempting to speak with its throat sliced open.
Marduk saw the open wound closing, thorn flesh mending itself.
The warrior stood, but he was a warrior no more. Something danced under his skin, squirming as the warrior rose.
It was nothing short of a miracle, Marduk thought. And yet, he could not quench the fear that was taking hold of his mind. He could not stop himself from trembling, shuddering at the sight of the warrior.
And when the boy opened his eyes, he knew the reason. Those were not the eyes of a man, or a benevolent God, if such thing even existed.
For Marduk saw, and he knew.
That those pitch-black eyes were not something of this world. They had the Stars in them, glistening as the Sky above, blackest than tha darkest of nights.
He knew that that accursed night, it was not his God that he brought there.
He knew that his actions called something, giving It a body.
And that something was not there for them.
He knew, for when the boy…the thing opened his eyes, the cheering tribe went silent again. Not from surprise or reverence. Not for devotion.
When the thing stood, and opened its eyes, the tribe went silent. The silence of death fell on the canyon, leaving an old man in the presence of a God.
Stars were falling from the night sky, glimmering, as Marduk fell into despair.