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The Holy War Chapter 10

CHAPTER TEN:

THE RITUAL

 

DISCLAIMER: Ok, some rather dry stuff here, these characters, at least the ones you recognize, are property of MCA/Universal and the author intends no copyright infringement in the writing of this story.

The title of this story is "The Holy War" for a reason, and since wars don't tend to be very nice, there is quite a little bit of violence, blood, and death in this story. If that sort of thing offends you, please stop reading now. A specific chapter violence disclaimer, this one is pretty gruesome, but the Horde is pretty gruesome. Anyway, I hope the violence furthers the story, and doesn't appear to be gratuitous, it certainly wasn't meant to be. I tried to keep it short, but it is there, just so you are warned.

As always feedback is most appreciated. You may email me at:jengaf@netins.net

Thank you for reading and enjoy.

 

She had been prepared just as the ancient texts had described. And now the Greek woman would undergo the most sacred of rituals, the cleansing followed by the journey of discovery. They had considered every possible outcome, and the High Priests of Arimon were convinced that they would succeed. This woman may or may not be the Chosen One, but she could be controlled, and that suited their purposes quite nicely. If she survived the cleansing, she would become the Chosen One.

The High Priests now gathered outside the young woman's hut, garbed in the traditional robes of their order, the black cowls drawn over their heads, obscuring their faces and adding to the mystique. The most Holy among their number, Tyber, stepped forward to open the door. It would be he who was to guide the woman through the cleansing and her journey of the mind and soul. His was the most powerful mind among them, hence his position as most Holy.

Gabrielle stood rather unsteadily in the center of the room, flanked by two of the lesser priests in the order. She was dressed completely in white linen, the garment hanging loosely about her shoulders. An embroidered pattern of white thread wound its way from the high neck to the tail of the robe almost imperceptible unless one looked closely. The long sleeves were gathered together in a simple cuff at her wrists, her long flowing red-gold locks fell softly about her shoulders. Greek or no, this woman was beautiful, and Tyber found himself sincerely hoping she would prove strong enough to survive the ritual.

Her halflidded eyes told him that the mixture had been administered and that she was now ready to begin. Tyber relieved the two priests of their burden, taking Gabrielle by the arm and leading her from the hut and out into the cool night air. The assembled priests, upon seeing them emerge, turned and formed two columns and then began a slow march toward the awaiting throng of Horde warriors.

Anxious men ringed the entire area, pressing to catch a glimpse of the one rumored to be the Chosen One. The path to the ceremonial altar was lined with lit torches, casting a ghostly light about the faces turned expectantly toward the approaching priests.

As Gabrielle came into view, the warriors began a rhythmic chanting, more of a hum than words, that grew in volume as she passed among them. It was all very surreal to the bard. She could hear the chanting around her and feel the touch of the priest's hand on her arm, but it was as if it were not truly happening to her, but rather more like a dream. The light cast by the torches danced in front of her vision like ephemeral spirits, reaching out to touch her with clawlike hands. The faces of the Horde warriors were just beyond the spirit flames, their eyes a reflection of her own murky soul.

Their chanting filled her mind now like a flock of a thousand great birds, their wings beating ceaselessly on her skull. Try as she might, she could not block it out, the beating of those numberless wings as they slowly drove her insane.

She dimly became aware that they had stopped walking and were now in front of a large raised altar draped with a dark cloth that hung to the ground. The altar was surrounded on all sides by torches set into the earth. The priests who had preceded them now stood around the altar in a loose semi circle, each one holding a small ceremonial cup.

Tyber lead Gabrielle up the low steps and gently forced her to her knees. He walked to the far side of the dais and retrieved a larger and more ornate cup. Tyber then came to stand before Gabrielle, facing the warriors gathered there.

"My Honored Brothers, tonight we bring to the altar of Arimon this woman that she may be proven the true Chosen One, or die a non-believer not worthy of the honor of being declared the Chosen One of Arimon." Tyber paused as a captured Greek soldier was led from the darkness of the wings to the left of the dais. It was unlike the Horde to take prisoners, but this was a unique situation.

The struggling man was brought forward and forced to his knees facing both Gabrielle and Tyber. He had long since stopped pleading for mercy and now was resigned to his fate, praying to Athena for mercy on his doomed soul. He knew from the stories that the Horde would never let him live, and he could only hope his death would be quick. He raised his head to stare the priest before him defiantly. He would be damned to Tartarus if he would let this savage see his fear.

Tyber turned to the altar behind him, reaching to retrieve the ceremonial dagger placed there. The blade was wicked in its beauty, long and curved, its edges razor sharp, gleaming in the torchlight. Tyber turned and held the blade aloft in both hands.

"Oh great and powerful Arimon. Accept this humble sacrifice and bless this woman who this lowly servant believes to be your Chosen One, promised to our people." And with that, Tyber slowly and deliberately drew his blade across the throat of the Greek soldier. As he slumped forward the guards on either side of him caught the body and held it somewhat upright. To his credit, the man died without ever uttering so much as a whimper. Tyber stooped to fill his cup with the blood of his victim, and then held it aloft for all to see. Without a word the other priests moved forward to fill their cups as well, and once all were filled, their sacrifice was left where he was, a testament to the glory of the Horde.

The priests then resumed their places around the altar as Tyber spoke.

"Now my brothers, witness the miracle of Arimon!" He cried as he raised the cup to his lips and sipped of the warm blood within. He then looked down at Gabrielle, still crouched at his feet. With one hand he reached down and raised her to her feet and with the other he held the cup to her lips.

Through the haze that had settled over her mind, one familiar voice rang clear. It echoed through the beating of the wings that still flowed incessantly over her, a beacon drawing her home. Gabrielle's muddled brain latched onto that voice and followed it, longing for something, anything familiar.

Yes my Chosen One, you know me. Come to me and drink of this cup. It is your destiny and your salvation. Drink and you will never be alone again.

Gabrielle felt the cup touch her lips and the warm fluid within trickle down her throat. She could not taste it, and could barely feel it within her mouth, and swallowed involuntarily. Tyber smiled broadly. His control was almost complete, and it had been so easy. She now followed his commands eagerly and he was exhilarated with the thought of the power that could soon be his. He raised the cup to his own lips, taking a small sip as the priests behind him followed suit.

Tyber then lowered Gabrielle back down to her knees as he turned to face the priests arrayed before him. To complete this phase of the ritual, Tyber took his chalice and tossed it down onto the ground at his feet, splattering the blood within onto the edges of the cloth covering the altar. The other priests did the same, staining the ground with the blood of their sacrifice.

Gabrielle was then flanked on both sides by the priests and led to a small tent behind the dais. The warriors in attendance knew that the rest of the ritual was a private affair of the Holy men of Arimon, but that they would remain outside until it had been decided if she was indeed the Chosen One. This was the more dangerous portion of the ritual, where the former life of the Chosen One was stripped away and she would embark on her Journey. By drinking of the ceremonial cup, she had begun that process by accepting within herself that which was holy to Arimon, the blood of a sacrificial victim.

Telmark had observed the ritual from a distance, still wary. The priests and their ceremonies had always been mysterious to the warrior, and this was no different. But now, his lack of understanding forced a feeling of wariness. How far could he trust these supposed Holy men? Something about the power the Chosen One could garner made him leery of just who would be controlling that power. Yes, he would be watching the Priests of Arimon closely.

 

^~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~^

 

Once within the tent, the true test began. Gabrielle was gently forced to her knees in front of a smaller version of the altar outside. Tyber moved behind her, placing his hands lightly upon her temples. Tyber's purpose was to guide the Chosen One through the ritual, but the High Priest had another agenda. He would not simply guide her, but ensure that if she were strong enough to endure the ritual, that when she reached the end, she would be the Chosen One, without any doubt.

The priests again began their ritual chanting, their voices blending in a wordless hum that filtered through Gabrielle's confusion, carrying her mind deeper and deeper into itself. She was carried along by the current of their voices, swept into the darkest reaches of her own soul. The beating within her head grew stronger and more insistent until she could not deny it. She had fought the power of those incessant voices, but knew she could not fight forever. Just as her strength was beginning to ebb, she felt another presence with her.

The calm and ordered mind called to her. She was familiar with that presence, knew it to be comforting. It had comforted her before, when there had been so much pain. Now it was leading her through the darkness. That calming presence seemed so very familiar, and suddenly it was another set of hands touching her, infinitely softer and more intimate. Gabrielle reveled in the touch, her heart soaring at the contact she had though lost.

Then the illusion broke, and again the hands of the Horde priest were again upon her, and she fell into the abyss that was what her soul had become. The night sounds from outside the tent walls filtered into her subconscious and mingled with the chanting voices. The chirp of the crickets and the hum of the voices served as her muses now and she heeded their call.

Into the depths of the darkness that had once been filled with light, Gabrielle journeyed. Something was missing, something that completed her, but she knew not what. Fragments of nearly forgotten memories filtered past her and she reached out to touch them. Laughter tinkled down to her, a memory of happier times, with one who so rarely indulged in laughter. Gabrielle grabbed onto that memory and savored it, beginning to grasp a feeling that this was what was missing. This was the other half of her soul.

And now that had been brutally ripped from her. With the memory of that savagery, the pain returned. The pain of the separation and the pain of missing that which completed her. Her soul had once been a place of light and warmth, and now was filled with darkness. Despair rolled through her as the drug induced trance refused to let her go, the mind controlling hers forcing her to look within the darkest part of herself, and she was terrified of what she saw there.

All that she had been, the radiance, the warmth, the laughter, the stories, all of that was gone and in their place was a void that horrified her. The emptiness was overwhelming. The other half of who she was, at the basest level had been stripped away and she could not bear to see what was left. The bard wanted nothing more than to die. Looking into that abyss that once had been so full of life and joy, the barren plain was too much.

She began to retreat further and further from the precipice, unable to deal with the void. She retreated into the dark that was what was left, and that proved just as terrifying. Gabrielle could just sense at the fringes of her mind what it was that she had lost. Just ghosts of feelings, but enough that she knew she didn't want to live without what had been taken. She had known the emptiness once before, and vowed with every fiber of her being she did not want to live that way again.

No, this was her end. She would go on no longer.

Tyber could feel her slipping away and began to fear that perhaps he had taken too much from this young woman. That perhaps she was not as strong as he had sensed. All of his careful preparation would be for nothing if the young woman did not survive. He had known that she was stronger than nearly any other mind he had yet encountered, but it seemed she was ready to give in.

A stirring. A glimmer of light within the bard. Tyber felt his hopes begin to return.

Gabrielle reached out, in that time of despair, to attempt to touch once more that part of herself she had lost, and found a golden memory instead. A memory of a sleeper, once dead but now alive again, of fluttering eyes and remembered feelings of joy. The sleeper had awakened, and Gabrielle had fallen into the depths of the ocean blue eyes. The memory of those eyes lifted her partially out of the darkness and restored a measure of her hope.

The bard renewed her fight for life. She could not, would not give in to the darkness so easily. She clung to that sliver of memory as though her very existence depended on it. She buried the memory deep, vowing that it would not be taken from her as all else had been. This would remain.

Tyber could feel her returning from the brink and knew that she would be his now. He would begin to fill that void he himself had created within her, he would be that for which she would continue to live. The High Priest began to gently assert himself within the young woman's mind, filling her with his strong sense of peace and comfort. Yes, she was his now to control fully. She was strong, but his will was stronger, and his will was now hers, one in the same.

The Chosen One would now walk among his followers, and he would control that presence. The Priests of Arimon would hold sway over these people once again, nothing could stop that now. The Chosen One was now firmly in their grasp and through her, they would control the fate of the Horde nation.

One final part of the ritual remained. Tyber released Gabrielle from his grasp and moved to the small altar upon which lay her Amazon clothing, all that remained of who she had been. It was nearly dawn, and Telmark had wanted the ritual to be completed before sunrise so that the warriors could return to the battlefield. The thought of simply leaving the field of conflict so abruptly that day grated on the Commander. But the importance of the ritual made it necessary.

Tyber removed Gabrielle's clothing from the altar and carrying it in one hand he reached down with the other to draw her unsteadily to her feet. The emotions of the ceremony had been draining on the young bard and she now leaned on Tyber heavily for support. The other priests in attendance knew that the fact that this woman was still alive boded well for their cause. If she were not the Chosen One, then Arimon would have drawn her into the darkness of her own soul, where she would have perished.

Now they filed silently behind Tyber and their Chosen One to greet their followers. When Tyber emerged from the tent with the Chosen One a great gasp rose up from the assembled warriors. She lived! She must be the Chosen One, there could be no doubt! The High Priest of Arimon mounted the dais once again, pulling Gabrielle up with him.

"My brothers! Hear me now! Arimon has blessed us and our cause against the Greek vermin! He has sent us… The Chosen One!"

At his words a great cry went up filling the night sky. There could be no thoughts of defeat now. Victory was all but assured, now that the Chosen One had been delivered into their midst. While within the tent, the body of their sacrificial victim had been prepared for the pyre and was now set ablaze to signify the return of the Chosen One. Gabrielle's clothing, all the possessions she retained, were placed upon the altar and ceremonially shredded by the ritual knife used to kill the Greek soldier. As Tyber destroyed the remnants of the Chosen One's former life, she became his, body and soul. There would be no stopping the Horde now.

Chapter 11