35: Sermon of the Saints

It was early morning when he went out into the streets. His tired eyes squinted against the first morning sun. There were few people awake. One man of the Untouchables searched the gutter for some unknown treasure. He was naked despite the cold but for a loincloth and a necklace made from human teeth. Another man came from one of the alleys. He wore an almost radiant pelt in stark contrast to the dirty Untouchable he passed. The Devourer followed him through the maze for a while. When the man disappeared into a house with a thick oak door, the Devourer turned left and went down another alleyway. He continued like that, walking through the city without any destination. A parable for his life.

There was a house much like the others but different in a peculiar way. The door was not stout like the others. It was narrow but tall. The windows were made in a similar fashion. It was not connected to the other houses by either walls or roof. It stood alone. The door was old and worn smooth by thousands of hands over hundreds of years. It was covered in inscriptions like the houses in Mistwood Glade, reliefs now almost erased by time.

He stood and looked at the door for a while. The carvings depicted scenes from migrations to other lands that wore the promises of prosperity. Not much had changed over the centuries that had passed since the artist’s hands touched the wood. The people wore the same pelts, ate the same meat and drank the same milk as they with their beasts traveled the sea of snow around the Obsidian Fields. A woman woke him from his dreams with her clattering bunch of keys.

Are you waiting for the sermon? She asked.

Sermon? He said.

She did not answer him for a while as she tried one key after another before finding the right one. The Sermon of the Saints, She said. Are you coming?

What’s that?

Have you noticed the moon? She said and pointed at its dreamlike appearance soon to be swallowed by the light. It’s full.

Yes? He said.

When the moon is full, the Saints come up from the boiling wells and ascend to the heavens. Once again, they have fought and defeated the demons in the depths. They’ve saved us, and now it’s their time to ascend. Anything else? She said as she fastened the keyring to her belt.

When is this sermon?

Now, soon, the first priest’s will be here anytime now. Then it’ll continue to the next morning when The Saints ascend.

He followed her into the building. There was a hall filled with benches fashioned out of ice, covered in furs and facing an altar with an ivory goblet. The woman began lighting candle standing in small hollows in the walls. Soon people started streaming in through the door and sat down in the benches as he followed suit. People were moving in a room behind the altar. Many of them, priests. They wore some peculiar hats, high and decorated with ivory and gemstones. Some of them large and expensive. One of the priests came out from the room and went up to the altar where it placed a thick tallow candle. The priest wore a pelt draped around its shoulders, even more splendid than the one the Devourer had seen on the rich man earlier in the alleys. The person lit the candle on fire in a slow and ceremonial manner and disappeared into the room from which he came.

More people kept coming through the door, and soon the entire hall was filled to the brim. He had to scoot further in on the bench until he sat with his shoulder up against the ice wall. On his side sat an elderly woman with small wrinkled hands sticking out from under the pelts she wore. The woman he had spoken to earlier walked down the aisle do the door and closed it. She went from candle to candle, blowing them out until the only one left was that on the altar.

The priests came out from the room and formed a semicircle. There were dozens of them wearing the same clothes and ornaments but for minute differences. Their high hats of fur and ivory rattled as they moved. There were veils of silver hair hanging before their faces, obscuring both gender and age. One of them held up his palm against the congregation, and they went from quiet murmuring to complete silence. Also the priests remained silent for a while longer as they looked out over the people in the benches.

Then they all spoke as one, We’ve assembled here today to celebrate the Sermon of The Saints. Again they shall ascend to the heavens where the grass is forever green, and the brooks never freeze. They have fought. They have gone through the depths of hell for our salvation. Many of you have lost loved ones this year. Loved ones that now linger in the burrows of the demons from the north. The Dead Fields are pushing our borders southward. But, we tell you, if there weren’t for The Saints, they would’ve overcome us a long time ago. They would’ve killed our men, raped our women, and eaten our children. Yet, they haven’t. Now we shall urge them on as they reap the rewards of everlasting life.

The priests spoke and the congregation sang throughout the day and night. But when morning came, they went silent. The only movement in the room was the flickering of the almost burnt out candle casting light on the slick ice surfaces. One after another, they took a sip from the goblet. The woman went and opened the door as one of the priests went down the aisle and out the door. Then the people rose from the benches and flowed out the door like a river of flesh. They walked in procession, one after another, young or old, woman or man, rich or poor. Today they were all the same. As they went through the city’s alleys and over its bridges, more people joined them. They did not stop before they reached the geysers just outside the city walls.

The priests went and stood around the largest of them, one to the north, one to the west, one to the south, and one to the east. The people formed a circle around it all. The acidic water bubbled and steamed. Then the people began singing as did the priests that danced along the edges of the geysers. Spinning, jumping, threading the razor’s edge of life and death. One after another, they fell into the water. None of them screamed. The congregation kept singing.

A rumble went through the ground, and the geyser erupted and spewed boiling water high into the air. Bits and pieces of the sacrificed rained down over the crowd. White bones and the flesh stripped from them came down in well-cooked chunks. The people danced and sang as the water now frozen into billions of droplets of ice rained down over them. When it seized, they collected the bits and pieces of the sacrificed and marched back to the city.