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All That Remains Of The Distant Pious

by Ashley McGee 4 months ago in Series · updated 3 months ago
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Part 1 of "Hammer Of The Fallen", a work of speculative fiction inspired by Clive Barker and the band Nightwish.

All That Remains Of The Distant Pious
Photo by Dynamic Wang on Unsplash

"Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. In the halls of the Prime Intersector, drifter in the unliving dark, blessed are the ears of the Malleus Deciditus, the keepers of the blood and bile. Rejoice and pay homage to the Vaserai Indomitus, who, in the spaces between the stars, are the recipients of those soundless prayers. " --Sacra Ruinae of the Pale Priests, canto 12, stanza 4.

They came to the blue and green effulgence below the red giant. They came on gleaming cities of emerald and gold that vented steam into the void and jetted gouts of fire as they settled into orbit. They filed off in their linens, faces covered to their eyes. They were led as sheep to graze on verdant pastures. They looked up to the blue heavens and saw their maker emblazoned in the clouds, and their priests told them to give thanks for their deliverance. And as they built their cities with the scraps of the floating ones in orbit, they sang their songs and forgot the color of emptiness.

And they forgot the red giant. They made sacramental configurations in their glass temples. But those that dream in the unliving dark did not forget them. The Pale Priests who have always been were sent to walk the scarlet carpet in their largest temple. They arrived with hands crooked in the dominari configuration. The pious cowered and groveled as the Pale Priests in suits of black dragged their manacles from slack limbs, their faces marred and their bodies contorted and uneven. There on the golden altars, they embraced the pious until the bowls of sacred water swelled in a crimson flood. Eye to unseeing eye, the Pale Priests and the pious cast their prayers to the Indomitus.

They never forgot again, not those that bore witness, nor those that received word of it. And from that time forward, the black configurations were remembered, and they kept their eyes averted from the red giant when it crossed the night sky.

They twisted the raptures into warnings, for the Indomitus offered reward as well as reprimand. The horrors of the Pale Priests thrilled the weakest of them to their marrow. Their own hierophants warned them of the sins, but as children seek out a forbidden, secret place to explore, so they heard not the decrying of the Indomitus from the pulpits above the sacred bowls, even as they winced and made the configurations. Heedless of the warnings, they turned from their glass temples and sought us out.

We, the Malleus Deciditus, have always been.

The Pale Priests whisper the immemorial rites of the Fallen who came first to the Prime Intersector, domus timoris et amoris, orbiting the red giant that the distant pious call the Eye Of Chud in hushed voices, with fingers interlocking to form the warding configuration. There are those among the pious who believe that we were something before we came to the Prime Intersector, that we breathed.

The only breathing the Priests require is the labored panting of the newly Fallen as their wildest dreams mingle with the viscera at their feet, their faces upturned to the Indomitus, shrieking and wailing, some pleading for an end to their suffering, others begging us not to stop.

We attend their words in solitude, tucked away in some gray, dank alcove in moments of calm, all hungers sated, all problems solved. When I close my eyes, the trance is an unbroken blackness, a facsimile of the unliving dark. I have never known dreams, and I have no memories of peace.

The Fallen dream. I have heard their mumbling in unconsciousness when our ministrations have become too much, and we are forced to give them some space. They whisper names and cry out for those they left behind.

***

I once caught myself leaning close to hear those names, brow wrinkled in interest.

"Mamma," the fallen one whispered, "Papa. I'm sorry...I'm so sorry."

"Come away," one of the others barked, misunderstanding me, "They will return to us in due time."

I turned my head and regarded the other, a tall and slender thing, lacerated across the abdomen and held upright on rigid stays, their innards kept intact, but visible. I stared at them a long moment before straightening. I did not know what they were called. I had never worked with them before. I was not angry, but I didn't like having my study disrupted. I stood and clasped my hands behind my back. Adopting an insouciant façade, I rejoined my fellows.

"What were you doing?" the other asked.

"The Fallen was speaking," I replied, "I wanted to hear what was said."

"Why?"

Their head was cocked to the side, but neither of us took our eyes from the uneven rising and falling of the naked chest and lean abdominals of the female strapped down on the black granite slab.

By Fabian Kozdon on Unsplash

"No reason," I answered with a shrug, though that wasn't altogether true.

The other did not say anything else, and so neither did I. The woman's eyes were ringed in black circles, and though her breathing was labored and her skin devoid of color, her unblemished features fascinated me. I ran my own fingers over the grooves of my face where the Pale Priest had opened the lacerations anew when last I paid my respects to the Indomitus. I shuddered.

The Priest was known to me. I could see the tension in his shoulders that eased as I approached. I stepped forward and let him take my arm. Bending me backwards, he laid me across his arm over the sluices, my head resting in the crook of his elbow. I stared up into the dark corners of the ceiling, patiently awaiting the cool blade until I felt a strong finger at my chin. The Priest turned my gaze to his, and I met ice blue eyes tipped close to my own. His face, unlike the other Priests, was unmarred for the most part. Only his ears were pierced with great steel rings, long metal bars pulling them back on hooks looped through his skull. He smiled, thin lips peeling back from slate-gray teeth and yellow gums. I did not have time to smile back before he spilled the libations from my face and scalp. His smallest finger traced my cheek and jaw line as the blade made the well-worn grooves a trifle deeper.

"Blessed are the Malleus Deciditus," he intoned, "Keeper of the blood and bile."

He stood me up, but did not remove his hand from around my shoulder. Warm rivulets ran down my cheeks, behind my ears, and down the back of my neck. I was unable to look away. His eyes were like the blue effulgence at the other side of the red giant.

"Grace is but an illusion. The only truth is what can be seen and felt."

A sharp intake of breath forced my eyes back open, though I did not remember closing them. The Fallen on the slab gasped and struggled in her bonds. The cold skin of her cheeks flushed with some color at last. Her raven hair shone on the black slab, plastered to her face and scalp with sweat as peaceful rest gave way to vivid nightmare. With a glance between each other, myself, the other beside me, and a third member of our order encircled the woman and returned to work until the slate flags trembled and the gongs tolled the brassy notes of the Rite of Revelation. The Prime Intersector began the laborious fold into one of the ma et configurations, sections slipping back and between themselves to form the melliferous geometries, tipping the still screaming remains of the woman into the sluices, absorbing what was left to feed the vats in a silent dance above the all-seeing red eye.

"Principium et finem," the figure with the visible guts called to us where we stood opposite them, "We are the enlightened few, and so to the Indomitus we bequeath the Fallen so that they may rise again and walk with us."

"Resurgere et ambulare cum Malleus Deciditus," we replied, "Blessed is the unliving dark from which we are born and to which we return."

The Rite of Revelation ended, and the Intersector resumed its former geometry. We dispersed to await another of the newly Fallen. I knew not where the others went, and I did not care. I made my way through long corridors of slate and granite. If I hurried, I could watch the broken limbs slip sluggishly into the vats.

***

I could, and can always, smell the vats before I find my way to the pulpy, stewing sumps, which really could be anywhere in the Intersector. The configurations rearrange the locations of everything. I find that by pointing my gaze in a downward direction, I can find them somewhere towards the bottom.

No one--aside from myself--visits the vats but the Pale Priests. The gently rolling boil of the vats are all that remain of the distant pious who seek the blood mysteries, the newly Fallen who were not strong enough, and the veteran Fallen who can take no more. The sulfurous yellow glow was inviting as I emerged from a lengthy tunnel. All was silent, or nearly so. The not-quite-liquids bubbled with the heat of their own gases and the lime used to break them down. The Indomitus have little use for the bodies of the Fallen after the meat cools.

It is from the vats that a rare member of our order crawls, slops, or is pulled writhing into existence, but mostly the vats are the catchment of the sluices from the Prime Intersector. I strode on hurried legs, bare feet slapping the flags.

The ceiling tiles fell inward above the central sump, and I took two steps back, throwing up a black-clad arm to shield my eyes from the splash. I did not dare look away long. The red quickly swirled into the noxious yellow fluid as more solid bits fell like a thick, uncooked soup. The change in configuration of the Intersector often turns even intact corpses into unrecognizable jumbles of hands, arms, legs, and feet. I watched intently, and as I had hoped, the body of the woman we had ministered to slipped into view and then fell noiselessly into the vat, though it had not altogether survived the trip down the spillways. Only half of her tumbled in. Where the rest of her ended up was anyone's guess.

I hurried to the side of the sump. I am not a very large thing, and so had to lean far into the vat to reach her. I managed to tangle my stained fingers in her hair to drag what was left of her to the side. I wanted to see her face and eyes again. I wiped bilious fluid from her and turned her from side to side, admiring her high, strong cheeks and square chin. Her lips were slack, and she had lapsed back into the peacefulness I had seen as she lay unconscious on the slab. Her eyelids were open. I stuck one finger up under the left one to pull her eye back down. It was the same color as her hair and the flagstones. I stared hard at my reflection in it, warmed somewhat by the sulfur glow. I rarely get a chance to see it. I saw little in the tiny mirror but my own translucent skin and pointed nose, the whole crisscrossed with red, raised scars.

As I stared into her rigid face, the sump gave a gurgling heave, a gas bubble erupting like the lurch of a demigod's sour stomach. I still had a grip on the Fallen's hair, but was forced back. I took the corpse with me, spilling the yellow stew of bodies and lime across the flags.

It emerged in a spray of noxious fumes, whipping frothy fluids in its violent birth. It flipped back its long hair to clear eyes the same color as the vat, set deep into craterous eye sockets in the gray face.

The arms were sturdy, and tapered fingers were tipped with long, needle-like appendages. It had black, hose-like spines down its back. The face, like so many of ours, was intersected and lacerated from the ministrations, but it somehow came out of the vat with two eyes and a mouth. Long, greasy, black hair hung in ragged strands around the ruined, but symmetrical, face.

Found as a stock photo. All credit to the artist, which I could not find. Photo is not my work.

It glowered as it took in its surroundings. It had four legs, two in front and two in back. The rear legs trailed behind it over the side of the vat, throwing it off balance. It slipped on the cooling slime and sprawled across the floor. It had been only angry before. Now it howled in fury (I would have been angry too; after all, no one ever asked to be born. Its why the babes of the pious come into existence screaming).

It planted its palms on the floor and propped itself up, taking ragged, infuriated breaths between gritted teeth, spewing tendrils of black bile to precede its crawl across the flags, intent on nothing but freeing itself from the vat, until its flaring nostrils sensed my presence.

I stood there, curious at first, and not a little shocked. But as it shambled and howled and raged, an awed smile parted my lips. Cold sweat broke out across my scalp, and I tossed away the mangled corpse that had so fascinated me before.

It climbed on trembling limbs to its two forelegs, but fell almost as quickly back onto all fours. It crouched there, snarling. Shudders radiating up my spine, I dropped into a ready stance, feet planted and white toes splayed. I raised anxious arms, palms pointed to the Indomitus, who from their places between the stars bid me welcome our new minister in the absence of the Pale Priests.

Blessed are the Malleus Deciditus, I prayed, donum sanctus et praemium.

"Well," I said, barring my own teeth, "Come on then."

By degrees the twisted mouth uncurled. It smiled. Sharp, crooked teeth cut up the black lips. It gathered its forelegs under it and hooked its toes into a deep groove in the flags. It took two menacing, slow paces forward.

"What are you waiting for?" I asked.

Its growl was hollow, echoing off the unseen ceiling, rattled the pulleys and chains, vibrated the vats, and fluttered the organs of my ribcage. It's lower mandible dropped, more bile spilling to the floor around a lolling tongue.

"Yeeeeeeeesss," I growled back, laughing.

Shrieking such that the entire Intersector must have heard it, it sprang toward my outstretched arms. I caught it, taking a step back as it struck me, though that was hardly enough to hold me upright. We went down in a tangle of black, yellow, and then bright red. Screaming and laughing, alone in the place where dying is but a new beginning, we anointed each other in the sacred fluids, those of our bodies mingling with those of the vats, stinging the eyes and acrid on the tongue, like the dark, dry sacrament of the pious, intoxicating. I drank as deeply of it as it did of me.

When we had our fill, we laid on the floor, rolled up against the far wall behind a smaller sump of floating and bobbing appendages filtered from the central one. It spoke the truth to me not in words, but in the way it traced the scars of my face and in the hot sting of its teeth on my throat. I wound my fingers through its filthy hair. The color of its eyes never faded. It tilted my face upward. I closed my own eyes in anticipation, but it growled as if to get my attention. It took my jaw in its tapered fingers and regarded me intently, one corner of its riven mouth turning upward in a crooked smile.

Eventually, we both laid out heads upon the flags and knew no more. I don't know how long we stayed there, but it must have been for some time, for the gongs of the Pale Priests tolling woke me with a start. Once-warm juices had congealed into a sticky mess between us. I flexed my hands as I sat up. The creature atop me rolled to the side and tried once more for its forelegs, which it met with more success. It was forced to lean over at the waist a bit to offset the counterbalance of its hind legs. I straightened my raiment and came to my feet, hauling myself up with a satisfied groan on the side of the vat.

"I must go," I whispered over my shoulder, "We must go. We are called to welcome the newly Fallen."

It was not listening to me, but rather watched something across the room, growling low in its chest. I turned to peer into the shadows with eyes hooded at first before widening in embarrassment. I hung my head.

Leaning against the opposite wall, just short of the light, he stood with his arms folded. A smirk tugged the right side of his face, slackening and wrinkling the hyperextended skin of his neck, his ice cold eyes flashing amid the swinging of the pulleys and chains...

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About the author

Ashley McGee

Austin, TX | I write GrimDark, Fantasy, Horror, Western, and nonfiction | Tips and hearts appreciated! Team Seb Vettel!

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Comments (20)

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  • Scribbles3 months ago

    This was a fun read. I was a little confused at the beginning, but the narrative flow made it easy to stick with the story. I love the mix of body horror and gothic sensuality at toward the end. Great job, looking forward to reading more.

  • J.Francois3 months ago

    Wow! This was incredible! I wish there was more but great job overall! Stay awesome :)

  • Myles Pennock3 months ago

    I really enjoy how horror aspect of this piece! Good narrative flow and the pace is entertaining. (would love your feedback on my story if you ever get a chance)

  • Colt Henderson3 months ago

    This was awesome! I thought you gave too much information at the beginning, but that is just my opinion. It confused me at first, but after a few rereads I caught on. You taught me 3 new words, which I appreciate. Effulgence, melliferous and insouciant! I will be trying to fit these in a story! Again, I loved this! Great story!

  • C. Rommial Butler3 months ago

    Excellent work. The Barker influence is apparent, but there's something uniquely your own there, which I've seen in other stories of yours. I loved this!

  • Robin Milakine3 months ago

    Dark may be... and so well written! A pleasure to read!

  • Michele Jones3 months ago

    Great world building. Definitely on the dark side. And where you left off left us wanting more.

  • Made in DNA3 months ago

    I think Madoka said it. DARK. To be honest, I was a little lost with all the Latin.

  • Madoka Mori3 months ago

    So incredibly dark! I felt like I was reading a Tool album in story form.

  • AGB3 months ago

    Wow, this was very good. I still got goose bumps! Great job. :)

  • Heather Hubler3 months ago

    Wow, well done! I appreciated the beginning more once you got further into the story, and really loved the twist at the end :)

  • Cathy holmes3 months ago

    This is incredibly dark and freaky. Really well done.

  • Babs Iverson3 months ago

    Amazing!!! ❤

  • Scott Wade3 months ago

    Wow! True gothic imagery and sensuality. You created a fantasmal World. 🥰

  • Loved the darkness you brought into this story! Your worldbuilding and storytelling was excellent. This was a very gripping story and you did a fantastic job on it. I loved it so much!

  • Jordan Twiss3 months ago

    The writing is rich, sumptuous, and exquisite. Though I’m no sure I fully understand anything that’s going on, I’m certainly intrigued. Well done!

  • Lauren McGarvie3 months ago

    Very intriguing, amazing work very well done :)

  • Dylan Crice3 months ago

    Very gothic and reminded me of hellraiser. Very grim and bleak.

  • Kat Thorne3 months ago

    Fantastic imagery, great job!

  • Nikki Little3 months ago

    Oh wow this was so grim, dark, and RICH! Loved the opening here, how you incorporated the first sentence into a sort of scripture. Very effective and interesting take. Good luck!

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