The Sacrifice by Leigh Blackmore


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THE SACRIFICE
"That's right, stumble," I thought, "fall to your knees from sheer exhaustion. There is no one to help you now. You are unable to rest until it suits me." They danced before me, their eyes glazed, their peasants' garb tattered and fluttering in the moonlight. At their head danced the piper, his instrument glittering in his hands as he fluted the weird melody I had taught him, his legs moving under the same spell as that which had been cast over the ghastly-faced decadents he led.
The ground raced underfoot and the scenery changed with alarming rapidity; on and on they would dance under my direction, struggling against physical pain but unable to stop, across the countryside's ever-changing face until gasping, trembling from exertion, barely able to continue they arrived at their destination.
"Astaroth will be appeased tonight, but the demand is heavy. I must find a way before the night is out." My cloak wrapped around me, keeping pace with the jerking, melody-enthralled offerings of human flesh ahead of me, I pictured again the isolated hut in the valley which I had visited but an hour before.
It was one of a number of makeshift dwellings which dotted the landscape, inhabited (as they all were) by ignorant and superstitious shepherd folk. None was more than a hovel, as befitted the abysmal poverty of the people, who barely managed to exist in the harsh climate. The dilapidated structure, which I had visited this night, had been one of the only huts left inhabited after the sacrifices which had been made thus far. The piper by my side, I approached the door of the hut, smiling as I heard the foolish muttered prayers of the family within, and carefully inscribed the rough wooden door with a crescent moon, the symbol of my beloved Lady Astaroth. Then stepping back, I waited--and they came. Slowly at first, one by one, they came through the doorway, the piper commencing his playing. There was terror in their eyes then, but I knew that it would be replaced by weariness as they began to stumble after the piper as he strode away across the glen into the darkness. Yes, stumbling they came and stumbling they still were, following blindly the piercing sound of the silvery flute.


But now the line in front of me slowed somewhat as it plunged into the black forest. It was a matter of small concern--we were nearly arrived in any case. Through the trees I followed the straggling line, until it burst out into the moonlit clearing with its improvised rock altar; there I allowed the peasants in their shabby skins and furs to drop like puppets cut loose from their strings. The piper lowered the flute from his lips and helped me raise one of the inert bodies and lay it on the altar. Raising my eyes to the gibbous moon, whose pale beams illuminated the clearing, I recited the ritual invocation and then withdrew a long, curving knife from the folds of my robe. With great care and with a steady hand, I neatly cut the peasant's throat from ear to ear. As the warm blood flowed out onto the stone surface, I noted with irony the shape of the gash--a perfect crescent. The minutes passed quickly as I disposed of the others in a like manner; they went silent and uncomprehending to their deaths.