Chapter 48: The Ritual
The crowd spoke with forty voices, starting and speaking in perfectly unnatural unison. Kadmon chanted along, guiding us as we intoned the ritual we each seemed to know instinctively. “Eternal Guardian of the world…” “You have failed your responsibility…” His cold eyes crackled and sparked; lightning reaching for the skies as they erupted from his eyes in stark similarity to his outreached arms. His face was a mask of grim determination and wholly focused toward a firm goal. A faint grimace of hatred marked his face, as if he spoke to a bitter enemy. His eyes stared forward and seemed to bore through me to address his distant rival. When he next called out however, it was with an earnestness which surprised me.
“But your task is not complete, hear our plea…” My eyes traced his face, seeking every hint of his deepest thoughts, but found only his focus traced across those features. I glanced sideways, not breaking the rhythm of the chant, but seeking an idea of how the others were faring. Many seemed focused and determined. Some seemed bored or disinterested. All were keeping perfect time with the chant.
“This world is not yet dead or forsaken…” I felt nothing. No pull, no drain, nothing. It seemed as if the only purpose for assembly was to chant vaguely poetic lines. It felt masturbatory and unnecessary, but I found myself unable to move. My feet were firmly planted in the very soil beneath my feet. I felt a movement beneath the dirt, a roiling and slithering presence which arced like a current around the circle and the center. In its wake was a roiling sensation which spread amongst the speakers.
“This reality is not yet condemned…” I looked for my companions. Bobbi clearly felt whatever was beneath the soil and squirmed as she tried to dislodge herself from the growing tempest beneath her feet. She gave me a pleading look, but there was nothing I could do to even calm her worries. I was as locked in as she.
Rick seemed to be taking the everything in stride. His curious glances belied a nervous curiosity, but he made no attempt to move. Claude smiled as he droned, showing not a care for what was happening. He gave me a reassuring nod, which did little to assuage my concerns.
“We call upon you to do your duty…” Kadmon was still staring through me, at his long distant opponent, only now he was reaching out his hands toward me. He grasped for some distant entity, pantomiming pulling said individual to the center of the circle. His face was a mask of grim determination, unwilling and unable to accept defeat in this crucial moment.
“We call upon you to lend us your aid…” I felt a sudden surge. My eyes closed in shock at a sudden pain. My limbs burned and my skin crackled with energy. My hair flew in wild clumps around my face, whipping and lashing my face and eyes with an enraged fervor. I could even smell the acrid odor of singed body hair and cloth. My vision went white as the energy arced beneath my closed lids and threatened to blind me.
“Grant us the power to save this world…” I forced my eyes to open, to see the world and what happened within it. All around me, figures writhed in discomfort and pain. All were tied to the rite so intrinsically, that not even a groan of pain or a moment’s hesitation marred the perfection of the slow and empowered chanting. People waited in silence, eyes closed in impotent and terrified pain. The scene would have been macabre and nothing more, if not for the slowly increasing current which arced through the boiling patterns of earth. The white energy which painfully coursed through each of us was slowly causing these tracks to glow.
“This land is in pain and we are its salve…” Arcs appeared over our heads, tracing the same path as the bubbling earth below, causing a dome to appear over the assemblage. Each spoke of the wheel connecting us was mirrored in a arc above. I saw earth dissolve beneath our feet, leaving only the constantly moving and flowing earth of the pattern. This left behind glowing arcs of molten earth, melted and flowing in mirrored arcs beneath the crater.
“We take your strength and add it to our own…” Another surge course through us and I caught the briefest of glimpses, flashing across my thoughts and memories, of a young woman. She was dressed all in white, with a modified shirt of polished metal dangling over a white robe. She groaned and seemed to be in a great deal of pain. Her image faded nearly as suddenly as it appeared, fading into the ether as seamlessly as it had appeared.
“With this power, we shall right these wrongs…” I saw looks of strain and confusion on many faces. I was not the only one who had been granted a vision of the young woman, though it was clear that none but Kadmon recognized her. Kadmon, on the other hand, seemed deeply rattled and surprised that she had appeared. Good to know. Despite all of his machinations and planning, he was not in complete control. If he could be taken by surprise by this, he could not forsee the trap we intended to spring upon him. It gave me hope that we would be able to deviate from the form of our chant, a thing that nobody seemed to have seriously attempted now.
“We shall cast the chaos from our homeland…” Kadmon almost seemed to growl the word ‘chaos;’ a deep hatred and rage which was barely held in check. A few voices faltered, falling behind by a fraction of a beat, before rejoining the perfect chorus. Kadmon was mad, and apparently his emotions disrupted the unity of his spell. Another thing that we might be able to use, though I had no idea how, yet.
“We command the uncertainties to leave…” I watched as Kadmon took a deep breath and slowly released it, feeling my voice become even more tinny and coordinated with my fellows. He had regained his control and was determined not to make the same mistake again. I glanced at Claude, who seemed completely calm, as if unsurprised by the spell’s faltering. He momentarily caught my gaze and returned it with a confident nod. He wasn’t worried and he didn’t want me to be either. I took a deep breath and hoped his confidence was not poorly placed.
“We reach out to our patron, moon-child…” A crack of thunder and a sudden gust of wind erupted from between the arcs of light, whipping around the sphere of lights with a wild frenzy. Scraps of dirt and magma were whipped wildly about the area, frequently threatening to harm the participants, but always veered off before connecting. I watch Kadmon, a dripping sweat having slowly risen throughout the ritual, shaking his body wildly into the wind. Bits of his sweat dropped in to join the indiscriminate current of the wind. His grin was broad and proud, excited at his already apparent success.
“She shall ascend to the heavens once more…” Another crack of thunder pealed across the plains. A bolt of bright white light erupted downward from the pinnacle of the dome of light. A bright line of molten stone erupted from the deepest point of the spherical arcs. Both lines of energy erupted towards the center, enveloping the tiny replica of the moon in a swirling maelstrom of energy. Wind whipped towards the center and carried droplets of sweat, while the arcs of molten earth surged forward to surround the moon.
“She shall set the skies back into order…” Kadmon shoved his fist forcefully into the wild energies with an excited glint in his eye. Immediately, the energy subsided. Energy formed into small columns, ringing the moon at a slight angle, with the nearest point of each column was near the top and the furthest toward the bottom. With a powerful upward gesture, Kadmon watched the moon rise to rest atop those energetic columns. Meanwhile, in the skies above, the sun abruptly stopped in its tracks. For the first time since the Event, the Sun hovered in place for a time. Having ceased its rapid orbit through the sky, it settled at the pinnacle of the sky and watched the proceedings below like an intrigued onlooker.
“She shall restore the wayward sun to right…” A moment of purest silence rose throughout the sphere, only the breathing of its attendants and the wild gusts of wind could be heard. Kadmon pointed at the moon and solemnly nodded. As if on cue, the moon rose slightly higher, its columns growing brighter and more intense. Then, without so much as the slightest sound, the moon and its columns rocketed skyward, disappearing into the distant heavens.
“We reach out to the world’s stones and plants…” Kadmon turned, a look of solemnity painted his features at the departure of the small moon. He pointed, almost half-heartedly, around the edge of the ridge. Wherever he pointed, a bright patch of green would erupt. Grasses shone a bright green in the super-terrestrial light of the energies which pervaded the air. Flowers bloomed. Trees rose from seed to sapling to majestic giant in an instant.
“The world must return to restful sleep…” All around us, outside the ritual circle, the earth rumbled. It almost seemed angry at being disturbed. Kadmon spread his arms wide and the arcing column of myriad energies coalesced in the center once more. With an almost thoughtless gesture, Kadmon sent arcs of energy between the gaps in our circle. Bolts of energy that shot in all directions at once and disappeared into the distance.
“The world must return to its cycle…” The energy arced again, but this time halted just outside the ritual circle. It swirled and churned, creating a wall of wild energies which encompassed us in a giant ball of power. I felt the turmoil behind me, making me worried, but another pulse of energy shot past me and prevented my turning to look closer. A second set arcs struck the wall of energy and the giant sphere bisected, and then bisected again.
Four distinct quadrants appeared out of the chaos. An intense heat emanated from one. Another released a torrential downpour of water which washed over those unfortunate to be beneath its waves of liquid. Another radiated an intense cold as snow drifted down and was caught by the whipping winds. The final quadrant was a cool and dry place, with the smell of decaying plants and a worrisome murmur within its confines. Each rotated around in perfect time and pattern, each hemisphere passing over each participant once completely before each broke off and flew wildly off to the west. All except the last, which shot straight up and spread out across the land and dissipated into the very land and air around us.
“The world must return to rightful life…” All around us, grasses and trees appeared. Many were barren and brown, though they held within them the promise of future regrowth. I hadn’t even noticed how barren and desolate the endless plains of dead grasses and stone had been until I saw this change.
“We reach out to the skies above us all…” Kadmon pointed upwards, creating a column of energy, which rocketed up and out of sight, closely following the path of the disappeared moon.
“The wild winds must calm wayward tempests…” Energy exploded across the skies above, creating a bright and colorful borealis that twinkled and shone across the heavens. The skies around the lights turned a deep blue and resembled the deepest twilight. The lights and the blue began to slowly fade, returning to the bright and vibrant blue of midday.
“The wild winds must set gentle clouds free…” A swirl of white appeared in the sky, centered on the sun and spiraling outward in a multi-limbed beauty of design. From the ends of the tendrils, tiny pieces of white fluff broke off and flew in many directions. Wherever each place settled, simple clouds formed, spread lightly and evenly across the sky. Again, I hadn’t noticed the absence of clouds in any profound way until I saw them once again.
“The wild winds must return to slumber…” A wild tempest suddenly rose, as if spitefully refusing to listen to Kadmon’s command. They whipped wildly about us, trying to dislodge even a single individual from within the circle. Before anyone was dislodged, however, a gentle rain of lights fell from above and the winds rapidly dispersed. All that remained was a cool and gentle breeze blowing across the plains.
“We reach out humanity’s great souls…” Kadmon turned to look directly at me. I was startled at the sudden attention, but I could feel a warmth spreading throughout my chest as the chant began. It was both comforting and worrisome at the same time. It promised comfort and warmth, but not without hardship. His eyes gazed into mine and I knew he spoke not only with me, but through me to all remnants of humanity across the globe. I could only gulp nervously in response.
“We must seek to find our world’s weaknesses…” My mind flashed with every moment of weakness or doubt I had ever experienced. Every mistake, from jumping out my bedroom window when I was eight years old to my moment of doubt in the kitchens a scant hour ago, flashed before my eyes. Every moment was laid bare, and I knew immediately that it was not simply the world that had stumbled during the Event, but humanity as well. The world’s strength did not come from stone and stream but instead from the life that crawled, swum and walked across its surface. The world had failed, because we had failed.
“We must seek to heal our world’s wounded soul…” I felt the warmth spreading, no longer just in my chest, but tracing its way through my system. From the ends of my toes to the tips of my fingers, I could feel the same promise and challenge coursing through my veins. The last place the feeling reached was my head. I felt confidence ride the wave of warmth, it gave me assurance the world would be eventually be restored through the actions of all of humanity. We would be the ones to close the gaps and put the word back to rights, if we put the mental and emotion effort into doing such a great deed.
“We must seek to prevent our world’s death…” I knew it. Now was the time. Not only was this the final imperative of the ritual, to do everything we could to save our world from its looming demise, but we were nearing the crucial moment, the moment when this ritual would either stay on track and ruin everything we had worked for, or everything would fall apart. I took the power and warmth of the ritual and used it to steel myself for what I was about to do. I couldn’t make out my companions across the sphere, there were too many other things occurring that obscured their presence. I could not hear them, for their voices were consumed by the never ending chanting. I could only hope that they remembered their cues and they would join me in my betrayal of Kadmon’s rite.
“May our thoughts speak to the heart of the land…” As the final verse of the ritual began, I took a deep breath and applied every iota of my strength to breaking the subtle controls of the ritual. My jaw screamed in pain as I wrenched it into forming words against those imposed upon them. It took every ounce of self-control to not scream or simply return to the fold. Instead, I pressed on and recited the words which Claude had given me. “May our own, free thoughts commune with the land.”
“Let our very minds be channeled through him…” I felt like I was screaming into a whirlwind. I couldn’t hear anything other than the incessant chanting, not even my own voice. Everything was lost in the din. I could only take faith that my voice wasn’t alone and would be enough to change the ritual’s outcome. “Let our thoughts be as free as the world…”
“The world shall be forever remade…” I felt a terrible lurch, a queasiness which permeated my entire being. I was ready to vomit. It took every ounce of effort I could muster to not simply collapse into puking mess on the ground. Instead, I held my ground and spitefully spit the next words of our altered ritual. “This world shall be saved from all tyrants…”
“He will lead us in our hour of need…” The words of Kadmon’s ritual faltered and wavered. He glared fiercely at me. A growing rage clouded his mind and made it impossible to direct the rest of the ritual and it crumbled without its leader. Some simply stopped talking completely, while others were no longer in sync and were descending into a chaotic din as the ritual failed. Kadmon was held in place by the force of the collapsing ritual, but I could see his palpable rage and desire to close the distance between us. There was murder in his eyes and it was unmistakable. “Power shall be granted only to the worthy…”
The skies above screamed. The earth below cracked wide. Terrible and cold rain crashed down. A terrible storm rose suddenly in the aftermath of the rituals sudden and traitorous collapse. The sheets of rain were obscuring and occluding, making it nearly impossible to see more than a few yards in any direction, but I saw many of the ritualists collapse with their energy spent. I felt strangely strong, as if I had just awoken from a refreshing sleep. I had no idea if it was the side effect of our disruption or some other factor, but I stood tall and ready for anything.
It was probably for the best, as it was in that moment that Kadmon’s ritual fully collapsed. He fell forward, looking drained and broken as he dropped to his knees. He lay there, on hands and knees for a long moment, his breathing heavy and ragged. It took only a moment’s gesture, the smallest step forward from me in concern for my fallen enemy, for his determination to drive him forward.
He staggered to his feet, his head hanging low as his body trembled and shook. He looked smaller than before, diminished. He was still a mountain of a man, but he now seemed like little more than a large person than a small god. His antlers seemed tarnished and plain. The symbols and sigils upon his chest bled visciously as the rain washed away the paints and dyes that had marked him there an eternal hour before.
He stumbled forward and raised his head to look me in the eye. His face was gaunt and sharp. His expression held nothing but murder and anger. His eyes practically glowed with a barely contained fire and waves of almost tangible heat seemed to radiate out from him. He was coming for me and he promised it wouldn’t be pleasant.