Anointed In Blood
03/09/2009 in Warhammer Fantasy
There is a place, they say, where disciples of evil meet in open worship. They gather together in the grounds of a monastery long since desecrated with blood and excrement. This defiled place stands alone in the bleak plains of Troll Country, a silhouette like broken teeth against a sky pregnant with storms.
It is said that such worship takes place at times sacred only to those who gather there. No-one understands their perverted calendar of reverence, not even those of the Old World who hide darker inclinations of their own. Who would want to know? Their sermons follow an erratic pattern most are too sane to perceive.
Filthy things are these worshippers. Debased people, some human, others not, united in their hatred of the world of order. Their worldly personas are cast aside as they cross the threshold of that evil place. They become lost in spite and vehemence.
So it is said.
I know what of this is true, because I was there. I entered their monastery and I witnessed their practice. And may all the Gods help me, I live in a state of constant horror that they will find me and drag me back into the dark room.
In my youth I was considered dashing. My exploits, wildly exaggerated as I let them become, won me many a maiden in many a town. I was intoxicated by my own legend, as though it were firewater for the soul.
I discovered the Elven ruins of Cilmarr and returned alive to tell the tale. I bested a duo of beastmen in single combat during their raid on the village of Elmsberg. I joined a group of warriors and led them across the World’s Edge Mountains. Our exploits would have become legend. Yet those brave men died one by one, killed as a result of their greed.
I alone survived. I was changed by my experiences, in ways which I did not understand at the time. The rat-men left me with scars which ended any hope I might have of attracting a wife. I was destitute and raving. My standing within Imperial society was crushed. I resorted to a most unmanly display; a pretty whore was traumatised and I was cast from Altdorf into the filth beyond its walls.
I set out alone to nurse my bitterness. I had become an outcast. My intentions had only ever been to protect my kind, to ensure that the Old World was charted and understood so future generations could lay waste to the evil creatures that dwell beyond our borders. That was no longer who I was. I was a monster.
Perhaps it was my anger which drew me to that place. I had heard of it, as have those few who know too much about this cursed world. That knowledge attracted me to the monastery like a rat-man to warpstone. I realise this now.
The wilderness was barren and inhospitable. No longer did I feel the joy and vastness of life on the plains. I hid when I saw roaming figures in the distance. I avoided any trace of civilisation. On the borders of Troll Country this amounted to a few hovels, where fear-huddled peasants clutched knives and drew closer to their hearths as creatures of the Plains screamed in the night.
I reached the monastery one lonely, forsaken afternoon. It loomed on the horizon in the middle of nowhere. Such an outpost should have fallen to the beasts long since; and in a sense, it had.
The sight of this place shocked me to a standstill. It was large and low, with crumbling walls of dark green stone. When I eventually drew nearer, fright tensing my muscles fit to snap, I realised some foul lichen was growing on the stone. The place itself would seem ordinary under normal circumstances; yet out here, beneath a brooding sky, with a light wind whispering in my ears, I felt as though the air around it was tained. It seemed to radiate menace, if such a thing were possible.
I would have sworn that I felt eyes upon me. The very walls had eyes. Windows stared down at me, arched in shape, filled with shadows rather than glass. Someone had removed the bricks in places – economically, not flagrantly – to reveal the pinkish mortar behind them. The mortar formed small runes which I have not seen before or since.
Light rain began to fall. It seemed to sting my skin and it burned my eyes.
What other option did I have but to hurry for the cover of this structure, dubious though it seemed? There were no minor doors around the sides, just a simple archway at the front of the structure. I shuddered as I noticed gargoyles carved into the shapes of screaming skulls.
The main courtyard was empty of feature. There were four stone doors set into the facing wall of the monastery. Each was separated from the other by a screaming gargoyle face. Nothing of the diabolic splendour I had expected, given the unsettling shadow this place had cast in my mind. Something made me turn when I reached the doors. Out on the distant moors I saw figures moving towards the monastery. Each carried a burning torch. Their robes were black and they appeared to be wearing blood-stained sack cloth over their faces. At least my eyes were still sharp, no matter what else the rat-men had done to me.
The approaching figures made no sign that they had seen me and they moved slowly, purposefully, as though they had all the time in the world.
I imagined them chanting as they walked. It made me go cold.
I chose one of the doors at random and pushed against it. It was heavy, made of granite. It scraped as it moved, as though resentful at being forced. All I could see was a shadowy vault. The atmosphere from within hit me and immediately made me retch. I fell to my knees and threw up gruel. My stomach clenched and unclenched until it hurt; I was already half-starved and there was little within me to vomit up.
I sat back, wiping my lips. Now anyone who came by – like those men on the moor – would know I had been here.
I chose another door, hoping that this one would not lead to a corpse-choked cess pit.
The interior was not as dark; light fell in from splayed clerestory windows. I was relieved to see a shadowy corridor whose ceiling and floor looked like marble. I stepped within, feeling dampness in the air, and put my back against the door until it ground shut. My sense of relief died with the light; now I was trapped and had no choice but to proceed within this evil place.
Such thoughts reminded me of who I was and where I had been led. I was not safe; I had followed some impulse, and had been drawn here. I was reminded of the spider-mantis of Araby, drawn to his death by a female of the species, knowing he was doomed yet designed only to obey.
Someone knew that I had come. I did not doubt that I could hide for a while within these walls; yet something told me the longer I remained here, the deeper into my soul this place would sink its taint.
I set off along the corridor, noticing the occasional rune-sign and wondering what such runes could mean.
There were other stone doors along the corridor and one large slab at the far end. Each piece of granite had been worked by hand with exceptional skill. They were marked with what appeared to be symbols of protection. My knowledge of magick is not extensive and I ignored the symbols, fearing possible taint should I look at them – or even think about them – for too long.
I tried several of the doors. All were heavy and had to be forced. The gloom was the same throughout this building. Endless miles of corridors looped hither and yon. The passages were not decorated aside from occasional runes. There was no furniture. Walls were placed randomly, forming little walkways and alcoves, though such alcoves contained no religious imagery of any kind. I saw nothing to terrify or repel an honest man which made me all the more cautious, for my sense of impending evil was growing with every footstep.
Nobody leapt from the shadows to accost me. Those figures I had seen on the moorland did not overtake me, nor did I encounter guards or blasphemous deacons. I formed the impression that this place had become a confusing and frustrating maze. Too many doors led back into the same corridors. By the other token, there were occasionally rooms or areas that had only one way in – and therefore one way out. There were still no decorations or items of furniture. Nobody appeared to use this place as a permanent residence – though surely even the most formidable of heathens should fear to do so, and therefore my fevered observations meant nothing.
I started to feel like I was lost in one of my own bad dreams. This place hardly seemed real. How could it be this large on the inside compared to its relatively modest exterior? Some devilry was at work, I was sure of it. I began to feel as though I was trying to wake up. It felt as though, if I did wake up, I would almost be giving birth to myself – awakening anew, with something added to my soul. How I strove to avoid that fate!
That was when I heard the scream.
It was a woman. Her voice was muffled more by the architecture than by distance. She was terrified; her fear transmitted itself to me.
I am not a great man. I may not even be a good man. Morr knows, I have made mistakes for which I would one day have to attone. I considered fleeing. Such a cowardly action would have become a full rout which would surely have meant the end of my sanity, if not my earthly body. Women mean very little to me; vicious creatures who play their games then emerge victorious as men fall to ruin.
Yet I could not leave this woman to her torment.
I ran forward, following her screams, realising but not caring that I was being drawn into the bowels of this unholy cathedral. I had resolved to act and that was all I needed to know.
Then I reached the toothed archway to the dark room, that scene of nightmares.
Hooded figures like those on the moors formed a semi-circle around a man on his knees. His hair grew wild as the Forest of Shadows, and he was naked. More of the strange runes had been carved into his abdomen. He was in the middle of castrating himself with a curved blade. The screams came from him; in his agony his voice became notes falsetto. I have never heard the like.
The hooded cultists were singing. They were using his screams to time their song.
As I gasped in horror, everyone – including the kneeling man – looked up at me. In the man’s eyes was such torment, such shame. He was acting against his own will. More devilry. I already knew this man was beyond aid. Much of the skin was missing between the growths of hair on his face. I thought of the blood-stained rags the cultists were wearing.
One of the hooded figures raised its torch and pointed it at me. I belatedly realised they were all carrying them.
“Another initiate to join our most holy friend here,” said the figure. I was astonished to hear a female voice. “A kinsman, to be anointed in his own blood, to the music of his screams!”
The kneeling man – a holy man, evidently – perhaps one of the original founders of this place before its desecration? – shrieked in renewed pain.
“You have seen the dark room! They will find you too, and bring you here, to make you one of them! Flee! Flee, I beg you, but you are already damned!”
With that the monk completed his own castration… and set to work on his disembowelment.
I gave vent to all the madness and terror that had built within me – and I fled from that place, my search for escape burning my sanity like a candle uses oil.
And that was how I ended up here.
You claim that this asylum can protect me from myself, from my imagination. Perhaps this is true. Yet I swear to you that I do not lie. One day those worshippers will find me, and I will kneel before them as I cut away my manhood. They will sing their hymns with my screams as their music.
And maybe now you know of this place, you will seek it too. When bitterness takes over from courage; when the desire to break forbidden boundaries replaces a natural desire to explore; when you stray too far in the wrong direction, that place will be waiting.
You will be anointed before me in the dark room.