I stand for the moment, though I will soon fall. Already my knees begin to buckle. The blood has reached my throat, and will likely begin choking me before I hit the ground. Though I felt it enter, I have not yet looked at the dagger, sheathed between the ribs of my left rib cage. I’m close enough to the priestess now that I can see her pale skin from beneath the translucent white veil. She still grips the dagger, though softly; almost as though she were holding a brush instead of a blade.
Though her face is expressionless, her eyes carry something faint: a trace of an empathetic apology nearly hidden by divine conviction. As I begin to stumble, she backs away, the handle of the dagger slipping through her fingers.
I have only moments until my consciousness fades into darkness, but this is time enough for man to hear the voice of the gods. But the gods have no need to speak with me, for their wisdom had entered my body on the blade of the knife that is claiming my life.
I know this dagger. I know it well. This is the dagger of That Which Stays in the Shadows, who has a form in the temple. Each time I’ve come to the temple to participate in the Honoring of the Sacrifice, I’ve seen the dagger being spun on the small alter, almost totally shrouded by the subsuming darkness beyond. The Hand that spins the dagger can never be discerned, but what else is there that might hold and spin the blade? And this dagger is no secret: the scraping sound it produces when spun on the alter can be clearly heard all throughout the temple.
Each time I’ve entered the temple for sake of ritual, I always turn my gaze from the dagger, always spinning, always on the edge of visibility. And though it’s impossible to know for certainty, often it seems that the gaze of the Form in the Shadows falls upon my face, its weight nigh overbearing.
I feel it important to note, for sake of those foreign to our lands, that the Form in the Shadows ought not be identified with evil. Though the darkness might overwhelm your sight, you begin to hear a sound like golden bells ringing in harmony when nearing the altar. The effect is a contradiction of the senses: though the darkness pools like the ink of monsters beneath the sea, the sound one hears from within is like Light woven into song.
But the sound of the divine does nothing to diminish the presence of the dagger, always spinning, always ready for use. And I have seen it used before, though the memory is too gruesome to recount with words.
I had come to the temple this day, not for ritual, but to receive the fruit of the Begreth. The Begreth tree is sacred to the temple, for its fruit carries a juice that strengthens the body to support and awaken the immortal blood that runs in our veins. Oh, the riches in store for me, once I had but eat of this sacred fruit!
The time was finally ripe, for I had reached the Age of Dawning. And thus I travelled to the temple mount, ready to claim my prize. The temple was silent, save for the scrape of the spinning dagger. Sometimes I could catch a glimpse of a priestess, silently flitting about the pillars, looking as much a wraith as an angel.
I strode to the depths of the temple, where I knew I would find the Begreth glade. And there a single priestess stood, a mere ray of light standing guard before the gate to the divine. For a moment, there was only silence, I standing on the threshold of the path to the tree. Then, with all confidence I could muster, I strode forward, an implicit request unto the priestess. The path was long, but as I neared she shifted slightly, almost as if beaconing me come forward.
I stopped two arm’s lengths from where she stood, obstructing my path. Despite my implicit request, she remained silent and utterly motionless. Undeterred, I eventually stepped to pass her, my gaze captured by the fruits I could see in the branches of the Begreth overhead.
Yet as I made to brush by her, she raised her forearm to the level of my ribs, something flashing softly in her hands. It was only when the dagger entered my body that I realized the scraping of metal on stone had gone silent behind me. The dagger was so sharp that I hardly felt it slide between my ribs, splitting my skin like cream.
Upon my first sharp gasp of breath, I knew the dagger must be suffused with the knowledge of the gods. As I felt its blade pierce my heart, my being was transfused with the Principle of Life. And as I stand here now, this Principle takes what life remains in me, and coaxes a vision into being, perhaps the last sight of my life.
Flashing before me, I see an image of myself once again entering the temple. I look to still be of the Age of Dawning, though when my vision-self reaches the threshold to the Begreth glade, he passes by without second glance, confidently striding to the heart of the temple. Eventually he nears the small altar, the dagger spinning, always spinning.
He stops a single arm’s length from the altar, and there he kneels. Immediately a shadow flashes from the darkness beyond, stopping the dagger.
For once the temple is totally silent, and this silence stretches on for an indeterminate span. But eventually, my vision-self speaks, his voice deep with calm:
“As my name is Terekk, then Terekk must die.”
When he speaks these words, the vision begins pulsing with the song that is heard in the Darkness, the song that sounds of Light. And my vision-self rises and grabs the handle of the dagger from the grasp of the darkness.
He closes his eyes, and places the tip of the dagger under his chest. And after the space of a single breath, he slides the dagger between his own ribs, in the same place where the same dagger currently takes my own life. The moment he does so, the song intensifies and the temple is filled with a soft, golden, yet penetrating life. Priestesses come flooding from all around and gather his body, blood gushing from the wound. They take him through the temple to the Begreth glade, laying his body in the soil next to the roots of the great tree.
Four priestesses now approach the tree, though they are covered in golden dress instead of the usual white. The four each take a fruit from the tree, and peel back the outer layer. Juice begins gushing from each fruit, more than one imagined a single fruit ever might contain.
But even as I watch this in my mind’s eye, I feel my life draining away. Even as the light within the glorious vision intensifies, so my mortal vision wanes.
I’m on the ground, though I don’t remember finally falling. In my final moments, I turn my attention back to the vision.
The priestesses have taken the peeled fruits, and are approaching the prone figure of my vision-self, his blood watering the glade. They stand symmetrically above his body, and each let the plentiful juice fall onto his skin, my skin.
I’m drowning in my own blood. I can no longer even draw breadth.
When his body is coated in the juice of the Begreth, it begins to glow and hum. The priestesses all around raise their arms and add their voices to the harmony.
My lungs pulse helplessly, my vision almost entirely black.
The glow fades from his body, then suddenly his shoulders flex and he—