Tales of Atlantis: The Dawning of a New Age
The Citadel, End of the Second Age
Ten men were seated around a golden table. Some had travelled for days to reach the Citadel, and the meeting had been long and arduous. The morning’s good humour had evaporated in the afternoon as the men argued and spoke over one another. As evening descended, all that remained was a residue of resentment and frustration.
‘We must offer him as a sacrifice.’
‘Don’t be a fool, Klemides.’
‘The Order requires it.’
‘The Order says nothing of the sort. In fact, the Order requires a majority for any State killing and I will never agree to such folly.’
‘You would risk the wrath of the Saviour? For the middling?’
‘It is a sign from the Saviour and you would slaughter him. How many people have survived the mouth of the storm?’
‘Nestor has a valid point. There are no records of any survivors.’
‘No records, but we’ve all heard the stories. Whether there’s any truth in them is another matter.’
‘They’re just stories to entertain the children. I agree with Klemides: we must sacrifice the middling. We cannot risk him returning and disclosing his discovery. It would destroy us.’
‘Then we must keep him here. He couldn’t escape if he wanted to- he is bound here, like the rest of us.’
‘If he survived his journey here, who knows whether he could leave?’
‘He can barely walk. He won’t escape. And even if he did, who would believe him?’
‘Let us not forget the prophecy.’
‘What of the prophecy?’
‘The prophecy speaks of a stranger returning to us, and that stranger-’
‘Will mark the beginning of a new age. Yes, yes, I know of the prophecy. We all do. But this is not the stranger of whom the prophecy speaks.’
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘The middling the prophecy speaks of is not due to arrive for hundreds of years.’
‘Hippocrates is right. The Viracocha confirmed it.’
‘And do you think the middling descends from one of us? Look at him.’
The middling was sat chained to a wall, his pale, malnourished body shivering despite the intense heat. Two men had found him washed up in the realm of Syros two moons ago. At first, they had presumed him dead, but somehow he had survived his journey from the other world and now his fate hung in the balance.
‘What else did the Viracocha say?’
‘The middling spoke only of a great plague that had ravaged his country and of his god.’
‘Just one. The middling believes in a false god.’
The men fell silent, processing the information. Then the oldest one spoke, ‘There is another option.’
‘If we are wrong and that man sat there, chained to the wall, is the stranger referred to in the prophecy, then we would make a grave mistake by offering him as a sacrifice, one which might cause our destruction. But we cannot allow the middling to roam freely. To do so would set a dangerous precedent. It would appear to me that the only option is to send him Below.’
‘That would be as good as a death penalty.’
‘Not necessarily. If he truly is our descendent, the Saviour would ensure his safety and we would know for sure.’
‘An interesting proposition.’
‘Yes, I agree…’
‘My loyal governors,’ said the man with golden bands covering his arms, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. It was the first time he had spoken and the other men fell silent. ‘Thank you for your comments. They have been useful. The Order requires a majority for any State killing, but the Order only applies to kinsmen. Do you agree?’
The men murmured their agreement.
‘And the middling may be many things, but he is not our kinsman.’
‘Do you agree?’ forced the man with the golden bands.
The men nodded their heads.
‘Good, then the Order does not apply and the decision on the middling is mine alone, and I have made it.’ The man with the golden bands turned to his guard. ‘Ready the prisoner, we will not require the bull today.’
‘Show mercy, my Lord!’
‘You’ve grown soft, Nestor. Aemon said it himself. The middling has angered the gods. He has forsaken them for an imposter. They have taken their vengeance by bringing a plague down on his kind. He may have escaped their wrath, but we must finish their work. Make ready the prisoner.’
A guard the size of a boulder with three vertical lines branded on his forehead grabbed the middling and dragged him off by the scruff of his neck. Such was the guard’s strength that he barely noticed the middling’s attempts to free himself.
‘Now, let us move on to the pledge and have done with it,’ said the man with the golden bands.
The men walked in silence through a silver temple dedicated to Poseidon until they reached a red column which stood prominently in the centre. Delicately inscribed upon the column was the Order, and in front of it sat a smooth golden altar that reflected the temple’s ivory roof.
After a few minutes the guard returned with the High Priest and the middling, who they had dressed in a white linen robe. A glowing pendant hung loosely from his stooped neck. He gazed at the ground, defeated.
One by one the men approached the altar and recited the pledge, their voices barely audible. Then the guard forced the middling to kneel on the altar, facing the column. The men could hear his sobs and whimpers, but they couldn’t see the fear in his eyes or the tears flooding down his cheeks as the guard held him.
The priest began his prayer. The men had heard it many times before, but they had never borne witness to this ritual. As he spoke the priest produced an obsidian blade no bigger than a leaf. The sobs from the middling grew louder. He was powerless in the vice-like grip of the guard. Some men held their breath, some closed their eyes, and some fixed their gaze on the statues surrounding them. Only the man with the golden bands watched the middling, the corner of his lips betraying a veiled smile.
As the priest finished his prayer, he approached the middling. It was time. The guard forced the middling’s forehead back with his hand. The priest stuttered: a pang of conscience? It didn’t last. Delicately, he opened the middling from ear to ear, the deadly blade cutting easily through flesh and tissue.
The middling coughed and gargled as his body thrashed, his lifeblood spurting onto the column and altar. For those watching, it seemed to last an eternity.
And then he was still.
Human or animal, it didn’t matter: they all reacted the same. The guard let go of the middling’s limp body and stepped away, his arms and face painted red. Silence swallowed the room, save for a gentle dripping sound.
The man with the golden bands spoke, ‘This must remain within these walls. No-one can know about the middling or what has happened here. The gods will reward us for what we have done today.’ He turned to the guard. ‘Dispose of the body, away from here, and make sure no-one can find it.’
The men dispersed with haste, the day’s events forever etched on their minds. It wasn’t the first time the High Lord had taken matters into his own hands, and it wouldn’t be the last…
The guard heaved the middling’s corpse through the forest. Disguising the body and removing it from the Citadel without raising suspicion had been a tough task, and sweat drenched him as he negotiated the dense flora. He had followed the Viracocha’s instructions to the letter, and it had taken him to a clearing where a vast stone protruded from the floor. He pushed it with all his strength. There was a creak and it moved, revealing a black abyss. The guard smiled. So that’s the entrance to the Below!
He looked around to make sure he wasn’t being watched, then kicked the body into the void. It fell silently to the bottom, where it would remain, untouched, for hundreds of years.