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Badlands IX: The Mountain God
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 2

But she still had to do it, to go looking, and, if she could, to rescue them. She had no idea how she might lead them to safety. But she had to try, she told herself grimly. She had to try.

The slope was becoming less steep, the ground flattening as she neared the summit. Not far above, the crater pulsed fire like a beating heart.

She felt the chanting more than heard it. It was a vibration in the air, like a string being plucked, an insistent repetitive thrumming, a wordless tune, but made up of human voices. She hesitated, turning from one side to the other as she tried to find the source. It was coming round the curve of the mountain, still very far away, and lower down on the volcano. But at least now she had something to go on.

She saw the procession while she was still not far below the crater, a line of tiny dots of flame down the slope. The chanting was louder now, but still almost lost among the rumbling, which was now almost continuous. She stopped a few moments, studying the line of lights, judging where she could intercept the procession best. Then she had a sudden thought, and, before running on again, she set out to change her appearance.

She took the grey of the ash under her feet and wove that into fabric that she wrapped round her body, her wings and tail. She took the darkness of the air and plaited it into her hair, turning it black and draping it over her horns. She took a stray beam of moonlight† which penetrated through the smoke overhead,† splashed it over her face and exposed arms and legs, turning her skin to a pale flesh tone. Lastly, she took the brown of a rock and spun that into the straps of leather footwear.

Looking down at herself, she took a deep breath. Now she was no longer a red-golden naked woman with horns and wings and a barbed tail; she was a long-limbed girl in the clothing of the people of the villages, a loose long shirt down to her knees and sandals with thongs wrapped round her ankles. She could not keep up the pretence indefinitely, but for now it would do.

As she ran, the chanting grew louder, more distinct, though there were still no words she could discern. There were two columns of torches, held high over bent figures trudging slowly upwards. The flames lit their grey-robed figures, their hooded heads, and on a large box on poles they bore between them, like a palanquin.

Racing down the slope, the demon skidded to a halt before them, ash and cinders pattering around her feet. "Stop," she shouted, loud enough to be heard over the mountain and over the chanting. "Donít go up any further."

The chanting broke off abruptly. A taller figure, at the head of the procession shuffled forwards, and pulled the hood back off its face. It was a man with a deeply lined face. In the hand which held no torch he carried an ornately carved staff of black stone. It reflected the light of the torch and turned the lines on his face into canyons of shadow.

"Who are you?" he asked. "And why are you trying to stop us?"

"The mountain is about to erupt," the demon said. "If you go any further, youíll be burned or..." she glanced upwards as a spurt of flame towered momentarily into the sky from the crater. "Or," she added, "youíll be smothered by the gas and ash. Donít go any further."

"You canít stop us," the man with the staff replied. "Itís our holy duty to go up to the crater and perform sacrifice to appease the god of the mountain. Then everything will be as it was before."

"Sacrifice?" the demon repeated, astonished. "What are you going to sacrifice?"

"That is none of your concern, woman. You should not be here on the slopes anyway. You villagers of the plain should keep to your place."

"Please," the demon said, "try to understand. There is nothing to be achieved by sacrifice. Canít you feel the eruption coming? The air is barely breathable anyway, and we arenít even near the crater."

The man with the staff peered at her, actually bending forward to stare. "Have you been up there, woman, that you tell us not to go higher?"

[ Continue to page 3 ]

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Genre:General Horror
Type:Short story
Rating:8.5 / 10
Rated By:6 users
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