Out of the woods they came, drunk on their desire for the sabbath. From all directions they came, heeding the call of the black hill. Across the fallow lands they came, leaving behind them a wake of death, the land shuddering beneath footsteps that carried them forth toward Bal Zezar. The hill, raised by the first ones in worship of the old gods, its carved sides stretching upward to mock the new. Trees that have taken root in its poison soil are naught but the most twisted arbors, their knotted branches a covering for the procession to the summit. The hill welcomed their coming, but the land around resisted.
Their faces death incarnate, hatred immortalized in ashen marble. Once, they were people, now drawn deep into the way of darkness, the light of their life twisted, corrupted, wrought by spell and ritual into wretched masks. Their god Dominion began to take more than it gave, and they could not gorge themselves on the ancient ways alone. The sabbath would fill them. Bal Zezar would grant them what they sought.
As the sun bled orange and red against the horizon, those terrible visages twisted into something like excitement. They readied themselves to partake, waiting to sate their bloodlust as the long hours passed into shadow and the end of waiting approached.
The hill breaks out of the earth alone. Surrounded by miles of flatness, emptiness inhospitable to life, scratched by a single path snaking through its gnarled forest to the summit where the ruins of the first ones await. Those who came on the night of the sabbath spoke in hushed voices until they reached the threshold of the wood and stepped onto the hill’s beginning. From there they were silent, reverent beneath elder and oak. Only at the summit, braced against the chill night, did they find their voices again. Here, too, they found what they had come for.
Atop the midnight altar, hair as silk splayed against the darkness, snow against a night sky, the sacrifice lay still. Her eyes open, twin lakes like glass reflecting starlight from above. Her body, bare to the wind, never shivered. The crowd closed in, eyes drinking in the sight, but no hands reached forth. None would touch her; she belonged to the hill. She always had. From conception atop the summit to the moment when the sabbath would be completed, she lived in the knowledge of her purpose, the truth of her existence, the path she would take into the glory of death’s kingdom—to sit at the table of Bal Zezar.
When the sun set on sabbath night, its light was replaced with torches. Beside the altar sat the holy one himself—Dominion’s voice among the followers. His hands might have been carved from the mountain, his face formed from thunderclouds, his eyes filled with twilight. The masses gathered in, the stone beneath their feet pulsing with a hundred heartbeats, quickening with every passing second, the currents flowing together, spiraling toward the center of some unknowable feeling.
The holy one stood, and the world was silent. He faced the altar and knelt, his hands upward in supplication to the sacrifice—to Bal Zezar’s chosen. His words came in the tongue of old, not only from him, but from the mountain itself. The sacrifice responded, her fate sealed in ancient words whose power glowed magic and strange in the air around her. When the prayer was complete, the holy one drew a blade of black glass from within his robe, and the sacrifice lay still. The blade rested against her throat, and she smiled. Her blood was drawn, pooling on the midnight stone, and she joined Bal Zezar in another world.
Like a stone dropped in calm water, something rippled out from the center of the masses. The sacrifice was complete, but sabbath night still stretched before them. Voices rose, swelling like the sea, shaped by the transcendence to which they had born witness. Around the hill a breeze circled, and the trees swayed. The holy one faced the followers, then turned his eyes to the heavens.
“It is the night of our lord,” he said. “And He is coming.” The murmuring grew louder, the circling breeze picking up, becoming a wind that howled and whipped their faces. The night was swelling, swaying, pulsing with the lust of sabbath. One by one the followers approached the altar, bending forward to put their lips to the scarlet pool. They drank deeply, and strange visions danced before their eyes. Shouts and laughter rose and fell, carried away on the moving air. Voices of death wailed on the wind. Their descent into the wild madness of the night was intense and complete—none among them remained untouched by the power and pleasure of their worship.
Their faces changed as the night grew deeper, shifting away from humanity toward something darker. Hands extended to grasp at those around them, groping, feeling for flesh, tracing the flow of power that coursed throughout the congregation—a reminder of the physical world in which their bodies remained while their minds whirled beyond. In the final moment of darkness before the sun returned to scorch the sky, a tremor pulsed through every being on the hill. Silence fell, and a reverent expectancy settled over them. They knew that His time had come. There was no fear. In those final quiet moments on sabbath night, Bal Zezar walked among them.
When morning broke, the hilltop was empty.