* * *
Bacchus reaches the temple as the horizon devours the lonely sun. The eerie orange sky bade his welcome as dark shadows lengthen. Had Bacchus not spent so much time in the temple, he would’ve missed the hidden entrance. Shadows of the rugged terrain obscure the entrance but for an hour each day.
As Bacchus prepares to enter the Temple of Goddess Kanoni, he pauses to contemplate his oldest and wisest friend. This recent decent into solitude and reflection bothers Bacchus on a level he can only admit when no one is present. He, like the other members of his order, believe resolutely in Goddess Kanoni. But the behavior of Octavius is so profound, so out of character that he worries if his friend is still fit to be the spiritual leader of their order.
Bacchus breaches the entrance and takes in the view the spartan temple. Plain wooden benches angle toward the ornate glasswork depicting their Goddess. Each bench accommodates ten worshippers. Not that there has been an issue with capacity – people seem to forget the old ways and focus instead on technology and twisted hedonism.
This day the temple is empty except for Octavius, knelt in the aura of the stained glass. Bacchus had expected the litany of prayer like the flow of the river from Octavius’s mouth, just like every other boring encounter in the last month, but the sanctuary is quiet. Octavius says nothing, but his face is still upturned to the depiction of Goddess Kanoni.
Bacchus steps forward, a new hope brewing in his belly. If Octavius has stopped his impetrations, then it might be possible for Bacchus to connect with his friend and convince his to pause from his devotions and address the fears of his colleagues.
Bacchus kneels beside Octavius. Softly, as to not frighten him, Bacchus asks. “How are you Brother Octavius?”
Octavius turns to Bacchus. “Very well indeed, Brother Bacchus.”
Bacchus smiles. “Will you return to the order? We are frightened for your safety.”
“That is of no consequence.”
“What-“ Bacchus starts, but Octavius brings his full attention to bear on Bacchus.
“I must fulfill the wishes of Goddess Kanoni.”
Bacchus’s eyes close for a moment. “What wishes? Please talk to me, Octavius.”
Octavius speaks rapidly pausing only to breathe. Each exhale is an affront to Bacchus’s senses. Octavius grips Bacchus by the shoulders; his smile is frightening in the wan light of the setting sun. “She visited me!”
Bacchus steps back. “What did she say? Will she guide us through these turbulent times?”
“She will, but…” his voice fades and his gaze turns to the floor.
“She demands a sacrifice.”
“Sacrifice?” Bacchus asks, a feeling of dread starts in the pit of his stomach. “We practice fealty. You have nothing to sacrifice.”
Octavius refuses to meet his friend’s gaze. “That’s not true,” he replies quietly. “I do have something that is important to me, and I’m afraid to let it go.”
Bacchus’s eyes flicker around the temple. “What do you have?”
“You,” Octavius finally says. “I have my oldest and dearest friend.”
Bacchus sits mute, trying to comprehend what Octavius is saying. His lack of comprehension lasts only until Octavius’s hands size his throat. Bacchus’s eyes widen as the realization of the nature of the sacrifice is revealed. He sees a determination bordering on the madness he and the other adepts feared. The man he knew for so many years is gone, and only insanity remains.
“Forgive me,” Octavius whispers.
Bacchus doesn’t see regret. He doesn’t see sorrow. He only sees the shell of a man with a single goal: choking Bacchus to death.
Bacchus pounds on Octavius’s arms as he gasps for air. An attempt to plead for his life only comes out as a pathetic wheeze. As Bacchus’s strength fades, Octavius’s grip tightens. The last vestige of consciousness, as his lungs burn, and his vision fades to black, a single thought runs through Bacchus’s brain: Kanoni is a spiteful, vengeful god – more than he thought possible for the goddess depicted sacrificing her clockwork wings to free humanity. How disappointing…
Next: Intrepid Discourtesy