Chapter 47 - The High Priest
The cloaked figure watched intently as the mage apprentices slowly chipped away at the sides of the mask. For cycles they had etched off slivers from the chiseled features of the mask, ever since Barrachas brought it into the country. It had the face of a Hylian man but was adorned with intricate war paint of brilliant blues and browns across its cheeks. The color of its eyes was unnervingly black, as if unseeing. Adorning its crown was molded white hair complete with a cyan cap. It was unlike any mask ever seen on this world.
For many orbits now, their supply of soldiers had grown thin. They were resorting to shaving off fragments from the mask less often of late. The previous wheelbarrow of cadavers they brought back from Hyrule were too far gone in decomposition to be of any use. He fumed at them for not getting this single requirement right. He ordered the bodies to be dumped out at the back of the temple to be burned along with the others.
At length the mages completed their task and collected the four pieces of wood they successfully managed to shave off the mask. For the most part, it was still intact and had almost all of its original shape. The bottom portion of the cheeks was where they chose to do the carving. Gathering them together in one bundle, they reverently held it out to Barrachas for inspection. Scrutinizing the small splinters of wood, he nodded his head in approval before accepting them from the apprentice’s outstretched palms.
He directed the black robed mages out of the room before deferentially closing the door to the inner chamber. Gripping the shards in his hand he swept down the corridor, his midnight cloak billowing out behind him. He was a disagreeable man with a striking roman nose and piercing yellow eyes. He had only a few wisps of brown hair on his head, which was usually covered with the cowl he usually wore. The rest of his body was concealed with a black cloak with elaborate runes engraved on the front seams, reaching all the way down to his wooden sandals.
Barrachas ignored the moaning that came from the walls as he stalked down the corridors. Upon his arrival and instating the Nevachrean religion of Ballos, they had erected a temple with brick made from straw and mud. Hardly a worthy material for one such as the ‘god’ he followed. Nevertheless it was better than nothing. When they ran out of straw or mud they gathered more from the surrounding country. While they waited for the materials to be delivered, they continued work on the temple and utilized bodies instead. Even in un-death, they still served their purpose well.
Swiping away the grasping hands as he passed by one particularly egregious corridor, he entered the altar room where the floor was perpetually slick with blood. He wore the wooden sandals purposefully so he would not slip on the torrid mess. Placed on the central platform was a fresh body, one of the few they managed to pluck from a nearby village. It was fresher than most cadavers he had worked with recently. It would have to do.
“Is the sacrament ready?” Barrachas intoned, not looking at the robed tyro standing by the altar.
“It is, my master.” The man wheezed. The stale air of death was lethal to the lungs of the mages who made this temple their home.
“Then let us begin.” Barrachas smiled, he loved bringing new life into this world from what was once dead. It was one of the few joys he had.
Taking the cup of decaying blood, he washed it over the dead man’s body, making sure it covered every inch of skin. It was a nauseating job but it had been done so many times he barely thought about it anymore. Once finished, he flipped the man over onto his back with the assistance of the mage. Opening the mouth of the carcass, he embedded one single sliver into the tongue. Within moments it absorbed itself into the mouth and dissolved completely.
“Chain him.” Barrachas directed.
Hastily, the tyro did as he was commanded; an air of urgency was needed here. The body began groaning as its internal organs began pumping back to life with the fresh blood from the re-beating heart. The apprentice redoubled his efforts and with a sigh of relief shackled the final limb to the platform.
The man’s eyes sprung open as it turned its head towards them. It immediately began struggling against the chains while screaming incoherently for their blood. Barrachas sneered at the brute. It was always like this every time. They awoke with a rapacious hunger to kill and eat. The first few attempts at this rite had been disastrous and the revived cannibals had broken loose into the population. They took far more precaution with reawakening the dead these days.
Barrachas smirked at the thought of seeing the almighty Naar in this state when he first died. He was unsure if the ritual would be successful and offered to have it tested on his men first as a matter of experimentation. In time, the majority of the able-bodied men who died were taken into the temple for reanimation. They stole bodies from neighboring countries they had conquered, all of them adding to their collective might.
Promptly discounting the raving man on the altar, Barrachas looked over the myriad of other platforms set up in the room. There was a time they were enlivening hundreds of men in a single day. At this rate, they would be running out of people to indoctrinate into their army. He grinned; they might even have to start resorting to the women if they ran out of bodies.
“Keep him chained for two days or until his hunger settles down. Release him and send him directly to the quartermaster to ensure he is equipped and trained. He will have lost some skill since his death.” At the apprentice’s nod, Barrachas turned and left the chamber.
Stuffing the remaining slivers of wood garnered from the mask into a pouch at his belt, he proceeded past the macabre halls and out into the sunlight. Standing dazed for a few moments, he looked around to orient himself in the town square. It was a hovel of a city, one that never fully recovered from the dismantled pact with Hyrule. The buildings were in a haphazard array of completion, some were refined brick and mortar while others were straw huts. There was no consistency to the chaos.
The only thing that was constant was the brick wall they had erected around the entire city of Glaun’rung when they first commenced the war efforts. Many soldiers were manning the ramparts throughout the day and even into the long hours of the night. There were few men left in the conurbation that were not inducted into the transference of Ballos. They were either deemed too weak to be of use or were old and feeble to begin with. Considering the times, they might even consider those able bodies a viable option.
Barrachas paced across the plaza, ignoring the burbling fountain that barely retained its vigor. Making a line towards the primary pub in town, he swung the front gate flaps wide as he entered the dim lit shack. The proprietor looked up in alarm, mustache bristling. Upon seeing who it was, he immediately looked back down and resuming washing the glasses. A filmy residue clung to their sides as he dried them off, the only water available being tainted.
Barrachas saw the two men he was looking for and strode over to their table. Picking up the skirt of his robe before setting himself down on the chair, he glared at the two of them. These two idiots were always a thorn in his side and Naar seemed to agree too.
It was these two men that even suggested the blasphemy that someone attempt to don the mask of Ballos. Barrachas had wanted them executed on the spot. Naar quelled the situation but proceeded to inquire what would happen. Furious at this heresy, he needed Naar to agree to his plan and thus had to prove the point. Taking a replaceable soldier, he ordered him to put on the mask. Within seconds, the man’s body had melted into a mass of blood, bones and goo. Naar subsequently agreed with the transference option.
“Well?” Barrachas snapped, “Have you stopped the bandits from stealing our caravans and brought back their bodies?”
Talamir snorted in his drink as Timner leaned forward to answer the priest, “Unfortunately no. They keep giving us the slip.”
The high priest huffed irritated, “Those supplies don’t come cheap anymore. We are slowly running out!”
Talamir set his tankard down on the table with a belch, “We were tasked to return back to the frontlines this morning.”
“What?!” Barrachas bellowed, making the bartender nervous and his waitress jittery.
“He wants us to return to Hyrule and lead the final charge in eliminating the Gerudo.” Timner explained calmly. It would do no good in upsetting the priest.
“That fool doesn’t even know how to wage a proper war! He needs to abandon Hyrule for it is already conquered. He should move north into their neighboring ally so we can reap the riches of their land and acquire more units for our nations’ might!” He clenched his fist at them.
Talamir and Timner gave a sidelong glance at the other. It was obvious that the objective of Naar had not been revealed to Barrachas. Naar still kept a few things close to the vest and did not trust the high priest to keep his word in ushering Nevachrea into a new age of prosperity. They continued to sip their drinks as they let the man rage, it would be unwise to reveal Naar’s ultimate purpose in Hyrule.
Presently, the priest had wound down from the tirade and his breath was shallow from the exertion. “I came here in hopes of building a community dedicated to Ballos. What I find here is a nation who is unwilling to convert.”
Talamir chimed in, “Granted, you enabled us to initiate this war, so in essence, you have directed our attention away from your primary goal.”
Barrachas shot the man daggers. Talamir quickly redirected his focus back down into his drink. The priest placed a hand to his creased brow, “If Naar would simply stop this foolish nonsense in Hyrule and move onwards, we could end this farce.”
Timner said smoothly, “You know he won’t leave until he feels the wrongs Hyrule has done him have been righted.”
“He was our king, we must still follow him.” Talamir maintained.
“Was!” Barrachas said, pointing a finger at Talamir, “He was your king. He forfeited that right when he chose to be general of this grand army.”
“I’d still follow him.” Timner mumbled into his drink as he took a swig.
The priest shot him a look before drawing out the mask slivers and placing them on the table with a maroon cloth. “Here are the latest shavings from Ballos. Be sure he gets these. The bodies they send back are too far gone to be of any use. Better to recruit new volunteers at the front.”
Talamir nodded as he carefully wrapped up the pieces in the cloth before placing it in his belt pouch. “Thank you, we’ll make sure he gets these.”
Barrachas kicked back his chair in rage as the waitress stumbled and dropped a tankard of beer all over his cloak. The young girl scrambled up from the floor and apologized profusely. She had meant to bring over the drink and set it in front of him.
“Please forgive me master! I did not mean to upset you!” Her voice quivered slightly.
Ignoring his sopping robe, he examined the young woman with a critical eye. She was an oddity in the midst of mediocrity. She couldn’t have been any older than 16 cycles. They still reproduced in this nation? His gaze lingered on her budding form, just reaching the cusp of maturity. He flicked his focus over at the bartender. The terror in his eyes belied his intent. He had kept her safe and hidden here in this bar disguised as an old hag. If she had been discovered sooner, she would have been sent to the frontlines as entertainment. It had been a long while since he had a young one. They were always the sweetest tasting.
“You are a pretty, little thing are you not?” Barrachas murmured, placing the back of his hand along her cheek. She shivered at his revolting touch.
“I am nothing without Ballos. He gives life to us all.” She intoned dutifully, hoping it would appease the high priest with her piety.
“As you will give yours to me.” The priest mocked.
Her eyes looked at him curiously before he surged in, locking his lips onto hers. Her irises bulged as she felt his invasive tongue pierce her throat, digging deeper into her body. The feeling was violating as she felt his muscled appendage wriggling deeper into her chest. Her screams were muffled as she panicked and banged her fists into his chest as the tongue tore through the fibers of her innards.
Her body went limp as Barrachas secured the object of his desire. He slithered his tongue out of her mouth with her weakly beating heart resting on it. With a slurp, he drew the fleshy organ into his mouth and swallowed it whole. He allowed the poor girl’s body to collapse to the floor lifeless. The proprietor bowed his head onto the wooden counter. He had lost another of his girls in just four orbits. Tears began forming in his eyes at her death.
Licking the rest of the blood from his lips, he said satisfyingly, “That was sweeter than I remember.”
“And…that was disturbing.” Talamir said, setting his tankard down, unable to drink any further.
“There is something not natural about you.” Timner agreed with his brother tensely.
There were many abnormal things about Barrachas that intimidated the brothers to no end, this occurrence being the latest in a long string of unnatural happenings. Naar was right to keep things from the high priest. He was a dangerous man, if he ultimately was one at all. He had brought so many unholy things into Nevachrea that seeing stuff like this was hardy shocking anymore. Regardless, it was such a waste of a good female.
“That’s what they all tell me.” Barrachas rumbled, obviously content with his profane meal. He turned to the two brothers before waggling a finger at them. “Make sure he gets those.” Without another word, the priest parted the swinging bar doors and was gone, dismissing the soft weeping of the bartender who had gently wiped away the spittle of blood trailing down the girl’s lips.
“What should we do with the girl?” Timner proposed.
“We burn it with the others.” Talamir said morosely; the owner scowled at them but dared not rebuke them.
Timner sighed in longing, “Such a waste…”