The priest paused for a moment, listening to the low chanting of his congregants. The followers had been growing, slowly but surely. When he had been young, fresh from the red rock and his scars of offering still healing, there had barely been enough of the Lord’s people to occupy a quarter of the large underground cavern that served as their cathedral. Now the space was close to packed.

He gave what could have been a smile on any other face, but the narrow face and the sharpened teeth made it more a threat than any other expression. Even so, his eyes lit with the passion of his faith and he reached for the ritual knife at his belt.

The rough block of stone, carved unknown years before, stood at the narrowest point at the back of the cavern, the focus of all attention. Torches guttered and flared at either side, casting shadows and flicking images across the floor. The sacrifice was bound to it, bent backward, arms and legs forced to within an inch of breaking point. It was not easy, forcing the augers through wrists and ankles without severing any major blood vessels, but he had years of practice and success.

He always preferred to prepare the sacrifice himself. There many scores now who would happily have done so for him, but still. It meant something extra to him, to feel the fear and the pain as he hammered the augers into flesh, secured the chains, and drew them tight. He’d seen males, females, young; all bound before him. They would beg, weep, scream; but in the end, as they felt their bodies wrap about the stone, they’d all broken. He savored that moment too much to willingly let it pass to another.

This one had wept in the end. Perhaps it was the pain; perhaps it was fury at the capriciousness of fate. What else could such a dull creature call it? But it was an unbeliever. It was the will of the Lord that had saved it from the shipwreck. Saved it for him and his service.

It was naked. They always were. It added to the fear, the vulnerability. When they’d first stripped the creature, it had fought. This one had strength, even in it’s  weakened state,enough that it had taken many blows to finally subdue. The priest regretted that. Such treatment only served to deaden them to the moment of sacrifice. And a gift like this from the Lord should be given its proper due.

The chanting rose, echoes reverberating from the walls of the cavern, amplifying the song to the Lord. His people were close to exultation, the bloodlust burning in them like a fever. He felt his own heart pound, the excitement that lifted him, gave him meaning.

He turned to his followers, raising his hands in benediction. He saw them fall silent, saw the eagerness and expectation shine from their faces. Even in the gloom, he could see them clearly, feel their desire almost as strong as his own. It was time.

He stepped around the altar, a slow measured pace, drawing the moment out. It was as much for his own pleasure as for the torment of the creature. He could see its head move, the eyes follow him. The creature’s lips were still moving, perhaps entreaties to him, perhaps its own version of prayer. He knew these creatures had their own misguided faith, a pale pallid thing next to his own. But the words meant nothing to him, and he would not have cared even if he had understood. All he wanted was the fear and the pain. That was all the Lord asked.

He gripped his knife in a steady hand and with a smooth unhurried motion pushed the blade deep into the creature’s breast. The babble of words dissolved into screams and he felt his blood sing in response. The hot blood stained his pale hands, warming his skin with the Lord’s love. He drew the knife through the flesh, peeling it back until he could see the whiteness of denuded bone through the crimson insides. He reached for it; feeling the ribs flex, bend and finally snap beneath his attention. And there, pulsing erratically beneath was his prize.

He slid the knife carefully around, slicing away arteries and veins. One sent a spray of blood across his face, washing his vision in red, and he reveled in its warmth. He lifted his prize free, stripped the membrane encasing it away and held it aloft. Blood trickled down his arm as the heart emptied itself.

At the sight, the congregation erupted. A wave of sound crashing over the priest as they screamed their adulation.

He brought his hand down, looking at the rich red organ clasped between his fingers. It had ceased to beat, just as the creature had ceased to struggle, its innards lost in a pool of blood. There would be time to attend to that later. He lifted the heart to his lips and bit into it, teeth sawing into the dense muscle. It was slippery, with a dark metallic taste unlike any other. He worried a piece loose, chewed, swallowed it down.

The Lord touched him.

His mind expanded, a thousand sounds and visions all clamoring for his attention. He saw the Lord’s armies stretch from horizon to horizon, saw the creatures cities put to the torch and those who would not endure the Lord’s embrace would darken the stones of his new altars.

The world would be the Lord’s once more.

A vulpine smile, full of predatory intent, spread across his face and he raised his blood rouged face to the others.

“Our time has come.” He proclaimed, voice harsh and grating from the rarity of its use. That brought another roar from the crowd, He gazed out at them, saw his faith magnified and reflected back from a thousand eyes.

“Take what you will.” He commanded and stepped away from the altar. The congregants rushed forward, pushing and elbowing each other in their eagerness. Within moments they would have the corpse torn apart, the flesh consumed and the bones taken for tools or keepsakes. Only some would be able to claim those and competition would be fierce. Those who did would bear watching, to be called for greater service to the Lord. Some to be the generals of the Lord’s new army; others to be his new priests, spreading his gospel beyond these shores.

Turning away, leaving them to their contest for the remains, he returned to his cell. He took another bite of the heart, before tossing what was left into the shallow brazier that was his only source of light and warmth. He no longer had any need of trophies.

He sat on his narrow stone bed, watching as the coals caused the heart to shrivel and blacken. The fragrance filled the small, bare room, clinging to him. He breathed it in, savoring it. Chewing his last mouthful, he pondered the visions. They would need ships to carry them from this place, and weapons to strike down the unbelievers. Even without their limited numbers, it would be challenging. But the Lord would provide. He had faith.