Silence seemed like the best anaesthetic, at least to Johnny. He knew very well that the current peace he was experiencing would not last. Over the past few hours he had been put through the exertions of a lifetime, especially considering he had already spent so much of his life trapped in a small holding cell. His body had subsequently atrophied, the effects of malnutrition and lack of exercise taking their toll on his strength. The only thing that had kept him going was fear. Fear of the robed men who had made his life hell, fear of the creatures they spawned, or at least associated with, and the fear that came to him whenever he wondered what these men might really be up to when it came to all of their nefarious plans for the world.
Now he could finally make a stand against them, all because of the strange man who had for some reason allowed Johnny to throw in his lot with him. He really did not know what to make of the man. All Johnny really knew was that Caleb was the only person who was not afraid of these men, the only one who could fight them, and the only person it seemed who could protect him. Caleb somehow seemed to know something about these men, and they certainly seemed to know a whole lot about him. The robed men themselves even feared him, that was certain, but they also hated him. Not like how they hated normal people; they had a unique, fierce, determined anger for this man. They called him the Betrayer. What did all that mean?
Johnny turned to look over at the "Betrayer", who was now leaning against the passage wall, his eyes glowing threateningly in the dark, staring blankly at their muddled surroundings. His mind was wandering, so Johnny thought at least...
Caleb stood uncomfortably on the steps of the great temple. If it were not for Ophelia standing next to him he probably would have bolted the moment he saw the procession of robbed figures huddled around the the great cult Elder. Not that Caleb was a coward, he had faced more duels than any other man this side of the continent, but this was different. Caleb had never gotten himself involved with anything this "big" before; he was only just beginning to realize the power that the Cult of Tchernobog played in the world. This power terrified him, it shook him to the core of his being, and yet it was also alluring. The tantalizing possibility that he could even experience just a taste of this power for himself was almost overwhelming. It was that as well as Ophelia's continued insistence that had finally brought him here on this cold and desolate night.
"Faith is the key!" the Elder cried out in an accent Caleb would soon learn to know well. "Faith will show you the way!" Caleb squinted to get a better look at the man. He was dressed in unusual ritualistic robes, quite a bit more distinguished than what the rest were wearing. A man of some importance then. His tanned bald head glistened in the moonlight as his eyes glowed in a way only those dedicated to the service of the dreaming god could. "But faith must be proven" he elaborated, his intelligent eyes scanning the crowd assembled before him. "Who here will demonstrate their devotion to the dreaming god tonight?" The Elder took out a ritualistic knife and waved it in front of the crowd. "Who here will draw their own blood in devotion?"
"Go on..." Ophelia whispered into Caleb's ear. "Now is the time." Caleb took a deep breath and started to push his way through the crowd. The Elder turned to stare in his and Ophelia's direction, a smile appearing on his lips.
"You have a lot of gall to come here again" the Elder commented, the piercing eyes of the procession turning not on Caleb but on Ophelia. She stared back at them unperturbed.
"And why should I, oh Ishmael, not come and pay my respects to the god who we all must serve?" She had stated the question unfalteringly in her determined English accent. The crowd whispered hurriedly among themselves. The stating of the actual name of an Elder was a heretical act, especially for someone in Ophelia's position. Ishmael, however, just smiled it off.
"Such brave words for someone married to a traitor and a heretic" he replied, his voice keeping its calm East Indian tone.
"That coward lead to the death of my first-born child and betrayed those who he swore to serve" Ophelia responded petulantly. "In my eyes I have had no husband." Ishmael looked her over, his ever probing eye scanning whether or not she meant what she said. Words are not enough when you are in the service of Tchernobog. Loyalty comes first among all else, and few who lapse from this loyalty ever live to experience beyond their own transgressions. It was for this that Ishmael was celebrated for by his masters, his unique ability to understand the inner thoughts and workings of everything and everyone around him. He could tell when someone's dedication was wavering. In this case, he was convinced that it was not.
"So it shall be" he proclaimed, his voice now decisive. He then turned his attention to Caleb, who had by now managed to work his way to the front of the crowd. "But who is this that you bring to be judged in the presence of the great temple?" Ishmael gave him a thorough look over, his mind already determining his character before he even had a chance to speak.
"One who comes to join the service of the dreaming god" Caleb answered, just as Ophelia had instructed him. Caleb sometimes wondered why he always seemed to go along with whatever Ophelia said. She was manipulative by nature, Caleb knew, seemingly able to turn anyone to her side no matter what the cost, and yet Caleb still felt that there was more to his own willingness to listen to her than just simply that. Ever since he had first laid eyes on her that fateful day when he had stumbled upon her destroyed homestead, he had been fixated on her. As she recovered he seemed to become more under her spell. He was falling in love with her.
Ishmael decided to probe his new acquaintance further. "And what would you do if he would not receive you? What if he sent us against you, hmm?" Caleb's eyes narrowed.
"Then I would show you all just what lead can do to a man" he replied with more bravado than even he thought he had in him. The sound of hushed voices drifted through the crowd once more, many now eager to shed the insolent mortal's blood. Ishmael kept his calm and thoughtful demeanour, seeing Caleb's response for exactly what it was. He was not trying to intimidate anyone, he was just trying to show that he was not scared of them. He was not overwhelmed by them. He was saying ever so subtly that he could handle being a Cultist, and Ishmael was enlightened enough to see the gesture for what it really was. The Cabal was in need of such individuals who were strong enough to do more than simply obey, people who could also lead and dominate. Assuming he could prove his loyalty to the cult, this man could indeed be useful.
"Such tenacity..." Ishmael commented, pacing around Caleb. "It can be dangerous when left to it's own devices, and yet I feel there could be a place for you in dark one's army. If you can use this will of yours in loyal service to our master you could go far." Ishmael paused, staring Caleb directly in the eyes. It would be the last time they would not not glow back at him. "Obey our lord and reap riches unimaginable. Betray our lord and feel the cold hands of death." Ishmael then handed the sacrificial blade to Caleb, who quickly grabbed it and placed the sharp end against the fingers on his left hand. "Will you obey him?" Ishmael inquired finally.
"I shall obey..." Caleb answered, slowly slicing open his own flesh. Only after his own blood had started to drip onto the ground did he stop, handing the knife back to Ishmael. Caleb hid the pain, his face staying as hard as stone. He did allow himself a quick glance at Ophelia, who was watching the process with great interest. Was she hoping that offering a convert would restore her standing in the cult? Or was she also interested in Caleb himself? Was she falling in love with him too?
"Do you think you are ready to serve the dreaming god?" Ishmael asked, disturbing Caleb's thoughts, wiping the blade clean with the cuff of his robe. Caleb nodded quickly. Ishmael looked back at him seriously. "Are you? Hmm... no. You are nowhere near ready yet..."
Caleb's memories were disturbed by the sound of shrieking from somewhere down the passageway. He got up instantly, taking out his trusty sawed-off. Johnny looked up at him, a fearful expression on his face. "More Cabal?" he asked. Caleb shook his head.
"Not this time" Caleb replied, heading deeper into the darkness.
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Some might recall that I had previously made mention as part of the Blood Wiki's sixth anniversary that I had plans to once again invest some of my time in an area of Blood fandom that I had formerly been quite involved in. To that end I present Scroll, a story I originally began in the summer of 2008 as a kind of retelling of the story behind Cryptic Passage in an attempt to bring it further in line with the main Blood canon. Designed to be published in multiple parts, I shall endeavour to release a new instalment of Scroll every Sunday from March 9th on until the story is complete.