Dust and Decay – Chapter 21 – By Sean P. Wallace
Want to know what’s happening? The first book Dust and Sand was serialised here at Geek Pride. A summary is available here. You can also buy the definitive edition of Dust and Sand at all good eBook stores.
The most unique cult of That Which Sins were the Tainted. Most who worship the Whore God were vain, self-obsessed. She was the goddess of carnality, of prioritising one’s own needs, and so attracted followers who embodied these traits. Not so for the Tainted. Their members’ selfless fervour and discipline would make a General weep: all eschewed opportunities for personal power in favour of praising That Which Sins. The Tainted recruited people who matched their ethos, ignoring those of greater power who could destabilise them. Humble worship was their focus. Collective success above all else, as this was the success of their goddess too.
Their chapters were organised to match the preferred sins of their leaders: Defilement, Debasement, and Destruction. When a recruit selfless enough to enhance their ranks joined, they were assigned to the chapter which best matched them. There was no pride in the size of a chapter, nor in their individual achievements. All was sacrificed to That Which Sins. For she was all that mattered.
Unlike their failed brethren, the Wastrels. Such hubris: not only to bring their Goddess to the mortal realm, but to have the audacity to keep pieces of her here. Some amongst the Tainted admired their boldness, true, but not their plan. Or their execution. And especially not losing a Word containing her precious essence.
The Tainted’s leaders had vowed to reclaim the Word at any cost. Great portions of their power waited to be invested should it, or its keeper, resurface. So many vile and cruel things could be achieved with a slice of her. And so, they watched the Badlands constantly, scrying or inhabiting their goddess’ beasts, waiting.
The Debased, leader of Debasement, felt the Wanted Man through the segmented eyes of a Bloat. He had been exploring out of curiosity, wanting to see the glorious Badlands. Feeling that hated amalgam was a boon, a gift from his Goddess.
Immediately, he withdrew from the Bloat and called the Tainted’s leaders together.
It took them hours to gather – each had their own plans and worship – and there were many developments during that time, but they were soon enough connected, the tumorous hommonculi growing on their necks forming a psychic bond.
“Good morning, my brothers,” the Destroyer said. A crimson presence, mindless rage and carefully-planned murder. She sat, legs crossed, in fresh blood. “It is good to feel you once more.”
“And a good morning to you, Sister of Destruction,” the Defiler said, “Brother of Debasement.” He used their full titles out of respect. They had no other names, having sacrificed them to That Which Sins. The Defiler was milky, murky, and cruel, like forced surgery or a burning temple. He rested on one knee in puddles of animal secretions.
“Good morning both,” the Debased said. He’d been told he was a sickly green presence, wretched and stinking and quivering in fear and pleasure. He knelt in an iron pool of human effluence, lit by candles of human tallow.
“You mentioned something about the Word?” the Defiler asked.
“Has it resurfaced?”
“It has,” the Debased said. “As expected, the Wanted Man did not leave Texas. Not even the Badlands. Since I called you, many have felt him on our tainted earth. He fought an artificial Omnis being, losing some protection that kept him from lesser beings’ sight, so now most everyone knows he and the Word are abroad.”
The Destroyer tutted. “He will be inundated with aggressors then, our own and those of the lesser Gods, all hoping to attain a fragment of greatness. We must act soon. Today.”
“I am not so sure, not yet,” the Defiler said. “We do not know where he is headed. The Blasphemy could waste precious time and energy without that knowledge. Perhaps we should wait until we know more, but prepare ourselves to unleash our wrath?”
“Oh, my brother, my sister,” the Debased said, “but I do know where he is going.”
The Debased plunged his hand into the mess surrounding him. It came out cloyed by food and viscera. A prayer to That Which Sins, thanking her for her blessings. “Do you both remember our discussions on what the Wanted Man could do with a piece of That Which Sins? What he might seek to achieve?”
“We do,” his brethren said in unison.
He felt his thoughts grow closer to theirs. As usual during such communions, a knitting together of separate beings. Soon he wouldn’t need to speak. This bond was another reason the Tainted would not fail: they were regularly unified in the truest sense.
A glob of half-digested egg dripped from his hand. “One of Debasement’s creatures captured a Teotek hunter. So, I now know the Wanted Man hid at their holy ancient city. It was the last thing the hunter screamed. Since then, he has travelled in only one direction. Given that he would not waste time, it is clear he makes for our great work. The Southern Wound.”
“Then it as we feared,” the Destroyer said. “He seeks to damage That Which Sins.”
“Or to block her power entering our world,” the Destroyer and the Defiler said together.
“Those are the most sensible options,” the Debased said.
Those were his last words before his personality was subsumed. He melded with the others’ emotions and intentions. A loss of self but a gain of grand experiences and knowledge. Once a year, the Tainted joined as one great mind like this, an orgy of dreams and fantasies. This combining, becoming, made them collectively long for that great celebration.
“It seems we are all in agreement,” they said together. “The Blasphemy must be summoned to assault the Wanted Man at the Southern Wound. Yes. We cannot let our work of long ago be destroyed. We cannot have anything harm our Goddess. The Blasphemy will be made ready immediately. Good. Praise be to That Which Sins.”
They remained connected to finalise the details, co-ordinate their rituals, arrange the minutia of great magical works. It was perfect harmony, a blend so clear they couldn’t feel their old personalities. What being in a cult should be like.
When they were in complete agreement, their hummonculi pulled their thoughts apart until they were individuals once more. An excruciating experience, like a removed blade or a burst cyst, but one they welcomed. Pain, like pleasure, was a gift.
“This is our most trying hour since we formed the Southern Wound,” the Defiler said once he was himself. “I pray to That Which Sins for the strength and impurity to weather it.”
“As do I,” the Debased said. “Fervently so.”
“If it’s all the same to you,” the Destroyer said, “I will be spending my time in ritual and sacrifice to take that strength for myself.”
“Each to our own,” the Debased said.
“Each to our own,” the other two said.
They severed their connection and went to work. The Debased, as the one nearest to the Southern Wound, had the most critical role. He stood, dressed in a long, filthy robe, and left his sanctum.
The Defiler was right: nothing had tested them like this since they, along with the Greatest Gifts of Melting Flesh, tore gaps in the heavens. Working with such heathens had been… trying. Mostly, it involved not tearing each others’ throats out. But, with prayer and care, they had achieved something wondrous. Even if they had lost control of it, nothing could ever heal the Southern Wound. And that was thanks to their discipline.
That discipline was now needed in abundance.
The Debased left his meagre cabin, into the early morning. Rough dormitories dotted the landscape. Stone buildings with thatched roofs squatted between them, places of worship. There wasn’t a hint of the sun in the sky. Most everyone was asleep, though some guarded their land, rifles and fetishes ready. They were mostly white – Irish or Swedish – but some Chinese and former slaves made up their ranks.
The Debased was African. Bright pink scars laced across his dark skin. Dried shit and vomit dreaded his hair, which crawled down to his shoulders. On his neck was a necklace formed from strips of his own flesh, wrapped around the one-eyed homunculus growing from him. He looked like a beggar king, a walking corruption. A true believer.
He walked to their main chapter hall, where Maisey awaited him. Low, cheap roof, pews all to one side, blood and death in the air. Meagre candles lit Maisey, a bedraggled and half-starved wretch with no hair at the room’s centre. A lesser member of Debasement sliced her with a rusted half-scissor, her blood feeding a ritual circle carved into a stone panel in the floor.
They both stood and abandoned the ritual when he entered .
“We must prepare the Blasphemy,” he said. “Wake everyone.”
“Of course,” Maisey said. She shooed the initiate away. “When do we need it ready?”
“As soon as possible.”
Maisey nodded and ran to gather the faithful. Her acolyte bowed and ran after her.
Leaving them to it, the Debased approached a trapdoor in the rough wooden flooring. A wave and a word of power cleared its illusory protection. The world felt sideways for a split-second, and then the arcane passage appeared in the floorboards.
From this new gap, a living ladder snaked up. Metallic, pink, seductive, horrifying.
“May I use you?”
The ladder, moist, quivered in acquiescence. It moaned at his touch.
He descended into a brick room on its fleshy form. Into a charnel house. Streamers of viscera hung from hooks in the walls and ceiling. Sacrifices moaned out their last in dark, chained corners. Dead dogs, cattle, and birds were piled in hip-high mounds. They lay amongst dead people, making a wonderful vista of horror.
Some would consider it a nightmare. To him, it was a temple. A dream. A perfect keeping place for the Blasphemy, their pending apocalypse, their patient victory.
Three potential housings for their great creature were made. One each, as they could not know where the Wanted Man would appear and what he would do. Only his would be used. But the others would not go to waste. He was sure his counterparts could think of something to do with such vessels…
The Debased approached the Blasphemy’s stone podium. The Blasphemy was a wooden dress-maker’s mannequin decorated with rituals and spells. A top-to-toe suit of skin hung over it, a mockery of military dress, made from many unwilling volunteers. Genitalia encircled its waist like a belt. Cursed blades snaked from its cuffs, one serrated, the other smooth. A crown of kris blades protruded from its featureless face.
The Blasphemy would be a triumph. Its design had taken weeks, its craft involved hundreds of sorcerers, theologians, and craftsmen. All to form something powerful enough to match the Wanted Man and anything else that might challenge it for the Word.
The idea behind it had been the Destroyer’s: make something that eliminated competition between creatures of That Which Sins, a General which could not be denied. Forming such a creature had taken much research, but the trick had been simple in the end. All they needed was a miniature Southern Wound, mobile, sentient. That Which Sins would immediately grant this new in-road to the mortal realm her praise, enabling it to dominate all, albeit temporarily. The Blasphemy would last a day at most, but that was more than long enough to reclaim their goddess’ soul.
The Debased leant forward and stroked the doll’s blank brow. Though the room was cold, the stolen flesh below radiated heat.
“You will soon awaken and achieve wondrous things. You will bring us closer to That Which Sins. And you will kill the Wanted Man.”
It jerked in response. Already, his compatriots had started their rituals, pouring power through their copies of the Blasphemy and into this one.
“Soon,” the Debased said with a smile. “So very soon.”