“The truth is buried. If you bring it to the surface, the sun will fade it. No, you must bury yourself with the truth. See it without sight. Know it without light.” — Eskra, High Priestess of Mabbadeg, AL 582-637.
Painting by Gabriel von Max
I slink through the temple, hiding my face in my hood. I wander aimlessly, pretending I am not heading here, to the entrance. To the steps that lead down, ever down, to the caverns of Ondegged.
The acolyte hands me a lamp. She keeps her eyes closed, as if mocking me for needing mine. They say the sightless ones guard the entrance so that nobody sees who enters and who leaves. Nobody witnesses our shame. But I know she is practicing for the day when she can see without sight, watch without light.
I lay my offering at her feet. It is not the first. Others have gone down before me this day. I will not meet them. Each finds their own path, in the caverns of Ondegged. So say those who return.
My stomach clenches with terror. I indulge in a moment of surprise. I had thought I was at the end of all that, desperate beyond the reach of fear or doubt. Now I see that the ending is only beginning.
The acolyte smiles; small, brief. I wonder how much she can sense already.
I pause on the top step, studying the blackness below. The flickering flame of the lamp seems puny, futile. As it would, I realize, if it were ten times the size.
For in the caverns below, I face my own soul. And no shadow could be darker than that.
Written for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange microfiction challenge. Thanks for the inspiration Jane! It’s not mentioned in the story, but for anyone who’s trying to keep track, the temple is dedicated to Mabbadeg, the god of mountains, rock, darkness, and all things underground and hidden.