The Cult

The humble Bulgarian hamlet was set off from the world: A small clearing in a small valley surrounded by massive fortifications reaching into the snow-topped heaven. Yes, the mountains were its walls, and the settlers, long forgotten by all the world, had succumbed to strange religion. It was this cult had no name, for names differentiate between this and that; they had but one religion, and religion was a good enough word for what they had.

Their holy days were dreadful things, and men lived in perpetual fear of the bells which would declare the time; they had masks, though, and faces under faces, so when the parade of villagers marched to their sorry temple they danced and sang, each one himself alone beneath his face. The liar is always alone.

Irregular, the bells might ring at day or night, for so the contract read; and at any time they might march to their temple, which was little more than a decorated cave. Then they would choose, which was by contract as well, but they had a tradition. It was clever, in a way, to fool the devil. Long had a fiend of night preyed upon them with sickness and death, but the night may be reasoned with. The village bound itself to the demon and bound the demon to the cave: It would continue to feed on them, but on whom they would choose.

And the people were so cunning to fool the devil with this pact, for they fed him little, they fed him the least, they fed to him their babies. So it is at the procession the nursing mothers lead, the newborns picked, and from the breasts are torn—weeping and screaming a child is taken by the priests into the cave. Shortly, there is no sound. Enough children survive to remember the tradition themselves.

Such is the religion of that people wearing masks in case some reflective pool might show them to themselves.

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