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When Gods Walk

by Aeryn Rudel

984 words


Sergeant Brian McGrath looked out over the vast crowd assembling below the mountains. The twin suns of Divos V gleamed off thousands of prayer beads, filling the plain below with an ocean of scintillating colors.


McGrath shielded his eyes and turned to Lieutenant Foley. “Why do they do it, sir?”


Foley, a large man with iron-gray hair and skin burnt perpetually red by twenty hours of daylight, shook his head. “I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. They have the right to worship as they please. So says the Council of Faiths.” Something ugly passed over his face, an old angry weariness. “The bloody fools.”


The pilgrimage to Divos V was decades old, and those who attended the God Walk came for the same reasons people visited blessed springs and crumbling ruins on Earth: they hoped for miracles, for an end to their afflictions, for wealth, for love. More than anything, they hoped to be heard by something greater than themselves.


The prayers of the faithful, sung or chanted in a dozen different languages, drifted on the wind, distant and ghostly. McGrath touched his chest, where the silver cross hung beneath his shirt and whispered a prayer of his own. His religion was all but dead because no one had seen its god in thousands of years. Perhaps that’s why he still believed—unanswered prayers left room for hope.


McGrath had joined the Colonial Response Force because he’d wanted to see other worlds, to experience something beyond the planet-bound existence his family had endured for centuries. When he’d been assigned to Divos V, he’d been excited. The God Walk seemed like something out of a dream. He’d of course heard about the pilgrimages, the holy trek made by those who believed the massive entities sleeping beneath the crust of this alien world would perform miracles for them. He’d just never dreamed so many would risk so much.


“How many . . . survive?” McGrath asked. 


“It depends,” Foley said.


“On what?”


“On how many get away.”


* * *


Foley had ordered them as close to the thronging supplicants as was safe. From this new vantage, McGrath saw many of the pilgrims were finely dressed, their prayer beads of silver or gold. Passage to the outer colonies was not something most could afford. Those of lesser means generally got to Divos V on the largesse of more affluent believers. Faith always gained strength in numbers.


“Hold this position,” Foley said to McGrath. He pointed at the hundreds of medical pods floating nearby, each staffed by a crew of five CRF medics. “You’re in charge of alpha team. When it’s over, you’ll administer aid to those in the immediate vicinity. I’ll take bravo team and search the hills for other survivors.”


McGrath nodded. “How much longer?”


Foley glanced at the gray mountains jutting over the horizon. If you squinted, they took on ominous anthropomorphic shapes. “Soon. When the suns reach their zeniths.”


The pilgrims were primarily huddled at the base of the mountains, as close to their sleeping gods as they could get.


There were no vid pods in the area. The Council of Faiths had forbidden them. Few on Earth even knew what actually happened on Divos V. McGrath had been briefed when he’d received his assignment, but it had sounded like something out of a terrible legend. Now, in the shadow of the mountains, beneath the harsh, spotlight glare of two suns, he would see it firsthand. That realization gripped him with sudden, awful terror.


It began with a deep, groaning rumble. It couldn’t rightly be called an earthquake, for the ground didn’t shake. It moaned in agony. The first god awoke soon after. One of the mountains twisted, casting off avalanches of snow and rubble, and then stood, a colossal, vaguely humanoid shape that blotted out the suns.


The pilgrims cried out as one, a great paean of worshipful joy. McGrath felt only sick wonder at the spectacle. The first god took no notice of the humans beneath it and moved to the west, toward the sea, as it had done for thousands, probably millions of years.


The second god woke minutes later, its leviathan enormity even greater than the first. It too paid no heed to the tiny screaming creatures at its feet and left them beneath the shadow of the sole remaining mountain.


The pilgrims howled in disappointment. Two of their gods had ignored them. McGrath hoped the next would as well. It was a vain hope. One of the gods of Divos V always answered the prayers of the faithful.


The third god was the largest, and when it woke, it did not turn away. It loomed over its worshipers, and its slate-gray body began to glow with a deep red light that spilled like blood over the multitudes. 


The god’s light pulsed rhythmically, and McGrath heard a great, horrified wailing from the crowd. Not just fear but pain. The pilgrims closest to the god began to rise into the air, twisting and screaming as they were drawn into their deity’s core. McGrath was reminded of the whales back on Earth devouring plankton, their great maws scooping up tiny insignificant animals to feed their cavernous hunger. 


The massive crowd surged, most trying to get away from their god, though some walked eagerly into the light. Thousands died, either devoured by the entity they believed would grant them mercy and life or trampled to death by their fellow believers.


When the god had eaten its fill, the fire in its core grew dim, its light winked out, and it joined the others on their trek to the sea. 


“Now,” Foley said, his voice barely a whisper above the cries of fear and pain. “Help them.”


As McGrath ordered the medical crews forward, he touched his cross again but choked back the prayer forming on his lips. He did not want to be heard.

Aeryn Rudel is a writer from Tacoma, Washington. He is the author of the baseball horror novella Effectively Wild, the Iron Kingdoms Acts of War novels, and the flash fiction collection Night Walk & Other Dark Paths. His stories have appeared in Dark Matter Magazine, On Spec, and Pseudopod, among others. Aeryn is a heavy metal nerd, a baseball geek, and knows more about dinosaurs than is healthy or socially acceptable. Learn more about his work at www.rejectomancy.com or on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.

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