When all are assembled in their places, Terreo steps out of the dry forest. . .
He places his foot into the dust of the open space between huts. All the Gatherers look to him. He is wearing light animal pelts and has lines of red blood painted down his face and chest. He stands carrying a single spear. He is massive. There are human bones tied into his hair, and ears on ligament around his neck.
When he walks forward, the Gatherers breathe together and stand rigid. He walks toward them and they avert their eyes. Then he mounts the stage beside the rostrum, but does not take a place in deliberation with the Elders. He has only one use now.
The Elders talk amongst themselves in their forbidden animal skins deciding what to do. The sacrifice will happen, but how is what they deliberate. The way She receives her sacrifice determines whether she accepts them, and the Elders must read many signs before they are sure what the right way will be.
On occasion it is appropriate for Terreo to strangle the victim to death. This is so Ashirah will take the sacrifice whole. Other times he must break the victim’s back in two. This is so She will know they are breaking away from an incorrect path. Still other times, Terreo unwinds the victims. This is so She will see what is inside them when they have violated the Way. In this their wickedness will be devoured by the painted canines among the broken rocks beneath the precipice.
The Elders then turn to Marnea so that she may speak final words for the others to hear.
“He touched it! He was touching it, and she was smiling! She told him how to do it!”
They think about what she says and nod their heads. Then the Elders allow Kakoaw to speak openly in front of the village.
He stammers. “The boy is a devil. He held the sky fire in his hand. I saw him. He tried to touch me with it, but I wouldn’t let him.”
When they hear this, the Gatherers who mope around in a group release a collective sigh. They had not heard until this moment what Pyramie had done. Before this, all the Gatherers knew was that a meeting had been called by the large drum. And when they hear the violation some call out, “The sky fire! No!” Others beg for Ashirah’s forgiveness on their knees. Others still make filthy gestures at Pyramie, but he will not look at them. He focuses on Theo.
The Elders then join together at the foot of the platform. They have come to a decision and, with their backs to the assembled Gatherers, make their will known to the those on the stage by rubbing their bellies
Pyramie will be unwound.
Terreo merely acknowledges their choice by shaking his head and looking at the boy. When he does so, the Leader turns and walks up behind the rostrum.
The sky above is blue and spotless and the wind comes off the savannah. All the Astarte have assembled by the row of Ashirah poles leading to this stone platform.
As if to accentuate the Leader’s coming words, Dahtah grabs Pyramie and drags him into the dirt before the rostrum. Theo sobs, and the Mother comes from her hut and shields her in a fan of luminous green, yellow, and black feathers. She holds Theo’s face to her bosom while other women stand around them and shake leaves over her body.
“This is not a child!” the Leader shouts from the rostrum, pointing to Pyramie.
Dahtah pulls Pyramie’s hair to exhibit him before the crowds. The boy whimpers. As he does, he hears Theo cry and lashes out in anger striking the pubic region of Dahtah. The witchdoctor moans and falls over. His staff topples to the ground. Blood drains out of the skull’s eye holes at its end.
Dahtah then rises and strikes the child across the face, shouting symbol words at Pyramie who bleeds in the dirt.
“Do you see how he acts?” The Leader shouts. “Not respectful. This is not the way of a Gatherer child. He is an evil devil. For this time we suffer under drought, this devil’s wickedness brings the drought here. He brings the disdain of Ashirah. The Elders are knowing that evil is here from time, but they must wait until it is revealed. Now they know it is he.
“We have found him in the burned forest. This devil skin was going to pregnate the Gift with a seed whose product child would overturn our order in Ashirah’s grace.”
The crowd moves with the rhythm of the Leader’s word. He looks over them. Seeing his speech reach them he continues. “He held the sky fire in his hands. The sky fire! With this, he burned the winter harvest so that you would lose your faith in Her. It is in that place he made barren that he dazzled the Gift’s eyes with it so he could pregnate and make the one who will curse. He only looks to be a child. Now we must slaughter him for Her honor. We must slaughter him for the tomorrow. He must be unwound so his wickedness will be revealed.”
The men shout. The women hiss. Hunters rush to grab Pyramie while the Leader steps down from the stage. All the while Theo had been crying, but now she stops and stands silent with her back to the Mother. Facing the platform, she shoos away the women trying to comfort her with fanning leaves and looks to the boy.
The world spins around him. In his eyes all faces blur. All sounds become one rhythm. But he can hear Dogo barking at the edge of the assembled. Dogo will not stop. Some Hunters look to silence him with a club.
They then drag Pyramie past the Gatherer women all assembled and hissing in his face. Marnea spits on him. He wonders if Acka is there among those screaming for him to die.
Hunters bring him to the altar where Dahtah pours the remaining blood from the child’s skull over Terreo’s head as an oblation. He shouts more runes that are mysteries for only them to know. Hunks of dirt mix with the crimson against Terreo’s flesh, and he reaches out and pulls Pyramie up by the neck.
The painted canine runs back and forth and then in circles by the long hut, marking a line in the dirt where he runs. He then jerks in a sharp movement that breaks the twisted grasses tied around his neck and avoids the Hunter coming to strike him.
Pyramie loses sight of his friend as his back touches the grooved stone altar. He begins to think about what the blade will be like in his flesh. Then Dogo leaps onto the platform bearing huge teeth at Terreo. He rushes in and out barking wild and loud, spit dangling from his jowls. Then he makes a final charge across the platform toward the Terror. When he does this, Terreo turns, and, with a single look, halts Dogo.
First the painted canine stands still with his tail tucked, then he walks into the forest, head low, with a whimper. Pyramie drops his head back onto the stone and sobs to himself as Terreo then grabs both of Pyramie’s small wrists in his hand and stretches them over his head.
He will be unwound. He has seen the sacrifices unwound before. Now he is one.
With a cruel flick, Terreo holds the dacite blade above his head for all to see. The blade will be warm, Pyramie decides. Not like her lips warm, but warm from man’s red anger. He closes his eyes – he will not learn more about how she meant “love” – but as he closes them something flashes behind the Terror.
Acka runs across the platform and jams a short wooden spear into Terreo’s side all the way up to her hands. The point of the wood juts out of his belly and blood sputters onto Pyramie and into his open mouth. Terreo releases his grip, and Pyramie vomits out the blood.
He then sees Acka, crazed, endeavoring to pull out the spear to strike Terreo again. But Terreo turns sharply, ripping the spear from her hands and slashes across her neck with the dacite blade.
She reaches to the wound, gasping and gurgling airy blood in her throat that exhales into her nose. Her eyes are wide like the moon and she stares at Pyramie as if with a question. At that moment, Terreo grabs Acka and embraces her in his arms. He pulls her into the spear point that juts from his belly and impales her shouting. She throbs for a moment until he pulls her away from him.
With this, she tries to curl into a ball and lay down because her head inclines toward her chest where her rip seeps blood, but Terreo will not let her fall. He grasps her raised ankle with his hand and then dashes her against the stone altar where Pyramie had been lying. He dashes her there again and again and then flings her out over the precipice onto the crags below.
Once he releases her, he sinks to his knees and removes the spear with his own hands, the wound spurting black blood.
Only then does he realize that Pyramie has run away. He sees some of the Hunters plunge into the forest. The Leader and Dahtah then come to him.