The pressure builds just behind the left eye, nudging and pushing, trying to move through, to the forefront, escape.

He won't let it out, can't, it will be the undoing of them all. Gathered here as they are, before the stone altar, before their gods, and monsters. The mirrors that surround the altar amplify the flickering light of the candles as they sway from chains wrapped around wrinkled hands. Robes and chanting, swaying and muttering, everything flickers, the sound, the lights. Urging calm, the sharp stink of incense, smoke blurring the air, blurring the edges.

Knots in the ropes, each one counted carefully as the chant moves forward, each chanter muttering words and phrases preserved for generations; this manufactured holy rite. Very little remains of the first night. Little record, less agreement, like the light on the altar, shadows and light. Others are excluded from this night, the holy significance is seen by few, so none may share the mysteries.

A knobbed, arthritic finger beckons me forward, toward the altar, dooming us all. I kneel, my hair gently pulled back by two crones, their cloudy eyes match the dirty stains on their robes. The chant increasing in pitch, muttering transforming to ululations. Smooth stone digs into my knees, the countless penitents before me wearing down the rough stone. My breath catches in my throat. All I can see is the flickering torch beneath me, heat scorching my face. The golden hair of my eyebrows smoulders adding its acrid stench to the incense. Sacred ink dots my skin, down my neck, across bare flesh, hardening in the heat from the fire.

The heat washes in waves, I choke and gasp from the heat in my lungs; one moment burning and drawing cool breath the next. The torch burns brighter with my exhalations, the chanting reaches a fever pitch. Here it comes, the final moment, truth revealed. The knife stabs down, severing the cervical vertebrae; blood pools and trickles down, flowing along the ink, reaching out towards the torch. The flame spits and hisses, flaring in response to the red fluid.