Ritual of Transformation

By René Dario Herrera

Content warning: This short story contains acts of ritual violence, demons, and exorcism.

Angara, the Empire’s second capital city, was 144 kilometers to the south of the Empire’s capital, where the God King Aeshma’s royal palace stood. Churches across the empire served as both the religious and political centers of society. Through daily ideological rituals, priests in cities across the empire reinforced the rule of King Aeshma’s law. Citizens were in daily contact with the priests. Only the youngest children, infants, toddlers, and their caregivers were spared of the daily requirement to profess their faith to the God King.

The Central Church of Angara stood as a monument to the power and dominion of the God King Aeshma. Hidden with the limestone and marble structure of the church exist passageways and chambers, chambers containing secret knowledge of power. Only High Priests and the God King Himself knew of the chambers, but today the Low Priest Asha had put his plan into action. Asha was navigating the secret passageways towards the innermost chamber.

Asha had spent 34 years in training. He mastered the knowledge of the sacred texts, and was ready to initiate his own ritual of transformation. The same ritual which granted King Aeshma his power over four lifetimes ago was in Asha’s future. Asha had learned of the chamber and its secrets nearly three years ago. Inspired by a vision where a demon appeared to Asha.

“I am Ninurta. I am prosperity. I am goodness. I seek passage to your world. Help me, and I will make you my King. You will carry out my will, and you will be loved and adored by every man, woman, and child,” said the Demon Ninurta.

Asha could smell the demon. It carried the scent of a warm coal oven full of baking bread. The Demon explained where Asha could find the text needed to decode the mystery of the transformation and explained how to decipher it. Asha waited three days after the vision before searching for the text, but what he found changed Asha’s worldview. The text described how the God King Aeshma assumed his place of power. How Aeshma was one of a long line of God Kings, each possessed by a demon from a world known only through theological metaphor. The world Asha lived in was the plaything of demons from beyond, and it had been this way for eons. The Kings held on to their power through the obedience and daily rituals of their followers. Armed with the truth, Asha was determined to summon the Demon Ninurta and exorcise the King’s demon.

Asha entered the secret chamber. Within it, lay a book on a slate altar in the center of the room. The room itself, lacked the gold accents and embellishments found in most rooms in the church. A symbol of a winged sun was etched onto the center of the altar. Asha felt immense pressure to examine the open book. He knew he had only a few moments to study and memorize the text.

The High Priest Zababa arrived at the Central Church of Angara. The trip by river boat took only three days, two days quicker than by road. The fifth brother of the God King, Zababa, was entrusted with protecting the Empire’s most important secrets. King Aeshma sent Zababa to investigate an anomaly. Usually, these anomalies, as the King called them, were some failures by a Low Priest to enforce the King’s law. But this time Zababa was instructed to visit Angara’s Chamber of Transformation, and ensure it remained undisturbed. There were chambers like this hidden within the most sacred churches of the Empire. The chambers were to be used by High Priests, but not for rituals of transformation. Each chamber contained a text with instructions on how to renew and extend one’s life, the secret Ritual of Renewal. This ritual is what granted High Priests their long life. But the horror of the ritual was not something that Zababa looked forward to. It required human sacrifice. So many young girls, orphans, had been sacrificed. Their years of potential life lost exchanged for his renewal and longevity.

Zababa entered the threshold of the Church and moved directly to the entrance of the hidden passageway. Swift like a galloping horse, Zababa rushed to the Church’s secret Chamber of Transformation, where he found a man standing at the altar.

Asha had begun the Ritual of Transformation. He had dismembered the girl and cut the strips of flesh. Asha arranged the pieces in the shape of the winged sun on the slate altar. Despite his disgust, the text was clear. To summon the Demon Ninurta, Asha must sacrifice one of the orphan girls the church cared for. It was during this gruesome ritual that he was discovered by the High Priest.

His back to the entrance, Asha initiated the Ritual of Transformation and said, “Begone, death! Begone, decay! Begone, desire! Come forth, prosperity. Come forth, life eternal!”

Zababa moved to stop Asha, but was blinded by a sudden bright light emanating from the altar.

Unaware of the High Priest, Asha in a trance state continued to chant, “Begone, death! Begone, decay! Begone, desire! Come forth, prosperity. Come forth, life eternal!”

The light grew brighter. Zababa pulled the hood of his cloak over his eyes. Zababa moved toward the individual at the altar and used his own ritual dagger, plunging it deep into the man’s torso.

Asha felt the pain in his hip, but only for an instant. Then the world went dark.

“I am Ninurta,” said the Demon.

Asha could hear the Demon’s voice. It came from within his own mind. Unlike the vision before.

“I sought passage to your world, and I trusted you to summon me. Yet you failed to open the gateway and I have been trapped by my enemies. I have been trapped within your mind. You are cursed to serve me until your death,” said the Demon Ninurta.