The Sin Diver
The Sin Diver
Mogrom collapsed upon the summit of Diver's Peak, the weight of bloody chains and hopeless misery too much to bear. He gazed over the edge at the water far below, shivering as he thought back to the road that had led him here. All he had ever wanted was to help others, but so many things had gone wrong.
It began near the village of Hamartia, when his father passed on the power of the Sin Diver to his only child. It was a lonely life, but one in which he found much fulfillment. It was an honorable deed, to take away the sins of his fellow villagers, even though they abhorred him as an unclean thing.
Mogrom lived by himself in a small shack, quite remote from the village proper, cut off from all social relationships. When he chanced upon villagers, they averted their eyes and pretended they had not seen him, for they supposed that he was given to associating with evil spirits and witches. They imagined that he partook in diabolical incantations and all manner of unholy practices. They sought him out only on the day of the Cleansing. Only then, during that annual ritual, was he welcomed among them.
On the day of the Cleansing he was ushered by eager, smiling faces into the village. It was easy to allow himself to believe that, on this special day, he could be liked, admired, perhaps even loved. He strode into Hamartia, head held high, and took his place of honor in the village square. He sat upon a wooden stool which was furnished for him. He was handed a crust of bread and a wooden bowl into which every villager had spit. They gathered around him in a breathless circle, piercing him with expectant eyes.
He dipped the bread into the bowl of spittle and ate until the drool-gruel was entirely gone. When he was finished, he held the bowl upside down to prove that it was indeed empty. He spoke then, the only time that the villagers would hear his voice. He recited the following prayer in a tone that was gruff and ragged from lack of use: "I give easement and peace now to thee, dear friends. And for thy peace, I pawn my own soul. Amen." Mighty cheers erupted from the villagers who knew that their sins had been transferred to him. He would bear them away, leaving their souls virtuous and unsullied for another year.
As he began his journey to Diver's Peak, at the edge of the Lonely Sea, before he had taken his leave of Hamartia, the villagers were already burning the wooden stool upon which he had sat and the bowl from which he had eaten. An old woman followed him to the edge of the village, sweeping away his footprints as he went so that no trace of him would be left to remind the villagers of him or their sins, which he now carried.
The journey to Diver's Peak was long and wearying. He arrived at the summit as the shadows of evening grew long. He threw off the simple robe that he wore, standing nude as the day he was born. He felt the sins that he had taken upon himself, writhing about like flaming worms just beneath the surface of his flesh. He could not hold onto them for too long or they would change him.
Mogrom stretched out his arms, gazing across the sea at Silver Mountain, which lay beyond. He found a serenity in this moment, just before the dive, a feeling of supreme satisfaction that made the trial to come worth the pain.
He held his breath and dived off the Peak. His descent to the water seemed to take both forever and no time at all. He broke the surface gracefully. There was no time to lose. He must swim the distance of Purgare Bay before THEY found him.
As he passed through the cold water of the Lonely Sea, the sins that he carried were washed away. But they did not simply vanish. There were consequences for treading on the territory of the Gods. The creatures which inhabited the sea ingested the sins of the villagers and were altered by them. The sea creatures grew to enormous size, sprouting terrible teeth. They were attracted to the sins that seeped from Mogrom's pores like starving sharks to blood.
In the deep, they came for him.
He swam for his life, knowing that they were there, somewhere in the dark. When they got close, he saw their eyes piercing through the murk like shiny diamonds. They came at him with teeth and claws. Sometimes they got a taste before he hauled himself onto the safety of the shore. His body carried the scars like a tiger bears it stripes.
Thus, Mogrom lived, eradicating the sins of the people of Hamartia, making the dive from the high peak into the cold water, out-swimming the children of the sea that hunted him in the dark. And he was content.
One day in the Year of the Fox, a priest from a distant village approached Mogrom. This priest, Arkcom 'Bel, had heard of the miracle that the Sin Diver performed. He tried to convince Mogrom to perform this miracle for his village. He brought a purse of gold coins to prove the sincerity of the offer. Mogrom turned the priest and the gold away. The gold he did not covet and he would only perform the miracle for his own people, as his father had taught him.
The priest left, but returned in time with more of his ilk. They approached Mogrom with rainbows in their eyes and chains in their hands. In his hour of greatest need, he fought alone and lost. He was led away, a prisoner of the priests.
Mogrom was taken to a village dominated by a great black bell, where he was thrown into a small, dark room. On the day that the black bell tolled, Mogrom was led to the center of the village. At the points of spears, he was forced to shrive the people of their sins. By armed escort, he was conducted to Diver's Peak. He dove into the Lonely Sea and swam across Purgare Bay, battling the children of the deep, where he left the sins on which they would feed. More spears met him as he crawled, exhausted, from the sea. The priests chained him and led him back to that small, dark room.
Arkcom 'Bel devised a plan to increase the coffers of his church. He led Mogrom to every village, hamlet, and city within a hundred miles. Mogrom was paraded like a freak, forced to consume the spittle of every person who could afford absolution. This service was far from cheap and Mogrom saw not the smallest amount of the rewards, nor did he want them.
As they collected the wages of sin, the dress of the priests became more garish, their church and their homes more lavish. And Mogrom languished in a land of no tomorrow where he prayed just to end each day. The gift he had given freely and cheerfully before now became a torture that he was encouraged to perform by whip and club. The sins began to change him, his body twisting into a grotesque thing which mirrored the ugliness that he took from others.
Mogrom suffered in despair, losing all will to live. The only feelings left inside him now were rage and a thirst for revenge on Arkcom 'Bel and the other priests. On a day when the great black bell tolled again, they came for him. They had seen the changes in his body, but had not anticipated the changes in his heart.
When Mogrom saw the priests in their shamefully expensive robes, coming at him with their whips and rods, he threw all his strength against the chains which bound him. His body had grown strong, infused with the twisted vigor of a thousand sinners. With a mighty effort, he wrenched the chains from the walls. Whips and rods did not avail the priests when Mogrom set upon them in his unholy fury. The room which had been his prison quickly filled with the cries of his tormenters.
When the mayhem was finished, only Mogrom and Arkcom 'Bel remained alive. Mogrom wrapped the priest in chain and dragged him through the village like a penitent convict to the gallows and not a single soul stepped forward to help. Rather, the starving people flocked to the church and to the priests' opulent homes. They tore down idols of gold and filled their pockets with coins and jewels.
It was a long way to Diver's Peak, but Mogrom dragged Arkcom 'Bel the entire distance. The priest soiled himself while begging for his life, but Mogrom had no pity to dispense. By the time he reached the Peak, Mogrom was weary nearly unto death. He collapsed upon the summit, all strength gone. The priest cried mournfully behind him, still wrapped in bloody chain.
After a time, Mogrom found the strength to stand. He pulled the writhing priest to his side, where the man cowered like a whipped dog. Without hesitation, Mogrom tossed the priest over the edge. There was a scream and then a splash as Arkcom 'Bel fell into the Lonely Sea. The heavy chains dragged him down into the cold, dark water. Before he could drown, twisted things became aware of him, smelled the sin on him, and were drawn to him. They tore him apart as he sank into the abyss.
Mogrom's mind turned to the murders he had recently committed and he felt remorse. Now he knew what it was like to feel the burden of sin. He understood why others were so desperate to be absolved of it. He also knew that there was no one to take this from him. He would carry the weight of his deeds with him until the end of his days.
As Mogrom peered out at the sea and the mountain beyond, rain began to fall. He stripped off his ragged clothes and stood naked in the rain. He felt more vulnerable than he ever had but, also, more in touch with life and a truth that was slowly unfolding inside his mind, revealing itself like a figure appearing from a thick fog.
For the first time in his life, Mogrom realized that he had been doing the villagers a disservice by taking their sins away. By absolving them of their wrong-doings, they had become as spoiled children, sinning willfully and without consequence. Only when one suffered the consequences of one's actions did one learn and grow. Remaining free from sin is the beginning of nobility, but with Mogrom's interference, the villagers would never achieve that state; they would always wallow in their base desires like pigs in mud.
Shielding his eyes from the harsh glare of the setting sun, Mogrom drew in a deep, melancholy breath, but smelled only his own stench. His throat became exceedingly dry and the fading light burned his skin. Looking down at the dark water below, it seemed inviting, alluring, comforting. He suddenly longed for the feel of the cold water upon his flesh, the safety of the depths to protect him from the light. It was time for him to suffer the consequences of his actions.
Mogrom dove from Diver's Peak one final time. When he struck the water, he did not rush to swim across the bay as in times past, but lingered. He took his time, exploring the bay and its previously hidden mysteries. When the children of the sea approached him, they did not attack. Rather, they swam along beside him. They looked familiar to him and he was not afraid. Nor was there any reason to be. He was one of them now.
Kevin Henry lives in a small town in Ohio, USA, where he rebuilds diesel engines for a living. He is the author of horror, fantasy, and science fiction short stories as well as the Soul Forge Saga epic fantasy series. His writing has been influenced as much by Steven King and Dean Koontz as by Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft and lies in a strange sweet spot somewhere in between.