When the Old One sleeps, the earth flourishes with the laughter of children and the love of parents.
When the Old One awakes, the heavens weep for the lost, and the ocean's water becomes the blood of the betrayed.
Those were the words carved in the half-eaten plank of wood—the limits of the maggot-bite drawings. Once magnificent, the temple of the Old One was more of a house for crackheads and the few travellers that dared to cross those woods by foot. The columns were half eaten by insects, torn here and there by the growth of the trees. The roofs were riddled with holes large enough to illuminate every corner. And the tatami, once selected with the utmost care, had been devoured by the rain and the humidity of time. Even the statues of the foxes, vigilant at the entrance, were mere rocks with an air of abandonment and past glories.
The echo of little footsteps broke the silence like thunder during a storm. Giggles followed the shadow, full of curiosity and life, as if those walls hadn't been seen in centuries. Every room was checked, explored all the spaces where the branches had created one. From top to bottom, the toddler with dark hair and a timid smile runs amok.
"Lord Ruby, please, don't go that far!"
Cried behind the voice of an adult, sweet and undefined in tone. Fear crippled the following of the young one, so he decided to stay by the dusty shrine. Ruby, the child, was curious but not daring, so didn't worry much about his pursuits. Instead, soon the room caught the adult's attention, his gaze wandering across the place.
Empty of everything but the incense burner and the shrine itself, the man couldn't help but wonder what kind of deity once lived there. There were no inside statues, nor was there any kind of indication of whose place this was for. The words at the entrance were more of a warning than a gesture of welcome. It looked like the robbers didn't even forgive the ashes of the past monks. The thought made him shiver, his eyes heavy on his back. He didn't want to be standing there one more minute. At least, not alone.
"Lord Ruby! Let's go!"
Thankful that his voice didn't tremble when screaming, the man crossed his arms on his chest while waiting. Soon, the stride of the steps got closer, louder against the old floors. Bok bok bok. Just like a tanggu at a festival, Ruby ran with a mysterious rhythm.
"The lessons are taking shape," Lime thought gladly, his face impossible to read when Ruby stopped in front of him. After a quick exam, the man's face lit up with a funny smile. It was impossible to maintain seriousness when the child was flustered. The little cheeks became small apples, the hair a disorganized rumble of darkness, and the eyes, those profound green almonds, were filled with stars to the brim.
After a few seconds of composing himself, the man spoke in a soft voice.
"Lord Ruby, it's already quite late for your lessons. Why don't you present your respects to the God of this place before we go?"
Ruby tilted his head, biting his lip with an expression of doubt.
"We can do it together, Mr. Lime!"
The servant’s courage faltered when he heard those words, his eyes fixating on the dust settling up in the shrine. How many years had passed in that place without a show of emotion? or even just a little prayer. Both of them could do it. However, the adult didn’t dare to do it himself. Maybe, deep inside, his actions were heavy on his soul, like the universe on Atlas' shoulders. Even the most ruthless god would kill Lime on the spot, and he knew it.
"Here, give the sleeping god something sweet. I couldn't dare imagine passing by eternity without a bit of chocolate!"
Between the pink fingers, the small, round package was heavy and colourful. The rough paper smelled of old lands, scary-looking places, and beautiful scenery. It reminded the child of a gentle memory without a face. The toddler would ask for some later. Ruby started salivating, but he obeyed the silent command and walked to the shrine.
Every step up the short stairs was followed by a cloud of dirt and the rest of the incense, with fine particles clouding the red of the pants. Ruby blinked, resisting the temptation of rubbing his eyes. Only in front of the place where a statue once stood, did the child stop. Without a word, the candy was poised in the middle of the place with extreme care.
"Please, Mr. God, give me and my friends a bag of chocolates!"
The child made a short bow while screaming the petition, but blinked when the paper rustled and the soft scent of the chocolate filled his nose. Ruby waited a few seconds, perhaps absorbing the solemnity of the moment or, maybe, collecting his words. The toddler was certain that something had bitten his sweet, but he couldn't imagine who or what it could have been.
At the same time, Lime couldn't see anything different from where he was, with Ruby's back to him, but something had changed. Like electricity waiting in a storm, the air was charged with energy. Could it be the light of the place, now brighter? Maybe, along the way, the air danced between the old screens of the doors. Lime shivered without feeling any cold. And that scared him.
"Lord Ruby, let’s go!"
The child jumped in his skin before running towards him—the face of someone who has seen a ghost. The curiosity could wait until he was older, wiser. Ruby stumbled on his feet with urgency, almost falling at the feet of Lime. The adult caught the little figure at mid-drop, hands under the arms.
Neither spoke. When they made their way between the foxes' statutes, there were more than enough words in the glance they shared. Lime picked up the pace, almost running downstairs as he passed the ominous sign, his hands firm around the child. The servant wondered if something had follow, but didn't dare to look back.
In the distance, down the stairs, the figure went away. The clouds gathered in the sky, full of rain, while the woods seemed to dance to the force of the wind. Animals of all sizes run to hide, and the child and his master also look for cover in an old, big house, hidden in the forest. The night promised cold like an unwanted present, while the heavens prepared to pour for the next few days.
However, right inside the temple, the temperature kept rising while the candles reignited themselves and the incense flooded the place. The rhyming of tambourines made the structure tremble. The trail of light illuminated protective charms covered in dark stains. On the floor, on the ceilings, whatever the substance was—blood or dirtiness—now it was impossible to know.
From the candy abandoned on the shrine, a faint glow started taking form at the sound of soft bells. First, there were eyes as green as polished jade. Following that, a long, white body was draped in a red cloth with fine gold decorations. Blond, long hair fell over broad shoulders. The face was masculine and strong, but also full of carefully drawn traits. No expression reached the lips; confusion covered the face like a coat of paint. It yawned while squatting to grab the candy.
After devouring the offering, the figure descended the shrine barefoot. Without making a sound, It looked around. It remembered the place being deserted, but the lack of care bothered it. Where were the followers who had sworn loyalty even after death? Where were the monks, the children of the women it had possessed so many times? The Ancient One elevated its face to the ceiling, Its souls flustered. Not even a statue remained, the name of the curse was long forgotten in the minds of the mortals.
The figure clutched the paper, which was soaked in a dark aura. The sweetness of the candy was still on It's palate when It walked between the foxes' statues, their power long gone. Without resistance, the Old One passed the plank of wood in the direction of the little soul.
"Well, not to everyone," It thought, mulling the implication of the petition. The world had evolved in its frivolous ways of action, but the children remained innocent of the evilness around them. Candy… Chocolate… That's what that kid wanted—the first real follower among millennials. Something simple for practising
It caressed the false skin as it crossed the arms under the clothes. Even as a great God, It was not infallible in the past. Not only was the place destroyed, but the Name had disappeared from all the records. How was It going to regain power when no one feared the past? The Old One couldn't even protect itself from the first drops of water that soon transformed into a storm. The bones of this form soon felt heavy with sickness.
All of the new dreams' hopes were accompanied by a child's laughter and a hand the size of a baby plum. In this day and age, Ruby could assist it on its new path. The child was gullible and smart, the perfect soil for a brainless follower. Even a High Priest! Convincing him shouldn't be a titanic task, It concluded when reaching the serpent road. The smell of the toddler was still strong, hidden in the foliage.
Yet the man who made the chocolate, who didn't dare touch Its resting place, was perfumed with the scent of death. Blood stained his hands, which the god could smell too. Just because the chocolate was really tasty, right before going to sleep again, the Merciless One will give little Ruby the extra gift of finding the truth.
Even if it was, of course, the match to ignite a new fire that could destroy the toddler and everyone in his world.
"Well, I’ll think about the problem when it appears. Let's find the little worm," said the Old One, in a voice just like the thunder that scared It into a run to the tall, mysterious house resting in the middle of the forest.
The Old One inhaled deep, the smell of moisture reliving the rest of the doubts. The Monster of the Mountain was alive, once again. But, now, there was not anyone capable of making It sleep again.
The House of the Old Flowers, read the sign in front of the house where the road ended.
Similar to Its own temple, the place needed quite a loving hand to recover time. The closer the God got, the uglier the whole structure looked. That was probably the reason why Ruby was so comfortable in Its temple. Even filled with ghosts, the abandoned building was a lot more welcoming than this practically new house.
First, the garden was out of control in every part, except the path to one side of the house. Bushes have grown all over the place, the thorns of the branches treating everyone who dares to walk around the property. However, since the Old One didn't know the correct path, soon traversed the property without much thought. Soon, the beautiful clothes transformed into rags, little tearings grasping the white skin. Annoyed, the God stopped to take another look at the place, its face trembling in disgust. Now, it was close enough to absorb the details.
Mold was growing on the rock steps, and the ceiling, even a bit of black could be seen on the screens. The ceiling was old, parts almost falling apart under the pressure of the wind. The pond, near the entrance of the servants, was muddy and smelled like rotten fish. Riddle with holes was the whole place, freezing inside when the Old One slid the door. The resistance and the smell made It gag, horrified by such a gross place. The God covered Its mouth and nose.
"Maybe, instead of candy, should I give Ruby a new house?", were the words It couldn't contain when entering the house. The inside was dark, and damp with the smell of old and unwashed fabric. Water fell without stopping, soon forming rivers in between the furniture; also inflated by humidity and little care. There was no dust, but all the surfaces were full of objects. Some broken, some dirty, the more the God walked, the more disgust felt after a discovery.
Only when It reached the other room, the entity dared to breathe freely.
"Now, this is more like it", said itself when looking around in the old corridor. The light illuminated the space a little, but there were fresh flowers in the vase, a new tatami in place, and no water falling on its head. Even the poems selected for decorating showed a bit of elegance. The other doors also looked nice, free from the mold outside.
At least, much better than the gross hole that the entrance was. The god didn't look back when closing the door.
It will recommend Ruby throw away all that trash. The child, and his friends, needed a healthy place to grow. Or, maybe, the Old One thought after thinking for a few seconds, everything was in place to protect said children.
It remembered the cute, healthy face of the toddler, baby fat moving every time he laughed. It also recalled the way the servant referred to him as "Master". It bit the lip, white because of the cold. The Old One had a suspicion in mind, but it will need a few more pieces of evidence before taking a decision.
What was even this place?