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Forever Sacrifice

The days of feasting were over and thank the gods, because he couldn't stand to look at food ever again. Luckily for him that might just be possible, being that the feasting also marked his last meal before being sacrificed to those same gods he just thanked. Oh the joys of the sacrifice festival. Two weeks of gluttony and carnal pleasure, a slow procession up the main city street, all the while being pelted with small hand picked flowers. Adoring and blood thirsty crowds eager to see what this years favored torture would be.

He wondered what it would be this time. The elders always kept it secret up until the very last minute. Would it be dismemberment? No, they did that two years ago. Beheading? No, did that four years ago. When was the last disembowelment? Ten years ago maybe? He rubbed his bloated belly at the thought of the last disembowelment and wondered if it would give him any relief from his current discomfort. It was a brief thought, until he remember the dull and rusty knives they tended to use and the fact that it was more tearing than cutting. He shuddered at the thought of seeing that again.

This was his 78th year of sacrifice and it was wearing a little thin. He hoped that this year they didn't choose anything elaborate. There were periods in the history of the sacrifice festival that the powers that be decided the gods wanted to see more of an effort from the participants. During those times the executioners created increasingly complex torture devices and death machines, and in at least a couple of cases stretched the moment of death out over the course of the entire day.

Those were particularly frustrating days and he hoped that the executioners has something simple waiting for him. A hanging, or knife to the heart, a guillotine, poisoning, shooting, anything where he didn't have to hang around this god forsaken place any longer than he had to. That was his hope at least. He'd already seen 78 years worth of sacrifice and while he hoped it was his last, he'd been hopeful the other 78 times as well.

As he stepped up onto his ceremonial chair he pondered all the past times he'd been sacrificed. The carriers hoisted the chair and the crowd roared. How painful would this one be? Would he survive? The small flowers began to pelt his naked flesh. If he did survive how long would it take to heal? How long would he be able to hide until they found him again? The nettles from the flowers began to sting and draw blood as they came in larger and larger numbers. What were the consequences if he didn't come back?

Just like every year for the last 78 years that thought of consequence settled in hard. He remembered back 79 years ago when these now flower lined streets were covered in blood. Blood from virgins and eunuchs and specially chosen concubines and ill favored political appointees. The blood flowed as the entire city's participants, instead of throwing flowers, hurled stones and chased the sacrifices through the streets with sticks and farm implements slaughtering the sacrifices, and sometimes accidentally each other, one by one until only one sacrifice remained. That one lucky one would be sacrificed at the end of the street at the base of an ancient and long dormant volcano. That one sacrifice would appease the gods for another year.

It was 79 years ago as he watched a young man being torn apart by the crowd at the end of this street, that he decided things needed to change. In several particular gruesome and public displays he attempted to prove to the city council and religious leaders that he was THE sacrifice and that no others were needed. Knowing that he had a particular gift for survival, but not understanding why, he assumed that this must be it. Then one day as luck would have it, the ground began to shake just as he started one of his "performances" in front of the religious magistrates.

The ground shook and loose bits of buildings fell until the moment of his last breath. As the quake subsided and silence set in the magistrates stood awe struck. From that point on they considered him the new sacrifice sent by the gods to stand in place of all other sacrifices. Of course this didn't go over well with the community or with the politicians. They had always used the sacrifice as a means of getting some entertainment as well as ridding themselves of people they didn't like.

It was then that he came up with another option. Every year after he was sacrificed, he would be allowed to heal and then disappear back into the community. He could do this because another gift the gods had given him allowed him to change his appearance. After healing he could appear with a different face, a different sex, or even a different age. It would be like a game. If at the end of the year he couldn't be found, well then they could go back to there old ways. On the other hand if he was found he would be chased through the streets and be sacrificed year after year.

It wasn't a proposition he had fully thought through. First off, he didn't know how many years he might live. Secondly, he hadn't counted on the fact that after that first year, there weren't too many people who wanted to find him. He had to remedy that the first couple of years by going to the market and bumping into random people until someone yelled, then he would yell back "Oh, you found me. Me. The Forever Sacrifice." Sometimes just the day before the festival began.

After a few of the unsuspecting finders received adulation and some extra food for their find, the community started to get a little more zealous about the game of hide and seek. Almost too zealous. Like the fourth year when seekers would beat any new traders coming in with sticks and pelting them with rocks to see how quickly they could heal. When trading almost disappeared because of it, they quickly dropped the practice. Then there was a round of people beating their family members, sure that the sacrifice had replaced some beloved, or not so beloved, relative. The worst though were those against the new plan.

The anti-seekers went to great lengths to find the sacrifice and stop him from his ritual duty. This included various themes of torture, death, and imprisonment. He remembered being held in a cage for six months near starvation until someone tipped off a community leader and he was released. Then there was the time they tied stones to his hands and feet and dropped him in the river, not thinking that a person who can change age and gender can also change size and shape to slip out of almost any coil.

Eventually the practice took root. As the benefits of not sacrificing what ended up being the smartest portion of your population became apparent, the bloody rampage slowly evolved into a more mild mannered festival. Each generation saw more prosperity and fed into the concept that the current sacrifice was provided by the gods for exactly this purpose. Each generation got a little smarter and the festival became a little less violent. Until the current year when the highest level of violence from the crowd was the throwing of tiny white flowers with small stinging hairs on their stems. It was enough to make him nice and bloody before the end of the street, but it was all superficial.

So, as the chair traveled the last block, the sacrifice decided he'd try to hang on for one more year. The alternative just wasn't that great. Anyway, maybe if he stuck with it a little while longer they might grow out of the practice all together and move on to sacrifice goats or sheep. In that last block he smiled, the same as he had for the last 78 years, happy that he could do his part.