Forgotten Gods

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Forgotten Gods 

Milo ran his trowel through the gravel, pulled out another clay pot and added it to the pile he'd built up throughout the hours he'd been kneeling in the light of the arc lamp delicately shifting through the debris. His back hurt from the bending down, his arms ached from the constant digging, his lungs burned from the effort of breathing the recycled oxygen from the pack on the back of his suit.  

He was getting too old to be in the field; Off Planet Archaeology was a young person's game. He dropped his trowel into the dirt, cast his arms wide and stretched. 

Turning his head as far as the field of vision of his helmet allowed he looked back towards the temple entrance. He could see the main group moving about, their long shadows thrown up high on the stone walls by the floodlights they had set up there. 

A dark shape suddenly loomed out of the blackness in front of him. Milo jerked backwards. 

'Sorry Milo. Did I surprise you?' His headset crackled. 

'Oh it's you Lydia. You made me jump. It's odd, this place, don't you find? Sort of strangely remote, divorced from reality.' He shook his head. 'I'm sorry, I've been down here too long. I should go back to camp and get some air.' 

'Somehow I find it quite comforting. Oddly familiar in a way.' She lowered herself down beside him one knee at a time. The heavy back packs on the unwieldy suits had a habit of toppling you over if you weren't careful. 'Found anything?' 

'Yet more pots. And if you've seen one pot, you've seen them all.' he replied wryly. 'Offerings I should think, probably to the temple priests. How's the deciphering going?' 

'That's why I came over. We've deciphered the main plaque at the front of the temple. You're not superstitious are you?' 

'After all these years. I think not. Why?' 

'Because it's forbidden to speak the god's name out loud. If you hear it, you will die.' 

'Go on then hit me.' Milo grinned behind his visor, 'I think I can stand it.' 

'I thought you might. It says the temple belonged to a god called Nergalrhod, the priest cult was called Cuthah.' 

'Never heard of either.' 

'No, nor me. This place has been a ruin for thousands of years. I suppose when the atmosphere became poisonous and the people here died out it became derelict just like everything else we've found on this planet.' 

'And when the people died they left their Gods behind them, uncared for, forgotten.' Milo gazed despondently at the faded paint on the wall in front of them.  

'The inscription says that parties of pilgrims used to travel here, across the desert to make offerings to the god here.' 

'These votive jars?' Milo pointed to the stack he'd piled against the wall. 

'Not exactly, this was a death cult of some sort. One of each of the visiting parties would have to willingly offer themselves to be sacrificed here otherwise the rest of the party would be taken by the priests and killed. The chosen ones would write all the things they should be remembered for on a strip of material, put it in the jar and then give themselves to the Nergalrhod.' 

'Another death cult eh? I half suspected as much. It's a shame all the jars are empty otherwise we might have had some insight into the people that used to come here. I suppose the materials in them have decayed over the lapse of time.' 

'Time is our enemy Milo.' 

They knelt in silence for a few moments looking at the shattered jars strewn over the floor. 

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