At dawn, the priest shuffles quietly through the solitary door of Santa Lusca. He sweeps the doorway, from east to west, murmuring platitudes and nonsense. To empty his mind of distraction, he says.
In these days, the obscured cloister of the lost chapel is rarely darkened by the faithful. Pilgrims, drunkards, orphans and fools will stumble through the archway and find themselves humbled by the grand frieze. Ornate and intricate, it was crafted in the first days of Lind and details the rituals of Santa Lusca. Like the devoted, it has survived many a conversion and purge. Like the devoted, it slowly crumbles, no less grand, but none remember the time before so cannot compare. None but Father Milden remembers every detail, every etch and scrape, for his calloused hands lovingly crafted the mural, and his wizened body has enacted every state.
Father Milden straightens the rotting altar-cloth, lights two pallid candles, and sets the days offering—mealworm one day, plankton another. On the new moon, fresh fish and molluscs are left on window sills. The stench of the daily gift blends with the smoke and haze of the grand machine, creating a rich bouquet only the fervent can stomach. He recites psalms at morning-tide, hymn-song at noon-tide, and execration at even-tide: each day the same rituals, the same words, the same hands.
Today is the feast day of Santa Lusca. Father Milden takes extra care to dust the stoop. He sprinkles salt from the causeway to altar, and smudges the air with sage and dark pepper. Today’s offering lies across the altar, his forehead dressed in oil, his small dark hand pointing accusingly to the floor. Father Milden is pleased.
Beneath his feet, Stringer’s Fen churns, slapping against the thick stone tiles of the church floor. The scent of brine fills the oratory like smoke and wind. It is time.
A distal tentacular tentatively reaches through the iron grill at the foot of the altar, searching, tasting. Father Milden murmurs thanks and worship, and falls, weeping, to his knees.