Prelude to Ascension

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Vast nothingness. That was how inside the chamber felt to her. Wherever she glanced, there was no end to the dark stretching in every direction. What the room’s numerous occupants and herself stood upon made her think of a chasm or a field on a moonless night. She shivered with the thought of what would soon breach endless shadows.

A hum, like a blade slicing the air, resonated from the platform across the chamber. Similar noises echoed the first. They made a hammer of her heart. The murmurs from the others immediately ceased, cut off as if those honed edges severed their throats.

There was a time when hearing a portal’s formation did not cause her to panic. Of late, even opening her own sent her insides crawling up her stomach. She clutched her white robe for what would come next before slowly releasing its folds. Fear would be her undoing. To find comfort she reminded herself that in reality creatures this powerful could not have crossed from the Nether. Not as yet. Or at least so she hoped. She told herself she belonged among those summoned for this meeting, and as simple as that, she was one of them. Composed, able to ignore the flutters in her gut.

The creatures arrived at the gathering within the featureless room as they always had. A slit etched the air from left to right, turned, and opened into the shape of an eye positioned vertically. Wreathed in oily smoke, many-faceted eyes reflecting the torchlight, tentacles blacker than midnight they stepped through one after the other without so much as a thud of a footstep or clink of armor. Chitin of ebon steel glistened where it covered their chest and the four disproportionate appendages they had for arms. Darkness caressed their legs and feet. Their wriggling minions appeared as if from nothing.

There were nine of them in all, each at least twenty feet in height. Nine netherlings. The Nine. Praise be to them.

Despite the fact that dreams had no physical effect on reality, she still cringed at their presence. However, being in a dream had no bearing on the miasma emanating from the Nine. Death, decay, the perfume of fresh blooms, and wet earth after new rain intertwined with the northern chill and the burning heat of the lava-filled chasms in the Broken Lands, making the air thick and palpable. She tasted the sweetness and the stench, each odor and sensation overriding the other for scant moments.

Packed to overflowing in the chamber, the folk summoned shied away from the Nine. Although light and shadow shrouded the people’s faces and made their forms near insubstantial, she knew they were rulers, nobles, merchants, teachers, philosophers, historians, soldiers, and even the poor of Denestia. Everyone had representation tonight. She could not discern their expressions, but the gasps and whimpers told their own story.

Many wore their sect’s colors on their arms. White, Shadow, or Gray.

She almost spit on the umbra below her where there should have been a floor. Those in white or black were supposedly spies among the councils, but the thought, and worse yet, the sight of their colors, brought on a loathing she found difficult to contain. She calmed herself with the knowledge she had garnered this night by simply watching for tell tale nuances. Each revelation made her lip twitch.

One male had a habit of stroking the corner of his mouth. A woman, shoulders stiff and back straight, constantly sniffed at what had to be a scented cloth. Another female drew her hands to her hips as if attempting to grasp something, deflating every time she realized whatever it was did not sit there. The room’s meager light reflected from one man’s head, the sheen causing her to assume he might be Banai. She would have been surprised to see one of their race numbered among those who served, but the Nine had proved long ago how far their influence stretched.

“The first is almost to the boy.” The netherling’s voice was as blank as her surroundings.

“The era draws nigh when the Annendin will come to judge all he created,” another intoned.

“The gods die, the world remade, new gods ascend.”

As often as she’d attended these gatherings, she still found the singularity of their voices disconcerting.

“You have all done well to guide the world as needed for this to come to fruition.”

A murmur rippled through the crowd. The netherlings’ heads turned toward the disturbance. Space cleared around a lone male, his clothing one of shadow. He stepped forward.

“You bring news, young one?”

She sucked in a breath. Only another netherling would dare approach as this man did, head held high and fearless. She frowned. They hid themselves even among the common people?

“Yes, masters. I have discovered a place between the worlds where Prima lives. It is beyond what we may have anticipated.”

“Nothing is outside our calculations, young one.”

For the first time, she noticed a definite scoffing tone to the answer.

“Those who oppose us know of its existence,” the man said. “One of our own has been within its borders. It is he who sends word.”

“Yes. We are aware. What you must understand is that the one we chose unleashed Prima into the world. The guardians are drawn to its power as they are to him. Allow the first to secure the boy. He must learn to use his gift. Without him, the unsealing cannot occur. His siblings are ready. He is the only one left.”

“Yes, masters.” The man bowed from the waist.

“The same goes for all of you. The young one must accomplish his purpose. See him safe until he does. Then, and only then, may you kill him and his mentors.”

Licking her lips with anticipation, she awoke from her dream to the familiar walls within the Iluminus. She had been a Listener for years. The time had finally come to act.

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