If you haven't read the previous chapters, click here to begin with the prologue or here to read Chapter One.
Chapter Two: Alliances
Adesina felt distinctly uncomfortable.
Thirty-seven sets of eyes were fixed on her, as if expecting some sort of speech or ceremonial gesture.
Instead, the young woman stood still, doing her best to appear calm.
The memory of the prophecy of the Threshold Child rose up in her mind. When she had first heard it, she had only been told a portion—the only part known to the L’avan people. Then, through her visions of the past, she had finally heard the prophecy in its entirety.
Every word was clear to her, as if seared on her mind.
Thus speaks the Creator—listen well:
Tragic days lie ahead, born from the pride of my children.
The conflict between Light and Darkness is far from resolution,
in spite of what may seem to be a reprieve.
The Blood of my heirs shall be wantonly spilt.
The earth shall cry out in pain and sorrow.
The benighted years of silence shall only be broken
when the Child of the Threshold stands on the brink of eternity—
when a life is freely given in the purity of love.
Only then will the path leading to the Light appear.
The Sacrifice will stand as a bridge between Light and Darkness,
spanning the worlds and cleansing each of ancient hatreds.
The Sacrifice will bring both destruction and salvation,
like the purifying flames of a forest fire.
In the moment of truth, the Sacrifice shall become the Child of the Threshold,
ushering in the Era of The Return.
Look, therefore, to the advent of the Threshold Child.
One who is of this people yet not of this people.
One who bears all gifts, Dreams as friends,
sees as the enemy and shall be called the bird of prey.
This is the one who stands on the Threshold of a New World.
This is the one who will save my children from the slow destruction of their atrophy
and lead them back to the light of their purpose.
Adesina didn’t know what all of the prophecy meant, but she felt the weight of it on her shoulders. The sense of responsibility pressed down on her and her mind whirled with feelings of inadequacy. She was the Threshold Child, and she was meant to do all that was stated in those divine words.
Sitara broke the uncomfortable silence. “Adesina, do you know the prophecy of the Threshold Child?”
“Do you understand what it means?”
She shook her head.
Sitara’s tone was solemn. “It means that we Immortals have lost our way, and the Creator has provided a beacon to guide us back to our path.”
Adesina frowned. “You mean that I am the beacon?”
A derisive snort could be heard from behind Adesina. “Perhaps,” rasped a sibilant voice.
All attention turned to the speaker, and Adesina turned to see who the dissenter was among the Council.
The owner of the voice was very tall—Adesina estimated that the top of her head would only reach his lower chest—and his form was narrow and lithe. His hairless head was slightly oblong and it was set on the end of a long, snake-like neck. His grey skin shimmered slightly, like granite, and he wore a flowing robe of dark blue.
The crowd of creatures parted as he walked forward to stand before Adesina. Some of the members of the Council seemed to stand up straighter as he passed, as if he lent them greater strength. Others unconsciously turned their bodies away from him, as if he carried some loathsome disease.
Adesina noted that the speaker’s eyes were very small and that his nostrils and ears were no more than slits on his head.
He spoke again in a voice that bore the undertones of a hiss, but was quite unlike the sound of any serpent. “You may give your trust blindly, Serraf, but we Laithur do not. Your desire for the Threshold Child is so strong that you would grant that name to any newcomer to this realm.”
Sitara’s expression became frosty. “And your reluctance for the coming of the Threshold Child would blind you to any evidence of the truth. Look at her, Brother Ruon. She is a child of humanity, and yet she has transformed into a Serraf. What more proof do you need?”
Ruon sneered at Adesina, as though she were unworthy of standing in his presence. “Much proof is needed before the Laithur pledge to follow this…being.”
Toraun shifted his weight uneasily and plucked at his golden beard with two of his four hands. “Brother Ruon, the days of our trials doth come to an ending. Our numbers dwindle, and it needs be that all Immortals join hands in friendship. We hath not the luxury of standing divided at this crucial time.”
Ruon made a sweeping gesture with one of his long, thin arms. “Well, you will certainly get no cooperation from the Shimat or those that follow them,” he snapped in irritation. “You are fortunate that any of the Dark Brethren have attended this meeting today.”
There were several mutters of approval at his words. Adesina began to notice a division among the Council. Not one that was purposeful or organized, but the separation between races that had become natural over countless years. Uneasy or even hostile glances were exchanged between groups, and they almost stood with their backs to one another.
Adesina’s eyes darted back to Sitara, looking for her reaction to this turn of events. The leader of the Serraf wore an expression on her face that spoke volumes of her reluctance to have anything to do with the so-called Dark Brethren.
“The followers of Darkness are not the only ones who have given in to their doubts,” piped up a tree-like creature. “I do not see the Kiorssan or the Melyd here today. I am certain there are others missing as well.”
Ruon, who was looking defiant and confrontational, appeared mollified by that statement. “There are Immortals of both Light and Dark that have not given heed to the instructions of the Ancients. I suppose we that remain will have to suffice for what is to come.”
“What isssss to come?” asked an enormous serpent with feathered wings. Adesina recognized it as a member of the Qetza race.
Sitara’s voice took on a timbre that was heavy with meaning. “The arrival of the Threshold Child signals the end of one era and the beginning of another. She will show us the path that will lead us back to our true purpose—the one given to us by our creators.”
“And those who have chosen not to join us here today?” asked a creature that looked like a horse made of flames.
All eyes turned to Toraun, the apparent Council leader. “They who choose to stay on the lower plane shalt have no place in the New World. All must ascend to a higher state of being in order to move forward.”
His statement brought even more tension to the gathering until it was palpable in the air. Adesina was impressed that the Council members could come together to form this alliance, in spite of what was clearly a long-time animosity.
Adesina silently pondered what had been said. She could safely surmise that Ruon was a demon, and it surprised her to see a demon at this council. Her eyes turned to the other strange faces that surrounded her, and she wondered how many of them were also demons.
She couldn’t guess based on appearances. Cha-sak and the demon Adesina had fought in Zonne had looked evil in every aspect. She had formed the assumption that demons must look like monsters. Ruon, however, did not look evil at all—strange, but not evil. There was a graceful sorrow that surrounded Ruon’s lithe figure, and his small black eyes glittered with the bitterness of being deeply wronged.
Several of the unusual faces in the crowd around Adesina appeared to be less interested in the accomplishment of the tentative alliance and more concerned with what Toraun had just said.
“Are you saying that some of our brothers and sisters will be left behind?” rasped the rock-like creature.
Toraun spread all four of his hands in a beseeching gesture. “All hath been extended the invitation to join us on this day—even our Shimat brethren. The division that wilt take place as the dawn of the New World ascends will not be of our doing, but of theirs.”
Adesina frowned thoughtfully. How many will be left behind?
Ravi’s mind answered hers. There are thirty-seven races represented here, and legends tell of one hundred Immortal races being born. There are some races that are no more, such as the Gaiana. Others, such as the Shimat, have given themselves completely to Darkness.
The young woman’s frown deepened. And others will simply be left in this realm, abandoned?
Ravi didn’t appear to have an answer for her.
Adesina’s attention was caught once more by the lively discussion of the Council.
“We cannot force anyone to join us, Brother Syss. Individual choice is a gift of the Light, and to take it away is an act of Darkness.”
Syss, the Qetza representative, twitched his feathered wings in agitation. “That issss not what I wasssss sssaying, Ssssissster Chaholand.”
Toraun raised his arms high above his head and called for silence.
“Please, my brethren and sisters, let us not quarrel. Our efforts in convincing those absent here shalt double during what time we have left. For now, there is something of greater import.”
An expectant hush fell over the Council, and Adesina looked around in confusion. All eyes were once again on her, riveted on her young face.
Toraun approached her, his willowy form swaying with a slow grace. Sunlight reflected off of his golden hair and beard, and the robe he wore was stirred by the breeze. Adesina was surprised as he drew closer. She expected him to be taller, but his head was even with hers. Perhaps it was simply magnitude of his presence that made him seem larger.
“All Immortals wert created on the same day,” said Toraun in a soft voice that was meant only for Adesina’s ears. “The Blessed Ancients lent their powers to the Creator, and there was a great celebration of Life when all was completed. On that day, the Creator told of one final child of the Ancients that wouldst be born—one last Immortal created. The Creator decreed that this last born Immortal shalt be our leader in our time of greatest need.”
Toraun’s piercing gaze bore down heavily on Adesina.
“Thou art that child, Sister Adesina. Thou shalt be our leader.”
He placed two of his hands on her head and the other two on her shoulders. He raised his voice as he continued, so all could hear his words.
“I pledge to thee my life and my loyalty, so that my strength shall be thine. Thy fate shalt be my own—thy triumphs my triumphs, and thy failures my failures.”
Adesina felt a rush of warmth surge from Toraun’s hands and through her body. She felt strangely lighter, as if a burden had been lifted from her shoulders.
One by one, each of the other Immortals came forward and recited the same oath while either touching her head or her shoulders, or both. Each time, Adesina felt the flash of warmth and lightening of her entire being.
The early ones to follow Toraun were eager to pledge themselves to Adesina. However, as the faces passed before the young L’avan woman, they seemed less and less certain in what they were doing.
When Ruon stood before her, his small eyes were narrowed with skepticism and he waited long moments before placing his cold hands on her shoulders.
“I pledge to you my life and my loyalty, so that my strength will be yours. Your fate will be my own—your triumphs my triumphs, and your failures my failures.” He removed his hands and added, “I suppose there are worse things than failing on the side of Light. I just pray you show more promise in the future than what I see now.”
Adesina’s temper flared and her fists clenched into balls at her side.
Ravi sent soothing emotions through their connection. Do not let him bait you, Ma’eve. He wishes to start a fight.
I would be happy to grant him his wish, she thought back angrily.
Sitara was the last to stand before Adesina. Not a trace of doubt darkened her lovely face as she gently laid her hands on Adesina’s head. All of the negative emotions that swirled inside of the L’avan woman’s head dissipated with the light of Sitara’s smile.
The Serraf leader spoke the oath slowly and with purpose. The words somehow took on a new and deeper meaning, and Adesina felt her vyala swell from the core of her being.
What just happened?
Ravi’s mind was just as uncertain as Adesina’s.
I…think you have become the leader of the Serraf.
Sitara smiled as if she understood their thoughts and gave the briefest of nods. Adesina stared at her in bewilderment.
“And now, little sister, we must make haste,” said Sitara calmly.
The heads of the Council members standing around them nodded in agreement.
Adesina frowned slightly. “Where are we going?”
Sitara’s smile was both sad and determined. “We are going to win your world back from the Darkness.”