“This had better be good,” Bezzum growled, stepping back to let her in. Alessandra’s stomach clenched at the sight of Torea in Bezzum’s quarters. She knew that Torea sometimes shared Bezzum’s bed, and it wasn’t any business of hers who a Clan Leader chose to sleep with, but Torea was her biggest protector in the clan, and every time she was reminded of how close Torea and Bezzum were, it made her wonder how long it would be before Bezzum convinced Torea to turn against her.
“Apologies, Clan Master,” Alessandra said, bowing, “but I just returned from the job you assigned me, and I had an encounter that I think you need to know about it.”
“Not the Storm Corps again?” Bezzum sneered.
“No, Clan Master,” Alessandra said quietly. “The Order of Sunaru.”
That name wiped the sneer off of Bezzum’s face entirely, replacing it with a look of awe and disbelief. The Order was deeply revered by almost everyone in the city of Serotopolis, especially by those in the slums. The Order was the only thing keeping Serotopolis from spiraling completely into chaos. Everyone in the slums believed that the Order stood between them and the Circle of Elders, and that if it wasn’t for the Order, the Circle would move into the slums in force and obliterate every man, woman and child living there. Everyone also believed that if not for the Order’s war with the demons, the Order would move into the slums themselves and provide food, clothing, and security for everyone who lived there. People in the slums weren’t religious, but the Order of Sunaru was viewed with reverence that was close to worship. As far as Alessandra knew, no one from the slums had ever spoken to a member of the Order before.
“I…are you sure?” Bezzum asked, somewhat stunned.
“As sure as I can be,” Alessandra replied, and proceeded to tell Bezzum and Torea the story of what had happened to her after she left the target house.
“I’ve never heard of someone being attacked by a demon,” Bezzum said softly, as if to himself, once Alessandra’s tale was finished.
“But if the barrier is failing,” Torea murmured.
Bezzum stared at the floor for a moment, deep in thought. Then he shook himself and said, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Alessandra. You may go.” It was a measure of how shaken Bezzum was that he treated her with respect, and even used her name. Just as Alessandra’s addressing him politely was a measure of how shaken she was.
“Thank you, Clan Master,” Alessandra replied, bowing her head. She turned to leave, and then she remembered something. “Oh yes, here is the take from my job tonight.” She took the silverware and bar of braeka out of her pockets and handed them to Bezzum. He stared at them blankly for a moment, and then nodded.
“Thank you,” he said, and then turned away. Alessandra left, and hurried back to her own room.
Alessandra was utterly exhausted by the time she got back to her quarters, and she collapsed onto her bed without even taking her clothes off. As soon as her head hit the pillow, she was sound asleep. At first, her sleep was normal, and she had normal dreams. But after awhile, she started having a dream that was far more vivid than any dream she had ever experienced.
She was standing on a vast, grey plain that stretched as far as her eyes could see. Thick, grey fog swirled around her, but despite the fog she could see for miles and miles, although there was nothing in particular to see. She stood there for a moment, confused and disoriented. She knew she was dreaming, and yet she felt as if she were wide awake. She turned around, looking in every direction, trying to see if there were any clues as to what this place was, or why she was there.
THE STORM IS COMING.
Out of nowhere, these words were spoken by a voice that reverberated throughout Alessandra’s very being. She felt as if those words were the entirety of her universe, and in the space of the few seconds when they were spoken, all of history unfolded, creation began and played out and ended. In the silence that followed, it took her a moment to remember who she was. She looked around wildly after the voice spoke, and the grey fog swirling around her began to darken. After a few seconds, or maybe it was a few million years, the fog was so thick and so dark that she couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of her.
“Who’s there?” she yelled, and her own voice sounded like a feeble, frail baby’s cry compared to the Voice that had spoken before.
ARE YOU THE CATALYST?
Again the Voice spoke, and again entire worlds were born, lived and died in space of a moment. Alessandra was even more disoriented this time, and for a few minutes she couldn’t remember if she was Alessandra or if she was the embodiment of countless millennia of collective human lives. The black fog darkened further and swirled even more fiercely, and a howling wind began to blow. It whipped at Alessandra’s clothes, and threatened to blow her away entirely. Desperately, Alessandra dug her toes into the grey soil, lest she lose her footing and be swept away into the infinite void.
“Who are you?” she screamed to be heard over the wind. “What do you want from me?”
THE ASCENSION HAS BEGUN.
For countless eons, she watched as the universe was born out of nothing, expanded out into the void, collapsed upon itself, was destroyed, and then was reborn, the cycle repeating again, and again, and again. Alessandra was one with eternity. There was no longer any Alessandra. There was only the infinite void, the great nothing. The emptiness screamed in pain and joy and ecstasy and horror.
And then Alessandra woke up.
She sat up with a gasp. Her heart was racing and she was breathing heavily, even more so than when she’d gotten back from the Morkal District. She sat staring, wild-eyed, at the door of her quarters, unable to process what she’d seen or experienced. For a long time, she sat like that, trying to calm herself down. Slowly, her heart started beating at a normal rate, and her breathing returned to normal. Even then, she couldn’t make herself think at all about what she’d dreamed. Finally, after about an hour or so, a wave of exhaustion hit her, and she laid back down and went to sleep. Her dreams from that point on were completely normal, and she forgot about the vivid dream entirely.
To be continued…