Torch light broke up the darkness with its flickering glow. The sound of dripping water echoed through the cavern.
Niht crept through the shadows, searching for any sign of guards in the open, or hiding in the dark. A nagging feeling tugged at his heart, he wanted to turn around, and flee before it was too late.
Everything up to this point had been a lie. What were they covering up? What didn't they want him to see? There was a purpose behind all this deception, if only he could work it out.
Something moved in the abyssal waters. The surface rippled from its motion in the deep, and waves lapped on the shore as if a gentle breeze blew across the surface.
The hairs on the back of his neck tried to stand, but the mask he wore had grown down to cover his neck and throat and pressed them flat against his skin.
His muscles betrayed him, and no longer responded to his commands.
Amhran gasped to his right.
Iarann did the same to his left.
A soft blue glow emanated from the deep. It pulsed like the beating of a heart. The closer it got to the shore, the brighter it became.
Niht fought to move back, to run, to hide, but his muscles were stone and cared little for his safety.
The blue light broke out of the surface in a cone of dancing color and eldritch forms.
Letters, runes and glyphs danced through the air in a mockery of the situation.
Within the strange light show, the form of two young women walked as if down along corridor toward them. One wore a nail from a chain around her neck, the other carried a hammer. Their appearance never fully clarified, like they stood behind frosted glass. They could have been of any bipedal species that only possessed to arms.
The coloring of their skin scintillated in a kaleidoscopic rainbow. While the features on their face is remained unclear, their expression was easy to read. They smiled expectantly at them.
Niht struggled to remember the stories he had heard of all the nightmarish terrors that haunt the long night between the stars. He wanted to identify the creatures that now owned him and his companions.
The nail stood out to him more than anything else. It was a symbol of Nortia, the goddess of fate.
The form of the two women bloomed in the eerie light, never speaking, just watching them.
Their eyes slid through them, and touched the very fibers of their soul.
Niht’s body instinctively shivered, but with the muscles refusing to move, it echoed back through him like a concave scream that shook him to the very core of his being. They were greatness personified, in a way that Rath or any of the other deities they had encountered were not.
Their greatness pervaded every corner of the room, and caused the air itself to bow in abeyance to their presence.
Energy crackled and turned within him, like his soul belonged to them, and he was only guarding it.
Pressure filled his head, he wanted to close his eyes, but feared if he allowed himself to do so he would drift off into nothingness and never return.
He was home. This was home. He sought this place out every day since he was born, and now that he was here all he wanted to do was escape. Images swam through his mind. The day his parents died, when his brothers were taken by slavers while he hid cowering in fear. All of his darkest fears stepped forward and announce themselves.
His unworthiness grabbed his shoulders hard and squeezed until his breath refused to fill his lungs. This was the end.
"Greetings children, we have judged your hearts and found you worthy." The one wearing the luminous nail around her neck motioned as if she spoke.
"We have seen you as you are. The pain, the suffering that you can endure. But we are neither its cause, nor its results.” The other said in an almost sarcastic tone.
"You heard our call. You answered it and came. Now, we know that you are the ones who will be our hands in this world."
Anger scorched the edges of Niht’s mind. If his body had not betrayed him in their presence he would've shouted, screamed, and condemned them for allowing the suffering that he and his people had endured.
"We allowed nothing but what would be." The phantom with the nail said. "You presume to judge us. We see at a scale you could never imagine. One life is precious to you, but it is nearly invisible to us."
"Speak for yourself sister, I am not as blind to the plight of people as you." The other shown a golden hue as she spoke. "But we cannot change what is, we can only direct others to bring that change into being. If no one listens, then the work remains undone."
Niht scowled at them, amazed that his face actually twisted to reflect his heart.
The golden one laughed, "I love your spirit. Deep down you must know that we could kill you with the merest thought, and yet you still show your defiance openly."
"Because I have seen your kind all my life.” Niht said. "People who believed that their actions were taken to help others, even as the body count mounted. You may be powerful, but you're not special."
The golden one clapped her hands, “And that is why I have been with you your entire life, whispering in your ear. I told you when to hide, when to run, and where to seek shelter. I guided you here.” She giggled like a sweet and innocent girl. "And now, here you are, proving that I was right."
"He's too disobedient to be excepted." The one with the nail around her neck said. "I cannot allow you to empower him."
The golden one shown brighter than the sun.Niht and his companions looked away and shielded their eyes, suddenly free to move again.
"You have no power over me, sister! I do as I wish, as I have always done, as I always shall do. If I choose these three as my champions, there is nothing you can do to stop me.”
"I could kill them. They are no use to you if they're dead."
"And I will stop you. We took a vow not to directly intervene in the affairs of mortals. Break your vows at your own peril."
“We swore to ourselves, not to some cosmic authority that binds us, but no. I suppose I shouldn’t take your fun from you.”
“Fun?” Niht shouted. “This is all about your entertainment? You frighten us, and harass us for your own sick pleasure?”
“Never.” The golden one said. The light dimmed.
Niht faced them. “Well, it sounds that way. Most of the people here believe you want the best for them, but you are nothing but conniving children graced to live forever. Nortia, goddess of fate and Thesan, goddess of the New Dawn, it’s all a bad farce.”
“I told you he was the one.” Nortia said as she tapped the nail hanging from around her neck with her index finger.
“He sees it all rather clearly, and always has. Besides, Rath likes him.”
“I am not sure that speaks to his quality.”
The divine sisters laughed.
“How can you think any of this is funny?” Amhran asked, pain filling her words.
“Life is hard.” Thesan said. “The journey to birth alone is fraught with peril. We have seen so much pain, so much suffering. We have to laugh.”
“Or twist under the weight of it like Phara-un.” Nortia said. “Do not worry, children. You have been chosen.”
“You are to become Ifreann Tan,” Rath said as he walked out of the light between the sisters divine. “The very hands of fate, the fires of hell will be yours to command for the sake of all the living.”
“What?” Iarann said. He staggered backwards and fell.
“You can’t be serious.” Amhran said.
“Oh, dearest,” Rath grinned. I am always serious, except when I am not.” His smile grew to a preternatural size. "Besides, this is the way things have always been done. We have to know what you're made of. We have to know if you are deserving of the gifts that we offer."
"So, you torture a group of neophytes to see if they pass your tests?" Niht growled.
Rath laughed. "Not exactly. In fact, the test ended when you realized you could breathe. We've just been waiting for you to make your way back in."
"What kind of monsters are you? Acting like that, and expecting people to worship you?" Niht took up a combat stance.
"We never asked anyone to worship us. In fact, it's rather silly that anyone would, and now you realize that. We don't want followers. We need people who will stand and do what is right in the face of the cosmos luring them to greed and anger."
"Are we not angry enough for you?" Iarann sneered.
"Your hearts burn with righteous indignation. You see through the pettiness of this whole charade. That is the kind of people we need. Don't you see we are offering you power, and you were arguing with us. Most people would have just bowed and taken the gift."
"What if we refuse?” Amhran asked.
"Then you passed the test, but you will not be our hand.” Nortia said.
“In other words,” Thesan said, “You will be Phersu and not Ifreann Tan.”
"We are not cold-blooded killers." Niht said.
"Did you become a vegetarian when I wasn't looking?" Rath sneered. "We don't expect you to murder people. You will be hunters, hands of fate. You will only intervene when it is necessary.”
"And I suppose we were the ones who determine whether or not it is necessary." Niht said.
"Who better than fate herself to know the best course to take,” Rath said.