Beneath the Taurus Mountains, Turkey
Hand over hand, Oblivion climbed.
The total absence of light surrounding him did nothing to slow his progress, his fingernails digging like talons into the black rock below the Hollow, ensuring a steady hold.
This was a mechanical process for him, nothing more than a necessary step of his birth. He did not tire, he did not feel fatigue or shortness of breath. There was moisture of some kind upon his face, but it was not sweat. He did not sweat. A drop reached his tongue and tasted of iron and salt.
Blood. It was the blood of the sacrifice. Of course.
Hand over hand, he climbed. Ever upward.
Oblivion knew everything that had brought him to this moment. He knew who he was and how he had come into being. He knew his purpose, knew the steadiness of his actions with detached confidence. He knew who awaited him above and what their purpose was. He knew a great deal more than he suspected they knew about what he had been brought forth to do. He knew what had happened to the world with his passage into mortal existence, and what was happening even now, to every surface he touched.
He knew the name of this container he existed within. Knew what this Grant Borrows had done since becoming the Bringer ... and now Oblivion. His great destiny, fulfilled at last.
Hand over hand.
The rock grew thicker now, but still Oblivion's fingers dug deep. The blood of the sacrifice flowed down from the rim of the Hollow, which he was drawing nearer to. It was the very blood that had allowed this process to commence. He felt no remorse for the loss of Grant's sister; he never felt remorse. He was not capable of such things.
It was all part of the process after all. Everything, from the notorious day this mortal container named Grant Borrows had first realized he was no longer the man he had once been—it was all part of the process. Every step he had taken, every path he had walked, every choice he had made. It was preordained—all of it—from a time before time began. It was the ultimate fail-safe, the final insurance. And now, after millennia of planning and preparation, it was happening.
A few initial semblances of light streamed flickering down, touching his gray skin for the first time, and he looked up to meet it with blazing red eyes. He noted the red mark on the back of his left hand, a fresh scar from Grant's encounter with a severed hand only days ago.
A chorus of voices reached his ears over the shaking of the earth. They were singing—no, chanting—in unison.
One voice rose above the others as Oblivion neared the top of the rim. One voice roaring with terrible conviction ...
Hand over hand, Oblivion climbed, until he was born into a brave new world.
* * *
"WE HAVE FOLLOWED THE ANCIENT COMMANDS!!" Devlin bellowed, standing five feet from the rim of the Hollow. His heart hammered as he thought he saw a trace of movement in the darkness at his feet.
"Pario Atrum Universitas! ..." the Secretum continued to chant behind him.
Devlin glanced down momentarily at the pallid, lifeless body of Julie Saunders, the Bringer's sibling, lying on the ground at the mouth of the Hollow.
Had it worked? Did her blood activate it, as intended?
Of course it had. This was the appointed day, the appointed hour, the appointed place. There was no question. Everything was unfolding precisely as the Secretum had known it would, for thousands of years.
"WE HAVE DRAINED THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT!" he thundered in ritualistic tones, a renewed conviction thundering through his voice so completely that his hand quaked. "SO THAT A WAY MIGHT BE MADE!!"
"Pario Atrum Universitas! ... Pario Atrum Universitas! ..."
"THE BRINGER HAS PASSED THROUGH THE VEIL! THE PROPHECIES ARE FULFILLED! LET OBLIVION COME FORTH!!"
"Pario Atrum Universitas! ..." the Secretum chanted.
"PARIO ATRUM UNIVERSITAS: BRING FORTH THE DARKWORLD!!" roared Devlin.
With the suddenness of a candle being snuffed, the great Hollow instantly plunged into foreboding silence as the chanting and Devlin's shouting stopped. At the same moment, the monumental shaking of the ground beneath and above them came to an abrupt halt. His skin tingled with anticipation at the eerie stillness as he watched and waited.
And right on cue, the slate-colored hand of Oblivion appeared, climbing up from the gaping pit, followed by his body, and soon he was standing before them all. Calmly, with an indifferent, almost alien-like quality, he examined them without curiosity as he stood in their presence.
"The prophecy," Devlin declared in a reverent whisper, "is made flesh. Thousands of years we have waited and prepared for the fulfillment of this promise. Countless generations of our people have made endless sacrifices, but it was not in vain. Oh no, our faith has borne fruit—"
He broke off the speech he'd prepared years ago as Oblivion turned without warning and moved slowly toward the vast room's exit.
Momentarily thrown, Devlin stood frozen in place. Whatever he had been expecting of Oblivion's grand entrance, this wasn't quite it.
Another senior member of the Secretum of Six—a woman named Angela, who had been standing very near to Devlin, and whom Devlin had never particularly cared for—rushed forward, confusion tormenting her features. "Great one! Oblivion! Are you not here to begin your great work?" She reached out and touched the brown leather jacket he wore, pressed it until she felt the hard flesh beneath the folds of fabric ...
She collapsed. Devlin and a few of the others rushed forward, bending over her. She'd gone cold instantly. Her eyes were rolled up, her jaw slackened.
She was dead. Oblivion's touch killed her.
If Oblivion noticed her, he made no consideration of it. He turned mechanically to face Devlin. His eyes blazed, and his gaze was wilting. "The DarkWorld is begun," he spoke for the first time, and Devlin fought the urge to place his hands over his ears at the sound. "It was set in motion the moment I entered this flesh. This place, this Hollow, is an unworthy relic of a different age."
Devlin's mind raced. Unworthy? What did that mean? Unworthy of what?
There was something odd about Oblivion's physiology when he spoke, and it took Devlin ample consideration to put his finger on it: Oblivion's chest was not rising or falling. Where a normal person's chest rises before they are about to speak, to take in breath, Oblivion merely opened his mouth and the sound issued forth.
"The DarkWorld cannot be appreciated from below," Oblivion explained with unnerving calm.
Once again, he began to walk, and Devlin and the others followed close.