The Guardian known as Kasai stood waiting at the mouth of the cave. It was night and the moon hung bright in the sky, showing the sharp gash of the thing’s mouth and the faint slits of its nose.
A figure came walking up the trail that led to the cave. It was a sharp blade of a man, with a hatchet face and cold eyes.
The man walked up to Kasai without hesitation and bowed before the Guardian. “I am Achsiel,” he said. “I have answered the call.”
Kasai took Achsiel’s face in its hands and turned it upwards. Its fingers gripped the sides of his head, while its thumbs hung poised inches from his eyes.
Then a single, red-rimmed eye opened in the center of its forehead.
At the same instant, gray flames burst from its thumbs.
“Are you afraid?” it asked him in a voice that sounded like it came from the bottom of a deep pit.
“For a hundred and fifty-four generations my line has been faithful,” he answered. “I do not waver now.”
“Are you afraid?”
The gray flames were reflected in the man’s eyes. He blinked. Finally, he said, “Yes.”
“Good,” Kasai said, and pressed its thumbs to his eyes.
Achsiel screamed and writhed in its grasp but it did not let him go. Then the flames flickered and died out and it released him.
Achsiel staggered backward. Where his eyes had been were only ruined, blackened holes. The skin around the empty sockets was blistered.
“The pain will never leave,” Kasai said.
Shaking, Achsiel stood upright and faced Kasai.
“I have blinded you to mortal sight. Now you see as I do and I see through you,” Kasai said, placing one hand on the man’s head for a moment, then releasing him. “Thus do I name you the first of my blinded ones.”
Achsiel raised his head. “Twenty times this would I endure for my faith.”
“Come.” Kasai led the way into the cave and Achsiel followed.
The cave became a tunnel that led down at a steep angle. The tunnel was not natural. It had been Shaped eons before by two of those humans called gods, at the height of yet another of the seemingly-endless wars waged between those beings. They sought greater power. They found it and attempted to Shape it.
One was destroyed, the other nearly so.
None had entered this tunnel since then.
The blackness was absolute but neither Guardian nor follower wavered or stumbled. At one point the tunnel was choked with fallen stone. Kasai placed its hands on the stone. The stone glowed, then melted like wax, clearing the way. They continued on.
Straight as an arrow in flight the tunnel continued down and down, the hours broken only by those times when the tunnel had to be cleared in order to continue on.
Finally, a purplish glow in the distance.
The tunnel ended at a translucent wall. The purple light flickered from beyond it, casting grotesque shadows behind them.
As if it were no more than soft clay, Kasai scooped a double-handful of stone from the wall of the tunnel, then formed it into a crude pot and set it aside.
“Come here,” it said to Achsiel. With a clawed finger it opened a deep cut on the man’s forehead. The man did not flinch. Blood welled forth.
Kasai closed one long-fingered hand on the back of the man’s head and then pressed his face against the translucent wall. When the man’s blood contacted the wall it was immediately absorbed.
The area that had absorbed the blood began to soften.
“They come,” Kasai said.
On the other side darting silvery shapes appeared, all voracious mouths and sharp teeth, each about the size of a man’s hand.
Blood was still flowing down Achsiel’s face. Kasai held the mouth of the stone pot to his face, catching some of the blood in it. Then it held the pot up against the softened area of the wall.
Drawn by the blood, the silvery creatures clustered up against the wall, trying to get through. After a minute the wall had weakened enough that one was able to slip through. In rapid succession a half dozen more followed.
Quickly, Kasai pinched the mouth of the stone pot shut, sealing them inside. Then it wiped away the remaining blood from the wall and scooped up more stone from the tunnel wall to seal over the weak spot.
Guardian and follower returned the way they had come. When they were once again outside, Kasai handed the stone pot to Achsiel.
“Take the ingerlings to the Plateau, to the place known as the Godstooth, and release them there.”
“What shall I do with those I encounter on the way?”
“Give them the choice to follow as you do. If they choose correctly, mark them that I may know them.”
“And those who choose incorrectly?”
Achsiel bowed and disappeared into the coming dawn.
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