“Can you feel that?”
I looked over my shoulder to see Julious staring into the Fold. It had opened a few days ago and continued to get wider. It was shimmering brightly. The Overworld drifting off into the distance surrounded in a cloud of pressing darkness.
“I don’t feel anything.” I said, getting up to stand next to him, staring into the depths of the Fold. “It’s like a division in the universe. Something about the Fold doesn’t seem right to me at all anymore. I don’t think our worlds were meant to access one another. The doorway should have never existed in the first place.”
Atlas looked up at us from the place he was lounging under the large dead tree, it’s branches reaching far around in a circle embracing all the members of our new army. “The Fold didn’t exist in the beginning.” He said simply in a hushed tone, motioning to the way the colors in it were pulsing and wisping about. “It’s growing angry. It wasn’t there just before I rebelled against the high-lords. It just appeared. They decided to investigate the Mortal World, they brought back their “chosen ones”, and I didn’t agree with it. I thought it was wrong. I think the Fold is just the universe challenging our ability to resist temptations.”
“You existed prior to the calling of the Fold?” Julious asked excitedly, his voice pitching like a girl. He knelt on the ground to listen intently to Atlas. “Those high-lords passed on well before my calling.” He admitted with envy.
Atlas laughed, sitting up. “No, most of those high-lords rebelled, leaving the chosen ones in the hands of a few… radical high-lords. They carried on the torch and that’s when they decided to start hunting down the rebels one by one. I existed in the Underworld a long time before Celeste. I existed here a long time before your call as well.” He said motioning nonchalantly to Julious. “Time is so ravenous, devouring all that she can, but it stands still in the heart of the Fold just as you hang between two Worlds like a feather, drifting at her will. I can’t tell you how many long breathless moments I spared myself by staying in that space of time, trying to find an answer to the Darkness. I wanted to appeal to it for the longest time, bargain with it to make it recoil back from the depths it came. The Darkness wasn’t far behind after the chosen-lords carried on with choosing more mortals. They got bored and lonely with one another and they followed after their predecessors. A shame, really. That’s when it appeared. They lived with for so long, and as it started twisting the high-lords into mangled gatekeepers, they started seeking out the original high-lords, the ones that answered the call of the Fold. They were so sure that it would be one of us that could fight it. One after another they failed and their bodies piled here on this hill.”
Many of the Celestis had gathered around to listen to Atlas tell the tale of the Fold and how it had all come to this. How it built to us uniting here in the Underworld, biding our time to strike as the Fold demanded at the Overworld and set the Darkness back to where it belonged. Not even Atlas knew how to defeat the Darkness. We would just be swinging at the thin air for all we knew. The gatekeepers were our only concerns, but I could feel their desire to be free just as much as I could feel it in the Army around me as they had reached through the mud and tar of the land to breach into the living again. The gatekeepers were no different to me, only stranger and uglier.
I wasn’t listening much anymore to Atlas telling about his creation of the Underworld, how he created it by touching the light in the edges of the Fold. It sprang up from his mind, created from his own vision, but the Fold owned it. It was a gift to the first Rebel that led the cause against the destruction the high-lords were causing by taking away the will for Mortals to choose, plaguing the Celestis Overworld with temptations and evil people that would have never been called before.
There were looks of guilt surfacing on someone of those in the Army that had once believed they were doing the right thing by choosing Mortals and bringing them forcefully into immortality and the responsibilities we faced day in and day out. The Overworld was a small place that was crammed full of people that didn’t belong, and as they brought more Mortals in the more they ignored the plights of the immortals in their own World. We were meant to lead them through wars, trials, and plagues; instead we let them fend for themselves and even the Mortal World was falling into years of chaos and trouble. We could only focus on making right what we had lost focus on after the Overworld was repaired.
Atlas met my eyes, they were glistening as he recalled the memory of it. His full lips had a wide and dreamy smile that pulled me in to listen and day dream. I could almost see what he saw that day as he told the story.
“The Underworld was a large and quiet place, except for the sounds of nature. I was alone here, suffering in the silence and unable to aid my home in returning to its former glory. I was so satisfied with that life for so long. I walked through the grove and under this very tree. At the time it was still full of life and strong. That’s when the Fold opened to me and I heard it’s calling. I was drawn to it, my wings splayed out on either side of me, shaking at the sound of the Fold. Her voice was ethereal. It reverberated through my mind and penetrated my bones. It showed me the last hours of Celeste, a great female warrior, dying as she protected her lands and her freedom in a far away Mortal land. I was entranced by her grace with every swing of her blade. When she was struck down I felt that in my own body. I wept at her death as she stood and fought to her last breath, holding her head high and gritting her teeth against her Roman adversaries.”
“I was fighting for my Germanic tribe lands that the Romans thought they could take. I still feel the weight of their own swords in my hand as I fought back against them.” I soaked in those bloodthirsty memories. I died a great death, but I didn’t remember the calling of the Fold. I only remembered the moment I made the choice to cross into the Underworld when I was presented with the Darkness inviting me, offering me glory, and the Underworld that silently beckoned me into its peace and serenity. I knew which I would have chosen even now. I wanted an afterlife away from the bloodshed, and here I stood about to fight another war.
“She was as unyielding as she is today. Her spirit didn’t hesitate, she crossed into the Underworld and met me face to face. I fell in love with her even before her Mortal death. She was the first Call to the Underworld. As she passed into it the tree died and she sucked its very life into her being. As it swelled inside of her I felt the true spirit of the Underworld. I’d met it’s natural Queen and ruler. I’d submit to her a million times.” Atlas said. His eyes gleamed in the light, sending me his love through the air and down my spine. He adored me, they all did. His voice went on wavering slightly as he remembered. “That’s when my wings fell to ashes as well. She caught them in her bare hands. The Underworld shaped to her own deepest desires, they sprouted again, but with a little more of a barbaric look and carrying the power that she possessed with them.”
“What was it like before the Fold?” Someone chirped from behind me. Most of them had enough of the tale of how I came to be here. They could care less if I were chosen or called, they only wanted to return to where they belonged and they would follow anyone that would get them there. Most of them weren’t ignorant enough to challenge me either, another stroke of luck for them. I knew the full range of my power now. The Darkness had done it’s best to confuse me those first hours I returned to the Underworld, giving me Mortal thoughts of angels and Celestial, and death and becoming Fallen. It was all a lie, engraved into me to hold me at bay from gathering an Army at its doors. I smiled inwardly to myself. I didn’t know what made me have so much Faith that day when I jumped to the Mortal World, but when I did I knew I had been right. I knew that I had chosen right. The Mortal World couldn’t hold the lies engraved on my mind like the Overworld or Underworld that was made for the Celestis. When I dove through those shimmering folds I was so much more aware of myself than ever before, the power within me, the untapped potential I possessed that it tried to obscure from me. I only wondered why the Darkness feared me above all so much. Why did it go out of it’s way to make me confused and doubting?
“Well,” Atlas paused, his voice tearing me from my daunting thoughts again. Atlas looked over at the sky, his lips turning up into a smile as colors of all sorts drifted about the empty vast space. “It was lonely then.” He said finally, breaking his trance.
Julious tisked his tongue against the top of his mouth, looking irritated with his short answer. “There must be more!” He exclaimed. Many of the other Celestis clamored as well for more from him.
Atlas nodded and rested his hands behind his head as he sighed, trying to remember what it was like that long ago. “We were just there, I guess. Our lives drifted without meaning, except to listen to the Mortal World as it passed around us, we were surrounded by it. We were a small globe in the middle of time and space of the Mortal World, hovering between matter itself. In the Overworld I could see into the universe, deep into the darkness above, but it wasn’t evil then. It was an enticing animal of pure power and natural instinct. It had its own life. It moved freely, and it was beautiful, but now it's not the same. The darkness out there is cloudy and menacing. I can’t help but wonder what happened to it in my time away that made it so angry. I used to sit next to the pillars of the gate and look up into it, dreaming of flying off into that distance away from the chaotic Mortal drama, but we lived in a glass jar. I couldn’t touch darkness or leave. No one really knew why we had a gate and we didn’t talk about it. The gate went nowhere.”
I sat next to Atlas and stroked his hair. “I think it’s better now with the Fold. It opened the gate for you to leave, to explore, to be free.”
“I don’t know.” He said, resting his head into my chest. “I wouldn’t know you without it, but I didn’t know any better before it.”
What Atlas said was true. Without the Fold he wouldn’t have known any life different from what he had. He would have never needed to know me. He never would have wanted anyone. I stroked his hair and enjoyed his comfort. I cherished these moments. I never knew if a time would come that I would be taken away again or my memory clouded again. I didn’t want to miss these moments.
The Fold shook and quivered in front of us, sending out a gust of wind from it’s depths. It was chilling and vile. It made my skin crawl and my hair stand on end. I looked away from it, afraid that something evil would pass through it and threaten us, but everything turned quiet. The armies hushed conversations died and it sounded as if everyone’s heart beats stilled around us.
Atlas and I stood quickly, stepping in front of me. He was trying to protect me. I wanted to giggle at the notion, but he was guarding me, I was the center of his universe, the life of it. I could barely remember those first days as a Celestis, but I remembered him being there and our first encounters. I didn’t remember the pulling of the Underworld's life force and power into my being, but I could feel it there now. Those first moments were hazy for everyone. Our Mortal minds become something bigger and limitless. It was like being shaped and formed into new beings.
I looked up into the Fold and the shimmer of a dark smokey cloud in the Overworld looked back at me in the shape of a woman with lean elongated wings like a dragonfly, separated into four independent sections. Celeste… It called to me. I listened and it called again, but I ignored it. It sounded like the sweet smoothing sound of a soft woman's voice. It was alluring and gentle.
“Did you feel it this time?” Julious jokes, trying to lighten the mood.
Atlas nodded grimly and stiffened his stance in front of me. We all stared into the Fold, but then it rippled suddenly, almost sealing itself off from us. I could tell it was struggling to keep itself open to us, struggling against the Darkness there. It was calling for my help. “It wants something.” Atlas said, looking down at me at his side now.
“She wants me.” I confirmed. “The darkness is a woman. It takes the form of a woman.” I said dumbfound. Was it really a shock that the Darkness really was it’s own being?
Atlas straightened his back in defiance, motioning for the army to follow suit and ready themselves. “I think it’s time. We’ve been waiting for a sign from the Fold that it was time to move against the Darkness. She’s revealed herself to Celeste, I think it’s time.” He looked to me for confirmation as he repeated the confirmation.
“It’s time.” I said as I stared at the Woman in the distance there. The Fold fluttered with a rippling strength that was seeping out of it. I didn’t know how much longer it could hold itself in place.
The woman formed by the cloud and smoke of the Darkness was hovering just on the other side between all the Worlds in that timeless space, waiting for me. As the Fold rippled she had moved closer, so close I could touch my finger to the depths of her black and clouded chest if I wanted to, or feel the curves of her smoldering body. There was no face to look into. Her features were shrouded in her darkness. Celeste… she called in desperation, this time her voice ringing in my ears as if she were standing in the confines of my mind.
“If I don’t go, she’ll come here.” I said, offering the Darkness my hand. She grasped it tightly. Spindles of dark cool wisps climbed my arm, holding onto me and dulling my skin to a grey. The Darkness was sucking the life from me, but ever so slowly.
Atlas shook his head in defiance and regret for letting me step up to the Fold without his protection. He didn’t want to lose me. I understood his angst, but this was something I knew the Fold was calling for me to do on my own. The army would stand the fight against the gatekeepers, but this fight with the Darkness would be a lonely one for me. Atlas tried to reach for me but I denied him my grasp and shook my head at him.
“Don’t go. Not like this.” He whispered in pure agony. I could see the weakness in his strong legs and how he was desperate to hold onto me, his eyes begging. The Celestis around him looked just as disappointed and saddened by the grasp the Darkness had on my arm.
“She needs me.” I said with a bright smile on my face. It was true. I could feel her desperation. I could feel her desire and her fear carving into me in the spot she held. I knew they once all needed me to. They needed me to fight for them and agonized over me leaving them. These were my people and this could be the last moments we spent together.
“She needs me.” I said to them, letting them see that I was ready for her and this fate and I wanted it as bad as she did. I wanted to save her. I wanted to save the Fold. I even wanted to free the gatekeepers from their own agony. My army would do that for me.
Celeste, help me. She begged. Her plea embedded itself on my very being.