Elnias led them through a doorway in the back of the room and into a quiet, dimly lit chamber with an arched ceiling. It looked as if it had at one point been part of a tunnel that had since been bricked off, and it contained no furniture.
Their shadowy host closed the door behind them, blocking off the noise from the other room. He stood facing them for a moment, eyes burning like hot coals set into his otherwise indiscernible face, then began to cross the room.
He stopped in the middle, his back to them. “Long ago, before such creatures existed as humans, Aechyeds, goblins and elves, when the intelligent arts of language and architecture belonged alone to the Fae, the Messengers, and the Gods—the Ancients, as you call us—there was foretold the coming of an age of misery, of fear, of parasitic thought, ushered in with disease, and brought to a close with one of two possible outcomes: the beginning of a new, brighter epoch, or the end of the world…the end of time itself.”
Elnias turned slowly to look at them once more, as if making sure the full impact of his statement had registered.
“It was determined,” he continued in his usual deep, somber voice, “that when the time came, six champions would be chosen to combat this…parasite.
“The time has come. The Blood Plague of six years ago brought it to the surface, although it had been quietly festering below ground for much longer—a millennia, perhaps. The Six have been chosen.”
Seymour had a sudden recollection of a strange dream he had had the previous night, and without knowing why, he glanced sidelong at Henry and saw the same terrified recognition on the human’s features as he felt on his own.
Elnias nodded slowly. “Six shall go,” he recited, “three men, three not, all in masks of falsehood wrought, bearing a piece for every queen, into the land of light unseen. Make the three of dreams align, Worm shall fall at three, six, nine.”
Henry and Seymour stared back at him, wide-eyed.
“What does it mean?” Seymour asked eventually.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Is its meaning a secret, or do you not know it?”
Elnias met his eyes. “I can’t tell you,” he repeated. “I have said all that I can say.”
“You can’t even tell us who the rest of the Six are?” Seymour prodded.
“No. But you will know each other when you meet. You will be drawn together—already have been, by the looks of it. I can tell you this, however: you will find that you have allies outside of the Six. Beware of them, especially of my fellow Ancients. Morality is an invention of mortals, and we immortals have little concept of it. Any that join with you are motivated entirely by self-interest. Most will want payment for their services, and generally not of the…monetary variety.”
Seymour raised his eyebrows. “I get the strong impression,” he droned, “that you are hinting at something, Elnias.”
Elnias turned his back and began to walk away from them. “Of course I am.”
“The answer’s no.”
“Very well. Come back if you change your mind.” He paused and glanced over his shoulder. “Be careful, Seymour.”
“I’ll do my best.”