The morning was overcast when Niall’s life changed. The attendant to the Bright One had ventured down from the mountain to deliver the first summons in half a century.
The village dozed at the foot of the mountain, and the Bright One’s attendant sought a cottage on the edge of the border. Niall saw the attendant approach, robed in velvet, the shimmery fabric embroidered with the same symbols Niall had seen on pulpits his entire life.
“You are the one called Niall?” the attendant asked.
“I am,” Niall said.
The attendant’s adjusted posture raised him from the ground. “You have been summoned by the almighty Bright One. Do you accept your duty?”
Niall dropped the pitchfork in his hands, one he’d been using to shovel fodder. “I…”
“The Bright One only wishes the willing to accept,” the attendant continued. “But you have been chosen.” The attendant turned his back and said over his shoulder, “I shall return in the morning for your answer.”
When he slept that night, Niall heard whispers, a voice that clawed through his mind. But he didn’t wake up terrified as if from a nightmare. They were pleasant dreams, where he was treasured, touched like no one had touched him, even with a voice that sounded like rats tearing through his walls.
Even at the Convening, where the village gathered every week at the chapel, Niall had never heard the Bright One speak to him. But he felt the same solace when he peered into the chapel’s tiered roof, hands folded in prayer—he’d always known he was heard.
The attendant came for him the next morning, rapping hard on his door. They were to head up the mountain, to reach their destination by dusk. Niall was full of questions—what did a summons mean, exactly? How long would he be gone? And the more pressing inquisition—what could the Bright One possibly want from him? But he asked none of them.
True to the attendant’s word, the sun was beginning to descend in the sky when they arrived. The attendant had given him words he’d need to recite, and Niall had been repeating them under his breath as steady as his pulse.
The Bright One’s shrine was nestled in a cave high up the mountain path. Aside from the toothy stalactites, there was only an altar of smoothed stone, infringed with darkness from the surrounding rock.
“We must prepare you for communion with the Bright One,” the attendant said. “Lie down on the offering table.”
Offering. Niall tried not to shake as he approached the altar. He’d worn loose robes as instructed, tied at the waist by a frayed rope from the barn. He expected ice at his back when he rolled onto the altar’s surface, but it was warm; pulsing, like a heart.
“The summoned shall now be blindfolded, in great respect to the Bright One,” the attendant announced, as if there was an audience to listen. Silk covered Niall’s eyes before he shut them. Then the attendant’s footsteps became echoes until Niall was alone.
But not entirely alone, because something squirmed and shifted in the darkness around him. Niall could feel it, more because he could not see. Then, like a hot wind, there was a presence. Bumps rose on Niall’s skin at the sound that followed, a rustling scrape against the sanctuary floor that didn’t quite sound like clothes or flesh.
He knew it was the Bright One.
Niall thought he could make out a word in the scuffle of sound around him—offering. The presence had joined him on the altar, bathing him in whispers and a gentle probe of his skin. Another word came—receive.
“As a son of the Unclean, I submit myself to the Bright One,” Niall whispered. “My life belongs to the Light, my soul to the Dark.”
Something slithered across Niall’s leg, gripping, parting his thighs. The whisper from the dark had mounted to a dull rumble; an ancient language, a dead tongue.
Niall’s breathing sped up as the Bright One pushed something hard and fleshy inside his cunt. Niall expected movement. Friction. But the Bright One had entered him and stopped. Not moving, just. There.
Niall’s lashes fluttered against the blindfold as another word came to his mind: communion.
“You spoke to me, didn’t you?” Niall asked the dark. “In my dreams.”
We chose you, Niall heard from the dark.
“Why me?” Niall asked, emboldened by the fact that he somehow was still alive, still himself.
The Bright One whispered and screamed at once, and Niall couldn’t tell if his question was met with anger. The presence around him drew closer, like the choke of humidity. Then something else pressed between Niall’s legs, prodding, testing him. Niall kept his breathing consistent, deep and long, as he tilted his hips forward and opened himself up to the Bright One.
The last is gone, the darkness said. You are the new.
Another who had been summoned, Niall realized. Someone who had gone up the mountain before he was born and never returned to the village.
The presence settled with two appendages nestled inside Niall’s body. He understood the dream then, as quiet peace swept over him in the dark.