“Hail to the Holy Origin,” the woman was saying and the crowd chanted along. “Hail to the Catalyst. Hail to the vessels. We beseech you, in your knowledge and wisdom, save us!”
Corra opened her fist to look at the Transmission again. All at once it felt both powerful and utterly meaningless. But she’d never find out which was true without taking the leap. She took a deep breath, lifted the cylinder above the cube, clamped her eyes shut and slid it into the groove.
The entire room let out a gasp of breath and Corra cracked one eye open to watch as the Transmission expertly shifted into place. The room fell into a deathly quiet, every person in it hanging onto a breath of anticipation. Even Corra, who was now having significant doubts anything would happen at all, took a careful step backwards, her one open eye fixed upon the box and her whole body braced for disaster. Just in case.
But as the minute kept on ticking by and nothing changed, disaster became a possibility further and further away. She was about to turn to the silent woman with the book to ask, “Am I supposed to do something else?” when something on the surface of the box caught her eye. A thin light coming from the center circle of the Transmission. And it was…growing? Slowly filling the cylindrical gap.
Her mouth fell open, but before she could muster the courage to point it out to anyone, there was a sudden whoosh and all at once, she was enveloped in fog.
Corra covered her mouth, coughing into the haze and trying to wave it from her eyes, but no matter how she flailed, she couldn’t see two feet in front of her. The entire congregation had effectively disappeared and only the vague glow from the Transmission was visible to her. She scrambled towards it and seized the heavy little box.
The circle in the center was still slowly filling with light. A progress bar? A very ancient progress bar? Was that what that thing was? Regardless, if this was what happened when it was only a quarter of the way through, she was no longer sure she wanted to find out what happened when it was finished.
Around her, voices were starting to rise from the rest of the chapel. “Praise the Catalyst for she has brought unto us the vessel!” Corra heard and the echo of agreements made her cringe as she struggled to dig her nails into the Transmission enough to yank it out. “Save us, vessel of the Holy Origin! Share your wisdom!” The damn thing wouldn’t budge.
The fog was practically alive now with all the shouting and praising, but Corra blocked it out. She clawed at the box, shook it, nothing was working. The circle was nearly halfway full. Her heart pounded in her chest and regret flooded her senses. God, she should have waited. She should have been patient.
She felt a hand grip her arm and she spun around to find, to her immense relief, Finn. She stared at him, she looked down at the Transmitter and she shook it pathetically. Thankfully understanding, he reached out and took the box from her. She watched in part frustration and part anticipation as he attempted each method she herself had tried. Finally, he scrunched up his face, held the thing in front of him with one hand and banged on the side of it with the other. The Transmission tumbled out onto the floor.
“We should get out of here,” Corra was about to suggest as she seized the cylinder off the ground, but just as she did, the fog that had taken over the entire chapel was somehow sucked away in a flash. Once again, her vision was clear and she could see out into the crowd of Gatekeepers, looking around in awe. She noticed it at the same time they did. They dropped to their knees and started shouting in joy. But when Corra saw the tall shadowy figure standing backlit in the doorway, she took a step backwards and Finn, without a word, slipped a gun into her free hand.
“I am the vessel of the Origin,” stated the figure in a voice that was garbled and distorted. It was a deep, low tone that sent a shiver down her spine. He was cloaked in black, his face partially covered by a hood and his form indistinguishable. The rest of the room went quiet. “You have called upon me?”
Corra could scarcely believe it. The thing worked? It really worked? The Gatekeepers’ prophecy had been true after all?
“Y-yes!” stuttered the spindly woman, her voice muffled from the floor she bowed upon. “Oh great vessel, we ask your forgiveness for drawing you from slumber and–”
“You are not forgiven!” boomed the vessel. “You have summoned me here preemptively and I shall not have it.”
The woman seemed taken aback. “Preemptively? B-but the prophecy said–”
“Yes, well, the prophecy was incomplete.” There was an awkward silence before he continued, “But since I am here–”
Something was off about this, Corra realized. Perhaps the Gatekeepers were wrong to revere their ancestors so much, but even so, the idea that this was their messenger seemed like a lack of foresight on their part. “What would you have me do?” he was asking in response to someone’s call of “Save us, please!” It was like he hadn’t bothered to read the job description and–
Once more, a hand touched her arm and Corra jumped, spinning around on her heel, gun raised at the ready to point it straight at Alyx’s head. The woman grimaced and held up her hands in surrender. “You?” Corra demanded in a whisper, dropping her weapon back to her side as Finn turned to them. “You did this? You scared the shit out of me!”
Alyx’s face was still distorted in apology. “Sorry, we couldn’t get word to you before it was too late,” she whispered, their conversation fortunately masked by the great dramatic voice of their visitor.
“So you just thought it’d be a good idea to blind me with fog and–” Corra started, but it was Finn who pointed out, “I assume there’s a second half to the plan?”
“There is,” Alyx assured. “C’mon, stay low and hurry.”
The three crouched down and slipped off the dais, moving carefully toward the wall. Alyx held up her hand to pause them then held it up high in the air. The man who’d walked in the door, the ‘vessel’, seemed to get the hint. He was still speaking loudly to his captive audience (something unintelligible about the meaning of life, Corra noted) as he moved to the opposite wall and began to walk along it, pulling the attention of the entire congregation with him. And away from them.