“It’s opening! It’s happening, people! Into positions, please, and listen carefully – time is of the essence! Firstly, make sure to keep the theoretic maps you’re about to receive on your persons at all times lest you lose your way after expulsion! Food and drink are not permitted inside the Hall of Heroes! Anyone caught disobeying this rule shall be forced to remain behind to wait for the Great Flush! As for the assigned headgear, under no circumstances are you allowed to remove it during The Search. Disregarding safety regulations, or making bad choices, for that matter, will result in bringing great dishonour upon the name of the Factory House you represent along with the certainty of a horrible death! As for the object of your quest: the Netherport is an elusive portal that only appears once every few weeks and has a window period lasting exactly twenty-four hours. Your propulsion gear has enough fuel to last four times as long, so work quick, work smart, and do not forget to consult the map! Before you go, remember this: only one will find this portal – only one will be able to enter and infiltrate the Netherplace. We strongly advise against aiding fellow Searchers, for it, too, will bring only shame upon your house.”

A rumbling sound, clearly originating from the Red Delta that flows to and from the Factory Houses to merge with the horizon where, as myth has it, it joins to form the Grand River and giver of life, slowly starts to build on its noise until it becomes a thunderous roar. A sense of restless anticipation ripples through the crowd as the Delta gains a monstrous life of its own, signalling that adventure is upon them.

“The time has come, Searchers, for you to leave your Houses in order to fulfil the one true purpose given to our kind since the beginning of ten years ago when the first Searchers were born to confront the unknown journey ahead, only to reach an unfortunate end when the first territory they entered were of Light instead of Darkness, which houses the Netherport. Go, brave warriors, go forth and follow the road that leads to the Hall of Heroes, and make peace with your fate.”

Two crowds, each representing their own Factory House, merge as one upon reaching the Hall of Heroes, crowding around the entrance while the thunder around them seems to grow in degree, adding to the Red Delta a steady, rhythmic pulse of light. Propulsion gear at the ready, maps safely tucked away, the crowd quivers as one when–

–complete silence descends upon the Red Delta with incredible strength, an entity of no substance wielding the might of nonexistence, enveloping the entire crowd within a powerful vacuum while pushing them forward and into the Hall of Heroes. The crowd surges through a magnificent tunnel that seems to close in around them whilst adding to the vacuum enough weight to increase their pace, faster and faster, the speed of their passage felt underneath the sturdy headgear. The pressure multiplies and threatens to compress them into an amorphous–

–millions of Searchers, their bodies exuding a surprisingly faint luminescent glow, explode into gear as a collective instinct drive them into motion following the initial shock of weightlessness upon entering the abyssal space that is Darkness. Their objective becomes a singular, driving impulse that finally sets in action the race against time.

Some almost immediately succumbs to cerebral deterioration and mislays the ability to operate their propulsion gear, inspiring a horde of slack bodies aimlessly drifting through space, seemingly dead. Some misplaces the memory regarding their maps and ends up circling one another in an endless loop. Some even surrenders to violence and starts attacking those closest by ramming into them, the headgear strong enough to kill or maim. Some find relief by staying in a group, the leader guiding them downward, downward, into oblivion and out of existence.

Three quarters of the crowd is dead or dying. The rest are lost.

Warmth, laced with a soft, soothing vibration, spreads across the cavern and seems to shake the very darkness in an act to draw in the sentient individuals still struggling to find its way to or from anything. Gaining explosive awareness of the change as well as the allure, the few Searchers still alive recover their sense of purpose and actively go about seeking out the source of the unseen attraction. Stretching their propulsion gear to its limit, they follow the overwhelming presence across the void, fearless, passing through dense masses of fallen comrades, reaching a soft barrier along which they find their way closer to their objective, sensing their quest nearing an end.

The Netherport is the single most beautiful thing they have ever seen. It appears as if from the very line that separates everywhere from nowhere, a dainty orb of warm shades floating by with an air of immortality, encircled by smaller specks of light that forces one Searcher to repeatedly drive his head into surrounding walls. The last two Searchers push their way after the orb, sensing the Netherworld hiding within its bosom and awaiting their company. Guided by immense pride they push themselves over the limit, further, the stronger of the two gaining distance, pushing harder, until finally it enters the film of light that seems to surround the portal, through it, hitting its outer wall and driving its head clean through with a determination unknown to any other form of life.

The world within is warm, and kind. Having driven her body as hard as she could in order to reach the future that was hers from the very start, she touches upon fading memories of birth, her Factory House, her home, the Hall of Heroes, Searchers lost in order to pave the road to success, diverting her thoughts back to the nurturing aspect of the Netherworld allowing her respite for the journey ahead, although unable to give consent to her keeping the headgear.

With or without, a new quest awaits.


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