She stared in amazed silence as each stone embedded in the wall began to glow-to glow and whisper; and each emitted a vibration, like a heartbeat, she thought. The glow pulsed with the vibration, the whispers like a chant, all creating an intensely hypnotic effect. The crystal, now lying half in and half out of the holy water, began to glow, its warm light illuminating the face of the Sorceress.
The face of the Sorceress. Fhair could see her.
This magnificent vision would be all that Fhair would remember of Naofa, and it would be his most cherished moments of “sight”. To have seen the Sorceress in all her mystical beauty, standing before him in a state of total trust and acceptance, were all the blessing he would ever want from his otherwise darkened existence. He understood that true vision and light came from within his soul. Nothing could ever take that from him.
How she remained standing throughout this miracle, Naofa was not certain; but her friend swore that she remained transfixed before the altar, never wavering, as though her body had become merely a shell awaiting her return. He tried to memorize every bit of her form, the color of her hair, her eyes, the erectness of her posture, the willowy fluidity of her arms as they hung at her sides, the softness of her bare legs, and the gentle slope of her breasts. In her haste to retrieve the treasured crystal, she had completely forgotten to slip her tunic back on. Fhair was amazed at how lovely the female form actually was and felt a pang of regret that he would never know the joy of companionship. He would stand, fixed in that spot-watching and waiting-as long as it would take, and be thankful for the labor. He was both protector and faithful servant to the Light Ones in those moments and all others to come.
What never reached the ears of Fhair was the lilting chant whispered by the stones. It filled Naofa’s ears, stopping the unnecessary chatter in her analytical brain. Soon, she forgot where she was or who she was with. The Light, warm and welcoming, enveloped her. The Sorceress soon realized she was standing, naked as in birth, in a vast, mist-filled place. She was not cold, nor did she feel uncomfortable. In fact, she lost awareness of her physical self completely after a short while. Becoming one with the vibration of the stones, her entire being pulsed with their essence. Eventually the mists parted and she could see, below her, the soft rolling hillsides of the cave dwellers, not bustling as they were now, but bare and yet empty. A mighty wind blew across the grasses and treetops, nudging the living earth awake as the forms of the Creators gathered, one by one. Naofa realized she could not move, although she would have liked to join them in their creation process, so magnificent was their work. She watched in awe as they brought forth every soul she knew as the cave tribe.
The first to arrive was Fhair. With love and compassion, Mother Inion explained to him the role he would play in his world, the burden he would bear as Keeper of the Word, but that he would walk as one alone unless he chose otherwise and that the choice would be his. It saddened Naofa to know what he would bear, but she sensed no sorrow coming from Fhair’s soul. He willingly agreed to the task, even seemed to radiate a sense of eagerness to begin-just as their own band of Light had begun, with joy and appreciation for their gifts and responsibilities. Each in turn, the Creators came forward, lifting from the earth below and the skies above, the beautiful forms of this village, both male and female. It was just as the walls depicted it, only more beautiful and magnificent. She watched as their newly created, wet bodies scaled the hillside and descended into the lower caves. She marveled as Fhair took up his first sharp stone to scratch out their history on the cave walls.
(“Stop listening!”, the voices within her soul cried out)
The Sorceress was suddenly released, flung to the ground, cut free from the invisible cord. But where was she? It was too dark to make out her surroundings. Was she back in the cave? It didn’t feel like the cave, but her mind still seemed so foggy… Naofa pushed her way to her knees, feeling the painful jabs of tiny rocks grinding into the palms of her hands. They were sharp and cruel beneath her weight but she pushed her way up, kneeling and then rising to her bare feet. Bright specks of red sprouted on her palms as she stared at them in the gray light. ‘How is this possible within a vision?’, she thought.
Hearing a muffled cry, Naofa tried to turn but could only twist her upper body, squinting to see a small light peeking through the foggy veil. Something inside urged her to get to it, and quickly, but her legs had become immovable. Her heart beat against the inside of her bare chest, turning her attention to her nakedness, all alone in the dismal, cold place. She quickly crossed her arms, covering her breasts, aware of her nipples pressing against her flesh. She felt suddenly vulnerable. “Why should I be afraid?!” she called out to the emptiness. She had never felt ashamed of her body before and practiced modesty out of respect for others and to keep clean and unscathed by their often hazardous world. Somehow now, in this place, she felt terribly exposed-and not only her body. It seemed to the Sorceress that her heart and soul was being stretched bare and unprotected across the cold, dark ground that held her captive. She wrapped her arms more tightly around her shoulders, trying to muffle the sound of her heartbeat. It thumped like a drum in her ears and she imagined it was echoing throughout the mists-the mists with filmy arms wrapping around her body, with gray eyes peeking into her soul and ears to hear the fear rising in her heart. In those mists was surely something that she didn’t want to hear her heart pounding. Her lips began to tremble and her body shook uncontrollably.
It was barely audible at first. Perhaps she hadn’t heard it at all, she reasoned, and refused to allow her mind to wonder, to wander to the possibilities being expressed by voice of fear deep inside. She tried to think of things to blot it out, visions of Eagna at home preparing for the birth of her child and M’na deep in the heart of Foirfeachta, busy with similar distractions. How fortunate they were!
“Naaaofaaa.…” slithered over the muck and stone; and like a vine wound around her legs and slipped up her body into her head.
“NO!” she thought and pressed her hands against her ears again. “I cannot listen, this cannot be.”
The voice whispered again, in its deafening volume, “Naofaaa…welcome…..how kind of you to visit me here.” Raucous laughter danced over her head and around her body, stirring the rotting debris she only just realized seemed to be everywhere.
The voice spoke again, but covering her ears did no good; for the words were coming from inside her head. The harder she pressed her hands to her head, the louder and more distinctly echoed the words within her mind.
She gazed up to see the darkest vision of night she had ever known. No stars shone across the blackness. The only light to mar the night was a brilliant red moon. “Of course it’s red,” she muttered, trying to calm her rapidly fraying nerves. The moon had been red and would continue to be so for another cycle yet. She released a deep sigh of relief; but the moment of comfort was short lived as she saw a flicker from the corner of her eye. It did no good trying ignoring it, for her eyes betrayed her instantly and found the source…another moon. The telltale proof of the ugly fear she had suppressed since she felt herself pulled into the dark place; and it glared at her from a heartless, black sky. There hung another bright orb, happily expressing its own light, oblivious to what unfolded beneath its glow. This moon was not red-but was just as real as Domhan’s own crimson night eye. It hung there on the dark blanket, mocking her with the truth she had longed to ignore. The only place she knew that had more than a single moon was that dark abomination….How was it possible? Her mind, now muddy and vague, tried to retrace her steps, but to no avail; and her host was becoming impatient for entertainment. The voice whispered inside her head again.
“You know, you really must be careful when using your power. It is such a beautiful thing, connecting the physical world to that of the Spirit. Empowering, isn’t it. Exhilarating!” A hollow laugh echoed around the Sorceress, waking the marching bumps on her skin again. “But, my dear shape shifting pretty, I fear that in your excitement, you may have forgotten to…secure a window…in your eagerness to sprint through the door. Ah, but such a happy accident it was for such a lowly, loathsome god as I. You see…I get so few guests..here.”
“Really now, that isn’t necessary. Do you think I have not seen you in your nakedness long before now? Your skin glows so silvery in the ocean waves. But, why do you tremble...Sorceress, is it? Tsk, tsk. Such a shame that my reputation has been so maligned; and it would seem the judgment leaves no room for redemption.” There was only a short laugh, followed by blessed silence. Did Naofa detect a hint of real melancholy in it? Surely not.
Ar tine thought Naofa to indeed be a lovely creature-not as willowy as Eagna or as perfect as M’na; but there was something exotic and seductively unique about her. And her power could not be denied. If only...but that was for another place. He had a different purpose in this most opportune moment, one that may lend him access to her power on Domhan when he most needed it. The sight of her shivering naked really did not inspire a sense of power for him. Much to his dismay, it stirred something deep within that he did not like-something foreign and threatening to the source of that power. Tiny tendrils of black envy reached their hairy fingers towards the light that squeezed through the cracks of his now blackened soul.
“Dress yourself then!” he shouted irritably. A cloak of leathery skin slid from the shadows over the mossy ground, and clumped at her feet. Naofa quickly bent to retrieve the thing and wrap herself in its embrace, not at all certain if it was better or worse than standing naked in his presence. Her mind reasoned that at least she was authentic in her nakedness. Still, she loathed feeling vulnerable in his presence; so she gripped the edges of the skin and pulled the cloak tightly around her body. She pulled herself up, took in a deep breath and flung her hair back over her shoulders, trying to effect an air of defiance. The skin did indeed make her warmer. Feeling calmer and attempting to feign a fierceness that was not fully alive within her yet, Naofa turned on her tormentor.
“So, you have tricked me here! You are a fool! There is no greatness in trickery any more than there is power in control.”
She shifted on her now freed feet and waited for a response but there was only the soft swishing of moisture from the swirling mists. She waited awhile longer, the arrogance in his silence infuriating the Sorceress even more. “Just what is it that you want from me now? I have nothing that would interest you!” Those were her words but her thoughts were frighteningly uncertain of the truth of her declaration. She stared into the blackness, fully expecting to see the wolf, its yellowed teeth bared, spring forth from the depths. Would it try to slice her skin again, slit her throat, drink her blood, chew her bones? Or would it talk, taunt and chase her into oblivion? Silent blackness stared back at her as endless moments of waiting produced the trembling of her body once more, even though the chill was far from her.
Finally it burst forth from the darkness. No wolf, but only the laugh. The deafening, whispering voice, “I am not as predictable as you would wish, disappointing female. I have no desire to harm you, my dear Sorceress,” he sneered. ‘Not now at least,’ he thought.
“Yes, my love, I know it is painful to be the only one remaining who is not with a companion. How it must hurt to have to walk alone, delivering such precious gifts to everyone…everyone but yourself.” As if this wasn’t enough to drive her into madness, the black heart of Ar’tine had one last blade to twist before finishing his communion with the shivering female he hosted. “Of course, it must be equally as painful to know that you secret such strong…feelings..for my son, Laoch.”
He had her beaten until that moment. The last statement-the use of that word-pushed a button within her core that set a new emotion into play. Anger seethed from every pore of her body as she cast off the ugly leather cloak to reveal herself before she turned on the Dark One.
“How dare you call him your SON! He is no more a part of you than I am. He despises your very Essence and will stop at nothing to protect the Light on our world. Don’t think you will ever control him or anyone who loves him!”
Taken aback for a mere moment, Ar’tine was happy to see this one still had the power of fire so close to the surface. Yes, it would be a good match, most certainly. And he was pleased to know his hunch had been correct. She loved his Son greatly, greatly enough to fight for him. Perhaps it would be enough. It was time to be done with this little communion; and he was all too happy to allow her claim of victory over him-for now.
“Ahhh, yes, I see you are correct. I presume too much, perhaps because I contributed to his being brought forth from the earth. But all are ‘Children of the Light’, of course. Still, you have come all this way. And been such a lovely guest. I simply must give you a parting gift before I return you to your world of caves and pretty little stones. If you will just follow my voice now, we can get you back. Yes, see the mists part for you now, move toward the Light you seek…” The voice trailed off ahead of Naofa in the direction of the faint light she had seen before. Where had it been during their discourse?
The mists were still heavy, and tainted with a noxious smell, but the small light continued to dance in the distance. Naofa kept moving forward, faster she ran; but closing no gap between herself and her means of escape, she wearied. Was the light moving beyond her reach even as she got close enough to see its source? Suddenly it disappeared. Now she longed to weep and beg for mercy from the unseen terror she felt was still all too close, watching, waiting…
“I would be remiss if I did not offer you what you desire. You long for a glimpse into the future, to know the fate of your little band of Light Bearers. Well..you must remember the path of existence is not ‘etched in stone’, like the history of Inion’s tiny humans…except, that is, within the minds of all Creators-one of which, I believe, you are. But there are possibilities and probabilities, all springing from the nature of existence being what it is, or must become. Yes, I am afraid of the inevitability of it at this point. Just how long do you think you can go on denying the darkness that lies within all of your souls as it begins to seep into your consciousness? What, after all, is the Light without the Dark? Pure boredom, I can assure you. What do you think drives the very passion that lies beneath the surface of your own controlled exterior?”
Naofa was breathing hard again. She did not want this thing, this God, to see her, to think that he knew her, even a little bit. But how could she stop it, after all? All she could think to do was to push forward. So, with hope against hope that she could end this by feeding his fancy, she tried to engage him in his game of wits, “Of course we all know there is darkness within each and every living thing! It is our task to know it, to embrace it and set it free. It is not for us to feed or nurture it so that it controls us as it does you! Now,” she began, a false sense of bravado finding its way into her shaking voice. “Show me this possible foreseen future if you will. But be on with it, for I need to return to my tasks. I have lives depending upon my return. I..,” she tried to continue, but another low, deep chuckle froze the words in her throat.
“Wise decision, powerful female,” came the almost reverent whisper. “See the glimpse I have promised you. And do with it what you will. But I suggest swift action, for one never knows the where and when of a thing which may happen. Perhaps you can “nip it” before it even begins, eh?” She could feel him grinning at her even though she had not seen a physical sign of Ar’tine since her arrival. Naofa quickly snuffed this thought lest her own mind manifest that great snarling beast which seemed to haunt them at every turn.
A new chill drifted across her bare shoulders and, as if on command, the mists began to part as she sprinted toward the light which had suddenly reappeared a short distance from where she stood. Just a few more steps would bring her to stand in the glow of its welcome embrace, although she was acutely fearful of what visions lay in wait beneath its glare. Her feet slowed involuntarily; but a low growl trembled behind her, sending her lunging forward without ceremony, and struggling to remain on her feet. This awkwardness left Naofa feeling very angry with herself, an anger fueled by the taunting chuckle that nipped at her heels. Once she recovered, Naofa took a breath and realized she stood at the edge of a fog-shrouded field with surrounded by a deep forest. Where was she now? The scene looked vaguely familiar, as something from a long ago dream. But this was a dream after all…wasn’t it?
A movement from the side of the field caught her eye; and Naofa felt her knees buckle at the sight of Laoch emerging from the dense woods; and he was coming straight towards her, with purpose in his demeanor and expression. Her heart soared with joy at the sight of her friend and she longed to run to him, to feel his touch-the touch of something sane and familiar; but another movement distracted her. Emerging from the trees behind him was the female, the very one from her dream, she who was etched on the wall in the Room of Knowledge. She was even more tantalizingly lovely in the flesh, walking in the light, her gentle, sure movement. Her long, dark hair kissed her tanned skin as she strode quickly, hurrying to catch up with her companion. Loach turned and smiled back over his shoulder, extending his hand to her, and waited for her to catch up. Ignoring the pangs of jealousy that wanted to breathe, Naofa was deeply happy for her friend; for in that instant she felt his joy, certainty and sense of self worth. Wasn’t that what they all wanted for one another? She knew there had been no word of a bond spoken between them and yet…there had been something. She never quite knew what it was, had not allowed herself to look at it, perhaps feeling there would always be a moment for it when things were not so complicated. Now, her chance was gone. Why, oh, why did she care so much when it seemed so little? Her eyes returned to the couple making their way across the field. And what would she say to them when they reached her side?
As the female caught up to the Warrior, they clasped hands and gazed lovingly at one another as all hope within Naofa retreated. She resigned herself go to them to offer her hand in congratulations and her gifts of protection for as long as they walked on Domhan. Then came the voice inside her head again, molesting her thoughts even as she stood in the Light!
“Oh, how touching. How very generous of you to sacrifice your own desire for the good of your beloved. Tsk, Tsk…if only it were that simple, my dear. Oh, look! Who comes now?”
The wicked god taunted her very and now a another emerged from the shadows of the forest, drawing Naofa’s attention from the lovers. A beautiful male child stepped into the lighted field. A son! Slightly younger than Amhain, this young one was stocky, like his father, and already carried a stone axe in his small hand. It was done. This finalized it, after all. Laoch had found his companion and together they would create life, the circle would be complete for him. She watched as the little one began to run, axe over his head, trying to catch up to his Father and Mother. He seemed so carefree and wild. So wild.. somewhere halfway to where his parents walked, hand in hand, something changed. This child began to change before Naofa’s eyes, his legs growing shorter, dark fur springing out from his skin. He cast aside the axe as he dropped down to run on all legs, his arms now turned to those furry limbs; for with the teeth that were bared behind his snarling jowls, he needed no other weapon. Running and clawing at the grassy ground in an effort to reach the pair, he rapidly closed the gap between them. Terror clutched her heart. What did this mean and what could she do about it? The wolf-child was merely steps away from his parents when he looked directly at Naofa. That’s when she saw them. His eyes burned red as the full blood moon, red as the beast in her nightmares; and he grinned at her as he came down upon his prey. Naofa forgot her caution and tried to shout, to run to the aid of those she felt protective over; But the mists began to close in once more, swallowing the vision in an instant, before she could see what became of the lovers. She could hear cries above the vapors, but what were they saying? Were they screams of agony or sounds of laughter? Groping with her hands she swiped at the misty veil without success. The vision was gone and the world was all gray again.
Spinning around, she screamed at her captor, “What does this mean?! Why have you brought me here? Release me at once!”
Suddenly there came a rush of energy that pulled the breath from Naofa’s lungs as it blew past her-through her. Everything was chaos for her as she felt herself flung to the ground yet again, where now she could actually smell the dank, wet ground so near her face. Her mind became fuzzy but she could hear a voice. It was not the voice of torture though. This was a new voice. As she breathed in the fresh air of salvation, she knew immediately who the owner of this voice was. It was her Mother Bandia shouting angrily over her head.
“What are you about? She is my own Daughter and you taunt her so, playing with her, as one who stalks might tease its prey.” Then to the Sorceress who was trying to hang on to her sanity, she commanded, “Go, Naofa, return to your business. We will talk in awhile.” Scrambling to her knees with surprising ease, Naofa obeyed her Mother without question, running through the mists blindly until she slipped on the slick ground, striking her head on something cold and hard, rendering herself quite unconscious. The Goddess would not be silenced, however.
She was feeling her own darkness rising and quickly reached for the Light to cover it. With nothing left to say, she retreated from Artine’s dark world to try to find a way to reach her Daughter before she moved in fear and acted without caution.
“Why indeed..?” thought Ar’tine, feeling quite accosted and completely sorry for himself. It would be an easy end for all concerned. He shook his head and muttered at the retreating Goddess although she never heard him, “Who are you to decide what is best for your Daughter? She is a living, breathing, flesh covered human being. She deserves the same chance for fulfilling her desires as do any of the others. You claim to care for her? I am merely giving her the nudge she needs to be honestly fulfilled.” He would never understand these Light Ones. Besides, he had his own agenda which was down a different path. What did he care for Bandia’s creations when soon, very soon, his own As’me would be returned to the world of the physical? This was his own lifeline. His work was done for now….