Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
by Cheryl Pennington
copyright words and art
As the Sorceress struggles to make sense of the visions she has seen, the village of Cave Dwellers makes preparations for their own celebration of Creation. Will she be able to reach her friends in time to prevent disaster? Was there really even a threat or has she been deceived by dark trickery; and can she risk not knowing the difference?
To Save a Warrior
Bending down and sliding his thick arm beneath the Sorceress’s head, Fhair knew fear for the first time in his life. One moment he had been aware of Naofa standing beside him, and in the next, he heard her breathing grow labored followed by a dull thud as she slumped to the cave floor. He lowered her head gently, and reached up to recover the Sorceress’s crystal from the liquid filled altar. Instinctively he pressed it to her forehead, not even aware of the gaping gash that cut across her skin on one side. He felt it pulsing softly, noting the sensation that it felt curiously cool and warm at the same time. He couldn’t see the light that glowed from within its core, nor did he see Naofa’s eyes flutter open as she struggled to focus on his face through the shadows of the cavern. Fhair held his breath until she moaned, assuring him that she was conscious. His face, lit by the glow of the stone, betrayed deep lines in his furrowed brow, but melted when she winced. Relief replaced his distressed look as she touched the sore spot on her head and attempted to sit up. The dark walls began to spin around her, forcing her back against the strength of Fhair’s arm where he cradled her gently.
“Easy now. No need to jump up. I don’t know where you were Miss, or what happened there, only that you were standing quietly next to me; and in the next moment you fell to the rock.” He shook his head, consumed with sincere remorse, “If only I could have seen you, I…” Naofa squeezed his hand, halting his lamentation, yet still unable to speak. Fhair stroked her cheek softly. “You should lie still for a bit,” he continued, “until you are sure you can stand again.”
The bright crystal, still wet from the altar, glistened in the dark, the moisture from it being drawn to the edge where it slithered down its length to the point and dripped onto the Sorceress’ blood stained skin. Instantly it slid across her forehead to the fresh, jagged cut that still seeped red droplets, and filled the wound with silvery liquid. Naofa’s head was suddenly alive with pain and she reached up to touch the place where it originated. Her fingers felt wet; and she quickly inspected them, frightened by the bright red that now covered her skin. Her terror was short lived, for the stabbing pain was fading as quickly as she had realized it, the healing water from the pool so exacting in its purpose. A thin, congealed streak of blood was all that remained to betray her folly.
Strengthened, Naofa sat up suddenly, acutely aware of her vulnerable situation and embarrassed by her nakedness. “Oh!” she let out a soft cry as the stone tumbled from her head. She efficiently caught the treasure before it hit the stone floor. “I am really okay, Fhair,” she mumbled. “I must have become faint from a lack of food…and weakened by my morning’s ailment.” She shook her head. “But I was bleeding. How…”
“You must have hit the stone as you fell, Miss Naofa,” Fhair murmured. “But the crystal and the water from the pool has healing power. You should be good as new soon enough.” In truth only a dull ache remained to go with the bit of sticky blood, all that lingered to tell the tale of her ordeal.
Her murky state of mind was all too rapidly being replaced by the shadows of her vision. In rapid succession she reviewed the images in her mind, seeing things as though for the first time-the Creation of the Cave Dwellers, the Creators’ instruction regarding the future of their world when all tribes united, and…and…there was something more. The last part of the vision was poised at the edge of her consciousness like a wild beast waiting to attack. Anxiously she groped, finally coming face to face with it, and the beast roared. The beast that was a snarling wolf.
Flooding recognition dawned within her throbbing head, and she felt she might faint again. ‘It was real’, she thought. And she had actually struck her head when she fell, running through the mists as she fought to escape the clutches of Ar’tine. But.. Fhair had been with her through it all, had explained the blood and the wound. How had he done this? Curse it all, she knew everything was her own fault. She should have protected herself from the dark god’s influence when she succumbed to the power of eternity. So eager had she been to see more, to know more, that she had forgotten to call upon the Light of her Mothers to help her. Still, what Ar’tine had shown her was important, wasn’t it… Oh dear Mother! She suddenly remembered it all; but what in the name of all that was Light did it mean? Was Laoch or Eolas, really in danger? Had Ar’tine truly touched Laoch at birth so that he would spawn the means of his own demise? Or was the darkness in their child brought forth from the soul of the strange beauty he was to be joined with? Possibility.. Probability. Those were the words Ar’tine had used. Neither promised enough certainty for Naofa to sit by and do nothing. She had to warn Laoch. She had to stop this union so that they could figure it all out. If the couple was truly matched by eternity, they could wait a while longer.
“Fhair! You must get me out of here. Now, please!” Seeing his confusion she repeated her request more urgently, taking his hands to help her to her feet. “Please. The fate of the Light Ones may depend on my action. Take me to the surface now.” Grabbing her tunic and hastily pulling it over her head she hurried ahead of the gentle prophet, her heart thumping madly against her chest.
(“Gooood…”, whispered the host of Domhan Eile. “Go to him now. And let the games begin…”)
Mor summoned Bandia to go to her Daughter. Perhaps the Goddess could encourage the love of Eternity in her world. It would remain to be seen how effective this would be in the face of budding Human Nature, with its fears that crouched so close to the surface of Its consciousness. And it was with only Unconditional love that Great Spirit considered all of Creation.
As Naofa climbed through the mouth of the upper cave, the light nearly blinded her. She raised her hands, shielding her eyes, but the searing shards slipped through the cracks between her fingers. “Oh, my.…how do you do this over and over again?,” she asked of no one in particular. Of course to Fhair, who was right behind her, it was of no consequence. He loved the feel of the warm light as it struck his upturned face, washing away the cold, static feel of the deep cavern every evening when he emerged from the work of his life. He offered a hand to steady her as he called down to the females bustling below, busily preparing food for the hungry workers. “Othar! Someone, a bit of help up here!”
It was Othar who left the group to climb the ladder and recollect her charge. Panting as she stepped onto the ledge, she saw the state of the Sorceress and let out a small cry of despair for the drops of drying blood now staining the neck of Naofa’s tunic. “Whatever happened down there, Miss Naofa?” she asked, flashing an accusatory glance at Fhair, waiting for an explanation. He shuffled from one foot to the other, completely unaware of his assumed guilt.
Before Othar could voice her accusation the Sorceress touched her hand and assured her, “I’m fine, Othar, really. It was just a slip of my foot in the darkness…and a neglected morning meal.” She forced an assuring smile. “I am fine.” Noafa reached out to grasp Fhair’s arm and squeezed it urgently, hoping he would understand her need for discretion with his silence. If he didn’t get the hint, he at least understood he was being relieved of his duty as guide for the moment, and turned to leave them there on the ledge.
“Fhair!” Othar squeaked again. “What happened to our guest down there..” she began but Naofa quickly intervened. “Oh, no, it’s perfectly fine, really. As you can see, it is barely a wet scratch; and I am much better now. Please, Fhair, you must go back to your work. Othar can see me safely to solid ground from here.” She hoped a tone of authority was appreciable in her voice and that it was only she who felt the quiver in it. She nodded to Othar and gave Fhair a quick nudge in the direction of the cave’s entrance. He hesitated, his head cocked to one side, as if awaiting further instruction-or perhaps further chastising from Othar. Naofa’s impatience turned her words into a sharp command. “Go now, Fhair. You have important matters to attend to-as have I...” and again she pressed her fingers into his meaty arm, digging in for emphasis. She felt his muscles flex as he nodded and turned away, quickly and deftly disappearing through the opening and down into the cool darkness, disappearing like a rabbit down a hole.
Othar poked her head around the Sorceress’s body to peer into the blackness after Fhair, hands on her hips and head cocked as if ready to follow and question him until she got the answer she was satisfied with. The Sorceress placed her hands squarely onto the female’s wide shoulders and forced her to look up into her eyes, gray and misty. The worried female was quickly pulled in by the pools, calmed by the Sorceress’ essence. Naofa explained that while she was standing in the dark with Fhair, studying the etchings on the great walls, she began to feel lightheaded. When she turned to seek a place to rest her legs buckled and she had to sit down rather quickly, at which time she fell backwards, striking her forehead on a jagged rock. It was only a small bump, she assured the fawning female. When Othar asked to see the wound so that she might tend to it, Naofa was able to fend her off, assuring the fretting female they had cleansed it with the holy water and all was on its way to normal again.
“So you see Othar, there was nothing Fhair did to cause, or could have done to prevent, this little mishap. These things happen to me all the time. I work with stone and fire; and I trudge through dense woods and cross meadows thick with brambles and stinging grasses. Just a hazard of the life I was born to live. ” Naofa produced a lighthearted laugh which was genuine enough to fool Othar, for she finally relaxed her posture and turned to descend the ladder to the ground below. The Sorceress looked up and silently gave thanks to Great Spirit for the help. The last thing she needed was to have to answer a lot of unanswerable questions. It would be tough enough trying to explain how, after coming all this way, after all of the prophecies and hopes within the tribe, that she would suddenly have to leave their village-and them-alone to complete their sacred ceremony.
Naofa knew they could do it. With Fhair and Othar at the head of things, all would go well. She simply could not ignore the sense of urgency which drove her to find Eolas and Laoch as soon as she could. The ceremony of joining in Jinetes and Espera would be taking place with the quickly setting sun; and she had no idea if-or how-she would be able to reach them before the blood moon hung high in the night sky. And what was she going to do when she arrived? Was she to tell her dear friends of the horrific visions she had experienced? To dash Laoch’s hopes and kill his joy at the very moment he had found solace in his otherwise lonely world?
A small, barely audible voice tried to reason with her to wait, to speak to her Mother; but it was drowned out by the screaming of her ego. This voice she heard clearly, and it urged her on in desperation. This voice caused her heart to pound and her pulse to quicken. It spoke of deception and salvation. How could she just stand by and watch as Laoch be used and deceived in such a way? So, convincing herself she was acting on behalf of her friends and future life on Domhan, she made a plan to leave the village of the Cave Dwellers as soon as possible, to make her way to Espera where she would stop Laoch before he consummated his union and consecrated his own destruction. She was convinced the threat was real, and no one on Domhan could have told her otherwise in the state she was in.
But no one on Domhan was going to try. It would have to be from within the eternal realm that her intervention came, but how could Bandia reach her daughter while she was in such a state of emotional turmoil? In those moments her Mother’s love and consolation were falling on deaf ears, her healing Essence cut off by the fear in Naofa’s heart. She had created an energy field of human emotion that virtually enveloped her Spirit within veils of gray shadow. Bandia could only continue to try. Naofa was her precious Creation, even when-especially when-she was allowing the dark vines to creep over her soul.
“Othar, I am leaving my ceremony stones with you and Fhair,” she instructed the rotund female. “I have spoken for you the prayers which are yours to offer to Spirit in blessing for the ceremony; and you have the herbs for the smoking pots….oh! The most important thing.”
Naofa climbed the ladder to retrieve her leather bundle from the cave. Within it lay the last remnants of the fruit of the tree that grew in the Sacred Garden. Checking it quickly, she cradled the leather in one arm while descending the ladder. She laid it gently on the table and loosed the vines to reveal its hidden treasure. Even now the soft colored skin of the fruit glistened in the high sun as though it had been freshly picked from the tree. Naofa placed it in the prepared bowl in the middle of the table which had already begun to look like a ceremonial feast would be had there at sunset. The luscious fruit glowed with life itself. Othar was mesmerized by it but tried to focus on what the Sorceress was saying to her in those final moments.
“And you won’t cut the fruit until the sanctification is complete. It is the last thing. You will know when comes the moment, for Spirit will reveal itself to you. This will be the beginning of Creation in your world and is truly a blessed event for Domhan and all of the Eternal Realm. When you have tasted the fruit, the light of Creation will be born within you and will be there forever. Do you understand these things, Othar?” Naofa felt happy for these gentle people, but her heart also felt envious of the new awakenings that her friends were going to experience. She forced a smile and waited for any questions that might come.
Othar was thoughtful for a moment but then slowly shook her head. “No, I know we will be alright. Even though you will go, you have left a magnificent gift for us; and if Spirit be with us, then so will you be also. Me and Fhair will be certain of the passing of these gifts to our people.” She lowered her head and looked at her feet for a moment. Naofa wondered if this would be too much for the simple female whose entire existence had been to cook and care for her hungry, robust companion. When Othar lifted her face to look into the Sorceress’ eyes, any fears either female may have entertained were relieved; for her round, pink face bore a look of complete serenity. When she spoke, Naofa would have sworn it was a voice not of her own and not of their physical world.
“Noafa, Sorceress of Light, and friend to the Cave Dwellers. You have entrusted the gift of Sanctification to those you have deemed worthy. Although we are but simple human beings, you are of Mystery and flesh. You will go on as you must and none here will try to stop you. We are humbly ignorant of your purpose but trust your intuition. Go peacefully on your journey, knowing that we hold the way of Spirit in our hearts-the way to complete our own path of Creation.”
Othar’s voice then dropped to a near inaudible whisper. “But be ever watchful for that which seeks to deceive and destroy you. It will not always present itself in the ways that are obvious to you now. The deadliest poison often lies in the sweetest bloom, while the ugliest branches can bring forth the nectar of life if harvested carefully. You know this to be true. Now you must reawaken this knowledge and nurture it as your roots to the Earth of Domhan.”
Othar closed her eyes and swayed on her feet. Naofa, fearful that she might faint, stepped over to catch her should she fall. The Sorceress touched her arm to offer support and Othar opened her eyes, slightly confused as to why she was now so close. Still, this did not keep her from reaching up to draw the tall female into her chubby embrace and advise her warmly. “Go safely, Miss Naofa. We will offer prayers for the safety of those in the other corners of this world.”
She nodded at something behind Naofa, and the Sorceress turned to see Fhair standing there, brushing the dust from his tunic and smiling wanly in their direction. “Yes,” he nodded, “I pray you make my work a blessing and not a curse.” For an instant Naofa thought he might reveal the events of the morning to Othar, but he simply nodded a goodbye, turned and busied himself with washing up. This seemed a good time for the Sorceress to make ready for her journey, the thoughts of how-in what form she would travel, filling her head. Hurriedly she gathered her things and changed back into her own freshly washed tunic, carefully folding the loaned one and laying it across her bedroll.
When Naofa finished tying up her bundle, now much lighter than when she arrived, she stood and turned to descend the ladder to begin her journey, but to what end she had no idea. The important thing now was to go. With her thoughts so scattered, she never heard the approach of another who admired her. It was Rith who had silently crept up next to the tall female, unaware of her deep thoughts as he offered a hand to help. “May I help you down, Miss Naofa?” She dropped her bundle in alarm as she turned sharply and nearly fell over his squat form. A gasp of fright escaped her mouth before she could contain the sound.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to give you a scare,” the male apologized. “I just had one question, Miss. Naofa.” He tugged at his tunic sleeves as though trying to make them longer somehow. She needed him to be quick about his business with her so she could leave.
“Yes, Rith. What is it now?” She watched him fidget and tried to rise above the impatience that gnawed at her unmercifully. Speaking with all the calm she could gather, she urged him to say what was on his mind. “Please do speak Rith. I don’t mean to be sharp with you’ but I really must be leaving before the sun falls behind the mountain.”
Clearing his throat, Rith stammered rather than spoke. “W.w..we..well, we were just wondering, Fhair and me. That is to say, the prophecy says that when the Light Ones come, well…well…” Naofa felt a huge sigh escape her mouth before she could catch it and snapped, “Please, Rith, what is it that is troubling you?”
The gentle male seemed to shrink a bit at her outburst, and the Sorceress felt instantly sorry. She took his hand and knelt before him. “I’m sorry Rith. It’s just that something has happened to call me away before my quest was completed here; and I am sorry about that; but if I don’t get to my friends soon, I fear something very unfortunate may happen to them. Or one of them. I am afraid they may be in danger.”
Rith looked up, gazing earnestly into the Sorceress’s eyes, and spoke with the innocence of a child. “But, Miss Naofa, you said, “There is no fear in Perfect Love.” How could you then be afraid of anything? If you who are full of power and Light are in fear, then where does that leave the rest of us simple humans?” His blue eyes revealed the honesty of his question.
Something rose in Naofa’s throat and lodged there. Her gray eyes brimmed with wetness and she found it difficult to speak. When she finally coaxed the words from her mouth, her voice trembled and her fingers shook slightly as they cupped the pudgy fists of Rith. “Dear Rith, you are as wise as I am impetuous. This is your gift from eternity-to bring clarity to the confused, to remind me of the Truth I know within my own heart, and to lift your friends and loved ones to their highest potential. “Thank you, my friend. I promise that even as I go in haste, I will not allow fear to be my master or my guide. If I assure you that my mind is clear and my will is strong, will I have your blessing then?”
Nodding shyly, he dared to look into her eyes. In a gentler tone, she asked the question again. “What was it you wanted to ask me about the prophecy then?” She caught sight of Fhair’s head rising above the ledge as he ascended the ladder and joined them there.
“Well..it was told,” he began and turned to look at Fhair who was not going to come to his aid but merely gazed at that invisible something he always looked at. Still, sensing Rith’s hesitation, he did nod his head, causing the floppy hat he now wore to dance comically up and down, first covering his face and then revealing it again. Naofa squeezed Rith’s hands. How could she make him see she really needed to leave without hurting his feelings? He plodded on nervously, the words tumbling out like water over river rocks. “Well, according to the prophecy, when the Light Ones come to awaken our gift of creation, they will also bring our little village together with that of the distant tribes, the ones who ride animals and the female warriors. So that we might join our life’s work.” He heaved a great sigh, releasing his held breath like a gust of hot wind.
Now she understood. Of course they had expected to go along with her on her journey to Jinetes and Espera as representatives of their own little village. But she couldn’t wait for their slow travel. Her mind raced to find a suitable substitute plan. Rising to her feet she looked down at this noble male and placed one hand on his shoulder. With the other she cupped his bristly chin, tilting it upward. “Yes, Rith. You are right to question this. But in my haste I will be traveling as swiftly as possible, more swiftly than you can on foot. Here is what we will do. On the sunrise of the morrow, you will gather some samples of the rock that is brought up from the caves, along with some of the colored stone you have collected. Do you understand?” He tried to nod but her hand held his chin too tightly. This made her want to chuckle for the first time since she awoke, and she eased her grip a bit. “Then, you and Caraig..yes, I know you always travel together…along with Othar-for she will need to keep that one fed-will begin to make your way to Jinetes. Fhair will make you a drawing of the trail so that you will waste no travel down wrong paths. Can you help us with this Fhair?” The blind male nodded eagerly but said nothing. Rith was regaining his confident composure and submitted wholeheartedly to her idea.
“Yes, Ma’am. We will be on the trail before our morning meal reaches our stomachs,” was his happy reply. He turned abruptly to leave, then caught himself on one heel and turned back. Looking up at the Sorceress he added, “If there is no more to say then I will go tell Carraig and Othar of our plan!” Happy at last, he descended the ladder ahead of she and Fhair.
“Now if there is nothing else, I really..” she began but Fhair held up his hand. “We waste time talking. Be on your journey, Naofa. I will mark the trail for our friends, even as they make their ceremony of union this night. I will have nothing else to distract me.” He shrugged and Naofa noted a wistful tone in his voice with which she wholly empathized. But there was no time to commiserate now. They quickly descended the ladder and, fearing something else would detain her, she skirted the bustling group that huddled near the ceremonial table. With her mind surging ahead she quietly made her way up the path, rounded the last stand of craggy rocks, and headed for the open field.
With no heart to take a final look back, she kept her eyes on the distant woods; but the sound of excited voices drifted over her head and a deep ache arose within her soul. How she longed to be back there, helping to prepare for this blessed occasion. Would she ever return to simple celebration? The weary Sorceress wondered. With a flick of her hand she cast off her tunic, stowed it into her bundle and began to run through the tall grasses. Their sharp edges stung her skin as they grabbed her flesh, but nothing could slow her now. She lifted her arms into the wind and filled her lungs with the cool air.
With the faces of her friends vividly formed within her mind, she began to flap her arms. Anyone watching would have thought her quite mad until they noticed her skin begin to change, becoming rough and gray. Her feet narrowed out into spindly talons that tore at the ground, turning up loose bits of grass and mud. Naofa tilted her face upward and cried out to eternity. “Mothers, I thank you for the gift of transformation. With these wings I will go quickly to my brothers. Be with me on this flight and on my quest!”
With these last words, her arms became draped with feathers-black, brown and white tipped. Her head bore a crown of white and her nose had been drawn down to a softly curved, yellow beak. She finally cast off all remnants of her human self. The last thing to leave her body was an Eagle’s cry to the village she left behind. “Blessed be your Creations,” she screeched.