Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
by Cheryl Pennington
all words and images copyright 2016
An innocent child’s utterance, a foolish plan in the Realm gone awry…all come together in a perfect storm of vengeful retribution-all in the face of miraculous birth, death and new life. Who can defend Inion’s world?
The Rise of Vengeance
“What is wrong Sorceress? Our child lives,. Yes, now there is a storm coming, but the land loves the rain, we need its sustena…”
Naofa wrenched her wrists free and looked pleadingly at Eolas, her eyes flashing like the skies, hot tears so close to the surface. Her voice shook, barely audible, as she tried to speak. “N..no. n.not a st.storm” She pushed back silken strand of gold that wrapped around her neck like a cruel noose. “Not THAT kind of storm.” She needed more air and leaned over the railing, fearing she might vomit. Panic gripped her chest, trying to stifle her words and it seemed an insurmountable effort to release them from her throat. “It’s..it’s..”
Eolas grabbed her by the shoulders and spun Naofa around to face him again, feeling the sweat soaking through her tunic, as he leaned in eye to eye and shouted above the sounds of the storm that seemed to gain force with every second they stood on the porch. “What is it then?! Tell ME!!”
The Sorceress stifled a scream, pulled free of him, and darted down the steps and into the clearing with the Hunter close behind. How could she explain the voice, what it said to her, and what her all too keen senses were telling her that it meant? How could she steal their precious moment of miracle? How could HE do this? They had all seen enough prophecy and experienced too many visions to ignore the horrible truth in its words. But what was on its way to them now? And would they be able to fight it? Something caught Naofa’s eye, a glimmer in the face of that loathsome sky; and she looked up to see the evening star still in its place, standing stoically against the fury that swirled around it. Something snapped inside the Sorceress, the sign of her Mother’s love freeing her heart from its debilitating fear, and she slowly turned to Eolas, her face suddenly calm, her fists unclenching as she looked at him with new determination. His eyes showed his awareness now, filled with a fierce will to fight, although she thought she saw resigned, sorrowful acceptance lying in the dark recesses, waiting.. No. They were not done; but she was done cowering before Darkness, remembering that fear is not born of the known dangers in one’s world, but from what can’t be known until it is experienced. She was not willing to have it become her master. Sensing her will to fight, the storm raised its own angry fist, the winds now at a deafening level. She shouted and pointed toward the house.
“Go back inside, Eolas! Secure your home and see to your family’s safety! Eagna can’t be moved yet!” Although she felt they stood a better chance if they fled to the forest, there was no way for Eagna and the infant to be moved both quickly and safely. Naofa was certain that between them they could hold it off for awhile-whatever it turned out to be. The Hunter, as wise as he was strong, nodded and in a few quick strides leapt onto the porch, quickly releasing the slatted shutters he had so recently added to keep out anything that might be a danger to his child. He now wanted to weep for thinking how futile a precaution it seemed in the face of something he sensed was too large for anything his human hands could have made; but he kept moving, tied them all down and dragged the stools from the porch inside the door; and with a final glance over his shoulder he sized up the Warrior Sorceress. In an instant she stood taller, her body no longer trembling. He thought of the willow against the wind- the way she stood there, her hair whipped about by the wind in every direction, her hands on her hips and feet planted firmly to the ground, defiantly facing the odds. She turned back to give him a long, knowing look and a sorrowful smile. She nodded for him to go on as the heaven above her opened to reveal its heart-on fire.
As the Hunter moved with purpose, trying to shut out the approach of their nightmare, his beloved Eagna seemed oblivious to all but the infant she held in her arms, the pink miracle that suckled at her breast, its tiny fingers twitching happily against her skin, while just outside their haven daggers of red and yellow light cut across the darkness as a knife, ripping it in half.
Nor could they see the ground that quaked beneath them, its lovely face breaking out in jagged cracks as trees were pulled from where they stood. The wind rushed across the surface of Eolas’ lands, toppling all in its path like a wild reaping. The horses, still tied to their posts were bucking and whinnying, pulling against the bonds that kept them tethered to certain death. Laoch knew they must be released and ran across the meadow to the frightened animals, the wind and debris battering his skin like angry, invisible fists. Taking hold of the tethers, he stroked their sweaty hides and tried to calm them, but their panic was instinctual: and they only whinnied louder as frothy foam fell from their mouths. Laoch pulled the knife from his shoulder strap and quickly cut the leather restraints, setting the animals free, for he knew they stood a better chance of finding shelter on their own. He slapped each one on the rear, hoping they would head into the forest and the safety of the hammock there.
As’me continued her fight for control of the beast’s mind and will. The power of her Light essence was strong, but the awfully simple mind of her father’s monstrosity had long been hypnotized by the dark thoughts and heartless suggestions of its Creator. The whispers of Ar’tine were fodder for its hunger. Simple though its mentality was, the brute will of the newborn proved to be stronger than that of Ar’tine’s firstborn: and she was now a prisoner within its hideous body.
“Mother, what is it? Why does the ground move so?”
“Quiet now, and come with me,” she kissed him on the forehead and grabbed the child up in her arms, forgetting her own recent birthing, and ran back across the clearing. Fireann stood in the doorway, his eyes wide with uncertainty. The first tremors shook their bed, calling him from his own fitful sleep. M’na put Amhain down and pushed past her companion to check the infant in his bed, peacefully oblivious to the world going crazy around him.
“Dochais is fine, M’na,” Fireann whispered, pulling Amhain close to him, his large hand stroking his son’s head. Amhain allowed this comfort although he kept his eyes on his Mother and brother. It was only Fireann who felt his small body quiver each time the ground shook, his arms tightening around his father’s legs.
“Fireann, I fear for our friends. Something has gone very wrong.” Her brown eyes screamed what she would not allow her voice to. “We have to go to them. But how?” She touched Dochais gently, then began to wring her hands. “Oh, I should have insisted you go with Laoch!” M’na bit her lip in anguish and Amhain wrestled free of his Father’s embrace, hurrying to his brother’s side. He clutched the side of the infant’s bed tightly, his knuckles turning white, dark curls hiding the well of tears that were forming in his eyes.
“Is this my fault? Is it because I spoke of As’me?!” he cried. Mn’a knelt beside her son, determined he should not open the door to any darkness within, for he had done so well until this moment. She stroked his cheek and turned his face to hers, her hand cupping his chin.
“You are not responsible for this my son…this is born of the thought of darkness; and you must not allow it to make a home within your soul, dear child. It is a ghastly weed that, once rooted, will grow greedily to choke the light of your essence.” She touched his nose and looked deeply into his eyes, so full of sorrow. “Promise me!”
Amhain saw the panic in his Mother’s eyes and wanted only to make everything right for her. He nodded, wiped his hand across his face, stood taller, and leaned over to kiss M’na on the forehead. Then he turned to Fireann. “Father, should I go and take out the weapons?” Fireann hoped against hope that there would be no need for them; but knowing this would at least keep Amhain busy while they talked, he nodded. The young male darted through the door and into the night, content to be useful.
“Mn’a, don’t question your wisdom,” insisted Fireann. He knew his beloved would always blame herself, would always feel the need to make everything right for her world and all that lived on it. “There is no way I would have left my family to go to Eolas. Someone had to stay here to protect you and the children.” When the Mother of Domhan looked up at him in hurt exasperation, he quickly added, “Yes, you are very strong and capable; but you just gave birth to our son. Your body is not yet healed and Amhain is still but a young child. He could not be expected to protect his Mother and brother all alone.” Mn’a knew Fireann’s words were true and yet her heart sank as a heavy rock in the stream.
What could be happening elsewhere on her world? What would become of their friends? Was Domhan in real danger of being destroyed? Where were her Mothers? She called to them silently as her mind considered possibilities. Maybe she could get to them herself-how long had it been that she had shape shifted? Perhaps a cat-one who flew like the wind, or with the wings of the mountain bird… or maybe even as a horse..
Fireann, as if reading her mind, grabbed her by the arm and cradled her face in his hands. He shook his head slowly, then nodded towards the cradle. “Your body is not strong enough and Dochais needs his mother-here. It is in the hands of Eternity now, Mn’a. But we must be ready to defend ourselves and our home, for you know he will find a way to blame each of us for the deception.” Fireann never liked using the dark god’s name, for it seemed to give him more power. He preferred to think of him as a spoiled, but dangerous, child of the Realm; and he refused tremble in fear of him.
M’na stilled her impetuous spirit, trusting her love, and helped him to prepare their home for whatever was coming, although exactly of what that might be she was most uncertain. In the hectic moments that followed things moved at a maddening pace, but her mind saw everything in slow motion. She was so distracted by her work that she didn’t notice the blue stone pulsing with life as it lay in its wooden cradle on the table, growing brighter and quicker with every beat of Domhan’s heart-a distress signal from all life on her world.
Ar’tine’s voice echoed in the ears of the beast as it set its sights on Domhan and the home of the Hunter’s family.
“Destroy that meddlesome pair of liars. How could they even imagine themselves worthy to raise the daughter of Domhan Eile’s Creator? Foolish humans, encouraged by Eternity’s offspring. Have fun my pet, my pretty child,” he cooed. “Destroy them all if you wish. I care for none among them.” His command was final, swollen with bitter resentment, and without remorse.
The beast felt the heat rising in its chest, though its heart was stone cold. And there was something else. Beneath the hollow echo of its masters silky words came another sound….Damanta heard a small voice, nearly indiscernible, but there on the fringe-nagging, whispering..but it made no sense. And the voice was too faint to hear, the deafening hatred of its Master drowning out all but the sound of its own breath…
“When you have finished with them, we will pay a visit to Domhan’s Keepers. It has been too long since Foirfeachta has had the pleasure of my company; and I have something special planned for the beautiful lying bitch who calls herself Mother! She, who feigns to know love, to share it freely, who taunted me with it only to betray my foolish vulnerability. What folly is trust! Tonight we shall see what darkness slumbers within the soul of her precious son and test the power of that male who is no match for the wit and strength of his companion, and most certainly is no match for your power, my precious Daughters.”
As’me’s soul cried out in bitter protest from deep within the beast, but her pleas fell like rain on hot coals, quickly disintegrated by the heart of indifference that beat within her Father’s chest…….