Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
by Cheryl Pennington
If M’na thought that leaving her beloved behind in the grips of horror with Damanta was the most awful thing she could know, her thoughts were soon to be molested by new terror-and its innocent victims much closer to her heart….
In those frantic moments she dared not think of Fireann, of how she left him straddling the face of darkness; for if she had allowed herself one second of such distraction, she could not have gone on. The love of her children was what kept her moving, the love of her Mother was most certainly what carried her forward. Trees rushed by her in flashes of green, brown and blazing orange as she struggled to bring the image of the Inner Garden to life in her mind. So engrossed in concentration, M’na never saw the arching trees rise up in front of her, the entrance to the heart of Domhan suddenly looming ahead, nor did she see the small figure that darted out from within the Garden until they collided, sending him tumbling backward onto the hot earth.
“Amhain!” M’na exclaimed with relief; but her ease was quickly consumed by terror. “Where is Dochais?” She grabbed her stomach and gasped for air, reaching out to embrace her son; but Amhain shrank from his mother, crawling backward before he struggled to his feet to flee back through the arched vines and into the Sacred Garden. Her hands reached to comfort, but he left them empty as he retreated within to seek shelter once more. His feet thudded across the soft blanket of grass as he ran. M’na followed, instantly aware that within the confines of the garden the air was clear, there was no smoke, no fire and no terror, save that which was growing steadily within her soul.
“Amhain, wait!” She called out to the fleeing form. Where is Dochais? Amhain! Where is your brother?!” she called after him, panic edging its way into her voice, as she trailed behind, her breaths coming in short bursts as her weakened state caught up with her. He was too young, too fast now.
Amhain darted behind a clump of bushes, frightened and unsure of the person who pursued him. He clapped his hands against his ears to blot out the thundering din of destruction that raged outside the safety of their haven, desperate to clear his head and stop his racing heart. Who was this chasing after him now? He didn’t realize how heavy and labored his breathing had become, nor did he hear the whimpers coming from his throat, sounds like those of a wounded animal.
“Ah’main, please talk to me. I am your Mother.”
There was no answer but she could hear his gentle weeping mingled with short gasps of breath.
“Amhain, where is your brother? Where is Dochais, my son; and why ever are you frightened of me?” M’na choked back her own tears. “I am so sorry that I could not stay here with you. Please forgive me..”
The silence continued, but the sobbing ceased and her son’s breathing slowed. M’na stretched her trembling, blood streaked arm out to part the branches and peek within. “Come out now and look at me,” she whispered into the shadows. “I need to see the Light in your eyes, Amhain.”
“You were here already. Before! You came and said it was time to go. You said..you said..you..” He was gasping for air, clearly unable to breathe. M’na tilted his chin up, forcing him to stare into her eyes, and brushed the wild curls from his face with her free hand.
“My dear child, what are you trying to tell me? I have been defending our home with your father.” She had to force calm into her voice so that he might finish before she went mad with fear.
“You said he was coming. I believed you. It. Him. You. Aarrggghhh!!!” The cry ripped from his throat like that of a wounded thing and he clawed at his face. “How could it have fooled me? I should have known! You-it-would not look at me!” Amhain sought the love within his true Mother’s eyes again before he continued. “I tried to see your eyes but you kept saying over and over that we needed to take Dochais and run. I did what you told me to, Mother! I did what you asked!” He held out his empty arms and cried out again.
The numbing fingers of cruel truth were already digging into M’na’s brain as awareness wrapped itself around her heart and the world went misty gray, threatening to disappear altogether. She fell backward onto the ground in stunned shock, Amhain’s voice tunneling toward her through the dense vacuum of eternal space between them.
“Mother please don’t leave me again!” Amhain’s small hands clutched at the air in front of her and she managed to grasp them, pulling herself back to hateful awareness. How could she forget? The place where she had sought perfect refuge for her children was the only place on her world that the dark god could still enter. In manifest physical form, it was a direct pathway to the Realm. But he had been forbidden. M’na never thought Ar’tine would dare come to Domhan again. As her weary mind struggled to find sanity in the madness for unanswered questions, a small hand tugging her arm nearly nudged her to the edge of the abyss.
“IT took Dochais.” Mn’a looked blankly at her son, the dull din of her world falling echoing behind the awful, simple declaration.
“Mother, I gave my brother to you, then I went to gather our things from the tree hollow. When I returned to follow you, you were gone. I called out but you didn’t answer me. I heard a rustling through the bushes and dropped everything to follow you out of the garden. When I reached the entrance I realized it was a lie, a dream, a vision. And then I saw it on the path, changed into the night hunter. It was bold, cold and glaring at me, daring me to follow. It just stood there, snarling at me as it held my..my brother in its awful mouth. Dochais was crying as he hung there in the animal skin, so close to the beast’s teeth. Mother, I never saw such sharp teeth on any beast before! Somehow it knew my thoughts, for no sooner than I decided to make a grab for Dochais and run, it snarled at me and sank its yellow teeth deeper into the fur, so close then to his skin. It said that if I came any closer, it would devour him right there and then. What could I do? Oh, Mother, what should I have done? I was not brave enough. Father would be ashamed of me!”
“Ah’main. I must go now. I have to try to find Dochais. It is me that Ar’tine is angry with. He has done these things to punish me. I am so sorry for your pain, my dear one. I would have given the life that is mine to keep pain from you. But you must not allow this to change your heart. You must keep the Light alive within you-and upon my World. Do you promise? You must promise your Mother.”
Reluctantly he nodded as she implored him to hold fast to the truth of Eternal Love. “I will never leave you, my Son. Great Spirit has not abandoned us, even at this dark moment. You must remember my words even if we are not together.”
Amhain grasped her arms tightly. How could she leave him again? M’na heard a cry in the distance-it was her son’s cry! She had to go quickly or it would be too late. What new cruelty was this dilemma that made her choose between her greatest treasures, not to mention the piece of her soul that she abandoned back at their home?
It was all she had to offer. And with the greatest hope within her weary heart she pushed him away so that he might go and find Fireann, find him merely hurt but alive-so very alive. She watched his slender form as it trotted across the Garden, thinking how tall he suddenly seemed. She hadn’t noticed before that moment. True to his nature, he turned back just before he passed through the arch and raised his hand, but not for his usual carefree wave. He brought his hand to his lips and kissed it, then extended it to her. She nodded and smiled as she rose to her feet and walked to where the Tree of Creation stood, so gnarled and lifeless….