Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
by Cheryl Pennington
copyright all content
“Eolas! Eolas!” There came no answer save the cruel crackling and creaking as timber thudded to the hard ground and crumbled into ash. Her wounded heart would not allow her to call out her friend’s name, for she feared the silence that might be waiting. Instead, she worked her way around the blazing building and continued calling to the Hunter, though he never answered. She strained to see into the darkness surrounding their home, hoping against hope they had managed to escape and were hiding in some small hammock of trees that had been spared by the wrath of Damanta. All she could see was darkness and flame, and she shook her head, cupping her hand over her nose and mouth as she choked from the stench of Damanta’s breath still lingering on the night air as she fought back bitter tears. The Sorceress turned the corner around the back of what remained of Eagna’s home, her eyes flew open wide in horror; and for the briefest moment she wished she were as blind as Fhair of the Caves. Unbelieving, she blinked and wiped her eyes with soot covered fingers, as if they could erase the image; but it would be seared into her heart as the most sorrowful moment of her memory and yet it was a moment of true hope. By all appearances she could have been seeing a pile of ash and rubble but that the dark shape moved. In fact, the mass seemed to be swaying rhythmically as heavens suddenly burst forth with the tears she had held back, torrents of rain that fell onto the blistered and blazing earth, sending up tendrils of smoke and vapor as it squelched the fires consuming the land. Naofa moved hesitantly forward as dread suffocated her, her feet too heavy and every step a burden, as the rain pummeled the earth. It was cleaning Domhan, as well as the muddy vision, and created a small lake around the Hunter where he knelt beside the best friend the Sorceress had known in her world.
Noafa said nothing but ran to them with hope seeking a home; but she stopped short a mere few steps away when she saw the awful truth of it. The body lying in the pooling water was a mere shadow of the lovely female who had been her counselor, consort and comfort. She who had kept company with the Sorceress for so many cycles now lay covered in soot and blood and seemed an empty shell, an inanimate design of Eagna, just waiting to have life breathed into her. The Sorceress slapped her hand to her mouth as a painful cry worked its way up her throat, threatening to escape, and did her best to muffle her heartbroken sobs. She had to rise above the pain, to be strong for the Hunter, this lonely male who had in a single night lost everything..this male who rocked back and forth over the body of his companion, mumbling something inaudible but so heartrendingly pure, she knew it was a song of grief. His beloved beside him-so fresh from giving birth, so hopeful, so undaunted by the danger-but what did that hope and fearlessness gain her? Naofa longed to wrap her arms around him and quietly moved closer, still not wanting to intrude on his grief. Her sorrow loomed larger when she was that he clutched a small bundle tightly against his chest.
‘Dear Mother, no,’ she prayed. The infant so close to missing life, so recently saved from death, and now cruelly returned to Eternity’s bosom? Naofa could wait no longer. She took a few tentative steps towards them and called gently to Eolas through the blinding sheets of the rain.
“Eolas, we need to find shelter. The rain..it’s getting heavier..please allow me to help y..” But her words lost their way when he looked up, trying to see her through the blinding rain; and although his eyes met hers there was no hint of recognition in them, his skin blackened but for the tears that streaked his cheeks. Devastation carved its presence onto his face, yet he seemed eerily calm in that stark moment. The Sorceress’s lips parted to plead with him again when he withdrew the bundle from his chest and held it out to her. Oh no, he couldn’t want her to…but he pushed the bundle towards her insistently. How could she refuse him now? She reached to take the bundle from him; and as her fingers closed in around the blanket her heart found blessed reprieve. Could it be? Could this night hold yet another miracle? Naofa drew the child to her chest, felt its jerking movement, and clutched it to her heart, pulling the wet blanket over its head. The Sorceress knew she had to get them out of the rain soon if the child would have a true chance to survive. She nodded to Eolas and left the mourning, beaten male alone with his grief. The Hunter lifted Eagna’s head into his arms and tried to cover her with his body as he planted wet kisses over her face. Naofa wanted to cry, to scream, to turn back the night to day; and the small female she carried began to wail in anguish, expressing her own sense of loss and pain. She ducked her head over its body to shield it from the rain-the cooling rain, the world saving rain.
The Sorceress held her sorrow within and quickly found a place of shelter inside the only room still standing, a portion of one of the new dwellings, the fire consuming it stopped by the blessed rain. She surmised there would be room enough for the females and the infant, certain the males could find shelter in what was left of the woodlands if need be. She hoped so anyway. After kicking through the debris and ash, she finally found one of Eagna’s herb boxes, miraculously unscathed, and knocked the dirt from inside, aware of the lingering scent of lavender, so at odds with the acrid sulfuric odor that hung in the wet night air.
“A gift from your mother,” Naofa whispered to the whimpering infant. “A gift from beyond the veil.” She laid the Eagna’s joy inside the box while she began the task of digging for anything still dry and soot free to use as a blanket to replace the soaked, blackened skin that clung to its tiny body. The child screamed in protest. Naofa felt the wood move beneath her feet and, thinking it must be Eolas, she turned with words of comfort forming in her mind and ready on her lips. But it was not Eolas. Instead, Laoch stood in the gaping doorway with Ella cradled in his arms. The stark night behind them and the charred door framing his muscular form reminded Naofa of a large, angry mouth that spat out something it didn’t like. The Warrior had also spotted this place as and sought refuge from the downpour. He stepped inside and knelt to put Ella gently on the floor, then looked up at the Sorceress, his eyes burning with pain and question. Yet he spoke not a word, but wiped the wet strands from her face and brushed her cheek as she moaned in pain.
Naofa felt suddenly overwhelmed. Would she be able to help them enough? These strong males, this Warrior and the Hunter, so fiercely ready to face danger and still so tenderly vulnerable when it came to those they loved needed so much from her. The infant was suddenly silent, having cried itself to sleep; so Naofa turned her attention to the gravely wounded huntress of Espera. She had clearly been bleeding for awhile, as evidenced by the bright red rivulets covering her legs; and the Sorceress feared the child she had been carrying was lost. She couldn’t bear to tell the couple in those darkest of moments; and she sent Laoch to find some fresh water and bring it back so that they could clean Ella’s wounds. They all had wounds that needed tending to, but for now she would focus on the Warrior’s beloved. Somehow that made sense to the grieving Sorceress and gave her a purpose, and in some strange way it provided absolution; but absolution from what she was still uncertain. Ella was breathing, although her gasps were wheezing and shallow. She would need teas to begin healing properly. Naofa called to Laoch as he passed out into the rain without looking at him, for she couldn’t bear to look into his eyes again.
“We need some dry kindling as well. For a fire.” Naofa tossed her head back and laughed bitterly as the irony hit her. Laoch was not offended, for he, too, was feeling manic at the moment. He turned to leave and she stopped him again, “Loach, try to encourage Eolas to come in out of the rain.” She waited a moment for questions or protest; but with only silence between them she added. “He will have to leave Eagna’s body. There is no more we can do now and there is not enough room in here for all of us.” She looked up at him then and seeing his mouth drop open as if in protest, she added, “He needs to keep himself well for his daughter. Eagna is no longer in that body.”
Painful acceptance knitted his brow as Laoch nodded, turned and headed back out into the torrential rain to do what he could, which in his humble heart felt was all too little.
The Sorceress didn’t ask and never would; but the Hunter and Warrior had taken Eagna’s body, trudging through the pouring rain and mud, up to her favorite hillside where they tore into the singed grass and mud with their bare hands for lack of proper tools; and when they had managed a hole deep enough, they laid her body to rest there, Eolas wrapping her head with his tunic.
When they finished cleaning up and had a bit of food with an herbal tea for Ella, the little group was more comfortable; and each fell asleep in turn. All too soon little Saol began to wail again as she hungered for her Mother’s warmth and nourishment. Naofa tried dipping a cloth in some soothing tea for her to suckle; and although the infant did take it, it did not satisfy her for long. Then she rocked the distressed child, singing the songs her mother had sung to her while she carried her within her body. Noafa recalled them all as if they were her own. She struggled to think of what to feed an infant without its mother’s suckle.
The rains came and went without end for many cycles, preventing them from finishing their job until it stopped. Once the heavens ceased to mourn and the sun smiled down on their faces again, Eolas, Laoch, and Naofa labored endlessly, always rising before dawn and closing their eyes long after the sun fell behind the charred hills. Thankfully, they removed all evidence of the nightmare which had visited Eolas’ home and would remain in their minds for as long as they had memory. Eolas declined when they offered to help him rebuild his home as it was. He said he wanted only a simple structure, so intent was he to leave and make the journey to Foirfeachta. The had gotten no word or visit from the family there; and he felt something must be very wrong with Domhan’s first family.