I am so sorry it has taken awhile to get back to the chapter and it was so good being with my dear friends of Domhan again. I hope you will enjoy this segment. If has been too long since you read the last segment or are just joining the story you can read the last segment here .
Forever Never/The Dawn of the Dream
by Cheryl Pennington
The weary Traveler had long given up hope of finding the infant, fearing the innocent one had surely gone the way of horror, another hollow death among those whose names were etched in charred blood upon his heart. He still could not speak of the other one, he whose lifeless form the child Amhain discovered lying crumpled among the smoldering remains of the once perfect heart of the world. He could find no words to convey the pain that enveloped his soul, the same pain that drove him with the unimaginable strength of the man he would become, to drag that unholy dead weight across the wasteland of their home, slow inch by slow inch, as hot tears streamed down his cheeks. He had closed his eyes to the slashes across the body, filled with grit and ash that crunched as he pushed and rolled the body onto the glowing embers, along with his broken heart. He stood there, legs trembling, and watched the flames hungrily devour his soul and fell to his knees, weeping and praying in what was to be his first ever death ceremony. Amhain never told anyone how he dropped to his knees so close to the pyre that his face burned from the heat, stoicly watching and waiting until the last wisp of smoke and ash wafted upward into the blackest night he would ever know.
There was nothing to do for it now. Although they had all searched, she who had placed her trust in him was nowhere to be found-gone without a trace. And the search continued without end. Amhain stood fast in the hope she had not been destroyed, but how could she be? It was her promise that his child’s heart clung to; for if she could be saved, then so, too, could their world. She was, after all, its living force. His mind feared that if he did not find her soon that all of Domhan would eventually die as would a mighty tree without sweet water and brilliant light. He looked around in quiet despair, seeing the decay, the tiny blooms struggling to find sunlight. “Already you are withering.”
He ran his hand down the length of the mare’s mane, untangling long strands of matted, silky hair. She looked at him with one dark eye as if to say, “Thank you.” He could only think of this animal as his Savior. It was she who had delivered him from the hellish nightmare of the Devastation and carried him, half unconscious to the others. Amhain shook his head, trying to toss away the memories.
“Solas, do you think we will find her today?” Every morning it was the same question, and the Traveler gazed at the animal as if she would finally answer him; but of course she would not. She never did, instead keeping her head hung down nibbling sweet blooms of what wildflowers pushed stubbornly up from beneath the dead leaves and debris. She had her favorites, always the lavender ones.
Amhain sat down, leaning against the drying bark of a tree as old as Domhan, its girth greater than he could wrap his arms around, its limbs draping over and onto the hillside where the scratched the mud when the wind blew.. Beneath the shadows of its canopy Amhain tossed out his line and watched it drift on the dark water’s surface. He cared not if he caught any fish for himself. In recent times he had grown away from the habit of eating animal flesh, instaed reverting to the old custom of consuming only that which grew from the ground below or the trees above. He wasn’t certain if he did it because he felt lighter and more alive, or if the ritual simply made him feel closer to them, as this had always been their way. Amhain closed his eyes, trying to recall the last meal they all shared together and was soon wandering through the bittersweet mists of his memory, the happy journey lasting beyond the moment that he dozed off.
Amhain’s eyes flew open and he jumped, suddenly aware he had fallen asleep. Something tugged on his line and he crawled forward, peering into the water to see what kind of fish he would be bringing up the hill to his friend for breakfast; but the glistening surface was without a ripple, still and quiet. In that same instant he realized that what startled him from sleep had not been the tugging on his line. It hadn’t been a feeling that he sensed at all but rather a sound. He had heard something but was not sure what.
Without moving a muscle, he dropped the fishing line to the ground, letting it loop over a small knobby root that jutted up from the dark soil near his foot. Ever so slightly the young traveler cocked his head to the side and slowly leaned back against the tree, resting his chin on his chest and feigning sleep. For what seemed an eternity he sat there, denying the chill of the wind rustling through the dry leaves on the trees as he watched through the slits of his eyelids as its airy fingers moved across the river, creating small ripples in the water. Perhaps he had only imagined the sound after all. It would be no surprise, considering how jumpy they had both become on their journey.
Amhain resigned himself that he had been mistaken and had just decided to pull his line from the water and move down river where the fish might be hiding when the sound came again. There was no mistaking it this time. His eyes flew wide and his head instinctively cocked to the side again, ears pricked as keen as any hunting creature on Domhan, well trained and ready for anything. He remained perfectly still as the sound came again-a distinct crunching of dead leaves-and there was no mistaking that it was getting closer. Something was approaching from behind that shielding tree and this time Solas heard it too. She raised her white head and looked back over her shoulder into the shadowy depths of the stand of trees that surrounded them, casting a watchful glance towards the Traveler who had not flinched since he became certain they were no longer alone.
With slow precision Amhain reached for his dagger, now aware that the sounds were footsteps, footsteps quickly closing the gap between whatever they carried and the protection of the tree where he sat waiting, waiting until the last possible moment to surprise whatever-or whoever-it was. At the sound of tumbling rock and dirt from the hill just over his left shoulder, Amhain rolled out, crouching to face the interloper, his dagger poised near his chest, his free hand clenched in a fist, ready to do battle.
In the Warrior way Amhain was prepared to fight; but he was not prepared for the vision that materialized before him. He stifled a cry of horror as he saw the crouched, bent thing that scuttled towards him. Through the filtered light of the forest he saw mere glimpses of the thing as it moved awkwardly, heavily. The beast was cloaked in coarse, matted hair covering a leathered gray skin that peeked through in random places, not unlike the lichen covered trees of the deep forests.
Instinctively, Amhain stood his ground even as his heart leapt into the river to swim away to safety; but he summoned it back, true to the way he had been taught. He dug his heels into the soft earth and readied himself to to do what was necessary, his eyes trained on the head of the thing. He intended to look his attacker in the eyes, but where were they amidst the thick course hair that fell across what should be its face?
The beast came to an abrupt halt at the sight of Amhain poised and ready to fight, lost its balance and slipped forward, giving the young male an instant of hope for an advantage; but amazingly the creature quickly regained its footing and planted its feet firmly onto the ground, hooking its curled toenails into the mossy earth, and began grunting like an animal. Amhain couls see one thing clearly-this beast was most certainly a male that assumed a fighting stance of its own.
This was no ordinary beast, as Amhain observed when it slowly lifted its head as far as was possible, seeming to be devoid of any regular kind of neck. It’s too large head seemed to blend right into the breadth of its thick chest and as it leaned backwards its lips spread into a grimace and parted as it let loose a hoarse howl that shivered through the treetops, sending the birds flitting in all directions. Even though there remained a fair space between them Amhain nearly choked from the noxious smell that came from within its throat, clinging to the thick, damp air and hitting him in th face before he could cover his nose. Amhain resisted an urge to use his free arm to cover his nostrils, instead keeping his eyes trained on the atrocity in front of him as the beast shifted its weight on what appeared to be webbed feet. Was it even human? The creature lowered its head and pushed its shoulders back and Amhain did the same. The intruder shuffled forward a few steps and glare at its prey, ready to pounce, but it froze in place suddenly, a strange expression, or what might be considered an expression, crossed the beast’s face as dawning rose within the cavernous holes that must have been its eyes. They flashed for a mere instant of knowing then went dark again.
A moment later the morning sun crept above the edge of the forest, sending brilliant splinters of light down through the trees, striking the intruder’s eyes. It shrieked in pain and shielded its face as it shrunk from the warmth of that light. A new expression, whether grimace or grin, betrayed its true essence; and Amhain sensed that it knew who his opponentwas. Somehow it knew.
A guttural sound rose from the beast’s throat as it took a step backwards into the comfort of shadow and turned on its heels, ready to flee. At the same moment something gleamed in the darkness, sending light sparkles across the leaf littered forest floor. Amhain’s eyes followed the dancing lights to the glinting blade of a knife that hung from one of its twisted, clawed hands-the knife meant for his own throat, no doubt! The creature, fully aware of what it faced, took a last look over its shoulder and ran the to base of the hill where it clawed wildly at the moldy earth. Less threatening now, it was more than frantic to make its way swiftly up the hillside to safety; but in its haste it slipped on the rotting leaf and limb that covered the ground, tumbling onto the forest floor in a heap, cursing in whatever rough form of language it knew.
“Oh no you don’t!” shouted Amhain as he convinced his feet to move. He was not sure what he would do when he reached the creature, but he was certain that it must be stopped. The white mare stamped her legs excitedly, but her master motioned impatiently for her to stay calm. He knew he could handle this fight alone, although surely Solas had championed him in many a successful hunt. His mind raced as he bolted toward the stinking creature pushing itself to its knees. Perhaps it was merely a spy; but for whom? Amhain had no intention of allowing it to give fair warning to whatever awaited news of their most important journey, and better yet-what if it had information he needed?
The beast got to its feet and made to run downstream alongside the river; but with his long legs and agility, Amhain easily overtook the its bulk and grabbed it by the shoulder. His long fingers sank into its flesh like digging into stagnant muck, the rancid stench from its body smacking his nostrils again. He overcame the urge to gag and yanked hard, stopping the creature in its tracks, and struggled to wrestle it to the ground. It was stronger than Amhain imagined and put up a good fight; but youth and fury won out as the wiley male swiped his leg behind its knees, bringing the writhing ball of hair and stench to the ground flat on its back.
With remarkable determination, the beast tried rising to its feet but Amhain drove it back onto the wet ground, planting a knee firmly onto its chest. His stomach rolled when he felt the crunching, sucking sound he heard as his knee sunk deeply into its body. Amhain couldn’t stop the thought that it felt like crushing a giant insect. He wrapped his free hand around its throat, amazed that it did, after all, have a neck.
Amhain struggled to control the wriggling ugliness beneath him, but he worked harder to keep his emotions under control. “We just need answers,” he muttered through clenched teeth. Just answers, his mind repeated. He had to remember the rule. Rage served no one in this place and he had labored so long now to keep his pain and fury locked away so that he could continue in a world devoid of all he had known as love. He felt he had become an expert at it, too, and was not about to allow a creature such as this one to erase all he had accomplished. “Hold on, my ugly friend, I just want to ask you a few questions…” but something new caught Amhain’s eye.
It was hanging from a leather belt cinched about the beast’s waist; and as the creature wriggled, it fell against the dank, wet leaves where they struggled. The once velvety soft covering was now coarse and worn, but Amhain recognized the prize instantly. Solas, who had disobeyed her master and come to give aid, saw it at the same moment. She whinnied. At first glance, one might have thought it a leftover kill, some small morsel of crawling animal that the beast had killed for a snack. But, as Amhain’s eyes focused in the dim light, the unholy axe of awareness came down on his shell of tolerance, shattering all of his efforts at restraint like so much debris onto the forest floor around them.
“WHERE did you get this?” he demanded, grabbing the once soft pouch up from the cold, hard ground and ripping it from the creature’s side. As he did, it made a rustling sound, a sound that echoed in his mind and awakened his soul’s memory for a searing moment. He shoved the once-upon-a-toy down the neck of his tunic and turned his unleashed anger toward the loathsome thing that struggled under his full weight now, trying to free itself. It clawed at his leathers with curled, jagged nails, nearly ripping them. Solas circled restlessly, rearing and stamping her legs near where the two wrestled, flinging large clumps of dirt into the air and their faces.
“Solas! Still!” her master demanded, and the mare backed up, but only a few paces. Returning his attention to his captive, Amhain shouted again, “I’ll only ask you once more! How did you come to possess that which belongs to ME?! Who gave it to you? Where did you steal it?”
When the creature finally parted its slick lips to speak, The Traveler at once regretted it. The stench that rose from its mouth was as death itself-rotted and decaying; and every time it moved, the beast’s body revealed it knew no form of cleanliness. Choking the urge to vomit, The Traveler allowed his rage to rise and tightened his grip, not caring if he killed the living being beneath him. Reason left him at the sight of the toy-the thought of the gift-the last thing he had tucked into the blanket with his Mother’s treasure that fateful night. Solas tossed her head back and whinnied loudly. What was she on about?
“Solas! Be still! Now!” The horse quieted at her master’s command but continued to circle the drama playing out before her. Amhain seethed, turning his attention to the pitiable beast again.
“WHERE did you get this? Who gave it to you?! Tell me or I will kill you!” Amhain realized his grip was so tight the creature was choking, unable to speak. He loosened his grip, but kept a his knee buried in that insectiverous chest. It gasped and stopped fighting. The beast was still and quiet but grinned up into the face of its captor-a knowing, satisfied grin. A grin that revealed knife sharp teeth extruding from receding, pustulous gums. That wasn’t the worst of it though. It was the satisfied look in its black eyes that cut into Amhain’s soul. It had finally gotten just what it wanted, what it was sent for.
Then came the voice, although Amhain would swear it never came from between the cracked, quivering lips of his captive. He would say it was speaking from inside his mind.
“Go ahead… It will be easy now that you are grown,” it chided. “You would be justified, vindicated, after all you have been through….No one would blame you for killing a vile creature such as this one. A dark and wasted thief!” The voice was wooing, tempting, encouraging. No!
As Amhain listened to the words echoing in his mind, the creature began struggling frantically to free itself. It was suddenly terror-stricken, now certain of its fate. He looked down into the terrified eyes of dark ugliness and felt a pang of pity.
‘What is happening?’, thought the confused Traveler. His white knuckled grip on the beast’s neck was unforgiving; and with a manic burst of energy he buried his knee deeper into the chest of his prisoner as he tried to shake off the feeling that he had been here before.
“I need to know, servant of darkness! How did you come to possess this?” He pulled the small bundle from his tunic and shook it in the face of the creature before shoving it back to safety. The beast swiped a gnarled hand at its tormentor’s face, narrowly missing his eye with its long claws. The Traveler, swift and young, dodged and pressed his dagger against its scaly gray throat, unwittingly cutting it. He felt no remorse. To his disgust, there oozed a sticky black fluid from where it pricked the skin. The beast finally spoke, urged by its Master.
It stopped struggling again, glared up at the breathless male who straddled him and spat, “I took it meself-off a soft, pink, wriggling human creature!” Seeing the pain that filled Amhain’s eyes encouraged the lowly beast, giving it new purpose.
“Helpless it was. It cried to the heart of eternity just before I ate its flesh-then cried no more. When I finished the job, I tossed its bones to the flames!” The beast laughed wildly, its hideous voice ripping into Amhain’s soul, its words taunting his ego and he loosened his grip ever so slightly on the beast’s neck.
“You don’t have the stomach to kill anything-you’re just a youngern inside!” The black-hearted slave to pain snarled and spat in Amhain’s face, forcing the hand of its own fate.
Rage filled his body as Amhain dug his fingers into the beast’s neck so tightly that no words could escape its lips. Gasping for air, its tongue fell out and flopped to one side. The appendage bore no resemblance to a human tongue, long and shiny, splitting in two near the end. Beyond the split each side seemed to have a life of its own, curling and lashing about angrily, as those creatures that slid across the ground. The voice invaded Amhain’s head again.
“Go ahead and kill it. It will do your soul good. A little revenge goes a long way…perhaps it would ease the fires of your sorrow and invigorate you, Son of Perfection.”
Now Amhain knew. This scenario was all too familiar. The Traveler had listened to the stories the Light Ones shared, and he knew the way of Darkness, how the tempting voice of manipulation loved to torment the innocent within their minds. The dark God had been the last one to torment her.
He had heard the voice of Deception before-so long ago; but he would not listen to it now. Not again. It was not going to ruin his hope of finding her. He could not allow the dark God’s bitterness to invade his soul. He had made a promise, and it was sacred. But neither would he crawl away and allow this horrid minion to serve its master by terrorizing any other with its cruel words and ways…
to be continued…..