Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
copyright all content
by Cheryl Pennington 2015
The Prophecy unfolds, the Creators’ plan unfolding; but deception always carries with it a risk. For Domhan the risk could be devastating. Will it be miracle or madness, or both? As the First Family in Foirfeachta bond with its new member, another couple is about to greet new life into their world until something goes terribly wrong….
The Warrior and his new companion were met warmly by their hosts; however, Ella was overwhelmed by conflicting emotions. Scarcely given the space to grow into a relationship with Laoch, she was now meeting all of his lovely friends-Domhan’s first inhabitants-the enigmatic figures that, until recently, had been only images etched onto the prophecy of her village. The beautiful huntress spent the previous night lying quietly beside Laoch, staring into the vastness of the nightscape, imagining what her sisters back in Juntos were doing, thinking, feeling…and she missed them. A vague ache of homesickness followed her into sleep, but the gentle stroke of morning light across her face erased the shadow of loneliness that lurked in the dark as she and Laoch made love enveloped by the mists of early morning. They easily made the rest of their journey before nightfall.
Exotic and dark skinned, anyone could see that Ella was a treasure. Eagna was so happy for Laoch to be no longer alone, was so filled with peace by the new sense of comfort he exuded, that she embraced them with unabashed exuberance. This gesture instantly made Ella comfortable and her eyes grew wide at the sight of the soon to be mother who was so full and round she appeared ready to burst with the life she carried. Eagna’s face was radiant, although Ella’s intuition sensed something hiding beneath the glow. Eolas’ companion seemed very spent.
Eagna had carefully shielded her state from the others until now; but the truth was that her experience of being with child had not been as beautiful and peaceful as it was for M’na. Eolas had not been by her side for most of it, and she was carrying many burdens in her heart and on her mind. Having served until now as the healer and comforter for their group, she always saw and felt so much more than what lay on the surface. Her soul absorbed the thoughts and feelings of those closest to her, allowing her to share their burdens and help to ease them whenever possible.
Even as their newly arrived guests sat in her home, laughing and sharing tales with her and Eolas, she was acutely aware of dear Naofa. Eagna watched her friend from the corner of her eye as she nervously fidgeted where she sat, not really contributing much to the conversation. Thankfully, the others were too excited to notice that the Sorceress had spoken little since they arrived, nor had she looked either Laoch or Ella in the eye since they arrived. Eagna wondered why her beautiful friend harbored such guilt and shame over something which had never happened.
As for the new couple, Eagna saw deep adoration and blossoming devotion already growing between them, and for the Warrior she was very happy. She hoped that once their own child was born he would at last accept his perfection, leaving behind the fear that plagued him concerning the dark influence of his Creator. She wondered to herself why they hadn’t mentioned Ella’s obvious condition, but her intuition warned her against speaking about it yet. Laoch seemed slightly distracted and there was so much excitement. She understood they had already been through so much in Foirfeachta and perhaps they were waiting to share the news later.
“Those of us in Espera have remained faithful to the prophecy, and Eternity has rewarded us with Its promise of Unity.” Ella touched Laoch’s hand. The Warrior, whose mind seemed to be somewhere else, jumped and smiled, grasping her hand awkwardly.
Eagna was aware of the subtle exchanges between the friends she cared so much for. She thought Loach an enigma-fierce hunter, supreme survivalist, dedicated to a fault-and yet so vulnerable when it came to matters of the heart. Eagna stole a glance in Naofa’s direction but realized the Sorceress was missing. She must have slipped away during all the excitement to get some fresh air. Eagna suddenly felt hot and stifled herself.
“Excuse me, please,” Eagna smiled at their guests. “I will return in a moment. I need to move from time to time or I may grow to the spot where I sit.” She laughed softly and the others grinned in empathy as she rose awkwardly from her stool and stepped out onto the porch. The happy discussion went on as Laoch shared his version of the arrival of new life in Foirfeachta.
Had Eagna any intuition for when she would deliver their child?
Were there any signs of darkness in the infant or Amhain since the child’s birth?
And still no mention of Ella’s own delicate condition.
Eagna stood barefoot on the smooth, hard wood slats of the porch, the air cool, a playful breeze grasping at the golden strands that hung around her face. With folded arms and wrinkled brow, she watched Naofa pacing aimlessly back and forth across the meadow, her long hair flouncing up and down with every step she took. Even her locks seemed agitated. A twinge in her belly drew her attention away from the Sorceress and she stroked her child’s cocoon.
Eagna did not tell Eolas of the things she was feeling, the changes her body was going through. She was too afraid to think consciously of the pain that was to come, for she well remembered Mn’a’s suffering with the birth of Amhain. She also feared the danger they would be in should Artine discover the Creators’ plan and realize their deception, unleashing his fury. But most of all, she was sad to leave this most precious time with her unborn child, a time when they had been sharing life and love with no one else. They shared heartbeats, unconscious thought, and pulsing life blood. Eagna wondered if she would be a good mother to As’me. Ouch! She winced and grasped her belly, amazed by the tightened skin beneath her fingers. There was the terrifying pain again, the feeling of something wrapping itself tightly around her middle; but the once mild sensations were turning painful, coming closer together, and lasting a lot longer. Even so, she didn’t want to alarm anyone. Eagna was not ready to be the center of attention yet, and what if she was wrong about her time being at hand? She recovered from the spasm and looked up to see Naofa approaching. The Sorceress immediately sensed something amiss and as she stepped onto the porch she grasped Eagna’s shoulder, a questioning concern on her face.
“Is everything alright, Eagna?” she asked earnestly.
“Yes, of course,” Eagna replied, trying to sound nonchalant, though without much success. “All of this excitement has left me feeling exhausted though. I fear I must retire to bed now. Do you think everyone will be comfortable with their arrangements for the night?” Naofa nodded and touched her friend’s cheek.
“Of course they will,” Naofa assured her. Eolas, along with some friendly help from the Horsemen of Juntos, had put up new dwellings for the couple, knowing they were a central stopping point between Foirfeachta and Juntos, and always so welcoming to surprise guests. There was a home that was nearly identical to their own, with a large indoor fireplace, a food preparation room and separate room for washing up. There was even a smaller version of the porch that Eagna loved so dearly across the front. A second dwelling, with simply a couple of rooms, served more as a place to sleep and stay warm; but Eagna had made it cozy in her way, insisting Eolas put in a window that faced the meadow. This simple dwelling was Naofa’s home while she stayed with them.
Eagna apologized for retiring early and bid everyone goodnight, making sure to ask if they needed anything at all. Always the kind nurturer, she implored them to ask for whatever she might have missed or to simply help themselves. After everyone had gone and she finally lay beside Eolas in the still shadows of their room, she revealed her secret.
“I have been hiding something from you.” Eolas turned to look at her, concern creasing his brow; but Eagna touched his cheek, softly assuring him. “No, no. There is nothing wrong. It’s just that today I have been feeling… uncomfortable.” The creases in his forehead deepened but he said nothing, waiting for her to continue. Eagna took a deep breath and revealed the egg she had been sitting on since sunrise. “I have been feeling some pains.” The Hunter raised up on one elbow, now gazing intently into the eyes of his most beloved with both thrill and concern evident on his face. Eagna nodded. “Yes, I know the moment is near for our child to be born.” She held her stomach, feeling the tautness of a new pain arriving, but bit her lip and tried not to wince. “I am so happy.” Her words said she truly was but her tone did not seem so certain. “I am filled with joy.. and yet….” Eolas gently stroked the furrows that crept across her brow and she went on. “I am concerned for her safety. What if Ar….” Eolas dropped his finger to her lips, stopping the continuation of her thought, and whispered.
In the Garden of Foirfeachta, the family there was filled with peace and excitement over its new arrival; but it would be within those perfect moments of peace that an intruder appeared. Humanity was about to meet its most fearsome unwanted inhabitant, that imposing interloper who had no regard for its victims. It would be eons before its name would be spoken but it would invoke inspiration and fear within the souls of humankind; for Fate new nothing of compassion. Only by acceptance of their ally, Free Will, would the humans find themselves equal to its force.
Amhain, his young heart pure and without the fear imposed by the rift of darkness, touched his tiny brother’s nose and uttered the innocent words that shook two worlds. Looking up into his Mother’s loving eyes he whispered, “I hope As’me will know this much love with Eolas and Eagna. It was a good plan, don’t you think?”
The child had never known a nightmare until that moment, watching in disbelief as the bliss faded from his Mother’s face, cruelly replaced by the horror of realization. He stared as her face contorted in grotesque fear, he gasped as her eyes flew open wide, sucking him into their endless darkness, and observed in disbelief as the perfect world he knew slowed to a mere glimmer of its former brilliance as her crimson lips formed the words, “Amhaaaaain….noooo…”! Her lips seemed to bleed as he watched, the drops falling onto the pale, tender cheek of his brother. He saw her mouth moving but all became nothing but a deafening roar in his ears, his mind trying to shield his heart so close to breaking. It was as if the entire world of sound had disappeared inside a vacuum within his head. What had he done?
And there it was! Ar’tine felt vindicated in his rage. He had known it all along! Deceit! Of course they thought they could deceive him; but they were fools, for he was ready. How could they possibly think they had the power to defeat him by wit or wisdom? The moment of reckoning was near and he knew he must move quickly. “No more rest for you, my Beauty,” he murmured to the beast that lay in wait. All that remained was to implant its soul and breathe life into its magnificently deadly body; and it could be done before the infant arrived in the hands of his traitorous enemies.
Artine called to the soul of As’me from across the Realm. “Do not fear, my Daughter. You will be with me though they conspire to keep us apart.” He paced the black sulfurous rock, clenching and unclenching his fists, sending trails of fire and rock smattering over the cold, hard ground. All manner of such life that existed on his world shivered and scattered in search of somewhere to hide lest they fall victim to his wrath. The god felt so betrayed. Light! Ha! “Light Ones indeed. There is as much darkness within their betrayal as exists on the whole of Domhan Eile!”
As’me who was with Inion, Mac and Bandia, being prepared for her rebirth, had been awaiting this moment for so long. It had been decided that whether the infant was male or female, she would be allowed to enter its body to know a life under the guidance and protection of Eolas and Eagna. Her excitement was growing as was her anticipation for this perfect new opportunity of life, and it was arriving at last! Suddenly a shadow crossed her soul and new terror stifled her joy.
She had heard her Father’s voice.
In an instant she saw his soul, she felt his fear, his pain and, worst of all, she knew his intent. Her briefly lived moment of joy morphed into fear; a fear not for herself, but for those beautifully honest humans who were waiting to welcome her. Her thoughts raced for a way to turn him around, to stay on course. Perhaps if they would allow her to speak to him, she could assure him of her love, could make him understand. She pleaded with Inion and Bandia to take her to Artine, but they flatly refused. No one knew better how volatile the god was than Bandia. They weren’t willing to risk damage to her soul again after so much had been done to repair his ugly handiwork.
As’me wanted to shield her mind against the barrage, but she and Artine were eternally connected. She wanted to be new again with no memory of the darkness that brought her into being; but it was no use, and now she could see the great gray thing that lay in wait in the darkest recesses of her Father’s world. She knew her Father’s thoughts, she could hear the words he whispered to his new creation-words of destruction, devastation-death. She cried out in desperate sorrow for the Creators to hear what she heard.
What once was caution turned to alarm among them. None knew what Artine was truly capable of, to what lengths he would go in his rage and disappointment. How could Inion protect her world against such a force without destroying Artine’s very soul?
“Let me go.” At first they were confused. “You will be going as soon as the infant is born, dear As’me,” began Bandia. As’me was insistent.
“No, that’s not what I mean. Let me go to him. Let me enter the beast instead of the black soul he has created for her.” Bandia seemed surprised she would know the sex of such a beast. “Of course it would be a female, Mother Bandia. He feels power over the feminine.” The goddess was losing her empathy for Artine moment by moment, but As’me implored. “Let me be the soul of the creature. Once inside its body, then I can change the course of things. I can reach him. I know it. He loves me.”
Inion refused to consider it. “As’me no. The beast has been created with a black heart most certainly, if Ar’tine means to use it to destroy or control my world.” As’me would not be discouraged.
“But my soul is new with the fullness of Light. I can change his heart once he realizes it is me who resides within the beast, for surely he must know some love for it.”
“It isn’t that simple As’me,” said Mac. “We know that physical existence dims that which is understood in Eternity. Once born in the flesh, the heart and mind seek to control human awareness. You are a stronger soul than you were, yes, but you may still be vulnerable to your Father’s commands. If he has control over the heart and mind of the beast, he may well have control over you within it.”
“But he loves me. Don’t you see? His love for me will overcome his anger. Why can’t you believe this? I thought the love of Eternity believed all souls worthy of it.” She was becoming frustrated and she knew precious moments were slipping away.
Naofa brewed herbs over the fire, giving Eagna sips between the pains. What normally worked miracles seemed to do nothing to calm her friend. Eolas sat with Eagna’s head in his lap, wiping the sweat from her face, smoothing the strands of hair, and coaxing in soothing tones. Ella, having so recently helped M’na, sat at the foot of the bed, waiting. Only now, as his companion sat bent over her knees at the edge of the bed, did Laoch notice her thickening waist. Dawning within him clicked awake but this was not the moment to question.
Eagna screamed, “The child! She’s coming!” Her body began to shake uncontrollably as she pushed against the pain.
(The Creators did not hear Mor as It spoke to them of Love, of Trust, of allowing things to unfold as they may. They did not hear the call to forget fear, to remember Its Perfect Love. Their own thoughts spoke too loudly.)
The scaly, gray beast flexed a clawed foot and pushed itself up onto its legs, stretching its muscles, feeling its heavy heart beating against the thick wall of leather that encased it. It leaned down so that it was face to face with its creator and Artine breathed singeing fire into its newborn lungs, sending its head rearing back in agony, its cries of pain shaking the walls of its dark cradle. Its black eyes glowed like smoldering embers within the ridged sockets of its face. Then it stood full upright and spread moss-covered, leathery wings, still wet with dew from its embryonic sleep. The She Beast lashed at her prison walls with a tail covered in barbed scales that wound in circles up and around the entire the girth of her body from razor sharp tail tip to her massive shoulders. Her slippery chest glistened silver in the moonlight that slipped in for a peek through the cave’s doorway.
“Magnificent!” cried Artine. “All that I am finally living within flesh and blood.”
She was nearly perfect but for that small thing which remained to complete life for his new beastling. The soul he so carefully created and that waited so impatiently for a host would not let him down. None would dare to deceive him again. Artine slipped from the cave and faced the black lake, its surface motionless but for the noxious vapor lingering over the glowing pool. It flicked nervously, swirling in agitated circles as the god began to call it forth; and Artine watched hungrily as it began to drift over the surface of the water, fluid, eager, pulsating.
The goddess shouted. “Now, As’me! Only in this moment is he not with the beast!” Bandia already regretted their decision but knew there was no turning back. The deed was done. As’me went willingly, swiftly and silently to Domhan Eile; but soon as she entered its heavy atmosphere, the cold hand of recognition taunted her Essence.
“What are we doing?!”, her soul cried; but her thought remembered her purpose and took control for Love of her father, the only thought she carried with her as she entered the terrifying thing her Creator called his pet, his new daughter. The weight of its body threatened to suffocate the lightness of As’me’s essence, and she struggled to maintain conscious thought. There was little time to become accustomed to her new body and take control; and when she saw its prickly black heart thumping, pumping the dark ooze which was its life force, she understood the warnings her Creators had given. As’me worked to gain control of the creature’s thought, and she could tell its underdeveloped mind had already been poisoned by the whispers of its Dark Master.
Ar’tine never saw the small, brilliant Light streak across his world right behind his back, he never felt the presence of his precious As’me as she slipped by him and into the body of his new child. Too absorbed by his darkness, he missed his single chance to see her in her newness. Only when he returned to stare into the horror of the newly awakened beast’s eyes did he recognize that which he had held most dear to his soul. The terror he saw reflected in those eyes was not the one he had longed for, not the weapon he intended to unleash upon Inion’s world. Within the black pools of revelation lay his own worst nightmare and his breath froze in his nostrils, his blood stopped moving as his very being awakened to knowing. In horrified confusion he released the black soul that was intended for his beast, allowing it to face its own disappointment within the cold, dark shadows of Domhan Eile.
“Father, I love you,” whispered As’me. “I am here now and will not leave you again. You must no longer be angry, for it is done.”
And it could have been done. Even with As’me in the body of the beast Artine could have nurtured his creations to live together, they could have enjoyed mutual adoration and love. But his true agenda had nothing to do with love. Instead, his goal, his purpose was only for power-and revenge. He was as a wild beast himself, his new creation merely a physical representation of his tortured soul, one that would trample everything in its path to feed its hunger. From the depths of his being Artine cried out in agony and fury. Domhan Eile shook from its core and the bleak vibration was felt throughout the Realm. The betrayal was complete now. They had turned his own creation against him with their lies and pretty words. Artine closed his mind to his daughter’s pleas and promises. She had chosen to lie with them, and now they would all see what he was capable of.
As’me tried to hold onto her memory, her Essence, her Love; but the place, the body of the beast, her Father’s will, were all too strong for this still young soul to handle. The tendrils of darkness sprang up from the heart of the beast and wound round her like a vice, his voice propelling her against her beautiful intent. “Now. You. Will. Be. Mine. And you will help me to finish this. Go now, Damanta As’me. For truly you are now as damned as I am.” Artine stroked the beast’s nose and kissed it maliciously on the cheek.
Something was wrong. Eagna sensed it. The child had been delivered but there was no cry. Her Mother’s heart stopped beating, her voice locked inside her throat, unable to ask the question she didn’t really want answered.
Ella gently stroked the tiny infant’s chest, for surely she was a beautiful female child. Yet she remained still and limp within Ella’s hands. Agony knocked at the door of Eagna’s heart. How could this be? There was a plan. They were chosen. She looked at Eolas but he had no words, his own questions turning to pain in his eyes.
Naofa took the small, still, lifeless form from Ella. Gently she cradled it in her arms, going to the basin of water she had readied to cleanse the remnants of birth from its new skin. Eagna wept uncontrollably while Eolas held her, searching for any way to console, as hot tears spilled over her cheeks.
Laoch looked at Ella, overcome with emotion, his practical mind questioning. What just happened? This was supposed to be a blessed moment. Ella fought the pangs of guilt like arrows aimed at her heart. Had she done something wrong? Thoughts crashed around her mind as she struggled to grasp the reality of what was happening. None in the room had experienced death save the animals which gave their lives so that humans might be sustained.
As Naofa scooped handfuls of clear, warm water over the infant’s body, she prayed to the Mothers for help, fighting back her own desire to shed tears, to lash out at Eternity and demand an explanation. Instead she stroked the child’s chest, its arms and legs and hummed quietly, calling to its soul. With new resolve the Sorceress vowed she would not allow fear to destroy the perfect love of Eagna and Eolas. Like a glint of light emerging from the dark corridors of her mind, an inspiration came to her.
She reached into her tunic pocket and withdrew the crystal. ‘Is it possible?’ she thought. She had not used the stone since she and Fhair had been in the Room of Knowledge together, since it had been dipped in the healing waters of the cave’s lake. The smooth surface was still warm from being so near her body, its sharp edges glimmering against the firelight as she slipped it into the water next to the lifeless body of Eagna’s child. As though it had a life of its own, the crystal instantly emitted a muted glow that grew brighter as it spread across the water. With hope anew, Naofa prayed to Mor.
“Great Spirit, we thank you for the life of this infant. We are grateful for all that we know and have and are. I, Naofa, thank you for the gifts which have been given to me by my blessed Mother Bandia whose help I am seeking now, in your name.” Naofa dared not breathe as she stood with her eyes closed to the pain of probability, instead focusing her energy on the hope of possibility. She held the child under the water and repeated her prayer again and again silently.
Gentle Ella started the process of cleaning Eagna from the delivery, but the distraught female fought her, clinging to Eolas as she stopped wailing and sobbed softly into her companion’s rough tunic. Eolas turned his face from the others as his own tears flowed freely. He would not add to her burden by allowing her to see them. Heavy sighs and shuffling feet echoed the silence of death.
Suddenly there was a new sound in the room. Ella looked up at Naofa, having temporarily forgotten the Sorceress as she tried to console Eagna. Was the Sorceress weeping? Why did she still linger over the basin? The sound came again. Eolas didn’t hear it, so immersed was he in his grief with his beloved.
Laoch, also a keen stalker, had heard it as well and followed Ella’s gaze to where the Sorceress stood. The sound grew louder, stronger, more discernible and filled the small room. It was as a dove’s cry. None present would soon forget the beauty in that sound. It was the most glorious moment in their world that night. Eagna heard it and struggled free of Eolas’ strong embrace; but before she could rise from her bed, Naofa was at her side, cradling the infant in a fresh, soft blanket-the one her mother made for her from all the rabbits who had gone into her stews. Eagna looked at the Sorceress with unbelieving eyes, eyes still glossy with the pain of loss. With incredulous wonder, she reached for the bundle with trembling hands and Naofa gladly placed the gift in her friend’s arms. The infant was so quiet that Eagna was still doubtful her prayers had been heard. Eolas held his breath as she pulled back the edge of the skin. A small round face squinted up at them with bright eyes and a scowl of not so mild irritation.
Then she screamed. It was as if she drew in her first real breath of life and it was the most beautiful sound any of them had ever heard. They laughed and allowed her to scream for a few moments before Eagna pulled the infant to her breast for its first meal. Eolas wiped his eyes and let out a deep sigh, reaching down to stroke his daughter’s soft head. Eagna lay still as Ella and Naofa cleaned her, completely immersed in the new life that suckled at her breast.
Laoch excused himself to go outside. After a few moments of watching the mother and child, Naofa felt comfortable with the stability of their situation and needed some air herself, so she stepped out onto the porch. Although she never spoke of it to anyone, she saw the Warrior near the edge of the meadow, down on his knees beneath the starry night with his head bowed. Whether he was praying or weeping-or both-she would never know. But it touched her heart as nothing ever would again. As the Sorceress turned to go back inside, she felt suddenly light headed and the porch rafters swam before her eyes. The night had been an ordeal and she was surely very tired. But this was different, there was something more to it; and the sensation felt all too familiar. Instant dawning struck her heart like a knife. In saving the child she had opened herself to her gift of power-and so also open to the realm.
Dear heavens, Ar’tine knew of what happened in the Garden. Naofa was sure of it. He took advantage of the open portal between their worlds, and now she heard him as clearly as though he were standing beside her.
“Now you will know what it is like to feel suffering and loss. Your little deception has cost my daughter her new life. Her life will be an eternity of dark ugliness because of you and your harbingers of Light. Do not blame me for what happens now, Sorceress.”
‘What is he talking about?’ thought Naofa. In answer to her mind’s question the dark god hissed.
Naofa’s mind raced as fast as her heart. What was he talking about? Was he talking about As’me? What ugliness could possibly envelope her? She ran back inside to where the new family rested in the glow of love, still reveling in their miracle. Noafa touched the child, half expecting to see some sign of As’me evident in the new blue eyes that stared back at her, content, but without any sign of what lay behind them. The Sorceress looked at Eagna and whispered, unable to hide the terror rising in her heart. “He knows. But I believe there is something else. Something has gone terribly wrong..”
Ar’tine whispered deafeningly into her ear.
“Oh, you shall know soon enough. She comes even now to thank you for the new life you have blessed her with. Allow me to introduce you to my new daughter- Damanta!”