This chapter is the beginning of my book, but by no means the beginning of the story, for within infinity there is no beginning or end. This is but one legend as told from the perspective of its characters. I hope you find some bit of truth in the telling.
“Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.” From A Course In Miracles.
The names of characters and places are derived mostly of Latin or Irish origination but all races came from one thought.
Forever Never/The Dawn of the Dream
The morning sun glared ruthlessly over the horizon, heralding another dawn as the world of Domhan blinked the night shadows from its heavy eyelids. A soft breeze slipped over the hillside with airy fingers that stirred a vast sea of grass and vine, beckoning existence to join the illusion once again. As daylight chased away the night shadows, the dark magic cast its spell over the living essence of the world as its inhabitants responded to the silky whispers of the one who orchestrated the Devastation and who now controlled the Oblivion. The mesmerizing whispers arose from within the silvery mists of daybreak, beckoning the world’s attention and demanding obedience from Domhan’s most beloved. It was they who commanded his every thought, provoked his anger and, ultimately, remained at his mercy.
This daybreak ritual was always the same. Her eyes fluttered open with the first breath of morning kissing her face, cool and fresh, while her confused mind groped for conscious thought. Submitting to the soft warmth of sunrise, she blinked; and in that twinkling of eternity, she remembered everything. She understood all that went before, both glorious and terrible, and felt sweet relief in the knowing,. In that blinding moment of perception, the truth loomed and her memory was so vivid, so mercurial. A delighted gasp escaped her mouth, hope rising in her heart for a fleeting moment, then was cruelly crushed by the familiar anguish that consumed her heart as the veil of darkness descended over her thoughts, obliterating the elusive glimpse of truth. The hopeful gasp became a yawn as she opened her sleepy eyes to the dawn of a new morning in world of the Forgotten, the elusive lucid moment slipping back into the shadows, not even a memory in the dark recesses of her mind.
In that same moment another stirred beneath morning’s touch as the callous hand of sorcery repeated its wickedly brilliant performance. The smell of lavender on the chilly breeze nudged the young male’s drowsy senses awake and he felt her presence for an instant, his senses at once sharp. He lay there, frozen by his heart’s desire and held his breath, embracing the moment. With every sunrise came such a brief union, filling his young soul with peace, comfort and the kind of love that could only come from her. Golden shards of light struck the moldy ground beneath him as the weary Traveler’s mind summoned the vision again, thus weaving his own magic, that furry edged familiar illusion. And why shouldn’t it be familiar? He had sketched the memory within his mind with every rising sun since she disappeared. She, the one who knew everything about him and loved him without question, she who gave everything to her world and more of herself than any of them surely deserved. His mind quietly drew the images of the past that kept him going, kept him hoping, kept him searching….
Comfort and strength defined her as she strolled down the paths of his memory, a painful reminder of the innocent he used to be, of the trust he once knew. Now it must be blind hope that drove him onward. His foggy brain wandered through the thick mists for familiar images-the long, dark curls of hair that danced with a life of their own as she moved, her hands delicate and soft as she touched his cheek and looked into his eyes with pure adoration.
Amhain’s loving memory drew images of white luxurious blooms and constant joyful laughter. Their laughter. But now there was only he-alone with what was left of her world-and without the perfect place he had known as home, their most beloved Foirfeachta. A billowy cloud floated through his mind, high above the faint image of a garden hung thick with vines and lush green leaves-that haven where he had known contentment. His mind walked the shady path through the woods and into the clearing where she waited. She, the perfect form of feminine love-and he, the child following behind, appreciating every thing about her-the curve of her smile, the furrow of her brow, the tilt of her head as she turned from him to wave at another.
No, not this. His hesitant mind’s eye moved regretfully to the object of her gesture; for this was where his heartache became unbearable, forcing him to release the conjuring, and turn from the memory. The pain cut like a dagger into Amhain’s soul, threatening to tear him apart; but then he felt her near him again, hanging like damp air around his drowsy senses to calm him, urging him to keep hope alive.
“Hurry!” she whispered. “I wait..but I don’t know how long I can remain…”
She must be near! How could she not be when he could feel her so close and hear her very thoughts?
As the young traveler struggled to create her face within his mind again, the fog pulled her completely into the shadows; and, always as she slipped away he saw her face, her lips parted to speak a word of comfort. Her mouth formed his name as he waited hopefully to hear the music flow from within those sweet lips, his young heart beating wildly. But the fog faded to black nothingness that enveloped the vision and snuffed the sound that would have eased his loneliness. His soul wept, but no tears came. Only the harsh light of day pried his eyelids open, signaling a new morning. It was always the same. He marveled that he had never become accustomed to the event nor able to stop its painful, devastating power over him. That was the dark magic. That was his burden since the Devastation. It was what tortured him and what kept him moving onward, ever vigilant.
“Odd that pain can do such things”, he muttered.
Amhain lifted himself onto one elbow as he brushed debris from his blanket and gazed at his horse, also stirred by the morning light. “Only Eternity knows what dreams you must have, dear friend.”
He shielded his eyes from the glare of dawn and wondered how long it would be before the sun simply forgot to rise over their world, leaving them in darkness forever.
Amhain was jarred from his early reverie by what sounded like rutting hogs and he was at once alert, hopeful for something hearty to fill their bellies for the day’s ride. Regretfully he soon realized the noise was just snoring, remembering the other-his traveling companion who slept soundly nearby. At times amused and often annoyed with the temperamental Cave Dweller that remained by his side for many moons, Amhain considered Carraig a friend and someone whom he could rely on. While he could always be counted on to grumble, lag behind and eat the last morsel of food in their often empty bags, he would easily wrestle a wild hog if need be and carry any load their horses could. Amhain grinned at the lump of a traveling companion who now fidgeted on his blanket, roused by his own snoring, and suddenly thrust his fleshy fists into the air over his head, swatting at the hungry gnats foraging for fallen crumbs in his bristled beard.
The Traveler stifled a laugh as he reached for a small stone and tossed it expertly at Carraig, hitting his target squarely on the chest before rolling to the ground and into a dry thicket of thorns. The bulking male flinched and smacked his chest. Amhain chuckled to himself at the perfection of the toss. Laoch always told him that his aim was as true as any in the Tribe of Jinetes. The memory of the Warrior furrowed his brow and his smile faded, his mind wondering where Laoch was now. They had begun their quests simultaneously but moved in different directions, so long ago it seemed; and in all the time that had passed, Amhain had heard no word from his family friend. He had received no word from any of the Light Ones, hearing only the tales that were carried from tribe to tribe, and what he heard had only burdened his heart. Still, he knew every one of them sought the same thing, their quest the return of Domhan’s first Keeper. Absentmindedly he grabbed another stone and tossed it, this time grazing Carraig’s cheek and miraculously coming to rest beside the first stone. The small giant jumped and screeched, flailing wildly at his attacker and scattered the gnats into the rays of early morning light. Unable to contain himself any longer, Amhain laughed out loud, feeling relief from his sorrow, even if it had been at the expense of his friend.
“What, in the name of Mor, is so funny?” growled Carraig, rubbing his eyes and scratching at the rapidly rising infinitesimal bites that appeared on the rough patches of skin that were not covered with hair. His large hands were permanently stained and his fingernails nails blackened from so long digging in the recesses of the caves of his homeland.
“Was that your idea of how to wake a soul of a morning?” He huffed and sat up as straight as his girth would allow, heaving his disgust in Amhain’s direction. “How unfriendly!…this is not how anyone should be roused from a brutal night on a hard, cold ground with little but morsels in his belly to keep him warm. Why, my beloved Oth..”
Amhain guffawed at the thought of waking Carraig with a gentle nudge and soft whispers. “Ahhh…so it’s tenderness you prefer. I’m sorry my fat friend, but I have no desire to stir you with a morning kiss, such as your chosen one might. I can barely stand to sleep on the same hillside with you since you see fit to bathe only with the rise of each full moon. The rest of us know such a ritual much more often.”
Carraig grunted indifferently, but had no sharp retort for his young friend while still in such a clouded morning frame of mind.
Admittedly, Amhain had exaggerated about his companion’s bathing, but he couldn’t resist the urge to goad his sensitive friend. The truth of it was that he hoped to ease a bit of Carraig’s loneliness with his joking. It was only for the sake of his own best friend still grieving behind in the land of the caves that he was on this quest, else Carraig would have been the last human to have come on such a journey and leaving the only soul he felt truly understood and still liked him. Carraig loved Othar beyond his own understanding; but he and Rith were inseparable friends from the moment they came into being. It was pitiable what had become of his friend’s mind since the Devastation, watching the world he knew shattered as his own companion disappeared over a bleak horizon and leaving Rith alone with a new infant to care for with a broken heart in a land of charred rock and ash.
No, Carraig didn’t find the Traveler’s morning humor entertaining and shot the him a glance of warning that told Amhain his foul mood would continue until he had been properly fed. He grunted as he pushed his way to his feet and stumbled into the brushes to relieve himself.
‘Fine, then’, thought the Traveler as he gathered his things, leaving the other to do his morning business. There were surely fish to be caught in the riverbed below. Gathering his gear, he dug out his fishing line and clicked his tongue, but the white mare already waited patiently near the edge of the trees, awaiting his command. Amhain approached she snorted softly, nudging her master’s hand with a warm, wet nose, and gladly accepting the piece of fruit he offered.
“Precious treasure,” he thought as he rubbed the apple on his sleeve and surrendered the sweet treat to his loyal, four-legged friend. If Carraig had seen this, he would have lost his head-along with his temper. Surely giving food to a beast when he was ‘starving’ was the worst offense possible! Amhain rolled his eyes as he pictured the scene but knew it was of no consequence, for he fully intended to bring back a nice string of fish to hang over the fire. This would at least ease the hunger pangs of his friend. “Sadly,” he whispered into the mare’s ear, “There is nothing to be done for his aching soul. Not until we find her, ”
The mare licked his Amhains’s face and he grabbed the leather around her neck, carefully beginning the descent to the river and surveying the steep slope of the hill. Dead leaves crackled with each step, the crisp air stinging his cheeks. Sparse slivers of light fell across the slope and afforded no warmth from the rapidly rising sun as it filtered through the dense forest. He knew they needed to be on their way as soon as possible. Amhain’s mind always ticked-calculating, discerning and considering- there had been so many changes since the marking of time began in their world. Life itself seemed to have sped up. The very air of Domhan had grown bitter since that fateful night. Of late he had heard tales of the cold white ground that plagued the tribes in the mountains, forcing them down to the warmer, drier areas of their world. And those places were now drying to the point of certain death. But the cold mountain area was the direction in which he was most certainly headed, and they were drawing ever closer. An imperceptible force compelled him to search for her there. There were deep caves in those mountains, like dark lands within the land itself. Only a place like that could afford refuge for the abominable darkness that had stolen his life, his heart……
It was a risk, for there were certainly rumors of those who had gone in the direction of the white mountains-had gone but not returned. The brave few who courageously dared enter the dense forest had eventually turned back, straggling home with awful stories of low crawling creatures in those woods, things that caused nightmares. Amhain laughed out loud to think of their nightmares. What did they know of true nightmares, after all? The Mother of all nightmares had visited itself upon his world what seemed so long ago that it was as in fading dream. Such a twisted event that It had born the cloak of darkness which fathered his own Grand Nightmare that repeated itself again and again, for so many nights that he had lost count.
The weary Traveler had long given up hope of finding the infant, fearing he had surely gone the way of horror, another hollow death among those whose names were etched in charred blood upon his heart; and still yet he could not speak of the one whose lifeless form that the child Amhain discovered in the fiery remains of their once perfect garden. He could find no words to convey the pain that enveloped his soul, the pain that drove him with the unimaginable strength of the man he would become as he dragged that unholy dead weight across the wasteland of their home. Dragged it slowly, inch by slow inch, as hot tears stained his face. He closed his eyes to the slashes across the body, deep gouges filled with grit and ash that crunched as he heaved the body onto the glowing embers and watched the flames hungrily devour the center of his world. He had fallen to his knees, weeping and praying in what was to be his first ever death ceremony. He never told anyone how he knelt so close to the pyre that his face burned from the heat, as he stoically watched 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; and she had been found nowhere, although many had searched since that fateful night. He stood fast in the hope she was not dead, but how could she be? It was her promise he clung to; for if she could be saved then so, too, could their world. She was, after all, its living force. If he did not free her soon, he feared Domhan would eventually die as would a mighty tree without sweet water and brilliant light. Already it was 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.
“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, too busy with a horse’s business of nibbling what wildflowers managed to spring up from beneath the dead leaves and debris. She had her favorites, always the lavender ones.
He 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 own rugged arms draping the hillside down to the water’s edge. Beneath the shadows of its canopy Amhain tossed out his line and watched it drift over the still, dark surface. He cared not if he caught any fish for himself, for in recent times he had grown away from the habit of eating any animal flesh, reverting to the old custom of consuming only that which grew from the ground below or tree above. He wasn’t certain if it was because he felt lighter and more alive with this regimen or if it was simply a way to feel closer to them. This had always been their ritual. He closed his eyes, trying to recall their last meal together and was soon wandering through bittersweet memory, the sweet journey lasting for who knows how long.
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 water 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 at all. It hadn’t been a feeling that he sensed at all but 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 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 against his chest, 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 the breeze 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 all had become since the journey began.
Amhain resigned himself that he had been mistaken, deciding to pull his line from the water and move down river where the fish might be running. Then 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. He had been trained well and long. 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 gray shadows 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. The dirt on the hill just over his left shoulder crumbled and he rolled out, crouching to face the interloper, his dagger poised near his chest, his free hand clenched in a fist, ready to do battle if necessary.
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 could only see glimpses as it moved. The beast was cloaked in coarse, matted hair covering a leathered gray skin that peeked through in random places. Instinctively, Amhain stood his ground even as his heart leapt into the river to swim away as swiftly as it could; 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 eye-but where were they amidst the thick course hair that fell across what should be a 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 Amhain an instant of hope for an advantage. The creature quickly regained its footing and began grunting like a wild animal and took a fighting stance of its own. It was no ordinary beast, as Amhain realized when it slowly lifted its head as far as was possible, for it seemed devoid of any regular kind of neck. It’s overly large head seemed to blend right into the breadth of its thick chest; and as it reared backwards the beast released a howl that shivered through the treetops, sending the birds flitting in all directions. Although there remained a goodly space between them, Amhain choked from the noxious smell which wafted from its throat and hung on the thick, damp air. Amhain resisted the urge to fling his arm protectively over his nostrils, instead keeping his eyes trained on the abhorant thing before him that shifted its weight on wide, webbed feet. Was it even human? The creature lowered its head and pushed its shoulders back. Amhain did the same. The intruder shuffled forward a few steps and glared at its prey, confident and ready to pounce. Then a strange expression, or what could pass for an expression in such a creature, crossed its face and Amhain saw awareness rise within the cavernous holes that were its eyes. They flashed bright red for a mere instant and went dark again.
The morning sun suddenly rose above the edge of the forest, sending brilliant splinters of light down through the trees, striking the beast’s eyes. It shrieked and shielded its face as it shrunk from the warmth of that light. Its expression, whether grimace or grin, betrayed its true essence; and Amhain sensed that it knew who he was. 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 to flee. At the same moment something gleamed in the darkness, sending light sparkles across the leaf littered floor of the forest. Amhain’s eyes followed the dancing lights to the glinting blade of a knife that hung from one of its gnarled, clawed hands-a knife meant for his own throat, no doubt! It was hunting for food. The creature, now 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, more than frantic to make its way swiftly up the hillside to safety; but in its haste it only 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 roused himself from horror and 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 one alone, although surely she had championed him in many a successful hunt. His mind raced as he bolted toward the stinking creature struggling against the elements to rise and run. Perhaps it was a spy, thought Amhain, and he had no intention of allowing it to give fair warning to whatever awaited news of their journey.
The beast got to its feet and made to run downstream alongside the river; but with his long legs and agility, Amhain easily overtook it and grabbed for the thing. His long fingers sank into its flesh like digging into stagnant muck, its rancid stench smacking his nostrils again. He overcame the urge to gag and yanked hard, stopping the sickly thing in its tracks and began wrestling it to the ground. It was stronger than Amhain imagined and put up a noble fight; but youth and fury won out as he swiped his leg behind its knees, bringing the writhing ball of hair and stink to the ground on its back. With remarkable determination, the beast tried rising to its feet again, 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, thinking it felt like crushing a giant insect. He wrapped his free hand around its throat, amazed that it did have a neck after all!
Amhain fought to control the wriggling ugliness beneath him, but fought harder still 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…”
Suddenly something 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. 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 morsel the beast had plans to devour. But, as Amhain’s eyes focused in the dim light, the unholy axe of truth bore down on his shell of tolerance, shattering all of his efforts at restraint 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 on the loathsome thing that struggled under his full weight now, trying to free itself. It clawed at his leathers with sharp talons, nearly ripping them. Solas circled restlessly, rearing and stamping her legs near where the two wrestled, flinging large clumps of dirt onto the pair.
“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. The seething male turned his attention to the wicked 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 and gasping for air. He loosened his grip, but kept his knee firmly planted on its chest. Suddenly it stopped fighting and lay silent. A grin spread across the gray putrid face-a knowing, satisfied grin. It had finally gotten just what it wanted, after all-what it was truly sent for. Then there came a voice, although Amhain would swear it never came from the cracked, quivering lips of his captive.
“Go ahead and kill it… It will be easy now that you are fully grown,” the voice goaded. “None shall blame you, after all you have been through. No one will care should you kill such a vile creature as this one. No one will miss a dark and wasted thief!” Amhain listened to the words echoing in his mind as the creature began struggling frantically to free itself. It was suddenly terror-stricken, now fearful of its certain fate. He looked down into the terrified eyes of dark ugliness and felt a momentary pang of pity.
‘What is happening?’, thought Amhain. 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 Amhain’s eye with its long claws. The Traveler, swift and young, dodged and pressed his dagger against its scaly gray throat, unwittingly cutting it slightly. To his disgust, there oozed a sticky black fluid from where it pricked the skin. The beast finally spoke, directed by its Master, the Grand Puppeteer.
It lay still again, glaring up at the breathless male above and spat, “I took it meself off a small, pink, wriggling human babby!” The pain that filled Amhain’s eyes was visible and encouraged the lowly beast, giving it new purpose and it drove the knife in deeper. “Helpless it was. It cried to the heart of eternity just before I ate its flesh! Then it cried no more. When I was full I tossed its bones to the flames!” The beast laughed wildly, the wretched sound ripping into Amhain’s soul, its words taunting his ego, causing him to loosen his grip ever so slightly on the beast’s neck.
“You don’t have the stomach to kill anything-you’re just a youngern yeself-a mere babby inside!” The black-hearted beast snarled and spat in Amhain’s face, forgetting 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.It was 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. 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 once more, oh Son of Perfection.”
Now Amhain knew. This scenario, the voice, was all too familiar. The Traveler had listened to the stories, he knew the way of Darkness. How the voice of manipulation loved to torment the innocent within their minds. His memory was suddenly sharp as the knife he held in his hand. The dark God had been the last one to torment him-and her.
He had answered 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 this darkness to invade his soul. He had made a promise, and it was sacred. But neither would he crawl away and allow this loathsome wasted creature to serve its master by terrorizing any other with its cruel words.
He smiled down into the face of the beast as he whispered, “I forgive you, whatever you are. I know not where your master is, or what he uses to drive you towards your dark end; but I will not help you to reach your destination any faster.” The beast looked confused for only an instant, as the terror of realization dawned in its mind and its coal black eyes. It had no time to protest as Amhain deftly drew his dagger across the thick, mossy tongue, slicing it cleanly and efficiently through. The writhing mass thumped to the ground as its owner howled in agony and anger. Meanwhile. the satisfied Traveler thought he heard faint cries from those wriggling ends.
“You will never speak of defiling innocence again!,” he hissed at the creature as he loosened his grip, lifted his knee, and watched it roll wildly on the wet leaves and moss, howling and clutching its face. But it didn’t bleed. Only a thick, tarry liquid flowed from its mouth, dripping down its arms in shiny rivulets as it tried to seal the wound with its hands. The moaning beast jumped to its feet and began to stumble away.
“Let me help you along, then!” shouted The Traveler as he lunged forward and kicked the thing in its behind, sending it hurtling across the leaf strewn ground. Unable to contain herself any longer, Solas reared at the creature’s back, snorting and kicking up wet debris. Despairing within, Amhain didn’t even try to stop her. Together they watched as the creature sloshed its way through a shallow part of the river to the other side and claw its way up the hill, presumably to return to the same dark hole it climbed out of. Or perhaps it would scurry straight back to its Master’s bosom. Amhain wondered if he should follow.
“Never mind now, Solas,” saidThe Traveler. “The God of the Dark World is too cunning to allow this one to lead us anywhere but into a trap.”
“Clever young male,” murmured the Dark One. “You bear a striking resemblance to another, if only in spirit. She knew how to fight as well. A pity you look so like HIM.” This was going to be a fun game, thought Artine.
The spent Traveler returned to his line and pulled it from the water, surprised to find a rather large fish nibbling at the end, as though waiting patiently for him to return. At least he wouldn’t go back empty-handed. Blood dripped from his fingers and he realized he must have cut himself in the struggle. Kneeling, he let his hands fall into the cold water. It stung his wounds. How cold it was indeed. How cold everything was turning. Would his own heart soon grow so chilly? Dark locks of hair fell across his face as he stared, trance like, into the water. It flowed around his bloodied hands, washing away the traces of his sin. Surely what he had done was without love.
He let his head fall to his chest, suddenly overcome with exhaustion from the struggle, overcome with shame for his anger. Would she ever forgive him for wanting to kill the dark creature? Surely she would have found a way to love it-but then where had that gotten her, after all? He did what had to be done and would do it again. This was what the Warrior taught him. How he wished he had the companionship of that strong friend now; but of course Laoch had matters of his own to attend to.
And the wise Counselor bore his sorrows in silence. Eolas advised Amhain against them going alone, although he had seen them off with plenty of supplies and words of advice. The greatest of these were the gifts of the Spirit World he had shared with them, for his own dear companion would have had it no other way.
The Sorceress hadn’t been seen among the tribes in recent times. She retreated into her ocean caves following The Devastation; but The Traveler knew what her thought was. FIND HER.
He had seen the Sorceress’s reflection once in the blue stone he carried with him ever since he recovered it from the ruin. Only once had he seen a true vision in the pool of blue mystery. Perhaps he just didn’t try hard enough. That time had been enough for him; and he had been certain it was the Sorceress who called to him from within the orb. It had to be she whose eyes stared out at him from behind the pale mists. Those gray eyes had pain, longing, and hope in them. He could not disappoint those eyes.
The tears he felt stinging his own eyes quickly dried as he renewed his resolve to complete the quest. It worried him that the connection between his world and that of the Dark One was suddenly so sharp. Was the creature itself a connection or was he drawing closer to the true source? He had been certain all those dark holes were closed off, along with Domhan’s own close connection to the Realm. Time would tell, now that Time had found them. He marveled at the way things had sped up once the Keeper of Time had been appointed. Marking their lives in digits seemed to rob it of its beauty somehow. Ah, well…change had become inevitable.
“Do I have to come fish for breakfast myself , then?” It was the wide cave dweller who bellowed down from the top of the hill.
Getting to his feet, The Traveler dipped his knife in the water, watching the black ooze swirl away with the water’s flow. He stood and wiped it and his hands across his tunic, all signs of his encounter visibly erased. He surmised his friend would’ve been at his side already if he had known what Amhain was dealing with. Obviously he hadn’t heard the struggle that played out below their camp. All the better, thought the weary male.
“Come on Solas, let’s feed our hungry friend.” Amhain stroked her neck and felt her large heart pounding. “The danger is past, girl. We are safe. For now.”
Solas snorted and followed Amhain up the hill.
The Traveler lifted the fish high above his head proudly. “But where is the fire for cooking such a prize?” Silence.
Carraig hurried over to the fire and began stoking as Amhain began cleaning the catch. Although neither spoke as they worked, Carraig soon began to whistle a snappy tune and that brought an unwitting smile to Amhain’s lips. So like his Mother, the joys and sorrows of others became his own.
After their bellies were filled, they sat beside the dwindling fire and both were silent for a long while. Amhain assumed his friend was enjoying his food too much to talk; but after a time, Carraig smacked, wiped his mouth with a dirty tunic sleeve, and released an angry burp.
“You’re welcome,” retorted Amhain. He was about to make a new remark about his friend’s need for a good dip in the river when he noticed Carraig hadn’t seemed to hear him at all. He was pensive, tugging at his rather lengthy whiskers. After a time he to spoke, choosing his words slowly and carefully.
“You know I am here because of my good friend and my fear for his sanity. If he does not find some way to close the door to the unfinished story of his beloved’s disappearance we may lose him into the dark abyss of mourning. You know how most of us feel. Seeing her swept away like that..in the clutches…well…you know what everyone is saying. But none dares speak these awful truths to a grieving soul. I believe it is merely the shining face of his daughter which keeps him tethered to the world of reason.”
Carraig paused to look at Amhain, who sat in contemplative silence, observing how worn beyond his age the young male seemed. He knew beneath the handsome face lay a grief far beyond his own comprehension. Amhain smiled wanly at him and nodded, indicating that of course he understood. But there was something more the Cave Dweller had on his mind. And he had questions-so many questions, in these times. He sucked in a fair breath and continued to speak, nervously grinding his toes into the moss-covered earth as he searched for the right words.
“It troubles my soul, young Amhain….how do you accept life each day when you have suffered such loss?” There. He said it. The words hung suspended between the two as the fire flickered in the faint evening light.
Amhain considered the duality of this male, often so gruff and crass and now so honestly uncertain as he sat there with his questions, nervously picking at the fire with a long stick.
Carraig continued thoughtfully, “My companion, my only love..if she were to no longer be there when I awakened with the sunrise…why I could not face a new sunrise and would want to sleep the endless sleep along with her.” As he gazed over the fire at Amhain, his eyes were filled with empathy and pain as he shared his own deep fear.
Amhain brushed his hands on his leathers and looked out across the field, its dewy face glistening in the late afternoon light. It was too lovely not to admire. His mother taught him well to appreciate the gifts of their world-and their Creators. How very much she had taught him, and he knew he had so much more to learn. A sigh escaped his mouth as he looked back at the one who waited patiently for an answer. His voice cracked as he slowly sought the truth which surely lay within the sorrow that had enveloped his life.
“It is a reasonable question you ask, my friend. Many moments I felt I would fall into the well of madness for my loss and longing; but I was taught to understand that this would serve no purpose save to nourish and delight the one who feeds upon our misery. Perhaps it is for this reason alone that I do not sink into despair. I pray that you do not soon have to face the rising sun without your companion; but you must realize the time will come when one of you must move down the road to eternity while the other is left waving farewell.” He waited for the gentle Cave Dweller to digest this. His friend appeared to be in deep thought so Amhain continued.
“This is my quest. My purpose. This change in the winds and the death that nips at our heels like a pack of wolves is rapidly closing in, even as we sit here musing. I must find her. NOW. Only the land of Foirfeachta seems to remain untouched by all these changes; but I do not know how long that will continue. Only because it is the heart of our world does it know such protection. Each rising sun has brought the tribes nearer to our borders seeking warmth, solace, answers… the Counselor does his best to advise and encourage. As my protector, he was against this journey until the end; but even he knows this is the only way.”
The young male had been looking down at his hands as he spoke, nervously plucking at a bit of vine; but the sound of soft sobbing drew his attention once more to the Cave Dweller Carraig. Looking across the fire he saw the harsh, tough Cave Dweller’s shoulders shaking, as those of a child. When he looked up at Amhain his eyes glistened.
“Where did we go wrong, young Amhain?” he asked, his voice choked with emotion. Amhain felt a sudden manic urge to laugh, for he felt he was not so young anymore. In truth, he felt ever so much older than his cycles bore witness to. But he did not laugh, for his friend spoke again, desperation filling his voice, as the sobbing ceased and he asked in earnest. “Where did it all begin? We know our own history as it was written upon those now crumbled walls of truth. But from the very beginning, in the time before time. Why are any of us here, if only to suffer and die? It seems we have lost our ear to Spirit; or has it turned a deaf ear to us?” He lowered his head and stared at a bug making its way over treacherously hot embers. Did it know its way, how close it was to danger? Did any of them?
The Traveler’s face was solemn as he leaned forward and rescued he bug from its certain fate. He crawled unknowing, into the tall grasses. He knew it was not the time to speak of his encounter with the lowly creature by the river. The attack was merely a nod, after all-a grim invitation from the Dark One; and oh how Artine loved his games. Amhain would save that tale for when they began their journey into the white mountains. He would need to know what they may be up against-and worse.
As far as Carraig’s question, that was another story altogether, and it was one the heartbroken Amhain felt lacking the true authority to tell. He had heard so much of it from the time he took his first breath; and it was, after all, his own history, often to his regret in these times. Taking a deep breath, he began the telling as he knew it. His memory was sharp though the detail might be lacking. Only Mor could fill in the missing parts. After all, it had been the desire of Great Spirit which started it all….