“What do you know of those things?”
I know all and more. I am more ancient than your Goddess. More ancient than this earth. I have always existed, and I will exist eternally. Where there is Light, there, too, must be Darkness. Without loss there can be no gain. Without pain, how do we know pleasure? Do not pretend you do not understand me. You are not as naïve as your sun-kissed brother. How do you like sharing Nyx with him?
“You go too far, bull!” Kalona turned to leave, but the words that roiled through his mind stopped him.
Cease trying to give Spirit to that which is dead. You do not need to create a new being to please Nyx. You only need to improve one that already exists. That will complete your test and gain you the Otherworld. Though once there, you will spend an eternity sharing your Goddess with another—unless you can offer her more than Erebus.
“I already offer Nyx more than Erebus! I love her beyond what he is capable!”
I approve of your anger, but it will not win the Goddess. Your anger will drive her into your brother’s embrace. It already has.
“No. I control my anger.”
The bull’s laughter battered him again. You will get better at lying, but you will not get better at controlling your anger. You will have no outlet for it except to hurl it at golden Erebus, and even at Nyx herself. That will cause your Goddess to turn her face from you forever.
“I will not lose her,” Kalona said between gritted teeth.
No, you will not if you are valuable to her, and if you have a release for your anger. I can give you both things. I ask only one thing in return, and it is mutually beneficial to us both.
“You may not have my spirit, bull.”
I do not want your spirit, Kalona. I simply want entrance to the Otherworld.
The bull’s words shocked Kalona silent.
Ah, I see I must explain myself. The Energy that created the Otherworld is as ancient as I, thus it is as powerful as I am, and it is well protected. I can sometimes seep into the shadows of the Otherworld, but never for long. To truly enter there, I must be invited.
“I will never invite that which would destroy my Goddess.”
Of course you wouldn’t, and I do not ask that of you. I only ask that you invite me to enter occasionally, so that we might do battle. You will win. You will protect your Nyx. She will value you. Your anger will have an outlet, and Erebus will seem a puny playmate in comparison.
“If I win, what do you gain?”
Amusement. I am curious about a realm I cannot fully enter. And, like little L’ota, there are beings in the Otherworld that will welcome my whispers—that would amuse me.
“I will not invite you there. Nyx would never forgive me.”
Nyx need never know.
“I will not invite you there. Ever.” Kalona said firmly.
You are young. You have no idea how long ever is. Remember this, son of the moon, anger is an invitation of its own. And until you enter it, the Otherworld has known very little anger.
“I will only warn you once, bull. Stay far away from Nyx.” Kalona backed toward the mouth of the cave.
It is you who will bring me close to your Goddess. As surely as Mother Earth created humans, your jealousy will create anger. That anger, arrogant godling, will allow me entrance to Nyx’s realm!
With the white bull’s mocking laughter ringing throughout his mind, Kalona fled the cave.
* * *
From the cover of the tall grasses, the Shaman watched Kalona of the silver wings flee the pit, and saw the Darkness that slithered from the maw of the evil place. Snakelike and silent, tendrils followed the immortal. The immortal did nothing to stop them.
The Shaman bowed his head in sad resignation. Often he wished his dreams were less accurate, that he was like the rest of the People, naïve about the life journey unfolding before them. This particular moment, he almost cursed his gift. The Great Mother had shown him what he must do if the Winged One began trafficking with Darkness, and though it would break his heart and perhaps even incur the wrath of a Goddess, he would not falter.
Shoulders stooped, the old man headed back to his lodge to make ready for what must come. The next night would be that of a full moon—the hunting full moon. He would make the sacrifice then, and pray to the Great Mother that what he offered would appease Darkness enough to keep the terrible future he had glimpsed from coming to the People.
MUCH LATER, DURING THE EONS SHE HAD TO REPLAY IN HER MIND THE EVENTS THAT LED TO HEARTBREAK AND TRAGEDY, NYX OFTEN BLAMED HERSELF …
The encounter with the white bull shook Kalona to his core. The creature had been loathsome, and what he had proposed was impossible, but the bull’s words held a despicable truth that the winged immortal could not deny. That truth began to circle round and round Kalona’s mind, an endless reminder of his own fear—his own vulnerability.
He could not share Nyx with Erebus. He would not be able to control his anger if Erebus became Nyx’s lover because he would not be able to bear the despair her infidelity would cause him.
Miserable, Kalona flew to Nyx’s falls, hoping to find his Goddess there. The falls were empty of all but the shadow of her beauty.
He went to the blue lake and sat beside the boat he had carved her, waiting for her to appear. Nyx did not appear.
Kalona even searched for the mad little Fey, L’ota, but even though he thought he caught glimpses of her hiding within the shadows, she refused to answer his call.
He hated not being able to summon his Goddess. He didn’t want to control her; that wasn’t it at all. He simply needed a way to speak with her, to touch her, to be in her presence. Only Nyx could soothe the despair building within him. Only Nyx could reassure him and heal that which the bull’s knowing words had broken.
Kalona was utterly hopeless without Nyx, and from his hopelessness grew frustration.
Where was she? Why was she leaving him alone? Did she no longer love him? Did she no longer desire him? Did she not need him as he needed her?
Was Nyx with Erebus instead of him?
In despair, unable to concentrate on completing the final test he must pass before he would be allowed entrance to Nyx’s realm, Kalona took to the sky, searching the world not for Nyx, but for his brother, the golden son of the sun.
* * *
“There! Is it finally ready? Have I forgotten anything?” Nyx ran her hand over the fur-covered pallet and looked around the spacious chamber she had chosen for Kalona.
Have forgotten the golden one.
“Erebus? Don’t be silly, L’ota. I prepared his chamber earlier. It is there, on the side of the palace that opens to the morning sunlight.”
Not beside your chamber.
“No, there is only one room that adjoins my chamber and—” The Goddess broke off her explanation with a shake of her head. “L’ota, is something amiss with you? You seem not yourself recently. Are you spending too much time on earth? I hope I haven’t over-tired you by asking you to check on Kalona for me and to help ready these chambers.” The Goddess paused to smile at the skeeaed. “It is just that I depend upon you, even more than I do your sisters. You have long taken very good care of me, L’ota. Would you like to join the dryads as they frolic in the mortal realm below? They must enjoy it. They never seem to tire.”
I do not frolic. L’ota fidgeted while she whispered her answer to Nyx. The Goddess thought she looked uncharacteristically nervous.
“Well, it is true that skeeaeds are more serious than dryads, but you might find that a little frolicking is fun.”
Do you command it so?
“Of course not! I don’t command you, or any of the Fey, to frolic. I simply meant that you do look tired and that I am sorry if I have wearied you. L’ota, tonight I want you to rest. Do not be concerned about Kalona, Erebus, or me. Tonight, little one, is just for you.” The Goddess smiled at the Fey and patted the soft tuft of her hair.
L’ota bowed her head and said, You command. I obey. Then she slid into the shadows and disappeared from the chamber, leaving the Goddess shaking her head and sighing. “Though they have been with me for eons, the Fey remain such strange creatures. Sometimes I believe they understand too much; sometimes I believe it is too little. Well, a rest from her duties should replenish her energy, whether she asked for it or not.” Nyx looked around the chamber again and smiled. “And I have been keeping her very busy readying the palace for the presence of Kalona and Erebus.”
“Kalona…” Nyx repeated his name, loving the sound of it. Oh, how she had missed him! She had purposefully kept herself from visiting him so that he would not be distracted and would be well and quickly prepared for the final test. And Kalona was obviously in agreement with her; he had not once called for her, though L’ota had visited him daily and waited patiently to bring his summons back to Nyx. Thus, Nyx believed his greatest desire was the same as hers—to complete the final test as quickly as possible so that he could join her in the Otherworld for an eternity!
Now the palace was ready, though so very empty. And Kalona was so very close! Perhaps she could visit him once, for only a part of the evening. She would show him how eager she was to have him by her side, and then leave him to his preparations.
The winged one calls for you. As if Kalona had read her mind, L’ota was suddenly there, whispering the words the Goddess had secretly longed for days to hear. He is at the geyser. L’ota wrinkled her nose in remembrance of the smell of the place.
Nyx laughed gaily. “How kind of him to choose to meet me at Old Faithful! It shows that he has truly rid himself of his jealousy of Erebus. Oh, L’ota! Could he be more perfect?” The Goddess hugged the Fey, picking up the little creature and dancing playfully around the beautifully decorated chamber that awaited her lover.
Nyx was still laughing when she let go of the skeeaed and hurried to choose something lovely and sheer to wear, too distracted to hear the last hissing words the creature would speak to her: Yesssss, L’ota watch. L’ota tell. L’ota show you!
* * *
Much later, during the eons she had to replay in her mind the events that led to heartbreak and tragedy, Nyx often blamed herself. Had she not been so girlish, so giddy, so ungoddesslike, she might have stopped to question the whys and hows of things and prevented the horror of what was to come. But she hadn’t. Nyx hadn’t once truly wondered why L’ota had become so distant and defensive. She hadn’t questioned why she didn’t feel Kalona’s presence as she materialized at the geyser. She hadn’t been wise enough even to consider whether the Darkness she had been sensing, though unable to reach her, had the power to influence others.
No, Nyx had lacked in wisdom and experience, and because of that lack, she and many others paid a price too dear for simple forgiveness.
That evening Nyx knew nothing of future pain and regret. That evening all she knew was that she intended to spend it in the arms of her beloved.
Which was why the Goddess was completely taken aback when she materialized on the ridge overlooking the geyser and was greeted by Erebus’s exclamation of “My Goddess! What a lovely surprise it is to see you! I admit that I had been thinking of you and wishing for your opinion on my discovery. So, you appearing here is, indeed, fortuitous.”
“Merry meet, Erebus.” Nyx quickly recovered her composure. Had L’ota actually said which winged one had called for her? “What is this discovery of yours?”
“Come with me.” Smiling, he held his hand out to her. “I found them in a den made within the roots of an old tree, just there.” He pointed into the tree line above them, helping Nyx to climb over the rocky outcroppings. “Careful,” he said, lifting her over a cluster of brambles.
He led Nyx to a fragrant cedar tree. Pressing his finger against his lips, he carefully pulled back the frond of a fern to reveal a neat little den nestled within the tree’s massive roots. Within the den were five plump, furry creatures.
“Kittens!” Nyx exclaimed, causing the babies to wake and blink at her with bright, curious eyes.
“So, she was right. The wildcats do please you,” Erebus said, sounding satisfied with himself. “They aren’t frightened of you, though they do not thus favor anyone else.” At the sound of his voice, the kittens had bowed their backs and made hissing, spitting noises at him.
Nyx laughed and stroked them, calming their miniature fury. “Of course they are not frightened of me. They recognize their Goddess. And they do please me, very much! So much so that I have actually secreted one away to the Otherworld with me.” Nyx glanced at Erebus. “She?”
Erebus’s grin made him look boyishly adorable. “Mother Earth, of course.”
“Of course. There’s little that can be kept secret from the Great Mother.”
“Does that bother you?”
“No, not at all. I cherish her friendship and the affection she has for me. Does it bother you?”
“No! I love the Great Mother and the mortal realm. There are such interesting creatures that populate it. And, I owe her a vast debt—that of my creation.”
“You are truly kind and generous, Erebus.”
“Thank you, my Goddess. Would you sit with me awhile and wait for your geyser to erupt so that we might watch it together?”
“I would love to,” Nyx assured him. Before he closed the den with the frond, she gave the kittens one last, lingering look. “Did Mother Earth happen to mention to you if she would mind if I secreted away a few more wildcats?”
Erebus laughed. “No, she did not, though I will ask it of her when next she and I visit.”
“So you visit her regularly?” Nyx asked as they made their way back to the ridge overlooking the geyser.