“Yes. I enjoy her company, though I do not understand her obsession with the Fey.”
“I would warn you to get used to them, but they seem to prefer the mortal realm to that of the Otherworld. Even my skeeaed has been temperamental lately.”
“Skeeaed. Is that the little pink-colored Fey who is so often in your shadow?”
“Yes, L’ota. Did you not speak with her today?”
“No, I haven’t seen the creature since the last test,” Erebus said. Then he stopped and lifted her off her feet. “Goddess, there are brambles everywhere and the rocks are sharply edged. The next time you visit me here, I would ask that you remember to wear shoes.”
“I’ll do that,” she said. “But until then I will appreciate your gallantry.”
When they reached the ridge, Erebus put her gently down on a smooth-sided boulder that made a perfect chair. He sat on the rocky ground beside her, and they faced the geyser. Neither of them spoke, but the silence between them was not uncomfortable. Nyx was thinking how pleasant and peaceful it was there, and how the rank smell hardly reached the ridge, when the earth began to growl and then whooshing waves announced the coming water and the column erupted into the air going up, up against the crimson-and-pink sunset.
Nyx took Erebus’s hand. “It is so pretty! Thank you again for creating a thing of such beauty for me.”
“Your smile is thanks enough,” Erebus said. Then he tilted his head and his golden gaze caught hers, searching. “You should go to him.”
Nyx blinked in surprise. “Him?”
“Kalona. You should go to him. He needs you. With you, he is a better being than he is without you.”
“I was giving him time to—” Nyx stopped herself, not wanting to appear uncaring of Erebus’s feelings.
“You were giving him time to focus on the final test without the distraction of your loveliness,” Erebus finished for her. “I am sure that that seemed a good idea, but if I know my brother, and I have come to realize that I do know him, as he is really just another version of myself, I can tell you that solitude does not bring him focus. He needs you,” Erebus repeated.
“Do you never feel jealous of what he and I share?”
“No, my bright, beautiful Goddess. I am content with that destiny for which I was created. I would not make a very good warrior.”
“I wasn’t speaking of the warrior part,” she said softly, meeting his sunlit eyes.
His smile was warm. “If you ever desire me to be your lover, I would most willingly and happily return that desire—as frequently or as infrequently as you might want me. But I have no wish to claim your body as mine and mine alone. My only wish is for your happiness, and I believe my brother at your side, being your warrior and your lover is what would make you happiest. It would also make him happiest, which is important to me, though I am sure it will take me eons to convince Kalona of that.”
Nyx slid from her rock stool onto Erebus’s lap, where she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. “You do make me happy, so very happy!”
“Then I shall not interrupt that happiness.”
From Erebus’s embrace, Nyx looked up at the darkening sky to see Kalona hovering above them, his voice as flat and emotionless as his expression.
“Brother! Come, join us,” Erebus said, standing and carefully helping Nyx back to her rocky seat. “We were just speaking of you.”
“I heard only your Goddess’s voice,” Kalona said, not looking at Nyx. “And she spoke of the great happiness you bring her. Nyx, with your permission, I will leave you to that.”
“You have my permission,” Nyx said, her voice sounding very young.
With a flash of silver wings, Kalona disappeared into the horizon.
Erebus sighed. “For a warrior he seems awfully sensitive.”
“He loathes me,” Nyx said.
“He loves you,” Erebus corrected. “That is why he has flown away in a jealous fit. All you need do is to find him and explain why you said that I make you very happy. Later I will mention to him that if he is going to eavesdrop, he should learn to do a more thorough job of it.”
“Erebus, you are a good friend,” Nyx said, bending to kiss his cheek.
“And you are a kind and loving Goddess,” Erebus said. “Oh, and I am ready to complete the final test.”
“Shall we summon Spirit to call Mother Earth?”
“There is time aplenty for that. I can wait a little while until you have made peace with my brother.”
Nyx hugged him again and then she stood and, thinking of Kalona, called the magick of Divinity to her. It lifted her and, leaving a trail of glittering starlight in her wake, began to carry the Goddess toward the sea of grass that covered the center of the wild continent.
FOR MY DAUGHTER, THIS CREATION OF MINE, I GIVE THE GIFT OF NIGHT DIVINE …
Nyx found his campsite easily, though Kalona was absent from it. She meant to leave quickly, to follow the connection she had with him and go directly to him, but the spot Kalona had made his own intrigued her.
It was at the edge of the grassy prairie where it curved into the cross-timber section of trees that lined a sandy creek, at the other end of which the Prairie People had a large settlement. Nyx thought it was a nice spot for a camp, and Kalona had certainly made it comfortable.
She looked through the piles of pelts, woven baskets, tools, and foodstuff, realizing that her lover had obviously made friends with the Prairie People—or she hoped he had. Nyx’s hand lingered on a particularly thick fur, much like the one he had lined her boat with the day he had crafted it for her.
What was Kalona trading for such a rich array of gifts? Nyx knew the native mortals—knew them well. They could be kind and generous, but they also rarely gave without purpose.
A small sliver of apprehension lodged with the Goddess as she remembered Kalona’s first encounter with the Prairie People. They had named him a winged God and had been ready to worship him.
“No! I will not think ill of Kalona. He is not responsible for the superstitions of the Prairie People,” Nyx told herself firmly.
The Goddess turned her face from the pile of gifts and left the cozy little campsite. She stood at the edge of the prairie and spread her arms wide, throwing back her head and drinking in the rising light of a full, silver moon. The night was clear, and the sky was filled with stars. The breeze was warm and gentle, and out into it Nyx sent her magick.
“Lead me to my love, so that I might make right what has become wrong between us,” Nyx commanded the night.
Wisps of magick, like the sparkling tail of shooting stars, flowed from the Goddess. Gently but surely they pulled her forward. Nyx followed. Confident that Kalona was nearby, she felt her heartbeat quicken in anticipation. He had been created for her; he did love her. She need only to look into his amber eyes, to touch the smooth strength of his body, and he would know as surely as she that there was nothing and nobody standing between them, that there never would be.
Nyx saw the black birds before she saw Kalona. They pulled her gaze to a distant rolling rise in the prairie that held a few small trees and some lichen-covered sandstone ledges. She could see Kalona’s silhouette. He was sitting on a large, flat slab of stone, head in his hands, shoulders bent. His wings glistened as if they were absorbing the light of the full moon. Nyx stopped and stood silently, watching him from a distance. He is so beautiful, so majestic, and so sad, she thought. I ache to ease his sadness.
Nyx had just begun to close the distance between herself and Kalona when a figure moved in the upper corner of the Goddess’s vision, drawing her gaze from the winged immortal. Above him, on an even larger outcropping of sandstone rock, a feather-bedecked old man had appeared. He stood, slowly straightening his age-crooked body. As he straightened, Nyx could see that he was not alone. A woman was with him—a girl, really. She was wearing an elaborately decorated dress of tanned hide, which Nyx thought was quite lovely. Actually, even from a distance the Goddess could tell that the maiden was spectacularly beautiful.
Nyx’s brow raised and she felt a stab of jealousy. Was the old man offering the maid to Kalona? What if he accepted her?
The Goddess was torn. Part of her wanted to fade into the night and to allow her love to take his pleasure where he could find it.
Another part of her wanted to rush forward and demand Kalona choose none other but her.
Nyx bowed her head and surrendered the knowing of what it felt to be jealous and vulnerable and full of despair.
The old man began to chant a wordless, rhythmic melody. His voice was hypnotic, and Nyx felt her own bare feet begin to move in time with it when Kalona spoke.
“Shaman, enough! I have endured too many miseries today. I do not need your unending song added to them.” He raised his head, and Nyx could see his body jerk in surprise. “Why have you brought a child here?”
“I do only as my dream commands.”
“About that dream, you could have told me that—”
The old man’s voice cut across Kalona’s. As he sang his song, the timbre of his voice changed, magnified with a strange power that glowed from the center of his forehead in a pure, white light the shape of a crescent moon.
What I do, I do for two
One for her
And one for you
Take this maid
Her blood runs true
Sacrifice for two
One for her
And one for you
Mesmerized, Nyx watched and listened, but as the Shaman’s song progressed, a terrible sense of foreboding filled the Goddess and she began to move forward, slowly at first, and then more quickly, until she was running.
New and old
Scale of two
One for her
And one for you!
With the last line of his song, the Shaman lifted his hand. Nyx saw that in it he held a long, sharp obsidian blade.
“No!” the Goddess cried.
The Shaman’s blade did not waver. It slashed the maid’s throat, releasing a torrent of blood. She fell to his feet, gasping her life’s breath and flooding the sandstone with a crimson tide.
“Why have you done this?” Nyx rushed to the maid, pulling the dying girl into her arms.
“The sacrifice was for two. One for him. One for you. Forgive me, Goddess. I did only what I could do.” Then the old man’s eyes rolled white. He clutched his chest and fell into the grasses, breathing no more.
Nyx looked up to see that Kalona’s face was as pale as moonlight. “What madness is this?”
“I-I do not know. I thought the old man deluded, misguided even. I did not think him capable of this.”
“Have he and his People been worshipping you?”
Nyx saw genuine surprise in Kalona’s expression. “They left me gifts, and the old man often chanted and smudged around me. Is that worship?” Kalona shook his head, staring at the dying maiden. “I am a fool. I am to blame for these two deaths.”
“No!” Nyx said sternly, not willing to allow Kalona to fall into despair and guilt. “He was an old man. His heart failed him. That could not be changed and is not your fault. But this girl, this child, he so mistakenly sacrificed to you, she still clings to life. We can save her, you and I. Give me your borrowed gift of creation, and invoke Spirit. What would please me most is that your final test save the life of this girl.”
“But Mother Earth—”
“I am Goddess! And I proclaim that I am willing to exchange my friendship with Earth for this child’s life.”
Kalona bowed his head to her. “Yes, my Goddess.”
I call you, Spirit, Power Divine, and creation magick as well.
I have one more test to pass, one more tale to tell.
As the Goddess commands, so mote it be,
However she wishes to use you, with her I agree.
Kalona bent and kissed Nyx gently on the lips, and as the Goddess accepted his kiss, she drew within her body Spirit, the magick of creation, and the power of the Divine.
Nyx lifted the obsidian knife from where the old man had dropped it, quickly slashing the blade across her own wrist. Then she held the oozing line to the girl’s pale lips, saying:
Blood of my blood, you shall ever after be.
Take, drink. From this night forth your new life is my decree.
The girl’s eyes remained closed, but her lips opened against the Goddess’s wound, and she drank as Nyx commanded.
The Goddess bent and blew gently on the girl’s bleeding throat. The torn flesh instantly began to mend.
For my daughter, this creation of mine,
I give the gift of Night Divine.
Nyx kissed the girl’s lips, breathing the last of Spirit within her, and then she kissed the middle of the girl’s smooth forehead, touching the child with a Goddess’s Old Magick, whispering, With this Mark tattoo, your life begins anew.
In the middle of the girl’s forehead a sapphire-colored crescent moon appeared. From it, spreading down either side of the girl’s face, grew an intricate series of filigreed swirls and mysterious signs that held symbols of each of the five elements, magickally mirroring the tattoos with which Nyx so often chose to decorate her own body.
The girl opened her eyes. “Great Goddess of Night, tell me your name so that I may worship you.”
“You may call me Nyx.”
Then the night around them exploded as Mother Earth materialized, followed by a crowd of trilling dryads who took one look at their Goddess and fell unusually silent.
“Ah, so, it is as I thought,” Mother Earth said. She shook her head sadly. “The test has been tainted. Kalona must fail.”
Erebus dropped from the sky, holding a woven basket. His sunlit smile faded as he took in the somber scene.