“I felt the test begin. I hurried to join you,” Erebus said.
“Daughter, sleep, and when you awaken you will forget the terror of your creation and remember only love, always love,” Nyx commanded the maiden, and brushed a hand down her face, causing the girl’s eyes to close. Then the Goddess moved her gently off her lap, and stood to face Erebus and Mother Earth.
“What happened here is my responsibility. The old man was confused and mistaken. He sacrificed this maiden to Kalona in a fit of madness. I commanded Kalona give me his creation gift and invoke Spirit, so that I might mix our magick and save her life. His actions have pleased me. I decree that Kalona has passed the third and final of his tests.” Nyx turned to Erebus. “You may complete your test now, as well.”
With none of the playfulness he usually exhibited, Erebus walked to Nyx and placed the basket on the ground between her and the sleeping maiden.
“I meant this as a gift for the Prairie People you love so well,” he told her. “It seems right that they now belong to your most favored mortal daughter.”
Erebus took the lid from the basket to reveal the five kittens Erebus had shown her earlier that evening. He spread his hands over the basket, and invoked:
Ancient Magick, borrowed creation, and the power of Spirit I call to thee.
Know my will and do as I command from the very heart of me.
Create joy from this night of confusion, death, and tears.
Comfort this daughter of Nyx with companionship during long years.
Familiars and friends and playmates they shall be in name and in heart.
Once chosen, by the might of the sun they will never be apart.
Erebus’s hands blazed with the orange glow of a setting sun, and when he lifted them from the top of the basket, Nyx saw that the wild tan and gray fur of the kittens had been changed to sunlight orange and cloudy cream. Erebus lifted one of the kittens from the basket, and instead of hissing and scratching, it began to purr, nuzzling him with its fluffy face. The winged immortal smiled. “Not me, sweet one. She has need of your friendship more than I.” He tucked the kitten beside the sleeping maiden, and then carried the other four to the girl, as well, so that they formed a warm circle against her. Then he turned back to Nyx.
The Goddess took his face in her hands and kissed him gently. “Your gift has pleased me greatly. You, too, have passed the last of the tests.” Then Nyx turned to face Mother Earth. “I did not plan what happened tonight.”
“And I planned too rigidly. I tried to control too much. Tonight I realize that there are some things that not even your great capacity to love or my gift for creation can forestall.”
“Are we still friends?”
“Always,” Mother Earth said. “But I think it is time I stopped meddling in your personal affairs.”
“I will never be able to thank you enough for that loving meddling. You ended my loneliness and now, with Kalona and Erebus, the Otherworld will be filled with life again.”
“You are more than welcome,” Mother Earth said. She walked to Erebus and embraced him warmly. “You will always be the memory of a perfect, sun-filled summer’s day to me. I have enjoyed being your mother.”
“And I enjoy being your son. Will we not continue our visits?”
“Perhaps, but I think you will find that you will be quite busy in the Otherworld, and I realize that I have become weary again. I need to sleep.” Mother Earth accepted Erebus’s kiss on her cheek, then she moved to stand before Kalona. “I have been hard on you, my moonlit son, but that is because of what I sense within you. Kalona, you are a different type of creation from your brother. You were born warrior and lover, and those two roles are not easy to bear side by side. I see within you a limitless capacity for good, as well as an equally limitless capacity for harm. Through the tests I meant for you to learn that with great power comes great responsibility. Only your future choices will show whether I succeeded in my lessons.”
“I do not intend harm,” Kalona said earnestly.
“Intent is a fickle friend,” Mother Earth said. “You did not intend for any mortals to die this night, did you?”
“No. I did not.”
“And yet one is dead, and one is altered forever. Kalona, hear me well as this I vow: Should your anger, Darkness allow, Earth’s embrace shall not succor thee. So I have spoken, so mote it be.” Sealing the oath, Mother Earth kissed him on his cold lips and then turned to Nyx wearily. The two women embraced.
Nyx’s gaze went to the maiden. “When you are not sleeping, would you watch over my daughter with me? She is a new being, and the only one of her kind. She will need special care, and one cannot have too many mothers.”
“My friend, I am afraid that I may sleep so long that in some ways I shall never again arise, so before I drift into my living bed, I will create once more, though you must watch over these children yourself.”
Nyx was confused for a moment, and then she understood what Mother Earth intended. “You will create more like her!”
“I will, though their creation will be more difficult than was hers. She is not truly a new being, but rather a mortal made more. I will sow humanity with the seeds of what she is. I do not know how many of them will be able to become more.”
Nyx clasped her friend’s hands. “Thank you, Mother Earth. Thank you for making sure my daughter will not live her life alone.”
“Do not thank me yet. I do not know how many like her will survive.”
“Humans are strong and brave. There will be many who survive,” Nyx said. “And I will be their Goddess of Night!”
“Yes, my friend. Yes,” Mother Earth agreed. “Now, embrace me again, and take your leave quickly. I want no sadness or regret between us.”
Nyx hugged her tightly. “Sleep in peace with no worry and no regret. I will visit your children, and I will watch over that which is eternal within them for eternity.”
“Watch over yourself as well,” Mother Earth said. Then, still embracing the Goddess, she whispered for her ears alone: “And watch Kalona. If he begins to change it will be because his anger has grown greater than his love. If he allows anger to consume him, it will also consume you and your realm.” Then she released Nyx and stepped back. “Go now, and may you all be blessed—”
Heartbreaking trills erupted from the group of Fey that clustered around Mother Earth. Nyx saw that there weren’t only dryads there, but coblyn, naiads, and even a few skeeaeds had appeared on the prairies, painting the night with bright colors that reflected their anxiety.
“No, little ones, do not despair. You belong in the Otherworld—that is your home,” Mother Earth said.
“Oh, my friend, please tell me that the Fey may continue to visit your earth,” Nyx said.
Mother Earth looked surprise. “You would allow it?”
Nyx smiled warmly at the Fey. As long as there is Old Magick, ancient, rich and true, there you shall find the Fey, and there they shall find you.
“So your Goddess has spoke, and so mote it be!” Mother Earth cried, enlivened again as the Fey formed a circle around her and began to dance in celebration.
Nyx wiped away a tear, and then took Kalona and Erebus by the hand. “Let us leave her now, happy and surrounded by those who bring her such joy,” she said softly, guiding them into the darkness of the grassy prairie. When they were out of sight of Mother Earth, Nyx let loose their hands and said, “Follow me.” The Goddess lifted her hand and a slender silver thread appeared, as if the moon had lent her a beam of light. She grasped it and smiled at the winged immortals who were studying her with twin looks of apprehension. “Don’t worry. If you know the way, the journey is not far. And I will show you the way, so that ever after you will never be far from me.” Then the glittering ribbon went taut, lifting the Goddess into the night sky. Kalona and Erebus unfurled their wings together, and took to the sky after her.
* * *
Nyx didn’t let loose the glittering silver thread until, out of the complete blackness that exists between realms, a patch of hard-packed earth suddenly appeared. She stepped on it and turned to face Kalona and Erebus.
“Is it a piece of Mother Earth here?” Erebus asked, bending to touch the ground that looked so very much like the red dirt from the tall grass prairie.
“There’s more of it in there,” Kalona said, pointing at a seemingly endless grove that stretched before them.
“No, there is nothing of Mother Earth here,” Nyx said. “Though you will see many sights that will remind you of her.”
Nyx thought Kalona looked relieved. Erebus only looked curious. “What is that tree?” he asked, starting to walk forward toward it.
Nyx stepped before him, blocking his way. Both immortals were now looking at her curiously.
“That tree has many names in the mortal realm, Yggdrasil, Abellio, and the Hanging Tree are but three of many reflections of its Old Magick. Here, I call it the Wishing Tree, as I have filled it with ribbons of Divine Energy in which I have woven wishes and dreams, joy and love. It stands at the entrance to my realm, the Otherworld. I intend to share my realm with both of you, but before I allow you entrance I ask each of you to make me one promise—that no matter what the eternity to come brings, you will never again speak of the events of this night. My daughter, and those who come after her, must never know that they were mistakes created because of superstition and madness. Do you agree?”
“I do, and you have my promise,” Kalona said.
“As do I. You have my promise as well, kind, loving Goddess,” Erebus said.
“Then I gladly bid you enter the Otherworld, and wish that together we will all blessed be!”
* * *
Mother Earth left the Fey to their endless dancing. She had one last task to perform before she could sleep, but first she approached the body of the Shaman. She knelt beside him and closed his sightless eyes; then she waved her hands over his body, and the rich earth of the prairie parted, gently making an opening in which to cradle the old man.
“You did well, just as I asked. I know it broke your heart to follow my edict and sacrifice the maiden, but by doing so you have given Kalona his only chance at redemption, for he has, indeed, been tainted by Darkness. Nyx does not see it, but I see it as clearly as did you. You did as I commanded. Now I will keep my word to you, old one.” Mother Earth touched his forehead, and drew from within him the glowing orb that held his eternal spirit.
Come to me, mighty beast of the grass sea!
An enormous bison trotted up to Mother Earth. The muscles of his wide chest rippled as he bowed before her, his muzzle resting by her knee. She stroked his thick pelt, murmuring her appreciation of his majesty. Then she completed her promise by saying:
Joined for a lifetime you and he shall be!
She pressed the spirit glob against the bison’s forehead, and it disappeared within the beast. Mother Earth smiled up at him. “Go, old one made young! Roam the prairie and have a long, fertile life.”
With a snort, the bison obeyed her, and as he trotted away he kicked the air in a joyous dance of freedom.
THOUGH IT WOULD CREATE A WOUND WITHIN HER THAT WOULD ACHE FOR ETERNITY, NYX KNEW KALONA MUST BE STOPPED …
And so the eons passed. At first, all was well in the Otherworld. The Goddess was no longer alone. She had warrior and lover, playmate and friend. Nyx thrived, and thus did the Otherworld.
Nyx’s children, created by Mother Earth before she retreated to sleep within herself, thrived as well, though both immortals had been right. Many were not strong enough to survive the Change, but those who did were the best of humanity—the bravest and strongest, the brightest and most talented. In solidarity, they named themselves vampyre, the children of Nyx, and they evolved a society that honored women as Goddess, and valued men for their roles of warrior and lover, playmate and friend. Nyx was so well pleased by her children that she sometimes passed along gifts to them based on the five elements over which her friend had granted her dominion. But no matter how much they pleased her, or how many times Nyx granted the vampyres gifts, the Goddess made quite certain that she did not meddle too often in their lives. Mother Earth had taught her a valuable lesson. Love cannot thrive if it is too closely controlled. Nyx vowed that she would not control her beloved children, that they would always have free will, whether they chose to use that freedom wisely or not.
Though she was sometimes sorry she had made that vow, the Goddess never broke her oath.
Nyx was also sometimes sorry that she had vowed never to speak of the night the first of her children had been created. The vow had been well intended—made to protect her children. What the Goddess had not realized then was that by cloaking that night in silence, she had also lost the opportunity to explain many things to Kalona, and in return to ask him for an explanation for many things as well.
They never spoke of what had happened when Kalona had appeared at the geyser, or of the strange superstition that had caused the Shaman to make blood sacrifice to Kalona.
In her mind Nyx often replayed the chant the Shaman had sung before he sacrificed the girl.
What I do, I do for two
One for her
And one for you …
What had the old man meant? Nyx believed the “you” of which he had chanted was Kalona. Could the “her” not have meant the maiden, but instead have been referring to the Goddess herself?
The not knowing haunted Nyx, especially as, bound by her own vow, she could speak her questions to no one, especially not Kalona, who seemed increasingly not to want to speak to her about many things.
Nyx tried to talk with Kalona about Mother Earth, whom she missed terribly. Kalona avoided the subject of his symbolic mother and grew silent.