Still, he couldn’t seem to speak. Her smile had his blood heating and his body feeling flushed.
“And what is your name?” she asked him.
“Kalona,” he blurted.
“Kalona. What a beautiful name! Your wings are the silver of a full moon. You must be the son of the moon,” she said.
“I am,” he said, without stopping to wonder at how he knew it. “And I was fashioned for you.”
Her smiled blazed, and Kalona could feel his heartbeat increase.
“Goddess Nyx, I am Erebus, son of the golden sun. Hence the reason my wings are not the color of moonlight. I, too, have been fashioned for you.” The other winged godling stood. “Excuse me, brother, but I cannot allow you to keep the Goddess to yourself,” he quipped as he stepped around Kalona, gently pulling Nyx’s hand from his before Erebus bowed with a flourish of golden wings.
Nyx turned her luminous smile to Erebus and her delighted laughter seemed to sparkle in the grove around them. “Erebus! I welcome the son of the sun with all of my heart as well.”
“Lovely Goddess, have a care for how much of your heart you give away. You give Kalona all—you give me all. Surely one of us will come up short?” Erebus’s golden eyes flashed as mischievously as his smile.
Kalona frowned at Erebus and found himself having to grit his teeth against a feral growl. He should not dare to speak to the Goddess thus! Kalona would have liked to knock that cocky smile from the godling’s face!
“I do not think you should begin this relationship by admonishing your Goddess, young Erebus, especially as I can see it incites your brother’s ire.” Kalona hadn’t even noticed the other being until she began to speak, moving forward so that she positioned herself between Nyx and himself and Erebus, almost as if she thought the Goddess needed protection against them. Kalona narrowed his eyes at this lesser woman, ready to correct her, to tell her that Nyx would never need protection against him! He would never—could never—hurt her! But the woman’s eyes caught his before he could speak, and a warning in their dark depths silenced him.
“Kalona, Erebus, please greet my friend, Mother Earth. You must thank her, as it is she who enabled your creation!” Nyx said breathlessly.
Erebus’s smile was charming, his voice deep and gentle, as he bowed to her saying, “Great Mother, I greet and thank you, and I ask that you forget my first, mistaken attempt at humor. I assure you that my intention was not to admonish my Goddess, though I admit to finding it amusing that I was able to so easily incite my brother’s ire.”
“Precocious, so precocious!” Mother Earth smiled at Erebus as she spoke, embracing him gently and making it obvious that she liked the sun godling’s precociousness.
Kalona stood and bowed deeply, respectfully. “I greet you, Mother Earth, and thank you for the role you played in my conception.”
“You are welcome, Kalona.” She embraced him as well, but Kalona thought it was with much less warmth than she had embraced his brother. Mother Earth stepped back and addressed the three of them. “So you each acknowledge that I do have a maternal responsibility here,” said Mother Earth.
“Indeed you do, my friend,” Nyx responded readily. “And I shall eternally thank you for it.”
“Eternity is such a long, long time,” Mother Earth said, studying Kalona and Erebus in turn. “I suppose you will want to take them back to the Otherworld with you?”
Kalona’s gaze locked with Nyx’s. He saw that her cheeks had pinked alluringly, and though her gaze did not leave his, her voice softened, seeming almost shy. “Yes, I will.”
“Today!” Nyx said, nodding her head, still not looking away from Kalona.
“The Otherworld,” Kalona said, finding his voice. “Even the name sounds magickal.”
Nyx rewarded him with an intimate smile. “It is beautiful, much like this planet, only it is filled with ancient, Divine magick and powers that are sometimes difficult for even me to wield. Such powers can be exhausting,” she finished, suddenly sounding older and tired.
“My Goddess, I will help you wield the powers that exhaust you,” Kalona said, taking an eager step toward her.
“And yet it is not your place to wield the Old Magick of Nyx’s Otherworld,” Mother Earth said, also taking a step closer.
Kalona felt the heat of Mother Earth’s power, and of her displeasure. Their gazes met, hers even more unflinching than his. She would be a mighty enemy … The knowledge echoed through his mind.
Kalona backed down and bowed his head slightly in acknowledgment of Mother Earth’s might.
Erebus seemed not to notice Mother Earth’s intense displeasure. His voice was as light as his smile. “What would we want with Nyx’s magick? There is magick aplenty in the Divine Ether that created us. Should we need power, we have but to call on it. It must answer us, as that is our blood right as sons of the Divine. Great Mother, our matriarch, I assure you, my brother and I have no desires other than to serve Nyx.”
“Remember, Mother Earth, the winged immortals were created for me and not against me,” Nyx said, agreeing with the golden-winged immortal.
“Yes, I know. They were created by me.” Mother Earth was not so easily placated. She faced off against Kalona and Erebus. “You were created by me to serve Nyx; therefore, it is my responsibility to see you are willing and able to fulfill your twin destinies as warrior and lover, playmate and friend. Nyx, do you agree that this is my responsibility?”
“My gratitude is such that I will never debate responsibilities with you. Instead I freely acknowledge that you are Mother and Creator of all of this.” Nyx paused, sweeping her arm gracefully in a gesture that took in the whole of the earth, as well as the two winged immortals. “Simply tell me how you propose to fulfill your maternal responsibility. I shall not naysay you.”
Kalona felt his stomach tighten as Mother Earth continued to study them carefully, as if searching for flaws.
“I take you at your word, Nyx. This is what I propose,” Mother Earth said, sending Nyx a maternal and very satisfied-looking smile. “Under my supervision, your two winged immortals must complete three tasks each for you, proving that they are powerful and wise and loyal enough to be worthy of you.”
“That sounds delightful, doesn’t it?” Nyx said.
“Absolutely,” Erebus said.
“I look forward to proving my worth to you,” Kalona said.
“Delightful!” Nyx repeated, meeting Kalona’s gaze.
“Then we begin immediately,” Mother Earth said, cooling the heat that Nyx’s gaze had been building in Kalona’s blood.
“Immediately?” Nyx said, obviously less pleased than Mother Earth.
“Oh, child.” Mother Earth put her arm around the Goddess. “Savor these first, wondrous steps. The magick of discovery is always sweeter if it has been earned.”
Nyx brightened. “You have been right thus far. I trust you!” The Goddess turned back to Kalona and Erebus. “I ask that you follow Mother Earth’s edicts as if they were my own. She is my true, dear friend.” Nyx looked from them to Mother Earth. “What is it you would have them do?”
“There are to be three tasks. For each of them I would have Kalona and Erebus choose an element—three of the magickal five: Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Spirit. Along with the element of their choosing, I gift them with a wisp of creation energy. Mix my gift with the power of the Divine that Erebus has so recently claimed as their birthright.” She paused and bowed her head slightly to Erebus in acknowledgment. “And they must each create something here”—her hand swept out, a gesture that mirrored Nyx’s—“that will delight you there.” Mother Earth lifted her arm, pointing up into the brilliant blue of the morning sky.
“What a wonderful idea!” Nyx said, clapping her hands together happily.
Kalona frowned. “Creation through elements? Fashioned here and enjoyed in the Otherworld? I do not intend impertinence, Mother Earth, but how are we to complete these tasks without knowing anything about the Earth or the Otherworld?”
Mother Earth waved her hands dismissively. “You carry the immortality of Divine Energy—that which created us all. Look within. You already know the Otherworld. The rest is simple if you take the time to learn about my earth and my elements.”
“And we know our Goddess,” Erebus said, smiling fondly at Nyx. “We were created knowing our Goddess. Pleasing her is our pleasure!”
Kalona growled again.
Mother Earth narrowed dark eyes on him, giving him a hard look, as if she were truly a mother and he her errant child.
“Which element will you choose first?” Nyx asked, seemingly oblivious to the tension between Kalona and Mother Earth.
Kalona was certain the Goddess had spoken to him, but it was his brother who answered, “Air, of course. It was from Air that we were fashioned for you. It is only right that Air continues to delight you.”
“An excellent choice, Erebus,” Mother Earth said. “Until you each call into being your creation, I grant you dominion over Air! So I have spoken; so mote it be!” A whoosh of wind washed over them, punctuating her words. Then she took Nyx’s hand and wrapped it through her arm. “Come, Nyx, let us leave your immortals to the first of their tests while we drink more nectar and you introduce me to some of your interesting little Fey.”
“But, what exactly are we are supposed to create?” Kalona asked, hating the desperation he heard in his voice.
Mother Earth glanced over her shoulder at him. “If you are clever enough to claim a place beside this lovely, faithful Goddess, you are clever enough to figure that out on your own—unless you fail the test, Kalona.”
“I will not fail,” Kalona said through gritted teeth.
“But if you do fail,” Mother Earth said, “you will not be allowed access to the Otherworld—not until you pass all three tests. Agreed?”
“Willingly agreed,” Erebus said.
“Agreed,” Kalona said, though reluctantly.
“But I am quite sure you will not fail,” Nyx said. Her words were balm to him until she turned her gaze from him to his brother. “Neither of you will fail me. And I cannot wait to see your creations!”
“Oh, one last thing,” Mother Earth said. “My world is populated by humans, mortals fashioned by me in the image of the immortals. They are beloved by me. Have a care with them. No doubt they will mistake you for Gods. If you must interact with them, be quite certain that they know it is a mistake. You are warrior and lover, friend and playmate—you are not Gods. Do you understand me?”
The winged immortals murmured tandem assurances that they did, indeed, understand Mother Earth.
“Good! When you have gained enough knowledge and are ready, use Air to summon me. Nyx will accompany me. As your Goddess she has the right to judge your creations. I wish both of you luck in your endeavors,” Mother Earth said.
“And I look forward to welcoming both of you to the Otherworld when your tests have been completed,” Nyx said, smiling at Kalona and Erebus in turn.
Then, changing quickly from divine to girlish, the two women put their heads together, one as luminous as the full moon, the other as dark and mysterious as the ground on which they stood. Giggling and whispering, they disappeared into the verdant grove.
Kalona stared after his Goddess, wishing nothing so much as to rush to Nyx and pull her from Mother Earth—pull her away from anything and anyone who attempted to stand between them.
“She is exquisite, isn’t she, brother?”
Kalona moved his gaze from the grove to stare at Erebus. Refusing to speak to him of the Goddess, he said, “Air? Why would you choose such an intangible element to wield?”
Erebus shrugged his sun-kissed shoulders. Kalona noticed that his hair glowed with the same golden fire as did his wings. “My only answer is that which I already gave our Great Mother: it is from the air that we were born. It seemed logical that it should be the element we first command.”
“She is not my mother,” Kalona said, surprising himself.
Erebus’s golden brows raised. “I think our Goddess might disagree with you.”
Our Goddess. Kalona hated the sound of those words. “Spend your time thinking of what you will create,” Kalona told his brother sharply. “For I assure you, what I create will be worthy of her.”
“I do not believe these tests are meant to be a competition,” Erebus said.
“Well, brother, I think our Goddess might disagree with you.” With those words, Kalona took several strides toward the shoreline. He leaped up at its very edge, beating his wings powerfully and using invisible currents of energy to lift himself.
He could feel Nyx’s gaze on him and, just before he disappeared into the horizon, Kalona glanced back. She was standing at the edge of the grove, staring up at him and smiling with a warmth that he could feel against his skin. Kalona met her eyes and touched his lips with his hand. Almost as if they were mirrored beings, Nyx lifted her own hand to touch her lips.
She loves me best! The words in his mind matched the beat of his mighty wings as Kalona climbed into the sky, intent on creating that which would prove he was worthy of his Goddess’s favor.
AT THAT MOMENT, KALONA WAS ABSOLUTELY CONTENT …
Kalona didn’t think much of the mortal earth. He crossed a great body of water to find a large, fertile continent. But much of it was too hot or too cold. Much of it was uninhabited, and that which was populated by Mother Earth’s human children was far from what Kalona’s predetermined consciousness considered civilized. He avoided them. Humans might have been created in Nyx’s image, but they seemed shallow and uninteresting when compared to the glory of his Goddess. Kalona roamed the vast continent, thinking of Nyx.