Creation of mine, the Goddess Nyx to know!
With a deafening crack! Kalona clapped his mighty hands together, and instantly the air above them began to roil and blow, around and around, so that great thunderclouds billowed and the sky went from sweet summer’s day blue to bruised and angry and dark.
Now grow! Grow! Far afield grow!
Creation of mine, the Goddess Nyx to know!
With the repetition of his words, Kalona also repeated the thunderclap of his hands, and the swirling winds above him shot into the distance. As the winds moved they changed, alight with shards of spearlike power, they roared, forming a vortex that became a funnel, which dipped down, down, until its gray tail met the prairie in an explosion of one element clashing with another. The funnel skipped across the grasslands, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
Nyx forced her gaze from Kalona’s terrible, wondrous creation to look at him. Kalona blazed. He stood in the center of a maelstrom of wind and power, staring at her with a desire so powerful it frightened her. The Goddess could not speak. She was trapped in his gaze, drawn and repelled, equally as afraid of losing him as of accepting him.
“Control it, you fool!” Mother Earth shouted her command over the wind. “It has changed course!”
Nyx looked to where the funnel had been only moments ago. It was gone! She searched the sky and realized it had skipped across the flat ground of the prairie, changed direction, and was heading toward the timberline, which held the settlement of the People.
“Air! I command you depart!” Kalona cried.
But Kalona’s task was complete, and he no longer commanded Air. The whipping winds within the funnel howled and grew, bearing down on the campsite.
From the sky there was a flash of gold and Erebus dropped to the ground, standing tall and proud between the whirlwind and the tree line. In a strong, sure voice he commanded:
Winds of storm and lightning, passion and power,
I command thee with a different intent.
Peace and calm I do bring to this hour.
Now! My creation to the Goddess I present!”
Erebus clapped his hands together, and sunlight burst from his palms, spearing into the heart of the dark, whirling funnel cloud. Like dew scorched by summer sun rays, the clouds parted, dissolving the passion of the storm. From the very center of what had so recently been a spiral of chaotic passion and power, color grew and arched, spreading in a brilliant bow of yellow and pink, crimson, purple, and green.
The dryads, who had been cringing in fear, hiding down in the tall grass, crept out, cooing and trilling in appreciation of the colorful show. Even L’ota, who had been cowering behind Nyx, peeked out and gasped in pleasure.
“Do you like it?” Erebus asked, jogging up to Nyx and bowing first to her and then to Mother Earth. “I was a little rushed. I had planned to present it for you at dusk today, when the colors would look most brilliant, but I was drawn here by that maelstrom, and knew my plans must change.” Erebus frowned at Kalona. “What were you thinking?”
“I was not thinking about you!”
Nyx’s eyes widened in surprise at Kalona’s harsh tone, but before she could admonish him, Mother Earth spoke.
“You were not thinking about anyone except yourself! Kalona, you have failed this test.” Her displeasure caused the prairie grasses to shiver. Mother Earth turned her back on Kalona and went to Erebus, embracing him warmly. “Erebus, your creation is lovely, and I thank you for ending the terrible storm that could have destroyed some of my children.”
“Wait, my friend.” Nyx addressed Mother Earth slowly, carefully considering each of her words. “When you commanded that Kalona and Erebus complete three tasks, you proclaimed that as their Goddess, it is my right to judge their creations. I would respectfully remind you of your own proclamation.”
Mother Earth met Nyx’s gaze. The Goddess searched for anger or resentment within her friend’s eyes, but she saw only concern, and then resignation. Mother Earth bowed her head to Nyx. “You do well to remind me of my words. I bow to your judgment.”
Drawing a deep breath, Nyx faced Kalona. He had moved toward her as the funnel had gotten out of control, and she knew he had been ready to protect her against his own creation. She also knew the misery she saw in his amber eyes. She felt the mirrored pain within herself.
“Kalona, what you created for me did exactly as you intended. It demonstrated the power of your passion, and I could view your whirlwind from the Otherworld. I appreciate your strength and your desire to share your innermost passions with me. You do wield the power of an immortal warrior, my immortal warrior, and that pleases me. But if you are ever to be more than warrior to me, you must temper your passion with kindness, your power with control.” She closed the space between them. She needed to touch him. To let him hold her in his arms as he had the night before as he had fed her berries and gazed at the moonlit ocean with her. But for his own sake, Nyx denied her need and finished her judgment. “I understand the intent behind your creation, and because of that you did not fail the test, but you did not please me, either.”
Kalona’s shoulders drooped and he did not meet her eyes. “I ask that you forgive me and give me another chance to please you, for I desire to be much more than your Warrior.”
“Readily, I forgive you and grant you another chance. Which element would you choose to wield?”
His gaze found hers again. “The one that is so favored by you—Water.”
“My friend?” Nyx said, looking from Kalona to Mother Earth.
Mother Earth nodded and said, “Until you each call into being your creation, I grant you dominion over Water. So I have spoken; so mote it be.”
“Thank you, Mother Earth,” Nyx said. Without another word to Kalona, Nyx turned her back to him and walked to Erebus. Embracing him warmly, she said, “Erebus, your bow of color is lovely! You have pleased me greatly. Would you walk awhile with me? I would like to introduce you to the People of the Prairie. After what they have witnessed today, I am sure your music would bring them much needed delight.”
“Goddess, it is my greatest pleasure to do your bidding.”
Nyx let him take her hand and together they walked through the grasses toward the timberline. Though she wanted to, the Goddess did not allow herself to look back at Kalona even once.
TRUST ME, GODDESS. I WOULD NEVER LET YOU FALL …
Kalona sulked for several days after the test, replaying over and over again in his mind the disastrous conclusion to what he had intended as an awe-inspiring demonstration of passion and power.
How had it gone so terribly wrong?
He had practiced day after day on the grassy prairie. The neighboring tribe of Prairie People could have attested to the fact that he had created many whirling funnels of wind and magick, and that he had easily controlled them. The local mortals had even begun leaving gifts of food, clay pots filled with precious ocher, and carefully made clothing for him. Remembering Nyx’s fondness for these particular people, Kalona had dressed carefully for his test, decorating himself to please her.
But nothing had gone as Kalona had planned.
Erebus had saved the day and won Nyx’s pleasure. Kalona could not bear to think of what else Erebus had won from Nyx.
He would not allow himself to fail again!
“It is that wretched elemental magick that was at fault. Air is so unpredictable—so changeable. It was Erebus’s choice in elements that was flawed. Though is my choice of Water any better?” He paced around the clearing he had begun to think of as his own. It was far enough from the tribe of Prairie People that they did not often pass by, and close enough that the offerings they had continued to leave for him were easily accessible. The People did not particularly interest Kalona, but their food did, as did the thick, soft furs they’d left for his sleeping pallet. Not surprisingly, Mother Earth’s surface was as hard and uncomfortable as her admonishing gaze. The immortal had no true need for sleep, though that did not mean he didn’t appreciate a warm, soft spot on which to rest his body.
“Cro-oak! Cro-oak! Cro-oak!” Above Kalona, the ravens that had taken to following him around the prairie lent their words to his tirade.
“If you must shadow me, do it quietly!”
The black birds preened and stared at him. Kalona shook his head. “I have to find my focus! I must wield Water more wisely than I did Air. I must win Nyx’s pleasure from Erebus.”
That shouldn’t have been so difficult. Before the botched test, Nyx had regularly sought him out. They had spent many days and nights together, and she had seemed well pleased to be in his presence.
“Without being wooed by an unpredictable element!” Kalona shouted his frustration, causing the ravens to flutter their wings restlessly.
Kalona stopped pacing and reasoned aloud. “I pleased her without using an element or invoking Divine magick to do so. I did it before, and I shall do it again. And from an intimate, pleasant interlude wherein I remind her that it is me she desires, not magick or elements or the unpredictable power of creation, I will take her to my next test. It will be something as simple and intimate as our interlude, and I will be victorious, winning Nyx’s favor!” Kalona hurried to the pile of furs and leathers and such that were rich gifts from the Prairie People. He dug through the mound until he found what he sought—a knife made of a black stone, hewn to a strong, sharp point. “I am liking these Prairie People more and more each day.” Kalona rolled the knife and a basket of fruit and fragrant flatbread within the softest of the furs, and then he took to the sky and headed into the northwest, seeking that which he knew would please his Goddess.
He didn’t use magick to fell the tall pine tree, though he did use his immortal strength, as well as his preternatural speed, to hollow it out and carve from it the form of a gracefully pointed boat. Kalona found he enjoyed using his hands as much as he enjoyed the scent of wood and the sight of the azure lake. Nyx had been right about the beauty of the lake. Its color was so lovely that he often glanced at it to be sure it wasn’t just a trick of his sight. But it didn’t change. Even under the moonlight the huge round body of water, dotted with one tree-covered island, seemed to glisten aqua, its high sides looking like a bowl made of clouds that had trapped the sky.
Kalona worked without pause all day and night on the little boat, and as he worked he thought of Nyx. Her beauty inspired him, and when he was finished he stood back and surveyed his work. Kalona was well pleased. The craft was more than seaworthy. Kalona liked to believe that it also reflected Nyx’s beauty. All around it he had meticulously carved symbols that reminded him of the Goddess: stars and moons, delicate shells and waves. He had even replicated the white flowers she had worn in her hair when last he’d seen her.
He carried the boat down the steep side of the lake so that it rested on the rocky shore. Then he placed the thick, soft fur within it, as well as the basket of fruit and flatbread. He was ready for Nyx. He had even decided what he would create for her during his next test. He hadn’t practiced over and over again as he had with the funnel cloud, but he felt confident that he had changed his intent enough that he wouldn’t make the same mistake as before. This time he would not show her the power of his passion. This time he would make tangible the delight he felt at her beauty, and show her how much he cherished her, in whatever visage she chose.
There was just one thing that he couldn’t figure out, and that was how to get Nyx to come to him without using Water to summon meddling Mother Earth. He wanted to be alone with his Goddess before the test, to show her what his own hands had created for her before he wielded magick and Water and put on the requisite public show.
Kalona had never had to call Nyx to him before. She had just appeared, usually smiling and telling him to stop looking so serious and come gather flowers with her, or gaze at moonlit water with her, or kiss her, gently, just where her impossibly soft skin curved to meet her graceful shoulders …
Kalona shook himself mentally. Thinking of kissing Nyx would not conjure the Goddess.
Perhaps he should try calling her name.
“Nyx?” His voice echoed back to him over the brilliant blue surface of the lake, sounding tentative and almost childlike. Kalona squared his shoulders and tried again. “Nyx!” This time the echo was more forceful, though it produced the same result. Nyx did not appear.
“Think!” he commanded himself. “There must be a way to reach her without using Mother Earth’s element and bringing the whole crowd of them here.”
As if his words had conjured a small part of that crowd, the little creature stepped from behind a nearby pine tree and spoke mockingly in its whispery voice, Goddess not called like servant! Goddess commands, not commanded!
“You are one of Nyx’s Fey. I saw you beside her on the prairie.”
As soon as Kalona spoke, the Fey skittered back behind the tree.
“Don’t run away! I need your help.” Kalona pitched his voice to sound coaxing, soothing. The creature, moving with an odd, liquid grace, slid part of its body from behind the tree, peeking out at him. “Don’t be frightened. I will not harm you.”
Not frightened, said the Fey, moving all the way out from behind the tree.
“That’s right, you don’t need to be frightened of me.”
L’ota not frightened.
“L’ota? Is that the type of Fey you are?”
The creature looked thoroughly offended. I skeeaed! Servant of Goddess! She name me.
“So, you are close to Nyx.”
Kalona hid his smile. “If you are always close to Nyx, then where is she? I do not see her.”
L’ota’s strangely shaped body rippled in consternation, changing colors from pale pink to crimson and rust. Not here. Otherworld.