Kalona couldn’t contain his smile. “Are you here watching me for her?”
No! L’ota exclaimed, her voice rising above its usual whisper.
Kalona’s smiled faded. “She didn’t send you to watch me?”
I watch for me, not for Goddess.
Kalona’s brows lifted in amusement. “Why would you want to watch me?”
You make Goddess sad. I want know why.
Kalona felt as if the strange little Fey had driven a knife into his heart. “Nyx has been sad?”
The creature’s elongated head nodded, making the pink fringe of fur on its head bob. I want know why.
Kalona thought the creature didn’t sound particularly worried about Nyx, or even concerned that her Goddess was sad. It just sounded curious.
“I want to know why, too. And I want to make sure she is never sad because of me again. The only way I can do that is to have her come here to me, so that I can fix the wrong I did that saddened her. L’ota, please go to your Goddess and tell her that I ask—no, that I entreat—she come to me.”
The Fey went very still, and Kalona held his breath, waiting. When she finally spoke, L’ota surprised Kalona with her nonchalance.
If you command I tell Goddess you here.
“If I command you? That’s all it takes to get you to tell Nyx I’m here and that I entreat she come to me?”
No matter. Not my concern. Only notice what commanded to notice.
Kalona thought the creature thoroughly odd, but he said, “Then I command that you go to Nyx and entreat her to come to me.”
L’ota’s body completely liquefied and she disappeared, leaving Kalona to stare after her and worry that he had, again, made a mistake.
* * *
“You found my favorite lake.”
Her voice startled him. He’d been sitting on a rock, staring out at the blue water. So much time had passed since the strange little skeeaed had disappeared that he had begun to despair of Nyx coming. The sound of her voice was like balm on the aching wound that was his heart. He stood and turned so quickly that he almost lost his balance.
She smiled. “Hello.”
“Hello,” he said. He took in every detail of his Goddess. Today she had chosen to appear to him as the young maiden she had been when they’d first met. Her blond hair curled down past her shoulders. Her dress was simple, the color of the summer sky—the color of her eyes. The only adornment she wore was her mantle of stars, which rested over her hair like a headdress made of silver strung diamonds and the fascinating sapphire tattoos that decorated her skin.
Nyx was the most beautiful thing Kalona had ever seen, and he knew he could spend an eternity gazing into her eyes.
“I have missed you.” They spoke the words together.
Kalona could contain himself no longer. His long strides closed the space between them and he gently, carefully, took her into his arms and just stood, holding her, breathing in her scent as every particle of his being rejoiced.
“Yes,” he said, nuzzling her hair and whispering into her ear. “I found your favorite lake.”
She pulled back a little so that she could smile up into his eyes. “I am glad you called for me.”
“I am glad you came.” He returned her smile. It frightened him how her presence could make him so happy, and how her absence could make him so miserable, but he pushed aside those thoughts, determined to stay in the moment, to enjoy every instant he had alone with her. “I made you something.”
Her smile dimmed. “Oh. You’re ready to complete the next test? We must call—”
He touched her lips with his finger, silencing her gently. “I am ready to complete the next test, but first I want to show you what I made for you. I didn’t use magick. I didn’t call Water. I only used my desire to please you. I need no test to school me in that.” Putting his arm around her shoulders, he guided her to the spot where he had beached the boat.
He felt her little start of surprise. “You made this for me?”
She pulled free from his half embrace and hurried to the boat, running her hands over the symbols carved around it and making soft sounds of delight. When she looked up at him, her eyes were filled with tears.
“I wanted you to be able to float on the lake in peace and to think of nothing but the beauty that surrounds you,” he said. “I hope it pleases you.”
Nyx rushed to him and, laughing, hurled herself into his arms. Clinging to his neck, she covered his face in kisses, between kisses saying, “Yes, it pleases me! I love it! Thank you! Thank you!”
He was laughing with her as he spread his wings and lifted her from the ground, twirling her around. Neither realized they were hovering in the air until Nyx’s gaze tried to find the boat. She gasped and clutched his neck. Kalona tightened his arms around her.
“Trust me, Goddess. I would never let you fall.”
Nyx gazed into his eyes. “I trust you.” Then she kissed him. Not playfully, or gently, as she had before. The Goddess kissed him as if she thirsted, and only he could slake her need.
Kalona responded to her passion carefully. He wanted to crush her to him and to claim her as his own. But even more than that, he wanted to please her. So, he let Nyx take her time exploring his lips, touching his face, combing her fingers through his long, thick hair. All the while he held her. He kept her safe.
Too soon she paused her exploration, though the flush of her face and the deepening of her breath told him she had enjoyed herself as surely as her words did. “I like the way you taste,” she said.
He smiled, glad that he had tempered his desire with patience. “And that, my Goddess, pleases me.”
“Would you take me out in your boat?”
“It would be my pleasure, but it isn’t my boat. It is yours.”
“Kalona, sometimes you say exactly the right thing.”
He snorted as they drifted slowly to ground. “Sometimes, but not often.”
“I think you’re getting better at it,” she said.
“I could not get much worse.” Taking her hand, he helped her into the boat. “I-I made a mess of the Air test,” he said, pushing the craft out into the water before he got in with her. When she didn’t answer him, he made himself keep busy with the wooden paddle, steering the boat out onto the glasslike surface of the lake.
When he finally looked at her, Nyx was watching him, her expression unreadable.
“You are still angry with me?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I was never angry with you. I was sad and disappointed.”
“Knowing I have caused you sadness wounds me,” he said. “I will do better with the next test. I vow it.”
“It wasn’t the test that made me sad. It wasn’t the test that disappointed me.”
“You were cruel to Erebus. He did not deserve that.”
Kalona almost snapped the paddle in two. Unable to contain his jealousy, he blurted, “You do not prefer him!”
“Kalona, you both were created for me. You both have a purpose and a place at my side. If you do not want to sadden or disappoint me, you will not harbor enmity for your brother.”
Kalona struggled to control his inner turmoil. He wanted to cry out, to tell her that he couldn’t bear to share her, couldn’t bear to think of her covering Erebus’s face with joyous kisses, or exploring the taste of his lips.
“I vow that I have love enough within me for the both of you,” she said, moving forward so that she could press the palm of her hand over his heart. “Trust me, Kalona. I will never break a vow.” Then she kissed him and Kalona could think of nothing but the scent of her skin and the wonder of her touch.
The waters around them exploded with trilling Fey. They leaped over and around the boat in agitation, calling frantically to Nyx.
“Yes, yes, I understand you. I know the place. I will come. I will come.” The Goddess told the creatures, and with satisfied chirps, they disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. Nyx sighed and wiped water from her face and his, smiling apologetically at him.
“Let me guess,” Kalona said. “Erebus is ready for his test.”
“You are correct,” she said. “May we continue what we began later?”
“Yes, of course,” he said, turning the boat toward shore, hiding his hurt and frustration from her.
He helped her from the boat, pulling it well up onto the rocky shore. He was silent, already anticipating the joy Nyx would feel at whatever magnificent show Erebus had concocted for her this time, when the Goddess circled him with her arms from behind, pressing her cheek against his bare back and nuzzling his silver wings.
“I wish you would choose happiness. There is such wondrous happiness between us—enough to last an eternity,” she said.
He pressed his arms over hers, loving the feel of her warmth against the moonlit coolness of his skin. He drew a deep breath, and with it made a conscious effort to release his frustration.
Kalona could feel her smile. “There! That’s better,” she said, and kissed first the middle of his back, and then each of his wings. He thought she would release him then, though he remained very still, hoping to gain even one more small moment with her. She took her arms from around him, but she remained close. He sensed her hesitation, and then she stroked each of his wings gently. “They are so beautiful. I could look at them forever and still find different colors within them. Did you know that they’re not really white?”
“They are behind me, thus difficult for me to see.” His smile was reflected in his voice.
“They are like moonlight, of course, but this close their color reminds me of pearls. So beautiful…” she repeated, stroking them.
Kalona turned and caught her in his arms. “That you can find such beauty in me is a special kind of magick.”
“All is well between us,” she said, staring into his eyes searchingly. “Please know that. Your place in my heart cannot be filled by any other being in this realm or the Otherworld.”
Kalona kissed her gently. “Tell me, Goddess, where shall I take you?”
“To the east, and then a little north. If I understood the naiads correctly, which sometimes takes some doing, Erebus has chosen a fragrant spot for the site of his next test.”
Kalona couldn’t help grumbling. “What is he going to do? Water a field of flowers for you?”
Nyx laughed and twined her arms around his neck. “That isn’t exactly the fragrance I recall from this place, so creating flowers there would, truly, be an exceptional thing.”
Kalona took to the air with his Goddess in his embrace, dreading what was to come.
YOUR BROTHERHOOD PLEASES ME MORE THAN ANY TEST EVER COULD …
“Argh! It is putrid!” Kalona’s nose was wrinkled in disgust. “I will not take you closer to that mud and mess.”
“Nyx, there you are! It is lovely to see you.” Mother Earth embraced her.
“It is a pleasure to see you, as well.” Nyx returned her embrace, and then smiled at the dancing dryads that had taken to following the Great Mother everywhere. “If ever I wonder where they have gotten off to, I know all I need do is find you, and there the Fey will be.”
Mother Earth’s gaze went to Kalona. “And if ever I wonder where you have gotten off to, I know all I need do is find Kalona, and there Nyx will be.”
Kalona bowed his head slightly but respectfully to her. “I greet you, Earth Mother.”
“I greet you as well,” she said. “Whenever you are ready, you may begin your test. I do hope it turns out better than your last one.”
“I am ready, but—”
“But it is me who has summoned you here! There is no need for you to move from this spot. From here you will have a perfect view.” Erebus dropped down from the sky above them, glistening as golden as the midday sun. “Mother Earth, your beauty outshines the majesty of the pine trees,” he said with a flourish and a bow.
“So charming and handsome.” Mother Earth smiled fondly at him.
Then he turned to Nyx, and from behind his back he produced a single length of a fragrant herb, topped with a brilliant purple flower. Moving to her, he smiled and said, “Hello, my Goddess. This plant reminded me of the scent of your skin. I hope my creation pleases you as much as it does me.” Erebus tucked the sprig in her hair behind her ear.
Nyx smiled. “Lavender! You are right, Erebus. I do so love its delicate fragrance. I often rub it on my wrists. Thank you.”
“You should have brought enough for all of us so that we could stand the stench of this place,” Kalona said gruffly.
“Brother, I have actually missed your scowling face, but probably only because it bears such a resemblance to my own!” He clapped Kalona on the shoulder.
Nyx thought Kalona’s face looked like a thundercloud ready to explode all over his brother.
“There is nothing wrong with the scent of this place,” Mother Earth said sternly. “It comes from the mixing of heat and minerals that rest just below ground. During the winter, many animals come here and take comfort in the warmth it provides. They do not complain of the smell, and neither would you, Kalona, were you to freeze to death otherwise.”
“I am an immortal. We never die,” Kalona told her placidly.
“Indeed?” Mother Earth replied. “Never is a very long time.”
“Then let us waste not another moment of it,” Nyx said. “Erebus, what is it you have created for me with Water and magick?”
“Hopefully, something that pleases you greatly.” With two beats of his great golden wings, Erebus took to the air, hovering above them, near the lip of the basin that held mud and fetid escaping vapor.