Mud and heat from earth below,
Mix with magick to begin my show!
Erebus plucked a small golden feather from his unfurled wings, held it up to his lips, and blew on it. His breath, mixed with magick, carried the feather slowly, surely, down to the mud and mess below. The instant it touched the earth, there was a whoosh that reminded Nyx of how spring rains sounded against a forest canopy, and mist lifted from the mud, carrying the golden feather with it. As sunlight touched the feather, the gold in it expanded, glistened, and changed so that the mud was now covered with mist that held within it all the colors of the rainbow.
“It is not different than what he did before,” Kalona muttered.
“Sssh,” Nyx whispered to him. “His test isn’t completed.”
Erebus plucked another feather from his wing. This one was a long, golden pinion. Holding it like a spear, he spoke:
With borrowed creation, and my own magick, ancient, Divine,
I call to Water, an invocation to join this test of mine.
Come forth, geyser, rich and radiant in released power anew.
With your might show Nyx that I will ever be faithful and true!
Erebus threw the long, golden feather. As if shot from a bow, it sailed in a beautiful arc up and then down, down, to land, sticking its quill into the mud. For a moment nothing happened. Then, just as she was beginning to feel pity for poor Erebus and his failed creation, the earth beneath the feather began to growl and with the sound of waves breaking against a rocky shoreline, the feather was lifted up by a column of water that sprayed high, straight, and strong into the air.
Nyx clapped with pleasure as the geyser continued to spew water and steam through the misty rainbow into the clear blue sky, so high that Nyx would have had no trouble seeing it from the Otherworld. “That’s wonderful, Erebus!”
“A powerful and beautiful creation, indeed,” Mother Earth agreed.
Erebus landed before Nyx, grinning like a boy. “And that’s not even the best part of it. It will never stop erupting—eternally it will geyser in remembrance of you. Thus I have named it Old Faithful. No matter how long eternity lasts, like this geyser, I will always be your faithful playmate and friend, my Goddess.”
“Thank you, Erebus,” Nyx said, hugging him. “Your creation has pleased me. You easily passed this test.”
Still grinning, Erebus nodded at Kalona. “Your turn, brother.”
“Then follow me, and prepare to be impressed!” Before Erebus could protest, Kalona had scooped Nyx into his arms and leaped skyward, rocketing into the west. She peered over his broad shoulder to see Erebus following, with Mother Earth, who was clinging to him, but was also laughing uproariously.
“The Fey are going to have to scurry to catch up with us,” she said.
“Yes, and I was hoping so would Erebus, laden with Mother Earth.”
“Be kind,” she said, but tempered her disapproval by resting her head familiarly on his strong shoulder.
“She dislikes me.”
“Be kinder. You always seem so defensive around her.”
“Her gaze makes me uncomfortable,” he said.
“And still my advice remains the same. Be kind—to Mother Earth, to Erebus, to the mortals that inhabit this realm, and, most important, be kind to yourself.”
“You did not mention that I should be kind to you,” he said.
Nyx stroked his cheek. “I did not think I needed to.” She laid her head against his shoulder again and relaxed into his embrace, hoping silently that the outcome of this test would be very different from the last.
* * *
Kalona descended onto a verdant forest filled with the vibrant green of ancient trees. Boulders formed lovely little gorges, and the entire landscape was carpeted with ferns and moss. He came to ground, landing on a group of the largest of the mossy boulders, and gently released her. Before Erebus and Mother Earth had joined them, he kissed her quickly but thoroughly, and said, “Gaze upward.” Then he leaped off the boulder, his great wings carrying him aloft so that soon he disappeared into the canopy of green.
Erebus and Mother Earth arrived soon after, and not long after that, a few of the dryads materialized, chattering their displeasure at having been left behind.
“Where is he?” Mother Earth asked.
Nyx pointed upward. “He said to gaze there.”
“It is nothing but the side of a hill, littered with steep rocks, moss, and ferns. There aren’t even any deer trails leading up there. It is too rocky, too slick,” Mother Earth said, gazing upward.
“I wonder what my brother intends,” Erebus said.
Nyx smiled at him, noting that he seemed only curious and not envious at all. She linked her arm through his. “You are not mean-spirited at all.”
Erebus’s smile was sunshine bright. “Why would I waste my time being mean-spirited when being delighted and joyful is so much more fun?”
“An excellent question, young Erebus,” Mother Earth said, looking steadily at Nyx. “A wise Goddess would wonder why anyone would choose to be mean-spirited over joyful.”
Troubled, Nyx did not meet Mother Earth’s gaze. Instead she looked upward, seeking a glimpse of moonlight wings. She was rewarded by his silhouette, dark against the greenery. He was standing on the top ledge of the steep, rocky cliff. Below him, yet still above where Nyx and the rest of them stood, there was a lip of moss-covered rock that formed a basinlike ledge before the boulders opened and dropped down to the forest below.
Kalona raised one arm over his head, hand extended and open, and his voice echoed powerfully against the rocks.
With her beauty she has captured me,
Speared through heart and soul I shall always be.
The mortal realm should rejoice that she is true.
Forsaking her vow is something Nyx will never do.
So come to me ancient magick divine.
Take form in a weapon destined to be mine!
The air above Kalona seemed to shiver, and a long, onyx spear suddenly materialized. Kalona grasped it and commanded:
Water, heed the creation gift within my call.
Mirror her most favored headdress in a crystal, glistening fall!
Kalona drove the spear into the boulders at his feet, and water, answering his call, gushed up from within the break in the rock, cascading over the ledge in an ever-increasing powerful spill that widened, sparkling crystal and white, falling into the basin below in perfect mimicry of the glistening headdress of stars that decorated Nyx’s hair.
Nyx gasped in pleasure, clapping and laughing. Kalona dropped forward over the ledge to swoop down to her, catching her as she flung herself into his arms.
“Mother Earth! Kalona has re-created your gift that I love so dearly,” Nyx said, grinning at her friend when her feet were once more on the ground.
Mother Earth’s smile was guarded but genuine. “He has indeed. Well done, Kalona. This does decorate my forest wonderfully, and it will always remind me of the fondness I have for our faithful Goddess.”
The dryads trilled in agreement, dancing around the mossy boulders.
Erebus approached Kalona, extending his hand. “It is a thing of beauty, worthy of our Goddess.”
Kalona hesitated only a moment. Then he grasped Erebus’s hand. Smiling wryly, he said, “Thank you, brother. And this thing of beauty does not stink.”
Erebus threw back his head and laughed. “You win today, brother! And I freely admit it pleases me. You should show your sense of humor more often. I like this Kalona more than the dour, scowling one.”
Nyx went to them, and over their clasped hands, she placed her own. “Your brotherhood pleases me more than any test ever could. It is as if Water has filled me to overflowing with joy!”
Joining them, Mother Earth said, “And this is what I intended when I set you to these tests. I wanted only to be sure that worthy companions had been created for our Goddess. I am well pleased today, too. Tell me, Kalona and Erebus, what element will you choose for your final test?”
Nyx nodded to Erebus. “As Kalona chose Water, this next choice is yours.”
“If my brother is in agreement, I defer my choice and ask that you decide for me instead.”
“I am in agreement with my brother,” Kalona said.
Nyx’s smile was radiant. “Then I choose Spirit as the element for your final test.”
“Very well, then. Until you each call into being your creation, I grant you dominion over Spirit. So I have spoken; so mote it be,” said Mother Earth.
“And now I must leave you,” Erebus said.
“Leave me?” Nyx smiled questioningly at him.
“Oh, only for now. I do believe the Great Mother and I need to return to Old Faithful,” Erebus said, glancing from Kalona to Nyx, and then sending Mother Earth a pointed look. “We seem to be missing several of the Fey. I think they must still be at the geyser. You know how distracted they can be by sparkling colors.”
“We should go collect them, poor dears,” Mother Earth readily agreed with him. As Erebus lifted her carefully into his arms, she called, “Come, dryads, let us go back and find your sisters.”
Before he leaped skyward, Nyx touched Erebus’s arm. “Thank you. You are precious to me.”
“As you are to me, my Goddess,” he said. “Good-bye, brother. If you need help with your next test you can find me by following the rising sun.” The chattering dryads in tow, Erebus took to the sky, leaving Kalona and Nyx completely alone.
“He’s smarter than I thought he was, though his height still surprises me,” Kalona said.
“His height? The two of you are almost identical.”
“He is shorter and younger than me,” Kalona said. “Though, as you mentioned the similarity in our appearance, I will admit that he is exceedingly handsome.”
“You are incorrigible!” Nyx pushed playfully at his chest.
Laughing, Kalona grabbed her, and fell backward. As Nyx shrieked he unfurled his wings and they floated slowly down to land on a ledge just above the basin that was now filled with crystal water. Still holding her in his arms, Kalona murmured into her ear, “I told you I would never let you fall.”
“And have I told you how cold mountain waters are?” Nyx retorted, looking uncertainly below them at the sparkling pool.
“I cannot command Fire, but you, my Goddess, can,” he said.
Nyx grinned. “Yes, I can!” Stepping out of his embrace, she faced the waterfall and lifted her hands, invoking: I summon you, Fire. Your warmth in these waters I do truly desire.
Instantly the rocks surrounding the waterfall and pool began to glow like embers, and warm mist lifted from the basin.
“Shall we?” Kalona asked.
“You already know my answer. I am very fond of Water,” she said. “I am also very fond of you.” Deliberately, the Goddess reached behind her and pulled a silver ribbon, loosening her dress. With a shake of her shoulders, it fell from her body to form a sky-colored puddle at her feet. Wearing only her headdress of stars, she said, “Will you join me?”
“Always,” he said, and took her in his arms.
Their attention consumed by the pleasure they found in each other, neither noticed the skeeaed. With eyes narrowed in envy, L’ota watched the immortals’ lovemaking before she soundlessly slithered away to disappear into the darkest of shadows.
WHERE THERE IS LIGHT, THERE, TOO, MUST BE DARKNESS …
“Why is this so difficult?” Kalona’s frustration boiled over and he threw the rock away from him, causing the ever-watching ravens to flutter and squawk. He had been attempting to breathe Spirit into inanimate objects to create a new type of creature for his Goddess and had thus far failed miserably.
First Kalona had tried to insert consciousness within a tree, one of the gnarled oaks that proliferated the cross-timber area bordering the grassy prairie.
Apparently, trees already contained a living spirit that did not appreciate company. When he had flung spirit into it, the craggy oak had shivered like a horse shaking off a swarm of biting flies, and had hurled Kalona’s magick back at him. The immortal had been knocked off his feet with the backlash—and he had had to endure the whoops and chants of the local Shaman who, witnessing the debacle, promptly lit sage and danced all around Kalona’s campsite, wafting smoke everywhere. Kalona had no idea what the mortal believed he was doing. He only knew for sure that the smoking sage made his eyes water and his nose tickle, and this annoyed him almost as utterly as did the noisy birds. Rather than smite the human and arouse pesky Mother Earth, Kalona had flown away to Nyx’s falls, meaning to wash himself in the crystal shower, hoping cleansing his body would likewise clear his mind.
The Goddess had been there, sunning herself on the moss-covered boulder. As he landed lightly beside her, she’d opened her eyes and smiled joyfully up at him.
“Is it really you, or am I having a wonderful waking dream?”
He’d taken her in his arms and shown her how very real he was.
Kalona had found contentment in Nyx’s arms, but that contentment lasted only as long as they were together. When she left him, returning to the Otherworld alone but satisfied, and Kalona had flown back to his campsite, the happiness he’d found in her arms only intensified the frustration he felt at their separation.
“Divine energy, mixed with the power to create and the element Spirit,” Thinking aloud, Kalona sat on a felled tree he’d dragged near the campfire he lit nightly, and poked the embers with a long stick. “Spirit, energy, and creation—that equates to life. If I have reasoned through that, Erebus surely will, too. I can see him now, preening and fluttering as he presents his creation to Nyx, making her smile and clap and coo.” Kalona jabbed the fire so violently that his stick snapped in half.