Games teach skills of co-ordination and strategy, true, and yet are seen as wasteful pursuit. One wonders if this reasoning is due to the fear of underlying lessons … such as premonition, the ability to think beyond the present.
~ Beacon’s archives
The Great Dividing Forest
He stood on a brown square two by two feet and next to it a green square, then another brown, another green and so on; he was on a giant checkerboard!
At each corner there was an oval pile of sticks and mud, as many nests were made, only larger. Curious, Kylan closed in to investigate, glancing about and crouching low, making as little sound as possible. He did not sense danger, but it paid to be careful, it paid every time.
There were five eggs in the nest and there were five in the next and the next. In this strange place everything was uniform and, well, designed. Again he glanced around, neck hairs beginning to prickle. Nothing, but that did not mean there was not something.
Frowning, he returned his attention to a clutch of pale purple, spotted eggs. He leaned over to touch, feeling warmth and an inner vibration that proved life. He would have been surprised had they been cold and lifeless, but this was a lot of potential living here.
A checkerboard hatchery, strange as that was? And what was he doing here?
Looking up he saw an enormous dome, muted blue. Well. A brown-green checkerboard, purple eggs and a blue dome. Was he in a child’s drawing? A giant’s game?
Despite wariness, he chuckled; it was too farfetched to be taken seriously … must be a dream … or a premonition.
His amusement vanished and he swallowed convulsively.
If the eggs were warm, something was entrusted to keep them that way. Perhaps the dome was an incubator and perhaps even now the mothers returned, winging back on giant wings. What, in Taranis’ name, would they prove to be? Crikey, he may have stumbled into a hornet’s nest … he hoped they were not hornets!
Come now, buddy, this is a dream, no more. And they would have to be seriously huge hornets.
There were muted explosive sounds around him, and at first he thought the eggs were blowing up, but then there was light everywhere. Someone switched on a hundred suns inside his head, in front of his eyes, he was blind … no, that was not right. His eyes were simply unaccustomed to the sudden light.
There had been a switching-on process, therefore the explosions - huge, artificial, twenty feet high lights. So, it was an artificial place … well, he figured that already; he just could not figure what for or what it meant to him. Then he realized the lights were probably on to spot a possible intruder … he was the intruder!
Taranis, what now?
Something unseen landed on his chest and there was a smelly slobbering about his face. Attempting to push the creature away, encountering warm fur, shaking his head from side to side to prevent the assault claiming a nose or eye, and wondering why he could not see his attacker in the brightness, Kylan shook himself awake.
He was beside the fire on his sleeping roll where he lay down a couple of hours back. The fire was low and marked the time passed. Jess obviously decided she had waited long enough for a meal.
Kylan sat up groggily, laughing in relief, body coated in sweat, dark hair plastered to his face with the aid of slobber.
Wiping his face with a shaking hand, he said, “Ah, Jess, you smelly mutt, thank Taranis that was a dream! You can’t know how great your timing was.”
Jess, of undetermined breed, cocked her head to stare at him with soulful eyes. His green orbs darkened as he recalled other incidents. She pulled him from dreams before and frequently warned him of snares in the Forest when she should not know of their existence.
“I have a feeling you do know,” he muttered, and Jess cocked her head the other way as if in agreement. He laughed. “Or maybe I’ve been alone too long …”
Jess jumped up and barked at him, her wont when she disagreed with something. He laughed again, less surely this time.
“Maybe I’m not hallucinating, but the alternative is unthinkable. If you do know, girl, then what does that make you? Folk will quarter you for harbouring magic, but all right, I’m not going to say anything … and, as you’re so sharp, please explain what that crazy dream …”
He slammed up against the huge oak behind him and hung there suspended two feet from the ground.
Cannot move … what is this? Another dream? A dream within a dream - had he not awakened earlier? He wore only breeches and the rough bark of the old tree dug viciously into the exposed skin of his back … it hurts!
It could not be a dream, but reality versus fantasy was the least of his concerns. A force encircled his neck and drove air from his lungs.
Jess barked furiously, jumping up and nipping at something not there. Her hysterics caused a fluttering and a raucous noise, as all birds in the immediate vicinity took to wing.
He attempted to loosen the stranglehold on his neck, scratching at his throat and raising bloody welts. All the while his legs flailed seeking a way to lever away from the tree back to solid ground.
The night was eerily silent.
Jess ran cowering under a bush to whimper there. Kylan sensed his struggles were useless; he hung above the ground, eyes seeking escape, ears attempting to pierce the breathless quiet for clues to the source of his torment. Barely breathing, he saved what little oxygen he had left for when an opportunity presented itself, if it would, dear Lord.
What is this? There is no defence against this … this sorcery!
TARANIS! Taranis, help me! I cannot do this alone!
Then, as unexpectedly as it began, he was released.
He tumbled to earth gasping in great gulps of air that seared his throat and lungs.
Jess slinked out. “It’s all right, girl,” he murmured. “You were wonderful.” Stroking her he looked around, no longer trusting their surroundings.
It was silent, but all was as it had been. There was his sleeping roll, his bag of necessities, with cooking utensils to one side and herbs drying where he hung them earlier that afternoon. The fire popped merrily and that was not right. He did not put wood on after waking with Jess slobbering over him and an almost dead fire did not find fuel on its own.
Dare he think Taranis heard him? Dumb, that would be a first, a god saving someone directly. Sick of being frightened and confused, he shouted, “What is going on here?”
“Taranis cannot help you, human, although it amused me no end to release you when you invoked his aid. It really does take more than one human in trouble for the beloved Taranis to take note.”
From the dark beyond the fire came the most dangerous creature Kylan had ever encountered. As a Herbmaster he often went where others did not and saw different creatures and strange animals on four legs and six, but never this. Jess’ hackles were raised. No amount of calling on the Deities would help him, and likely they did not hear a lone human.
The creature was blue with an underlying pulse of purple - colours like the eggs. It had been a premonition; he was not afforded the time to figure it out, not that he would have come to this conclusion. It was naked, obviously female and highly alluring. Her skin tone was not repulsive in the least. Her hair was long and blue, swaying in the night air.
Shaped and sized as a human female, she was extraordinarily sensual, until he saw her eyes, until he looked.
They were voids, transparent pools so deep they were eternal. If he stared too long he would certainly drown, spiralling into infinity, over and over and over and … he hurriedly looked away.
He did not know how he knew her eyes could kill, only that they would.
She laughed. A knowing sound was also the sweetest he had heard. He knew who she was, but until now had not believed she existed. She was a myth, a legend, a tale.
… spiralling into infinity …
This was Infinity, the blue dara-witch.
According to legend, she was the mother of all gods, immune to death and sorcery. The tale further stated one could live forever if one subjected one’s soul to her eternal will. This before him was no dream and no legend. His brief glimpse into her eyes that were not eyes revealed to him clearly the price for eternal life was death, in any way she devised, and endlessly repeated for her twisted pleasure. It was eternal death and it was endless.
He had to get away NOW.
Faithful Jess came to his rescue for the second time that night.
She leapt from his side over the fire in a brown and black steak of pure and intent energy. She was at Infinity’s throat in lightning seconds, but when she got there, there was nothing to sink her teeth into. Infinity was an apparition; real and as capable of great damage as any solid entity, yet as untouchable as the night air in which she appeared. She was energy in visual form.
Jess, however, served as a momentary distraction. Infinity spun and, as Jess leapt, Kylan dived for the fire and grabbed a burning log from a blaze that should have no such item. Wondering if a piece of wood burning magically could burn flesh, not knowing what exactly he would do with this spontaneous weapon, he knew only his heart was frantic and any moment could see him surrender to mindless fear.
He too leapt over the fire before fear did overcome. Positioned facing her, he brandished his flickering weapon.
Infinity laughed, clearly delighted. “I am not a forest creature you can scare away with fire, human! My, but you are a spirited one! I will enjoy this. I will allow you sixty of your human heartbeats to escape me and then I shall hunt you.” Her voice dropped as she considered the sport ahead, turning husky with anticipation. “Do not think you can escape your fate, beautiful man. There is no way out … see?”
The blue woman twisted to where Jess only moments before spun at bay behind her, snarling and contemplating her next assault. Infinity lifted her arm, and fingers shot darts of azure flame, which she tossed at Jess.
In that exact instant Kylan acted.
In the moment following, frozen into his memory forever after, four events occurred simultaneously.
He thrust the burning brand directly into Infinity, his need to do something energizing every move and thought; Jess exploded into a pillar of cobalt flaming vapour, yelping piteously; Infinity erupted, transforming into a whirlwind of gale force strength, and a voice burned into his mind, admonishing him to “Remember! Remember the words, Kylan! Always know I am with you!”
And he knew no more.
The forest was dark because there was no moon, but it was warm and welcoming under the covering of trees.
The entire region was alive with sound, in particular the song of the nightjar and chirruping crickets. There were rustles as diurnal creatures settled in for the dark and nocturnal creatures stirred from daytime slumber. The sounds were comforting; all was right in their world.
Kisha travelled alone. She was not afraid.
Fear was an alien emotion, the consequence of a sheltered upbringing, but pain was now familiar, a dull ache she tried to ignore. She was her father’s daughter, though, resilient, imaginative, calm, intelligent and, she hoped, brave. May Taranis keep him safe and guide him on his final journey.
His final journey brought about her first beyond the borders of clanland. Six weeks ago the life she knew for over twenty years was shattered by a freak accident. Her father and others of the Tan were killed in a landslide en route to a gathering of elders. She remembered her father’s bushy red beard tickling her cheek as he hugged her goodbye, a huge grin on his face. She also recalled the sad, earnest face of the survivor, the one who brought the news.
The rescue team she assembled reached the scene of the rock fall as true dark set in. It was the longest day of her life, minutes like hours, but there was nothing to be seen when they arrived at the site except a cairn of rocks and boulders. The rocks were immovable, gravestones to five men and eight horses. They said their prayers for the dead the following morning and returned home.
It could not be the same after that. Confrontation with death awakened her to a completely new world of feelings. She wanted to leave; every nook reminded her of lives lost. And a force called, she could not explain it, nor did she try. She knew not what or where to, only that she could not ignore it.
Now an image of a well beckoned.
Night deepened and she halted at a hollowed tree and dropped her pack to the leafy ground. As she set about gathering kindling, she heard the distant barking of a dog. A dog meant people.
Smiling, she resolved to find them. Packing up again, she set off in the direction of the sound. It did not occur to her there might be creatures in the dark intent only on foul deeds.
An hour later, after a long period of quiet and as she considered giving up, she heard a man’s voice. “… Jess you smelly …” and it sounded friendly and nearby.
The man continued talking, and then there was silence.
She angled left to where she thought he was and gradually became aware of an alteration in the air. The lifting of hundreds of roosting birds alerted her that something was not right, the birds being proof to sneaking sensation.
The ensuing silence, a dead, unnatural silence, set her nerves tingling. Maybe the man needed help and maybe she should fade into the darkness, walk another path, away from here.
On the point of doing that, the stranger’s voice shouted in fear and bravado, “What is going on here?”
What now? Stay? Go? Hide?
Help or run?
Kisha experienced the first prickles of real fear when she heard a woman’s voice answer him. It was an entrancing voice, but so inherently evil, even she, in her innocence, recognized it. Or, due to innocence, she instantly sensed the great difference.
The man, whoever he was, needed help.
Her heart hammered so loud she thought it would give her away; her mouth was dry and foul, but she was her father’s daughter. Ahead through the trees, she saw the dancing light of a fire and crept towards it. As she neared a well-used clearing, a dark-haired man leapt over the fire, swinging a burning log.
In the next moment there was a flash of blue-green energy and what appeared to be an angry dog erupted into flames of the same impossible hue.
A whirlwind came at her and she froze in paralysed fright.
The man shouted out in the Ancient Tongue, “Mykia lan shuldra ka! Invin ka!”
And she knew no more.