The children were wide-eyed, the firelight flickering off the whites. Mynoris glanced at the adults, who weren’t unaffected by the emotion in the tale. Dasgar was also struck. This smooth, confident woman had shown a moment of vulnerability. Perhaps it was because the tale was close to home for her, or perhaps she was just one of the world’s top story tellers. Maybe even a bit of both. Whatever the case, he doubted this story was just chosen randomly.
Rather abruptly Mynoris stood up and crossed the cave to the boulder that sealed them in so safely. From close by she picked up a bow and slung it across her shoulders, retrieving a quiver shortly afterwards. Dasgar perked up; a bow often meant hunting, and hunting meant fresh meat.
“I heard last meal that some of you were getting tired of stew. I’m going to go hunting to give us a bit of a change.” Her eyes panned over the youths. “I want some of you to group together and haul stones from the stream. Wide, flat stones are the best. Stack them in the entrance area of the cave.” She gestured towards the civilians in general. “I also suggest that everyone else get a little more fresh air. If the enemy armies come close, it will become scarce and precious.”
And with that, she was gone. Dasgar didn’t have time to follow her. Instead he worked with the older boys to haul rocks up. In a way, he found it strange that they so readily followed her orders, even though she had no actual authority over them. But from their chatter, he could tell that they were fairly spell-bound by her, and then it all made sense. Certainly, he couldn’t blame them.
It was just about time for supper when Mynoris came back, a dead deer buck slung across her shoulders. There was a great deal of cheering involved, since a slight change in diet was very much welcome. Promptly the deer was prepared, some of it for cooking immediately and some of it to be salted saved away for later. Mynoris herself scraped the hide and stretched it out, pinning the corners under some rocks, so it wouldn’t go to waste either. And she took the antlers for herself.
Besides the fresh venison, some of the women had found edible mushrooms in the forest, as well as some berries and roots to bring out the flavor. The meal was good enough that the children didn’t rush through it but took the time to savor the freshness. Dasgar noted that Mynoris’ group of talents made her well equipped to deal with this situation in ways that a trained solider, like himself, would have struggled with. Forest lore wasn’t part of his training, and while he was sure he could shoot and kill a deer if he saw one, he wouldn’t have had the faintest idea how to track one down. Nor would he know how to skin and prepare one, as Mynoris obviously did.
When everyone was warm and sated, the story began again. By now there was a fair mix of adults and older children in the audience. Inside the cave, there wasn’t much to do, and everyone had family that was out in the world, fighting the war. Fathers, brothers, and sons were missing from the daily routine, and everyone was happy for a whatever blissful forgetfulness they could find.
“That was likely the second lowest point in my life. I felt that everyone was against me, which wasn’t really fair or realistic. But I was indulging in my darker feelings quite a bit. I spent a lot of time in the darkest corners of the universe, feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes Dyris would sit with me, but rarely for very long. She had the rare talent of being able to sit quietly with someone without feeling a compulsive need to talk about something trivial and pointless.
Meanwhile, everyone else was stretching the boundaries of their powers, learning what they could affect and not, and where the lines were between their powers and the powers of others. I was dimly aware of this because of some of the psychic chatter that went between various Gods and godlings. At the time I was terribly indignant, but looking back, I sometimes wonder if it was meant to be. Maybe even Fellane had seen something about the necessity, and there was a purpose to her negativity. At least, I hope that was the case.
Pretty soon, and I say this in the terms of a God’s life-span, the godlings were at least as adept as the Gods in their powers and had earned the right to properly be called Gods. Even Dyris got this label, mostly because they felt singling her out would be a greater insult than any of them cared to deliver. Of course, at the time, our term for Gods simply meant that they had finished growing and were seen as equal to us. The idea of worship hadn’t entered into the picture yet.
With the Godlings now all ‘grown up’ there was a change in their demeanors. In the beginning it was subtle, and none of us really noticed. But in time even we couldn’t miss how they were actively pursuing each other. There was a lot more touching going on, and…”
Here the sound of a cough interrupted Mynoris. One of the mothers stood with her arms crossed and eyebrows raised. So far, after the initial uncertainty, Mynoris had been given fairly free reign in her story telling. But now they were getting to a point that might be harder to explain away to the young ones. While the mothers weren’t averse to such a discussion amongst adults, or even the more mature youths, such a topic was not for the innocence of young children. Dasgar was disappointed, but he knew that it was within the mother’s rights to object, and he would not fault her for it. Mynoris nodded her head, and for the first time, looked a bit sheepish. Taking a deep breath, she readjusted her words, watching the mothers’ faces for any sign of disapproval.
“Sometimes a pair of them would break off from the and disappear for a short while. And if anyone followed, they would become agitated. We older Gods didn’t understand this. When we had paired off, we simply felt a resonance with another being, and that was that. There really wasn’t a decision, or a need to discuss it. There was a mutual feeling of wholeness between each couple, and we never questioned how it came to be, or what the implications were.
But the younger generation didn’t seem to have any such internal guidance. It was something they struggled with. Instead of fighting an outside, destructive force, they seemed at war with their own thoughts and feelings. And when they said that we didn’t understand them, well, they were right. We were slightly impatient with them, especially since sometimes we couldn’t track who was getting along with whom, or who had most recently upset whom. Still, it was obvious that this was something they had to get through, and so we waited.
Finally, some of this turmoil began to die down, and many of them settled into more permanent pairings. Ashoryl and Kashet were the first two pair off. They were both reasonable and calm in personality, and their interests were close. There was only minimal drama involved. Shynae, however, surprised me by pairing with Ateer, who was very much her opposite. It seemed to work for them, though I initially had misgivings, and I frequently put Ateer under much scrutiny. Corris settled with Jesryna, though I personally think he was in awe of her, considering her more stringent nature and his easy going one. Zyra and Ondrias were a comfortable pair without any great arguments or great passion.
Other couples were a little slower to pair off. Brilayze and Tilephra were so focused on each other, that they didn’t seem to take any pairing seriously, even when the others started to splinter off. Only Meklade was persistent enough to break through their shared comradery. He became very eloquent in trying to convince Tilephra to join him. But though she was tempted, she still had more loyalty to Brilayze. It wasn’t until Meklade realized that Dinairn had a longing for Brilayze, that things started to come together. It was not easy for Dinairn to be gentle with anyone, but he tried, and with Meklade coaching him, he was finally able to turn Brilayze’s attention to him. Since they both had prospects, the ‘twins’ agreed to splinter off as well. Lorrai was also a bit difficult, mostly because she couldn’t settle with just one partner because she seemed to favor everyone more or less equally. As the choices got narrower, she eventually settled with Panoren, who seemed oddly suited to her demands.
This left Dyris and Eyni, which made me rather uncomfortable. So far everyone else had bonded, but Dyris showed very little interest with bonding in general, or Eyni in specific. As for Eyni himself, well, he was very hard to get a read on. But Dyris had followed my example and was keeping her distance from pretty much everyone. If I had known that my sulking would have impacted her so greatly, I might have restrained myself. Because no one could have seen what was coming; we never would have expected one of us to attack another.”
Mynoris stopped and pursed her lips so tightly that the blood drained from them. She looked at all the children in front of her and forced a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. Rolling back her shoulders, she stood up.
“I ate too much at dinner; I’m suddenly feeling quite sleepy.” She didn’t leave anyone time to protest, as she quickly ducked behind the stones where her bedroll was. Dasgar didn’t know if she was actually going to sleep, but he did notice that she was agitated. Whatever was going to happen in the story was obviously difficult in nature. But his mind was pouring over what might have possibly happened. So far, the worst thing to happen in the story was the fight against the Elementals. The rest seemed more the hardships of learning without guidance.
It was probably at this point that Dasgar admitted to himself that he was just as interested in the story as the children, perhaps even more so now that an actual conflict seemed to be on the verge of being told. He even worried that she would not tell the story any further, and he was quite reluctant to go forward without knowing what happened, even if it was all in the realm of imagination.
He didn’t see Mynoris again until all the children were asleep, and the adults were grouped together, talking in hushed tones. A couple of the old men were sitting wrapped in their bedrolls, dozing, the occasional loud snore interrupting the softer murmurs. Mynoris came out from behind her barrier, and approached the adults, a few of whom gestured for her to take a seat among them. She sank onto one of the rocks that were used as make-shift chairs and ran a hand over her face.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect the story to get this far,” she said quietly. “But I know that what comes next is not for children.”
“We appreciate you stopping then,” one of the mothers said.
“Your children are smart enough to know that I wasn’t at the end of the story,” Mynoris pointed out. “I’m sure they will ask for more.”
“Whether they want more or not, it won’t help anyone for you to go upsetting them.”
“It wasn’t my intention.” Mynoris’ voice almost came out as a growl.
“She could just tell us here, and then you can decide how she can best, er, smooth over the rough parts,” Dasgar suggested, struggling to keep his tone neutrally helpful.
Mynoris and the mother looked at each other for quite some time, neither of them saying anything. The stop in conversation lasted long enough that Dasgar started to feel uncomfortable.
“That seems reasonable,” the mother finally concluded. To Dasgar’s relief, Mynoris also agreed.
“While Dyris seemed to take some strange pleasure out of being left alone, this distinction was not welcome to Eyni. He started to pursue her doggedly. She had been considered very beautiful by the bulk of the younger Gods, but she had refused all of them with equal scorn. Since she was the only one left, Eyni felt that his victory was assured. However, the natural drive to pair off seemed to have skipped Dyris. It became a struggle between Dyris’ determination and Eyni’s pride. Dyris never capitulated and snubbed him repeatedly. And while I realize this likely made Eyni feel desperate, I cannot excuse or forgive what he did.
Having reached his limits, Eyni tracked Dyris down and physically violated her.”
And there it was: the thing that Mynoris had stopped herself from saying in front of the children. There was a gasp from a few of the women, and Dasgar himself felt his eyes go wide. Mynoris seemed to struggle briefly to keep her composure; she didn’t seem able to just breeze past this fact as though it were some piece of trivia. By the dark tone of her voice, and the narrowing of her eyes, the severity of this weighed heavily on her.
“My poor child came back to me utterly distressed and broken. Her face was wet; it was the first time I had ever seen tears. Although we had taken physical forms, we Aetheri had not fully integrated into them. Our forms were not as detailed, or as complete, as that of the next generation. And though I clearly understood that she felt pain, anger, and humiliation, I didn’t fully understand how that pain worked. What I did understand, was that Eyni had done the unimaginable, the unforgivable. He had used force against his own kind, unwanted and unjustified. Even when we elder Gods had sealed away the Elements, it had been of sheer necessity. There had been no malice in our actions, and the Elementals themselves, had shown no malice to us.
This pain, this betrayal of my daughter, pulled me out of my sulk with a vengeance. A rage filled me that was so strong, I felt the stars themselves begin to flicker and the universe dimmed. I didn’t even have to call for Gryan; he knew instinctively that it was my rage that had caused the tumult. We had no idea of laws, or punishments. But my mind was opened to the idea of retribution; that if Dyris had been made to suffer, then so should the one who caused her suffering. And it was this thought that pushed me to summon the Gods together. Only Gryan’s restraining hand was able to keep me from exacting my revenge personally and swiftly.
In quick order, everyone was assembled. Perhaps it was the urgency of my summons, or perhaps it was because of the stars that flickered. Even Eyni, in his arrogance, showed up. I think that he was so certain that no harm would come to him. Maybe he even felt that his actions were somehow justified. But I was determined to make sure that no one else saw it that way. I exposed Eyni’s treachery and demanded that something be done about his assault on my child. In the face of the shock, there was a great deal of disbelief, especially from Eyni’s parents. It wasn’t that they had any reason to doubt my words, but it was an uncomfortable truth, and they looked at Eyni as though hoping he would prove this was a misunderstanding. At first, he was calm and composed, trying to talk his way out from under the accusations. My description of Dyris’ reaction was too specific, too detailed, to be easily discounted. In the end, they felt obligated to treat it as truth. But the question came back: what could we do? Even if we knew how to extinguish Eyni, the thought was repulsive to the other Gods, and I knew enough not to press for such a solution; the strain between myself and Elnora was noticeable as it was.
Jesryna rose to the occasion. Just as Fellane had been able to see the threads connecting aspects of the universe to the Gods, Jesryna could detect a black radiance emanating from Eyni. It seemed that her calling, her power, was connected to his betrayal, and it allowed her to see the crime as it happened; she verified that it not only happened but attested to the viciousness that accompanied the action. This final proof sent a shock through the other Gods. Believing in the sanctity of each God’s power, they left the matter in Jesryna’s hands. With some trial and error, she managed to manipulate the dark radiance into a binding around Eyni, rendering most of his powers inert. It was a testament to the gravity of the situation that Eos actually spoke up and offered to be a warden over the errant God. His isolation and silence would offer no solace to Eyni, even though Eos was his father.
I would have preferred something a little more dramatic, but I understood that this was the best solution we could come up with. Yet it felt hollow to me. This punishment did not keep the tears off my daughter’s cheeks; it did not heal her pain. And although the threat had been removed, it seemed that the damaged continued to worsen. By the time I returned from the council of Gods, Dyris was gone. No one knew where she had gone. I sent my other children to search, but it was in vain. Time passed, and I was approached by both Fellane and Nelin; they told me that Dyris had created another life. Nelin was pleased with this, but I wasn’t so sure. It made me more intent on finding her, but I wasn’t any more successful than I had been before.
But a short while later, I knew that something worse had happened. There was a long, piercing cry of anguish that again shook the stars. And yet, when the actual attack on Dyris had happened, she had made no such sound. I was going to look for her, but she found me first, holding a small bundle in her arms, Gryan close on her heels, so to speak. Her eyes were wide with panic and her keening made me think that the Council had been too easy on Eyni.”
‘What’s wrong?’ I had asked her, not understanding the significance of the bundle she held.
‘I don’t know! He’s so cold and still; he won’t open his eyes!’ Dyris’ words were wild, tumbling out of her mouth.
There was a faint cry from one of the women. Mynoris looked up at her, and their eyes locked for a moment. Her lips curved downwards in a solemn look of understanding and sympathy, and she bowed her head slightly. Dasgar glanced between the two of them and sighed quietly. The pain on the woman’s face spoke for her: this story was close to home. Uncomfortably close. Mynoris waited patiently while the woman regained her composure and didn’t start again until the woman gave her a nod.
“Dyris turned the bundle towards me, and I saw that it was a small, oddly formed godling. You all would have recognized it as a baby, but when my children had come into formation, they had looked like small adults. This creature looked helpless and unfinished. I admit, I felt nothing for the little being in her arms, but Dyris’ distress was enough for me. I summoned Zeren, and he returned with both Fellane and Nelin.
In turn the three of them examined the child, which never moved or uttered a sound during the entire process. For a long time they murmured softly to each other, and I nearly went mad waiting for them. Meanwhile, a quiet despair seemed to have descended on Dyris, and would have fallen if her father hadn’t given her support. Finally their consultation came to an end.
‘There is no life left in this child,’ Nelin pronounced gravely; for once his mannerisms didn’t bother me. If he had treated the situation with his usual energy and flightiness, I likely would have had some choice words for him. ‘His body will break down, like the creatures on the Core.’ There was a wail from Dyris, which showed she hadn’t completely shut down. She reached out desperately to take the child, as though having him in her arms again could refute the conclusion. Clutching him tightly to her, she bowed her head over his still form and wept.
‘There’s still an energy trapped inside the body, but it’s disconnected and weak. It’s unlike our energies; it has no power of its own,’ explained Fellane.
I felt a shock ripple through me. Earlier had I felt nothing for this child, but suddenly I was drawn towards it, almost as though it was pulling me. But Fellane had said that this energy had no power. It was then that I noticed Fellane giving me a great deal of scrutiny. She watched me, expectantly, but with an almost maddening patience; she wasn’t going to give me any hints, but I could tell she knew something.
‘Then we will have to free it,’ I said. And the moment I said those words, I realized that I was the one who had the power to do it. Despite the tragedy of the situation, and my daughter’s drawn features, a surge of excitement passed through me. Knowledge and power had finally become mine; I was able to rightfully claim my position as a God. The only thing to sober my elation was that the discovery was made on the back of my daughter’s pain.
‘Give the child to me,’ I said, stretching my arm towards Dyris, my words coming out with an intense fervor. ‘I’ve finally found my calling. Since Nelin’s power revolves around life, then my powers will thrive from the opposite. My domain will flourish with Nelin’s loss.’ What I said was perhaps a little overly dramatic, but there was almost a tangible need to drive the point home. Dyris handed the little baby to me, and I carefully took him in my arms. Without actually seeing it, I could sense my Threads reaching out for the trapped energy inside the inert body, and for a moment I wish that I could see through Fellane’s eyes. Reaching inside with my power, I pulled on the tiny energy form, and freed it from the mortal shell.
A column of obscuring shadows covered the little body and the newly emerged energy. When they receded the body was gone, and the energy had transformed. Standing there was a young man with dark hair and a finely chiseled face. And while he looked fully formed, we could see through him, if only barely. He was made up of energy, but unlike the Elder gods, he was fully fixed in form. Unlike the younger gods he was intangible.
‘Mother,’ he said to Dyris, speaking as well as any of the younger Gods.
‘His name is Venri,’ Dyris said, her voice without emotion. The panic and anguish had faded away, leaving her affect dulled, her body still leaning limply against Gryan. Venri bowed his head, in acceptance of his name. Without a word, Dyris pulled herself away from her father and turned to leave. I reached out and grabbed her arm, gently to catch her attention, just lose enough that if she really wished to be free, she could have easily kept going.
‘Won’t you please come back with us?’ I asked. Dyris seemed to think about this, then shrugged her shoulders. It wasn’t exactly the response I was hoping for, but she did return to Gryan and I. And, of course, Venri. Quietly Zeren, Nelin, and Fellane left us alone, but not before Fellane looked me directly in the eyes and squeezed my arm.
Over the next little while, I learned a few things about Venri. I discovered that he learned some things very quickly, even more quickly than the Young Gods, such as language. Corris found this quite intriguing on the few occasions he came to visit me. He had no power to speak of, but this meant that he had to focus his attention on knowledge and learning, and I soon discovered that he had great skill with observation. What’s more, I found that I greatly enjoyed his company, and I will admit that in all of my long history, he remained one of my favorite people. And I have never been sure whether or not it was his personality alone, or if it was because he was the catalyst to my powers. Whatever the case, I would say that we were close, despite the difference in capabilities.
One small problem was that Venri seemed quite unable to go very far from me. There seemed to be a limit past which he could not venture. It didn’t start out as any kind of hardship; he was so new that it seemed natural for him to want to be close to me, or Dyris. But, as he came more into his own, it was clear that he wanted to be able to move about as he pleased. Also, since he had no powers, he couldn’t move through space with the same speed as I did, which greatly slowed me down. Eventually I had Zeren and Eos help me create a pocket of energy that I bound him to instead of directly to myself. This gave us both a little more freedom. My domain was quite small to start, sufficient only for myself, Gryan, Dyris, and Venri. But the time would come when it would grow quite large.”