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Kalona’s Fall, Page 3

P. C. Cast

  “That sounds delightful, doesn’t it?” Nyx said.

  “Absolutely,” Erebus said.

  “I look forward to proving my worth to you,” Kalona said.

  “Delightful!” Nyx repeated, meeting Kalona’s gaze.

  “Then we begin immediately,” Mother Earth said, cooling the heat that Nyx’s gaze had been building in Kalona’s blood.

  “Immediately?” Nyx said, obviously less pleased than Mother Earth.

  “Oh, child.” Mother Earth put her arm around the Goddess. “Savor these first, wondrous steps. The magick of discovery is always sweeter if it has been earned.”

  Nyx brightened. “You have been right thus far. I trust you!” The Goddess turned back to Kalona and Erebus. “I ask that you follow Mother Earth’s edicts as if they were my own. She is my true, dear friend.” Nyx looked from them to Mother Earth. “What is it you would have them do?”

  “There are to be three tasks. For each of them I would have Kalona and Erebus choose an element—three of the magickal five: Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Spirit. Along with the element of their choosing, I gift them with a wisp of creation energy. Mix my gift with the power of the Divine that Erebus has so recently claimed as their birthright.” She paused and bowed her head slightly to Erebus in acknowledgment. “And they must each create something here”—her hand swept out, a gesture that mirrored Nyx’s—“that will delight you there.” Mother Earth lifted her arm, pointing up into the brilliant blue of the morning sky.

  “What a wonderful idea!” Nyx said, clapping her hands together happily.

  Kalona frowned. “Creation through elements? Fashioned here and enjoyed in the Otherworld? I do not intend impertinence, Mother Earth, but how are we to complete these tasks without knowing anything about the Earth or the Otherworld?”

  Mother Earth waved her hands dismissively. “You carry the immortality of Divine Energy—that which created us all. Look within. You already know the Otherworld. The rest is simple if you take the time to learn about my earth and my elements.”

  “And we know our Goddess,” Erebus said, smiling fondly at Nyx. “We were created knowing our Goddess. Pleasing her is our pleasure!”

  Kalona growled again.

  Mother Earth narrowed dark eyes on him, giving him a hard look, as if she were truly a mother and he her errant child.

  “Which element will you choose first?” Nyx asked, seemingly oblivious to the tension between Kalona and Mother Earth.

  Kalona was certain the Goddess had spoken to him, but it was his brother who answered, “Air, of course. It was from Air that we were fashioned for you. It is only right that Air continues to delight you.”

  “An excellent choice, Erebus,” Mother Earth said. “Until you each call into being your creation, I grant you dominion over Air! So I have spoken; so mote it be!” A whoosh of wind washed over them, punctuating her words. Then she took Nyx’s hand and wrapped it through her arm. “Come, Nyx, let us leave your immortals to the first of their tests while we drink more nectar and you introduce me to some of your interesting little Fey.”

  “But, what exactly are we are supposed to create?” Kalona asked, hating the desperation he heard in his voice.

  Mother Earth glanced over her shoulder at him. “If you are clever enough to claim a place beside this lovely, faithful Goddess, you are clever enough to figure that out on your own—unless you fail the test, Kalona.”

  “I will not fail,” Kalona said through gritted teeth.

  “But if you do fail,” Mother Earth said, “you will not be allowed access to the Otherworld—not until you pass all three tests. Agreed?”

  “Willingly agreed,” Erebus said.

  “Agreed,” Kalona said, though reluctantly.

  “But I am quite sure you will not fail,” Nyx said. Her words were balm to him until she turned her gaze from him to his brother. “Neither of you will fail me. And I cannot wait to see your creations!”

  “Oh, one last thing,” Mother Earth said. “My world is populated by humans, mortals fashioned by me in the image of the immortals. They are beloved by me. Have a care with them. No doubt they will mistake you for Gods. If you must interact with them, be quite certain that they know it is a mistake. You are warrior and lover, friend and playmate—you are not Gods. Do you understand me?”

  The winged immortals murmured tandem assurances that they did, indeed, understand Mother Earth.

  “Good! When you have gained enough knowledge and are ready, use Air to summon me. Nyx will accompany me. As your Goddess she has the right to judge your creations. I wish both of you luck in your endeavors,” Mother Earth said.

  “And I look forward to welcoming both of you to the Otherworld when your tests have been completed,” Nyx said, smiling at Kalona and Erebus in turn.

  Then, changing quickly from divine to girlish, the two women put their heads together, one as luminous as the full moon, the other as dark and mysterious as the ground on which they stood. Giggling and whispering, they disappeared into the verdant grove.

  Kalona stared after his Goddess, wishing nothing so much as to rush to Nyx and pull her from Mother Earth—pull her away from anything and anyone who attempted to stand between them.

  “She is exquisite, isn’t she, brother?”

  Kalona moved his gaze from the grove to stare at Erebus. Refusing to speak to him of the Goddess, he said, “Air? Why would you choose such an intangible element to wield?”

  Erebus shrugged his sun-kissed shoulders. Kalona noticed that his hair glowed with the same golden fire as did his wings. “My only answer is that which I already gave our Great Mother: it is from the air that we were born. It seemed logical that it should be the element we first command.”

  “She is not my mother,” Kalona said, surprising himself.

  Erebus’s golden brows raised. “I think our Goddess might disagree with you.”

  Our Goddess. Kalona hated the sound of those words. “Spend your time thinking of what you will create,” Kalona told his brother sharply. “For I assure you, what I create will be worthy of her.”

  “I do not believe these tests are meant to be a competition,” Erebus said.

  “Well, brother, I think our Goddess might disagree with you.” With those words, Kalona took several strides toward the shoreline. He leaped up at its very edge, beating his wings powerfully and using invisible currents of energy to lift himself.

  He could feel Nyx’s gaze on him and, just before he disappeared into the horizon, Kalona glanced back. She was standing at the edge of the grove, staring up at him and smiling with a warmth that he could feel against his skin. Kalona met her eyes and touched his lips with his hand. Almost as if they were mirrored beings, Nyx lifted her own hand to touch her lips.

  She loves me best! The words in his mind matched the beat of his mighty wings as Kalona climbed into the sky, intent on creating that which would prove he was worthy of his Goddess’s favor.



  Kalona didn’t think much of the mortal earth. He crossed a great body of water to find a large, fertile continent. But much of it was too hot or too cold. Much of it was uninhabited, and that which was populated by Mother Earth’s human children was far from what Kalona’s predetermined consciousness considered civilized. He avoided them. Humans might have been created in Nyx’s image, but they seemed shallow and uninteresting when compared to the glory of his Goddess. Kalona roamed the vast continent, thinking of Nyx.

  He finally came to rest near the center of the continent, drawn down by an expanse of wild grasses that seemed to stretch from below him all the way to the western horizon. He came to ground at the edge of the great prairie, near a sandy stream that rolled musically over smooth river rocks. Kalona drank from the clear, cold water, and then he sat back against the rough bark of a tree.

  What could he create from invisible air and Divine power to please Nyx? He searched within and easily found the Divine power
that hummed through his blood. Using it, he focused his consciousness outward, and up, far up above the edge of the prairie and the mortal earth. There he found currents of magick, divine trailings of raw and ancient power—the same power that coursed within his blood. Experimenting, Kalona snagged a fragment of ethereal power, pulling it down to him. Then he stood, readying himself, and called, somewhat tentatively, “Air?”

  Instantly, the element responded, swirling around him.

  “Show me what you can do.” Kalona felt foolish, speaking aloud to an invisible element. He pointed at an enormous tree that had somehow grown away from the timberline, proud and alone, well into the tall grasses of the prairie. “With the help of Divine power, I command Air to create that which can be seen from the Otherworld!”

  Air rushed around him, capturing the strand of ethereal power, and with a mighty roar, it blew into the tree, which exploded into an enormous mushroom cloud of wood dust and splinters that shot up so far into the sky that Kalona lost sight of it. Large black birds, disturbed in their perches, croaked and circled, chiding him.

  The immortal sighed. He did not think that the explosion of a tree, no matter how spectacular, was what—

  Kalona’s thoughts were interrupted by a sudden influx of power—something that poured into him, as if it were a backwash of energy from the destruction of the tree.

  Kalona shook his head, clearing his thoughts. His body tingled briefly, but within seconds the sensation dissipated, leaving him feeling empty and confused. He frowned. He must remember that he was new to this world—new to the powers he had been born to wield. Perhaps he was meant to absorb the remnants of unused energy. Kalona ran his hand through his long, thick hair, speaking his frustration aloud. “How am I to know? It is unfortunate that Mother Earth couldn’t allow time for adaptation and understanding before she foisted tests upon me—especially tests that are meant to establish my worth.”

  Well, he had successfully used Air and the power of the Divine together. And the result probably could have been viewed from the Otherworld, as well as from the sun and the moon. But Kalona didn’t believe Nyx would find the sight of splinters and dust and annoyed birds very pleasing. It certainly did not please him as miniscule fragments of the tree began raining down. Kalona was still frowning as he brushed the settling wood dust from his wings. “Air is a ridiculous element,” he muttered and then, engulfed in a cloud of wood dust, he coughed and continued brushing dust and shredded leaves from his wings.

  “Oh Winged One! Great God! We beg to know your name so that we may worship you and not incur your wrath! Please do not destroy us as you did the Great Spirit Tree!”

  Coughing, Kalona looked up from his wings. Squinting through the dust-laden air, he saw a group of natives dressed in leather and feathers and shells prostrating themselves on the opposite bank of the stream. He glanced behind them and stifled a sigh and another cough, tallying one more in his list of mistakes—he’d been so concentrated on the sealike grass prairie and on wielding his power that he hadn’t noticed he’d come to ground not far from a human settlement.

  Kalona squared his shoulders. Covered in dust or not, he must say something to these curious and mistaken children of Mother Earth.

  “I am Kalona,” he said. They cringed in fear, and he realized he must modulate the power in his voice. He cleared his throat and began anew. “I am Kalona, and I have not come to destroy you.”

  “Kalona of the Silver Wings, how may we worship you?” asked the human who had first spoken. He was wrinkled and bent but bedecked in more feathers and shells than the others, and his face and bared chest were painted in ocher-colored swirls.

  “No, worship is not why I am here,” Kalona said.

  “But you killed the Great Spirit Tree! You are mightier than it. Now you fill the air with evidence of your power, and the ravens call to you. We plead that you not be like the trickster coyote. We will bring you chigustei and the finest of our boiled meat to eat. The most beautiful of our maidens will warm your bed and dance the Sunrise Dance for you. Just do not destroy us!”

  “You do not understand. I am not—”

  Kalona’s words were cut off as the dust-filled air suddenly cleared and an exquisite woman materialized. She was dressed in the purest of white leathers trimmed in blue stones, round red beads, and carved bone. Her dark hair reached past her slender waist. Her delicate feet were bare, her ankles decorated with ropes of shells so that every time she moved, she made music. Her brown skin was painted with ancient symbols in a blue so dark and rich the design seemed liquid and ever changing. Though in appearance she was totally unlike his first sight of the Goddess, Kalona immediately knew this radiant being was his Nyx.

  The humans prostrated themselves again and began to cry, “Estsanatlehi!”

  “Beloved Changing Woman!”

  “Save us from Kalona of the Silver Wings!”

  Kalona coughed once more and then hastily tried to explain, “I did not know it was their tree.”

  Nyx walked toward him and took his hand, though her attention, and her beautiful dark eyes, were focused entirely on the humans.

  “My people, do not fear. Kalona of the Silver Wings is not a destroyer, nor is he a god. He is my—” Nyx paused, flicking her gaze to him. Kalona was sure he saw amusement in her eyes, though she hid her smile well. “My Warrior, my Monster Slayer and my Killer of Enemies,” she concluded.

  “Did the Great Spirit Tree offend you, Estsanatlehi, so that you sent your Killer of Enemies against it?” asked the feathered, painted man.

  “No, Shaman. My Warrior was only making way for a new Great Spirit Tree, one that bears fruit. Behold my gift to you!” Nyx loosed Kalona’s hand and turned to face the empty black hole where the tree used to stand. She began moving her bare feet in a dance that had the rhythm of a heartbeat, accompanied by the music of the ropes of shells that decorated her ankles. “Hear me, oh Earth Mother. I am Estsanatlehi, Changing Woman, Speaker for the People. I ask that the Great Spirit Tree be reborn to bear fruit to feed the People. Hear me, oh Earth Mother. I am Estsanatlehi, Changing Woman, Speaker for the People…” Nyx repeated her song over and over, until she had danced around the black hole three full times. With the triple circle completed, she broke off one round red bead from her dress and threw it into the hole with a victorious shout.

  Kalona gasped along with the humans when a tree instantly sprouted from the center of the hole, growing up and up, limbs stretching, budding, flowering, then filling out with simple leaves, bright green on the top side and silver on the underside. Kalona blinked, and the entire tree was laden with plump, red fruit.

  “Harvest and share this fruit, and remember that your Goddess is not destructive or vengeful,” Nyx said, moving back to Kalona’s side. “As always, I wish you to blessed be,” she concluded. Then she slid her arms up around Kalona’s neck and whispered into his ear, “You should take me away from here now.”

  Hardly able to breathe, Kalona lifted his Goddess into his arms and leaped into the air, holding her tightly as his mighty wings bore them skyward.

  * * *

  “There,” Nyx said, pointing down. The land had changed beneath them. It had begun to roll gently and was covered with clusters of tall trees. The Goddess motioned beyond the trees, toward a wide, dark river dotted with sandbanks and lined with scrub. “You may put me down there.”

  Kalona circled until he found a gently sloping bank free of weeds and brush. He landed gently.

  “You do not have to hold me now,” she said. Nyx’s head was resting against his shoulder, as it had for most of their journey. He could not see her face, but he could hear the smile in her voice. It gave him courage.

  “I like holding you,” he said.

  “You are very strong,” she said, laughing softly.

  “Does it please you that I am strong?”

  “It does when you have to carry me quickly away from a tricky situation.”

  Kalona did put her down, then, thou
gh he stayed close to her, taking both of her hands in his. “Forgive me for that. My intention was not to frighten those mortals. I was— I was trying to…” His voice trailed off, and Kalona felt his face flame in embarrassment.

  Nyx smiled and cupped his cheek with her soft hand. “You were trying to what?”

  “Please you!” he said in a rush of honesty.

  “You thought destroying a tree would please me?”

  He shook his head and tree dust fell from his hair into her face. Nyx sneezed violently three times and rubbed at her watering eyes.

  “Forgive me again!” He lifted his hands impotently, trying to help her, and as if it had just been waiting for that movement of his hands, more dust rained from his arms onto her face. She sneezed again and, unable to speak, motioned for him to step back. Frustration blazed through him, attracting wisps of Divine power. With a sudden idea, Kalona blurted, “Air, help create a soothing peace for Nyx!”

  He held his breath while air whirled around his Goddess, carrying the luminous fragments of his power so that they gently brushed against her skin, blowing the dust from her face and leaving her blinking away the last of her tears and smiling at him.

  “Now, that pleased me. Thank you, Kalona.”

  “Then you forgive me for the tree? And frightening those humans? And the dust?”

  “Of course I do. You meant no harm with any of it. Though I still do not understand what you intended to create back there.”

  “Something you could view from the Otherworld,” Kalona said. Then he added, “My invocation was flawed, my intent muddled. I am not sure what I expected to happen, but I am sure I failed.”

  “Oh, I wouldn’t say it was a total failure. You did get my attention, though it was because I felt the fear of the People.”

  “Truly, I meant them no harm,” he said.

  “I believe you, but I must also tell you what Mother Earth did not fully explain to you or Erebus. Many of her humans are childlike in their beliefs. They are easily frightened and tell elaborate stories to make sense of that which they cannot fully understand. However, I am especially fond of the race of mortals you met today. They have a deep love and respect for the earth, and a loyalty that touches my heart. I probably appear to them more than I should, but I do enjoy the stories they tell about me.”