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The number of hours the sun shines upon the land decreases with each passing day. Pretty soon, the night will blot out the light, and darkness will be all that remains. And yet, how can one survive without the other? The light needs the dark, just as the dark needs the light, or neither will find satisfaction in what is left to exist.
My skin itches with anticipation, and I gaze up at the stars. They twinkle and shine in splendid alignment, making tonight the ideal night to plant the seeds of change. It has taken many moons to prepare for this occasion, and during the waiting, our world has spiraled deeper into the well of need.
I scratch the back of my neck and heave a deep breath. The air is heavy with mist and the night bugs have begun to stir. Amongst the trees lie weighted shadows obscuring much of the landscape. I stare into the depths, wishing the approach of my sisters visible.
It has been ages since I have seen my sisters of the soul, heart-felt shadowkin. The conflict that escalated between our clans in recent years has kept us apart. My clan, the Woods Clan, struggles with the migration of the Dusk Clan and the politics of the Light Clan. There is something dactylic in each of us coming together tonight, being able to represent a different clan. May our actions bring an accord among all our people, be they elves of the woodlands, elves of the dusk, or elves of the light.
Although this date was set long ago, my faith in my sisters’ attendance remains strong, the state of our world prevailing over the strife between clans. For tonight, and only tonight, our magick shall be twenty-fold in reach and strength.
I inhale, deep and long, and lean against the hedge at my back. They will be here, I assure myself.
Three are needed. Three is a must. Three is divine and represents all things in which the healing will entrust. Health, wisdom, and understanding. Past, present, and future. Beginning, middle, and end. These things, all in threes, for it is the perfect and most powerful number on which we will stand.
To the gods, we shall beseech. And I pray that they shall hear our call. The world is in need of a spark, a casting to push against inequality and balance the scales, once again. A balance bringer, if you will.
I wonder what our magick will manifest, what the gods will see fit to bestow, and how the process will continue to stabilize as time unfolds.
“Meira.” My name whispers from the dark. My back straightens, and I peer into the encroaching gloom, make out the slight form of someone moving through the trees. “Meira,” the voice calls again. “Is that you?”
“Glynnii?” The seasons may have changed ten times over since we were last together, but I doubt I could ever forget the soft, singsong tenor of Glynnii’s voice. Soothing speech is one of the many attractive traits elves of the light possess. I lift the hem of my skirt and move toward the sound of her approach, splaying my palm in greeting.
Her skin slaps against mine, and her grasp clenches tight to my hand. I startle, repress a jolt. I had expected a soft glide against the skin in greeting, a brief touch of palm to palm. Her hold is uncommon and sends a quivering tremor through my stomach.
She steps clear of the trees, and the glow of the firelight highlights her exquisite smile and protruding belly.
I gasp and the quiver in my stomach drops like wet sand. My gaze is glued to her stomach. I cannot look away. In all my preparation, I had tried to anticipate many things, possibly everything, but I have to admit, this particular situation had failed to cross my mind. Maybe we were too young when we made the original pact. Love and family seemed so impossibly far off. But of all the people, I should have expected Glynnii to fall in love and start a family. She is beautiful, loving, caring, and she would want another with whom she could share such qualities.
“I know,” she says in a tiny and timid voice. “Not what you were expecting.” Her free hand caresses the curve of her expanded abdomen. “But do not be deceived. I remain strong, and I am up to the task. I am empowered with not only my strength, but the strength of my child.”
“Is it not just like an elf of the light to think no task unmanageable?” Edea strides into sight, her head held high and her shoulders square and tight. “I am not nearly as confident. I think we should revisit the plan for tonight.” With arms stretched wide, she ushers us within the stone basilica at my back.
Ring within ring of high-standing megaliths centered around one square bed of stone—referred to as the seed of life. At its base, the stone reaches deep toward the world’s core. Above ground, it is shrouded and swaddled by the tree of life. The tree’s trunk melds around and over the stone creating a bark canopy over a bed of rock. All these elements together… the megaliths, the seed of life stone, the tree of life… are known as life’s cathedral, or the circle of the soul’s journey.
“There is nothing to revisit,” Glynnii says and takes a seat on the center stone—the offering stone. My lips pull tight, and my gaze wanders from her to the stone upon which she sits and back again. She glances down. “Oh. Right.” She awkwardly pushes herself to a stand.
Edea and I exchange a knowing glance.
“That, right there.” Glynnii jabs her finger at us. “Stop it right now. We know very well that tonight is the night. We will not get another chance. If you fight me on this… so help the earthen gods… the encroaching darkness is not the only thing you will need to fear.” She ends with a stab at the air. Her face is flat and stern, and even the night bugs fall silent to her ire.
In the hush that follows, I count the beats made by the wind-slapped blades of grass. Not one of us is willing to shatter the silence. Until…
Instantly, we are all laughs and giggles.
“I am sorry.” She waves her hand in the air. “It is the baby. She has been rather stinky lately.”
“Are you sure it is a girl?” Edea quips. “It is the boys that are usually more redolent.”
Glynnii shoots her a spirited smirk and then turns toward the center stone, bends down, and whispers the words of light. Fire springs to life across the top of the surrounding megaliths.
“I think we should further discuss this matter,” Edea says.
Glynnii straightens, spins around. “So like you depressing duskies to overthink everything. Cannot you remain quiet, listen, and follow the earthen rules for a change?” Her eyes flare as if she has captured the sun within them. Her hair whips up around her as if the strands are alive, and her dress flutters like it is caught by the wind. Only, there is no wind. Her voice is heavy, commanding… and possibly controls the surrounding elements. Her words drop upon us with the weight of the heavens. I concede to the thought that she may have mastered the sun and wind. There is much about her clan I have yet to learn, and at this moment, she looks more like an enraged sea hag than a beautiful elf of the light.
The world is deathly silent, neither myself or Edea, nor nature, braving to answer Glynnii’s irritation. It is the outlining trees that dare to make the first sound with the wind rustling through their leaves. Nature’s prompting spurs us into muted action, each of us simultaneously addressing our devised action. I whisper the woodland words to the center stone, and Edea delivers the sacred chant of dusk and dawn.
Where Glynnii’s words brought the fires of will and determination—the light of the inner soul, my words come forth in the bloom of life around the circle stones. Flowers of various kinds pop to colorful life, encircling and connecting the individual outer stones. Among the buds are asters, calla lilies, daffodils, chrysanthemums, and gladiolus, representing wisdom, devotion, passion, and purity, strength, integrity, love, loyalty, and rebirth to our ceremony. To my delight, a ring of mushrooms offering good fortune blooms beyond the perimeter of the stone basilica.
Many consider the Dusk Clan elves a dark and dangerous group, bringing with them only negative natures and elements. Unlike the light, they fail to reflect the beauty of our world. It has never been their nature to reflect, not at all, and that is why they are the dusk elves. They absorb. Absorb understanding, wisdom, and knowledge of any and all things with which they connect. Dusk elves are kettles churning with insight.
Unlike the response Glynnii and I pull from the circle, the effects of Edea’s words are not seen, but rather felt. The vibration of the air rises and a growing dome of light presses against the darkness. We stand in the center of a gale. Energy and elements working together, expanding and contracting, paving the path for our request to the gods. The wind whips, the trees creak, and the stones sing. Overhead, illumination erupts in circular waves, separating the intensity of either side of the balance—light and dark.
With heads bowed and hands raised as if in offering, we begin our practiced chant, our appeal that a balance bringer be bestowed by the gods. “Gentleness, fierce determination, and longevity,” I say, as if adding ingredients to our requested gift. External elements beat against my skin, and the thrush of the storm we stir swallows my words. I shudder, fight to remain unmoving. I also fight the desire to rub my arms or dab at my brow.
From the corner of my eye, I notice Glynnii stumble forward. My gaze snaps up. She is staring at her hand, her blood-covered hand. Blood soaks the lap of her gown and dribbles upon the ground at her feet.
I gasp. She glances at me, fear evident in her eyes, and the tiniest of words falls from her lips.
“Baby,” she says, then stumbles sideways and drops her hand upon the nearest stone for balance. Except… it is her blood-covered hand that finds the square stone—the seed of life. Her blood fixed upon the offering stone at the crux of magickal offering and appeal.
Glynnii slips to the ground, her back pressed against the offering stone.
“Glynnii, no!” Edea dashes forward, reaches for our light elf friend. I intercede, grabbing Edea’s arm.
“The baby is coming,” I say, sparing Glynnii a quick glance over my shoulder.
“No.” Edea’s face crumbles. “No,” she repeats and stares at Glynnii seated upon the earth. Her head bows. “Then it is done,” she says. “Our chance has come and gone.”
We both heave a heavy sigh. My shoulders drop, as do Edea’s, and I turn to evaluate Glynnii’s condition.
“There could not be a more magickal time to deliver a baby,” Edea says and kneels beside Glynnii. “Your child may end up being the luckiest elf in all the world.” She beams.
“Half,” Glynnii responds.
“Sorry?” Edea and I both say in unison.
“Half-elf,” Glynnii clarifies with burdened breath.
Edea and I exchange a quizzical grin and help Glynnii into a proper birthing squat.
She grips my hand, squeezing the blood into retreat. With a sharp yank, she drags me close, whispers at my ear. “Make sure she is safe,” she says to me. I breathe deep and consider the request. “If it comes down to choosing the baby or me, you know what to do,” she adds.
My heart squeezes to a pause, and I nod. “Hold her hand,” I say to Edea.
“If anything should happen…” Glynnii says.
Edea does as I request, situating herself closer at Glynnii’s side and clasping their hands together. “Do not talk like that,” Edea says. “The only thing that is going to happen now is that you are going to have this baby.”
“But should things take a turn for the worse,” Glynnii continues.
“Please, Glynnii. Do not,” Edea says softly. Without any prompting, Edea begins coaching Glynnii in the breathing as I prepare for the child’s arrival.
Glynnii’s back stiffens, she winces and then whines.
“Breathe through the pain,” Edea prompts and leads Glynnii with short, rapid breaths.
“If…” Glynnii says. “Promise me you will tell Aegeus I love him and that I am sorry.”
“Aegeus?” I startle. “As in Aegeus the Unyielding?” My mind spins. Aegeus is a respectable warrior, but he is just that, a warrior—an immortal warrior. Glynnii, however, is elven. The two are a most unlikely pairing. Edea flashes me a look of astonishment.
“If something happens…” Glynnii pauses, breathes heavy.
“Do not think that way,” Edea says. “You are going to be fine. Tomorrow, you will look back on this moment and laugh.”
“Listen to me,” Glynnii snarls. Edea blinks wide and falls silent. “If anything happens to me, the baby is his.”
“Very well,” I say. “Now focus, Glynnii. This baby is depending on you.”
The three of us drop into intense concentration on the birthing. Glynnii pushes and groans, squeezes Edea’s hand. Presses against the stone. The baby’s head crowns and Glynnii screeches, thrusts. The wind escalates, swirls around us, as if we are the glue holding the cyclone pinned in place. Above, light and dark throbs a steady beat.
Glynnii hollers, leans into the push. The sky explodes with light, and a moment later, I am holding a tiny half-elf, half-immortal-warrior newborn. The swirling wind calms, and the dust of night reclaims the sky.
Laughter jumps from my lips. The tiny being in my hands radiates with a healthy, magickal glow.
“You did it,” Edea exclaims. “You did it, Glynnii.”
“It is a girl,” I say, wiping the infant clean with the edges of my dress. Edea hands me her shawl. I wrap it snuggly around the baby and gently place her in Glynnii’s arms.
“Sweet Deona,” Glynnii says and kisses the tiny girl’s head. “You are blessed by the gods and shall grow into greatness.” Glynnii’s voice is tiny, winded. She rests her head against Deona’s and closes her eyes, falls silent.
My heart double thumps, squeezes tight. “Glynnii?”
727374Her eyes flutter open, and her blurry gaze fixes on me. “Remember your promise.”
The wind surges into a deafening, circling storm. The tree creaks, and its leaves bristle—breaking free and swarm Glynnii.
Deona wails, an earth-shattering scream heard above the surrounding windstorm. The sky cracks with thunder, followed by splintering fissures of lightning. My attention is drawn to the kaleidoscope of colors blossoming overhead.
Glynnii slumps forward into Edea’s awaiting arms. Deona lies secure within the duskie’s embrace.
“She is gone,” Edea whispers, regarding Glynnii, and hands me the baby. Gently, Edea lowers Glynnii back to the ground at the foot of the seed of life stone, draping her body over the veiny roots of the tree of life. Edea crosses Glynnii’s arms across her chest, straightens Glynnii’s hair, and wipes the sweat from her face.
My heart squeezes, and I cuddle the newborn close to my chest. Deona is motherless. There is nothing that can pacify my heart, but I can try to do right by Deona. I can watch over her now and always.
Holding the baby firmly in my embrace, I stand and gaze down at my lost soul sister. Edea stands at my side.
“This never should have happened,” she whispers. “We never should have moved forward with the magick.”
I breathe deep and gaze down at Deona. Her tiny eyes sparkle back at me. One green and one blue. I run the tip of my finger from her nose to her invisible hairline. “I shall watch over you always,” I say.
“Can you cover her with flowers or something?” Edea asks of Glynnii.
I turn my attention from Deona to her mother. Flowers would be a lovely sentiment. Only, as I gaze upon my dear departed shadowkin, roots from the tree of life wrap around her body and pull her into the root system below the ground.
Edea sucks back a gasp, her fingers flying to her lips.
Glynnii is gone, absorbed by the tree of life.
Deona wails and more lightning streaks across the sky. It is a long journey to the homestead of Aegeus the Unyielding, and it appears the weather may not favor us.
I take a deep breath, square my shoulders and my resolve, then turn my gaze to Edea. “Time for the child to meet her father. Would you not agree?”
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