Athera’s Dawn: Chapter 20

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Chapter Twenty

TRUE SIGHT

Anorra awoke in the same room as before. The fire was long spent and the meal had been cleared from the board. She looked around and pushed the thick blankets down. Candles flickered. She felt as if she had lived this before, just a moment ago. But yet everything seemed so new. The fragrance of flowers filled her head. How pleasant, she thought. It reminded her of the sumptuous fare she had just eaten.

She stood and moved slowly to the table. Her fingers brushed against the smooth board. Images flashed before her. It was as if she had been here before—doing this very thing. Like a bad dream playing out over and over again. But this can’t be a dream, she thought. It’s all so real—so peaceful.

She gazed at the face looking back in the polished wood. Her eyes were soft and beautiful and brown.

She pulled away.

Something is not right. She felt as if she was watching herself from a great distance, standing on a hillside, observing a course like a shadow being cast from her true self, high on a ridge above.

Anorra turned to look out the window beside her bed. But there was none. She spun and looked to the far wall, and then beside the hearth. Suddenly she became afraid. There were no windows at all. She remembered this, too, as if something she had already lived.

But had she lived this only once before, or a thousand times over? She strained for memories. She knew she remembered something—but what, exactly, was beyond her grasp. She searched her mind’s eye and then became frustrated. There were no memories outside of this room. Everything she knew, everything she had ever known, was right here. But that’s absurd, she thought.

She walked over in front of the hearth where she and the Prince had reclined, where they had stared into the flames and he had spoken of a great invitation. To join him. She could see the flames dancing once again, the passion of the moment aflame in her bosom. She felt satisfaction in it. And yet…

And yet—

Something deep in her was left wanting. Fire.

She felt parched. She touched her lips.

The kiss!

She had kissed him! The Prince! She had offered herself to him! Memories, horrible memories of betrayal riddled her with guilt. Suddenly the terrible realization of what she had done filled her head. She had said yes! To a man she hardly knew—but he was so beautiful.

“What have I done?” she gasped aloud.

But betrayal? It ate away at her soul. To whom? All the images came to the front of her mind, of the Prince and his invitation. There was no one else.

Anorra felt confused. Everything seemed disjointed, as if she were missing some part of the picture, something significant. But how could she be forgetting something so significant? Important things are not easily forgotten. Remember! O, now her head was throbbing. It hurt to think. She reached up and began to massage her temples.

“Let me help you,” he said.

Anorra screamed, and then spun around. It was the Prince. “How did you—”

Suddenly it was as if Anorra was watching herself in the same room—watching this scene play out as it had before. The Prince started laughing. And so did she. But she shouldn’t. No, something was terribly wrong here.

“I’m so sorry for startling you, my beauty. I didn’t mean to.”

Something didn’t fit.

“It’s fine,” Anorra laughed. “It’s my fault, I was—I was just lost in thought, I guess. I can’t even remember what consumed me so.” But she did know. It was him; he didn’t fit. None of this did.

“Well then, whatever plagues you, it is gone now.” And with that he cradled her cheek in his hand.

But it didn’t go away. In fact, Anorra suddenly saw everything for what it really was, as if a massive curtain had been pulled back to reveal a great mystery, now in plain view to all. She had been deceived.

“And you rested well?”

“Indeed,” she said. His eyes weren’t so beautiful now.

“Then I am pleased my dwelling suits you, for I would implore you to stay with me, Princess. Have you forgotten my offer?”

“Yes, your offer,” she stated rigidly.

He tilted his head at her tone. “To join me as my bride,” he said. “That I might share with you my kingdom and everything—”

“I remember,” Anorra interrupted him.

The Prince’s eyes narrowed. “And you have thought about—”

“Thought about who you are, good Prince? O, wait. Good isn’t the word most reasonable people would give to you, now would they?”

The Prince stiffened. His eyes grew dark, and the room around them seemed to shimmer, as if ebbing from the realm of reality.

“You see, I am not so easily taken, Prince. Or do you prefer the name we call you? Morgui.”

But as strong as Anorra was, she was not prepared for what befell next. The beautiful visage of the Prince melted right before her eyes. The flesh peeled back and fell in clumps, swollen with blood, twisting muscles snapping. A rancid smell stung her nostrils, and she winced as bile rose in her throat. The creature’s eyes grew stronger, blacker, and pulled back into the disfigured face, drawing her in with them. So empty. So devoid of life. Hopelessness overwhelmed her with one look, and she felt her heart give way, her eyes filling with tears.

The human form began to expand, soon bursting from within, the weak shell of a man revealing the mighty shape of a being much more powerful. A pungent cloud swirled about the black morphing mass, revealing a bulging, grotesque musculature, throbbing with veins. Once free of the flesh, Morgui stood looming above her and then bent down. She stared up at his face, a hollow block of darkness, fangs protruding in ill fashion. There was no color about him, no hint of light, only swirling abysses for eyes and an eternally hungry hole for a mouth, gaping over her. There was not a single magnificent thing about him.

Anorra spoke first. “You do not frighten me.”

When Morgui spoke, it was nearly unintelligible, ground out in a low, gravel-like thunder. “That is because I have not yet brought you harm.”

She stood silent, not knowing what to say.

Suddenly a searing pain thrashed across her eyes. She screamed and fell to her knees. Her fingertips touched the burnt flesh on both side of her nose, going deeper into the place where her eyes once were. The sockets were charred and empty.

It was then that everything came back to her. The entire story of her life raced by her in a series of flashes, ending with Luik’s face, the blue flame in the Lion’s Lair, and the brilliant flash of light on the ramparts in Mt. Dakka. Luik’s flame had been weak—had gone out. Hadn’t it? She scolded herself now for not staying long enough to find out. She’d assumed the worst. Though there were no eyes with which to cry, her chest heaved as she sobbed in agony. He had tried to seduce her. He had tried to lure her away from the Most High.

But he had failed.

She was on her side now, curled up like a child. Whimpering.

Morgui neared her, his presence just a hand’s breadth away. She could feel his emptiness. At least she knew this was reality.

“You are not thorough enough,” she said in a whisper, choking in pain.

She felt him hesitate, knowing, though, that he would not reply to such a vague train of thought. But she would spite him. She would not afford him the pleasure of knowing he had won, that he could torment her. As a child of the Great God, made perfect in His image, she was superior. And always would be.

“I saw my reflection in your table. You were good,” she chuckled, “but you weren’t good enough.” A shudder of pain momentarily halted her speech. “My eyes—if you ever took the time to see what the Most High made—are blue, not brown. I thought you should know for the next time you try to seduce a girl.”

A rumble emanated from around her, growing in strength and rising in volume. But with the trembling came an increase in her pain. She moaned and tried to shove it away. It drilled into her head and then coiled around her neck, her chest, and soon her whole being felt like it was being crushed. She cried out once more.

But she couldn’t hear her own voice. Just a ringing in her ears, an echo of the torment of her soul, so all-consuming that she asked just one request of the Most High, if He was even listening here in Haides: Please, take me home.

There was a flash, and a sudden flare of heat. Her face was mashed onto gravel, hot stones digging into her soft skin. A hot, sulfuric smell filled her head, and the pain lessened. Screams from without, mixed with creaking metal, stirring flames, and the lashing of whips, gave her to know she was back in her cell.

She tried to push her head up off the rocks, but she did not have the strength. It hurt so badly. Anorra could feel blood trickling down her neck. She clenched her teeth and growled to the air. She was so frustrated, so mad.

“I know you can hear me!” she screamed.

The demons listening must have assumed she was speaking to Morgui; even he, himself, was listening. But such an eroded being was far from her intended audience. She had an audience with the King of kings. With her Creator.

“If you will not rescue me, at least give me my sight!”

And then, for the first time in a long time, she heard Him.

My precious child, none of this is My wish for you. I have not forgotten you, nor is My hand short in rescuing you. But what you have asked, you already have been given. And your heart suffers for denying what you already own. Open your eyes…

Her heart soared. Here, in the deepest part of Haides, the place where she had felt He dared never go, she had heard Him. She had communed with the Most High. He would send His presence even here? Her spirit leapt within. And she had made up her mind: There was nothing she would not endure, no pain too wicked, no temptation too overwhelming, that she would ever doubt Him again.

And as for what He said, she knew it was truth. Why she had not seen it sooner, she did not know. But she would not blame herself; these were trying times.

Anorra lay there, her hands and face scalded on the gravel. She slowed her breathing and then allowed her mind to go back…

She saw herself atop her steed, riding through the fields of Ligeon. Gyinan was beside her, a noble smile on his handsome face. Their horses’ flanks were soaked in foam, and the green grass was long and vibrant, shimmering in the sunlight. The animals lunged for every stride, hoofs beating the solid track ahead of them, nostrils snorting in the summer air.

Anorra laughed, feeling the warm sun beat on her face. She laid the reins across her horse’s mane and spread her arms wide, basking in the glory of the moment. She was flying.

The moment passed in a flash, and she was atop a high peak. She knew it was Tontha. She stood there, one foot hanging perilously over a precipice. A blindfold was affixed over her eyes; she remembered the time well.

Another flash. Now she was bounding down the mountainside, leaping from rock to rock, racing down a river-worn track.

Flash. She was back on her horse, wheeling it around with her heels—one way and then back again. She lifted a bow and pulled the arrow to the corner of her mouth, lying backward over the horse’s haunches. Then she let the arrow fly…

Dazzling white light filled her head and she steadied herself. Renewed life stirred in her veins. It was Him. She knew it was. She felt the strength to rise and pushed against the hot floor. And as Anorra lifted her head, she looked around her cell. The stones were a burnt red, as were the iron bars; she crawled forward and reached for them. Then, pressing her face between the rungs of her cage, she looked down into a vast sea of churning fire, and suddenly wished she had not had the gift she asked for.

She could see Haides.

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