A woman stood alone by an altar, head bowed as her lips moved silently in fervent prayer. The age had come upon them again. It had been over 2000 years since the last, there would be a victory for the battles, yet never a win for the war. Light and darkness would always be a wage of war, a never ending one just like time itself. But the ultimate clash was now approaching. The time when the most brilliant light and the most terrible evil would decide the future of all things.
“My lady! It has happened – it has begun!”
The woman turned her blonde head towards a man who had just burst into the chamber, his wild hair barely concealing the alert, almost frightened expression on his face. They all had been waiting for it, for the disruption to the balance of things, and whilst she herself bore an unreadable composure, this did not mean her heart was not stirring. She had to appear strong at least, if not be at her strongest. Her gaze wandered out towards the ceiling.
“Indeed. The stars have decided, and now we will do with what they give us.” The woman murmured, though her response was more likely that she was talking to herself.
Returning to prayer, she did not hear the man walk out of the chamber, but concentrated on the silver chain wrapped around her hand, clutching the charm attached to the middle between her fingers. Regardless of what the stars may have in store for them all, she knew in the depths of her heart that good would always conquer.
Yet what of the cost?
Long ago when she had not known such war and great power, she would’ve been far more reluctant to believe that the light would prevail, had she not taken the road of life that she had travelled through. Her belief in its entirety had not even existed until life took such an unexpected turn and changed everything she had ever known. If there was one certainty in the pending storm, it would be that that the loss would be great, as it always had been for the thousands of years since civilisation came into existence.
But as with most things, it is hard to see how any good or glimmers of hope could be borne from a period of hardship and tragedy. It is hard to accept that life and death cannot be without one another.
This woman knew all too well. She had suffered, as had many others she had loved and known. It was something she had learned to harness over the years like poison: it may not have killed her, but it still flowed through her veins, becoming a part of her as intangible as a soul could be from a body.
For hundreds of years now, she dedicated herself to continual prayer and the glimmers of guidance she would offer to civilisation, hoping that the benevolent forces that held the universe and the world together would unite once more.
After feeling satisfied enough that she had spared enough time to building up some small amount of courage, the woman got up from where she had been kneeling and straightened out her robes. Taking one last look out the window to where the moon was shining bright, she exited the chamber to begin her work. She needed to prepare to teach the twelve whatever knowledge and strength she had.
Down the corridors of the temple she went, a slow yet determined pace in her step as she approached an iron door carved with the blessed symbols of the stars formed in one single wheel. Pushing down the doors open, the woman stepped inside the new chamber and continued gently towards a large window that was open to the magnificent night sky outdoors.
So fixed was her gaze onto whatever appeared to be fascinating her amongst the vast array of stars that shimmered delicately in the dark of the night, she almost forgot what was coming to pass. What everyone else did not know was that she had already chosen who was going to restore the peace that the universe now needed after 2000 years of war.
As she closed her eyes and allowed a vision of a young woman with dark hair and eyes of blue ocean to come before her. She allowed a rare, faint smile to come forth on her face. It would be years before this young woman was there and ready, but she was patient. She had to be.
The ocean was home. Eirene had known this since she was a small child, even if she didn’t remember all of her days as a baby, playing joyfully in the sand and often staring out to the great waters ahead, as if she was bewitched by them. Her mother Maridi did not find this as puzzling as the rest of the priests and priestesses Eistr Mariskh. Of course her child loved water, Maridi would often think, for how could a child born on Astrum, born when the blessed stars of the Healer graced the sky, not find home there?
The circumstances of Eirene’s birth though had been as unusual as the people found Eirene to be. The priests and priestesses weren’t per se forbidden from fulfilling intimate desires, but that wasn’t to say it was always approved or widely practiced. Then Maridi’s pregnancy really did shake the way of things; to think a child would be born within the very walls of Eistr Mariskh, the blessed temple of Astrum! An unthinkable idea for many, yet the unthinkable would come to pass. It would appear that the members of Eistr Mariskh proved more tolerable than possibly reputed, though Maridi had often suspected that had she not been favoured so by High Priest Eldwin, or proven herself a formidable priestess before the birth of her daughter, that maybe her future would have been contrary.
Maridi often thought sometimes that maybe she could have been more careful if she truly wanted to fulfil her path to becoming a priestess of Astrum. She had loved her duties as a priestess. But when she looked into the eyes of her daughter, the colour of them as gray blue as the ocean so worshipped by Astrum, Maridi had no regrets. Her daughter was a blessing the most truest form and she, Maridi, would treasure her little girl for as long as she lived.
And so Eirene grew up on the Isles of Astrum under the careful watch of her mother and the priests and priestesses of Eistr Mariskh, altogether unaware of her comings into the world. As the years passed, all of the members of Eistr Mariskh could see that her birth had brought nothing but promise, for Eirene was a precocious little one who flourished under their teachings. Even High Priest Eldwin could not hide his favour again; perhaps she would be a greater priestess than even her mother had hoped of becoming, or even he.
The first inklings of her potential were first spotted one day when Eirene was four in years. Eldwin had been passing through the corridors of the Eistr Mariskh temple when something caught his eye. He looked out hollow window of the temple to see Eirene playing with a bird. Perplexed by how a young child could tame such a creature, Eldwin proceeded outdoors and approached the child gently from behind her.
“Now how did you come to keep this little bird, my sweet one?” He asked fondly, smiling when Eirene stroked the bird’s belly, eliciting small delightful cheeps.
“I heard Linne singing in the trees. It was such a pretty song that I had to ask her what it was.” The young girl replied, still engrossed with the bird perched on her finger.
“You named the bird?”
“She told me her name. I could feel it when I came by and spoke to her sweetly. She seemed to like it.” Eirene finally turned her solemn eyes to Eldwin. “It is a pretty name, is not, Linne?”
“Indeed, Linne is a very pretty name.” Eldwin murmured, finding that as he reached into his own ability to talk with nature, the bird indeed told him what she had told Eirene. Her name was Linne, a pretty songbird. He looked from the bird into Eirene’s young face. It wasn’t often that the apprentice priests and priestesses that came to Eistr Mariskh could communicate with nature so young. In fact, he was sure that Eirene was probably the youngest he had ever come across who had somehow learnt this ability.
Nevertheless, Eldwin was as pleased as he was awed. If she could learn these abilities as quickly as this one, she would make a fine priestess. He put a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder and said, “It’s time to say goodbye to Linne. I want to teach you some ways we can talk to all living things in this world.”
“Living things like Linne?” Eirene’s eyes widened.
“Yes, exactly that.” Eldwin smiled. “Are you ready?”
Nodding eagerly, Eirene took Eldwin’s hand and ran inside with him to begin her lessons.
“Where is my papa?” Eirene asked her mother one day during her eighth year, looking up from studying scrolls. Maridi paused her sewing momentarily. She had been expecting the queston to come one day, but nevertheless she was found herself dumbfounded by the question. How to explain to a little girl the ways of the world?
“What do you mean, my sweet one?”
“Where is he? Is he alive?”
“My dear child, why would you think he might be dead?” Maridi’s brow furrowed in worry, though she stopped herself going over and gathering her daughter in her arms. Eirene was a surprisingly stoic and perceptive child, despite the love and affection that Maridi had given her in bounty. But there was also a sensitiveness there that could be
“Because why else would he not be here? You are, he is not.” Eirene said flatly. “If he never wanted me, I would rather know the truth.”
This time, Maridi did get up and go to embrace her child, whose eyes had begun to fill ever so slightly with tears.
“My sweet girl, your papa wanted you very much.”
“Then why is he not here?”
“I cannot tell you that.”
“Because it is what is best for you.”
“How can you say that when it is my papa? He is not yours, I demand to know who he is and where he is.”
“Eirene.” Maridi’s voice suddenly became a warning. She released her daughter from her arms and went back to her sewing.
“If you will not tell me, I will find out myself.” Eirene suddenly exclaimed furiously, running out of their quarters. Maridi rubbed her face and found her hands coming away wet with tears. She had not meant to vex her daughter, but she could not reveal the truth, not now. But her daughter was stubborn. For a girl who had always been so trusting and impressionable, she had also shown a will that had even drawn Eldwin’s attention at times.
It would simmer down in time, Maridi convinced herself. No, she did not want to stifle her daughter’s spirit, it just needed tempering. She knew who Eirene would be running to now. Eldwin. She crossed her fingers and hoped that maybe he would talk some sense into her daughter, or at the very least comfort her in a way that Maridi couldn’t.
As predicted, Eirene stopped just before the grand hall of Eistr Mariskh. She had always found it imposing in height, but in all other respects, it was a peaceful space. The walls and columns were blue marble, the floor had a large pool in the centre. To the very back, the statue of the Healer herself was erected and shrouded in firelight. In front of her, Eldwin was on his knees meditating, but as soon as he sensed Eirene’s presence, he turned around and greeted her.
“Come, sweet one.” He commanded quietly. Obeying out of respect for his position as High Priest, Eirene came to his side and knelt with him, though her heart still burned with resentment. She did not like being lied to.
“You are upset.” Eldwin observed.
“I asked my mama about my papa.” Eirene admitted, her tone slightly petulant. Eldwin put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder.
“I suppose you were not given the answers you seek?” He asked. Eirene nodded and he then sighed, bringing the same hand on her shoulder to stroke away a stray curl of hair from her face.
“You must be patient with your mama. She only does what is in your best interest.”
“But I know she is hiding something from me.” Eirene looked at Eldwin properly now, and he could see the fire in her eyes. Oh what a bright fire there were. “I think he is alive and that she knows where he is.”
“And if you are right? What would you do?”
“I would find him and ask he why never wanted me. Mama said he does, but I do not believe her. If he loved me, he would have been here from the moment I came.”
Eldwin looked sadly upon this young girl so aggravated. What a tragic thought for child, to think that a parent did not love her.
“What if I told you he has been here from the moment he came?” He asked. Eirene’s face suddenly became wistful, her hands beginning to clutch hopefully on her robes as she rose higher on her knees.
“Has he been? Where is he? Do you know him?”
“I do.” Eldwin replied, choosing his next carefully. “But you cannot know him yet. One day, when you are older in years, you might.”
“But years are a long time to wait.” Eirene became dejected again, slumping down on her knees again.
Eldwin took the child’s face after a moment and looked into her eyes, the ones that often held so much promise, that now looked as though her trust had been broken. It was not fair, it was not right for child. But she would have to learn the harsh realities on the world eventually. The curse of waiting, of being patient for the right time would start for her now, and Eldwin hoped she would find it the least cruel of the many lessons she would have in her life from now on.
“I promise you, sweet one, that you will know your papa one day. But I will not hear of you slandering your mama, nor will I hear of you abusing her if you try. You are to be a priestess of Astrum, and to be one, you must learn to quell that temper of yours.”
Eirene bit her lip. She was upset with her mama still, she could not shift that feeling yet. The priests and priestesses of Astrum were never shy to remind her of her duty to her mama, Eldwin especially so, and she knew that if she did not go back and show the respect her mama deserved, the small bubble that was her life on Astrum could be made harder.
In some small spark of wisdom, Eirene bowed her head finally and dried her eyes.
“Thank you, my High Priest.” She whispered, the words slightly sour as grapes in her mouth as she finally gave in to obedience.
Satisfied that Eirene had genuinely overcome her temper, Eldwin stroked her and smiled. He loved her, this precocious little child. She was everything to him. He had not doubt, as her mama did, that she would grow into a fine young woman one day.
“Very well, sweet one. Go back to your mama, and remember what I have said to you this day.”
Eldwin watched as Eirene silently rose from her knees, extended to him the most gracious bow she could muster – he had not missed the stubborn frustration set in her brow – and ran from the great hall. He watched her go and once again felt sad. She needed her papa now and she could not have him.
Eirene would remember this day for the rest of her life.
She paused to admire herself slightly in the mirror in her new robes. Not a girl who was usually inclined to think of herself as pretty, or to indulge in beautifully woven fabrics, she allowed herself this moment to gaze upon the reflection looking back at her.
The cloth was the lightest silk, coloured a dark gray blue like her eyes and lined on the seams with silver thread. The sleeves were split in half from the shoulder to wrist, as was the front skirt down the middle, leaving both her arms and legs exposed. Her only other extravagances were the silver diadem on her head, from which one single sapphire hung between her eyebrows, and a necklace bearing a silver mould of a horse. This necklace was her mother’s heirloom, from her mother and mothers before her. It felt almost heavy on her neck to think that many great priestesses and more have once possessed this beautiful trinket.
Sighing to try and ease her nerves, Eirene practiced her bow and ran over the words she was to speak at the ceremony. Today was to be the day she would begin her journey to becoming a High Priestess of the Eistr Mariskh temple, one of the greatest honours one could achieve as resident on the Isles of Astrum. The day could not have come sooner now she was fourteen in years. She had learned much about the arts of healing, she had mastered most languages known to the world, practiced the basics in sorcery, and her most favourite ability she still used to date: speaking with nature.
A knock on the door startled her. She turned and breathed with relief. It was only her dear mother. Maridi’s hair was now as silver as her own eyes, her face lined with joy and sadness. The years had wizened her and more than ever, Eirene wanted to prove her mother proud.
“My child, my…beautiful little girl.” Maridi whispered as she came and took her daughter’s face in her weathered hands. “Not a girl any longer, I suppose, but still mine.”
Smiling, Eirene took her mother’s hands and kissed them. “Do you think I’m ready, Mama?”
“Of course, my sweet girl, of course. But remember what I taught you -”
“There is always much to learn?”
“There is always much to learn.” Maridi repeated, smiling sadly as she tucked a hair behind her child’s ear. “I should think you will not have much time for me after this day, now you have been set on a great path.”
“Never, Mama. I will always have time for you.” Eirene replied seriously, still holding onto her mother’s hands. Maridi chuckled and took her hands back.
“You always have been a dutiful girl, my child. You must know how proud I am of you.” Maridi’s eyes watered, looking over again at the budding young girl stood before her, almost ready for womanhood. She remembered all those years ago when Eirene had asked about her papa, and all the times since then where her temper had gotten the better of her. Oh, she was a stubborn and wilful child still, but she had learnt to be mindful of her temper and that, above all other traits which may have served against her before, had transformed the ungainly foal into a majestic and graceful mare. The horse sigil on Eirene’s neck was most becoming on her now she was of age.
Eirene turned back to the mirror, uncomfortable at the sight of her mother’s tears. Maridi came from behind her daughter, wrapping her arms around her and bestowing a comforting kiss on her sweet scented hair. Eirene must have been in the fields early this morning, for she still carried the smell of grass and wildflowers around her.
“I hope to keep making you proud, Mama.”
“You always have, and always will, my girl. Always.”
Finally breaking the embrace, Eirene turned and took her mother’s arm. Together, mother and child walked out of their quarters in the temple, towards the beach where Eirene’s fate would be forever changed.
They ran past her in terror: village women, nymphs, priests and priestesses alike desperately scrabbling up the road away from the sea shore, kicking up dust with their frantic feet. Eirene came to an abrupt halt from her peaceful walk down towards where the revellers should have been celebrating. Her mind then became wary and alert, wondering what danger must be approaching. Shaking herself away from her mother’s grip, she took a couple more steps onto the cliff’s edge, she could feel a faint, constant rumble under her feet. Slowly, her eyes averted from the ground to what was up ahead in the distance and then found that her heart had frozen in her chest.
A massive tsunami wave was rushing towards the shore, a colossal wall of water that Eirene found strangely mesmerising to watch. Her thoughts snapped back to reality when she spotted a nymph struggling to pull a young girl to her feet where she had tripped and started wailing with fear. Adrenaline kick starting inside her, Eirene raced towards the beach, ignoring the cries from those behind her who could see that she was running into even more imminent danger.
Up ahead, Eirene could see High Priest Eldwin roaring to the wind, his arms held above him as he cried ancient spells she had not ever read in her scrolls. He was trying to stop the waves. Eirene cried out to him but it was too late and even the great Eldwin was no match for the great wave. He turned back to Eirene’s call with a sad smile on his face, before he was swept away from her forever.
Gulping her grief, Eirene carried on towards the nymph and her daughter. She would not allow another one to be taken on her watch.
“No! You mustn’t! Get yourself to safety!” The nymph protested, though her words were to no avail as Eirene picked up the young girl with all the strength she could muster and grabbed the nymph’s hand to start them running back towards inland with the tsunami close on their tail.
“Oh by the Gods, we won’t make it – it’s too powerful!”
Eirene ignored the female running beside her, clutching the infant in her grasp tighter to her chest whilst sprinting forward with even more urgency. She knew by the all means that it was no ordinary wave. She herself had seen some storms conjured up and the waves that were rocked by them did not even compare to this one devastating force of nature.
The trio could then hear the wave crash onto the beach behind them, followed by the screams and the yells from those behind them who had not quite made it, where the water swept up everything in its path and continued towards them.
“Mama?” The young girl whimpered as she looked at her nymph mother, tears spurting helplessly from her eyes. Her mother slowed down and dropped to the ground with exhaustion, unable to match Eirene’s stamina. Seeing that the nymph needed help, Eirene skidded and turned sharply on her heel to run back towards her, still holding the child whilst holding out a hand.
“Take my hand – come on, we can still make the hill if we keep pushing.” Eirene stated shortly, aware that the wave was getting closer and they were getting no farther from it. But then she saw the look in the older nymph’s eye and knew what she would have to make a pain-staking decision.
“I’m sorry.” The nymph cried out, no longer having the strength to rise. “Keep running, and don’t look back. May the Gods keep you both.”
Eirene shook her head, not wanting to believe that this might be the end of the road for this nymph mother. But after taking one more look at the young, frightened girl she held in her arms, she saw why she would have to turn around once more and just keep on going.
“Mama? MAMA!” The girl screeched when Eirene took off again, crying even more noisily than before as her mother waved at her forlornly, getting visibly smaller whilst the two remaining female’s on the beach kept running for dear life.
Eirene could only have wished to offer something more comforting to the young girl. So many people were dying where the tsunami was drowning them, but she forced herself focus on the precious time that was rapidly slipping away for them to make it safely onto high ground. It was too late for everyone else and she was left with no other option other than the one thing of her mind. Keep running.
And that meant no looking back if she could help it.
Until she could hear voices whispering her name. As if by hypnosis, Eirene could feel the voices slowing her down, slowing down time whilst calling her name, drawing her attention from behind her.
She turned around and her mouth dropped open in disbelief when she saw the first most unprecedented occurrence she had ever seen in her life. The screams around her faded into the background. She even couldn’t hear the girl sobbing at her to run for the hills. Nothing could tear her eyes away from it: the giant wall of bright blue water had formed into the shape of a creature too terrifying to name, a deathly roar echoing from its depths as it sped towards Eirene.
She was completely transfixed. What force of the world, or maybe even the universe, could possibly have created such a fearsome mass of destruction? The very place she had lived on since she was born was being ripped to pieces, and yet she did not tremble. She did not feel anything but a dumbing numbness that blocked any sort of emotion or feeling that could’ve helped her run away from it.
By the Gods we won’t make it –
No. Eirene was determined to keep her and this young girl safe. Even if the wave did take them, she knew they would be alright. It was almost upon them now. There was nowhere else to run or hide. Whatever was in store for them next, Eirene threw caution to the wind and stood firm facing the water, stroking the girl’s head with one hand and holding her close to her chest to soothe her.
Kissing her on the forehead, Eirene looked into frightened eyes with a calm stare hoping that this girl, no matter how young she was, could see and understand that they would be alright. Whether they stayed alive or not.
The next thing Eirene knew, she was knocked from her feet as though she were flying in midair. The force of the wave was so powerful that she lost her grip on the girl, the two of them struggling to hold onto to each other as the violent swirls of water tossed them around and kept them apart. She tried to grab the girl but to no avail as the water swept her away even further, her hands outstretched powerlessly in struggle against the tide.
Eirene could feel her consciousness fading, her body giving up the fight whilst the waves began to settle. It was no use fighting it. She let herself go to float on her back, the sun shining dimly through the ripples from where she was deep down underwater. In this odd state of tranquillity, she began to think of her childhood…of her home…of her mother…
Eirene’s eyes began to close as she floated up towards light, unsure that her world she was returning to would be the same…or if it would now have changed forever…