Chapter 29 - Eater of Souls

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Jaylina felt tired. The farther she traveled in Otherworld the more tired she became. She reasoned that the time-distance between her spirit and her body had something to do with it. The stronger the body, the farther its essence could travel. She understood now why Michael had insisted they walk wherever they went. It had strengthened her endurance. She could only imagine how her body was holding up to being so far removed from its soul. It was alive, obviously, or her spirit would be untethered. She knew if her silver cord was cut her body would die and her spirit would remain here, perhaps even head towards the Underworld as she was doing now of her own free will. She wondered whether she could return to her body if she couldn't find Michael. She hadn't planned on being separated from him.

There's nothing I can do about that now.

She followed the moonstone stair-bridge for minutes, hours, days, who could say, to the entryway of Night's pavilions, gliding just above the damp stones. Nothing, no shade nor shadow, molested her as she made her way inside.

She drifted through fantastic corridors of bewitching dimension in which she was the apparition. She came to a rounded intersection blocked by a slouching giant of a shade that wore a silver band around its neck and held a halberd in one sinewy arm.

Jaylina stopped in her tracks. It stared at her silently through blazing red holes until it finally pointed to a path through an open archway, an arch decorated with intricate runes beyond Jaylina's comprehension. She followed the path without taking her eyes off the shade until she had passed it.

The path led her to a strange garden where phosphorescent stones lay buried between long grasses, then winded its way to an open rotunda with a view of the universe all around it. Jaylina peered upwards hoping to see the City of Light but was disappointed to find it was not visible in this part of the sky.

In this garden, Jaylina's soul walked through dark places no light of any sun had ever touched, between the stalks of climbing vines, ripe with poisonous berries, strange mushrooms as big as drums, and exotic otherworldly flowers with dripping razor-sharp leaves that smelled like jasmine and looked like nightshade.

At the end of the path gurgled a moss-covered fountain and beside the fountain near the edge of the rotunda stood the silhouette of a tall being of feminine energy, dark and shapely. The being stood at stone railing, staring silently out into the ether, the profile of its face the picture of perfect serenity. It radiated a power as strong and as dark as Ethanac's light had been bright. She would have recognized that energy anywhere: The Shadow Queen.

Jaylina waited, not sure of how to proceed. She felt invisible. After a moment, the being turned its head towards her guest and Jaylina saw She was the most impossibly beautiful woman she had ever seen, with a face smooth as dark crystal and eyes like the far reaches of space. Jaylina recalled those eyes, and her essence chilled; she felt her spirit tremble.

"You have come a long way to finally share your soul with me," said the Night. Her lips never moved as she spoke. "He used you as I told you he would. Do you still trust him now?"

Jaylina did not speak. Her every instinct screamed of danger. She realized that this being of Darkness could snuff out her light with but a thought. Had this been a mistake? It didn't matter. She was committed. She mustered every iota of courage that thrummed within her essence.

"You know Michael is here. You know that he's coming for you," said Jaylina. "He doesn't know the truth. Tell him and end this now, please. I beg you."

"Why would I do that?" said Night. "Within him lies the power to procure all I need from your realm."

Jaylina understood. The Shadow Queen wanted Michael to come. The Left Hand of Light contained a great power thanks to Ethanac, the Golden Man. She was waiting for him.

"You loved him once," whispered Jaylina. "You walked with him for a time yourself in his universe. Why destroy it?"

For an instant, the eyes of Night became like exploding stars. It happened so fast Jaylina was not sure she'd seen it. Then they were Darkness again.

"Do you know the Eater of Souls?" asked the Night.

Eater of Souls? Jaylina thought. What new wickedness was this?

Her imagination spun wild images of a gluttonous man with a red-stained dinner napkin stuffed in his shirt, a bloody fork and knife in his hands.

Night gestured with a long willowy arm, indicating Jaylina should join her by the railing. Then Night turned her gaze back to the great openness behind her. Jaylina complied, moving close and looked out over the edge.

The essence of Jaylina's jaw dropped. Her mind reeled at what lay before her. This was nothing like she had expected, and it took her many long moments to grasp the extent of what she was looking at.

It was massive beyond anything Jaylina had ever seen. The being, if it could be called a being, filled the sky below them. Roughly circular, it turned with the slow rotation of a solar system or small galaxy. But Jaylina knew this was no astronomical phenomenon. It was a mouth, its center the blackness of an abyss, the Void. Tens of thousands, maybe millions, of giant protrusions like teeth or tentacles undulated over its gaping maw.

In the distance she saw the long train of soul catchers like gnats flying over this monstrosity. As each soul catcher passed over the great mouth, it released tiny pinpoints of light that twinkled and fell like rain into the cavity of this immeasurable being, like stars into a black hole, where they faded and winked out. Converting energy into matter. Souls never to be reborn to share their experiences. Destroying untold quantities of information. Erasing love.

Night spoke. "The Eater of Souls," she said. "My child and our annihilation."

"I don't understand," Jaylina mumbled.

"Millenia ago, before you mortals existed, the King of the House of Stars took the Night as His own. I was foolish in those ancient days. I thought it love, but it was indeed only the Light's eternal flames of desire. I bore Him a child, the hungry one you see before you."

Jaylina's mind whirled. "The Eater is Ethanac's child? The two of you created the Underworld?"

"An abomination, He called it." There was great sadness in the Shadow Queen's voice. "For eons He sought to destroy it. What father would want such a thing? I have protected it all this time. But now the product of our union grows beyond the control of even its mother to cope."

"Why not just stop feeding it?"

"An idea that comes so easily to one such as you," said the Night and Jaylina was wracked with guilt at the poison in Her voice. "But I ask you now: Would you let your own child starve?"

Jaylina looked away. The question required no answer. Could a mother be blamed for caring for her offspring at any cost?

"Ethanac abandoned you. I get it," said Jaylina. "Is that why you found Michael? To experience love for yourself?"

A wave of jealousy emanated from the Night and rocked Jaylina to the core of her essence. Her instincts all screamed in alarm.

"What could you possibly know of love, tiny light?" hissed the Shadow Queen.

Jaylina was dumbstruck. All she knew of love was that it simply was. No conditions. No expectations. Just acceptance. That's what she thought it was anyway. At least, that's the love she felt for Michael. But the Shadow Queen's question seemed more a threat. Or more aptly, a test.

"Look there, new mother," said Night, the trap closing deliciously on Her foolish mortal prey. "There's love."

Jaylina followed the Shadow Queen's slender finger. A soul catcher was releasing its cargo into the mouth of the Eater. In this paradoxical time-space of Otherworld, Jaylina could see clearly the souls being expelled to their doom. One immediately caught her eye.

Aiden.

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