Black as pitch, starless, lightless night.

Watching the opaque silhouettes sketching along darker bulks and unseen dips, I recognized this darkness. I recognized the Night, along with all the connotations that held up the meaning of that word. Night meant that soon there would be a dawn, and dawn always meant second chances.

There was a strange comfort in that.

Strange, because really, there was nothing comforting about it at all. The inky film that clotted against my irises felt like it was suffocating me. It was blinding, eerie and heart stopping. It was the kind of night, that seemed to silenced the world along with wiping it out of existence. Where every hair on your body stood on end, because all you had to rely on was your sense of touch. And your eyes, and ears, though fully alerted and straining to function, felt apprehensive, hesitant- waiting for the pin to drop with a bang.

But my feet continued to make their halting journey forward, and looking around at all that I could not see, I could not help it, I kept remembering: omens are in all things that you see.

"So... you're trying to tell me, that that beetle meandering its disgusting little way up the bark of Sooth... is an omen?" Orla looked up at her gentle caretaker with a look of extreme skepticism. Sooth was the name of the lone, dying tree on the hill that overlooked her home. A tree which she had always loved and respected, from the warm and cosy distance of her room, but was finding much harder to respect now that it was a part of her wasted morning, spent observing things she could not see under its miserable little shade.

Judging by the position of the sun, Orla decided that it had to have been well over four hours now, since she had been so rudely nudged awake, forced to skip her porrige, scamper into something warm and hike up the hill with her careaker, to come to the open, and rather chilly meadow, for her lessos on 'the workings of nature'. This was the third week she had been forced to endure this torture, and Orla had yet to understand why.

-That is, until about five seconds ago, when Viviane had finally uttered the first Lesson of the Order. And apparently, they were here to teach Orla all about Omens. Little foretelling markers left on earth that were- according to Viviane- "found in everything". Orla had not found this very enlightening, considering the weeks of build up they had gone through for this rather anti-climactic moment. Pointing at the beetle, eyebrows raised in high confusion, she asked, "What is that supposed mean?"

Viviane closed her eyes for a moment, trying to remember the last time a pupil had been this difficult. Usually, when the basics of the school were taught, it was more a practice of recitation and monotonous repetition rather than this much questioning. Although Viviane normally was a very generous person in her judgment of children, she was beginning to suspect that this one had some kind of idiocy defect.

"It means that it is an omen, for some creature, and some line of reality out there. It means life for another beetle who might have been eaten tonight, but this one came along; it might mean some bird will not go hungry tonight and will survive to have many chicks who will feed some pregnant woman someday, who, having had the nutrition offered by the bird's meat, is able to give birth to a healthy child who eventually goes on to rule the world. So the omen of the beetle would be the coming of a great King-"

"-or Queen-"

"Or Queen. It does not matter. The point is, that everything that takes up space on this land is meant to be there, and therefore foretells something. That is why we study omens. They are like clues left to us, like in the great adventure stories, to unravel our path."

Orla let these words sink into her for a moment. In an odd way, they did make sense. But...

"I don't get it. Couldn't we just walk along and still ... unravel out paths, without going through all of this?" Her eerie eyes moved lazily up to Viviane's face, one brow still quirked a little.

No, Viviane wanted to snap. No, you tiresome child. There are omens in the world, the beetle is an omen, the tree is an omen, the bloody sunlit sky is an omen, now shut up and just learn damn you! But she didn't. Instead, she tried to change her approach entirely.

"Yes, you could. But then you would be a listless Eryian, and never have anything accomplished in your entire life, and die a miserable, forgettable death. So that is why we prefer this approach, and don't scorn the lore the gods have passed on to us: to detect their signs and omens that they have left for us, and act upon them to maintain the balance of the universe."

Orla's eyes rounded a bit at this, and Viviane noted, with some satisfaction that bringing up the Eriyans had wiped the dazed, half asleep look right out of her pupil's eyes. Nice touch, she allowed herself a congratulatory moment.

"But that's not true!" The small happy-bubble that was taking form inside Viviane gave a little wobble, and burst. "What about King Daerus? He was Eryian. And he died, and we all heard about it. He's not forgotten at all."

It was true of course, Daerus, who had died just seven years ago was not forgotten at all. Far from it, somehow the blame of his death had been laid on the Druid's footsteps as well. If she did not remember so clearly the day it had all happened, she might have rolled her eyes at the predictablity of their reactions.

She had been washing the windows that morning. The sun had finally emerged from its misty alcove near the horizon, and blazed warm when the sky had suddenly darkened. It could not have been the clouds, because the sky had been clear and searing right on her sweating back moments before. It had been but a moment, no longer, but it seemed as if the entire world held it's breath, and then dense shroud fell off the sun and settled back around the island, swirling and guarding. Everyone in the streets, every where had gone down to their knees, their heads resting on the ground immediately, in fright. And oh, gods! I wished I was down their with them! Her knees had actually been wobbling with the need to collapse and let her fall to a prostration, but Viviane had been perched high on a ladder and could do not such honours. So, she had stared on.

The ground shook. There were dark spurts splashing on the horizon, as if the night was flailing in its sleep and threatening to take over already. Viviane had not understood at first. The dark shadows had completely bewildered her- but then, thin bolts of current lashed out with the dark smoke. And she had understood.

Because, there, where the land etched a line against the sky, and the ground fell away into a cliff, diving into waters, and hiding, from all those that lived above the cliff, the thick gray curtain that sealed their world from beyond let noone through in or out. And King Daerus had certainly not been the first, foolish enough to try crossing the misty barriers. And everytime, the current would begin anew, so that the people of the land had learned to know what they meant. It would not be until two days later, however, that they would find out just who it had been.

Looking back at the obnoxious girl beside her, Viviane conceded that she had a point. But her sense of pride called that she should not say that outright to the girl.

"That is because King Daerus followed the Omens. You cannot be a King if you don't."


Now she looks interested, Viviane thought, deadpanned. Well, whatever sold the lesson for the child, she supposed. "Yes. Actually, he was a great fan of the Omens. There are rumours that he even took a druid with him everywhere he went, incase he ever miss an omen and thus cursed his entire kingdom." That, detected Viviane, might have been taking it too far.

The little girl beside her giggled, her somber and somewhat haughty features turning suddenly angelic. "Eryians don't have druids!" she accused.

Viviane smiled.

"Well, there we go- you do know something!" Smoothing out her dark bangs away from her face, she smiled a small half-smile. "No, you are right. They don't have druids."

"Wasn't that the day I was born, Viviane? When Daerus died?"

Viviane's smile faltered. It was true- to an extent, but she was not sure just how much Orla really knew, so she hesitated. "Yes it was. Around that time, yes."

"Mm," Orla nodded sagely, still smiling a bit. "Farren said that I was born on the beach and that I was supposed to be dead, but I lived because someone came and rescued me."

Viviane frowned. This account seemed pretty sketchy to her. "Who's Farren?"

"My future husband," Orla answered promptly. Viviane just managed to maintain her countenance. Husband? What does she know about husbands? A slowly strenghtening alarm was beginning to go off in the back of her head. Orla was a kind of special case in the Temple- she was supposed to be isolated, it had been the Head Druid's orders, himself. Knowing about husbands, and plannig a future at the age of ten didn't sound much like "isolation" to Viviane.

"Er," she inquired.

"He's my imaginary friend," Orla replied, reassuring her, the small smile still playing innocently on her lips. Viviane frowned in puzzlement and then smiled- in uncertain wonderment, or pity, even she was not sure. "I don't think I'm allowed real friends. But he's okay. Sometimes Aleha pretends to be him for me. It's funny when she tries to sound like a boy, though."

"Hm. How come he knows about how you were born though? If he is imaginary?"

Orla looked offended. "Just because he is imaginary doesn't mean he doesn't know things!" she berated. Viviane, deadpanned once more, suspected that Orla had not yet mastered the whole meaning of 'imaginary' yet. "'Sides," she went on, "He's heard talk."

"What kind of talk?"

"He says that I came from the foggy stuff on the beach, so that's why all the druids don't like me alot. They think that I shouldn't have been rescued. And also that the person that rescued me wasn't really a person, but a hag. But I don't like that part of the story."

Frowning deeper, Viviane attempted to shuffle through the facts. "Well, seeing as I happen to know the person who rescued you, I would assure Farren that she is certainly no hag, but as for the druids not liking you, I have never heard of a more ridiculous idea. The Druids are far higher beings than you and I, and they don't spend their days worrying about whether they 'like' or 'dislike' anyone."

"But they always tell me that I have to die!" Orla whined, eyes wide with indignation, as if if they got big enough, she would be able to implant her sentiments into a person's mind through sheer force.

"Well of course you have to die. We all do," Vivianne tried to explain. They had had this conversation before, too, but Viviane had only ever come up to the same conclusion as all of the elders- Orla was clearly still too young to understand. But if mentioned offhand and often enough, they hoped to skip the element of self-preserving shock by springing it on her when the time came. Their lore was, after all, practiced in the customes of self-sacrifice.

"But, why do they always have to tell me? Why don't they tell everyone else that they have to die, if everyone has to die? Why do I have to die because they say so?" Orla was scowling now.

In a dark and secret part of her, Viviane saw with clarity the logic behind this.

Outwardly, like a good agent, however, Viviane noted for later on that the girl's level of relaxation with the idea shown through open debate, bode well for their plans. The worse thing that could happen to any of them would probably bethe day when the girl was old enough that she point-blank refused to go with the rituals. Not that that had ever happened, though, so Viviane closetted away her doubts.

For now though- she asked why. And for whatever reason, Viviane always found herself stumped in her attempts to explain to the ten year old exactly why. It was for this very reason, in fact, that she was assigned to impart the wisdom of the basics of the Lore to this child. Omens were important where Orla's case was concerned. And her understanding in overriding it, even more so- because there was no way of explaining to her the why without teaching her at least the basic laws of the universe.

Because, like 'Farren' had said, Orla had been born on a beach, only it had not been just any beach, but the beach where the old King's charred remains lay. There had been no parents, no sign of birth, people, nothing. Just a baby, wrapped up in seaweed and placed in the center of a circle of stones.

Like an offering, from the sea.

Or a stray bird of ill-omen.

Unconsciously turning towards the water, Viviane scanned the open sky. There was nothing apparent that any of them could see now, but ever since the death of Daerus, the line of mist that encircled the isles, inched closer and closer each year. Since the Eryian king had died, or since Orla had been found. No one had been sure then, and the matter had gotten no clearer in the time past, since.

All Viviane knew was that there had been a small child that nobody was claiming, found in the center of very turbulant times, and there had been a King dead, the country at the brink of war- with the Eryians hammering at the border- all diplomacy had been in tatters, and the curtain of mist that held them all captive was turning grey and static, sending fear through the hearts of every single being across the lands. And something had needed to be done.

So, the choice had been clear at the time: kill her now, and possibly resolve the issue and calm the nerves of everyone involved- or kill her later, and dicipher what the problem was, to avoid future occurances. In either case, the girl was destined for death. Because no one got past the Mist, and if she had, the wall would never rest until she had died.

In the end, the Council had allowed the child a few more years of life. -Not out of any burst of generosity, of course, but in case it should offend anyone or anything that she be killed. So that she could do the act herself, once her training was complete, and thus achieve a spiritual status among the gods and not seek vengeance, as children's spirits often did.

But the wall had gotten steadily closer to the shore, with every day she was alive. And correlation could not have gotten clearer.

Viviane felt a shiver run down her spine as she remembered the latest estimate of ten more years until it reached the cliffs, looking down at the small girl with much less wooed eyes.

"Because you were never meant to be alive, Orla," she finally replied. The first time that she had been blatently honest. "This... this is all a gift; a happy, short snippet of something completely alien to your destiny. And when we are taken to a nice place to see all the nice things, and the day comes to an end, we thank the hosts politely and walk out with content feet, cherishing the memories of the time we were allowed to have."

The small girl who was occasionally teetered into solemn phases of wisdom-beyond-her-years frowned at that, and stared at the grazing blades of grass against her round toes.

Feeling slightly wistful, Viviane wondered if she would later feel guilty for how she had phrased that. But looking down at her, with the hauntings of her previous thoughts of reminder, she felt like one who came to terms what unpleasantries, because there really was no other choice about it.

Like a butcher who patted an animal on the head before tying it for easy slaughter, she stamped away her emotions, for little oval, white face, which stared, and blinked and took in all of the intricacies of the life around her in a state of constant goodbye.