[This story is also available in audio format via my online Bookstore]
As Tane stood on the rocky crag at the topmost point of the Star mountains, he could clearly see the place where blue ocean waves kissed the stony shore out beyond the lake-studded plateau which lay below him.
Papua wasn’t a large island in comparison to the rest of the world, but what it lacked in size it more than made up for in beauty and diversity. It was the centre of the world; the vast cauldron from which all life had sprung countless millennia ago.
Dawn’s first rays caressed the crowded canopy which surrounded his vantage point, and a cloud of steam began to rise into the still air, as the lingering droplets from last night’s rain, transformed back into the fluffy, white clouds which had birthed them to the land. The sight leant even more credence to his cauldron analogy.
It seemed like only yesterday when he had stood at this very point, viewing the earth in its infancy and marvelling at all of the countless possibilities that would arise to shape its future. The one possibility he hadn’t considered though, was the almost complete destruction of his creation by the very beings which had been born from his seed. The beings that he, so naively, had charged with being the dedicated caretakers of his living work of art.
Oh, how misguided he had been.
He turned and began to descend the mountain, large strides eating up the miles between him and Kemea lagoon with each determined step.
As the god of forest and light, there wasn’t much that Tane couldn’t do with his own two hands. He could birth trees, plants and even animals from the dark, rich soil in his isolated valley home, and breathe life into them with just a drop of his vast power. The one thing that he hadn’t been able to do was to create a fitting mate for himself.
He had first visited Eteroa, the spirit of the island, many millennia ago. The primordial spirit resided deep beneath the dark, blue waters of the lagoon, which were now shining up at him from the plateau below. A few more steps and he was standing on its lush, green banks staring out across the mirrored surface of the lake.
He felt doubts rise once again, within his chest. Ordinarily, deities didn’t possess the capacity to doubt their actions. Doubting one’s self was a mortal affliction, driven by human emotions such as ‘guilt’, and ‘fear’. But most gods hadn’t been the cause of such terrible and all-encompassing devastation. The last time he had visited the lagoon, it had been to ask Eteroa to create for him a mortal wife. The island had happily granted his request, and Sisiroha, mother to the entire human race, had been born from the waters. Their mating had been blessed with countless genetically diverse children, who had gone on to form all of the different races which, until recently, had inhabited the earth.
In the beginning, life had been good. He had dreamed of fathering human children who, blessed with the transience of their mortality, would truly cherish the world which he had created for them. In return, they would pass on the sacred knowledge which he had imparted to them, to each future generation of his growing family. Together, they would see the earth realise its full potential.
For a while, his dream became a reality. His children lived in harmony with the land; only taking what they needed in order to thrive. Ensuring that, for every tree and plant they pulled from the earth, they gifted back double in the form of precious seeds; carefully tended under his nurturing sunlight. For each animal slain, to provide their food and clothes, they would put aside an offering of feed to give back to the herds throughout the cold winter months, when fresh food was scarce on the ground. It was a paradise, and Tane had congratulated himself on a job well done.
In time, though, even the gift of longevity provided by Tane’s power was not enough to prevent nature from claiming back the mortal body of Sisiroha; freeing her soul to travel to the Summerlands beyond the veil. It was in that moment that Tane’s heart ceased to beat, and he discovered something which no divine being had ever encountered before. The feeling of loss.
Seeing that his creation was safe in the hands of his children, he retreated from the world. Falling into a deep and dreamless sleep, until such a time that his heart would mend.
Centuries passed in the blink of an eye, but his heart still refused to beat. Eventually, Tane realised that slumber was not the right cure for his loneliness. He returned to the world he had so lovingly crafted to seek solace in the collective light of the children he had been so proud of. But, in his absence, his children had forgotten almost all of the lessons which he had taught to them; their knowledge becoming more diluted with each generation. Greed, sloth, envy, arrogance and hatred had bloomed within their hearts, turning them away from nature as they fought for material superiority over each other. They had soon forgotten that they had ever lived in harmony with the land.
Tane had wept bitterly to see the sheer destruction which his children had wrought upon the world in his absence. Logging and industrial farming had all but scoured trees and plant-life from the earth, and the use of chemicals and genetic engineering had corrupted and weakened almost every species on the face of the planet – if not eradicated them completely.
The oceans and waterways were choked with a substance called ‘plastic’ which Tane, to his horror, learned was formed from the ancient liquid remains of dead plants and animals. A process which turned his once beautiful and vital creations, into something so unnatural that even the passing of countless centuries couldn’t return their desecrated remains back to the natural cycle of the earth.
It wasn’t just nature that his children had turned their backs upon. It seemed that, in their unending quest for power, they had also forgotten the important bonds of family. They had tried to oppress and gain control over each other, based solely on meaningless divisions; like the level of pigment in their skin, their sexual preference, or even by the doctrine and dogma of the myriad new ‘world religions’ which had sprung up.
Tane could still see the shadow of his teachings, lingering at the very core of each of these new ‘belief systems’, but many of his children seemed to ignore even the ghostly remains of the knowledge which he had so carefully imparted to their ancestors. Instead, they used their ‘allegiance’ to a particular faith as a crutch, in some misguided attempt to give themselves a false air of superiority over others. Some even went as far as to use their own twisted doctrine as some sort of ‘divine justification’ for their countless sins. At this extreme, all trace of his loving message had been erased.
By the time he had returned from his slumber, there were only a handful of human bloodlines left. The vast, diverse and disparate beauty of his children had been pared down through war, famine, and disease. Those that had somehow survived the carnage of the terrible wars, which had struck their brothers and sisters from the face of the earth, were already sick and dying from the poison of the chemical and nuclear weapons which had marked the beginning of human extinction.
Seeing the broken bodies of his children littering the scorched battlefields, now marring the earth’s surface like open sores, Tane’s silent heart had clenched painfully within his chest. How had it come to this? He had vowed to himself, that he would never again create another being in his own image. And for a time, as the planet slowly began to heal itself under his gentle care, that was enough. But, as the centuries passed, Tane came to realise that trying to forget, wasn’t enough to make up for what his absence had allowed to happen, nor to mend his twice-broken heart.
He thought of his beautiful Sisiroha, and of the deep, unfailing love and devotion which she had held for each of her children and their descendants. Surely, any being capable of such unconditional love, was also capable of becoming everything that he had dreamed?
And so, with renewed resolution, he stepped forward and entered the waters of the lagoon. Cool waves danced against his legs as he waded further out, not stopping until the water reached his waist. Raising his hands, palms facing downwards, he gently placed them on the shimmering surface of the lake.
“Eteroa, spirit of the land and guardian of all who dwell upon it, hear me!” He called, feeling the water vibrate and shiver beneath his fingers. “Hear me and awaken, I ask your counsel and a blessing.”
The hum of insect activity surrounding the lagoon ceased, and Tane waited in the silence. Moments passed, but he didn’t move from his place in the shallows. At last, a gravelly voice reached his ears.
“Tane, God of Forest and Light, what would you ask of me?”
The voice was dry and ponderous, but, despite Tane’s previous reservations, the spirit didn’t sound angry, so he forged ahead.
“When the world was still young, I came to you in this place and asked you a boon… do you recall our meeting then?”
“My memory is longer than yours young Tane, and my age far greater. Yes, I remember the meeting of which you speak… now, what would you ask of me this time?”
“No more and no less than I did on that day, Great Spirit,” Tane replied, subconsciously holding his breath as he waited for a response. The seconds ticked by, each one an agony.
“After what your children have done to our world, you would dare to ask this of me again?! Why? Why would I grant you this boon a second time?”
Eteroa’s voice rose thunderously, and the waters of Kemea shook and danced all about him.
“Please, oh wise spirit of the land, do not lay my sins at my children’s feet. It was my own negligence, which brought us all to this end, and my children paid the terrible price of my conceit. I should never have left them, still so very much in their infancy, all alone with the whole world clutched in their small, fragile hands.” Tane paused for a moment as a swell of painful emotion threatened to choke him.
“If you feel that someone should bear the weight of your punishment for this crime, Great Spirit, then I offer myself up to your mercy. But, before you make your judgement, I ask that you please hear my proposal.”
The waters stilled, and silence returned to the plateau.
“Granted. Speak your piece, and I will consider your words.”
Tane bowed respectfully, making sure not to remove his palms from the surface of the lake.
“It is true that I come to you once again asking for a human mate. When I first woke and saw the destruction of all I had once loved, I vowed to myself never again to make the same mistake. As time passed, though, I realised that the only way to truly correct the mistakes of the past, is to begin again; this time ensuring that I am the dedicated father that I should have been from the very beginning. In addition, I would like you to take my memories of all that has been, and to pass that terrible knowledge to my mate. In this way, my new family will grow from out of the ashes of my slain children, hopefully never to repeat the mistakes that lead us to this end.”
“That is a heavy burden, indeed, for a new soul to bear. Are you certain you want to place such a weight on your new mate’s shoulders?”
“I am. I will sacrifice a portion of my power to ensure that she doesn’t become overwhelmed with the knowledge all at once. I will take responsibility in gently revealing the truth, piece by piece. In this way, I will share the burden with her… supporting and guiding her, as I should have done with my children.”
There was a rumbling sigh, as Eteroa carefully considered Tane’s words.
“Alright, God of Forest and Light, you may have your second chance. Be warned though, this time the earth itself will hold you accountable.”
“Thank you, Great Spirit of the land. I will not fail you or my family a second time, I promise you that.”
The water began to glow with a radiant white light, and Tane waded forward to the centre of the lake, using his power to keep himself waist-high even in the deepest parts.
As he reached the centre, the light began to coalesce, drawing in on itself to form a large iridescent sphere before him. Reaching his arms into the centre of the sphere, Tane took hold of its precious content and, as he did so, the light began to fade.
The lonely, broken man, more human than god at that moment. Gazed down at the sleeping woman in his arms. “I will name you Kemea in memory of your birthplace.” He whispered to her, as hope once again welled within his breast, and his heart uttered its first stuttering beat in millennia, in answer to her own.
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