My pre-born slumber was different this time. I dreamed a lot and was partially aware of my brothers and sisters in the womb with me. The dreams were different also. The slumber of my first incarnation was filled with my journey to this blue planet and for all of the dreams I had had, I was alone. This time my dreams were of my life as the great shark I had been and my brothers and sisters shared my dream with me. This struck me as odd as I did not think the brothers and sisters sharing this womb had also been sharks. Indeed as the dream progressed it became apparent this was a dream I was sharing with new siblings. They followed my journeys and asked me questions, asked why I had chosen this area of the ocean, why I had eaten this particular meal, what was it like to be this creature, how could I stand to be immersed completely in the ocean. I had been my own entity for so long now I had almost forgotten what it was like to be part of a single mind. It was a welcome change to be reminded of what I had been in the beginning. This thought must have pervaded my dream as my siblings voiced their own feelings about individuality. Some were literally newborn to life and were finding it a strange transition but an exciting adventure, others had been through the process many times over and were comfortable but still yearned to be with the greater consciousness. One, who had been most recently a rodent eaten by what would now be her mother, expressed profound thoughts on the matter. Her view was that we were still all one, experiencing life as one but through many eyes. The routine of being eaten or dying naturally and being reborn was just a change in perspective and this reunion in the womb was a way to disseminate our experiences back to other parts of the greater collective consciousness. To further explain this she allowed us to enter, then, her own dream which she pushed back to a life as a hive insect. She had great skill in navigating her past incarnations and I hoped I could retain my memories as she had, but even as the dreams faded as we prepared to be reborn, so did the memories. I was no longer a spirit who had lived as a shark but now was a spirit eager to try out life as a cat with no distinct recollection of what I had been just a deep-seated feeling I had been something other than what I was now.
I awoke with a start. Mother was licking me around my face trying to remove placenta and mucous to enable me to breathe. I took a gasping breath then another and another. Mother licked me along the sides, the massaging strokes forcing my diaphragm to move more strongly. My breathing became regular and strong and I mewed my appreciation. Mother continued to clean me and soon I was this small creature with fur sticking out at all angles from my skin. I nuzzled close to mother and eventually found a nipple. The natural instincts I had learned whilst in slumber came to life and I clamped my mouth to the nipple and suckled. Warm milk ran into my mouth and I swallowed for the first time. My tummy filled, I fell asleep and dreamed of running through grass, hunting prey. I was learning, whilst I slept, how to live as this form. I woke again and sensed another presence I could not see as my eyes had not yet opened but I knew mother and I knew my siblings and this new presence was something different. It felt much bigger and yet insubstantial, and, somehow, it felt familiar to me. I roused and stumbled away from mother to investigate this new presence. It was odd, there was no scent of an animal though I perceived it as such, instead it smelled of the ocean and the rain, of lakes and rivers. This creatures words filled my head. Go back to your mother, it is a dangerous world and she alone will provide you with the protection you need until you can fend for yourself. We will meet again for I am never far away. You know me, Ephah, you have always known me. We will have time to spend together, but for now you must return.
Her words confused me and yet made sense. I did not understand what she had called me but it felt right, it felt like my name. And I knew that I had known her forever even though I did not fully understand the concept. I went back to mother and found my place at her belly once more and suckled again.
I was, by far, the smallest cub of the litter to begin with, but mother, appreciative of the efforts made to save this body, her life and that of my siblings, she made an extra effort to make sure I could always find a nipple to suckle. I felt this a little odd, my natural instincts screamed at me that this was outside of the natural order, that I should have died. This brought about in me a fighting instinct and soon I was able to force my own way to feed. I grew quickly and became strong even for my smaller stature. I accepted I would never be quite as big as my brothers and sisters but I decided to make up for it however I could. My siblings also fussed over me and never complained about being pushed aside or being stood on to reach a nipple higher than the ones they were feeding at. I began to feel special and indeed when I heard the adults talking they often mentioned that I was special, that the goddess had spared my mother and given me to her, a gift of appreciation of the adoration my mother gave the goddess. Things began to emerge in my own mind and I struggled with memories of being outside of mother, laying on the beach with a figure like mother but bigger standing close to me and speaking with me. I recalled the voice and matched it to the one that had spoken inside my head. I decided it was time I sought that creature out again.
I walked away from my family and out to the edges of our lair. I sensed her immediately near a pile of bones and scraps of animal hides, offerings from my pack to the goddess, for that is how my pack, my family, perceived this creature. Again I smelled the sea and rivers and fresh rain. I saw her in my mind now. A glorious specimen of a cat, muscles rippling underneath a coat of shiny striped fur, the paler stripes seeming to emanate a glow not unlike the yellow circle in the sky…. our Father star I recalled. Memories flooded back to me now and I saw my past life and what I was before, a dark shadow flowing across the face of .. Mother Earth.. yes it was all coming back. I insinuated myself next to her, running my small form against her legs and surprising myself by actually feeling substance. I moved to her front legs and she lowered her head to mine. I rubbed my cheeks against hers and she rubbed hers against mine. I felt my inner glow rising to match hers, similar but different. I looked over myself and realised something I had not before. I was not striped like my family or her, I was completely black, as dark as a moonless night and my inner glow was dark like a shadow. I heard noises behind me and turned to see my kin staring at me as if I was something new. Aine spoke to me and to all my pack. This is Ephah, my soul mate and your god incarnate. Venerate him and rewards shall be abundant. My pack all bowed their heads in reverence to Aine and to me. I was in awe, I did not know how to respond. Aine spoke to me in the recesses of my mind. Stand proud, though you were a pack member they would have eventually let you fall in the hunt for you are small and weak in comparison. You must channel your inner self and become a leader to them, channel your instincts to find prey, use your other abilities to bring down the weaker prey, show them how to hunt successfully for they are sorely lacking in skill. This is why I decided to come to you when I felt your spirit passing from life back to shadow. You will live up to your name and become the bringer of shadows, you will teach them how to hunt in darkness when their prey is less alert to danger. If you fail this species and all others that would come from it will no longer exist, they will all eventually die of injury or starvation. A world without these creatures and their descendants will be poorer. Please do this for the greater good, for them… for me. I was the first of their kind and am mother to this species. Do not let my children die.
I left her behind then and walked tall amongst my pack who bowed their necks to me as I passed amongst them and I led them back to our den. The daylight was fading and the pack had not been successful in hunting after hunting for most of the daylight hours. I was too small to hunt but I decided to play with the adults, to show them different ways of bringing down animals larger than themselves so that they had a better chance of bringing food to the pack rather than the pack half starving because not all could leave their cubs to join the hunt. Soon my siblings were joining in and we were taking down the adults around us, tripping them and leaping on them our teeth dangerously close to tearing into them had they been adult teeth. We played long into the night, every one of us having a go at my techniques and each succeeding. We were all hungry, particularly mother who had only eaten twice since giving birth to me and my siblings but it did not matter to her or the other adults, all of the new mothers lay down to let their cubs suckle. We suckled heavily and soon fell asleep with overfull tummies.
The days passed with much play and very soon with much food too. The adults were increasingly successful in bringing larger prey back to the lair and soon everyone was able to eat their fill. I sat thinking to myself how things had turned around. I had seen the dire straits the pack was in once Aine had shown me the peril. I was a little disturbed by the reverence shown me by my siblings and by the pack as a whole though, even in light of what Aine’s words had done to the morale of the pack. I didn’t feel she should have called me a god nor herself a goddess. I didn’t know what had led her to these actions and it disturbed me. Yes we had been a part of the great consciousness but now we were far from the source and I felt far from divine. I was small, weak.. but I had my memories of being a shark.. they had helped with the stealth techniques and the lunges… I had my memories but I knew my siblings had lost most of theirs at birth. Oh they would regain some of them when they passed back into the shadow but they were lost without them. It became clear to me that some of us must remain in the shadows to keep memories alive so we could remind the living. Aine’s place with the pack became clear now. She was the first and had passed and remained in shadow to guide them. It was THEY who had perceived her as something akin to a god. They had lost the memory of being at one. Without the reminder of Divinity in their short time as living creatures they would be lost, alone, without hope. And in this state they could not learn how to BE alone.
I began to spend more time with Aine as I found my memories became more alive when I was close to her and I enjoyed her company again as I had before, in the beginning. I understood why she had announced me as her soul mate, we belonged together, we completed each other, I was the dark to her light. I understood why she had made me a god incarnate. The others could see her as I now did but they did not share the same memories. Making me a god brought a new dimension to how she could guide her descendants, how she could teach them and bring them all closer to being gods again themselves. I was living flesh and could more easily show them how to progress as was already the case with hunting.
Summer passed and winter was drawing in. I had heard from the elders that food would be scarce as beasts migrated to warmer areas to find their own foods. I was at a loss as to how we could go about hunting fewer prey to keep us through winter. I returned to Aine to ask her of past winters and how the pack would normally survive it. The simplest answer is that they do not. Many will not survive the winter without sustenance. The old and sick and the very young and weak will all die. We will lose about a third of the pack over winter but come spring there will be new cubs again.
She sensed my dissatisfaction with this before I voiced it. She had put me into this position as god incarnate to save her descendants and that was what we had to do. I told her to get thinking about how we could keep the pack alive over winter and I would do the same. I think it is the first time our words to each other have been anything other than loving and cordial.
I went back to the pack and studied each individual. Most were healthy after a good summer, the cubs were well grown and independent of their mothers. Some of the less adept hunters were recovering from injuries but even so they were also doing well. I would not sit and idly watch as members of the family fell by the wayside one by one. I was the bringer of shadow, most of the pack had thought it meant I was the harbinger of death but I saw that with Aine at my side bringing light and healing and energy to the pack I could lead them in shadow, following our prey as they migrated. We had no need to stay where we were, if our food moved then so would we. I ventured out with the hunting pack that night and observed how they moved, how they struck and generally how they had adapted to being creatures of the night. I was surprised to see how quickly they had adapted. I was sure my plan would work. I returned with the pack from hunting, helping where I could to bring the prey to the lair and I lay amongst my kin as each tore into the fat beasts we had brought down that night. My adult teeth were well grown now and I could tear off pieces of flesh for myself and so I did until my appetite was sated. I turned from the pack then and went to Aine and told her of my plan. I can range ahead and keep track of the herds as you lead the pack in the shadows and keep them from danger, we can make this plan work together. She lowered her head to me and thanked me for being strong enough and willing enough to work a solution out.
The pack were unsure of the plan when I relayed it to them. they looked around at each other, noting weaknesses. I assured them it would not become a problem to have slower members as Aine would be keeping track of the herds for us through the day so we didn’t have to kill ourselves to keep up with them. The pack leader stood and came to me and asked if we would come back again in the summer. I said we would, that we would become as mobile as our prey, that where they went, we would follow, if they came back to their normal grounds in summer then we would return to our lair. He asked if their tributes to Aine would be safe over winter. I hadn’t thought they would be concerned with these odd pieces of bone and skin so I thought quickly about it and decided that the tributes would be buried in the ground for safekeeping, this way if another pack came across our hunting grounds over winter they would not find it lucrative, they would not see the vast array of remains left behind. We set to work burying the remains, little knowing we would not return to this lair again.
The years passed and the world changed. As we had followed our prey to avoid the coming cold, so the cold had followed us, pushing us further and further south. Unbeknownst to us, the first great Ice Age had arrived. My decision to move the pack had come at just the right time, for if we had not followed the herds we would surely have starved. As time passed the pack grew stronger and more vast. Soon our pack divided into smaller packs and moved off taking the knowledge of following herds, of how to make the kill and keep the pack alive, with them. Aine’s descendants were becoming independent of her, they were able to go out into the world alone and form new packs and new bonds. She knew it was time for her to move on and continue her own journey elsewhere. I too was becoming old and of little use to the pack any more. I had taught them all I could and could no longer keep up with them. The black shadow of my fur was now tinged with the white of snow, my eyes no longer saw as well, my bones ached and my skin sagged around me. I had not been in this shape as long as my last one, nowhere near as long, but the rigours of life weighed heavily on me. As it was Aine’s time to move on, so it was that my time was coming to a close too. I was heartbroken to be leaving the pack behind but my path now lay, at least for a time, at Aine’s side. I had no children of my own so I called for my dearest kinsman, a heavy set male with an easy attitude, and told him we would be leaving. He accepted it with grace and assured me that the bloodline was strong and would continue. He bowed his head to me and left me alone with Aine, to give me the peace to pass over and to take the time to let the pack know we were leaving them, that they were now strong enough to live without us. I knew the pack was in safe hands with him, he, more than any, walked the path of the god with wisdom and intelligence, courage and empathy. I had a feeling our paths would cross again sometime so I had not said goodbye, a word which had no meaning to the pack but had begun to have meaning for me. I lay beside Aine, comforted by her glow and her voice. She sang a sweet song to me and soon my spirit loosed its grip on the flesh and I was shadow once more.