Zula led them into the spring, and quickly they were submerged. The water was warmer than he would’ve imagined, and Bruno found he could see clearly in the water, despite the darkness. He wondered how Zula and Lula were navigating.
They swam deeper and deeper, into blackness, and then he felt a current. The water began to change, from gray to blue to clear as they emerged into the sun beside a waterfall. They swam to the surface and pulled themselves up onto the ground.
Bruno surveyed the territory, smiling, his heart opening. It was the most beautiful place he’d ever seen. The air smelled clean and fresh, and the birds sang. Around them stretched a broad meadow and the forest. In the distance, he could see the roofs of a village.
“My friends, welcome to Anwyn.” Zula raised her arms and spread them wide. She lifted her head and sang three notes, in music ethereal and ancient.
The air shimmered in front of them, and first a black cloud appeared. Then, a man’s took form. Before them stood a man with skin like onyx, great black wings stretching behind him. His eyes were shocking white when he looked at them, and when he spoke, smoke emanated from his mouth. Bruno stepped in front of Lula.
“Zula,” he said, his voice seeming to emanate from multiple vocal ranges. “You summoned me.”
“Shamshael, we need robes and food. We have traveled from the outer world. They are Bruno and Lula.”
As she finished speaking, dark red robes appeared before them on the grass, and a platter of fruit and cheese. Bruno grabbed a handful of cheese, while Lula took a robe. He asked, “are you … an angel?” He felt silly. But he had no frame of reference for where he was or what was happening.
“I was a man once. I was a servant of Urizen, a monk. But when I saw the face of Urthona, I was changed. Now I am in all places and no places. Tell me, Bruno. You are the son of Arculf and Belladonna, are you not?”
Bruno froze, nearly dropping his cheese. “Yes, that’s me.” He was suddenly aware of his nudity, and he reached for a robe.
“I know them well. They travel here often. You have a great gift, though you have suffered much.”
“You’re mistaken, Shamshael. My father was lost at sea years ago, and my mother’s strung out in an alley somewhere.”
“We will show you, Bruno. You need not take this on faith.”
Lula stepped forward. “What is his gift?”
Shamshael pointed at Zula. “Have you not told them?” She shook her head.
“I wanted him to be here when we explained.”
“Do you mean how he can breathe underwater?” Lula was shaking, and Bruno knew she was getting nervous. He put his hand on her shoulder.
“That is only an aspect of his gift. Zula, may I explain?” Zula nodded. “Please, sit down.”
The three sat in the grass, and Shamshael began. “Your world is ending. The Morrigna approach. Anand, the black star. Badb, the thirst. Macha, endless war.”
“You said the black star?” Bruno gulped.
“Yes, Anand. She is a satellite, drawing near to your planet, and she will destroy your planet’s orbit, plunging the planet into a climate no one can survive.”
Lula spoke. “Bruno’s had this . . . delusion, or hallucination for his whole life that a black star was lurking in wait for him. He takes medication for it. I always thought it was a metaphor for depression or losing his parents at such a young age.”
Shamshael shook his head. “No. Bruno is gifted, psychically. He was sensing Anand’s slow approach, and he didn’t know how to prepare.”
“If Anand is a satellite, what are the other two?”
“Badb is the poison seeping into the water supply of your planet. Macha is the force that causes wars between all the nations.”
“These aren’t metaphors, these are … personalities?” Lula asked.
“They have will and intention, just as Urizen and Urthona do.”
Bruno put his head in his hands. “Gods are real. The world is ending. Shamshael,” he lifted up his head again, “you keep saying ‘your world.’ Isn’t it ‘your world,’ too?”
“When you crossed the waters of Arcadia, you entered Anwyn. We are outside of the space of the planet. We are on a different frequency.”
Bruno stood up. “I’m having a panic attack. I cannot handle this.” He walked toward the falls. Zula walked behind him and put her hand on his arm. He turned, and she drew him to her, kissing him softly on the lips. He melted in her arms. She led him back to the group.
“This will be hard for you to bear, Bruno. If humanity is to survive, we must ask of you and your father a tremendous price, a terrific burden.” Shamshael looked away, ashamed. “Your seed, Arculf’s seed, carries with it the power to survive the Morrigna. Your children would swim through lakes of acid, conquer armies, and survive any calamity. The people of Cronus may perish. But if you sire a generation of children of Anwyn, humanity should not die. Will you save your species?”
Lula’s eyes widened. “Are you suggesting…”
“Yes, Lula.” Shamshael pointed to Bruno. “Bruno, you will need to fertilize the wombs of every woman in Anwyn.”
Bruno started to shake. Yes, he was a horny teenage college freshman, but he’d never really even had sex. This was ludicrous. “Zula, did you bring me here to make me … fuck everybody here?”
Zula nodded. “We value you as a person, Bruno, and this is something no one should bear. But if everyone dies, then it was all for nothing.”
Lula frowned. “Zula, did you make friends with me just to use my friend?”
Zula shook her head. “Lula, you are not here by accident. Your story is just as important as Bruno’s.”
Shamshael gestured to the village. “There is much still to discuss. Let us go to the Unreal City.”