Donn opened a door on the right, revealing a brilliantly lit, lavish party. Enormous oil paintings embellished the walls; a three-story lush fountain gushed in the center of the room. Chairs of brocade and lace encircled it, filled with women wearing satin gowns. Ladies in sequined outfits reclined on velvet couches or meandered through crowds of men wearing suits with shiny lapels and flashing gold rings. Tuxedoed musicians played grand pianos of ebony polished to reflect like mirrors while ivory keys sparkled under crystal chandeliers. Guests conversed sweetly, enjoying sweet, slender glasses of champagne.
Two elegantly postured women smiled sweetly at each other as they sipped and chimed their glasses together. But suddenly and inexplicably, they began to argue. They snarled and snapped at each other like chained cats, biting and clawing in a vicious attack. The surreal argument that became even more bizarre as their heads began to change shape, growing fur and fangs. Their fingers grew claws, and they struggled viciously each one stretching to venomously strike the other. Then, entangled in a violent embrace, they finally collapsed in a deathful heap on the floor.
Áine stepped toward them but Lugh held her back, “No, leave them be.”
“But …what are they doing?”
“Ah, these ladies are enjoying a social affair,” explained Donn. “Beneath their charming words and perfect skin are the attitudes of hate, resentment and revenge. Quite a performance, isn’t it? “
Aine did not know which was the performance, the words that fell like thick candy as they chatted, or their vengeful attack on one another. After a short time, they seemed to melt into the floor. And just a moment later and they rose from the freshly polished marble to assume their original form; gracious women with sleek gowns and long hair pinned to their necks in tight chignons, drinking tea and enjoying gossip. It was as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened.
Donn spoke slowly, one word at a time, as he walked with them, winding through the crowd, “Backstabbing. Resentment. Blaming someone else, justifying the attack and battling to the death. In a few moments their hate will rise again, they will tear one another apart and then, do it all over again. This is their life, their choice and, best of all, their pleasure.”
Lugh and Áine stood aside and watched as two gentlemen similarly fell into an argument; roaring with oily black beards, yellowing sharp teeth, and pointed horns. In one fantastic motion, the gentleman burst from his tuxedo, writhed and twisted and grew to an enormous height, opened his jaws wide and swallowed the other, pounding his head on the floor and shaking him thoroughly until there was no life left at all.
Donn continued with an emotionless face. “Hatred swells within them. I’m sure you’ve seen it before, though perhaps not as honest as this. They prefer this life. It’s real. There’s nothing hidden about what they feel.”
“How long will they stay here?” Áine asked.
“As long as they like. The, uh, contract states, ‘Eternity.’” Donn smiled coyly, his black eyes solid and unreadable.
This was inconceivable; no one would choose this life, Áine thought.
Donn heard her thoughts, and carried on in response. “Do you mean to ask, what made these souls choose this life?” He did not wait for her to answer. “We all choose our fate. There’s no guidance or higher power within or without. Someone has hurt them, like so many others. Some deserved or undeserved injustice that has bent them, like trees that grow toward the earth instead of the sun, so they reach toward the darker part of themselves. It’s an easy choice, really.”
The drone that had been weighing upon Lugh, swelled in him, causing such a pain he could not respond. He gasped for a chair and sat down, closing his eyes, rubbing his temples.
Donn turned to Áine and came toward her. This gesture accompanied a magical change in his demeanor: He became a handsome man with long, dark hair and dark eyes that seemed to drink her very soul. His stood close to her and took her face in his hands. His breath was so sweet, she felt her head fill with the fragrance. A tingling sensation began at her toes and rose throughout her body. He rubbed his forefinger across her forehead, her nose and seductively around her lips. “There’s nothing you can’t have, Áine, and you deserve everything you wish for—everything. They don’t deserve you. They don’t respect you, Áine. Only you have the power to choose your fate. I have simply taken the power and I can use it to protect you, to help you enjoy the life you desire…”
Her eyes blurred—was he the handsome prince or the withered old man? His image was faded as if she were looking through water. Donn focused his eyes on hers and smiled. Áine found she was lost in a strange desire to be with him, wishing he’d stay next to her so she could breath his sweet breath and never stop. “I am sure there is something you’ve always wanted, he said. “I can give it to you.”
Lugh recovered from his attack and approached, breaking the grasp Donn held upon her. He spoke through the pain that ricocheted throughout his body. “How do you know they have chosen this for themselves? Isn’t this some sort of sick punishment you have devised for them in your ‘hell’?”
Annoyed at first, then realizing what had happened, Áine was thankful for her father’s presence. She shook as if to rid herself from this feeling of longing and turned away. Donn had filled her with longing for her true love. He had painted her a picture of a different self and she had walked into it. His power was so mesmerizing; it was a struggle to pull away. Finally, she glanced back at him—this Lord of Lost Souls. His black eyes still latched onto hers, tugging at her. She hastily turned away again.
Donn glared at Lugh with the force of a whip, his voice pleasant but his tone sickening, “I don’t know what would make you think they’ve made anything other than their own choices, Lugh. I am helping them. I only give what was asked. I give them what they have chosen themselves.”
Though he was no longer touching her, Áine still felt the pressure of his hands on her face and his breath on her mouth. She averted her eyes and pictured him as she’d seen him before, a gaunt and shriveling old man. “There is nothing you have that I want. There’s nothing that I want that cannot gain myself. I don’t need you to exercise my choices. I don’t want you to make anything for me” she asserted.
“Oh, yes. Yes, of course.” Donn abruptly dropped the force holding her, turned with his long robes swirling and changed the subject. “Come, this way. There is something you’ll want to see.”