Season & Year
It was only a few days that Jenevieve Vanderhart had been on the road. The moon temple dedicated to the goddess Selene had been her home since creation, a grand structure tucked away in the hills that was full of healing and light. Her purpose had been to maintain its upkeep and protect it from any who wished to harm it. Over time, it had become a place for traveling or wounded Gaiyans to seek shelter. Jen and her sisters would heal them, feed them, and send them on their way. That was the way her whole life had been, and while she enjoyed this purpose for which she had been created, the Olden one felt that there was more out there to see. Inspired by tales of the rest of the world, Jen had set out to see it with the help of her sisters.
The same compass that had been gifted by her sisters now sat in Jen’s hand. The silver device glinted in the dappled sunlight coming down through the trees. The dark-haired woman was watching it idly as her mind wandered. A troubled expression sat on her face. A whimsical old dryad at the temple had once told her if she ever left Here to head east. Once she went east enough, she would reach There, and beyond the horizon of There was the rest of the world. The words were purposefully vague and obtuse, like a riddle, but Jen’s wild imagination had taken it in stride.
The compass had been a great help in following that advice from long ago, but Jen was starting to have doubts. “How do I know when I’m east enough?” she muttered to herself, adjusting the satchel on her back. “Where exactly is There? What does it look like?” The trees provided no answer, continuing to stand stoically as she passed. So far, she hadn’t come across any settlements to ask directions at. All she could do for now was keep going east. There had to be some destination she would come upon.
Through the trees, Jen saw a strange figure in a clearing. It was large and dark, a form kneeling to the ground. While it wasn’t uncommon for Gaiyans to roam the forest, this was the first she had encountered on her journey. Most that she had met in years past were friendly, but this creature was huge and rather intimidating. The presence she felt was powerful. Were those… horns? Jen stepped closer, hiding halfway behind a tree but not making a true effort to conceal herself. She was too enamored with watching what the being was doing.
In his hands was a seed, which was dropped to the ground. With his hand held over it, the seed pushed itself into the soil as if it were alive, disappearing from view. Jen tilted her head curiously. Was he burying it for later like a Pikeeku? Several minutes passed, with only the sounds of the forest disturbing the clearing. Jen dared not interrupt.
All of a sudden, where the seed was dropped, a bud appeared from the forest floor. It grew rapidly under the creature’s gaze like its lifespan was happening in a matter of minutes. Jen couldn’t help but let out a gasp of wonderment. Acts of magic such as this were told in stories she’d heard, but now she was seeing one for herself.
Realizing that she’d made her presence known, Jen took a few steps out from behind the tree that had concealed her. Grabbing the skirt edges of her golden dress, she curtsied to the giant creature. Even if the skull that was his head spooked her, she was raised to be polite to everyone.
“Sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to spy on you,” she apologized, clasping her hands behind her back shyly. “Your plant is beautiful.” She looked back towards the sprout, her blue eyes sparkling.
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The creature bowed in return to her polite greeting and a small smile tugged at the corner of Jen’s mouth. He seemed a lot less intimidating with the expression of civility, so she relaxed a little. Any apprehension she felt was replaced by curiosity about, well, everything. His appearance seemed familiar, like someone described in one of the many tales she had heard. So many questions she wanted to ask, but peppering a stranger with a barrage of them would be rude, so she held her tongue for the moment.
Jen looked back to the plant when the stranger did. It had grown more in the little time that her attention had been elsewhere. Small pink flowers bloomed steadily along its branches now, a pleasant burst of color among the green forest floor.
Her eyes widened a little as he asked about her species. Perhaps he was more powerful than she had realized. It now made sense that if she could feel his presence a little when she’d approached, he could feel her connection to the world as a Creature of Olde. “I am,” she replied with a nod. “I’m one of the five guardians of the temple of Selene.”
At this point, she felt that he had proven trustworthy. If he had ill intent he likely would have acted by now. Closing her eyes and breathing out a long breath, Jen focused. For a moment, she transformed into her true appearance, the one she had worn for so long at the temple. Long, elegant robes hung from her form in various shades of white and blue. Her pitch black hair was the complete opposite, a snowy white. Both her eyes and her skin glowed with the silvery likeness of moonlight.
In a heartbeat, the change was reversed. Jen hadn’t realized it, but forming her true appearance outside of the temple was quite exhausting. There, it hadn’t taken any effort at all due to the holy nature of the temple grounds. She had been made to protect that place, so in turn it fueled the magic of her and her sisters. Apparently out in the world it was a different story. Her sisters had always warned that some species would try to capture the five if they saw their moonlike appearances. Maybe this was a natural failsafe built in to protect them.
Jen let out a large sigh, feeling drained. “Sorry,” she said breathlessly, placing her satchel on the ground. Her shoulders held a slight hunch of weariness. “I figured you might recognize me if you saw my true form. You feel familiar too. Who are you, if I may ask?” She struggled to tear her gaze away from him. Some stories she had heard over the years were starting to come to mind. Surely this couldn’t be that Gaiyan, right? Jen awaited his answer with bated breath.
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Jen watched with interest as the other creature of olde began his own transformation. After glowing with a soft light, he appeared as a man taller than she. Blonde hair fell to his shoulders and his eyes were similarly blue to her own. This appearance was much less intimidating. Jen nodded in agreement as he explained that many thought he was Eldritch based on his true form. Humans tended to be more scared of unusual looking creatures, assuming the worst out of fear.
“Yes, please,” Jen replied shyly. She hadn’t expected to get this exhausted so quickly. The Gaiyan started growing something from the earth again with a wave of his hand. Jen was excited to realize he had created a bench for the two. She made sure the skirt of her dress was tucked neatly underneath her as she took a seat. The wood was very much alive, which she discovered as she ran her hands over the arch. “Amazing,” she whispered to herself with a grin, then turned back to her new acquaintance.
He would introduce himself by two names, the second of which caused Jen’s eyes to go as wide as saucers. “Bógiervestabron?” she asked breathlessly. That name was one of legend, stories of which had passed through the Temple of Selene as frequently as travelers. Talk of a creature of olde, taller than most men with a skull for a head that had long, twisted horns. Gaiyans had spoken of one who had been voluntarily enslaved to an Eldritch being. The more proud ones had told the tale with a condescending air, voiced their disgust at the acts they deemed traitorous to Gaiyan-kind. Others had spoken it with an air of sorrow as if it were a personal friend who had fallen to this fate. Jen had heard so many sides of the story that she didn’t know what to believe.
Now, that very Gaiyan was sitting next to her in the forest on a live tree bench. He had asked her name, and it took a minute for the words to register in her brain. Jen had to shake herself free of her racing thoughts, realizing that her silence was becoming rude.
“J-Jenevieve Vanderhart,” she stammered out, hardly able to form words. Knowing she was in the presence of such a legendary creature of olde was almost too much to process. To her, he looked much too peaceful and friendly to have the reputation that preceded him. Maybe that was her own optimism speaking, or perhaps the tales told of Bógiervestabron had exaggerated him beyond rationality.
“I apologize for my rudeness,” Jen said, breaking eye contact to look down at her hands. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Dr. Aries.”
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“Yes, it seems being away from the temple makes it much more difficult,” Jen agreed, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. The moon’s magic had been so easy to access back home that she had taken it for granted. Using magic must feel as natural as walking for Aries in this forest.
Jen let out a quiet sigh of relief. He hadn’t taken offense to her reaction, luckily. Stories passed around from person to person had made their way to him too. What all had he heard about himself? It couldn’t be easy to know you were being talked about by so many. Maybe he had become numb to it over time. The thought sent a pang of sadness to her heart.
He offered the chance for her to ask questions. Jen had so many, it was hard to pick just one to start with. For a moment silence filled the air as she mulled it over, her eyes trained on the flowers of the plant Aries had grown. The pink was beautiful, but her attention was hardly there.
At last, she piped up. “Why?” she asked, quietly. “Why did you do it? Willingly enslave yourself to an Eldritch?” It was a heavy question, but it pierced right through to the center of all the questionable stories she had heard. If she could know why, that would weed out a lot of the false information passed around.
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Jen listened as the Leshen told his tale, her blue eyes wide. She nodded in agreement as he spoke of the majesty of Vyldermire. It was in her nature, and the nature of most Gaiyans, to want to love and protect this land they were created from. Apparently in his younger days, he had made some mistakes and placed value in superficial things. The moonlet felt a pang of admiration for the older creature. She could tell he was much older than her, so he must have had many years to think about his past and have this clarity in his reflections. To know and accept one’s mistakes was something valuable.
As he spoke, Aries manipulated the pink-flowered plant again. To Jen’s amazement, the growth skyrocketed, bringing the plant high above their heads. The tree was shaking petals down with the sudden movement. A smile crossed Jen’s face, enchanted for a moment by the pink rain falling around them.
Her face grew somber as he continued. It sounded like the Eldritch had saved Aries’ life from his own unforgiveness, giving him a purpose. The way he spoke of his master was with an air of fondness. Jen sat quietly, pondering all that she had heard. Aries’ master seemed almost kind, but her instinctual wariness of Eldritch had her wondering if that was true. How could a Gaiyan care so much for an Eldritch to the point of willful enslavement? It was a concept she had never pondered before, something she would have to try to understand after a lot of thinking. Jen knew she was sheltered from the outside world at the temple and still had a lot to learn.
“Yes,” she said, but the tone of her voice told otherwise. There was still so much about the arrangement she couldn’t understand. “What kind of things does your master have you do?” the moonlet asked, clasping her hands in her lap.
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“Oh, I see,” Jen responded, a little surprise in her voice. Based on her misgivings about Eldritch, she had expected more sinister tasks to be asked of the older Gaiyan, things like kidnapping or stealing. However, as Aries explained it, he was more of a personal assistant and a public face when his master needed. That sounded more like a job and less like enslavement. The thought of her own cynicism towards Eldritch left a bad taste in her mouth. She hadn’t realized just how much the stories from other Gaiyans had influenced her perceptions and prejudices. Aries’ master sounded almost personable, a perception only furthered by the amused noise he had let out when describing how in tune his master was with human emotions.
He asked about her experiences with Eldritch and Humans. Jen took a moment to recollect, catching a pink petal in her palm and observing it. “Most of those who come through the temple are Gaiyans and Anthros,” she explained, forgetting to explain what the temple was as she assumed he already knew. “Very rarely a human would come through. Most of them were kind and unassuming. Eldritch though…” she hesitated, afraid to admit her own recently realized prejudices. “I haven’t met any,” she conceded. “If there were ever Eldritch near the temple, I never saw nor heard of them.”
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