For some time Suzette and I travel through the meadow, until at last the faint outline of the town can be seen in the distance. Well, it was a town, although even that term seems too quaint for it now—by now, it would be more appropriate to call it a small city. Large clumps of buildings lay huddled where I can’t recall there being any before, and even from this distance you can see clusters of people mingling throughout the streets.
On seeing the crowds, my pulse instantly quickens, and without even thinking, my hand begins twirling my hair… Interacting with others can be tiring enough on its own, although small groups are more pleasant to deal with; large crowds, however—I’d rather have none of it. If I must deal with a crowd, it’d be better if it were of fae, in the woods, far away from civilization. But luckily, here they’re not too loud. More than my preference, but still to a tolerable level…
I glance over towards Suzette, to see if I can parse how she feels about the whole affair. I notice her looking past me, towards the town, with a slight smile upon her face that I wonder if she even notices is there. It’s slightly amazing how such a small gesture seems to make her so joyful. It’s contagious; even if going amongst the crowds sounds dreadful, it’s much more bearable with her here.
Just as the Sun begins dying the horizon with her crimson rays, Suzette and I at last enter. To be honest, it is exactly as unpleasant as it seemed. The people nearly melt into one another as they noisily push through the streets; even at this relatively late hour, apparently half the town still insists on remaining out. Everything begins to become a blur, I feel a little nauseous; but, I try to pay as little mind to everyone as possible, although even so I still notice many stares directed my way. I’d prefer to shrink away; but, with my height and appearance, it’s useless…so instead, I focus on the signs of rows upon rows of shops and other buildings, hoping to find our destination as soon as possible, before I lose it entirely.
“Hikaru,” Suzette begins, coming nearer to my side, “Do you happen to know where a bakery is here?”
“Not a clue,” I answer. “It’s been so long since I’ve been here, everything is entirely different.”
“If you can look towards the opposite end of the street, I’ll look on this side to see if I can find something; does that work for you?”
“Yes!” she chirps eagerly, before abruptly looking away from me. “I mean, yes, that would be preferable.”
It seems like she’s embarrassed over her excitement, but I find it rather endearing…
After a few minutes, I notice a sign quite unlike the others—bright white with the Sun and golden lettering; Buzjênyi de Sâze Léidi Juyên, The Bakery of Our Divine Lady. A rather ostentatious name, fitting for Lady Sun’s famed modesty; or lack thereof, rather. But it’s what we’re looking for.
“Suzette,” I say, tugging at her sleeve, “I found one.”
“Oh, where?” She quickly looks forward.
“Well, I don’t think I need to tell you now.”
We soon make it to the entrance of the bakery. As we do so, I reach into my bag and grab the little pouch of money.
“Here,” I say, handing it to her, “I’ll wait out here.”
“What for?” she asks, “Even if we are near one another, I still wonder how wise it is to split up in a town neither of us know well…” I sigh. She’s not wrong…
“Look at me,” I whisper to her, “Someone like me, in a place such as this…”
“Then I do not mind looking further for somewhere else, if you feel so unsafe…I do not feel particularly safe alone either,” she chuckles nervously.
I appreciate the thought, but I know most businesses close at sundown.
“All right,” I sigh, “I’ll go in.”
“It should not be long, I am sure it shall be worth it,” she says.
I just nod in reply.
We soon make our way in, little bells twinkling as we do so; however, we’re soon stopped by the long line of customers, waiting to the edge of the door. As we are forced to wait, I am immediately struck by how…interesting this place is.
Nearly everything inside matches the sign, white with gold accents; seemingly trying to mimic the royal palace, this place looks more like it belongs in Solzédniê than here. On the back wall and in the front display, rows and rows of seemingly every kind of sweet you can imagine are displayed; the only disruption in the display is a door leading to the kitchen, and in the middle of it a large painting. A woman with long golden hair, bright waves emanating from behind her—it is of course the most beloved goddess, Lady Sun.
“My…” I hear Suzette mumble under her breath, “I am not sure I have ever seen such religious people before; well, aside from you I suppose.”
I can’t help but chuckle; I still don’t quite think of myself as being “religious” in spite of her comments, but then again I guess it’s certainly something of that nature.
“I guess that’s how you know it’s still a little rural here, in spite of everything. To see people so genuinely pious.”
“The royal family is technically clergy, yes? Although who knows if it is genuine…”
“It is—I think, but; ah, well, it seems for the rest of the nobility it isn’t,” I say.
As we continue chatting, the line quickly becomes shorter and shorter. In turn, I slyly shuffle behind her; although she is far too small to hide behind, perhaps the cashier will merely focus on her and she can do the talking instead. Things of that nature can already be exhausting enough, but in this setting especially…
Luckily, by the time our turn comes, Suzette cheerfully chats with the cashier, telling what we’d like and making small talk. But after a moment, the cashier disappears back into the kitchen.
“Is everything well?” I whisper to Suzette; admittedly, I wasn’t paying particular attention to their conversation.
“Oh yes, she has to check to see if their last batch of macarons are ready to sell.”
Hardly before she can finish talking, the cashier comes out once more.
“They’re almost ready for you,” the woman says, and Suzette thanks her.
Discreetly I look behind me to see if there are any more customers in line behind us, but there aren’t—only me, Suzette, and the cashier remain in the room. I try to ignore the cashier, but it’s useless. She’s an older woman, clearly much older than myself, who glares at me with a stern eye only age could hone.
Before Suzette realizes, it seems, the cashier turns back to her with the friendliest smile.
“So where are you two from?” she asks cheerfully, “I don’t quite remember you around here.”
My stomach begins to tie in knots, but Suzette speaks as kindly as always.
“Oh, nowhere important, we are merely passing through,” she answers, wisely not revealing too much about us.
“Where are you heading up to, if I may ask?”
“Up north! A small town near the base of Hory Norsh, yes?” Suzette turns and asks me.
“Y-Yeah, it is,” I mumble.
“I have never visited north of Solzédniê before,” Suzette says, “It shall be quite a new experience for me…”
“That’s wonderful!” the cashier says, “People like speaking ill of the north, but don’t you listen to a thing.”
“Is that so? Is it not, ah…quite as rural and desolate as is said?”
“Oh, it is…” the woman replies, “But the people up there, at least they’re good, kind, moral people. Not like down here, where you have to let any old degenerate come in and taint the whole establishment, in the name of ‘decency.’ It’s rather unfortunate, really.”
“That sounds a tad dreadful…” Suzette says, seemingly taking her words at face value. I’m sure in her mind, the woman is merely talking about rude, mannerless city dwellers, and nothing more. I bite my lip, knowing the truth.
“Terribly dreadful—wouldn’t you agree?” she now gazes towards me with a disgustingly self-satisfied look on her face, as though she’s being quite clever.
I don’t know how old she thinks she is; but as for me, I know I’m too old for these ridiculous games. I merely frown.
“Seems your husband here really is a bit of a rude one,” she now openly sneers.
My gaze immediately shifts towards Suzette, who in turn is blushing so heavily even I notice it.
It appears that Suzette almost begins to reply something—but to my great relief, a baker appears from the kitchen, holding a white box neatly tied with a little red ribbon, just like those seen in the capital; perhaps ironically enough, considering the previous conversation.
“Mâzjêr né…” Suzette says softly as she takes the sweets.
“May Lady Sun save your souls!” the cashier says to us as we leave, quite a bit more forcefully than the usual “may Lady Sun bless you” that the more devout followers of the goddess usually employ.
As we leave the bakery, night is now almost completely upon us; aside from Suzette and I, few roam the streets other than the lamplighters. Suzette hurriedly makes her way through the streets, box in hand.
“Would you like me to carry—”
“I am fine,” she replies breathlessly, seemingly wearing herself out at this speed. I’d like to say something to her, but she’s going at such a speed that even I must conserve my breath.
At this pace, it is not long before we leave the town, then the outskirts, until finally we reach pure countryside. Once we’re a decent distance from civilization, Suzette slowly comes to a standstill, panting a bit as she does so.
“Ah…” Suzette huffs.
“Are you all right?”
In reply, she merely sits herself on the ground as gently as it seems she’s able to, but she’s rather ungraceful in the process, just narrowly avoiding collapsing entirely.
“I am well,” she says after a moment, as I seat myself beside her. “Ah, how embarrassing…”
“Embarrassing?” I absentmindedly ask before realizing what she’s referring to.
Oh, because the woman thought I was her husband…yes, I guess the thought of us being married would be embarrassing to her.
“The woman believed us to be…”
“Yeah,” I sigh, and reply nothing more.
“At least,” Suzette begins, “We did not run into any issues as you had feared, yes?”
“…I guess not,” I reply after a moment.
She looks over to me with complete confusion.
“Is something the matter, Hikaru?” she asks almost disconcertingly sweetly. “Do followers of Lady Sun cause you discomfort in general?”
“No, it’s not that,” I shake my head. “It doesn’t matter, I’m fine.”
She places the box in her lap and simply looks at it with a quite dejected look, as though she wants to ask further but is preventing herself from doing so. I can’t help but sigh again.
“You didn’t notice it, but it’s all right,” I say, “It’s not your fault, so don’t take it badly.”
“That woman was referencing me the entire conversation.”
“The north tends to be even more unforgiving of someone like me; when I lived there, some places didn’t want me around at all. That’s what she meant by ‘moral’ people…but down here, most can see at least throwing someone out is cruel, even if they’re a ‘degenerate’ like me.”
“Sâ…sâ pšyku vrémond ne, Hikaru…” Suzette stumbles, looking as though she’s about to burst into tears. “Clearly I—”
“It’s all right,” I frown, seeing how this is going exactly as I hoped it wouldn’t. “You didn’t realize. It’s okay.”
“The last thing I wish to do is harm you.”
It’s not entirely true—but I know that’s merely an emotional reaction, and not the truth. It’s perfectly logical that she would not have known. I should have just remained quiet…
We sit there for a few moments longer in complete silence. She doesn’t move at all.
“Please eat,” I say softly, “We got these for you, after all. I’m sure they’ll be much better fresher.”
She nods half-heartedly, and deftly unties the ribbon with a delicateness that betrays her noble origins.
Immediately, she holds out the box towards me, showing a dozen macarons neatly aligned in two rows.
“Please take what you would like,” she says.
After a pause I take a couple to assuage her, and luckily she seems satisfied enough with this.
She soon eats one, and suddenly her face alights even in the encroaching night.
“How is it?”
“Truthfully quite delicious!” she beams, “It has been so long since I have eaten something so sweet…!”
Seeing her so genuinely happy, even over something so small—at last, I can smile too.
“Do have yours,” Suzette says, “I believe you shall enjoy them as well.”
I look down, trying to parse what flavor they are, but it’s impossible to tell the color in the dim light. So I take a chance and take a full bite of one, pleasantly surprised to find it a creamy, sweet strawberry. As long as I don’t consider its origins, it is indeed rather delicious.
“Hikaru,” Suzette speaks up again after a moment, “…Sâ pšyku.”
“Suzette…you didn’t do anything, you don’t have to keep—”
“I do not apologize merely for myself,” she says almost in a whisper, “I am sorry society is so terrible to those like you…I had thought perhaps the world was becoming better, you were merely being paranoid—”
“I’m not dead,” I chuckle, “So it could be much worse.”
“I suppose so,” she sighs, “Although this does not quite align with what the king says…”
“What the king says?” I stare at her, confused. “What might that be?”
I don’t know what he says, nor do I particularly care—come to think of it, I wonder if we are even speaking of the same person, or if the “old king” has died and I entirely avoided hearing of it. But I do wonder what anything regarding him has to do with this conversation.
“I often heard about how we are entering a new era of tolerance and prosperity in Soléiâ…”
“So that’s what they’re saying, huh…”
“I had merely assumed those in my life were unusually cruel…”
“Well, from everything I saw…that seems an accurate assessment.”
“Yes, but…even away from them, people are still being cruel to you…”
“Ah, just the same as always,” I wave off, “And it’s like I’ve said before too, it’s not as though I don’t bring it onto myself too.”
“But, it is not as though you chose to be born with white hair, a red eye…”
“No, but I’ve still chosen things like this,” I say, motioning to my necklace. “It’s my fault too.”
For a minute she stays silent, before speaking again.
“Please forgive me if this question is inappropriate…” Suzette starts with a small frown, “But…why so? If society is already so cruel to those such as you, then…why do you compound it?”
I sit for a minute, pondering her question.
“I suppose it’s just—”
“Hikaru!” a voice screams from within my head, “Shut up!”
Immediately me hand goes to my forehead, as my skull becomes overwhelmed with a stabbing pain born of an internal screaming.
“I know you like her, but you can’t tell anyone shit, remember?!”
“A-Are you well?” I barely hear Suzette franticly ask over the barrage of anger.
I very loudly sigh, hoping perhaps that’s some single for her to stop. She does.
“…Yeah, I’m well,” I mumble. “Sometimes I just get really severe headaches, is all.”
“That sounds awful…”
“Yeah, I…think I’m just going to lay down now.”
“Ah, then…somêl amé, Hikaru,” Suzette says, seemingly a tinge of sadness in her voice.
“Tsiâ mo, Suzette,” I reply, dreading the new barrage of yelling I’m sure is not too far away.
For the rest of the night, her and I scarcely move an inch. Even though we haven’t traveled as far as usual, last night’s dreams, along without tonight’s little scene—it has truly turned out to be tiring.
But even after she lays down too, unfortunately, in spite of my fatigue, I force myself to remain awake. After a while, I hear Suzette faintly snoring. Now knowing she’s fast asleep, I softly get up and walk a short distance, occasionally looking back as I do so. Once I see she is still asleep, I finally begin attending to my business.
Gently I kneel upon my knees, focusing on the environment around me. The air is still warm from the day, but the season of scorching hasn’t quite reached us yet, even if it’s near; especially under the veil of night, everything still feels pleasant. The scent of the meadow fills the air, along with the moonlight. Ah; the latter especially seems so soothing, and yet I know the truth.
She’s watching. Waiting. Apparently, it’s only when I’m alone that she respects my peace.
I set my hands upon my lap, and exhale deeply. After a moment, I whisper so softly, I’m sure most wouldn’t be able to tell I was speaking at all.
“I’ve come to speak with you.”
Before my eye the moonlight coalesces into thin woman wearing the colorful clothing of a noblewoman. She manifests standing straight up, arms crossed, four wings spread wide, deep violet eyes piercing me like daggers.
“Sâlêzj, Maiden Moon.”
“You don’t have to be so angry with me, I wasn’t going to tell Suzette about you.”
“I’m not angry with you at all—what gave you that idea?”
“Screaming at me to ‘shut up’ and ‘you can’t tell anyone shit’ doesn’t sound particularly neutral to me.”
She looks at me sternly for a moment, before closing her eyes and grimacing.
“…It’s hard not to be stressed, Hikaru,” she sighs. “You’re with that woman so often—if anyone knows about that necklace, they might—”
“I know; nothing is going to happen to it, Moony,” I try to say gently to reassure her. I pause, realizing something. “Do you always watch me, when we’re not together?”
“I mean—” Abruptly, her gaze shifts away. “Considering how often you’re with her recently…”
“We’re traveling together, so of course we spend a lot of together, but this journey won’t last forever. Either way, I’m still your priest.”
She slightly opens her glossy violet eyes with a frown.
“I have heard that before, Hikaru…”
“I promise I won’t,” I reply with a small smile. “I need to go to sleep now, but…I’ll see you tomorrow, Maiden Moon.”
“…All right then,” she mutters. “Somêl amé, Hikaru.”
And with that, her body entirely dissipates into a faint light once more. I get up, and quietly walk back to my previous spot, head weighing heavily with thoughts.
I sit in an ancient forest, my mind already spinning from the day’s events. Out of listlessness and loneliness I wandered in here, thinking little of it, even in spite of the signs surrounding the perimeter…
But instead, here I am, hunched over the map while dozens of darkened eyes look over me. I try to ignore them, but it feels nearly impossible.
“I believe seeing us will be useful for you,” said the elder, who to me seemed nearly as tall as the trees. “Hopefully you will see why shortly.”
What could that possibly mean? I can’t fathom it…
All I know is the fae surround me, staring at perhaps one of the only ones who can gaze back at them. They look nothing like what any of the tales said, like anything I imagined. Even more unnerving. But still, I attempt to ignore them, and look over my map. I have no idea where I’m going, what I’m doing; although, I wonder if my travels will become easier or harder with the fae around.
“Jéyu bon,” a smooth voice says to me. But still, I jump back, out of breath, startled by the alien voice. And what I see before me…is not any less surprising.
A tall women sits across from me with her hands on her knees. Although she’s much more human-like than the fae, she is still very alien. Her skin is as pale as mine, but tinged with violet…indeed, her long wavy hair is a violet-toned silver, and even her eyes are a very deep violet, like the flowers. She wears bizarre clothing—large baggy pants, a small top which covers her breasts and little else, a thing scarf held around her arms. And as though all of this is not strange enough, four bright wings extend from her back…
I stare at her, speechless.
“A strange tongue men speak now,” she huffs under her breath.
I cock my head in confusion, until I notice something.
She wears a long veil, and atop of it is a silver ornament, a crown. It’s circular, bearing many swirls, with similarly etched crescents on either side. It is a symbol…an ancient symbol of the Moon.
“Oh gods, oh gods,” I begin panicking, immediately shooting upwards, and backing into the tree behind me. “Maiden Moon?!?”
I’ve half a mind to reach for my dagger—but what would such a paltry blade be against a goddess, the goddess most renowned for her wickedness? I can only hope Lady Sun might bother to help a man like me. Or maybe Mère Terre will reveal herself from her hiding?
…Of course not.
“Oh, so they do indeed still tell tales of me?” she chuckles, casually standing upwards. My assessment was right, she’s definitely quite tall, although still slightly shorter than myself.
“W-Why are you here?” I huff, “Haven’t you ruined my life enough? What’s the meaning of this?!”
“Hmm…” she puts her delicate hand to her chin, “Surely you should not be so surprised a Moon necklace summons a Moon goddess,” she says flatly.
“Why," she says, “Did you even put it on, if you are to act like this?”
“I don’t know.”
“…You don’t know?”
“Last night, I came across it, and I just…” I stop. “Something about it felt extremely familiar, so I just…put it on without much thought. I’m…not actually sure why, come to think of it.”
A large grin appears on her face.
“Ah, is that so?”
“S-Still,” I stutter, feeling anger well within me, “You don’t have to be here. You should leave. Haven’t you fucked over my life enough already?”
I know it’s unwise to yell at a goddess, but my anger is swiftly boiling over. I guess I don’t truly have much to lose; only my life, which at this point, I suppose isn’t worth that much.
“I haven’t the slightest clue of what you speak of,” she raises her eyebrow.
“My hair, my eyes?” I reply, confused. Isn’t it obvious?
She furrows her brow, and says nothing.
“They’re colorless,” I say, “Pure white, blood red…”
“And? This is related to myself because…?”
“You did this to me! You gave me this curse!”
She laughs, and I feel what little fear I had left has all converted into pure fury. How can she laugh about ruining a life so casually? I know she’s wicked, yet…
“My, what in the heavens are you talking about? Is that the drivel they feed people now?”
“And you mean to tell me you didn’t?”
“Oh please,” she rolls her eyes, “I have been trapped for—ah, who knows how long? Probably thousands of years at this point. And besides, what would I gain by doing this, again?”
“To mark me as yours.”
“Pfft!” she scoffs, bending over and utterly losing herself. “Oh, what nonsense! I wish, life would be much less lonely—!"
I glare at her, not entirely sure how to feel.
“If you didn’t do this, then…why?” I frown, “Why would I be born this way if not for you?”
“It’s just a knot,” she shrugs. “Is this not common knowledge?”
“A knot…?” I look at her, wondering if I heard her correctly.
“Of course,” she says. “Your bodies are like a tapestry, thousands of threads determining every part of your being. Sometimes there’s knots, and the finished piece turns out different than usual. For you, the thread that gives your body color—it got a knot in it, and now you pale and colorless. That is all. It doesn’t ‘mean’ anything.”
“So those people, that say it’s merely a mistake—they’re right?”
“‘Mistake’ seems a terribly strong word for it,” she says. “But I suppose you could say that.”
“Hmm…” I mutter while looking away from her. “Interesting…”
It is hard to believe that her words are true…and yet, it makes perfect sense.
“Why would you tell me the truth?”
“Look,” she says, “As nice as it would be to ‘claim’ you and have someone, that is just ridiculous. Why would I ‘claim’ someone in such a strange way, anyhow?”
“Then…why are you here?”
“It’s not obvious?” she says, clearly getting annoyed, “That necklace summoned me. It was enchanted when I was imprisoned so that I may have one person in exile, but nobody has ever found it…understandably enough, I suppose. Where on Earth are we?”
“This is…wait, you’re from the Old World, aren’t you? This is Soléiâ…we’re far away from the home you knew.”
“The Old World…” she mutters while worry spreads across her face, “Why…is it referred to as that?”
“Humans left the Old World thousands of years ago. It’s been lost to time.”
“Can we return?”
“No,” I reply softly, “…No one has ever found it.”
She looks down, and I notice slight tears forming in her eyes. They are quite shining, almost unnaturally so, and beautiful…although I suppose that’s to be expected, coming from the one who gifted us water.
“I see,” she replies hoarsely. “I…suppose that’s unsurprising.
“Well then,” she gazes up towards me with a neutral face, her tone entirely changing, “What is your name? It seems you know quite a lot about me, even if much of it is incorrect”
I pause again, almost as though I forgot it.
“Hikaru Wakahisa,” I say after a moment.
“And what, precisely, are you doing here, Hikaru Wakahisa?” she asks, “It appears you are all alone, with not a soul around us for miles.”
“It’s what I do,” I say. “I wander.”
“Sounds terribly boring.”
“There is not much else to do,” I sigh. “I don’t really fit into society, so…my options are limited.”
She says nothing for what feels like a long time.
“Is this because…‘my curse’?”
“Much of it is—but not entirely, if that’s any comfort.”
She crosses her arms, and looks away from me.
“Do you have anyone, Hikaru Wakahisa?”
“Erm, just Hikaru is fine…” I say, realizing she doesn’t appear to understand the concept of surnames. “And…no, not really. Not anymore.”
She walks towards me and looks at me with her shimmering eyes that almost look like they’re dappled with Stars like the night sky.
“Become my priest, Hikaru.”
“Um—” I mutter, flabbergasted, “We just met—”
“I can’t agree to something when I don’t know what it entails.”
“For now…merely to be my companion, I suppose. From your words, I imagine my temples are no more.”
“No, they’re definitely not.”
“Then please be my companion, and teach me about life in this ‘Soléiâ.’ I shall give you my magic, my company; and you, in turn, shall give more your knowledge and company. It sounds like you are much like me.”
I look down for a moment, lost in thought.
All I’ve ever heard are the most terrible things about her—and yet, I’m sure most would easily be able to say the same of me. If she’s truly been alone for thousands of years…even after a few years, I feel like I’m going mad.
“So…does this sound agreeable to you?”
She extends both of her hands palm-up to me, and I merely look down confused, before realizing this must be an ancient gesture.
“Um…here,” I say, grabbing her right palm with my own, and giving it a gentle shake. “I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to do, but—this is how people seal deals now, and sometimes greet one another.”
“Then I will remember this,” she smiles gently like the moonlight, in a much kinder voice. “Then you are now my priest…the first man to do so. And the first Soléiân.”
I can’t help but chuckle at this.
“Well, not everyone views me as Soléiân…”
“Is that so? You must tell me about this sometime…but for now, I should rest. This is the most eventful day I have had in a very long time.”
“…Yes,” I reply breathlessly.
“Ah, what is it you say…vwârdnie, Hikaru.”
“Ah…” I blink, still not entirely sure if what seems to be happening is truly happening. “Vwârdnie…Maiden Moon.”}
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