Author’s note: I’ve altered the village where Elena’s home is located to Slov’yanka to make it more geographically accurate.
Figures. Pokegirls. Many, traveling in a group. Clothed, coordinating. From the north. Queen Vershnyk’s people. Queen Vershnyk was dead. Unknown people. Enemies?
Elena sat up in bed as she interpreted the primal associations and impulses that had caused her to wake up in the first place. A group of mostly Elves had crossed through the boundary between the lands formerly under Queen Vershnyk’s influence and those Queen Vershnyk left unclaimed out of respect for Elena’s presence there. The farm queens to the south and west did the same and there were only humans to the east. Apparently this had been enough Elfqueens involved to start their magical forest nonsense to awaken the sleeping magic of the land and with no other conduit it found its way to the most prominent Elf-breed living there, her. Elena pulled on a heavy robe over her linen sleepwear and slipped out her window into the branches of the tree growing on the south side of her home. The branches ferried her down to the door of her main greenhouse.
“I hope you’ve had a good rest.” The Grandelf was speaking to the tree Astoreth had previously identified as unnatural. It shimmered with a green nimbus of energy that formed out of all of the potential growth the tree could have pushed out to over the next few weeks. Then the light contracted to a pattern of fractal scrollwork that dimmed to reveal the etchings on the surface of a tall staff standing partially driven into the soil. The branches that held all of the leaves had dried and broken away, the brown and crinkled leaves tumbled down to litter on top of the roots peeling themselves out of the soil.
The Grandelf pulled her living weapon free of the dirt and wiped away any lingering clumps of soil with her hands, which she then cleaned off on one of the many rags that littered her greenhouse. The head of the staff stood above Elena’s and was formed by a heavy and hard knot in the wood all of the leafing branches had been growing from. The bottom third of the staff was a dirt-stained root with the tip formed where it had curled back around itself.
Suitably equipped, she left through the south door of the greenhouse and stepped into the grass. She listened to the night breeze for a few seconds before clicking her tongue. “Fine, take me there.” The location wasn’t somewhere she’d been to so she had to rely on this wild magic that occasionally tangled itself around her ankle. She stepped into the trunk of a tree and stepped out of one on the shore of the Kam’yanka river over thirty kilometers away.
Three Elves following a High Elf riding on the back of a Ponytaur were crossing an old stone bridge. Two canine pokegirls were slinking along the banks of the river the land insisted were her responsibility to maintain. She stepped out into the moonlight and the leaves rustled and turned to reflect the illumination towards the river. “Greetings, strangers. What brings you to lands under my protection?”
The dog breeds bolted to the sides of the riding High Elf, who wheeled her Ponytaur around to issue a command to the Elves on foot. She dismounted and walked up the riverbank to stand before Elena. “We pursue a fugitive from the court of Queen Vershnyk who has fled across the river. We mean you and your lands no harm.”
“They’re not my lands.” Elena said wearily under her breath. “But I knew all of Queen Vershnyk’s huntresses and you are not one of them. You also wear her colors and invoke her name even though I have received news of her recent death at the hands of a usurper. Can you explain these things to me?”
Only Elena’s nightvision allowed her to easily see the displeasure from the High Elf huntress’ lie being laid bare. “The Elfqueen Vershnyk was defeated in single combat by Queen Samodiva, who now rules these lands. I am her captain of the hunt, Lele. If you aid us in pursuing the fugitive we seek I will ensure Her Highness is notified of your cooperation. I will even advocate on your behalf when you present yourself before her court to swear your loyalty.”
The night breeze died down and left the air still and silent. The only thing moving across the ground were the shadows of clouds crossing over the moon. Elena clicked her tongue before speaking. “I will not help you in your hunt. I will not grant you passage into the lands I protect. Tell me, Huntress. Do you know who I am? Does your queen know who I am?” The temperature of the air started to drop as a new wind flowed over them from the northwest.
“You are a Grandelf slave serving the humans. Why should your betters care who you are?”
The chill wind carried on it a foreign, alpine scent and the drop in temperature it brought caused a cloud of fog to condense and descend from the air above the water. Elena made sure the huntress Lele was paying attention. “I am no slave. I am Elena, the Deaf One. I have lived on these lands longer than any Elfqueen and I hear no call nor do I swear any oaths. These lands were left unclaimed by Queen Vershnyk out of gratitude for my aid in negotiating her position with the humans and your queen would do well to respect these old arrangements unless she wishes to invite an early winter.”
“You think you can defeat an entire court by yourself?!” Lele was becoming enraged from Elena’s refusal to be intimidated.
“I think your queen has already made plenty of enemies. I would not be fighting her by myself, I would be aiding them. Unlike her current enemies though, I know your queen’s lands.” The High Elf was touching her bow frequently. Elena noted it was made from dead wood and fiber. She adjusted her grip on her living staff so that it was prominent in front of her and could quickly be raised into a guard position.
Lele’s eyes locked onto the living weapon and Elena concealed her smirk when she saw the huntress’ aggression start to fade away from the uncertainty filling her mind. “Wait here,” she ordered with wilting confidence. “I need to speak with my hunters.” The High Elf went back to the bridge and spoke in hushed tones, occasionally looking back towards Elena when one of the Elves gestured her way. After one last look over her shoulder, the High Elf mounted her Ponytaur again and retreated back to the other side of the river with her hunters and the canine pokegirls running after.
“Now why couldn’t you just turn them away on your own?” Elena asked the trees behind her in annoyance as she lost sight of the Elven hunting party. The trees offered her no answer and the Grandelf’s mind turned to another matter. They had been pursuing a fugitive across the river. That meant she likely still had one more intruder to deal with, although this one was at least welcomed by the trees. Whatever that meant.
The Grandelf pressed her palm against the trunk of the tree that had brought her here but the bark didn’t yield. Now that she had resolved the issue it appeared the land was no longer interested in cooperating with her. She sighed to herself as she prepared a teleportation spell that would take her back to her home. Elena considered a moment and adjusted the destination of her spell to take her half a kilometer short of her house. A walk under the moonlight among better mannered plant life would help clear her mind of these troubles and hopefully help her to fall back asleep.
Isaac woke up to the morning rays breaching the window of the spare bedroom that had been furnished for him to sleep in. Jin felt him stirring and mumbled a protest in words Isaac didn’t recognize, although they could have been English. She wasn’t articulating her speech very well in her half awake state.
Isaac listened to the noises of the mid-morning autumn day before summoning the energy to vacate the bed. Something was missing, he could usually hear Elena active; doing something downstairs at this time. But there were no ceramic clinkings coming from the kitchen, no soft padding steps on the floor boards, no sound of activity outside, nothing. Isaac pulled himself free of the sheets and the Witch in his bed and went to investigate.
Elena was slumped in her preferred chair in the living space of her home, a blanket half covering her lap, a book barely held in her hand, a mug of tea sitting lukewarm on the end table, and her eyes closed in sleep. Isaac approached to see if he could adjust the blanket or save the book but Elena’s eyes fluttered and then peeled open right before he could reach anything. She made a small and tired groan as she studied his face through the fog of sleep and then gently offered him a quiet, “Good morning.”
“Morning, Elena. Why are you sleeping down here?”
Elena picked up the mug before answering but set it back down unhappily when she felt the total lack of heat radiating through the ceramic. “Plants... Elves… Ferals… Wouldn’t let me sleep.” She put the book down and gathered the blanket around her as she stood and started shuffling towards the kitchen. Isaac grabbed the cup of cold tea and made his way around her to dump the beverage, earning him a weak smile of gratitude from the Grandelf. Elena lit the stovetop burner under the tea kettle that was always kept ready to boil and then sat down at her table to wait. “First it was some hunters from the new Elfqueen up north. Arrogant. Going to cause trouble. Probably get a bunch of Elves killed. Trees wanted me to turn them away. So I did. Then my plants wake me up later because something’s lurking around the old greenhouse. Nothing in there but bags of dirt and tarps. Could you and Jin quick look outside to make sure nothing is damaged?”
Jin plodded wearily down the stairs as if summoned by her name and sat next to the sleepy Grandelf. There was a low energy exchange of greetings before the sleep-addled Witch simply asked, “Breakfast?”
“Not yet. Elena was kept up last night. Can you help me cook up some eggs?”
Jin’s monosyllabic response had a mostly affirmative inflection and she rose from her seat to fetch the requested items from the ice box.
After omelettes and toast Isaac and Jin went outside to investigate the early morning intruder. None of the plots were disturbed. None of the buildings were scratched or smashed. Everything appeared undisturbed from their quick once over. Isaac was about ready to head inside and tell Elena everything was clear when he spotted a foot.
The foot was small and slender and incredibly filthy. It was sticking out from under a tarp lying on top of a stack of sacks of gardening soil. Presumably there was the rest of the person in there as well. Isaac motioned Jin towards the pile and was going to have her look under the covering when he perceived a cautious impulse across his bond with Elena. She had felt his surprise from discovering the appendage and was on her way to assist.
The tarp exploded upwards into the air and engulfed Jin. The Elf that had been hiding underneath had the sort of countenance that’d belong on a panicked barn cat after the door had been thrown wide open. She shoved Jin as the Witch struggled to pull the tarp off of herself, knocking the magic type pokegirl to the ground. Isaac and the Elf locked eyes as they both froze in anticipation of the other moving.
“You-” The Elf who had named herself as Neasa hissed accusingly. She dropped the rest of whatever she intended to say and bolted for a window. The old greenhouse had all of its glass removed. There was only a fabric ceiling and walls to protect the structure from the elements and Neasa must have come in through the gap she had just jumped out of. Isaac heard the tiny plant type pokegirl yelp and spotted a rush of plant limbs surge in her presumed direction.
“Isaac, Jin. Are you both alright?” Elena called from outside.
Isaac knelt to check on his Witch who was liberating herself from the tarp. “My butt hurts,” she informed him unhappily from her seated position.
“Yeah, we’re okay.” Isaac answered.
“Why don’t you come outside and meet our guest,” Elena asked. Outside of the unused building she had Neasa restrained with bindings of living grass and wildflower stems. It was slowly dawning on the sleep deprived Grandelf that the plant type trespasser was likely the cause of all of last night’s excitement.
“I have no interest in your man, Deaf One. I only came to ask of you sun and soil.” Neasa glared at her Grandelf captor as she struggled against the vegetation holding her in place.
Elena stopped herself from creating the suction necessary to click her tongue. Neasa had just made a plea for sanctuary in accordance with an Elf custom that originated in the Vesna High Queendom. While she had no true obligation to honor the request since she wasn’t a court Elf, Elena wasn’t quite so upset from lack of sleep to turn the fugitive away without considering. “I’d think someone begging for aid would ask more politely.”
The vagabond Elf’s response was accusatory in tone. “I have never been very polite to people holding me captive.”
Elena was half inclined to continue this game of exchanging sarcastic barbs but she would have rather stayed curled up under her blanket with the new mug of tea that was now also going cold now. “If I release you, you won’t attack me, Isaac, or Jin? And you will stay to explain yourself.”
“I will not attack you, the man or his slave. I came here seeking you out, I will not flee.” The vegetation ensnaring Neasa unwound itself from her limbs and withered into dry stems. The sylvan pokegirl bent to pick up her bow and then stood still, allowing Isaac to study her for the second time.
Her plain tunic was even more dirty and had suffered some additional tearing. Standing close to Elena, Isaac was able to estimate that Neasa was 130 to 140 centimeters tall. Her ears were longer in length than the Grandelf’s and her eyes were chlorophyll green rather than Elena’s winter sky blue. That was as much as Isaac could estimate because Neasa met his gaze and held it with a challenging stare. Apparently she didn’t appreciate him studying her.
“Very well,” Elena began, “I have your word. Now, what is it you need of me?”
Neasa’s glare was fixed even harder on Isaac as she answered. “My goal was to seek you out for a respite and counsel on where an Elf should go in these lands if she has no wish to serve humans.”
“If that was your goal then you haven’t answered my question. What do you need of me right now?”
Neasa grit her teeth and scowled even deeper at Isaac. “You can’t help me now. Not in all the ways I need.”
Elena finally did click her tongue with her growing irritation from the continued avoidance of the question. “Speak plainly, girl.”
Neasa finally broke her stare away from the young man and she fought with herself not to shout in anger as beads of water formed in the corners of her eyes. “I felt the pull of the Nothing two days ago. You can’t help me now.”
Isaac thought about the possible meaning behind her words and quickly realized, “You’re going feral.”
“Livestock and pets go feral. I am neither, man.” Neasa put even more hateful energy behind the word than normal.
“I see,” Elena said solemnly. “Isaac, could you leave us? I believe your presence is distracting her.” Elena’s expression was one of compassion and concern, and Neasa did seem particularly on edge around him. He nodded his head in agreement and he and Jin went inside the house. “Isaac?” Elena called to him before he was quite inside. “She may want breakfast.” The Grandelf turned to the plain Elf. “Am I correct?”
Neasa studied the three of them with the same caution she’d demonstrated up until now. Her suspicion was wavering but Isaac couldn’t interpret what expression was replacing it. “Yes,” she said in a tiny voice that didn’t reach the young man at the door.
“She would like breakfast, Isaac.” Isaac nodded and went through the door to the kitchen so he could prepare another omelette. Jin followed after casting her most evil-eyed stare at the Elf who had dismissed her as a slave.
“Now,” Elena turned to the Elf, “I cannot help you but I’m certain Isaac certainly will happily if you ask.”
“Do not think to offer me up to your man,” Neasa blurted angrily. “I didn’t even think you had a man. Everyone said the Deaf One wasn’t a slave even though she lived among the farmers.”
“I am not a slave, princess. I have been free longer than the trees we’re standing under have grown. That is why your elders started this Deaf One nonsense. Please, call me Elena.”
Elena sighed and fixed a strand of hair to prepare herself to deliver the harsh truth Neasa needed to hear. “What you want now is immaterial, Neasa. You’re past the point you can worry about what it is you want. You have three choices for thwarting the curse we pokegirl bear. Accept him now, remain here to fall into the Nothing and I will give you to him, or leave and find someone else in the days you have remaining. You can trust Isaac. He’s different from the rest of the humans. He is an honorable man.”
Neasa’s laugh was a single snort of derision. “Yes, and I have met incredibly intelligent KATTLE beasts yet I wouldn’t seek any of them for counsel.”
Elena’s frustration with Neasa’s guarded defiance was about more than she could tolerate. “It’s your mind to lose, why are you being so difficult?”
“I’m not ready… I don’t want to be with a man again. I don’t want to…” Neasa started to tremble from suppressed emotion. Elena fought not to groan and tried to imagine what Chandrakanta would do in this situation. Smother the tiny pokegirl between her enormous breasts, pat her head, whisper soothing and empty words into her ear. These were all things that felt too unnatural for Elena.
“Well.” Elena began before she had the words fully formed. “You said you felt yourself start to decline two days ago. Although things will become more uncomfortable for you, you still have time to make your decision. This is my proposal. Come inside with me and break your fast. You may bathe and I will find something fresh for you to wear. Then we can walk together to a small meadow on the other side of the hill there,” she pointed, “and I’ll offer you what relief my body may provide. Then, at least, you can consider your choice with as sound of mind as you can muster.”
Neasa’s vulnerability showed through for half a second as she considered the older Grandelf’s offer. “Y-yes. I accept your offer. Thank you, Dea-” She caught herself. “Elena. Thank you Elena.” With the agreement made Elena guided Neasa into her home and to her table. The Elf devoured one omelette with barely a breath between bites and practically demanded another one prepared, stuffed with even more sausage, cheese, and vegetables.
After breakfast was the bath while Elena searched for something the pokegirl two-thirds her height could wear. The biggest difficulty was the length of shirt sleeves and skirt hems. Even if the article of clothing would be borrowed from Jin, length would still be an issue.
Inside the bathroom, Neasa sat so that only her nose and above wasn’t submerged in the tub of warm water. She lifted her hand and stared at the clean, fair skin. She grabbed the wash rag she had been given to clean herself with and vigorously scrubbed her palm until the skin turned an angry red from the friction. It still didn’t feel clean after nearly a fortnight. At least when she thought about what she had to do to get this far.
She slumped back so that she was mostly submerged. ‘What happened to never letting another man do that to me again,’ she asked herself.
(-[|]-) End 5.3 (-[|]-)
Marta walked into the sheriff's office where Tanya and the Sheriff were still having their breakfast and coffee. The pregnant OfficerJenny pokewoman shook her head with a bewildered expression. "Denys? That was Gregor Melnyk. He swears up and down this isn't a prank. He says you know he's never been a part of that. He... he says he saw a UFO last night. Some sort of machine fell out of the sky, thinks he found where it crashed but there's nothing there but an empty crater."