Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Story Time: Pennyroyal Tea I, II, III

Pennyroyal Tea
By Mataoka

Part I of III

The night before, while tending to resentful business at the iron bank vault, she spied a hibernating druid resting his bony bottom on the floor, encased in leaves, bark, twig and twine, all knotted up tight. Wound as a top, the energy entombed, potential power ready to pop. The iron leached the cadence of the forest from him, poisoning marrow, residing, tainted, and twisted. She diagnosed he was ill, and heard his raspy sleepy breath, and dared not wake him. Momokawa finished her duties, and discreetly cleansed the druid, trying not to disturb him. She had a new portal spell she adored, and cast it without much thought. The magic did not work as hoped, and she found herself in a grove of unintended consequences.

She found herself in an off-balance meadow. Acrid hazy air spun dusty spores onto the back of her neck, scuttling, skittering like tiny spiders, into the hidey-holes of her pores. Momokawa scratched the back of her neck, her fingernails and tips coming back a dry, baby-kind of brown dirt. This area where she landed on her roulette-wheel of a spell, the spell that would cast her to any area in the world promising of fat, lush nature sent her somewhere—she lost the word. Insecure? She looked up at the sky, and most of the trees covered the sun’s milky edge to the west, too low for summer at the time of day she believed it was, and uncertainty took hold. The hour never seemed to change. The air cotton-balled in her throat. Landing in the middle of a mushroom circle, not perfect, but a confident, I-Dare-You-To–Question kind of circle. The top of her head fit just under the tallest mushroom, and her kneecaps scraped the shortest of the lot.

The spores dug in further: the meadow straddled in that middle space between decay and regrowth.  Her hair blew around her face, unwashed but not unclean, but beginning to hold small grit from the air. She studied the circle, a bit shaggy in the corners, wondering why her odd spell would bring her here. It had never happened like this before, not once. She usually transported to tired, wise green forests, so old and soaked with chlorophyll, transforming all living things to shades of emeralds, limes, celadon and citron. Verdant to the point of obscene. Mating in those woods was as natural as life spawns, budding in the open, spiraling fronds and dewdrops, all pistils and stigmas, soaked with nectar and pollen. She often wondered why no elves lived there permanently, at least no permanent or stable community. These forests gave home to the odd flight master or elder keeping disinterested vigil, seemingly too ancient or daydreaming to care what other visiting druids concerned themselves with under the shades of trees and hollows of brooks. Those old forests offered every protection from the outside world: no harm or fire ever touched them, and druids found no judgment there.

But this forest was old, too, and left her exposed.

Part II of III
In the mushroom circle, Momokawa felt nauseous with disorientation. She heard running, the distinct crackling of brush and hardened lichen ground meeting sharp hooves, but could not tell from which direction the stamping beats came from, or what manner of beasts. There, as suddenly being aware of one’s shadow, two of them: black, sooty stags running in unison, seeming to come near the mushroom circle but pulling away, just so, to the other side, and then back, and then away. Never traversing the circle. Momokawa gasped: Tirisfal stags. She was in Tirisfal. She felt both distress and comfort: these were the woods of the dead, of zealots and the damned, and these were the woods that still had living creatures.

Shape-shifting to her own stag form, she gave chase. Her creamy fur, with gold and pink baubles on her antlers, and soft wise eyes felt wrong and amateurish. The druids of the world enjoyed a healthy stag form, sickeningly incompatible with the Tirisfal dark form. Their eyes showed too much white, and their muzzles betrayed fear with the foamy sweat. A thought in the back of her mind made her queasy, imagining what they would look like in bear or cat forms. She gave chase, in that desperate friendly manner, and fearful, wondering what they were running from. They never stopped to graze, just endless diagonals through the forest and clearings. Momokawa surrendered—it was clear they saw her, and it was just as obvious they were not going to run with her.

Her ears pricked back to a loon’s call: if the gooey sun could be trusted, there was a lake to the north, and to the west, the city of the Lady, once a Night Elf herself. She was terrified as a little girl when her grandmother told her tales of the three sisters: one forsaken, one lost, and one in grief. She heard an odd thshlump sound, and the mushrooms disappeared. Momokawa instinctively put her hand to her belly, protected by a Pennyroyal leather belt. Nothing in, and nothing out. Nothing could grow there.

Part III of III

In this forest, magic withheld itself: it was as if it held its breath, waiting for her to leave so it could get on with its business. The stags refused to run with her, as brief as a shadow, and as disinterested as an old lover: but there, just over there, one large stag, whose steady pace seemed out of time. She immediately shifted to stag form: light, creamy, bells and baubles. Urges--just those. She ran to meet him, and stopped short: striding next to him an infected, pus-filled scabby doe and fawn. He protected them from the wild stags of the forest, but had not been able to protect them from the seeping darkness. The tracks where her hooves halted dug deep ruts in the dirt, and she detected an oozing slithering motion. She chose not to investigate further. 

Shifting to her elf form, she knew it was time to return home. Her mind wandered to the sleeping druid. Maybe she knew him. She would make it her business to heal him.

The Pennyroyal belt guarded her from a family, a child of her own. It is what she had wanted all along. And then: the protector of the forest, he who had failed in saving his doe from harm, but continued for eternity by her side --


She looked again at the family: dignified doom. 

Longing replaced repugnance. 

Casting the spell, she returned to her hearth.

The sleeping druid still sat nestled in the same spot she left him. Momo knelt down next to him, and whispered in his ear. Her lips soft as down, gently, gently...she placed her cool hand behind his neck, and quickly spoke. He reached up a hand from his sheath, placing it in hers, and in a small green storm they left the marble and iron building. A gnome, a nearby banker, remarked to himself about the unusual nature of druids, and thought no more about it. 

Time to leave the sickness that leached these lands, time to return, and time to renew. Balance demanded restoration.

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