The Wildmother watches quietly.
The Savalirwood is centuries old, but she is older. It looks different now than what it first did when she first saw it. Before, it was nothing more than a seed of the first tree that would grow there. Now, that single seed has expanded to a forest that was once verdant green. Now, purple and grey paint the Savalirwood over in a kind of curse that has persisted over the years. There is a place of hers deeper within the Savalirwood though. There is magic lacing over the edges of it, and at the center of it, there is a family. The Wildmother has a soft spot for this family, and today, one of the boys from the family is among the graves.
He’s a good boy — strong and faithful and gentle — and he tends to the flowers with a kind of dedication that she sees so little of elsewhere. Caduceus is his name, and the Clay family here has worshiped her for so many generations.
She watches as Caduceus drags his hand over the gravestones to trace the old names and carefully waters the flowers that grow above the old bones that are entombed deep within her earth. She watches him stare at the corruption bleeding out from the Savalirwood from the innermost ring of rusted fence around her temple. She watches as he bends his head and mouths out a prayer that his father teaches him about her. Cornelius is another good one: kind and gentle, much like his son. The Wildmother knows that there’s something great in his son’s future though, so she takes the time to watch him carefully.
She’s not quite sure why this boy out of all the others is the right one, but she can feel it deep in her bones. She’s not a goddess of foresight or divination. Her dominion is over the wilds and the seas, but she can still sense something great. It won’t happen anytime soon. Caduceus Clay is still just a boy — although he will always be her boy to her, always young compared to her vast amount of immortal years — but he will be the right one. Later, when he is older, she will send him a vision or a dream to start him out on his journey.
But now is not the time. Now is simply the time to watch over her boy and protect him from the curse that slips and hides in the rotting, decaying branches of the Savalirwood.
The Wildmother waits quietly.
Her boy is all grown up, but he is becoming lonely. She watches Caduceus tend to the graves and water the flowers, and she watches him try to be brave. But the fact remains that he is all alone in the graveyard with the branches of the rotting Savalirwood framing him. She knows; she watched how his family, one by one, trickled away from the cemetery to try and end the curse lapping up at the edges of her temple.
She looks out over the horizon and with half-lidded eyes, watches as a motley group of travelers begin to weep over the loss of one of their friends. One of Sehanine’s boys, it seems like. The Wildmother and the Moonweaver don’t speak much. Sehanine always preferred shadow and trickery to bother much with Melora, and Melora’s usually busy with other matters that she’d like to take care of, but both are on decently amicable terms. At least the Wildmother gets along with the Moonweaver far better than she does with some other gods that she doesn’t care to think of.
The Wildmother takes pity on the poor group though. After all, these are the companions that her boy will travel with for the foreseeable future. When they finish burying their friend’s body, the Wildmother waves her hand and allows the mounds to be left untouched. No bandit will steal from this grave until they return to it. A faint glimmer of gold settles over the dirt and seals it away from the likes of man.
“Rare of you to interfere with my people,” the Wildmother hears. She glances back to see a young girl with blue skin and flowing white hair lean against one of her trees. The edges of her body and long, lanky limbs create shadows that flow out past her outline like a great cloak, and her eyes are the color of the full moon. The Moonweaver idly plucks a strand of shadow and twists it with a thread of moonlight with her long fingers and says, “What interest do you have in him?”
“Not him specifically,” the Wildmother answers. “He’s died twice already. I have no intention of making him die thrice. He simply means something more to that group over there.”
“But none of them are yours,” the Moonweaver curiously says. She twists the thread of shadow and light together even closer with her index finger and thumb before she lets the strand go. It weaves itself into an illusion of her dead boy: curling horns, purple skin, gold and jewels adorning his neck and horns, and red eyes that blink at the Wildmother. The Moonweaver twists her hand and it morphs into an illusion of the half-orc in the party and then into a great leviathan as she says, “Especially the half-orc. Isn’t he bound to one of your least favorites?”
“Zehir and his disgusting creations have nothing to do with this,” the Wildmother crisply replies. “They are simply meant to meet one of my own, and they intend to return. I only wished to keep the body preserved until they returned to pay their last respects.” She snaps her fingers and the illusion of Uk’otoa sinks into the ground.
“Hm, interesting,” the Moonweaver says. Her tone is light, but her gaze is anything but that as it pierces through the Wildmother. “You’re interfering again,” she says. The accusation doesn’t sound harsh, but the Moonweaver’s voice is pointed. “Your girl over on the other side of the world with your staff wasn’t enough?”
The Wildmother shrugs, but a small smile plays about her lips. She lifts one finger up to her lips and doesn’t say a word. The Moonweaver pushes herself into an upright position and sighs, “Well, that was always more in your domain, wasn’t it? I’ll leave you to it then.” She melts back into the shadow without another word and sinks deep into the darkness back to wherever she came from.
The Wildmother returns her gaze. With a single hand, she stretches out and alters the path of the travelers slightly to have them meet her boy. And she waits.
Fate always comes slowly for them, but for her, it’s nothing but a long, slow blink.
The Wildmother mourns quietly.
Her boy is arriving soon. She felt the waves and eddies that his death left on the pool of life, and she felt the soil heave under the weight of his fallen body. She knows her boy is coming, buoyed by the transitional waves between life and death, and the knowledge of it makes her sad and quiet.
At the very least, she can make it beautiful for him.
She waves her hand, and the ground beneath her feet becomes carpeted with thick, green grass. In the distance, mountains peaked with ice and snow rise up, and she purposely leaves behind an image of a fiery forge for her boy to look at. There is old blood in his veins, and the land remembers it all. She remembers too, but sometimes, it’s just good for her boy to see the truth of it written all over again.
She can feel the fall of his friend’s knees against the ground, the way her hands scrabble at his body, and the way she fumbles with the diamond in her slim fingers. The soil knows, the grass sees, the world understands, even in spite of the explosive arrow that charred the soil beneath her boy’s feet.
“One of your worshippers,” a voice says. “He’s dying.”
The Wildmother looks up and sees the Traveler. The deep green of his cloak looks almost black against the verdant green of her grass, but the green of his eyes are brighter than anything else in the landscape. “I know. He’s already dead,” she says. She tilts her head to regard him carefully. “But your girl is trying to pull him back, isn’t she?”
“That she is,” he confirms. His voice warms just a slight bit, but the Wildmother knows what it is. Gods tend to sound like that when they talk about their favored ones, and newborn gods are no exception. “Are you going to stop her or will you help?”
A corner of the Wildmother’s lips quirk up, and she reaches out to make a beckoning motion. She senses the edge of Caduceus’s spirit — soft as moss, gentle as lichen — and draws it towards her.
Caduceus arrives, sooner or later, and he looks up at the brilliant, blue sky and squints as he gazes at the forge and the mountains in the distance. “Is it over?” he asks.
The Wildmother simply pats the space beside her, and Caduceus goes over to sit beside him. Her billowing skirts rustle in the wind, and the sound of a bird’s call echoes in the thin air. “Not quite,” she decides to say. She smiles at him though. “You still have friends on the other side.” She tilts her head to regard him and asks, “Are you afraid?”
Caduceus lets out a soft laugh as he says, “No. Death is just a pause, isn’t it?”
“That it is,” she agrees. She braces her hands behind her as she tips her head back to gaze up at the skies and mountains in the distance. “The line between life and death is nothing more than a transition. Even this is just a transition.”
Caduceus purses his lips as he mulls over his words. He tucks a long lock of hair back and murmurs, “They’re trying to bring me back, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” the Wildmother answers. “In particular, your friend with the bright, sweet magic.” She chuckles at the double-layered vision she has: one here in the meadow beside Caduceus and one beside his near-dead body. “I have never seen a person try to revivify someone with the scent of spun sugar and pastries laying over their magic.”
“Oh, Jester,” Caduceus breathes out. He folds his hands together and presses them to his chest before he looks over to the Wildmother. “Will I remember this then?”
“You’ll remember enough,” she promises him. “All of the important things that you need to travel the path ahead of you. Do not fear and do not fret though.”
“I never have,” he tells her.
The Wildmother leans over and tucks some hair behind Caduceus’s ear. It’s the same stubborn lock that he tried to tuck earlier, and she summons up a small flower to tuck along with it. “A testament of your faith,” she says warmly. “You’ve been very strong so far. I’m proud of you and how far you’ve come.”
“I still have a journey left to go,” Caduceus says.
“That you do,” the Wildmother says. She hums a soft, haunting melody that starts to quiet and dim the edges of the meadow. The colors begin to fade out, and as she starts to stand up, flower petals and seashells tumble down her skirts and scatter across the meadow. “Now, I think you need to be getting back now,” she says.
Caduceus opens his mouth to say something, but the sound of his voice gets drowned out by the call of the lonely bird who mimics the same melody that the Wildmother just hummed.
She folds her hands behind her back and shuts her eyes just long enough to hear a few snippets of Jester’s desperately thankful voice and the first low rumbles of Caduceus’s voice.
“You should be proud of her,” she says out loud. “She’s doing quite well for herself.”
“Mmm,” the Traveler murmurs. He materializes by her side and considers the landscape that she’s crafted for Caduceus. His cloak and feet do not touch the grass though. “I’m very proud of her. She’s much smarter and powerful than what she presents for herself.”
“As do you,” the Wildmother returns. She eyes him carefully and says, “And how is godhood suiting you, Traveler?”
“I’m afraid I can’t quite answer that since I’m only on the cusp, not fully in it,” the Traveler replies blithely. “I’ll let you know when I’m immersed in it.”
“Still chasing after that dream then,” the Wildmother sighs.
The Traveler turns towards the Wildmother and laughs, “Always.” With a hand behind his back, he draws himself a new door out of the liminal space and exits.
The Wildmother remains only a moment longer in the liminal space and listens in to Caduceus and Jester’s conversation. Jester’s voice is cracked through with utter relief, and Caduceus yawns so many times that his eyes begin to water from the sheer exhaustion he feels. The Wildmother pulls away from the conversation and presses a hand to her chest. She knows that her boy can take care of himself, but it’s good to know that he has friends he can rely on now.
The Wildmother laughs quietly.
The great serpent opens its sulfur-yellow eyes and narrows its slitted pupils at the sound of her gentle laughter, and it tries to rear up to lunge at the sound of her voice. The thick, invisible chains holding Uk’otoa down rattle though as they lash the leviathan down in the seas. The water begins to roil around him, and foam rises from the great, heaving maw of the serpent.
“STOLEN,” Uk’otoa accuses. His voice echoes and booms, but the Wildmother doesn’t even react to the sheer volume of his voice. “POSSESSION. SEA.”
Oh, so he’s trying to play that card. The Wildmother folds her arms, and sea foam begins to gather at her feet as she tuts, “You forget that I am also a god of the seas. He may be a boy of the seas, but he rejected you already.” She tilts her head to the side and croons, “Oh, don’t fret, little serpent. I will take much better care of your little one than you ever did or will. I will offer my own protection to him regardless of what you tell me, but the choice will always be up to him. That must be quite the surprise to you who gives no choices, only commands.”
“PROVOKE, CONSUME,” Uk’otoa bellows. “PUNISH. CONSUME!” All of his eyes open and flood the dark waters of his prison with sharp yellow, but the Wildmother is not blinded by such things. She simply shakes her head with disappointment.
Shells sewn into the hem of her long gown glint in the light of the rising sun as she looks down at Uk’otoa and comments, “You’ve inherited an unfortunate similarity to your creator as have the rest of your brethren. Zehir was always a chaotic one.” Her nose wrinkles. “How distasteful.”
Uk’otoa bellows, and his fury makes the waters of the Lucidian Ocean bubble and boil around him. The confines of his prison keep him locked inside though, and he thrashes against his boundaries as hard as he can. His many eyes open and close, making yellow flash over and over in the depths of the dark waters.
The Wildmother pays no attention though. She only wanted to make the one statement. Now, it is her time to return to her duties. Let the serpent bathe in his own fury; she has her followers to watch over.
And so, she does.
The Wildmother guides quietly.
A dream, a few words. Those are all it really takes. Granted, her method of guidance is certainly more hands-on than others of her kind. She knows some deities that simply recluse themselves and largely ignore their worshipers. But as she peers over Caduceus, she thinks that one of his companions has far more divine guidance that is vocal and louder than hers. Newborn gods were always like that. This one in particular has a penchant for mischief and trickery.
Still, she settles herself and offers small tidbits to guide Caduceus along the right path. He follows the siren call of destiny with a certain kind of aptitude and acceptance that startles her sometimes. There are others among her worshipers that would blindly follow her signs til the end of the world, but Caduceus takes each and every sign in stride: slowly and surely. He does not frantically chase after them with a rabid kind of doggedness, and instead, he follows them with a methodical, easy carefulness. Almost as if he was tending to his flowers rather than climbing the hero’s road.
She makes the residuum pulse softly in his hand with a thrum. She makes the flowers bloom where he steps with a wave of his hand. She adds a certain wind to his steps mid-combat when he summons her divine magic and channels it through him.
It’s worth it in the end though. He arrives to the Underforge in the Cinderrest Sanctum and meets the Dust family. It warms her heart to see him reunite with members of his family, however distant they may be. She remembers the day the three champions of the Raven Queen walked the earth as if it was only yesterday. She remembers how she advised them to split up the body in three: one for the Allhammer, one for the Changebringer, and one for the Archeart. It was an interesting decision on her part, one that she does not regret yet, and she leans closer to watch more closely.
The magma still bubbles as brightly as it did back then in the heart of Kravarad. The onyx looks darker than it did before, but the kiln still burns merrily. She glances over at Caduceus and twists her hand to kick-start a memory of residuum and fire.
One of his friends — the goblin that is not a goblin — tries scattering residuum dust in the flames, but it doesn’t work. The Wildmother folds her hands in her lap as she observes them trying to figure it out, but Caduceus ultimately ends up asking her for guidance. Magic — the same warmth and shade of her magic — gathers at his fingertips, and he bends his head in prayer. The lichen on his armor looks brighter in color nearby the light of the magma, and his ears flick a bit as he asks for assurance.
The Wildmother bends her head down to whisper gently into his ear and leans back when she’s done. It’s only a moment that is soft and hushed, but it is enough. Caduceus nods and straightens up to resume his journey on the path that she guides him on.
The Wildmother protects quietly.
Hers is not a magic made up of loud explosions or flashy plumes of flame. Hers is the kind of magic that weaves life over the landscape and calms storms down to nothing but clear waters and clear skies. Hers is a quiet sort of magic, but that fact does not reduce any bit of her strength. She is powerful and can be dangerous when she wants to, but for now, she simply extends her hand and allows her magic to trickle down into the seams of the liminal space.
When she turns around, she sees Fjord. He looks vulnerable and small in comparison to the grand landscape that unfolds around him, but more importantly, the Wildmother can see a seed of darkness knotted deep inside his chest. It pulses with the same rhythm of Uk’otoa’s pitch dark heartbeat at the bottom of the Lucidian Ocean, and the Wildmother knows that she can’t heal this hurt. This is something that is entrenched deeply into the very fabric of the being that Fjord is now, and she cannot remove it without endangering him. However, if he wishes to come to her, she will not turn him away.
“You have been lost, caught in a dark current and undertow. These depths seed you with an alien wound, too deep to heal, and leave your mind a torrent,” she tells him. Fjord’s eyes widen at the sound of her voice and the truth that she speaks, but he bows his head and lets her continue. She shows him a torrential storm that splits open the sky and the sea with the strength of its fury.
And the truth is, she hadn’t been actively looking for him. Her sight was focused on Caduceus and Caduceus alone through the waters, trees, and beasts that populated the land that they walked on. Still, he managed to find her gaze through chance, through deed, through company. She finds that admirable enough, and she appreciates how Caduceus tried to guide him to the right path.
“This seed I cannot heal, but I can help you carry the burden,” she says honestly. “I can free you from the fiend that feeds, if you would but protect all that is me. WIll you walk my lands, swim my shores, and guide my children as one of my own?”
Fjord takes in a deep breath and flutters his eyes open before he says, “Yes. Yes, I would.”
The Wildmother’s smile deepens, and she lifts her hand to make the seaweed from the warm waters grow and rise. “Then, embrace me. My boon is yours,” she says. They wrap around Fjord over and over, layering him deeply with different colors of kelp, and she sinks him into her oceans. She can feel the knot that Uk’otoa left in him thrash against the touch of her magic.
She can hear Uk’otoa bellowing in the distance and in the space that he carved out in Fjord’s ribs. “PROVOKE. MINE. MINE! PUNISH!” Uk’otoa screams.
How noisy. The Wildmother pays him no heed as she washes Fjord over with gentle magic. Sun-warmed soil, gentle waters, a light breeze. These are all the things that she swathes around Fjord as if she were swaddling a babe, and she covers over the freezing cold of Uk’otoa’s mark with her own warmth. Fjord does not struggle, but Uk’otoa certainly does. The Wildmother leans over Fjord’s face before it is covered entirely by seaweed and murmurs, “And it is our nature to adapt.”
With that, the seaweed covers over Fjord completely, and the Wildmother smiles with satisfaction. This is one protection that she can extend over the cold depths that Uk’otoa tries to escape from. She is a god of the seas as well, and she will protect her own: quietly, quietly.