Seeking Shards II
You run a hand through your hair and try to puzzle over this conundrum. Moirine merely stands there, watching you with a patient, understanding expression, as you look about.
“Is there a difference between the Shards here?” you ask.
Moirine gives an earnest shrug. “I can’t answer that, or else I would, pup. It’s a matter of picking one and seeing where it leads us. It’s a crappy answer, to borrow one of your human vernaculars, but, it’s the best one I can honestly give you. I’m sorry, though.”
You sigh. “Then, left, I guess.”
Moirine nods. “Alright then, the left Shard it is.”
She starts to go left, and despite your obvious confusion – you don’t see anything or smell or hear anything out of the ordinary; all you can see are trees packed together – you follow her regardless, since she knows what she’s doing, and you know you don’t.
You both weave through several large trees, and as you do, you keep looking for any sort of sign that tells you that you’ve gone through some magic portal. None show up.
“Where is the Shard exactly?” you ask after a beat.
Moirine snickers and reaches out to lightly grab your wrist. She leads you forward several steps, until she stops in front of two trees that are pressed next to one another, save for a human-sized opening directly between them. She points to the opening.
“Right there,” Moirine says.
You peer through the opening and only see the green of a thick bush on the other side.
Yet you don’t question Moirine (not at first, anyways), and instead, you follow her into that opening between the two tree trunks – you don’t feel anything out of the ordinary when you both cross through those trees, nor when you push your way through the rather thick bush, but, next thing you know, you step out from the bush… and gasp.
You are no longer in a forested area like you had been. Instead, you find yourself in a rather vast expanse of plains with rolling hills as far as you can see. Your jaw nearly falls to the ground, and you immediately look behind you to find that the bush is next to two trees identical to the two you saw, but… there are no other trees there; what was once a cluster of thick trees casting a great deal of shade is down to those two alone.
“Whoa…” you whisper. You glance back to Moirine, who’s grinning.
“Do you see now, pup?” she asks, gesturing about. “We are in a Shard, a belly button tucked away from your world. Normal humans would not find it, so you are likely the first in a long while to set foot in this particular belly button.” She snickers. “Fun, isn’t it?”
You gawk for a few breaths, gradually soaking in what you’re seeing.
“So…” You rub your eyes. “What’s… what’s in this Shard, then? Besides us?”
Moirine looks about for a pause. “It’s hard to say, at least from where we stand. This goes back to what I mentioned earlier about the nature of Shards, my friend – they’re difficult to describe and to comprehend, even for a selkie like me. This place emanates with magic, though. I can smell it as easily as I can smell you standing beside me.”
She breathes in deep several times, then starts to move to the right, down a flat path that reminds you of a dirt road. You follow her, looking around in earnest wonderment.
“What do Shards smell like to you?” you ask, unable to resist asking to learn even when you’re transfixed with your surroundings given how astonishing this all is for you. “And what does magic smell like, if you can put either of those into words?”
Moirine hums to herself for a beat. “There’s a… flavor profile to a Shard that is… it’s a bit difficult to describe in human terms, yes. The best I can muster is it smells…” She frowns and grunts. “A Shard smells like it doesn’t quite belong, I guess. Like, if you were in a setting that you knew the scents to, imagine a smell that lingered underneath them that didn’t ‘fit,’ almost like… a fragrance. Shite, it’s harder to define than I thought.”
You eye her quizzically, although you don’t push. She seems annoyed at the fact that she can’t apparently give you a better answer, but you don’t blame her for this.
“It’s not simple to explain because it is second-nature for me,” Moirine says. “Being able to tell through my sense of smell where magic is… it’s the same to me as breathing is for you. It’s automatic, not something that you have to be properly trained on to do.”
“I see,” you reply. “Sort of.”
She chuckles. “Your nose isn’t likely to pick up on it, even when you assume the selkie form you’ve been ‘gifted’ by that djinn. But, rest assured, I can pinpoint magic without batting an eye thanks to my sense of smell. I could easily tell from smell that you were a human turned into a selkie by magics, rather than a natural selkie like myself, after all.”
You nod along. “Fair enough. Wait, what do I smell like?”
She smiles wide and playful. “Don’t take this the wrong way, pup, but humans as a whole have a rather obvious… tang to them at all times. It makes it easy to differentiate between the average human and a fellow selkie, or any other being that exists. It’s the sort of tang that definitely has an effect on my nose, almost like a faint burn, just not an unpleasant or uncomfortable one. Or, to put it into words you would better grasp…” Her eyes flicker with mirth. “You stink, pup, it’s simply that you stink good to my nose.”
You stare blankly at Moirine at hearing this, unsure of how to take… that response.
You end up shaking this away – and smiling a bit, if only at the humorous look Moirine gives you on top of her snickering – and instead, you focus on following along with her.
“What could be here in this Shard?” you ask, and you look in all directions while you walk with Moirine. “I know you said you don’t know what’s here, but, all I see are plains and hills. Is it… is it just a realm where there’s nothing but nature, or, is there more?”
“Some Shards are the chosen domains to beings not unlike us selkie,” Moirine replies. “In those cases, what they are and where they choose to dwell, once more, varies. Some live in structures like human homes or in structures made from the environment akin to a house, some prefer to dwell underground or within caves, others underwater like we selkie do, and others still may live above ground in the skies, and so on.
“Given the environment we’ve found ourselves in, I don’t know off the top of my head what could live here,” Moirine says with a shrug. “My guess would be, if anything, it’s home to gnomes or perhaps some among the elves – and yes, pup, both of those are real, existing beings, not just races dreamt up for your fantasy movies and games.”
You gawk at this.
“That said,” she adds, “I doubt we’d run across anyone should some sentient species live in this particular Shard because we’re on an effective mission to find a specific Shard, so we don’t have the time for it.” She pauses to sniff the air a few times. “I can tell there are more Shard openings not TOO far from us, at the very least.”
You nod, yet your mind is still on what Moirine just said so casually. Elves and gnomes exist – they’re actually real! You can’t help but want to know more about them, and you wonder what other sorts of beings are real given what you’ve learned so far – you definitely tell yourself that you want to ask more on these questions when you finish dealing with whatever this djinn situation involves, because why wouldn’t you want to know? Finding out about supernatural species being living, breathing races is awesome.
‘I wonder if that means dragons and monsters like that exist,’ you think.
Your inner nerdy self is a bit giddy with all the possibilities (you don’t want to jump to conclusions, yet in your mind, you can’t fathom anyone not being a little excited at finding out these beings are genuinely real and not just made up for books and the like), but you swallow those down for now, rather than letting your excitement overtake you.
“Are there other underwater species?” you ask instead.
“Oh, absolutely, pup,” Moirine says. “You’ve only been in a small portion of the ocean,” she grins at you, “but there are most definitely other species that lurk in the azure depths, both in Shards located underwater and some even outside of those Shards.”
You smile. “What about mermaids?”
She gives a hearty laugh. “Yes, pup. Mermaids are among those that do exist, and in fact, there is a clave of them not far from our Shard with the Cayreeg. Although, you should know there are several different species similar to what your mind would consider a ‘mermaid.’ And not all of them are… the friendliest of sorts, to be blunt.”
“Really?” you ask. You’re curious and cautious at once. “Are they more like, you know, the myths where mermaids would purposefully drown sailors to, I guess eat them?”
“In ancient times, yes, some did,” Moirine admits, and she grimaces briefly. “The naiad are the ones you’re thinking of there, pup – they are the least affable of all water-aligned beings, and they prefer to be left alone due to their… dietary choices. They’ve ceased eating live humans, thankfully,” she gives you a sincere look, “but they’ll devour sea creatures whole, and anything that is dead in their domains. Think of them like vultures, but smarter, meaner, humanoid in shape, and far more actively violent for fun.”
Your throat goes dry, and you swallow to alleviate that. “That’s charming…”
Moirine waves a hand. “Don’t worry, pup. They live in secluded Shards these days, rarely venturing out because they despise pretty much everything.” Her expression softens, and she smiles again. “Now, the friendliest are the merrow, one of selkie-kind’s closest and dearest allies. Very benevolent in nature, the merrow, and they’re beautiful by many aesthetic standards, and also the most likely to protect humans lost at sea.”
You perk up at this much, but, before you can ask more, Moirine sniffs the air again.
She breathes in several times and seems to pick up on the trail of a Shard, because her movement speed increases, and she goes off the path toward a nearby hill. You follow, and, the two of you venture up to the top of the hill. Once there, you see that it isn’t just an endless expanse of plains and running hills after all – there appears to be a large dip directly ahead of you, and at the center of this apparent valley is a lush lake surrounded by a handful of large trees, with what looks to be a cave nestled to the right-hand side.
Moirine giggles. “A proverbial belly button inside a belly button, I’d say, pup.”
You snicker. “You’re something else, Moirine, you know that?”
“Oh, most certainly,” she replies with a jovial grin. “This way, though.”
The two of you start trailing down the hill toward the valley with the large lake.
“How many Shards can you smell?” you ask her.
“Two more,” Moirine replies. Her nostrils flare again and she nods. “They’re both right beside the lake, on different sides. And no, before you ask, neither one is underwater.”
When you finish trekking down the hill, you end up on flat ground that heads toward the large lake. As you approach it, Moirine slows again and gestures toward the cave.
“One is in there,” Moirine says, and she sniffs again. “And the other is…” She points toward the lake proper, to the trees on the left-hand side. “…in that area.” She turns back to eye you thoughtfully. “What’ll it be, pup? Cave or tree Shard? You pick.”
You sigh inwardly. ‘Here we go again.’
Written by Hollowpage on 26 May 2021