*Full Summary* Vera has always known that she was different. Cursed with the power to see the spirits that live between our world and the next, she has lived her entire life on the fringes of society, with only an old witch for company. When she is torn from her peaceful existence by the Ved'makami a ruthless group of elite witch-hunters, she is certain that she will not live to see freedom again. However, she soon manages to escape, and, with the help of a mysterious god named Kotik, she embarks on a surreal road trip across the fantastical country of Slava. On the way, she must face the truth of her strange powers, the uncertainty of her future, and the feelings that she has for her odd new comrade. Rewrite of Dreamers of the Day.
"I think there's something in my house," the woman said, clinging to my dress as if her life depended on it. "Please, child, you must help me!" She appeared to be on the verge of tears, so I decided to take pity on her.
"Alright, alright," I sighed. "I'll take a look at your house. Just let go of me, will you?"
"Oh, bless your heart!" the woman said, releasing her death grip on my dress. "You don't know what kind of torture I've been through in these past weeks." I followed the woman until we reached her house. It was like every other house in the village: small, cozy, and warm. I stepped inside and looked around, searching for anything that could be causing the woman trouble. Then, I saw it. It was a domovoi, a small, hairy creature that sort of resembled a little old man. He stared up at me with warm, soft brown eyes, like a puppy.
"There's nothing to worry about," I said, turning to the woman. "It's just a little house spirit. Try leaving some bread and cream out for it in the morning. It might even start doing chores for you."
"But what about my children?" The woman cried, not the least bit satisfied with my explanation. "I don't want some filthy monster near my babies!"
"I told you not to worry," I snapped. "It won't hurt your precious little children. Now please, I must get back to the shrine."
"Of course," the woman said. "Thank you for your help." She didn't sound like she appreciated it, but I didn't care. If I didn't return to the temple soon, Zaria would have my hide.
"Sorry for disturbing you, mater," I said before curtseying to the domovoi. It blinked its huge brown eyes and nodded slowly. Without another word to the woman, I left the little house and continued down the main road to the small, overgrown path that led to the top of the hill.
Once in the forest, I felt much better. The cool mountain air cleared my mind and the soft, sweet fragrance of the summer's last flowers calmed my nerves. Being in the village always made me uneasy, but the forest was different. I was at home in the woods. When I reached the top of the hill, I stopped and bowed deeply to the massive deer god statue that stood in front of the temple like a giant wooden sentinel. It had been here since before the village was founded, perhaps since before the shrine was even here. It depicted the god that watched over this forest: a man cloaked in black with the skull of a majestic hart for a head. When I was younger, it used to give me nightmares. Now, it filled me with a strange sense of peace, almost as if it were watching over me like an overprotective father.
I entered the temple, a small wooden building where people used to come to pay respect to the god of the forest. I hung my cloak on the hook next to the door and dropped my satchel on the floor. I was about to call out to Zaria to tell her that I was back when I stopped. A man was kneeling in front of the temple's main shrine, a smaller bronze replica of the statue that stood outside. His head was bowed in prayer and his mouth moved, silently reciting words that I could not guess. I was slightly stunned at the sight; nobody had come to pray to the gods in decades. As I watched, dumbfounded, the man stood and made for the door. His hair was pale blonde, and his eyes were an otherworldly green, soft like the moss that grew on stones in the spring. He made me feel strangely uneasy, although I couldn't explain why. He stopped and stood before me, holding out something in his hand.
"Here," he said. "Take this, as an offering." I looked down to see a small silver coin resting in his palm. I eagerly took it from him and curtseyed in respect.
"Are you from the village?" I asked.
"No," he said. "Just a traveler." With that, he left the temple and continued down the path through the forest. I couldn't imagine where he would be headed. There was nothing but wilderness for miles in that direction, which was why we never got travelers. I put the silver coin away in my dress pocket and decided to just ignore the strange man.
"I'm home, Zaria!" I called. The old woman emerged from the kitchen, a cup of tea in her hand.
"Welcome back, Vera," she said. "I made a cup for you as well, if you would like it."
"That sounds lovely," I said, sitting down on one of the cushions that we had lying around the room. I took off my shoes, eager to rest my weary feet.
"Did you get the spices I asked for?" she said, sitting down next to me and handing me a warm cup of spicy chai, which I accepted eagerly.
"Of course," I said. I set down my cup and rummaged through my satchel to find the brown paper bag filled with strange, exotic spices. "You're lucky that that merchant was still there," I told her, handing her the bag.
"Thank you," she said, taking it from me. "This will make a wonderful warding spell. We've had too many spirits hanging around here lately. If we don't do something about them they might decide to get onry with us."
"Speaking of that," I said, taking a long sip of the delicious tea. "There wasn't anyone in here earlier, was there?"
"What, you mean a worshiper?" she asked, grinning widely. "Don't make me laugh. Those fools are too scared of the gods to give them any of the respect they deserve anymore. Just you wait; soon the deer god will come and rip them all to shreds for this shameful behavior." She nodded matter-of-factly.
"I suppose you're right," I said, glancing towards the shrine. I removed the small silver coin from my pocket, only to find that it wasn't a coin anymore. I opened my hand to see a little moth sitting there, lazily flapping its pale green wings before fluttering out the window. I blinked, stunned. "What the…"
"Ha!" Zaria laughed her old voice raspy and harsh. "It seems that some little spirit has decided to play a trick on you, girl! You're lucky that all it did was give you a false coin."
"Whatever," I said, embarrassed. "I'm going to bed." I stood and brushed off my dress before heading off to my room.
"Goodnight, Vera," Zaria said. "I'm just going to stay up a while longer and read."
"Okay. Goodnight," I responded. I lay down on my bed and stared up at the ceiling, listening to the sounds of the evening forest and drinking in the sweet scents of the late summer. I fell asleep to the sound of the crickets chirping in the long grass.