"Sir, are you sure this is necessary?" Nephrite asks as Mamoru heaves himself up onto his horse.
Mamoru spares a glance for his Four Knights all gathered around anxiously watching him prepare to leave. He tries to smile reassuringly. "I am. If there's a chance this can save the kingdom then I must do it."
"But do you have to go alone?" Jadeite frowns. "The forests are dangerous and filled with dark creatures."
"Do you doubt my skill, Jadeite?" Mamoru asks teasingly, enjoying the displeased look the Knight shoots him. "Yes, I'm sure. I need you four to look after the kingdom in my absence; it cannot spare us all. Besides, I am not unskilled, as you all have seen fit to ensure." They still don't look too happy about it, so Mamoru quickly finishes up before they can find something else to complain about. "I'll be back within the week, and if I'm not then I give you permission to come find me, but I must go. The least you could do is give me your blessings before I do."
"Safe travels then," Jadeite wishes.
"May you encounter no dangerous beasts in the forests," Zoisite says.
"May the stars guide you quickly to your destination," Nephrite adds.
"Just don't die, Sir," Kunzite tells him with the slightest bit of exasperation at his comrades.
Mamoru chuckles. "I'll do my best not to." And with one last nod to his Knights he spurs his horse into gear and gallops out of the courtyard.
Four days later, when he's soaking wet and forced to lead his horse on foot through the forest because the fog and rain are so thick he can barely see in front of him, Mamoru starts to think that maybe his Four Knights jinxed him instead of blessed him. The clouds had come in quickly, leaving the prince no time to look for shelter. He could only hope he found something before he developed hypothermia and died. His Knights would bring him back just so he would never hear the end of their nagging.
It's pure chance that he catches sight of two closely growing oak trees, their branches creating enough of an overhang that both he and his horse will fit underneath. He quickly leads the animal over, tying it up on a low branch before slumping against the large trunk. In a moment he'll look for his spare clothes to replace his soaked ones, but first he wants a break.
"Wow, you look pretty wet," a soft voice pipes up almost right next to Mamoru, startling him into jumping upright and away from the tree. His horse spooks from the sudden movement, shifting nervously until he can calm it. As he does his gaze doesn't stray from the young girl whose body is half hanging out of the tree he was just leaning on.
She has pale green skin, though it bleeds into the brown of the bark where her body meets the trunk. Her eyes are a much more vivid, sharp green, her hair a deep chestnut almost as dark as the tree itself, and on her ears she wears tiny little rosebuds that Mamoru's pretty sure are actual flowers. It matches her dress made of other bits of flowers, leaves, and moss.
"I'm sorry about that, but the forest needed the shower. Plus, Rei's been kinda annoying lately so I'm hoping this inconveniences her," the girl continues with an apologetic smile.
"It's fine," Mamoru finally manages to say, barely remembering his manners. "Sorry, wha – who are you?"
She smiles cheerfully. "I'm Makoto! It's nice to meet you, human."
"Mamoru," he tells her. "So, uh, you started this thunderstorm?" he asks.
He hesitates, debating whether to ask his next question. He doesn't want to offend her since she's clearly supernatural and powerful to boot, but he really needs to get back on track. Eventually he figures it can't really get any worse. "So do you know when it'll end?" he asks, trying not to sound too hopeful in case she does take it the wrong way.
Thankfully she doesn't, a thoughtful expression taking over. "A couple of hours should do it. Why, are you in a hurry to get somewhere?" she asks. "What's a human doing in these woods anyways? None of you ever usually come in here."
"I'm looking for someone," he replies. "My kingdom has been plagued by sickness we cannot cure, and I've heard that a blessing by the Moon Goddess could save them."
Makoto's eyes have widened in surprise as he speaks. "A Moon Goddess?" she repeats ponderously. "I don't know anything about a Moon Goddess living in these woods, but if anyone would know it's Rei. Or Ami, but Rei's easier to find."
"You would help me?" Mamoru blurts, surprised.
She seems just as surprised by the question. "Sure! Your people are sick, and if I can help then I will." A moment later her body seems to fall from the tree, pale green legs revealing themselves as she stands beside Mamoru. "I can't stop the rain just yet because the forest really does need it, but I know how we can move around without getting too wet," she tells him.
"Thank you," he blurts, almost amazed at how quickly his luck has turned around.
She smiles again. "It's no problem! C'mon, let's go!"
Mamoru gets her to wait for a minute while he changes into drier clothes, but soon they're setting off underneath the trees while staying miraculously dry in the downpour. It takes Mamoru a while to realize the tree branches above them are bending and folding to cover their heads and again he's amazed by Makoto's casual use of power. It almost makes him a bit apprehensive to meet this Rei person.
Makoto keeps up a steady chatter as they walk and thankfully Mamoru doesn't need to reply much. He really doesn't have much input on using rainwater over stream water in baking…things anyways. Makoto doesn't seem to mind either, so Mamoru's mind drifts as they walk.
He tries to focus on where they're heading to distract himself from the state of his kingdom. His Knights probably aren't out of their mind with worry just yet, though Jadeite might be on the verge. The thought amuses him, and he almost doesn't notice that Makoto's gone silent. He glances over to find her watching him with a small smile on her face. "What?" he asks.
"Nothing," she replies with a smile. "We're here, by the way. At least, this was the last place I saw Rei." She glances around the clearing they're standing on the edge of. "I think?" Mamoru shoots the dryad an exasperated look and she has the decency to look sheepish. "Sorry, she's a hard fox to find. But I know another place we can check."
A bush to the right of them starts to rustle and they both spin towards the noise, Mamoru automatically reaching for the sword buckled at his hip. Makoto doesn't seem too concerned, though, and it relaxes his nerves somewhat. As they watch, a blonde head pokes its way through, its body following swiftly behind as the girl heads straight for Makoto with fury written across her face.
"Makoto! Why is it raining? I was napping on my favorite rock, as I always do on days like this which I know you know, so imagine my surprise when it started raining. I'm soaked! My hair is frizzing!" She pulls at her long blonde hair to show the dryad exactly what she means, revealing a twitching tail the same color as her hair.
"Minako…" the dryad trails off with a nervous chuckle. "Look, I found a human! He's looking for the Moon Goddess."
All of a sudden Mamoru finds himself at the attention of two supernatural creatures. The newcomer – Minako – turns to give him a speculative look, her frizzed hair all but forgotten with his presence. "Hello," he says, for lack of anything better to say.
She flashes him a smile that makes him feel vaguely like prey. "Hello," she purrs back, her cat ears turned forward with her interest, "I'm Minako. You're looking for a goddess, you say? Well—"
Makoto swats the girl on the back of her head, nearly dislodging the red bow tied there. "Idiot, don't even think about it. Just because you fancy yourself the goddess of love doesn't mean you are."
Minako shoots the dryad a wounded look, her ears pinned flat back against her head now. "You're just as mean as Artemis," she grumbles.
"Look, have you seen Rei around?" Makoto asks, crossing her arms. "It's an emergency."
"No, I don't think so," Minako replies, looking interested. "But she's probably back at her shrine, given the weather. Why is it an emergency? Is it a curse? Do you have to find love in three days or you die? Oh, that's so romantic," Minako gushes.
Makoto rolls her eyes and starts walking off. Not wanting to be left behind to get wet, Mamoru quickly follows, Minako trailing him, to his dismay. When the other girl doesn't say anything, he explains his situation again to the werecat. "That's still romantic," she insists. "You'll take her back to your kingdom, and while she works hard to heal your people she'll be a hero you'll fall head over heels for each other and she'll never want to leave," she sighs dreamily.
"I highly doubt that," Mamoru sighs exasperatedly. "I just want to help my people. I'm not looking to fall in love."
"But that won't stop it from happening," Minako confidently proclaims. Makoto just shakes her head and Mamoru tries not to discourage Minako any further. If anything, it only spurs her on to come up with more incredulous scenarios for him and this Moon Goddess to fall in love together.
By the time night starts to fall Mamoru gets nervous about where they're heading. The rain has stopped, thankfully, but soon it'll be too dark to see, let alone hunt and he still hasn't eaten this afternoon. "How much further to this shrine?" he asks the two.
"Not much farther, I think," Makoto replies absently. She's got an intense look of concentration directed towards the ground that Mamoru can't even begin to explain.
"We should be seeing the lights at the steps soon. Don't worry, she'll let us stay the night," Minako adds.
"Yeah you might get thrown out after this whole rain fiasco," Minako snipes.
Makoto looks up to shoot her a glare. "The forest needed the rain!" she insists for what must be the 50th time that afternoon.
Minako looks like she wants to challenge that statement—again—when an exasperated voice chimes up. "Guys, this is a shrine. It's supposed to be peaceful." From the shadows steps a beautiful girl clad in the robes of a shrine maiden, with four stunningly white tails trailing behind her. A pair of white ears bigger than Minako's sticks out from raven black hair, and sharp purple eyes glance at each of them in turn, lingering on Mamoru in particular.
"Hey, Rei!" Makoto greets cheerily. "Looking dry, I see. Any chance you could let us spend the night? This human needs your help."
The fox spirit gives the dryad an exasperated look before sighing heavily and turning to head up stone steps Mamoru hadn't noticed before. Makoto seems to take that as acceptance because she follows the girl up, Minako right behind. Mamoru quickly ties his horse up to one of the trees down below, leaving some feed out before he hurries up after them.
Small lights start flaring to life beside the steps as night rapidly falls now, along with the temperature. But it's not long before Mamoru spots the shrine, a modest looking thing sitting comfortably in a small ridge of the mountain. The path continues further upwards, though unlit, and Mamoru gets an ominous feeling from the darkness. He doesn't linger long, quickly following the three girls inside.
Rei leads them to a small sitting room towards the back of the house, where a low table and several cushions are set out. The three guests take their seats while Rei bustles around the rooms, returning soon after with some fruits and dried jerky, and tea. Mamoru takes the food with a grateful thanks, which Rei seems to appreciate if her small smile is anything. She takes a seat across the table from him. "So, what brings a human all the way out here? What kind of help do you require of me?"
"He's looking for the Moon Goddess," Makoto informs her.
Rei shoots him a curious look. "Why?"
"My people are sick," he answers before either of the girls can speak. "I heard her blessing could heal them."
The fox's gaze turns considering and Mamoru gets the feeling she's doing more than just looking at him. He's tense for several moments under her scrutiny before she finally nods, and he lets out a heavy sigh. He gets the feeling he's just passed some kind of test, for better or worse.
"I know the legend of which you speak, though unfortunately I cannot be of much help," she says, sounding genuinely apologetic. "I have no ties to the deities of the moon. I could try and pray, but I doubt they would hear me."
"Nooo!" Minako bemoans. "There has to be something. We can't keep them apart; it's fate!"
"This isn't a love story, Minako. People are dying," Makoto scolds the werecat.
Rei's brows furrow with concern. "This is a dire situation," she murmurs. "I may not be able to help, but there's someone else who might. "The naiad who lives in the lake east of here, she may be able to help."
"Oh, you mean Ami!" Makoto blurts, brightening. Rei nods. "Yeah, she knows everything," she turns to tell Mamoru. "She'll definitely be able to help us."
"I haven't seen her in a while," Minako muses. "Is she back from visiting that one place, Antela…Atlanta…something like that?"
Rei rolls her eyes. "Yes, I met with her recently. We can head there tomorrow, if you like. I have some rooms here where you can stay. Dangerous things roam these mountains at night," she tells Mamoru with a smirk, her eyes glinting red for a moment.
"Thank you, I'd appreciate that," he tells her. He decides not to mention he'd been just fine the nights previous just in case she decides to let him rough it after all. Something tells him this forest isn't the same one he'd been wandering through earlier anyways.
Mamoru wakes with the sun and isn't too surprised to find his supernatural companions already up and about – though Minako looks like she's about to fall back asleep any minute now. Rei's put out another spread of food, entirely fruit this time, and they seem to be chatting amicably when Mamoru joins them.
"Whenever you're ready we'll depart," Rei tells him once he's finished eating.
"I'm ready right now," he replies. It kept him up for an hour or two last night thinking about this new person they were heading to visit. This naiad was his last hope at finding the Moon Goddess. If she had no way to help him, he would have to start making his way back to the kingdom without any good news.
"Very well then."
He follows the girls back outside, and for a moment his breath catches at the view in front of the shrine. He hadn't been able to see very well in the dark of night, but with the sun just risen he can vividly see the forest below extending far into the distance. From up this high it seems as though the forest never ends. He hadn't thought he'd walked so far in the past few days, but perhaps that was just the magic in the woods. He spared a glance to the girls beside him, almost incredulous, and caught Rei's sharp-toothed grin.
"Let's go; if we make good time we should be there just after noon," she tells him.
After picking up his horse—still alive, thankfully—Rei leads them to the naiad's lake. He walks behind them, semi-listening to their conversation as they catch up with each other. He doesn't understand half of what they talk about anyways, and by now his concerns are too great to distract with idle musings about the forest around him. He's only barely aware of the passing time because he starts to grow hungry again. As they walk he chews on some of the rations he's brought, not willing to stop for a break to eat with so little time left.
Eventually they reach a break in the trees, a massive lake nestled right in the center. It's fed by a high waterfall cutting through the mountain, with a decent sized river breaking away further east. The water shines a brilliant sapphire, brighter than any of the oceans he's ever seen before.
Sitting on the far side of the bank by the mouth of the river is another young girl, whom Makoto immediately calls out to. "Ami!" Her voice easily carries over the water, drawing the naiad's attention. She glances over at them, flashing a brief smile before diving off her spot into the water. Moments later she appears before them.
"Makoto, Minako, Rei, it's good to see you all," she says cheerfully. Then her gaze lands on Mamoru. "Who's this?" The gills on the side of her neck flare slightly as she breathes the air, treading gently in the water several feet off from where they stand.
"Mamoru," he replies. "I'm told you're the one to ask about a Moon Goddess. I need help finding her so she can heal my people."
"A Moon Goddess, hmm," she trails off thoughtfully, leaning onto her back to lie in the water as she thinks. "Oh, you mean Usagi!"
Mamoru blinks in surprise. "I suppose," he ventures. It can't possibly be that easy, he thinks.
Ami smiles in response. "Well, she's the only being of the moon that I know of. Though, I suppose that doesn't mean much; I don't know everything. I didn't get to read as much as I would have liked in the libraries of Atlantis, not if I wanted to be home in time for the seasons to change. Michiru is powerful, but even she can't change the temperature of a whole ocean, and I find the waters that deep too cold to be comfortable once summer's over. But I could ask—"
"Ami," Rei interrupts the naiad's ramblings. "Do you know how to call Usagi?"
The naiad pauses, visibly switching thoughts back to their initial topic of conversation. "Sure, it's not hard. All you have to do is invoke her name and she'll hear." She smiles with amusement. "It's not like she's too busy; it's the moon."
"Well, there you have it," Makoto says brightly, turning to Mamoru.
He glances back to Ami, suddenly nervous. "So I just call her name…and ask her to come here?"
"Yup," she replies. "Maybe tell her why you'd like her to visit, just in case she actually is doing something."
"Okay then." Feeling only a little foolish as the four girls watch him, he turns to look skyward at the moon that is just barely visible in the sky. "Um, Usagi…if you can hear this, my name is Mamoru and I would like to humbly request you grace us with your presence. My kingdom has been plagued by an incurable disease and your blessing is the last hope I have for saving them. Please, I'll do anything…just save my people."
When he finishes speaking none of them move for several moments, waiting with baited breath for some sign of Usagi having heard his plea. Quickly growing doubtful, Mamoru looks down again to his companions. Minako and Makoto are sharing concerned glances, Rei looks a bit doubtful as well, but the only one who doesn't seem concerned at all is Ami. He almost wants to ask if this is normal, but something in him hesitates at breaking the silence that has befallen them.
A bush rustling behind him does that instead. Mamoru almost doesn't want to look, too nervous to bear the disappointment if it's anything other than Usagi. But he has no choice when a soft, hesitant voice calls out, "Mamoru?" Ami's encouraging smile gives him the confidence to turn and his breath catches for the second time when he sees the ethereal beauty of the girl standing before him.
Her pale skin practically glows in the afternoon sun, the blue of her eyes almost as brilliant as the lake behind him. Her long golden hair flows behind her in twin tails, blowing gently in the soft breeze around them. Even without the crescent moon in her forehead marking her as an otherworldly being, with one glance anyone could tell that she's too beautiful to truly be of their world.
"Yes," Mamoru squeaks, flushing a brilliant red when his voice comes out almost two octaves higher than it should be. There's a brief snicker that's quickly snuffed out, but Mamoru can't be bothered to turn and glare at Minako when Usagi smiles brilliantly at him.
"You called for me," she says.
"I can heal your people."
"Yes, please," he manages, proud of himself for at least remembering his manners, finally.
Usagi giggles, and it's the cutest thing Mamoru's ever heard. "I'd be happy to help." Her attention finally turns to the girls standing behind him. "Ami, thank you for helping him out. And the rest of you. It's nice to meet you!"
"Pleasefallinlovetorgh—" Both Makoto and Rei slap a hand over Minako's mouth to halt the mash of words. Mamoru sighs, beyond exasperated with the werecat, while Usagi just gives the girl a curious glance.
Mamoru clears his throat to draw her attention. "We can head back to my kingdom," he suggests.
Usagi nods enthusiastically. "Yes, I'd love to!" She turns to wave back at Ami and the girls. "When I return we should hang out!" The girls respond in turn, but when Mamoru turns to lead Usagi out of the forest none of them follow. Almost immediately he grows nervous walking beside the otherworldly moon spirit, but that feeling dissipates quickly once she prompts him to talk about his kingdom and he loses himself in describing his home. For the first time this week thinking about his home doesn't come with the worry and dread it had before, and he knows that's all due to the spirit walking beside him.
AU-August 2020 prompts - Day 1 - Fantasy AU