I walked through the night and returned early in the morning. Finally, I was home.
The vast golden fields of wheat, the warm eastern wind creating waves on its surface, large vertical vegetable farms built onto the sheer cliff face of a nearby hill, I was finally home.
My sisters halted their daily jobs and cheered me on as I walked along the paved stone roads of the village. My sisters retreated into their homes, pulling out baskets of flower petals they save for whenever one of us becomes an adult, and they threw them in the air so all of us could bask in the bright, vibrant colors. From out in the fields, hundreds of sisters used their wings to fly back to the village, while more glided along the winds. They landed on the rooftops so they could clap as I made my way to the village center.
“Wow! That was fast!”
“Was that a new village record?”
“I think it is! At least as far as I remember!”
“She must be some kind of genius!”
With the brightest smile on my face, I gave all my sisters a sweeping bow before I disappeared into the elder’s house.
The muted cheers died down after a while, but I waited by the door and listened for a bit longer. At last, I completed the final leg of my journey. I was an adult now, everything after this was just a formality.
The elder’s house was a maze of wooden walls and thatch insulation. It doubled as a museum of Vejtarta, with all kinds of old artifacts lining the walls. There were large statues, beautiful paintings, decorative and practical weapons hanging along the walls, small idols stacked on hand-crafted wood cabinets, and many large books from scholars around the Slavani Client State, all barely illuminated by a series of dim torches around the various rooms and cubbies.
I held on tight to the Daft-Rabbit, just in case his evil instincts sent him into a rage and he tried to destroy our history.
At the center of the building was a large circular room, with a bonfire in the center surrounded by a circle of large stones. Above the fire was a hole that passed through the second floor, third floor, and the roof, letting the smoke pass into the morning sky.
The elder was a disheveled old Slavani with matted fur and a delicate set of robes. She looked decrepit, it wouldn’t be much longer until she’d travel down into the spawning pits for a bath, rejuvenating her body back to its youthful appearance.
I know not everyone can be as memorable as me, Master, but she met you about 300 years ago and you liked her leadership skills. After your praise, she returned home and became the mayor of our village. Her horns are a little more curled than mine, and I think her wings are a tad bigger.
“Hm?” She looked up from a tattered old book, her eyes worn and tired. “Ahh, Ashley Vera Vestiture.” Her voiced was dignified and refined, with an air of confidence I hope to have if I ever decide to live as long as her. “How do you do?”
“Just fine, Elder Worker Tamira Voss Kepitarta, First Daughter of Igrid Von Ishetried and Ligrima Heyuim Buryon, born of the Vejtarta Spawn Pits on Crown World Y’varda. I have returned from my trial!”
The Daft-Rabbit got uppity, “hey, she only called you by your first three names, why are-“
I bumped the rude little creature with my hip. “She’s the elder, idiot. Don’t be rude.” I turned back to Elder Tamira. “I completed my trial! I’m an adult now!”
“Oh-ho!” Her old eyes sprung to life as she tossed the book aside and adjusted her seat. “You did already? That’s incredible! Tell me! Tell me how you did it! Come, sit, sit!”
I dropped him at my side.
“Ow,” he said in our brains.
I sat down and impressed upon her the grand tale of how I vanquished the Daft-Rabbit and removed just a little bit of evil from the galaxy. The ups, the downs, the twists and turns, and my eventual triumph with the help of animals. Elder Tamira nodded along with my words, taking in the story and all the information I provided.
“Hmm…” She scratched her furry chin. “Eating all your food the first night? Smart move. I never would have thought something like that…” she leaned forward and gave me a wide smile. “You see, Ashley, there isn’t one single way to complete this trial.”
“No. Most eventually capture one of their kind and return in triumph, yes. But every year there’s a large number who capture a different animal and only think they won, while others capture the Daft-Rabbit but fall victim to its promise of a wish. It’s not common, but some end up befriending the rabbit and return home, unwilling to hunt them further.”
I recoiled in shock and fear, “some ‘befriend’ these creatures?”
“B-but they’re evil!”
“Yes. That’s why ‘those sisters’ are forbidden from leaving the village, who knows how they could be lied to and misled out there? You see, Ashley, it’s something of a personality test, it aids me in finding a job to best suit you in adulthood. Had your net trap succeeded, I’d recommend for you a job as a carpenter. If your hole worked, you’d be a miner. If you got so hungry and ate the Daft-Rabbit there and then, you’d be best suited to be a cook. Many, many possibilities, but you befriended animals to help you in your quest, not many can accomplish such a feat!”
I felt my heart swell with pride. ‘Not many’, Master. ‘Not many’!
“S-so what kind of job should I do?”
She slowly stood up and her joints creaked. After shaking out her legs, she walked over to a map of the local area. In the center was Vejtarta, to the east was the forest, in other directions were places not relevant to my story, and to the northwest was a vast, grassy plain. “I’ll send you to the Verta plains, to work as a ranch hand. You’ll work with animals, help them grow and eat and protect them from predators.” She turned back to me. “Depending on how good you are, you’ll be given more and more responsibility, entrusted to more and more animals, and who knows? Maybe you’ll even become the Grand-Beastmaster of Y’varda, training the warbeasts that Master might one day ride into battle when she returns to us!”
My eyes went wide and I leapt over to her. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it right now! When do I leave? Who do I talk to?”
Elder Tamira put a hand atop my head. “Calm, calm. It’ll all happen in time, first we must celebrate your victory! That three-day time limit is up, you must be hungry.”
I nodded, then we both looked down at the Daft-Rabbit. I’ve never eaten one before, Master, but I’ve heard your comments on how delicious, savory and juicy their meat is. My mouth began to water and my stomach cried in pain.
The Daft-Rabbit, so evil to its core, seemed… almost relieved that we were going to eat it. I understand why. Being in the presence of us Slavani must be torture for a thing like him. It could not accept that you’ve made such perfect, incorruptible creatures. It could not stand to live in a world where such goodness exists…
He tasted really good! After we cooked him up I had his juicy leg meat on a sandwich, using a loaf of spicy Vejtarta bread and vegetables made from our very own farms.
Streamers, cake, partying, music, I wish you were here, Master, it was fun!
Well, the sun shined bright in the sky, and the wind died down to the point that nothing was sent flying. I guess you were there in spirit! But still, I bet you would have been great at the ring toss, or the trench game.
As for my current job, it feels good being an adult. All the animals are nice to me and I even stopped a pack of hungry predators all by myself in the middle of the night. I’ll be working hard towards breeding the perfect warbeast for you, Master. I know you’ll love it!
-With love: Worker Ashley Vera Vestiture, Second Daughter of Worker Sella Fimr Coravet and Worker Bell Gierma Swordmaster, Born of the Vejtarta Spawn Pits on Crown World Y’varda.