The slow burn of summer gave Alena plenty of time to think.
Time to think about her life, time to think about her magic, which she desperately wished to get better at using, time to think about her position in the herd, the herdmates she healed, and perhaps most importantly of all, time to reflect on what little she could remember of her younger years.
She remembered waking up to several concerned faces, glowing paint, and frantic hoof falls. Herbalists were rushing to her aid, and a couple of guards had helped her to her hooves. They were all clamoring over her, and she was young, her coat barely beginning to show the touches of Gealach's blessing upon her. They were asking if she was alright, asking about her mother, but all she could think of was how none of them looked at all familiar.
Everything she had learned up until that point from her Herbalist mother had been lost-- she had to learn everything from the ground up. She'd focused mainly on learning her herbs and concoctions again, as they were most important to her and the memory of her dead mother... but then... learning the use of water, learning to control it, to feel it, had come much slower.
She found herself recently trying to get back in touch with the element, following the flow of it under her hooves, manipulating tiny streams of it into shape, focusing harder and harder until she could keep small bubbles afloat.
As soon as she'd allowed herself celebration, however, they had fallen to the cave floor and splashed her pretty paint off. She had not been pleased.
It had been then she decided to seek help. Going to her mentors and fellow herbalists, she expressed a desire to learn water magic better, to regain what ground she could have potentially lost. After a few moments of looking among one another and murmuring, they decided that she would be better off asking a Shaman for help. While a few of them were good at magic, none would be suited to teaching their accomplice, and thought she would be better off asking a more wizened individual for help.
With some reluctance and a great deal of reverence, Alena made her way to Gealach's Eyes, and asked around for help. She bowed her head when a small silvery doe approached her, blue paint trailing along her back in waxing and waning circles, and a crescent moon upon her forehead. She looked up at Alena and smiled a fanged smile.
"Hello dear. You're Alena, aren't you? I'm Tiakel." She introduced herself sweetly, "What is it that has brought you here?"
"I wish to learn more the ways of water magic, and appear to have... well... I've encountered a bit of trouble trying to force it on my own. I thought maybe getting help would be more beneficial to me than sitting and staring at a pool and hoping for the best..."She gave a small smile, and Tiakel laughed.
"Oh darling, of course! You've come to the right place. Let us see if I can't teach you a new trick or two." And so the two set off to a small pool to begin their work. Alena was successful in keeping her small bubbles afloat for a while, but her concentration broke after a few minutes and they burst, cascading water back into the pool and splashing at both does hooves. The silvery shaman sighed, smiled, and instructed time and time again for Alena to try, once more, and to keep at it.
Her eyes closed in focus, Alena once more summoned water to her beck and call, swirling orbs of crystal clear liquid orbiting around her slowly. She kept her breathing even and her focus on the water... keep its shape, ensure the surface tension is just enough to contain the volume within... breathe in and out like the waves lapping upon the shore....
A flash of a voice she barely remembered, kind and feminine, repeated the words through her mind, and she lost her focus for the shock of it, cold water unpleasantly drenching her greying coat.
"Oh, you're doing very well dear!" Tiakel chimed, tittering softly.
"...I would be doing well.... were I ten years younger than I am...." Alena looked put off.
"Well, my dear, I remember the day you were brought back to us, head bleeding and no memory of anyone. It's of little surprise that you have trouble with your magic." The smaller doe gave her a sympathetic smile, "Do not worry yourself too much over it. You've made incredible progress in just one day alone. If you continue to set your mind to it, you can learn, and you can become better. I am sure of it!" With a gentle nudge to Alena's wet shoulder, she shooed her off.
"You don't want to overexert yourself. Go, collect your thoughts, and return to me when you think you're ready for another lesson."
Annoyed, but understanding Tiakel's reasoning, Alena nodded and headed off to ponder things for herself.
How good had she been before her accident? Had her mother taught her? Had she been a natural? Had her talent been lost-- and would it be lost forever-- because of an incident above ground?
These thoughts plagued Alena, and she paced back towards her den with some hesitation. Worrying, pausing along the pathways, she lifted her head towards the dark ceiling of the caverns. She frowned deeply, worried.
"Mother... What happened?" She barely breathed.
Disturbed by her own thoughts, and unlikely to get the rest she sorely needed to continue her training anew, she headed off at a run north through the tunnels. Several of her herdmates inquired where she was off to in a hurry, or where the fire was (so that they could extinguish it, jokingly) but she didn't hear them. All she heard was the gentle voice in her mind, instructing, speaking, singing...
That voice belonged to her mother, and she was following it as far as it would take her.
It took her a good while to come to her destination, with a few stops along the way, but eventually Alena came to the still waters of Moonrest. The dead were said to reside here, to gaze upon the sky and watch the glory of the moon in peace for eternity, embraced by Gealach's sacred light and reflective waters.
Alena knew her mother wasn't laid to rest here-- her body had been consumed by the predators above. Pausing to glance up through the pocketed ceiling at the light that filtered through, she closed her eyes. Maybe her mother's spirit was here. Maybe if she stayed long enough, she could figure it out.
Sighing and approaching the waters, she glanced down into them. They were calm and reflective, and she studied herself in the light for a long while.
Greying, a gift from Gealach himself, given to her by her mother, or so she was told. Her eyes were a calm brown, though she looked exhausted at the moment, and she wore seashells and pearls from rare excursions out towards the sea to get more oceanic plants that washed ashore. They were rare, and useful, and so she braved the dangers of a quest to get what she needed every now and again.
She watched the still waters shiver every now and again with the gentle ripples that skimmed over the surface, and thought she saw a figure standing beside her.
Almost completely white, with a soft, rosy mane and tail, and kind brown eyes. She was slightly taller than Alena herself, and more finely built, with a beautiful slim face and structure.
Startled, Alena turned to her side, only to find the soft glow from the mosses that frequented Oakfern caves, and pools of moonlight reflected off the moist surface of the cavern floor.
"Mother...?" Had it been something she ate? She'd paused to graze a couple of times, but she knew the fungus she could eat, and the mushrooms she should not, sacred to the Shamans, and edible by only them. She was an Herbalist for the light's sake. It was her job to know what was edible and what wasn't... but she had been running on empty for a while, and her mind was addled... maybe she slipped up. Maybe.
She wasn't hallucinating from something she ate, was she?
She squinted back down at the waters, but the figure was gone. Confused, Alena made a small hop onto a rocky island and looked out over the pool.
Nothing. She was met with nothing but the quiet dribble of water dripping from above onto the stone and surface of the lake.
"....Mother...?" She tried again, staring into the waters harder.
Again, that tall, slim, beautiful figure appeared.
I definitely must have eaten something. As long as no one found out, she probably wouldn't get in trouble for it. Probably. She hoped. It was honestly an accident if that what was going on.
"Alena... I'm so very proud of you..." She heard the voice in her mind, "Look at how you have grown...."
"Mother... I..." Alena found it very hard to speak, and her voice sounded so much louder than the one in her mind. She quieted and squeezed her eyes shut, a sudden swell of emotion crashing over her.
"Don't cry, my sweet child. I am with you, even if you do not remember me." Her mother's voice continued.
But I can't continue my training if I don't remember you! If I can't remember what I learned as a fawn!
"That is why you must relearn. It is fated. It is Gealach's will that you walk the path you are on. Stride proudly along it with your head held high, my darling child. Everything will resolve itself.
Alena focused as a flurry of memories came back to her, falling like silt to the bottom of a stirred up pond.
She remembered trotting along at her mother's side. She remember learning about herbs, learning how to form bubbles of water, learning to make ripples, playing in small pools, and venturing out of the caves for the first time to go with her...
Struck blind with grief and a well of emotions, Alena reared up, and the water responded to her, briefly rising up in a swirl around her before it fell as she returned to the ground, splattering her and the otherwise still surface of the lake.
Alena... Listen to me... You will be alright. You are capable of much more than what you can do now, if you just focus. Clear your mind of what once was and focus on what can be. Her mother's voice was still with her, but she was suddenly sobered by the unintentional shower she received.
Her reflection, however, was gone. Alena could still see her in her minds eye, perhaps for the first time in her recent memory... slender, a soft, light grey with a rosy mane and tail, and the most breathtaking creature she'd ever seen...
Eggbreaker... Her mother's voice echoed in her mind.
"Fawntaker..." Alena followed, her voice quaking in reverence, "We will never forget..." Her mother's voice joined her for the last, sacred words, and Alena felt a lack as she could have sworn the doe's presence left her.
Solemnly, Alena left the small island and began, slowly, back towards her den to call it a very, very long night. Her entire body felt heavy, but at least her head was clearer than it had been. She paused to graze on some lichen she knew were safe and non-hallucinogenic before ambling back towards her place of rest. It was well into morning before she returned home. The glowing strands of moss that hung from the ceiling of her personal den were a welcome comfort to her, and she collapsed onto her soft bed of moss that she'd collected from various sources. It grew well here, and she tended to it to keep it plush and comfortable. She glanced around at the various nooks and crannies that held salves and supplies, of the carefully tended wall of white that she used to paint herself, and finally, up to the glowing ceiling that resembled the starry night sky.
Mother.... was her last conscious thought before exhaustion took her, and she passed into a deep sleep.
In her dreams, she was greeted by the breathtaking near-white figure, and frolicked with her through moonlit caves, as she had when she was young.
It was horribly humid in the caves, signalling the height of summer. Even though it was technically cooler than the sweltering surface temperatures in the jungles and swamps, the stagnant air beneath them was stifling.
Alena absolutely hated it. It made the delicate swirls she painted her coat with run, and made her wilt. Her mane and tail hung limply, lacking their usual volume, her coat was damp, and it was like trying to breathe underwater. Any higher humidity, and it might as well be raining in the cave system.
On the upside, the glowing mosses loved this weather, and their luminescent blooms covered the walls where they grew in abundance. They lit some areas of the interior of Oakfern brightly enough for Alena to distinguish coat colors in her passing herdmates at a distance.
It was a down day for Alena, the moon was waning, and activity was low. She hadn't needed to heal anyone recently, her stores of salves and plants were well off, and she had rather a lot of time to herself as of the past week or so.
Humming quietly, she veered off the main path, following a trail of brilliantly blue lichen that zigzagged along the cave walls. She watched the intricate patterns they formed on the stone surface as she walked along. Many of the brightest patches grew where the water flowed down the strongest. Even now, she could make out little shimmering trails of water trailing along the edges of the brightest and biggest patches of moss.
The glow became brighter as she continued along the path she'd ventured down, and a coolness overcame her.
There was airflow here. The soft rush of water answered her question. To her left, a rather swift stream rushed along the path, bubbling and hissing a white noise over the cavern. Bright moss encompassed the entirety of the small widening in the cavern path, and she paused briefly to observe it, and to enjoy the current that the river took with it. It was a pleasant respite from the mugginess of summer. Had she not just re-done her paint for the second time that day, too, she might even consider going for a swim....
...Somewhere else. That current looked a little fast for Alena to want to contend with. She watched the stream for a moment and closed her eyes, feeling the current beneath her hooves. It felt pleasant... cool to the magical senses, and helped abate some of the wilting heat she'd felt before.
Picking her hooves up, she trotted along the stream, focusing on the flow of it. Where it leaped up, she jumped along with it, and eventually found herself racing through brightly lit tunnels of all sorts of colors.
It was a wonderfully liberating feeling, and she allowed herself the briefest of smiles.
When at last the river vanished beneath her field of vision, plummeting over a waterfall and into an underground pool, she paused, suddenly unable to see. The lichen had petered off, and their bright glow was not as visible now. She had to squint to make out the far end of the pool, and couldn't tell if there was a tunnel connecting it on the other side or not. She could barely see if there was a way down from where she stood. Huffing softly to herself, she decided better of potentially breaking her neck to further investigate. Somewhat put out, she continued back the way she came, finding the path a little harder to follow upstream than it was to use the flow of the river as her guide.
But perhaps that was also because she was walking. She paused to dip her nose into a slower part of the stream, where the current pooled into a small divet in the stone, and took a deep drink of the cool water.
That helped some, at least. She didn't feel as heavy or as stifled as she made her way back to the main tunnels.