“Sorry granny, I can’t stay any longer,” I said, swallowing a mouthful of porridge.
“Yes, she has to go,” said Fabar. “Her friends must be worried sick.” Then she added under her breath, “If she has any, that is.”
The corners of my eyes twitched as I shot the tiny bitch a glare. She blinked innocently and continued eating her porridge.
“Kids these days, they never stop for a second,” grumbled Granny Nipa, as she carefully put a spoonful of porridge in her mouth. “But fine, fine. Have to let the birds out of the nest at some point. Just remember to come back sometimes. I hope you’ll come say hi to your granny a little more frequently than a certain someone.” She raised her eyebrows at Fabar.
“N-no,” stammered Fabar. “You don’t understand. I had to… and then… and…” She lowered her head. “I’m sorry Granny.”
Granny Nipa nodded. She’d been happy to see Fabar, but she wasn’t going to let her long absence go unpunished.
“Right,” I said, as I dropped the dirty dishes into the kitchen sink, washed them, and came back to the table. “Thanks for everything, Granny.” I hugged her, straightened my traveler’s robe, and made for the doorway.
“Wait a second dearie,” said Granny Nipa. “You’ll get lost in the swamp. Let Fabar take you to the main road, she knows this place like the back of her eyelids.”
“No!” said Fabar and I, at the same time. Then we exchanged glances before turning back to Granny Nipa.
“I’ll be fine by myself, I know how to get to the village,” I said.
“Yeah, she’ll be fine. Street urchins are good at surviving in scummy places,” said Fabar.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” I said through gritted teeth. “Besides, this little ingrate needs to spend more time with you.”
It was Fabar’s turn to get mad, as she shot me a menacing glare.
“Oh hush,” said Granny, cutting short our bantering. “If you’re both going to complain so much, I’ll have to take you there myself.”
“No!” said Fabar and I, at the same time, again. We exchanged glances again, and understood exactly what we had to do.
“You know what, I could use some exercise, after all,” said Fabar.
“I haven’t really had the chance to bond with this twerp, either,” I said.
“Yes, this monkey could use a friend,” chimed Fabar.
“This ass could use a dip to cool her head,” I stated with a smile.
“Enough,” interrupted Granny. She sighed. “My old bones can’t take any more of this. It’s getting cold so I’m going to grab my jacket. If you’re still here when I get back, then we’re all going for a stroll together.”
She walked into her bedroom. Fabar and I looked at each other, and left without a word.
Take care, granny…
“You’re taking me to the village, right?” I asked, suspicious of the blue haired bitch leading me through the muck. The soppy ground squelched beneath my feet, and I swatted away the insects hovering all around me. Thankfully, my Defense was too high for them to bite me.
They were still annoying as fuck, though.
“Of course I am, monkey. The road’s not far enough away. I want to make sure your stench can’t reach me anymore,” she said, walking over the grimy waters without her feet sinking in at all. In fact, even the fucking insects didn’t go after her. That made me hate her even more.
“Besides,” she continued. “You know I can’t mess with you like that.” There was a venomous tinge to her words.
“Sure,” I said, unconvinced. I’d already had one goddess do something she wasn’t supposed to be able to do. I wasn’t about to let my guard down just because she said Fate wouldn’t let her lead me astray.
“Oh, we’re here,” she said, breaking my thoughts.
“I don’t see a village,” I said, looking around.
A large clearing lay before us, with sunken, rotting logs half-submerged into the muddy ground and trees jutting out of the underbrush. A slightly muddy river flowed slowly over the rocks on its bed, forming rapids that gurgled like the fountains in the park back on Earth.
“The village is on the other side,” she said, quietly.
“This is where she found us?” I asked.
The water goddess frowned. “This is where she found me. You probably washed up here after running away from the Demon Lord.”
“What?” I said, my eyes narrowed.
“It’s all over the cobwebs, monkey,” she remarked, snidely. “The Demon Lord faked his death so he could befriend the Hero. He took her on a merry adventure across the world, trying to fatten her up before devouring her.”
I bit my lips. “You little –”
“That’s not even the best part,” she interrupted, turning around, and stepping over the rapids. “Rumor has it, she fell in love with him.” She started laughing. “Isn’t that crazy? The Hero fell for the Demon Lord who was going to kill her to level up. It’s so sad, it’s funny!”
I felt the heat rising to my head, as her laughter echoed inside my skull. I raised my hand and fired multiple fireballs at the Water Goddess. She raised a hand in reply, and the murky river rose to douse my fireballs in midair.
“Fuck this, why are all the Goddesses so messed up? Can’t one of them be sane?” I complained to myself.
Surprisingly, she stopped laughing and stared at me seriously. “Centuries of hopelessness would drive anyone crazy. But you know, it’s the futility of it all that really gets you.”
My hairs stood on end as she approached me, the river-waters swirling around us, twisting, and distorting to make frightening shapes, and grotesque faces.
“Why don’t you try watching everyone you care about, die,” she whispered. “Over…” More faces took shape in the waters.
“And over…” The faces aged, little boys and girls becoming adults.
“And over….” Then hunchbacked crones.
“And over.” Then corpses and skeletons.
The faces vanished, the chaos of the swirling waters obscuring everything around me. My heart had long since jumped into my throat, so all I could do was grunt in surprise.
“Some of us found a purpose, a goal or an objective, to dull the pain. Breze with her machines, Terra with her mines, and me with my company. All attempts to give our lives meaning,” she continued, her voice thundering louder than the rapids.
The water formed images of a woman in her tower, tinkering with something too small to make out. A woman on a throne, inspecting a shiny gemstone. A girl sitting on a pile of gold that kept growing larger and larger.
“And the others…” her voice trailed off as the images collapsed and reformed.
A girl having a tea party with an empty table.
A girl sitting on a ledge, dangling her feet over a field of corpses.
And a woman wandering around the empty countryside, seemingly forever.
The images shattered, sunshine broke through and the raging rapids that had surrounded me, went back to cascading over the rocks on the riverbed.
“So yes,” she said, acting like nothing had happened at all. “We’re a little insane. But don’t worry, this world will drive you crazy soon enough. I guarantee it.”
I remained speechless. The Water Goddess turned and walked past me.
“The village is on the other side of the river. You had better get going. My sources tell me that something very big is about to happen, and there’s no way you’re not going to be smackdab in the middle of it,” she said. “After all, your boyfriend’s chin-deep in it already.”
As I saw her walking away, something clicked in my head.
“Wait!” I shouted. “Just one last question.”
“What is it?” she asked, annoyed enough to turn her face back to me.
“Granny Nipa,” I said.
“What does she mean to you?” I asked. “If you’re so tired of watching humans die, why’d you let yourself care so much about an old lady in the swamps.”
Her eyes drooped down. “It’s a long story.”
“I have time.”
She didn’t speak, so we stood in silence for a long time.
Eventually she raised a hand and tiny tendril of water flowed out of the river and made an image in the air. Then, the image started to move, telling a story with wobbly figures and transparent scenery, accentuated by the occasional pebble or dirt that got mixed in.
A little girl ordered around a bunch of people hauling crates and merchandise into a ship. The ship sailed across what looked like a large lake or inland sea. The little girl counted her gold while shaking hands with a suspicious looking man wearing a bandanna. The ship reached a makeshift port, where a gang of big, burly adults unloaded the cargo and equipped themselves with frightening weapons. Then they went out of their ramshackle settlement, and ran roughshod over the surrounding villages. The water roiled as the terror and carnage became so terrible that I could almost hear the screams that must have accompanied it. Just before the scene faded, a couple of the bandits chased down a woman tightly holding a bundle of cloth to her chest. The woman dashed through the countryside, barely managing to reach a river before the bandits closed in on her and the images collapsed.
They reformed to show the little girl from before, who happened to pass by that area at what was obviously a different time of the year. She stopped and looked to the side, as if she’d heard something. She walked into a clearing just as a sword slid into the stomach of another little girl.
This other girl looked almost exactly like her, with the same kind of hair and body. The only difference was that one was frowning while the other was skewered on a steel broadsword.
On the other end of the sword was a woman wearing a torn bandanna. Another bandit stood to the side, clutching a small bag of coins. The bandits notice the newcomer, and the woman slides her sword out of the dying girl’s stomach. The dying girl chokes and spasms, before going still.
The bandits approach the living girl, but before they can get close, they’re brushed away by a torrent of water. They hover in midair, their bodies submerged in water, and eyes wide open, flickering about frantically. They swing their limbs and flail futilely, until eventually opening their mouths and gulping mouthfuls of water.
Their corpses fell on the ground, dripping wet. The water receded into the ground, but not before floating the woman’s sword towards the little girl. She picked it up, noting the words emblazoned on its hilt that were drawn in bold letters, and a fancy script.
The little girl threw the sword away, and was about to leave when she stopped, sighed, and carried the corpse of her lookalike over a stream of water. She reached a tiny river, and was about to cast away the body when she tripped and fell into the river.
She stopped on the water’s surface, but didn’t get out. She sighed and closed her eyes, letting the water sweep her away. Eventually, she reached some gentle rapids, and decided to get out before the waterfall up ahead.
But then she glanced to the side, as if she’d seen someone.
“And that’s all you get to see,” said Fabar, as the image fell apart.
“Wait, I don’t understand,” I said. “You got your doppelganger killed so you took her place with Granny Nipa?”
“No,” she said, angrily. “Weren’t you paying attention? Well whatever, I don’t have time for this. Granny’s waiting.”
“She’d been waiting for a long time. If you lived forever and had nothing better to do, why didn’t you just stay with her?” I asked, quickly.
“Shut up! You understand nothing!” she shouted.
“You went off to work on your business again, didn’t you? LeAgua company, I’ve heard of them. They control nearly all the trade in the world. Even weapons. Hell, you sell them to both sides whenever a war breaks out between the Alliance and the Union.”
“So what, there’re no morals in business,” she replied, tersely. “I don’t care how people use my products. That’s their fault, not mine.”
“You looked like you cared, though. When your sword was used to kill that little girl.”
“No, no I didn’t. I don’t care about human lives, anyways. They die before I’m done watering my plants!”
“You don’t care about humans?” I said, mockingly. “You seem to care about granny Nipa though, don’t you? You care enough to take her name and spend time with her. Despite everything that’s happening in the world right now, you came back to see her, didn’t you? Stop lying to yourself. You do care.”
“That isn’t –”
“And you’ll care when she dies,” I interrupted. “You will and you know it.”
She closed her mouth and met my eyes. We held each other’s gaze for a while before she eventually looked away.
“Yes,” she said, defeated. “I will.”
Empty silence reigned for a while, before I wordlessly made my way across the rapids. A little water magic ensured I wasn’t washed away, but I still made splashes as I crossed to the other side. I turned to look at the tiny water goddess and felt – for the first time – that her demeanor matched her feeble frame.
And then I saw the smoke rising above the trees.
“Shit!” I exclaimed.
The Goddess was knocked out of her daze and she quickly turned to the direction I was looking at. Her eyes went wide. Water gushed out of the ground and propelled her into the air as she sped towards the smoke.
I ran after her, a dreadful sense of foreboding creeping up my spine.
My worst fears were confirmed when I reached the smoldering remains of Granny’s cottage. The Goddess was on her knees, sitting unmoving in front of a half-eaten bowl of porridge. I looked around and my knees nearly buckled because of the frightening destruction. I combed the ruins for traces of Granny Nipa, but found nothing. There was no torn clothing or sword marks to indicate a fight, and no clues about where or how the fire may have started.
“Granny!” wailed the goddess, as she dashed from one smoldering ember to another.
“Granny!” I screamed, as I tripped over a burning table-leg.
We stayed there until dusk, but never found any trace of her. At one point the Goddess was shouting incoherently into a communications prism, no doubt trying to obtain information throw her network, but she slammed it into the ground, soon after.
As the flames died out and the night threw its blanket of darkness over us, we huddled together in front of the bowl of half-eaten porridge. I let the immortal Water Goddess – worshiped by thousands and owner of the largest company on Erath – weep on my shoulder.
I tried to stay strong for her sake, but all I could remember was the kindness Granny had shown me. The sense of family and the unconditional love she’d given me despite not knowing me at all. All I could do, was remember her lullaby.
So I sang it, as best I could.
Little girl, little girl, don’t say a word,
Granny loves you more than, the whole wide world,
Tears started falling down my cheeks too. Fabar stopped sobbing and sang with me in a broken, hoarse voice.
Little girl, little girl, don’t you cry,
Granny knows that one day, you will fly,
Little girl, little girl, fly like a bird,
Go and fly, all over the world,
Spread your wings, far and wide,
Toss your problems, to the side,
And if you get hurt, just you remember,
You can come home, just you remember,
Little girl, little girl, if you ever need a rest,
Just fly on back, to Granny’s nest.