Valerie does not remember how she landed herself in this place, memory hazy from what must have been a near-death experience, nor why she was brought in this place where the fresh and clear water of a deeply hidden spring wets her feet and washes over her.
What she does know, however, is that the urge to regain more charted territories she’d usually feel is weakening by the minute.
The place itself is gorgeous and unlike anything she has seen, despite how much she has travelled. The vegetation here is untamed compared to the artificial parks and controlled forests she has been to, green like emeralds, yet letting the sun come in and shine on the water of the pond she’s still sitting in. To her wonder, said water doesn’t make her cold, as it is just warm enough to appreciate with the clothing she has been given rather than her “civilian” attire.
Well, this is what she’s been told, at least. She has not seen these clothes since waking up in this pond, her head kept out of the water on the lap of a woman almost too ethereal to be real (she is, though, and that’s the most perplexing), blonde hair cascading on her skin exposed by the thin, drenched fabric of her new attire.
Even now, this woman is still sitting in front of her, long strands of gold swimming in the crystal-clear water. As soon as Valerie woke up, she introduced herself to her as Cynthia, a freshwater nymph, blessed by the goddess Artemis. Everything about her appearance, from her slender figure to the smoothness of her skin, made Val think she was dreaming, perhaps even dying and hallucinating the best of the world right before drawing her last breath – but no, Cynthia convinced her she was alive, and to prove it, point out to her that she was still breathing.
Valerie is, indeed, still breathing, even if the spectacle she found herself in is nothing but breathtaking.
Cynthia is the one who told her how she ended here – well, from her point of view, at least. The nymph found her injured, delirious from her infected wounds and aimlessly roaming around the spring she protects. Confused but curious, she decided to help the poor stranger and nurse her back to health with the healing powers of the sacred water of the pond. According to her, said water chooses who it will heal and who it will not affect otherwise – if the spring chose her, then, to Cynthia’s eyes, she was worth saving.
The water is indeed miraculous, if this story is true: Valerie cannot even remember where she was injured. Her skin, as far as she knows, lacks most of the blemishes this would have brought upon it: there is no scar she does not remember, no cuts, no bruises. If she was feverish to the point of delirium before Cynthia found her, then the water washed the fever away and purified her systems, because she has never felt this good before, filled with an energy and a serenity she forgot she could even feel in the first place.
Cynthia has answered every question she has had so far about the pond, the spring and the world around them. Valerie had no idea how a nymph isolated from the rest of civilization knows how to speak her language in such a fluent manner, but Cynthia answered that before she could even put it into words: the gods have blessed nymphs like her with the universal language, the one whom everyone understands. Valerie, for all the languages and dialects she has learnt through her various travels and experiences, is a little envious not to know it; but there is nothing she can do about it as long as she is a mere mortal and, to be fair, it is convenient that she can communicate with such a creature.
This is not the only information Cynthia has given her so far. She told her everything she knows about the spring’s history, about Artemis and her blessing upon the pond, of the different people she has seen throughout the centuries. As it turns out, Cynthia can estimate for how long she has been alive: around five hundred years, according to the different artifacts she has seen people carry throughout the area and the dates on calendars, diaries and identity papers.
Because she has been so curious and Cynthia has been generous enough to comply, Valerie has been able to visit the area around the pond, including the spring itself, a waterfall that hides away a long-lost temple to Artemis, and the ever-growing shrine where she stores and takes care of the lost artefacts people have lost over the years. Hidden away in a little vault that directly leads into the forgotten temple, it looks like a little museum where Cynthia’s eyes sparkle whenever she shows her favourite pieces to her: a diary she never read past the introduction page, a canned box of food she does not think of ever opening, and now, the first-aid kit Valerie was carrying and which she can remember. Again, Cynthia has not really looked into it, merely browsed through its contents to know what it was about.
Valerie explained her what her world looked like, which then made her realize just how much she is torn between going back to her life of danger and ambition, and the life Cynthia and her clear water are proposing to her. The nymph did mention how lonely she is getting, since barely anybody visits the mountain: solitude has never been her forte, she said, as she longingly gazed at her, seeking a friend in times where so much of the world has been charted explorers like her are a thing of the past.
Yes, Valerie loves the bustling life and her job, but the stress of it was getting to her by the end of it. In the meantime, Cynthia is like a myth come to life giving her the perfect way out: if she stays here, she will just be assumed dead and she won’t have to run away from the people who want her dead or alive. She doesn’t even know if Markus and Elena are searching for her and, if so, if they will ever find her when she’s more or less vanished from the known world, hidden in the thick and verdant foliage.
On second thought, maybe it is not the pond and the waters she wants: it’s to stay with Cynthia. She wants to know her more and explore her world, have discussions with the undying, learn from her and teach her what she knows. But the thing is, she knows Cynthia will never leave this place, because of Artemis’s benediction over the spring and her, of her attachment and duty owed to this place. She wonders if she could not combine the best of both worlds, of staying here but going on missions, and…
Or she could let the world come to her. She did tell Elena before leaving for this island where she was going and gave her the encrypted instructions as usual of what to do would she need to retrieve her or check if she was dead. If she can compromise with Cynthia, she could even be waiting Elena where she said she’d be meeting her in times of need – not too far from the spring, as far as she can tell – and at least show her around.
She could let the world come to Cynthia and her and leave the lifestyle that, now that she has all the time in the world to think about, has lead to her having to abandon her dreams, get on the run and convince herself she did always want to be an eternally walking merchant of powers that drain into her energy. Cynthia is who brought her back to life, in a way, and she owes it to her to at least stay by her side as long as she wants her to – it’s only fair and, to be honest, Valerie does want it.
She finally knows her choice and can finally gives an answer to the first question Cynthia asks her back, eyes looking into hers, skins touching, blonde hair flowing on her thighs.
-Will you stay, Valerie?
As she leaves the dirtied skin of her previous life behind, she lets herself get embraced by the nymph, silently confessing the love she has been growing for who knows how long and lets the waters of the timeless spring and Artemis be the witnesses and judges of the life she’s choosing for herself.