The cold light of the moon filtered through the leaves lighting a lonely rock in the middle of the clearing, and it was on this rock that my patron lay. Pointed ears, the hint of horns, a phone in one hand lazily gazed at, wreathed in clothes of a different age. He sat in a way that screamed nonchalance, the kind of nonchalance you only get when you really try for it. Around his neck sat a loose necklace of seven gems that danced with light, it's source seemed to come within, almost alive. I knew he was waiting for me, he didn't send a message but something in my core pulled me to this location tonight.
He was my patron after all.
He waved a hand, beckoning me closer. The movement disturbed the air and with it his telltale smell wafted towards me, the fresh smell of grass undercut by the metallic tang of copper. It almost… smelt like blood. The memories this smell evoked in me flooded through my head, taking me back to the first time we met.
I was much lonelier then, mostly confined to my room by myself. Physical social interactions didn't really do much for me, most people I met in my day to day life didn't seem to have much in common with me and I spent a lot of my time playing games. I didn't really play with others, any groups that the games pushed me into was a disconnected companionship. We relied on each other to get things done, but then we never met again.
What I lacked was the confidence. I couldn't bring myself to talk with the others joking in the voice channels, to join a guild or a group, the risk of getting it wrong was just too much. It was during one of these lonely nightly play sessions that the scent first reached me, drifting through the slightly ajar window. The smell of grass and copper.
I left my computer, stumbling down the street to the gulley that lay at the end, passing beneath the boughs on the edge from the land lit by the moon into the cool darkness. It was there I first found him, standing with his hands in his pockets in a circle of mushrooms. He knew what I needed, promising me the confidence I needed without the risk of failure. All he wanted in return was to be his.
It was a small price to pay.
I wouldn't say suddenly things were easier. I hesitated for a day, still terrified of what would happen if I got it wrong, but I swallowed my fear and reached out. Before I knew it I belonged to an MMO guild, I had friend groups I chatted with everyday, life was suddenly… social. Sure, it was draining in a new way I hadn't experienced before, but it was happier. And so life kind of just went on.
These friendships became deeper, a tight group who were always there for each other, and then things became easier. We played games together, we watched shows long distance, eventually some of us moved to be closer physically. Knowing each other well enough to understand what drove our happiness and sadness meant we could be there for each other. We grew older together, the days changing with priorities, the muddling of everyone's lives into a big pot of everything.
I found myself involved in a relationship. They were my partner, we shared everything together, our hopes and our dreams. We had our own place with beloved pets, a garden where only living things existed and jobs that fulfilled us and friends close by. Things were good, and then the call came.
"I was wondering when you would return for your side of the bargain," I said to him, breaking myself out of my own thoughts.
"I needed to wait for you to be ready. Even with the wait, you are the cheapest bargain I ever made."
"Wait, what do you mean?"
"I didn't have to do anything but give you the hope that if you worked for it it would change, and it did. Now you are a life lived fulfilled, and those glow the brightest."
"Will… will they miss me?"
"Of course, but nothing can ever dim the time you all shared together."
I nodded and stepped forward, I had made the bargain and I had to live by it. The light grew brighter, at first a glow before becoming blinding, enveloping me entirely. It winked out and with it I did too.
The light of the moon was the only thing lighting the scene now, with my patron laying across the rock in the centre of the glade, smiling to himself. His hint of horn seemed less than before, the phone sliding into his pocket. He stood up to leave, fingering the eighth gem that now sat on his necklace, dancing with the light of a life well lived.