Thanks to Ceria’s coaching, I can manage a first-level [Wind Wall] without a focus, but I held that back for the moment and manifested Earth as body fortification instead. I kept building up my other resources, including Wind mana.
The trio were a spectacular range of hair colors, respectively moss-colored, aquamarine and deep blue, all of them with eyes of aqua, reminding me of certain Braysians with merrow blood that I had met recently. But these girls weren’t mermaids. They stood on human legs, and they were seemingly wearing wetsuits, except the suits were transluscent everywhere other than a few key spots and they appeared to be composed of fish scales.
‘Appeared to be’, but they weren’t really fish scales. They were fairy raiments. My fairy sight showed them clearly composed of Water and Light mana. And if that fact hadn’t given it away, the pair of flying fish pectoral fins on the back of the aquamarine-haired girl, effectively her fairy wings, nailed it.
Not building the wind wall immediately turned out to be the right call. The trio didn’t atttack. They held their positions around me with their tridents directed at me.
Flying Fish Girl ordered, “Drop your cloak and submit!”
I looked her in the eye, although I suspected she could only sense my presence, not see me. I declared, “Tenmacâ (I refuse)”
I could tell they weren’t actually seeing me because of the lack of focus in their eyes. They somehow knew I was there, but they couldn’t penetrate my cloak the way that little thing named ‘Kiki’ had. I didn’t know how they knew I was there, but if this girl wanted me to drop my cloak, then I clearly had some advantage in keeping it. I kept it.
“You are in our lord’s home water! Obey and submit!”
“Cyfen non zil, tenmacâ (Once again, I refuse)”
She grew a little uncertain. She frowned an unspoken question at the deep-blue-haired girl on her left.
“She’s politely refusing, sister,” that one responded.
The leader(?) tightened her lips and her grip on her trident, then declared, “If you don’t obey, we’ll use force!”
She couldn’t see me, so I gambled she wouldn’t react when I reached out and put my fingers on her trident. I dumped an overload of Fire mana into it.
With a shriek, she dropped her superheated weapon, which caused the water to hiss as it fell into the river. She stared down at the bubbles furiously boiling to the surface from the sinking trident, then back up at me with wide eyes. The other two girls looked uncertainly from it to their leader and back to where they believed they would see me if they could see me.
“I mean you no disrespect,” I told her, switching to Ostish, since the leader apparently didn’t understand Fairy. “For my safety, I must hide from outside eyes like the hippogryphs that just passed. I hold no hostility toward you and I have no plan to stay. I was about to depart when you arrived.”
“You will not leave this place until the lord of the river permits!” the leader declared, now summoning mana. It didn’t look like she was that strong, though. I was beginning to suspect these were river maidens, lesser fairies rather than true fairies. These girls were certainly advanced in their development, probably well on their way to becoming nereids or naiads, and they likely served as both harem members and warriors for the local fairy river lord, but they were not in my league.
“Do we really have to do this? I don’t think you guys are strong enough to fight me.”
They were definitely getting nervous, but I could see the leader summoning her courage to strike. This was bad. I braced myself to receive her attack…
“Stooooooooop!” I heard a small voice yelling as it approached, and than a tiny pixie dropped in from above, holding her arms wide.
“Big sis no bad bad! She just come for baby!”
The leader blinked, then scowled. “Kiki, this thing is a monster.”
“Pretty monster though! Big brother come give baby soon soon!”
The three frowned and looked my direction with doubtful eyes.
“I am only here to restore my mana!” I protested. “She came up with the baby thing on her own!”
The conversation was cut off there because, behind the three girls, a fog rose from the water, then condensed, forming into the image of a man in a toga of some mother-of-pearl-like cloth. The three girls moved back to the right and left. Kiki moved over and back to hover on my left.
He was handsome, slender and youthful, with turquoise eyes and tightly curled golden hair. An attractive lad, but a little too boyish for Tiana’s tastes. Rod and Ged were definitely more my type…
I forcefully pushed those thoughts out of my head and squared my shoulders. This was a projection, clearly made of Light and Water, but it was a kind I had seen Mother do before. It was very advanced magic. He could see and hear from wherever he actually was, just as if he were actually present.
The trio of warrioresses were clearly of Faerie, and they were acting deferential, so I concluded he was a fairy noble. From what I could tell, he was a flumen, but since it was only a projection of him, I could not read his mana flow to confirm it.
Flumens are river fairies. All flumens are males; they breed with the always-female naiads and nereids to reproduce themselves and their counterpart species. Or with lesser fairies like these river maidens, who would bear more river maidens.
Fog, strangely out of place in broad daylight, rose all around us. I sensed Water and Light mana in it.
“Drop your cloak, Monster,” he ordered, staring me in the eye. Unlike the girls, he could clearly see me. “Rest assured, I am screening you from outside eyes.”
Reluctantly, I complied, then, grabbing my exceedingly soggy skirt, I managed a curtsey in thigh-deep water. A regular one.
“Ëi onar lâ, Rehëu, (Greetings, Lord)“ I bid him.
“Onar lâ,” he echoed with an absent nod. “What is this about a baby? I have no intention of mixing my blood with a monster.”
Kiki zipped up to him with her fists on her hips.
“Big Sister pretty monster!” she protested. “Big Brother like pretty girls!”
While keeping his eyes locked on me, he gave her a mild forehead flick.
“Ow!” She rapidly pulled off to the side, holding her hands over her brow with her face scrunched up in displeasure.
This was a tremendously advanced projection, if he could interact physically. I wasn’t sure Mother had that level of skill. I needed to be very cautious with this man.
I gave a second curtsey. “Ci surëo, Rehëu. Encuna asmiratoro (Forgive me, Lord. I am not seeking your child.)”
“It’s wrong?” Kiki asked, looking confused.
He gave a slight, somewhat strained smile, then said, “Your knowledge of our language is admirable, monster, but my warriors are not so well-versed. They only know their own argot and the common tongue. May we converse in that?”
“As you wish, My Lord,” I answered.
He gave me an appraising look, pursing his lips, then stated, “I suspect you are the child of Deharè.”
I tried to not show any surprise. “You are correct, My Lord. My name is Tiana.”
“Your body is mana-starved and you stopped to restore yourself,” he judged.
“As expected, you understand my troubles well, My Lord.”
“From whom are you running?”
“From a mortal of great influence who falsely accuses me, My Lord. He would imprison me at peril to my life. I suspect he intends for me to die.”
He contemplated me for several seconds. I remained primed for action, but my plan now was to flee. It didn’t matter if he was physically present or not. A powerful enough mage merely needs to know where his target is. This one could see me as if he were standing in front of me.
With a shake of his head, he declared, “I will not provoke the humans for the sake of a monster. You may not shelter in my water.”
“Lord, I am not yet fully restored. By your leave…”
He interrupted me. “Do not tax your Darkness any longer with that cloak. You will become unable to fly. I will have Kiki conceal you and guide you to a water beyond my domain. Thus, the mortals may not accuse me of sheltering you.”
I felt like protesting his overbearing tone, and his treatment. He knew who I was, after all. Of course, he might well be one of those fairy nobles that demanded my exile. For a long-lived race like fairies, fifteen years ago was just the other day, and his opinion probably hadn’t changed.
And I could say he had offered at least some help, except… I pointed at the bug hovering next to him. “Kiki will hide me?”
The creature puffed up her little chest and declared, “Kiki smart smart!”
“Pixies can live quite a long time, child of Deharè,” he stated. “I have taught my little friend many things over the past several millennia.”
Millennia, he said.
Best not question it. He had nothing to gain by lying to me. Although it was hard to imagine the childlike Kiki being thousands of years old.
He turned to the pixie and ordered, “Shield her from outside eyes and lead her to the mountain lake.”
The little thing grew fearful. “The mountain lake? But Big Brother…”
“I doubt that woman remains angry with you,” he told her in a patient tone, “but, if you are still scared, then simply lead the monster as close as you dare.”
He looked back to me and said. “You are depleting your Darkness by sustaining that cloak while flying in daylight, child. Do not risk using it further before nightfall. Accept Kiki’s stealth and leave now. Do not rest in my waters again.”
“Ëi bianëo, Rehëu,” I thanked him, with a third curtsey. “I shall take my leave with your permission.”
He gave me a dry stare and a dismissing wave, and the illusion vanished.