I gaped in surprise for a long space, then finally asked, “Are you saying you know of such a thing? Magic you can’t see?”
She chuckled. “I know of no magic that I cannot detect, but some magics don’t appear to fairy sight and require abilities that a young one such as you cannot possess. Who told you about it?”
My throat was dry. Would she get mad if she thought I was lying? I still had the sense she was terribly powerful, somehow.
“Grandmother… has my mother spoken to you about me at all?”
“About being from a different world?” she asked with a smile and a tip of the head.
Even though I had been preparing to tell her the whole story, that was a shock. I had honestly thought Mother wouldn’t say anything to anyone, considering how unlikely such a story would be.
Grandmother seemed to sense that thought, because she answered it. “When Déhare-innan has a daughter, she comes to me for advice. You would think, after so many centuries and so many daughters, she would feel more confident, but I suppose parents never do feel entirely confident.”
That was a bigger shock. “Mother has other daughters?”
She rolled onto her back and let out another bright laugh. Then she jumped up. “It can wait. Let’s go for a swim. I’m feeling a bit dry.”
It was fully nighttime now, but the greater moon had risen in a cloudless sky, and it was full and bright. The lesser moon, the white moon, was close to setting, but it was just a sliver in the western sky anyway. The light from the blue moon was plenty bright enough.
Grandmother had already scampered down to the shore before I overcame my surprise at the sudden change of pace.
“Are you hungry?” she asked over her shoulder as she waded into the water. “There are some lovely trout in my pool. I’ll catch a couple after I swim a bit.
I followed her into the water feeling a bit off balance thanks to the rapid mood switch, but I suppose I should have expected it. We had been on shore for well over an hour, and a naiad spends most of her life in the water.
She had vanished on me before I was even deep enough to start swimming, so I just began paddling around. I figured she would show up eventually. I wound up backstroking through the water aimlessly, looking at the moon and listening to the water sounds around me.
Then arms wrapped around me from underneath and pulled me under. After I thrashed around a bit, they let go and I desperately clawed my way back to the surface. She breached the water a couple paces away, laughing, then swam away after yelling, “Catch me!”
Was she a kid?
I set out after her with my best crawl stroke, but it was completely useless. She disappeared in no time. Then she was jumping onto my back and pulling me under again. I couldn’t imagine how she had got around behind me so quickly, but she pulled me under again, this time dragging me downward farther.
I thrashed around, then struggled with more strength when she didn’t let go. Finally she wrapped her arms around mine, pinning them in place. Somehow, impossibly, her voice came into my ears even though we were underwater.
“Innanmi, can’t you breathe down here?”
I shook my head vigorously. Suddenly I felt us flowing rapidly upward. I gratefully sucked air into my lungs after we broke the surface.
She continued to hug me, to hold me up in the water. I was not treading water at all.
“My apologies. We shall practice near the shore where you can stand up. A half-fairy with as much water affinity as you have ought to easily do such a simple thing.”
She didn’t sound apologetic at all. She sounded a little exasperated with me. Remaining that way, she continued, “And all that flailing about with your limbs, is that any way for the granddaughter of a naiad to swim?”
“I don’t know any other way!”
With a sigh and a shake of the head, she said, “Let’s relax in my fountain. We can lay there and talk. I’ll tow you.”
She let me go, snagging my hand in the process, and set out for the far shore of the lake. I was pulled along this time at considerably higher speed. Not fast enough to water-ski, but much faster than any human could swim. It was like what I imagine being towed by a dolphin would be like.
“Watch what I am doing with Water mana, Innanmi,” she called back to me. “I’m not hiding it this time. You pull yourself through the water with it.”
It was true. I could see the process clearly in my fairy sight. She just flowed through the water, no kicking or stroking, just having the Water mana pull her along. But that didn’t mean I could see how to do it. I concentrated on deconstructing the magic, but how to make it happen was no more clear to me than how a car engine works.
We reached a cove that was crowded with lily pads and she stood in water up to her hips, wading into the plants. I followed in her wake as we reached a short, rapids running over smooth river pebbles. The source, a shallow pool, appeared in the dimness ahead. We ascended the short run– I had to use Earth mana to grip so I didn’t slip on the algae– and waded into the pool. The water here was the depth of the bathtubs at Mother’s estate around the edges, slowly sinking to about four feet in the middle, but it was the size of an olympic swimming pool.
A fog was rising from the surface, from water warmer than the cool spring night air. More water poured into it from a pile of rocks in the far end.
It was impossible as a natural feature. There were no land in the area tall enough to provide the pressure for such a strong spring. It was as if a pump house hid somewhere nearby, and this was the terminus of a pipe leading from it. But by all appearances, it was a natural spring.
“Where is the water coming from?” I wondered as we waded closer.
Grandmother laughed. “From my father, I suppose you could say. He built it with his magic. He created this place for me when I was still a young little thing like you. Back then, his river flowed nearby.”
“The Hart is his river?”
She nodded as she sat and settled her back against one of the smooth rocks near the spring, splashing the surface beside her to tell me to sit as well. The babbling of the spring nearby was audible, but just a whisper, not loud enough to trouble us.
“The Hart is Father’s domain. He’s a flumen, but the locals thought he was a god back then. They had difficulty telling the difference between gods and powerful fairies.”
I wondered if he was the river lord I had met earlier. Was that guy my great-grandfather?
Grandmother stretched a bit, then declared proudly, “I was a goddess too, although only for the locals.”
The Ostish believed in the same three gods during imperial times that the Orestanians do now. The basic religion has been stable for a long time. I asked, “Exactly how long ago are we talking about?”
“How long? Oh, humans first started settling around here about five thousand years ago. I haven’t really kept track, but that’s about right.”
I cleared my throat to mask my shock.
“Nowadays, the temple tries very hard to stop it, but the farmers who use my water to irrigate the slopes still make offerings at a little shrine downhill from here.”
That was a little alarming. I hadn’t seen anything on the side I ascended, so hopefully they were all on the opposite slope, facing the living town.
I looked around again. “There’s people still living around here, then? Are we really okay?”
She chuckled. “Most visitors come in groups and talk a lot while they approach so they don’t surprise me. They can’t, of course, but they do it anyway. Thanks to the occasional fool who thinks I can be taken by force, I’ve got a reputation for being dangerous to sneak up on.”
I decided I didn’t want to know what she does with those fools.
“Why do visitors come?”
“It used to be for offerings. Now it’s thrill-seeking teenagers looking to bathe in my water. They can bathe naked here, out of the eyes of older folk. They love to come to this spring, because my father made it to run hotter in the winter for me. In the summer, when the lake begins to warm, the spring runs cool.”
She looked at me and grew serious. “Innanmi, this is very important. You must tell me who taught you about the hidden magics. Tell it all clearly, and do not hide even the things you’re afraid I won’t believe.”
Under her steady gaze, I crumbled. I decided to just tell her everything. I felt like she would know I wasn’t lying.
As the evening turned to night, I related to my grandmother the events that had brought me there, even including how I had come to Huade4HuadeThe world of "Substitute Hero", where the novel "Isenai" is based. in the first place. As I spoke, the daylight finally faded and the stars appeared. The lake was a very lively place. I could hear frogs and crickets and even a couple nightingales. They would alternate. The one behind me would sing, and then as he took a break, the one at the shore to my left would sing.
She interrupted me a few times for a lesson in how to breath underwater– she felt it terribly lax of Mother to have not taught me– and by third time I was able to do it for about ten minutes before my lungs rebelled. Finally, I promised to practice on my own so she would stop nearly drowning me.
The rest of the time, I just stayed there and spoke in the ‘hot spring bath’, lying on my back, using my crossed arms as a pillow, with my grandmother reclining on her side, facing me while listening with her head propped up with her hand.
It was amazing how good it felt to just unload like that.
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