It was fully nighttime now, but the greater moon had risen in a cloudless sky, and it was nearly a full moon. The lesser moon, the white moon, was not visible that day, but the light from the blue moon was plenty bright enough.
I reclined on soft sand in the moonlight next to the outdoor bath that Grandmother calls her ‘fountain pool’. I was naked because I had no idea where my clothes were, and alone because, once Grandmother listened to my complete story, she simply said, “Relax for now,” then swam out and disappeared into the dark.
Fog rose from the warm water as the springtime night air became cooler. I shivered and began circulating Fire mana. If I don’t manifest it, it’s only the principle of fire rather than fire itself, but increasing its abundance warms the water in my body. I used this trick a lot during the winter while with the Hero’s Party to warm myself. My armor isn’t even vaguely credible as winter wear.
I heard something from across the fountain pool. I peered into the fog, but saw nothing in any of my visions. Even so, I got up onto my knees, covering my chest with my arms, and stared that direction.
Did Grandmother seriously expect me to ‘relax’ like this? I was outdoors, miles from shelter and naked!
Frankly, I was primed to dash into the underbrush of the surround forest at the first hint of an intruder. My ears were catching every little sound. In nature, even at night, there are a lot of sounds.
One can only keep the tension up for so long, though. I finally forced myself to settle down. I sat on my rump, wrapped my arms around my knees, and just studied the greater moon shining through the fog rising from the water.
Nothing will make it clear to you that you’re in a different world faster than staring up at a moon with an atmosphere. The blue moon of Huade has weather patterns and stuff. The people here don’t understand what they are seeing. Most think the greater moon is a half-orb full of swirling liquid. The white moon, or lesser moon, is airless like the moon of Earth, and they think it’s a half-orb full of ice.
I was listening to an owl somewhere in the woods, and yet another nightingale in the distance, and actually beginning to nod off a little, when splashing from the other side of the pool panicked me back awake. To my relief, vampire sight revealed it to be Grandmother wading toward the beach, clutching a flopping trout in each hand.
I guess she just chased them down in the water?
She had her raiment back… no, she’d changed it. It was now a long nightgown, but gauzy and translucent. Despite the fact that she was emerging from water, it didn’t seem to be wet at all. And when the hem emerged from the water… it wasn’t a hem. The bottom of the gown just transitioned to fog and vanished.
I twisted my mouth. “Why don’t you have wings?”
She laughed. “Not all fairies have wings, Innanmi. Most naiads don’t. Although I’ve learned how to make a pair of dragonfly wings if I really need them. My natural inclination is to form a mermaid’s tail.”
“And if I have to go naked, why do you get to use your raiment?”
I mean, everything was faintly visible, like lingerie, but she had a lot more coverage than me.
I didn’t get my answer. With a bright laugh, she tossed me a fish. “Catch.”
Yelping, I grabbed at it, then I was fighting to stop a flopping trout from hopping its way back into the water. I snagged it again and it squidded out of my hands. Running after it, I missed twice as it got closer to the shore. I finally managed to bat it back inland and run after it.
“Don’t lose it! It’s your dinner!” Grandmother called out merrily.
My determination now redoubled, I pinned it again, but then it got away, again flopping downhill toward the pool.
“Gaaaah!” With a flying tackle, I pinned the thing with both hands this time, wincing from the sensation of my nude frontside plowing into the sand. Grandmother was laughing aloud, having a riot watching the spectacle.
Carefully, while keeping it pinned, I managed to get a finger into its gill with my thumb in its mouth, the way my mom on Earth taught me while fishing. It furiously wriggled and fought, but I had it secure now. I carefully stood and returned.
Grandmother had hers on a long skewer. She just jammed the stick down the fish’s throat, without cleaning it or anything, interweaving so it wouldn’t slide. She laid the skewer across two rocks near the ‘fountain’– the emergence point of the hot spring– with the poor fish suspended between them, still weakly wiggling its tail.
She materialized another long skewer. I wasn’t sure how she did it. I might have expected some sort of metal-like needle of manifested Earth mana, but she seemed to be using Dark magic, and the result appeared to be actual wood. This was magic I had never seen before.
Taking my fish from me, she repeated the impalement while I cringed a bit. She laid the skewer on the rocks next to the first fish. Then she just pointed at the ground under the pair and a nice cooking flame appeared.
“Dinner,” she announced with a smile.
If I needed a reminder regarding what the combination of whimsy and casual cruelty that is a fairy, I had it in Grandmother. I’ve killed and cooked my share of game and fish, but I dispatch the animal first, at the very minimum. Just jamming a stick down its throat is a bit too much.
She gave me a appraising look, then said. “Take a swim. You look frightful.”
I glanced down at my frontside, coated in sand and fish slime. I sighed, then went down and waded in.
The fog was heavy now. The water had become quite a bit warmer. Just like she had claimed, the water temperature changed according to the air temperature. It was now a very pleasant hot spring. Before I knew it, I was drifting along in nothing but fog and water, looking up at the greater moon vaguely shining through. It felt like a dream.
Something faint caught my ear. Thinking it might be Grandmother, I stood up in the water and scanned around, concentrating on the distant sound. I waded the direction it seemed to be, hunkering down, arriving at the place where the water poured out into the lake over that short rapids.
Voices! It was definitely a chattering group of humans! And they were getting closer!
Over the lake, the fog from the fountain pool thinned to only wisps. Two guys and three girls appeared, walking along the shoreline in my direction, easily less than a hundred paces distant, carrying blankets and baskets.
Suppressing a squeak, I dove into the water and quickly paddled back in Grandmother’s direction. Luckily she wasn’t stealthing and I could see her in my vampire sight.
I had committed the error of swimming straight at where she was cooking the fish, so I was in some uncomfortably hot water from the ‘fountain’ as I reached the shore, and it wasn’t the nice beach like ten or so paces to my left. I had to scramble up the rocks to reach her.
“I know already,” she said, waving dismissively. “My pets have been watching their approach.”
“We need to hide!” I told her in as loud a stage whisper as I dared. “I think they’re coming here!”
“Of course, they’re coming here, Innanmi,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “The young people love my fountain pool for midnight swims. Especially when the moon is bright, the air is cool and the water is warm. It’s delicious for a romantic tryst.”
“Grandmother, I need to hide!” I begged, preparing myself to run off on my own if I had to.
“Calm down,” she told me. “The fish need a couple more minutes, then we’ll go.”
“It’s easy for you to be calm! You’re not naked!”
“Jealous? You’ll have to wait until you’re older to build a raiment this intricate. That’s how we show our seniority dear. But a youngster like you is lovely just as you are, now, so don’t mind it.”
“That’s not the point!”
“Oh, very well,” she said with a little pout. A moment later, her raiment completely vanished and she was nude again. “Better?”
“Worse!” I retorted. “Now there’s two naked girls! Grandmother!”
The visitors were on the slope up to the fountain pool. I prayed the fog was thick enough to hide us. But the light of the fire…
“Okay, that’s about done,” she said, and the fire vanished as if it had never existed. She picked up the two sticks and said, “Come along!”
A slight breeze blew and the fog thinned a bit as she sashayed up the rise with my following her into the woods.
“Gods!” I heard one of the male voices behind me. “A naked girl, over near the spring!”
I colored deep red as I realized they had seen me, and dashed up closer to Grandmother.
“Where? I don’t see anything!” a girl retorted.
“She ran into the trees,” he replied, sounding disappointed.
“The Lady of the Lake! I bet you saw her!” said a different girl, sounding excited.
“Wanna go find her?” said the other guy.
“No!” all three girls said, practically in unison.
One of them added, “Haven’t you heard? If a man meets her, he dies!”
The other guy said, “I heard she makes a baby with you first, and then you die.”
“You still die!” the girl retorted.
“Please, Amand?” a different girl begged. “I don’t want you to die.”
Their excitement calmed down and the subject of my vanishing bare butt finally died off as we wound through the trees.
This walk, passing naked through brush, on rough ground in bare feet, would have been horrible for a human girl. My fairy skin is tough enough to deal with it, even if my mind isn’t.
Grandmother exited the trees at a spot at the top of a crag overlooking the pool, then took a seat with her feet dangling over the edge. For some reason, she materialized the dragonfly wings that she had mentioned.
“We’ll eat here. I’ll help you with your troubles while we watch the fun,” she said, not hiding her voice at all.
“Shh!” I shushed her as I sat nearby, glancing down with alarm. They were hardly a dozen paces away. But Grandmother giggled at me.
“I’ve cast silence, Innanmi,” she explained. “They can’t hear us.”
Grandmother handed me a trout-on-a-stick. My hunger resurged with the wonderful aroma of roasted fish.
“If you don’t like the guts, then bite carefully,”she warned, holding hers like a roasted ear of corn. She pulled meat of the back of the fish with her teeth.
I shook my head and got a bite as well. It needed salt, but it was fresh and tasty.
After swallowing, I asked, “Do men really die if they meet you?”
She chuckled. “Aggressive ones who think I can be taken by force do. Or perhaps they imagine I’ll succumb to their manliness if they trap me.”
“And the part about making a baby first?”
“I do that, too, with some,” she admitted. “Over the millennia, I’ve sent quite a few daughters to their fathers’ families. The mortals learn what happened to the man that begat the girl, and that’s how people know to fear me. My method is to give the man what he sought until it kills him. With the right magic, you can make him keep going and going, even against his will, until his heart fails.”
Her laughter sounded more than a little cruel.
She responded to my expression with a dark smile, “What troubles you, Innanmi? Isn’t it justice to rape the rapist?”