The boat rocked along gently for about an hour with no trouble. Poor Kleks took on a greenish hue, which was somewhat impressive on a black hellhound. He lay at the bottom of the boat, panting slowly, while Iskra gently stroked his head.
At first, the beauty of their surroundings had demanded a moment of silent contemplation and appreciation, but as time passed the silence dragged on till each of them was caught up in her own thoughts. That’s why none of them noticed as mist began to roll in across the water and surrounded them. It wasn’t until Kasia asked what that smell was, that everyone realized that they were entirely surrounded by a fog almost dense enough to walk on. Her grey owl sat on one of the boats exposed benches, while the cat had squeezed itself as far under as he could.
Kleks the hellhound was whining a bit more insistently than before, his glowing eyes dimmed and wide with fear.
“It smells like ozone and magic.”
They could hear splashes all around them, and the sound of dripping, but they couldn’t see anything. There was the dragging sound of something cutting through the water, something swimming around them. Anna looked around, confused about why her fellows looked so concerned until her scribe spirits helpfully provided captions – [splash, drip, drip, drip, sound of something swimming].
Off on the wind, there was the faintest hint of a voice singing. As the boat continued along, the voice got stronger, louder. The song seemed to wrap around them and pull them along, so that they were no longer sure if the ship was propelled by their magic or someone else’s. They looked around, trying to get a better idea of what they were facing. Kasia, her seeing eye animals unable to cope with the wet atmosphere, relied on her hearing to tell her what she needed to know. It was she who finally figured it out.
“Damn it, its girls” called out a melodic voice in the water.
“Well that doesn’t necessarily mean anything” responded another melodic voice, which sounded curiously hopeful.
“No worse, it’s witches!” called out a third voice, this one much closer. A pale greyish-green face suddenly peaked at them over the rain of the boat. The face had delicate pink lips with a pouty little cupid bow, and tiny upturned nose. The eyes seemed like they should be too big for the face, and were a startling green-blue of deep water.
“You’re sirens aren’t you” asked Anna, with astonished excitement.
“In the flesh” said the first voice, as another mermaid pulled herself up high enough to look over the side of the boat. This one was a light blue, with the same startling eyes, but a sharp nose full lips. Unlike the first one, who had dark black hair, this one was blond.
“We didn’t know there were Sirens in this lake.” Said Lidiya, shaking her head as though trying to make sure she wasn’t dreaming.
“Sorry about all that. If we had known you were witches, we wouldn’t have bothered with the whole show.”
“Ya, usually when a self-propelling boat passes through our waters, it’s some hero or other who has to pass our test before he can go on.” Said the blond mermaid.
“How do they pass the test?” asked Kasia with interest.
“They have to pass through without getting distracted or enticed by our song, or block it out by stopping their ears.”
“Wait, you said usually?” asked Anna, “What do you mean usually?”
“What do you mean what do I mean? Every other time a boats gone by it’s been a hero on a quest.”
“But there can’t have been all that many people passing through. You haven’t been here that long”
“We’ve been in this lake for over a hundred years.” Corrected the brunette mermaid.
“But that’s impossible,” interjected Iskra, “this lake has only been here since yesterday!”
The dark-haired mermaid turned and looked at the red-headed girl, her large eyes fixed on her, examining. She dived back into the water, disappearing before resurfacing next to Iskra. The boat barely rocked as she propped her elbows against the railing.
“The lake is always here.” She said cryptically, “it is you who come and go.”
All four girls expressed confusion.
“There are different worlds which all exist on top of one another. In some, there is a lake in the middle of this forest, in others there is no lake.”
“Can you imagine how much magical energy it would take to suddenly create an entire lake!?” Interjected one of the other mermaids. “It’s not just water and sand you know. There are different species of fish and creatures that all have to exist in a balance with one another, while having the same basic needs environment wise. There are also plants, and of course all of the plant and animal life that exists along the shore. The amount of detail necessary would be unbelievable. No way could you carry it around in a handkerchief, or a glass of wine, or any other kind of magic receptacle.”
“That’s true. Instead the spell shifts the veils between the worlds so that now the lake is here. Since the veils shift all the time, depending on the choices people make, it takes much less energy.”
“Enough already” interrupted a third mermaid, a splash punctuating her words. “I want to know what the witches are doing here.”
They retold the shocking events of the day before: “so now we’re chasing them so we can get our Babcia back.”
“So you are witches, on a quest to get Baba Yaga back?” asked one of the mermaids further away from the boat.
Somewhere another whispered: “I didn’t know we were allowed to flip the scrips like that,” which none of them would have heard if not for Anna’s caption spell.
“We need to figure out exactly where on the other side of the lake that villains trail resume,” mentioned Kasia, tilting her face in the direction of the most recent speaker.
“Maybe we can help you with that,” offered the light blue skinned mermaid with the blond hair. She dived back under the water, disappearing entirely. The witches stared after her bemused, wondering how she was planning to help if she had just disappeared. Then one by one the other mermaids began to disappear as well, all except for the brunette who had first joined their group.
“Where did she..?”
The blond siren returned before they could even finish the question, treading water up ahead from there little boat which was still continuing to move forward, despite the dense fog that blocked almost everything from sight.
“She’s sent the others to see if anyone has seen anything.” Supplied the brunette.
“They’ll come back once they hear something.”
The boat rocked more violently than before in response to Iskra swaying suddenly. Her face had become extremely pale, and she was shaking. Kleks, who had been whining pitifully, yelped in terror and jumped up to put his head in Iskra’s lap. When her head drooped listlessly, he started baying in terror.
“Oh geez! We’re sorry fire witch!” exclaimed the blond mermaid as started waving her hand back and forth like you would to fan smoke out of your face. The other joined her in what she was doing and slowly the dense fog dissipated becoming a fine mist. The sun shined down on them, and Iskra’s colour started coming back. She shook her head very gently trying to clear it, blinking rapidly.
“It’s not normal fog so it drains a fire witch faster than it would if it was natural.” Explained the mermaid.
“You’re a fire witch. Didn’t you know?”
Kleks jumped and barked in happiness, playing his big paws on Iskra’s lap before turning around to give the mermaid’s face a big lick. The mermaid in turn looked utterly stunned. Never before in the history of her kind had they received an unexpected kiss, let alone one from a hellhound.
Iskra grabbed at his collar and pulled him down, apologizing.
“That’s okay” said a still bewildered mermaid, “I’m Melusina.”
“How appropriate” she giggled.
“What is a Fire witch?”
“A natural born witch with a strong affinity for fire. You carry so much of it within you it shows on your very person.” Explained Melusina, gesturing at Iskra’s fiery red tresses, “you mean you really didn’t know?”
“No” said Iskra, her brow furrowing. She wondered if Baba Yaga knew, and if so, why she hadn’t bothered to tell her.
“I would have figured calling fire to you randomly would have been a clue.”
“But I’ve never done that.”
“Really?” responded Melusina in both surprise and fascination. “Perhaps because you were already studying to be a witch?” she mused. “Either way, it is pretty obvious to us since we’re water spirits and all.”
The boat continued alone and from time to time, a mermaid would appear and whisper something to the two mermaids who stayed with them. While they waited, they talked some more – the mermaids telling them about the elemental side of magic.
“Most Witches aren’t elementals, like Iskra here, most are just regular persons who study magic. Everyone has an affinity for some type of witchcraft but not everyone bothers to study it and develop it. Sometimes the affinity is so strong though that they go into the related lay field. ”
“If you hadn’t been a Wright Witch, you likely would have become a blacksmith” giggled the blond mermaid who had introduced herself as Amaltheia, looking at Lidiya.
“I wouldn’t have been given the chance.”
“I – I meant if you hadn’t been abandoned” stammered Amaltheia apologetically.
“Lidiya” said Kasia warningly.
“No damn it. No! We never talk about it, but come on. Each one of us knows why we were abandoned. Why our own parents didn’t want us.”
“Baba Yaga –“broke in Anna, hesitatingly as though not fully believing it. Lidiya deflated a bit where she sat, her eyes sad.
“Yes. Baba Yaga took us in, and she made none of it matter. Thanks to her we’re not the legless girl, the blind girl, the deaf girl, and the girl who can barely walk. We’re witches. We get to have magic, and do incredible things. Here in the Enchanted Forest, we’re accepted, respected, treated like any other witch. But what about outside the forest. In those villages we all come from?”
“So what are you saying?” asked Anna.
“You wish you weren’t abandoned?” asked Kasia.
“You wish you hadn’t been born like this.” Said Iskra, her voice tinged slightly with bitterness.
“No, it’s not that. It can be hard sometimes, but I wouldn’t change my life. Baba Yaga saw to that. I just wish that there was someone like her out there for the others. Someone for the ones who didn’t get lucky enough to get left somewhere for her to find us.”
Kasia choked on the word lucky.
“We’ve got to get her back.” Said Lidiya