|They swam away too quickly for her to follow.|
“She’s not a bird,” Yastara laughed.
Lothlo grinned. “Let’s see if she’s a fish."
Before Dindi knew the rules of this new torment, they shoved her off the snowy outcrop, straight below into the ice cold water of the glacial lake. They jumped in after her, changing to fish. She floundered. Though she could swim, the water was so cold, it drove her to panic, and the choppy water didn’t help. The fae fish batted her around with their tails, bit her clothes and dragged her down.
Dindi fought off drowning. She struggled to push the water back under her rather than over her. She broke the surface, but only when they deigned to release her.
They were merfolk now, with fishy tails but their own faces and torsos, laughing at their joke.
They swam away too quickly for her to follow. They had left her in the deep of the lake, no minor swim to shore. She forced her tired arms to swim. Exhaustion and hyperthermia almost defeated her, but she was damned if she would let these stupid, petty fae kill her. Just keep going, she urged herself. Just keep swimming.
The Aelfae were dancing on the shore when she arrived at last. She felt near dead from cold; their clothes were already dry. They danced around her, drying her clothes instantly, and warming her core. Probably they saved her life, but she felt only resentment. They had made their morning all about playing with her, to make her feel helpless and humiliated. Well, she’d been on that path before with human children, she didn’t plan to walk it a second time with fae who behaved like children.
“What’s next?” she demanded. “You could at least let me know.”
“Don’t be so sour,” laughed Yastara. “We were just having fun.”
That’s what makes it offensive, you selfish, thoughtless bi….
She didn’t have time to even complete the thought.
The mud exploded.
A monster of mud, squirming with worms, rotten with fetid leaves, stinking, foul, ghastly and oozing, burst out of the earth.
The gruesome thing … it was female. It was human… not human.
It was Aelfae.
“Gaya!” gasped Yastara. “Gaya Earthdancer! I haven’t seen you in ages…”
The taste of the darkness made Dindi want to retch. She recognized the uncleanness, the uncanny power. The same kind of penumbral knots animated this mud monster as had animated the bog mummy she had fought with Umbral.
“This isn’t who you think it is!” warned Dindi.
“This can’t be Gaya! The true Gaya was Cursed!” agreed Lothlo.
“We were dead too!” said Yastara. “She’s come back to life…”
Yastara ran toward the undead thing.
“No!” shouted Dindi.
It struck instantly. It lashed out its unnaturally long arms like whips of darkness. The mud monster snapped out one tentacle of darkness to strangle Yastara. The monster curled another rope of shadow around Lothlo’s waist and dragged him toward its rotting maw of a mouth, as if for an obscene kiss.
“Gaya… what are… you doing?” wheezed Yastara, trying to pry the black, oozing hand from her throat.
The thing latched jaws onto Yastara and began to suck the light from her.
Yastara screamed. Pain, shock, agony and disbelief mixed into the howl, which made Dindi’s back crawl with fear. Anything that could make an Aelfae scream…