Barameya’s interest in the matter began to glow like one of the stones in the moonlight. She had to solve the mystery of the full moon and the wolves. After she had talked to the birds, she flipped her golden fin and returned to the palace of the lakemaids, heading for the great library. The centre of the knowledge keepers was a circular building with shelves of sea plant scrolls and sea kelp books rising towards the ceiling. The last full moon had just been a couple of days ago, so Barameya had plenty of time to read everything about the forest, moon magic, and wolves. She hoped that the knowledge keepers’ writings had answers for all her questions.
She visited the library every day. Some of her friends joined her and helped her try to solve the riddle of the wolves. However, it was difficult. She had never even seen a wolf. All descriptions of the animals beyond the lake were second-hand. They differed depending on whether a bird, newt, frog, or other animal had told knowledge keepers about the world above. Some descriptions even contradicted each other.
One day Barameya read an entire book on wolves, only to realise that it wasn’t a book on wolves at all but about a similar species who also lived in the forest and was called a fox. They were very interesting as well but had nothing to do with the moon. They were smaller, orange and amber in colour, and lived a quiet life beneath the shadows of trees. It was hopeless, Barameya thought after three weeks of research. What was she supposed to do?
One evening, an old, almost senile knowledge keeper approached her. His name was Gareyth. He had a dark green fin with specks of golden scales, carried a most ancient looking book in his hands, placed it on the table before Barameya, and flicked through the pages with his aged fingers. He showed her a page in the book which was about a song that enabled a lakemaid to leave the waters and move among the trees.
‘But wouldn’t that be dangerous?’ Barameya asked.
‘Of course, it would be.’ The old lakeman answered, ‘But great discoveries demand sacrifices. You are a strong and capable lakemaid. You have magic at your disposal. You should be relatively safe.’
‘Have you ever tried this spell?’
‘My old mentor used it on herself hundreds of years ago. She visited the forest and even climbed the mountains a couple of times. She was very brave. However, this was during daylight, when she could see everything. At night, the surface world is a different place. And if I understand correctly, you need to leave the lake at night?’
Barameya looked at the old lakeman thoughtfully. Despite his age, his eyes were still clear, shining golden. He seemed certain that this could work.
‘And how does this spell work? How could I move on land?’
‘Your fin will transform. You will get legs and you will be able to walk.’
‘Like the legs of newts or frogs?’ Barameya asked, and pictured herself with long, green, slimy legs with which she could jump just as high as frogs did.
‘Not really. I remember the spell looked different. But in a long time, no one has dared or even tried to accomplish this difficult spell. But I have seen you grow up. I have seen you navigate the underwater caves like no other lakemaid. Your inner lake is strong. Your connection to the moon is powerful. I am certain you could achieve this.’
‘Thank you, I will think about it.’ Barameya said, although deep inside her inner lake, she had already made up her mind.
She had to try.
The days passed, and the moon grew thicker at night. Soon she would reach her full form again. Barameya could hear the wolves sing at night, worshipping the moon.
Every waking hour the young lakemaid revised the spell that would transform her. It was a strange one, and it was very complex. It was the most difficult spell she had ever seen. No wonder so few lakemaids had ever tried. There were two melodies that had to be weaved together during chanting. The transition had to be smooth and perfect. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work. But Barameya had an idea of how she could receive help in casting the spell if she wasn’t strong enough.
The night before the full moon, Barameya sat on a rooftop next to glowing stones as red as the sunset. She added a few words of her own to the final part of the spell. It was an elegant solution to gain more power during her transformation. The red stones flickered, and Barameya looked up. The moon had disappeared behind clouds. Seconds later, though, the moon reappeared and the stones began to glow stronger once more.
Her light broke through the surface like shards of silver. Under water, celestial light always appeared so much brighter than when Barameya broke through the surface. She wondered what it would be like once she left the lake and took her first steps on land. Light would be different to her then. It would be so strange. But she had to try so she could solve the riddle of the wolves.
The next day, Barameya looked up every minute. She followed the sun’s path on the horizon. The other lakemaids were nervous too. They would patrol the shores of the lake. She would only have to call for help, and they could cast a spell to draw her back in. The frogs, the newts, and the birds promised to guide her as long as they could. It would be fine, Barameya told herself over and over again.
The sun disappeared behind the mountains, the shadows grew longer, and the forest and the lake were cloaked in grey and dark blue colours. The full moon rose over the silver peaks of the mountains, but not a single wolf was to be heard.
Barameya broke through the surface and swam to the shore of the lake where she thought it would be easiest to get out of the water.
She concentrated and began to hum a melody, complex and intricate, one she had never sung before. She could feel all eyes on her. Some of her friends watched her from below. The newts and frogs sat by the shore, and the birds sat on the branches of the trees standing closest to the lake. Everyone listened; everyone held their breath, except for Barameya. Her voice grew louder and louder.
She followed the difficult structure of the spell she had learned by heart. She began to weave words of magic into the melody, words she had never spoken before, creating images of transformation and change in her mind. The water around her began to vibrate and to move in circles around her body, touching her fin, pulling at her scales. Barameya knew it was working. She kept going. She had to continue.
A tickling sensation spread from her fin to her upper body. It was difficult to concentrate, but she was not allowed to stop. Barameya looked up at the moon and readied herself for the second part of the spell, the one that was most difficult. It was the moment where the song had to transform into an altogether different melody, but its transition had to be so smooth that no alteration was allowed to be noticed.
Barameya added her own words, her own chanting, to the song of transformation. She looked at the moon, at her full and potent silver light. This had to work. She asked the moon for help, to lend her guidance, to create the transition she so desperately sought. She begged the moon to lend her strength.
Her words, her magic, echoed through the dark forest, towards the grey walls of the mountains, and came rippling back over the lake. She repeated her spell one more time, hoping that the moon would hear her. Silver light came dancing from the night sky. It was working. Barameya continued her spell. She sang just like she had practiced, feeling relieved that the moon’s magic had come and was aiding her.
Streams of silver began to float around her, touching the lake’s dark water, touching her skin. It was a cold but kind feeling. A sensation that went through her body and into her inner lake. She felt her magic growing and the spell working. Now she was singing an altogether different melody. She hadn’t even noticed herself. She was so surprised by the transition that she almost stopped singing but caught herself in the last moment. She continued and finished the last line of the song. Lights, not only silver but also green, blue, and gold were dancing around her, touching her body, transforming her.
The magic was so bright Barameya had to close her eyes. She felt her fin slip away, being replaced by something else. Her hands reached for her fin but could only find flesh. It was similar to the feeling when she touched her arms.
The magic ebbed away, and the lakemaid opened her eyes. She tried to reach for the ground, and for the first time in her life, she touched the slippery lake’s bottom with her feet. She gasped in surprise but was able to stand. She placed one foot in front of the other, walking towards the shore. It was difficult to hold the balance, to not move forwards but walk in a direction, trying to find a rhythm she could not really grasp yet.
Finally, she reached the shore and stepped onto the wet grass. The newts and frogs cheered her on: ‘Well done!’ one of the bright green frogs called out.
Barameya knew this one. Her name was Tiarena. She had often talked to her in the past.
‘We can show you the path ahead.’ A red newt said, ‘But then the fire salamanders and the birds will take over.’
She knew this one too. His name was Reylon. Barameya nodded, exhausted. Walking out of the lake felt like she was leaving everything she had ever known behind. And on some level, this was true. It even felt colder, as if autumn were just around the corner. But it was summer, so why was she feeling cold?
Her skin was wet. In a different way than before. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be? After all, most animals on land never had wet skin. She hoped that her skin would dry soon, so it wouldn’t be as cold anymore.
The frogs hopped in front of her, leading her towards the shadows of the forest. Tiarena was beside her, guiding her with every step she took. Behind her, a little bit slower, were the newts, telling her she was doing great. She should just take one step after another. Reylon was the loudest among the newts, cheering her on. This gave her courage.
Something else Barameya noticed was that her gills were gone and she was breathing through her nose. She hadn’t realised up until now when she smelt the thick vegetation of the forest in front of her. She had only ever gotten to know this scent when it was raining and the smells of the forest drifted over the lake.
Breathing and sensing smells through her nose was an entirely different feeling than sensing them through her gills. She couldn’t explain it. The only way she could describe it was that her sense of smell was now much more connected to her sense of taste. As if she could taste the forest on her tongue.
With every step, they became clearer, though, creating an image of scents defining the forest. There were sweet smells that had to come from flowers she sometimes spotted from the shore. There were bitter scents coming from the trees and others she could not identify. A faint, salty smell was coming from deep inside the forest. She had no idea what this one was, but she was ready to find out.
The lakemaid felt steady on her two legs and felt her transformed fin muscles getting accustomed to this new way of moving. Silver light poured through the leaves. She had reached the edge of the forest.
‘This is as far as we go.’ Tiarena said.
She looked up at Barameya. Fear was written over the frog’s face: ‘Good luck!’
Without another word, Tiarena and the others hopped back to the safety and the precious waters of the lake they needed to live. Barameya looked after them, hoping that she didn’t have to keep her skin wet. But it said nothing about it in the description of the spell. In fact, to turn back, she had to go back into the lake, making contact with water again. The state of being dry was obviously important for keeping the transformation spell intact. Besides, as her skin dried, she already felt warmer. Only her silver hair was still wet. But it would dry too eventually.
Reylon, the red newt, turned around one last time and waved at her encouragingly: ‘Don’t forget! My cousins, the fire salamanders, and some birds, said they would come assist you in the forest! Call for them and they will answer!’
Then, with one slender movement, he slipped into the silvery waters of the lake. Barameya was alone. She breathed in and out through her nose. The sensation was still strange to her. It was completely quiet. She only heard the beating of her heart. No one was there. She remembered Reylon’s words: ‘Fire salamander?’ Barameya called out into the darkness of the forest, ‘Birds? Where are you?’
‘Most birds have already gone to sleep.’ Someone said, from above.
Barameya looked up. There, on a branch of a tree, sat not a bird but a ghost of a bird. One she had never seen before. Its eyes were huge and yellow in the dark, gleaming like wicked suns. Its feathers were white as snow, illuminated in shades of silver by the moon’s light. She wanted to run back, return to the safety of the lake, but she didn’t know how to run. Walking back would take her too long. Barameya just stared at the ghost bird, terrified.
‘Do not be afraid.’ The ghost bird said, who must have read her face expression, ‘My name is Aralea. I am an owl of the White Clan, and I have been told what you intend to find out. The riddle that you are trying to solve is indeed a strange one.’
‘It is an honour to meet such a noble bird. I have heard of the White Clan. But I didn’t know what their members looked like.’ Barameya said relieved, feeling a little ashamed that she was afraid of the unknown.
‘And my name is Karano of the yellow-flame family.’ Someone said from below.
Barameya looked down and spotted a creature that looked similar to Reylon the newt but slightly larger. His skin was black, and an intricate yellow pattern stretched from his head along his body and ended in fading dots along his tail.
‘It’s nice to meet you too. My name is Barameya.’
‘We know.’ Karano said and smiled, ‘Your story has travelled wide and far through the forest. We are eager to help as we are also interested in finding out what happens to the wolves at full moon. But we can wield only little to almost no magic. Unlike you. If the wolves are dangerous, then you would know how to defend yourself, would you not?’
Barameya looked into the darkness of the forest, her inner lake filling up with fear again. She had never given this a thought. There might be something strange and mysterious about the wolves, but she has never considered them to be dangerous.
She tried to block out her doubts and focus on the fire salamander’s words. The magic she could wield. Tonight, she had transformed her body. She could summon the moon’s magic if she wished. If the wolves were to attack, she knew she could deal with them. She nodded at the fire salamander and at the owl, who looked at each other with renewed confidence.
‘Then let me show you the way.’ Aralea said, and she spread her wings.
When the lakemaid looked at her now, she didn’t see a ghost bird any longer. With her fear gone, she saw the most beautiful bird, she had ever beheld. Her unfolded wings were the colour of mountains in winter at night, shimmering grey and silver.
‘Would it be possible if you carried me?’ Karano asked. ‘I won’t be as fast as Araela or you. I would slow you down.’
Barameya smiled at the little creature, picked him up, and placed him on her shoulder. The silver bird flapped her wings, and silently, she glided through the trees.
Barameya marvelled at the owl. She had seen lakemaids and fish glide through the lake as gracefully and elegantly as the owl moved through the air right now. She had never believed to see anything as enchanting on land. She had always thought that only the lake harboured true beauty. She enjoyed the fact that she was mistaken. She knew she would learn a lot in the forest this night.
She placed one foot after the other, following the owl through the forest. She wished they could slow down so she could take a closer look at all the trees and plants that stood in the shadows of the night. She heard strange calls too. But the fire salamander explained every sound to her. Knowing to whom the voices belonged, she did not feel afraid. She would find the wolves and solve the riddle, its answer hidden in the night in front of her.
To be continued…