by Noelani Luckas
„There’s something in the water“, Ifna stated, crouching beside the dark lake that stretched out all the way to the horizon. From above, it was a bleak, black smudge in the landscape. Not that anyone actually dared to cross it, even from the sky.
Ifna touched the black water with her fingertips, quickly withdrawing them again, and turned her scrutinizing gaze to the horizon. Her eyes carried an intensity they rarely did.
„What do you mean?“, Maran asked, following her gaze, but he couldn’t find what she saw. Ifna was a strange woman sometimes, finding mystery and patterns where they were none. Once, she had been confident that the mushrooms growing in their garden had been summoned by demons for the pattern they displayed was „too symmetrical to be natural.“
He couldn’t blame her for this one, though. Lake Abscondes was not known for its pleasantness. There were a plethora of stories about the large, unexplored lake, of the horrors hidden underneath its black blanket. Maran himself had been warned as a child that he’d be thrown into it, consumed by the demons hidden within the lake, if he behaved naughtily. No wonder Ifna was especially interested in this lake.
„Well, don’t you see the white mist traveling along the horizon?“, Ifna asked and pointed at the faraway sky. Maran squinted his eyes, for his vision weakened by the day, but he could see what she was pointing at. White-grey mist was dancing around by the horizon, one second staying motionless, the next swirling around chaotically. It was as if it had a life of its own, carrying a faint sense of power. „It’s rarely there, but I have heard of it. Stories from travelers. They all claim that some dark energy is connected to this mist. A rogue, destructive kind. If one sees that mist, one should run“, Ifna continued in a curious tone.
Maran frowned, still staring at the strange fog, a nervous feeling rising in his gut. Why were they here then? Why did Ifna not run like advised? Maran was not a man of superstition, but he followed the general rule of fleeing when people told him to.
„So, what are we doing here?“
Ifna’s whipped around suddenly, looking at him with sparkling, passionate eyes. „I thought you’d never asked!“, she exclaimed, smiling brightly. „You must know the stories of this lake, no? The wonders and horrors told of it. Well, I believe the mist to be the key to all of it!“
Maran nodded slowly. What the hell is she talking about?, he wondered.
Ifna seemed to catch onto his confusion and gave him a warm smile. „Have you never been interested to learn of the things these depths hide? Of the secrets hidden here?“
Maran grunted. „Can’t say I have.“
„Ah!“, Ifna yelled, waving at him dismissively. „You are so boring sometimes, dear.“
„So what does this mist enable us to do?“
She nodded and turned her gaze back to the mist slowly drawing closer, now twirling softly above the water. „Travelers are claiming it to be a dark energy. But what if they’re lying, Maran?“ Ifna’s face took on a serious, longing expression. „What if all the stories our parents have told us are lies? What if… What if there are wonders here, hidden within these waters?“
Maran’s frown deepened. What was she talking about? „Ifna, you can’t be serious“, he stated, shaking his head. „What wonders can be in a place as dark, as cruel, as this?“
She shook her head. „I understand it sounds mad. Madder even than all the things I’ve come up with so far. But … I don’t know, Maran, I have a feeling about this. Those mists… they elicit something in me. Something warm, welcoming. Promising. Do you not see it?“
Giving her the benefit of the doubt, Maran turned his gaze back to the mists. They had now drawn close, uncomfortably so, only minutes away from them. He peered into that shifting pattern, that white dancing with gray, and saw what she meant. There was something calming to it, something familiar. It was as if his past soul could recognize something here. He didn’t know what it was.
„You see it, too, don’t you?“, Ifna asked excitedly, breaking him out of his trance.
He shook his head energetically. „Ifna, this is insane. We need to leave. Whatever we see in there is just an illusion“, he said, heart beating from that intensity the mist evoked. There was nothing natural about it. Travelers told them to run, so they should damn well run.
Ifna gave him a disappointed look. „I knew you wouldn’t see“, she stated simply.
„We have to leave“, Maran urged, the mist only a short distance away, its powerfulness seeming to increase by the second, eliciting that desire to stare into it forever. To lose oneself in it. He took her arm, but she shook him off.
Eyes closed, she breathed in deeply and looked back into the mists. „Leave without me.“
„Leave without me!“, she repeated sternly, teeth gritted, not sparing him a final look as her eyes were fixed on the shifting fog.
Maran huffed, giving her and the strange mists a last look. They were now stretched across the entire lake, dancing chaotically, the darkness of the lake wholly hidden underneath this white blanket. His heart was beating, and he wanted to stay and he wanted her to follow, and he wanted all things at once. But he couldn’t.
One last time, he huffed, taking back control of himself, before turning around and running, never looking back.
He never saw Ifna again.
Returning the following morning, she was gone, and so were the dancing mists. Whether she had found those wonders, he didn’t know. Whether she had been eaten by demons, he couldn’t tell.
All he knew was, Ifna was never coming back. Her madness, her desire to find the world’s hidden wonders, had gotten the best of her.