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Liars (Lake Baikal | Siberia)
Though she was presently watching the clouds in the sky, Thalia’s lips quirked into a smile for Kemala’s words. “A strange fish,” she laughed. “Then I think you have found yourself in good company.” Grey eyes peeked up, sharing a glitter of amusement that was utterly guileless in its quiet acceptance of strange. Her last conversation with Aylin fluttered somewhere in the back of her mind, though she did not allow herself to dwell on it, or the way it felt like a weight in her chest. Kemala was a stranger, granted, but her company was pleasant; soothing in some way Thalia did not contemplate too deeply. And it wasn’t just the sistery resonance, though certainly it helped.

She passed the drawing up to the woman’s open palm. It was a collection of studies extrapolated from the original drawings, idle musings really. The compliments washed without much reaction, until the final words, upon which Thalia pushed herself up onto her arms. “Really? You would?” Her head tilted, curious. It was not contemplation on whether or how much to trust; Thalia was comfortable in her skin, cognisant of her oddities, and rarely filtered herself for the benefit of others. She welcomed serendipity with both hands, and did not question the joy of fortune. She realised, then, that much like Nox, Kemala’s words implied understanding of the world’s supernatural mysteries. Though she said creature, not monster. Mostly, though, Thalia’s smile was for the offer of help so freely offered. Company was welcomed.

She shifted to rummage into her bag, producing the newest of her sketchbooks. A swipe on the cover loosened sand sneaked amongst her belongings, and then she offered it out if Kemala wished to peruse further. “I’ve never seen water this clear. It’s beautiful to swim in. Did you know something like eighty percent of the wildlife here is endemic? They say a water dragon called Lusud-Khan lives in the lake -- there are carvings all over. Nothing like this though.” A gesture briefly indicated her own drawings, and then her chin sank into her fist, tone enamoured of the beauty and mystery of the place. “People see strange lights, above the water, and below it too sometimes. In fact there’s a place called Cape Ryty they don’t let people visit at all, because they disappear. Lightning strikes the rocks there time and again -- an angry spirit cursing the land. Boats vanish sometimes too. A whole pleasure boat back in 2011, can you believe that? I heard the locals say that sometimes there are whirlpools out there, that they are gateways to hell.” She did not seem disturbed by such ghostly tales so much as fascinated.
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimthallethe.jpg]
Kemala accepted the paper curiously, but it was Thalia’s stories that pulled her gaze upward, as if she may behold evidence of such supernatural tales simply because she was now aware of their existence. When nothing happened, she shrugged and returned the sketch to the woman. “I see. It sounds like a sacred place. Something of great significance must have once happened on that site. The gods leave a mark.”

The stretched backward. The ache of an unfinished session crimped her muscles, but the stretch soothed it slightly. “I’ve never seen a dragon. Not in the beastly style described by the Europeans, but water snakes are real enough. Some can grow quite large,” she feigned the opening of a giant mouth with her arms, only to wink and let the imagery stew in the imagination.

“Whirlpools, though. They are quite real, and quite dangerous. I’ve no doubt one can form in such a deep abyss as fills these waters.”

As she finished stretching, the collar of her shirt tipped off one shoulder. There beneath the clavicle was a tattoo unlike the others. Seven loops of a tail surrounded the risen body of a cobra, which upon its hood was perched a squiggle not unlike a diadem.

Thalia laughed for the tease of Kemala’s snapping arms, surprised at the frivolity, and delighted too. “Well, me either. She looks like a giant sturgeon, all plated along her spine. I haven’t seen the carvings in person though, just online.” A brow rose, playful in kind. “You know, sometimes the whirlpools spit the boats back out, a few days missing from the memories of those on board but otherwise no worse for wear.” She didn’t know whether she believed it herself, but these days she didn’t write anything off as impossible. If Aylin was to be believed, she never had, though she did not dwell on patchy childhood memory, or more recent. Her gaze drifted to watch Kemala’s examination of the drawings, wondering if she told the woman exactly why she’d come here the sooth of her unperturbed stoicism would instead recoil. There was a difference, after all, between strange and crazy.

Her attention caught by chance on the revealed tattoo, different from the nautical theme of the rest she could see against Kemala’s dark skin. Her head tilted a little, though she was uncertain if the pry of her curiosity would be met with a favourable reception. Her fingers brushed idle against her own chest over the damp t-shirt, though no mark was there. She thought about other symbols given strange life in the pages of her sketchbook, and felt the majesty of its mystery sweep her into its current. “There’s a place on the lake’s eastern shore called Snake Bay. There are hot springs there. But apparently no actual snakes.” She gestured the spot beneath her own collarbone, plainly curious to witness the other woman’s reaction. Though presently, she smiled and added. “So if we were going to look for a secret in the lake, where do you think we should start?”
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimthallethe.jpg]
She doubted that the many-tentacled fish woman existed but given all Kemala knew of a hidden world lurking underfoot, the possibility remained. What really wiggled her toes was the possibility of encountering another slippery figure. Their symbol found its way to the light of day, sensing the rouse of Kemala’s thoughts, just as her shirt tipped over the cap of one shoulder. “Snake bay sounds intriguing. Hot springs alone are enough to tempt me toward that direction.” Naga loved the warm, moist caverns buried beneath the island volcanoes. Surely similar flows would attract more of their kind. If not, she would enjoy the stew of steamy waters no less.

“Do you practice yoga? You may join me, if you do.” She had no extra room on the mat, and the rocks were uncomfortable beneath the palms, but the even cadence of Kemala’s voice could soothe any ache. Surely it would make the stony barbs worth the pinch.

It was doubtful she would find her own answers at Snake Bay, yet it seemed questionable given her directionlessness that she would find answers at all. When the mood struck her, Thalia was as determined as a river’s ceaseless tides, though much like such forces she did not always take the direct route. She believed in fate’s crossroads, and she was in no great haste -- the current would sweep where it willed. Something in Kemala’s words prickled the warmth of camaraderie, and she was content in the glow of that unusual gift.

She held up her injured palm, then added. “Not really. Thank you, though. I would give it a go, but I should probably be careful of this. You never really realise how much you use your hands until you’re not supposed to.” Her fingers curled back over, and the hand sank back into her lap. She would have happily tried too, despite that she would probably have looked akin to one of the lake’s nerpa seals in the attempt, at least in comparison with such elegance. Not that that bothered her at all, but she would like the wound to heal at some point, and she already tested it more than she should. 

A laugh spluttered for the internal image, and she deposited the sketchbook back into the confines of her rucksack so that Kemala had room to continue her practise as she wished, though she seemed in no great hurry to leave. At the same time her wallet began to hum and vibrate somewhere in its depths, and though she did not fish it out her eyes did marginally widen. It was an alarm, not a call. “Ah! I need to catch a ferry. I will meet you tomorrow, yes? We’ll go to the hot springs. I’d like to see them too.” She smiled brightly, reaching for the loose sketch in order to scribble her name and contact along the edge of one slithering tentacle. 

Then she hopped up and wriggled into a pair of shorts -- the tshirt was still a little damp, as was the costume underneath, but it’d do -- and presently realised her shoes were -- where? Somewhere back in the sand where she had been sitting before, probably. Hopefully. She hoisted her bag. “Tomorrow!” she promised.
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimthallethe.jpg]

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