“Come on, Jiloryn!” Cahriss called.
Jiloryn waved to her best friend, Cahriss, and turned back to the basket she’d set beside Thunderfish Lake. It was a large basket, larger than the one her father generally sent her to fill up, but Jiloryn had no doubt that, by the end of the day, she’d have it filled with the thunderfish that were such a delicacy in the town of Dustspire in the country of Moirena.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” Jiloryn called back. She brushed her greenish-yellow hair behind her fin-like ears and adjusted the thin, tight suit she used for swimming. She sighed as she looked out over the lake, watching the ripples across the water as Cahriss dove under.
Jiloryn shook her head as she considered her chores for the day. Her father always sent her to collect the fish he served in their café in the center of Dustspire. Most of the time she brought Cahriss with her since all of the rusalki needed to spend time in the water to stay healthy.
Jiloryn took one last look around the lake shore then dove into the water. It was chilly, as it was the Season of Dormancy, but it felt like soft velvet against her purple skin. Her gills took over after several minutes, and Jiloryn was able to frolic with Cahriss and the others instead of holding her breath.
Diving beneath the surface was like entering another world. Tall weeds grew up from the bottom of the lake and waved to and fro with the movement of the water. Darkness reigned within the depths of this forest, and Jiloryn found a peace here she couldn’t find anywhere else. The thunderfish darted in and out of the weeds, making their characteristic thunder sound whenever two or more of them gathered. It was like being in a perpetual thunderstorm, something Jiloryn found more relaxing than anything else.
The merfolk of Moirena also made their home here. Unlike those who lived in the elven kingdom of E’ma Thalas, the merfolk of Moirena were a dark people. Their skin was a deep blue, and their eyes tended to have red pupils on black irises. Their teeth were pointed, and their lips were deep crimson to black. Their ears were more like fins, much like Jiloryn’s, and their hair was generally pure black or pure white. They never bothered with clothing, and most were scarred from their perpetual fighting. Still, Jiloryn found most of them to be amicable enough and had even formed a tentative friendship with a couple of them.
Sounds of a fight filtered through the water, and Jiloryn stopped swimming to listen. The water distorted sound, so she wasn’t quite sure where the noise originated, but she knew she didn’t want to swim into the middle of a merfolk battle. Instead, she swam to the surface and bobbed there for a moment while her lungs took over.
Jiloryn surfaced and shook the water from her scarlet eyes. With a sigh of resignation, she climbed from the water and toweled herself off. She sat down in the grass on the shore of the lake for a moment to catch her breath, then she picked up her basket and dove back into the water.
The water pulled against the basket, and Jiloryn struggled with its larger size. She made her way to the northern part of the lake where the thunderfish schooled. Booms reverberated through the water, making it ripple across Jiloryn’s skin. She shivered at the sensation and continued onward.
Thunderfish swam around her in a rainbow of purples and greens. The beauty of the fish took Jiloryn’s breath away, like always, and she nearly cried at the thought of harming them. Still, though, her father had to make a living, and the café’s delicacy was what kept them fed.
Jiloryn sat the basket on the bottom of the lake and simply waited. It was always this way. As thunderfish, as a rule, were not the most intelligent of creatures, it usually didn’t take long for them to get curious enough to swim into the basket. Her father had constructed it in such a way that, once they entered it, they couldn’t escape.
Jiloryn was close to dosing off when a splash from above caught her attention. She jumped and groaned as the thunderfish scattered. Then she looked up to see what had caused the splash.
Something came at her from the surface of the lake. Jiloryn snatched the basket out of the way and swam toward the object. At first it looked like nothing more than a bundle of cloth someone had tossed into the lake, but when Jiloryn swam closer, she saw that it was a dwarf. He was about average height for a dwarf, a little shorter than Jiloryn, with strawberry-blonde hair and freckles on his pale face. He wore black pants and a blue shirt, and his cloak fanned around him like some strange fish’s fin.