Haloisi perks up a bit at the mention of libraries, but then her hopes fall again as she recalls how futile her efforts were in the last library the party had discovered. She listened for a while, and tried to remain interested, but any tale as told through the filter of a religious fanatic was never a good source of fact. Thelonius seemed interested, of course, but Haloisi was not terribly. She excused herself as if to get a drink and allowed the others to get what information they could. Even if the woman had firsthand account of the ruins she spoke of, it seemed doubtful that she studied them in any meaningful way.
The celebrations were still going strong. Haloisi tried not to think about what the lizard and menfolk were eating around the fires. She had tried the dragon meat out of sheer powerful curiosity, but as to the origins of the the baser meats and questionable fermented beverages passed among the fires she had the opposite of curiosity.
Elven cloak up, Haloisi stealthily worked her way among the crude huts toward the one designated for her and Lyra, who seemed to be Halosi’s permanent bunk-mate. Of course, if Haloisi had to choose among the party, Lyra is who she would pick every time. The girl certainly knew well of discretion from her apparently larcenous background. Haloisi returned the favor easily and naturally by not disclosing what she had pieced together about the girl. Some knowledge was not meant for others, which was only reasonable, but all knowledge must be known by Haloisi herself, and had best dare not attempt to escape her.
Haloisi slipped into the hut and collapsed to her knees, rapidly casting Alter Self upon her features and concentrating to change her skin hue. As soon as she was satisfied, she summoned the diary from her bag of holding. She brushed back her hair to keep it from falling in front of her and blocking the light. The light was poor in this hut, barely enough to read by from ambient firelight around the camp, but she did not cast dancing lights. If the book were subject to enemy scrying, she did not want to so much as give them the fact that she could use magic.
The diary opened to the same page once more, a passage about lizardfolk and their place in the ancient Crystal Empire. As fascinating as that was the first two times she studied the passage, she could not see any reason to continue to read it. Haloisi approached the book methodically, which is her way.
Almost unconsciously, she detected magic on the book once more to try to learn the nature of its wardings. The person who created the book clearly had been evil, and his or her creation was a reflection of its maker. Haloisi felt it in the magical resonance, which made study uncomfortable, but did nothing to lessen her passion for doing so. Otherwise, she was having just about as much success discovering its nature as she had in the weeks she had spent studying the spear she had discovered in the Old City, seemingly aware of its surroundings in the presence of evil, but steadfast in its refusal to reveal to Haloisi just how aware it was.
It was difficult to concentrate on the study for other reasons as well. Haloisi’s seemingly sentient spear, now called Tooth after having been reforged with a dragon tooth spearhead, had misgivings about the book’s presence. It fed Haloisi’s own unease with the artifact with an occasional inarticulate murmur that was clearly a warning. Haloisi did not require the spear’s indications to know that the knowledge was dangerous, but forbidden knowledge was always the best kind. She swept her hair back once more and held it there, but needed both hands to turn pages and pry at the book so it just swept forward again.
Time and futility wore on her as she pressed on without results. Under normal study conditions, such a protracted battle would have been a joy, but holding a book sought by very powerful beings actively seeking it and, incidentally, her demise, stuck out here in the stagnant salt swamp that was the first water she had ever encountered that she did not like, pressed for time… Her patience was wearing fast.
Fatigue from detecting magic, watching everywhere at once to ensure no one, not even Lyra, was privy to her research, maintaining her disguise, knowing that every moment she had the book outside of her bag of holding increased its chances of being discovered by divination… Frustration was not quite the word for what she felt.
After an hour of reading the same damned passage no matter how many pages she turned, attempting different ways of holding the book, detecting magic, seeking secret ways to unlock or activate it fully, Tooth buzzing its displeasure at her study and the thousandth time sweeping her hair back from her eyes to keep it from blocking what little light she had, Haloisi was so primed with frustration that she was ready to burn the book. And tear out her hair. But of course Haloisi would never take out her anger on a book.
Haloisi slammed the diary shut and shoved it back into her bag of holding. Snatching her silver dagger, Haloisi measured out a proper length of hair with one hand, concentrating against the foe she could defeat. She cut through as precisely as she could with a sharp silver dagger at night in a lizardman hut.
Her obsessive concentration given a new task, she methodically worked her way around her blue hair and cut it exactly and with as much perfection she could manage. It was strangely therapudic. Her mind slowly unloaded all thoughts of the book, tooth, the salt marshes, the insects, and instead she lost herself in the process of crafting her hair.
She lit a Dancing Light then, brushing her hair out with her fingers and using the dagger as a silvered mirror to judge her work. It seemed well, but even with the bright light and her masterfully crafted dagger, it was an impression at best. But she got the impression she had done well. Haloisi sighed, still beset by mild frustration, and it was building again now that her task was done.
She undressed and washed with summoned water. How long had it been since she was able to fully swim in clean water? To fully submerge and enjoy the oneness of the life aquatic, moving with and against the currents, waves and eddies? Haloisi dressed dejectedly and wandered from the hut. She moved away from the fires toward the swamp. Surely not all of the marsh was fetid and poisonous? But she knew better, and discovered as much.
The marshes were familiar. Haloisi’s childhood home of Bydune was separated from land by an expanse of salt marshes, but those were clean sea water marshes regularly exchanged with the tides, fresh water from land, and rains. She had hidden in those marshes once, long ago, as a child on the run from home. It was where she discovered…
Haloisi stashed her clothes and quickly waded into the foul waters, Tooth in hand, wearing naught but her chain belt and bag of holding. Then Haloisi began to dance. She preferred to dance with her spear and trident these days; they added flourish and embellishment to her dance and aided her concentration. Moreover, of late it seemed she was in battle more times than not when she found an opportunity to waterdance. The waters roiled and tumbled, splashed and fountained upward. She tried to remove the filth from the cursed marsh and return the fresh water, or at least clean salt water, but no matter how passionately she sang and danced, it was far beyond her power. Her freshly cleaned skin felt the foulness keenly. But Haloisi was determined. She was distracted by Tooth buzzing in her head again. Of course!
Haloisi held the spear aloft and it began to glow softly, matching the moonlit wisps of ethereal fog that rose from the marshes away from the areas that Haloisi had violently disturbed moments ago. She turned slowly at first, singing at as strong and deep a murmur as she could manage. The marsh water followed after her as if being slowly spun around her dancing form like a skirt. Faster she turned, creating a vortex that pulled the heaviest and most foul water to the center.
The water hole she danced in became entirely engulfed in a whirlpool in the quiet moonlight. It was quiet, Haloisi thought distantly. The night creatures silenced earlier when she had caused so much noise with her earlier attempts. She put the distant thought out of her mind and concentrated fully on the vortex. The rush of the water now was not so much loud as it was powerful in sound as the waters rushed to keep up with Haloisi’s rapid spinning. She thrust the spear down into the water and its glow intensified. The water took on the glow. She felt clean water separate from the filth and go flying outward, replaced by more filth which was then cleaned in turn.
Haloisi lost track of time as the progressively cleaner waters surged around her, separating faster as Tooth glowed brighter. After an immeasurable moment of time, only clean water surrounded her. Haloisi ended the dance abruptly, causing the vortex to collapse violently as she plunged victoriously under the water.
She danced gently to maintain her place under the water as the former salt marsh water calmed. With Tooth in her hand, she had no need to breath under the water, another miraculous property. She floated out of thought and time. A weariness she had not felt came over her, but the comfort and contentment of being submerged in good, clean water overcame the feeling. In some ways, the fatigue added to the satisfaction.
The meditation was complete and total. Haloisi’s mind and body were one. She had been unaware of how out of synch she had become, but she was now firmly centered. It felt absolutely fabulous. If she were not currently under water, she would sigh in perfect happiness. Haloisi knew she needed sleep soon. It would not do to fall asleep here and lose grasp on Tooth as she slept.
Haloisi cast Water Walk on herself, surging to the surface that was now four feet overhead from where she sat meditating on the bottom. She felt so good that she danced as she rose twirling atop of the water with Tooth held in her hands over her head, spinning on her toes. Her new hair flew out behind her, and she water danced herself dry.
She marveled at how this water hole had changed from her dance. The former filth had built the area up into a pool surrounded by a perfectly circular mound thirty feet in diameter. This pool of fresh water would remain. Her satisfaction grew. She heard a whimper and sharply jerked her chin toward the sound.
Lyra sat hugging herself around the knees, rocking back and forth. Oddly, the child’s boots were off beside her. Her wide, wet eyes were large in the moonlight. Her face went through a montage of emotion, beginning with deep sorrow and loss, transitioning into a very brief flash of relief, then settling on anger. Very clear anger, and very clearly directed in Haloisi’s general direction. Haloisi knew she must look as puzzled as she felt. She smiled at Lyra, whose scowl deepened.
“Oh, hello child. Did you see the dance? Look at what it made!” Haloisi said proudly, gesturing to her sides and smiling. Her smile slipped a bit as Lyra’s face became more angry. It made no sense whatsoever. Of course the child was hydrophobic, but Haloisi had not invited Lyra to come here, nor forced Lyra to watch her beautifully violent and graceful acts of hydroforming.
“It’s perfectly all right, child. See? This pool is filled with clean water now.” Haloisi tried. Lyra’s face was stone. There was a long moment of awkward silence on Haloisi’s part as she waited for Lyra to say something, do something besides glower at her angrily, and she fidgeted as she levitated nakedly a few inches above the water. Haloisi couldn’t help but think that she had done something wrong, but for the life of her she could not figure it out.
“I, um, I cut my hair. Do you like it?” Haloisi tried nervously, touching her waves of blue locks to make sure it had dried in the correct place. She barely ducked Lyra’s first boot, which landed with a splash. “Lyra!”
“You were underwater for ten minutes. TEN MINUTES!” Lyra shouted, her face contorted in pain, her eyes full of wet rage.
“Lyra, I…” Haloisi was at a loss.
“I thought you were drowning. I took off my boots…” Lyra threw her other boot, which Haloisi deflected numbly. Then she sat back down and sobbed. In between Haloisi made out words, “I couldn’t come after you. It would have been my fault if you…”
“Oh, child, I am so sorry.” Haloisi said, understanding Lyra’s meaning, and she meant it earnestly. “I wouldn’t fault you, of course with your irrational phobia you couldn’t possibly be expected to be capable of…”
“Just fetch my boots and bring them back to the hut. Leave them outside because I won’t be there. I’ll find somewhere else to sleep tonight.” Lyra snapped. And with that Lyra stalked off, breaking into a sprint before Haloisi could reach the shore.
Haloisi stood stunned. She was unaware that she mattered this much to Lyra. Of course, their entire party had become close, and were becoming closer than Haloisi would generally care for purely as a matter of effort involved in personal relationships and their inherent distractions from important study. But for whatever reason, Lyra had seemed to latch on to Haloisi and Lorran, of all people, the most tightly. Haloisi did not spend much time studying psychology other than to learn to become a better negotiator and, when necessary, manipulator, but she could see how an urchin of the streets would have such a need. Were she and Lorran become Lyra’s placebo for her missing parents? She shuddered at the thought. While Lyra had chosen her female influence expertly, her choice of male role model was sharply lacking.