A perfect circle, the water's surface was a sheet of glass reflecting back the sky, almost enhancing the color as it did so. The images on the water's mirror surface were more vibrant than they seemed in life. Every atom seemed to glow and buzz with life, the pool shining in the sunlight for the heavens to admire.
All around the water was tall black stone, jagged on the outer wall but worn smooth within. The height receded in one area, creating a sort of entrance onto the smooth stone surrounding the pool. Malle, the patron of this pool, lounged in a divot in the wall of the stone, which had contoured perfectly to the lines of her body. Her fingertips hovered above the pool, not yet daring to graze the surface. She gazed lovingly into the water, knowing that home laid beneath; that it always would, and she would always be separated from it. A bittersweet feeling to be sure, but one that gave her comfort.
Malle was a kind soul, always ready and willing to aid those pure of heart. Love for the creatures that dwelled on the surface was what called her to take up the mantle of guarding the sacred pool. The former patron, Scylle, had been lost in the hundred-year war. Just the thought of the bloodshed reaching the pool was enough to make Malle shudder. Her task was to protect the pool- the portal- as long as she lived, and that she would do.
A sudden visitor pulled her out of her thoughts, and Malle sat up. A frazzled looking deer fae had lighted atop one of the stones, its miniature hooves making a faint click against the rock. Malle held out her hand, and the fae collapsed onto it, its hands and knees thumping lightly onto her palm. Pointing a tiny, delicate finger toward the east, the fae's beetle-like wings hummed with warning, its long fur-tipped tail swishing slowly.
"The forest?" Malle asked, earning a nod from the tiny creature. "I'll go take a look."
Deer fae did not speak; they were feral creatures, with body language all their own. They looked partially like miniature people, save for their hooved feet, tails, wings, and antlers. They stood about as tall as a human hand, from the fingertip to the bottom of the palm. Just like other fae species, they loved to cause mischief.
This one must have been less aggressive than others in its clan, Malle thought, knowing that when other deer fae had approached her for aid they had pulled her hair or even charged her with their antlers to get her to move. Not that it particularly hurt, but she much preferred a gesture like this to what felt like an attack.
She moved her hand up to her shoulder, and the fae climbed on, steadying itself with her hair as Malle stood and set out for the forest. Grabbing her worn leather satchel, a gift from a friend long past, she made her way across the valley. Before she could reach the tree line she saw swarms of deer fae flying into the trees from the meadow to the north. She thought she heard a faint voice as well, but she couldn't make out what it was saying.
Pushing into the trees, Malle wished she had thought to put on her sandals. The sticks and seeds scattering the ground were uncomfortable to trek over, to say the least. Over the sound of twigs snapping under her feet, the voice became louder. It was a man, not too old, and he sounded distressed.
"Get off, you nasty things!" the voice said. No doubt he was shouting at the fae.
Malle followed the sound and soon caught a glimpse of the scene she had been searching for. A knight was fruitlessly swinging his hands to swat at the ever-darting deer fae that bombarded him. It was no wonder, him coming into the forest with his freshly polished armor.
"They like your suit," Malle called over to him as she slowed to a leisurely walk. There was no danger here, at least nothing urgent. "It's better to wear leather armor if you're coming this way."
The knight eyed her as she approached, still waving his hands at the fae that buzzed around him. "Leather armor is for the common ranks," he said, sounding offended. "I am a knight of King Endoch, on a sacred quest from him at that."
"Then the least you can do is travel at night. The sunlight is reflecting off your armor, you're a glimmering beacon for deer fae."
Malle fished in her bag and found a chunk of amethyst, harvested from the cave deep inside the sacred pool. She glanced around for a stone, and used it to crack the gem apart. The fae on her shoulder darted out, grabbing one of the tiny purple shards. It flew into the swarm and showed it off to the others, who began to gather around the crushed crystal.
The knight watched as they each grabbed up an armful and flew it back to their nests. Malle giggled as they swished their tail tips across her skin, a gesture of good will from the fae.
"If you insist on wearing that, you should at least have something else to offer them." As the last few fae flew off, Malle gathered up what was left of the amethyst and slid it back into her satchel.
The knight looked away before mumbling his thanks. Malle smiled at him and turned to head back the way she came.
"Wait," he said, stepping toward her. "Do you know where I can find the nymph of the healing pool?"
"Well, I'd guess she's at the healing pool," Malle said, cracking a smile. "Come on, I'll show you the way."
"I can find it. You be on your way," the knight said, regaining his composure and starting to walk off.
"Are you sure?" Malle asked, watching him follow the path toward the deer fae meadows.
"Oh yes. Trust me, I have an excellent sense of direction. You just be on your way," he said, waving her off with the back of his hand. Malle shrugged, curtsied, and headed back toward the valley. If he wanted to waste his time wandering around looking for the patron nymph of the healing pool, the least she could do was be there when he eventually found it.