The still, quiet sunlight of dawn crept through the forest glade as the sun broke the horizon. The cacophonous bird song of first-light had passed leaving an anticipating silence in its wake. Dew glistened like crystal from leaves and spider webs. Only the faintest stirring of a breeze swept a quiet rustle through the leaves of the trees.
"Pristine, unspoiled wilderness", began the voice-over. "The Federal Preserve of Parnassus maintains the largest stand of ancient forest that once covered the Balkan polities. Maintained by public subscription as a regional amenity the Preserve is a haven for many vanishing species suffering from habitat destruction. The most elusive of which is the nymphos sylvanus, the Forest Nymph. Although genetic samples survive from trapped specimens, the species does not survive well in captivity. There are no examples of this endangered species in today's zoos. In fact, many attest that they are already extinct. However, if they are anywhere, they are here. Owing to a generous donation by Ms Cassandra Cyriazi, Nature World's crew are here to try to catch what may be a final glimpse of them."
"Yeah, it'll do. Wrap it." Clovis Whittaker snapped off the playback monitor and signaled the technicians to pack up the lights, cameras, and microphones from the glade. He slapped at insects as he descended from the film site to the main camp. The only great thing about the great outdoors is it sells well, he thought to himself. At a steep point he tripped over the power cables and failed to grab the rope handholds the forest union had provided. Swearing at his barked shin he fumed into camp. "Where's the local union rep? Why don't they put stairs in these places? Call it a public amenity? More like an insurance risk."
"Did the morning shoot go OK?" asked Stan Winston rushing over to him with a glass chinking with ice-cubes.
Clovis grunted. "Done better." Done worse, too. It will sell. At least they will get plenty of stock scenery shots in this wild goose chase. Speaking of which... "When's the bitch and entourage due to turn up now?"
"They've had some delays", began Stan. Clovis rolled his eyes and knocked back his drink. "But they should be up this afternoon."
Clovis shook his head. "Great. Lets seek what we can shoot before they get here." He snatched a location map from Stan. "Yeah, there should be a stream and what the forest union so magnimanously calls a 'waterfall' up here." He jutted his stylus at the map. "We'll need a water team there for some low shots to make it look bigger. Get them laying the cable, I'll be in my office."
"Yes sir", Stan called after him.
Bloody nuisance. There will only be more bugs up there, but at least you can swat those. He slammed the door to the air-conditioned box labeled "Director's Office" and sat heavily at his desk. He glared at the vid-fax left on top of his desk from Ms. Bitch's secretary. By Jove this woman didn't understand the concept of "traveling light", he swore to himself as her secretary silkily informed him that yet another flunky was going to be accompanying her. Yeah, we'll sling a hammock.
If she wasn't bankrolling this episode we wouldn't be here at all. But, then, we'd probably be somewhere better. The worst part of filming were the jerks who got camera's pointed at them. Just because they front it they think they know it all. At least wildlife wasn't so presumptive. You could position it, spray it, move it, and otherwise make it photogenic without it complaining. He turned on and flicked through his diary morosely. Next week was the engineered citrus groves of Oslo sponsored by Norwegian Citrus, the week after the reclaimed Congo Swamp Park and Water World, sponsored by some Nigerian politician. Harumph. Hardly an episode now that isn't paid for by someone. Just like I faxed my wife: there's no future in wildlife. Gotta get into stock or something. He turned off his diary with a disgusted gesture.
Cassandra's limousine couldn't make it as far as the main camp. They grounded it in a public space and had to travel the last kilometer by foot. How tiresome. The Forest Union at least made some effort to help, but they really were bumbling fools. Underpaid and over worked. Only the pantheon knew why they kept with such dead-end jobs. Perhaps the poaching paid more than she guessed.
Aristedes seemed to be bearing up well. Her personal assistant was tall and dressed darkly. He helped her over the rough spots. That's what he was paid for. A useful fashion accessory. Michalis wasn't as reserved. Probably the first time in his life out of air-conditioning. He looked around nervously and flinched every time a unclipped plant brushed him. She suspected that Ms. Cavendish, her head secretary, sent him as some form of punishment. Sophia, her make-up artist, bore herself with much better grace. Although clearly unused to the surroundings she sought to explore, rather than avoid. Just as well, thought Cassandra, I only brought her because Cavendish said she really wanted to go and it would probably be cheaper than a raise. Really, though, the deciding factor was the annoyance factor she thought it would bring the Nature World crew.
They were paraded into the main camp and kept waiting as some idiot in a mosquito net hat ran around trying to find Mr. Whittaker. Eventually he emerged with a blast of cold air from a depressingly shabby box which she took to be the standard of accommodation. "Clovis, darling!" Normally she would gaily trip across to meet him but she didn't trust the footing, so she choose to just walk lightly with her arms out. He returned her embrace and let her peck him on each cheek.
"Welcome, to the glorious beauty of the Parnassian Preserve", he said, as if he owned it. "How have you found it so far?"
Irritating? Inconvenient? A marketing necessity? "Exhilarating!" she eventually chose. "I can't wait to get started", she said, getting to the point.
"Excellent! We've the interview spot set up and ready to go. Stan can show you to your changing room and, if the weather holds, we can have you back on your schedule by nightfall", Clovis enthused.
Nice try. "Oh! Don't think you'll be rid of me so quickly! I plan to hang around for at least a couple of days. I so like to watch you work." She savored his crestfallen look. Now the next strike. "But, yes, we are all quite tired so we should probably retire to our rooms to refresh ourselves for the shoot."
"Er, I'm afraid we only have three rooms." He admitted.
"What?" she said in mock surprise. "Did you not get my vid-fax? Where will poor Sophia stay?"
"It came far too late to arrange anything else with the Forest Union. I did say that we needed to know everything several months in advance and..."
"I'll not have my make-up artist sleeping out in the cold."
Clovis was about to retaliate in one direction when he did a double take at Sophia. "She's your make-up artist?" Cassandra gave her innocent look at Sophia. She was quite plain and generally wore either no make-up or bad make-up. Her main skill was in following her directions. Cassandra liked to think that she did her own make-up, it was just applied by someone else. Sophia did not appear to be relishing the attention. Poor girl, to use her like this. She thought for a moment, but seeing Clovis's irritation, she dismissed it. She is quite useful.
"Absolutely, I'll have it done by no one else." Having been put off his stride Clovis quickly tired of the fight.
"I'll see if one of the Forest Union types will give up a space for her. I hope you like the outdoors."
"Thank you so much!" Cassandra interjected before Sophia could utter something self-depreciating and spoil the victory.
The interview shoot had seemed endless. Ms Cyriazi had adjusted every light on the set and then turned them all off and made them wait three hours until the sun had descended to the right position. Sophia could see how a natural theme warranted natural lighting. But she felt Ms Cyriazi could have accomplished it all a lot easier if she had been, well, a bit nicer about it.
Once it had finally started Sophia felt under a lot of pressure. Almost every camera shot the sun sank a little lower. This required subtly different makeup and she was called in repeatedly to apply it under Ms Cyriazi's direction. This always made her nervous, since she really didn't understand the first thing about make-up. All the more so as the crew's real make-up artist watched and clucked her tongue, sharing exasperated epressions with the rest of the crew as she worked. She bore no illusions about her position. If her gift lay anywhere it was in vid-painting, which she dearly longed to go back to. But an aunt had got her this prestigious position and she had to stick with it, at least for a while. She hoped she could learn at least something about applying makeup to herself before she quit.
Ah, but the forest was lovely. It took over a year, plus appropriate bribes, to get one of the limited tickets. Usually government ministers or their friends bumped normal members of the public down the list. So, despite all the headaches of Ms Cyriazi's service, this made up for them all. Dinner had been served, well below Ms Cyriazi's standard, and both parties retired to their cabins to avoid each other. The Forest Union workers had put up a cot-bet in their barracks but they were a bit boisterous and felt she should leave them to settle for a little bit. For now she had the forest to herself.
She breathed the night air deeply. No "forest scented" product she had ever tried could compare with it. The light from a slim moon filtered down and lit the glade in a thousand shades of silver. She had never even considered a moonlight forest. All the media presentations were stock footage of the forest by sunlight. She had tried a few paintings based on those but nothing really struck her. She was tempted to take her own vid-snaps, to use as material, but the Parnassus Trust owned the copyright and they had access to powerful lawyers. So she just tried to memorize every detail.
Iris danced for the moon on the mountain. But tonight was not like others, something disturbed her. The wind brought the scent of others on the mountain. She could barely remember her mother telling her the names of sylphs who used to bring the news of the wind to her, before they had to seek it themselves. She did not like the scent of the others. Like the yellow stars that lived in the floor of the valley that hurt her eyes, the scent of the others made her want to leave. That is why she only danced for the moon at night. In the daytime the scent was too strong but the wind carried most of it off by nightfall.
Tonight, though, the scent had stayed. The others had lingered on the mountain even into the night. She felt cornered. Only once before had the scent had been stronger. She had ran and ran and her mother made her hide deep within her grotto. When the hunger for the wind and stars finally overcame her fear she came out, but never found her mother again. Just her scent mixed with the other's.
She had not understood then, but felt she did now, her mother's actions. When there is no where to run to you have to confront what you would rather not. She had only ever smelled the others, never seen them. But tonight, she could not dance for the moon. So, like her mother, she would go to see them and see if they should be feared.
Iris crept down the mountain alone. Her mother told her tales of her sprite companions that accompanied her on her adventures. Iris had to settle for imaginary ones when she was younger to give her courage. She tried thinking of them now but couldn't remember their faces. The forest smelt strongly of sap and soil where the others had rooted it up. She looked at their tracks to try to make sense of them but they were many and confused. They had also shed many strange things in their wake. They smelt strongly of the others and reminded her of what smells the winds brought when they blew strongly across the constellations of the vale.
The others had strung up some of the yellow stars of the valley and brought them with them as her mother had with stars from the sky. But the light was not the soft glow of starlight but hurt even worse than the light of the valley. She shied away from these, confused. Beneath these was also a great buzzing, like a giant insect and a great smell. A beetle, surely. Mother had distracted her with stories of fairies racing beetles.
But she grew weary of the smells and the harsh light. She was not frightened anymore, just weary. As she crept back she suddenly came across another smell of the others. It was different, but not as strange. It was the smell of a living creature, but not one she had seen. Curious, she crept closer.
From the bushes on the edge of a clearing she looked out on an other. With the first glance her heart leaped within her, she had the form of her mother! The limbs, hair and neck, although covered in leaves, was more like her than any animal. Instinctively she reached out but, when the other reacted it was in surprise, not recognition. Looking full in her face all resemblance to her mother was gone. Where her mother's face had been smooth and clear as a water worn pebble, this face was rough and craggy like the high points of the mountain. Shock finally overwhelmed her fear and Iris fled to back up the mountain.
Stan burst into Clovis's cabin. "Wake up, there's been an accident." His heart beat frantically. You did not disturb Mr. Whittaker lightly. It was a firing offense.
Clovis's head glared back at him from under the sheet, "This had better be good."
"I don't know exactly what's happened. Just one of the Forest Union workers started shouting for a doctor for Ms Sophia."
Clovis grunted as he dragged on his shorts. "I knew that bitch would be trouble. Probably a spy. She sure isn't any makeup artist."
Stan helped him with his shirt and sandals and followed in his wake as he elbowed his way through the blinking Union workers and technicians. "Where is she? What's she's done?" Some blankets had been hastily erected in a screen behind which they heard uncontrollable sobbing. Clovis made toward it but was brought to a stop by the chest of Aristedes. I wonder if he sleeps in that suit, thought Stan.
"The doctor is examining her", he said in a tone that indicated that she was not to be disturbed.
"Who found her?" asked Stan. Aristedes silently pointed at a Union worked jabbering with the others. Stan made his way over. "Mr. Whittaker wants to know what happened." He said.
"Yes sir, I'm very sorry sir", said the worker. Yes, you want your fully promised bribe when the shoot is over, sir. "When I noticed that she was not sleeping in her cot I went to see if she was all right. I heard her crying up in the clearing and she looked, well..." He seemed lost for words.
"She looked what?" asked Stan. "Did she look hurt?"
The worker shrugged. "No, not like that. She looked like... She seemed... I called for the doctor. Union Regulations." The rest fell to making suggestive comments and discussing the minutiae of union requirements. Stan considered for a minute. He had seen the way Sophia looked around. She actually seemed to like it here. It was quite possible she went for a walk in the woods on her own and maybe, just maybe, saw an actual nymph.
He walked back to Clovis who was matching his glare against Aristedes's chest. "Cassandra will most likely be making her appearance shortly", said Clovis, looking at his watch.
"I think I know what happened", said Stan. Both Aristedes and Clovis looked skeptically at him. "I think she saw a nymph."
Clovis rolled his eyes, "Oh crap, Stan. There aren't any bloody nymphs. They're extinct. They caught the last one a decade ago." The sobbing had quieted inside. Aristedes still would not move, though. Then a disturbance started on the edge of the crowd. "Right on time", muttered Clovis.
Cassandra burst through, "Where is she?" she asked dramatically. Aristedes stepped aside to let her through and collided with Clovis as he stepped in after her. They both lost their balance and fumbled trying to regain it by holding the blankets. They had just been hung over branches and they both ended on the ground.
Sophia sat on a camp stool, there with her hand being held by the doctor and tears running down her face. Stan's heart was suddenly in his throat and he didn't know why. The rest of the crowd had also gone quiet and he almost felt like crying himself. He understood, now, why the Union worker had gone for help. "Are you all right?" asked Cassandra with just a little catch in her voice. Sophia looked at her and nodded. She tried to dry her eyes and then say something but a sob just came out.
Clovis had taken the doctor aside and they were talking in low voices. Stan came close to her. "Did you", he started. She looked up at him. "Did you see a nymph?" he got out before his throat closed. The tears welled up in her eyes as she started sobbing uncontrollably again. But she nodded her head.
Cassandra held her close and patted her on the back. "There, there" she said comfortingly. But as Stan moved past her to Clovis's side he could see her eyes were calculating, not sympathetic.
"The doctor say's she is fine", said Clovis. "She just had some sort of shock. She's given her a sedative."
"She has seen a nymph" said Stan in a whisper. "Do you know what that means?"
"She thinks she's seen a nymph", said Clovis. "That means we have a human interest element to our shoot. Doubtless Cyriazi will now want to completely change our schedule. Christ. That's all I need."
Stan sighed. It means there are still living nymphs, Stan wanted to say. At least this was just a filming expedition, not a preservation mission.
Cassandra was directing Aristedes to take Sophia to her own cabin. She then made a beeline for them. Stan tapped on Clovis's shoulder and warned him of her approach.
"Ms Cyriazi", he said silkily, "I am ever so sorry for the disturbance that your staff has suffered. I only wish you had made your intentions to bring so many superfluous people with you earlier."
She smiled with only a hit of graciousness, "Your office, now."
So the gloves are off now, though Stan. Clovis seemed to recognize this, as well, and lead the way to his box. Once there he poured each of them a small measure of his private stock of whiskey, and got out their contract. They both read it thoroughly, sipping the whiskey. "It would appear we are likely to be successful in our film-quest."
She smiled sarcastically, "You seem surprised, despite assuring me when asking for the money." He shrugged but didn't argue. "Lets discuss a few things before vidconferenceing in my lawyers."
"Whatever we film, we own", he said to start with.
"But there are several gray areas. I want merchandising and image rights for my new range of beauty products."
"I want unlimited syndication and reproduction rights," he countered.
"I think we can do a deal", she said.
Stan sighed. It was going to be a real long night.
Sophia wasn't sure when or if she slept that night. When her eyes were open she just kept seeing the trees outside the window and when her eyes were closed it all became that much more vivid. That face in the moonlight was engraved in her mind. Had she really seen it? Or was it just the product of an overactive imagination?
The beauty of the forest had been overpowering. Were these sheets she felt now or the forest wind against her? Yet with the beauty it was still a little frightening. Did chimera's still lurk? Or, overlooked by hunters, a stunted hydra? So when she heard the bushes move she turned with fear, almost like slow motion. But the face she saw: more perfect than the finest classical sculpture, finer than porcelain. She had thought, till then, that Ms Cyriazi's face was the most beautiful she had seen. But those eyes had looked beckoningly at her with one slender white hand reached out imploringly for ungessed reasons. But, in an instant, fear filled the eyes and she fled, the merest flash of moonlight on her white flanks, quickly obscured by the settling plants.
How could she ever paint again? Nothing could match what she saw. How could she ever work again? No make-up could match the beauty of that face. The tears came off and on through the night. Until Ms Cyriazi came in the early hours.
"You have been a very lucky girl", she said. "You have had a wonderful experience tonight that you will treasure. I am so glad for you." She gave her hand a little squeeze. "But we mustn't just think of ourselves. Oh, I know I do so much", she said graciously. "It is my little vice. That's why I give so much of my money away to charitable endeavors like this. To bring happiness to others."
She shifted and opened the curtains. Sophia sat upright on the bed. "The Union naturalists say that the usual periods of activities of nymphs are during dusk and dawn. We know you'd like to see the nymph again, wouldn't you?" Sophia nodded. "We'd like to capture that experience for the world."
Sophia nodded and cleared her throat. "What would you like me to do?"
She was lead off to sign several things and be made up by the crew's sarcastic artist. Cables had been strung up to the clearing, microphones and cameras positioned. Clovis and crew positioned her in various parts of the glade taking scene photographs in the vanishing moonlight.
Eventually, after a touchup, they left her positioned on some freshly cut grass in the middle of the glade and retreated to as inconspicuous a distance as possible.
Sophia felt alternately completely alone and completely invaded. The surroundings were the most quiet, idyllic, she had ever imagined. But she knew she had never been more intently under surveillance. Under almost every leaf a camera lurked. Watching. Waiting. She cried once or twice, forcing the real make-up artist out for an emergency touchup but, generally, remained composed.
Ms Cyriazi's words were kind, but she knew what she really meant. Capturing a nymph on film was really important commercially. She was quite sure she had just signed away all rights she might have to any such success, but it didn't matter to her. Having a grateful Ms Cyriazi almost guaranteed her a successful career. It was the way things worked.
And she felt she would do almost anything to see that face again. To find out the question it had in its eyes. Why had it come for her? Was it just foolish to think it would come again? She almost hoped it wouldn't. The last nymph should be allowed its privacy. Not spread across the screens for eight billion people.
But you couldn't maintain a park without money. And people were unlikely to pay to never see something. She sighed, rested her head on her arms in what she hoped was a photogenic manner and waited for the dawn.
Iris, too, spent the night between sleeping and waking. In her deep grotto she kept thinking back on the clearing. So like, yet so unlike her mother the other had been. In all the years since they were parted she almost thought of her mother continuously. But more as what she had said and what she had done in her brief memory of them together. But now she remembered who she was. How she would look at her and how she moved.
Loneliness welled up in her as strong as in the first days of lost. Crystal tears flowed down her ivory cheeks and splashed into the brook that ran through the grotto. She had forgotten companionship. She had forgotten about having someone to talk to. She had forgotten being with someone. Remembering it all now made her aware just how lonely she was.
She used to talk to the trees, but they never answered, as her mother said they once did. So she stopped trying. She held the animals now and again. It made her feel good. But they didn't hold her back as her mother had once done.
Her mother said she had had aunts, but she had never seen them. She had never seen any other like her. She had never thought before that she might be the only one. She had always just assumed her mother would come back some day. Now, in her depression, she finally realized that she probably never would. How could she have gone to be among the yellow stars of the valleys? And where could she look from the mountain that didn't have them? The winds of all directions brought her no smell of anywhere she could live without pain. Her mother must be truly gone.
The world sighed and the wind shifted. The smell of the others came from further up the mountain. More tree-sap and disturbed soil told of the new rootings of their mysterious activity. Why were they here? What had they done to her mother?
Her feeling of being trapped and cornered was gone. All around the mountain was the smell of the others. Now it was here too. There was simply no where to go. She cried a little more before she decided that, as before, she would go to find them. Not with the idea to confront them, as before. But of a different sort of desperation. She was lonely again.
Clovis sighed and waved away another fly. Stan had, predictably, offered his mosquito net hat, but he was damned if he wore something that ridiculous. The coffee kept him from drifting off, hours of wildlife shooting drilled him in the routine. As often as not, nothing came of it. In a way he had hoped that would be the result this time. That would leave him with his film, and Cyriazi with an empty logo.
He spent the time plotting how to string all the film together. The desperate longing of one woman for a glimpse of the last nymph. The fact she was rather plain, even with properly applied make-up was even better. More audience identification. Leaving the quest unfulfilled gave an open ended feel. It would leave everyone hoping that they would be the one to see the last nymph.
His revere was broken when Stan clutched his arm so hard he nearly drew blood. He was about to voice his irritation when his eyes were drawn to the clearing. All around him technicians rose from crouches, cameras slumped and even Cassandra's mouth hung open.
Natural beauty was a concept Clovis understood in a technical sense. Certain lighting and shadows over landscapes or the motions of animals had a certain popular appeal. Many claimed it rooted in instinctual emotions. He always felt it was more to do with marketing. But this animal, this creature, who now walked across the glade moved him. In all his years off trying to create nature programs he now at last understood his audience.
Sophia seemed last to notice. There wasn't the crack of a single twig or the stirring of a blade of grass. But when the nymph approached her body moved like in response to the sun coming out from behind a cloud. She turned to look up into the eyes of the nymph reaching out to touch the one tear that had just now fallen, a mirror to the one on her own a cheek. What a wonderfully moving scene.
Except, it wasn't being filmed. All the crew were watching in amazement. Clovis felt anger grow within him.
Iris had reached the glade. The other she had seen before was in the middle and many, many more with their odd sticks and rocks were about. But she was not as she had seen her before. In a curious addition to the leaves covering her body she now had colored mud on her face. Maybe it was protective, like the large eyespots on butterflies. But it only made them more comical. She almost laughed, especially at some of the rest who wore even more.
Her fear left her looking at the funny others. She crept closer to the one she had first seen. She could almost pretend it was her mother. Sadness filled her as she reached out to her and then surprise to see that she was crying too. They looked deeply into each others eyes and saw much the same thing, but neither understanding the other.
Suddenly there was a rustling from around the edge. They made harsh, quiet cries to each other and began moving their sticks and rocks about the place. The other that reminded her of her mother started and looked around with fear clouding her eyes. As she had done when the others came to her and her mother. She knew now what her mother had felt toward her. She needed to protect her. She clutched her hand and lead her running up from the glade.
Sophia didn't know what made her turn or the tear start. But when she did she knew she would see the nymph again. As before, she was reaching for her and it felt as if her heart reached back in longing. And, on that perfect face, there was a tear! How could that be? Scientists said nymphs were psychic projections of beauty. How could beauty be sad?
Her thoughts were shattered by the harsh whispers from Clovis for everyone to get filming. They must have been as awestruck as she was. In a sudden panic she forgot what she was supposed to be doing. Clovis had run through a variety of facial expressions she was to assume if the nymph appeared. Had the tears made her make-up run? She just wished they would all go away.
In an instant the nymph had taken her hand. How smooth her hand. How soft the fingers. Before she knew it she was running with her through the woods. How the pre-dawn light dances on her skin through the trees. Over brooks and fallen trees she leapt, her feet never missing or failing her. Her hair streams in a golden cataract flowing over her shoulders behind her. The forest became rougher towards the summit and great white rocks broke through the soil. Her legs, such finely sculpted muscle in fluid motion. And then suddenly down, almost falling, through brief darkness. How can I have run so fast? Why are my feet not torn, my legs broken?
Soft moss covered white rocks. A stream purled through them. And large, white, trumpet shaped flowers grew all around them. The nymph sat with her and stroked her, held her, and fussed over her.
As my mother did for me, Iris thought. She dipped her hand in the water and washed away the colored mud. She plucked at the leaves she draped herself in but they were more resistant. The other moved her hands over them and, magically they parted, leaving only crude marks on her skin. She stroked them away, held, kissed and rocked her as her mother had done. But only that, for she didn't know what more she could do. She was not her mother. Her mother said that someday she would have a child of her own but hadn't taught her how she would have to care for it. This poor, weathered creature was no child.
Iris cried anew. She would never have a child to hold, she did not know how. She would never have her mother back either. But the poor other creature took her in her arms and held her as she had done. So like her mother! She curled up on her lap and put her head on her breast, ignoring the smell, the rough texture, pretending it was her mother.
The poor sad nymph! Though Sophia. She cries for her race. Does she know she is the last? Sophia held her and rocked her. In this wonderful place with this wonderful creature, she had wanted so much. She had never thought she would ever have anything to give back to it. But she lay, amongst the mossy stones and brook, naked as when she was born but not feeling cold, uncomfortable or ashamed.
A long time after her sobs quieted the nymph stirred. She looked up into her face with such an expression of hope and longing. Sophia patted and stroked her hair which she seemed to like and held her when she needed it. At length the nymph poked at her discarded clothes. The belt, the shift, the purse and so on. Sophia drew them over and showed them to her.
She seemed fascinated by the material and when Sophia showed her how they were worn, she actually burst out laughing. To see that face laugh made her feel like she had been dashed on rocks by the storm, but with joy instead of pain. She could not help but join in.
So she pulled from her purse her vid-snap collection. The first picture was of her first film shoot with Ms Cyriazi. She played it many times for the nymph before she seemed to understand what it was. She pointed at herself on the side and then at Sophia. She nodded. Then she recognized Ms Cyriazi next to her. At this she laughed and laughed. Sophia could not imagine anyone laughing at Ms Cyriazi! The nymph dipped her hand in the water and tried to dab at the vid-snap as she had washed away her make-up. But this just made her laugh even more. Finally she hugged Sophia once more and handed it back to her.
The next snap was of her and her mother when she was young. The nymph stared at it for a long time and she could see the sadness creeping over her face once again. She tried to take it from her but she just held on to it.
Once Iris realized that the magic she held in her hands was like the ripples in the book reflecting the sky she was enthralled. The funny pictures she had of her friends and their comical leaves and mud faces made her laugh as she hadn't done since spring.
But the pictures of this other and what could only be her mother brought back her melancholy mood. The creatures were not lovely, but, oh, she wished she had a magic pool of her mother like this. How lucky this creature was to have such a reminder! She held it dearly for some time looking for reflections of her mother in how this creature held her child.
There was one more of the magical pools the other didn't seem to want to show her. So she started a tickling contest with her to distract her and then snatched it up. She raised her hand to stop her but then pulled back, just as her mother did when she was really allowed something. She knew the magic by now to make the ripples move and they did so when she gestured over it.
The water cleared and she saw the light of the stars, twinkling above. They slowly started moving and danced as she had danced for the moon. No stars had ever done this! She understood then that these magical pools did not just reflect things as they were but as you might imagine. The stars changed to the yellow stars of the valley, just as when she looked down on them from the mountain. Like a hawk, now, she flew over them sailing down to them. And like the sky-stars they danced too. Not all were yellow, some where red, white, all the colours of the flowers and more. Others walked and glowed and now she was like a squirrel hopping around the strange trees and glades of the others. Some areas were dark, like the deep pools of the forest, other areas bright with strange lights. She could not smell from the pool but could guess that all this was the odor the winds brought to her.
She found tears on her cheeks and she didn't know why. This was so unlike anything she had seen before. As vibrant and full of life as the forest but on a different order. It wasn't the beauty of the forest but it was beautiful still. She looked up into the eyes of the other and no longer saw her as an other. She was one and the same as her. They were both sisters seeing a world of beauty around them. She saw beauty in the beauty of the forest and her new sister saw the beauty in the strange, magical land of the others.
Iris felt a stirring in her that she never felt before. She reached to Sophia at the same time as she reached to her and kissed her in a way her mother had never kissed her.
"The nymph! The nymph!" came the cry from up-slope. Clovis started up. At last one of the damn search parties had found something. He had beaters all up and down this bloody mountain trying to find a trace of the nymph or the wayward make-up artist. He kicked camera crews into readiness and they all converged on the spot the cries were coming from.
But when he got there, there was no nymph, just Sophia walking, butt naked but casual as you like, down the mountain side. His fury rose but ebbed when he saw her face. She radiated a beauty he had never seen. He understood how, from a distance, the beaters were mistaken. "Roll the cameras" he whispered.
Cassandra had run up and, also, looked in amazement at the descending Sophia. "Get close-ups Michalis", she commanded. "The nymph's obviously given her a makeover. I want every square centimeter photographed so we can copy and promote it."
"There, that rock", commanded Clovis. "Set up here. We've got to do an on-the-spot interview, now."
"Sophia, darling!" oozed Cassandra. "We were so worried about you!" Her gaze probed every inch of her. But confounded her with no trace of any artificial pigment of any sort. Sophia just looked at her, more through her, and smiled a slight smile.
Let them have their film, Sophia thought. They placed her on the rock in the sun. Clovis was plastered with too much make-up in a way that Sophia knew could be 100 times better. He asked all the predictable questions and she answered with the lines they suggested.
When it was over they left in Ms Cyriazi's limousine. All the way she had
the small smile on her lips. The cities of the world could be new areas of
beauty. Demanding of their own expressions and art forms. She held her belly
with one hand and thought to herself: Hybrids are stronger.