“There’s a naked woman at the gates!” A guard yells to his partner. “What do we do?”
“Is she good looking?” His partner asks, plainly bored.
“Just gawk at her until she leaves. If she doesn’t have any clothes she’s probably a prostitute, and we’ve no shortage of prostitutes.”
Summer hears all of this as she’s walking up, and has half a mind to incinerate both of them. She’s not sure what stops her, really. It’s as if a part of her rebels against the idea on general principle. Strange.
“Hey!” She shouts up at the guards. “Let me in! I need to talk to Bringer-of-Spring!”
“You and every other pregnant smith’s daughter around here, milady. What makes you so special as to take Spring’s ear? He’s a very busy demigod,” The bored guard replies, though not impolitely.
“My name is Summer-Heat-Rising. I’m here to talk with Spring about a very important problem. And he isn’t a demigod, I can tell you that much!” She says fiercely. Boy, she really is tired of… wait, what was her problem again? She blinks. She knows she had it a second ago.
What is it about being physical that makes memory so weird? She shakes her head to clear it. “Look, just let me in! I’m not a prostitute, I just want the chance to talk to Bringer-of-Spring!”
The gate guard sighs. He seems to think for another few seconds, tapping his chin and staring at Summer intently. Then he nods to himself before he answers.
“Okay. My partner here can show you around town-” the gatekeeper says, glancing across at his friend’s shocked face. His partner hasn’t said anything since Summer started talking. Admittedly the woman has a nice voice, but there isn’t really any call for that sort of behavior. Totally unprofessional.
“I don’t need any help,” Summer says cheerfully. “Just open the gates and I’ll be fine on my own.”
“Begging your pardon, milady, but you’re not even half dressed. If you pop on in here lookin’ like that…. Well, I should think the madness of Spring spread in half the men’s heads- without an escort you’ll end up on your back and bearing well before your nine months is up and might earn another baby besides! Let Thomas here walk you around town, even the madness won’t let men touch taken women.”
Summer blinks at that, and then looks at her belly, which is rounded, moreso than usual, and maybe a little heavier than she’s used to. She’s pregnant?
She rubs her belly doubtfully. She doesn’t feel pregnant. She doesn’t remember doing anything to get pregnant! But her stomach is much warmer than usual too, and it doesn’t fit with her small frame. Or what used to be small. As Summer-Heat-Rising- she changed, right?- she is almost five foot six inches, taller than most men.
She hears a sigh and looks up. Thomas is giving her a look one part frustration and one part longing. She gives him her brightest smile instead of torching his lips off. Men can want her if they like. It doesn’t bother her like it used to. Does it?
She beckons. “Come on down then… Thomas? Show me around the city, won’t you?”
“Y-yes ma’am. Right away,” The guard comes to himself, snapping out of his stare with a blush. Now he’s making a point of not looking at her as he walks down the ramp leading up to the tower and closes the wicker gate that leads up to it.
He walks right up next to her, pointedly keeping his eyes on her face, though she notices them flick down over her body out of reflex several times. Hm. It was fun to be naked before. What makes it less fun now? She forces the beginnings of a blush down. This feeling is making her uncomfortable.
Summer-Heat-Rising can’t help but feel that it might be better, under the circumstances, to have enough coverage to keep people from staring nonstop. Whatever she might tell herself, she gets the feeling she doesn’t actually like being naked in front of lots of people.
Good to see you’ve some common sense, a cool voice whispers in her mind.
Summer pays it little enough mind, at first, but it occurs to her that it wasn’t her thought. Strange.
She gathers her power, pulls it into herself, and forces strands of it outward, lips pressed tight with concentration. Grass uproots itself, twines around her tightly, weaving breeches- and then a skirt- long enough and woven delicately as any work by hand. She twines it, tweaks it with little flicks of her power until it also forms a T-shirt- all green- and the two articles connect, woven as strongly as a second skin, flexing with her body and her curves.
Thomas just watches, open-mouthed, barely daring to believe his eyes.
Once Summer is done, she gives Thomas a smile, coyer than the last and indicates the city with a wave of her hand. “Do show me around. That’s what you’re here for, right?”
Thomas the gate guard nods weakly, and leads her past the open gates and into the bustle of the town.
Summer, for what it’s worth, follows after. She isn’t quite skipping, but it’s only a matter of time. She feels light and happy for some reason.
All eyes are preoccupied, in the town, much to Summer’s relief. Thomas can’t help but think that’s rather strange- Summer is very noticeable, even in her makeshift grass clothing- perhaps especially with it. But there’s a certain something in the air that seems to have infected all the people. Couples giggle, strolling around, hugging, kissing openly. Stalls and stores are left unattended. Houses are left with their doors wide open.
“Why isn’t anyone working?” Summer wonders aloud. She knows Thomas will answer her before he opens his mouth. So simple.
“It’s Spring, miss. The first day, he came and now- well, every fortnight he holds a grand festival, every three days he declares a day of rest, and he encourages people to make merry and love in the streets.” Thomas blushes and doesn’t meet her eyes. “I thought you said you knew him, miss?”
Summer shrugs her curved shoulders and gives him a silly grin. “I may and I mayn’t.”
“What kind of answer is that?”
She rolls her eyes. For a moment Thomas can’t help but feel that she’s making fun of him constantly. “An answer to everything.”
He is very careful not to let out the derisive snort that wants so badly to escape. It doesn’t work, of course. Summer can read him like a book. He can keep nothing from her- and they’ve just met. But it’s like that way with everyone, for Summer.
“Don’t believe me?” She asks innocently.
“Miss, you do play me for a fool,” He says quietly. They walk down the street, occasionally stepping over a coupling couple. It isn’t quite that obscene, Summer thinks. But there are people sleeping together in the streets, even if they aren’t sleeping together in the streets.
She finds the experience distinctly odd.
“You could just tell me straight off that you don’t want to say anything on the subject. Oh- we’re here,” Thomas says, stopping short directly in front of the entrance to a grand, luxurious building. The words ‘Spring Shrine’ are emblazoned on the sign at the top in Eldritch. Summer recognizes them immediately, of course. How she’d forgotten them… she can’t quite remember- it’s as if her memories are slipping through her figurative fingers.
She knows she’s seen similar runes before, but for the life of her she can’t remember where.
“This is it?” Summer asks. She doesn’t need clarification, but it pays to keep up appearances.
“Yeah,” Thomas mumbles. “Uh.”
“We can talk more when I come out. Do be a dear and go back to your post. Thomas, right?”
“Yes miss. And you’re Summer. Nice meeting you- I’ll just, ah. I’ll just go, I guess. Give me a shout if you need anything!” He says brightly. He starts off towards the gate, and Summer walks up to the entrance to the shrine.
It’s built of hard wood- mahogany reinforced with iron. Around the edges of the roof- which slants sharply- there’s copper, and pillars of brass hold the structure up. It’s quite extravagant, and Summer can’t help but admire the use of such pretty metals. Hm.
There’s that voice again.
Iron… oh, that sounds dangerous… do be careful…
Summer scratches her head, but the itch in her mind doesn’t go away. What was it about iron?
It weakens us on contact, you dummy. You sure forget a lot when I’m gone….
The cold voice sparks recall, all at once. Just as the man known as Bringer-of-Spring steps in front of her, out from behind a pillar where he’d been waiting all along. He smiles warmly. “Well. I wondered how long it’d be before you came. I’m glad you’re here now, though, it saves me the trouble of finding you again.”
Summer is about to take a step back, but her foot moves forward instead, and she finds herself standing too close to him. Her skin heats up, and she means to step back, really she does, but her body doesn’t want to obey her. Bringer-of-Spring grins down at her, showing off too-white teeth. This close, he isn’t warm, but cool, frighteningly cool. Summer shivers, despite herself. Too warm for Winter, too cold for Summer, she thinks.
Spring’s skin is greenish. He stands much taller than Summer- by almost a foot. His hair stands straight up from his head in a moronic fashion, and one tooth is missing, giving his smile a gap-toothed effect. It’s probably his genuinely punchable face, Summer decides. He’s full of life, animated, but in a way that reminds her of a plant or a sapling being pushed by wind rather than any animal she could care to remember and name.
And just then, with Spring looming over her uncomfortably, the clouds in the sky obscure the sun and rain begins to fall. She feels distinctly uneasy. Part of it is her gut, but mostly it has to do with the face staring down at her, with the eyes. Those cold, cold blue eyes that gaze at her, eyes she remembers. That piercing gaze had last been set on her by He-Whose-Name-Shakes-Mountains.
But those same blue eyes rest in the skull of Bringer-of-Spring, and his expression, though on the outside speaks of genuine joy, on the inside hides sparkling ambition and lies, Summer thinks. I recognize it. He-Whose-Name-Shakes-Mountains had a look on His face just like that when He was chasing us around. Well, sort of. It was more like actual good cheer.
Of course, it could just be her imagination. Summer gazes at Spring for a while, letting the moment drag out into an awkward staring contest. Yes, Summer decides, staring up at Spring’s innocent grinning face, it’s probably her imagination.
No one with hair green on the bottom and brown at the tips- standing straight up and waving like grass in a breeze- could be anything other than a complete idiot. If she had something to fear from morons she wouldn’t have let that man- Thomas?- lead her about. It stands to reason that Spring isn’t a threat, or she wouldn’t have been headed here in the first place.
Well then, Winter says in Summer’s head. Are you going in, or are you going to stay out here in the nice cold rain?