Neoma paused to twist her hair back out of her way yet again. She was going to have to see if she could find a village or something and try to barter for a few things—like a sharp knife so she could cut her russet hair off. Having it down to her elbows, when she lacked a ready way to confine it, just wasn’t practical with the amount of heavy physical effort that she suspected lay in her immediate future. Although how she was going to trade with a village when she had nothing to wear and had no idea what the local modesty conventions were and probably wouldn’t speak the language, she had no idea—but clothing to protect her skin was also on the list of things she needed. Language wasn’t an issue with a god or his associated spirit-creatures, but she doubted they’d be any help as translators.
One thing she had learned, thanks to her endless curiosity, was the basic principles of engineering and the housing styles of any number of cultures. That meant she did have a reasonable plan for how to build herself a sturdy home able to withstand winter, but the actual construction involved more physical work than she’d done in recent memory.
Right now, she’d be happy with a way to tie her hair back.
And perhaps a shovel, as well. It was a good thing she didn’t have to worry about aging, given how slowly her current efforts were progressing. With the limited tools and materials at hand, she was certain that digging down at least a foot or so into the ground was going to give her the best foundation she could reasonably expect for her new house. If she could even accomplish even that much before winter.
With a sigh, she cupped her hand in the moonlight to drink. Talir was waning, but even a mouthful would help heal incipient blisters and strained muscles.
The yellow light pooled in her palm, and she raised it, but paused, watching in amazement as it coalesced, growing less luminous. Only heartbeats later, a strip of fine, soft, pale yellow material lay in a spiral on her palm.
This wasn’t something she’d ever been told that she could do! Did the others even know?
Experimentally, she reached out to the topaz light, and discovered to her delight that much the same way that she could catch it to drink, she could also take hold of handfuls of it, twist it and smooth it, press it together and stretch it out. It seemed infinitely malleable, and as near as she could tell, it reacted as much to what lay in her mind’s eye as it did to her actions.
This could prove to be extremely useful. She tried to shape the light into something more substantial, the blade of a shovel; for a few heartbeats, she thought it was going to succeed, then it melted back into moonlight again. The first length of material remained, though. She used it to tie her hair back in a tail, out of her way, then made more strips like it to wrap around her feet, knees, and hands for protection. At least her breasts were small enough to need no support and to not interfere, but she made a final pair of wider longer strips to keep the dirt away from her most vulnerable areas as well. That done, she scooped a palmful of light to drink as she’d originally intended, and went back to digging at the dense, rock-peppered ground with the heavy pointed stick and flat plate of rock she’d found. How she was going to create the frame over this, and what she was going to use to cover that frame, when she had nothing but her own hands and what lay around her, she wasn’t sure, but maybe there would be a way she could make use of this newly discovered ability. How durable were items made of moonlight?
A slender female shape stepped out from behind a tree where Neoma would have sworn no one stood. She walked towards Neoma, unhurriedly, completely unhindered by the brush that would have tangled around Neoma as high as her knees, and making no effort to protect her naked skin from the branches. Neoma stopped digging and wiped sweat from her eyes, suddenly feeling insufferably grubby. The newcomer’s skin was, as near as Neoma could make out by the yellow-tinted moonlight, a deep grey-brown, and the hair that fell in tendrilly locks of varying lengths was green. She greeted Neoma with a friendly smile.
“Valeyan asked me to come help you. Call me Hickory.”
This night was certainly full of surprises. “I wasn’t expecting active help, only a safe place to live.”
Hickory laughed, softly, and it sounded to Neoma like the wind in the branches. “Valeyan does as he wishes, for his own reasons. So, what can I do to help?” Hickory surveyed the depression Neoma was digging. “You’re digging a hole?”
“I suppose so, yes. I’m going to make it the size I want to build my house. I’d like to have it at least this deep,” she demonstrated by holding her hands apart, “but I doubt I’ll even manage half that, and it likely won’t be very big.”
“Then I build a frame over it anchored inside the hole around the edges, and cover the frame with, well, whatever I can come up with. I haven’t quite worked out the details on that part yet. Probably piling up the dirt that was in the hole as an outside layer, at least around the lower part of the wall, would be useful too.”
Hickory looked thoughtful. “Something broader would scoop better, to dig. More than one would be better yet, then I could help you.” She pondered that. “Something wide and flat and curved… oh! I know something that will work. I’ll go and fetch it. Will you rest until I come back? I hope I’ll return before moonset, but if not, this can wait until tomorrow evening, can it not, if you’ll have what I hope are better tools then?”
Neoma nodded. “Thank you isn’t enough.”
Hickory laughed again. “Of course it is.” She walked back into the forest, and in heartbeats was invisible.
Neoma took advantage of the time to bathe in the stream, undoing the wrappings and scrubbing herself free of sweat and dirt as best she could with only water. She sat on a rock at the edge of the water and reached towards the moon again. She’d created simple lengths of fabric, so maybe she could create clothing the same way? She constructed an image in her mind in as much detail as she could, easy for the daughter of a weaver to do, and only then caught hold of the yellow light, shaping and weaving it together.
The result lay in her hands like any other piece of clothing, nothing obviously betraying its origins save the pale topaz colour of it, though a closer look revealed a wrongness in the texture, a lack of visible threads comprising it. She pulled it on over her head, not sure whether it could be considered a short dress or a long tunic: it fell to just above her knees, with no particular shape to it but the drape of the moonlight fabric felt comfortable against her skin, not bulky at all; her arms were completely bare. Still, it was some protection for her most sensitive parts when she was in human form, and it was definitely an improvement over bare skin. And as a second attempt at a previously unknown ability, she could only call it a success. Since the earlier strips of fabric were grimy with soil, she made new ones to wrap her feet and ankles. Feeling much better, she washed the original strips in the stream, laid them on the rock to dry and walked back up to the huge oak.
Hickory didn’t return before moonset; Neoma waited as long as she could, then stripped off her clothes and returned to her wolf-form to spend the day sleeping.