'One more ladleful of water and then it's time to get out of this heat.'
As the hiss of the rocks settles down, the door creaks open and I rush for the pond. Pluf raises their head at the commotion before settling back down. A hot room and a pond full of clear cool water certainly gets the blood pumping and the joints back into peak condition. On late summer evenings like this the forest feels magical, the sun hangs in the horizon allowing the sky to retain its clear blue color, while the forest itself is just a dark silhouette up against the skies. Owl is hooting somewhere nearby and the insects are playing their songs.
After only a couple of moments of floating in the water a new sound emerges. A cane upon the rocks on the shoreline. I raise my head up from the water and look for the source, an elderly looking dragonoid standing on one of the rocks near the sauna. It is a rather vulnerable feeling to be naked in the middle of a pond with your clothes and everything else so far away, that thought never really crosses your mind until something like this happens.
A raspy voice emanated from their mouth, asking if I was going to invite them to the sauna. From here I could not get a good look at them, but I graciously invited them to the sauna, after all, this was what some would call a communal or a ritual sauna. Saunas such as this one usually are all by themselves next to ponds or lakes, sometimes quite some distance from any permanent population and serve as resting places for any who may come by them.
I got out of the water to escort them into the sauna which is when I realized that I was not dealing with just a mere dragonoid, but a deity or a spirit of some sort. Judging by the emerald eyes that glinted in the dark of the sauna and the branching horns that adorned their head, I don't dare to think, but they could have been Mehto, the god of forests, or a spirit in their kingdom. With scales that seemed that they ought to have become petrified long ago they sat down with me in the sauna.
Many deities and spirits are attracted to saunas, some will simply sit there with you, others will play tricks and pranks, while others will challenge you to trials. Whomever I was sitting with seemed to have challenged me to three trials: of fire, of ice and of spirits. The first one, of fire, is quite straightforward, it is to see who can stand the heat of the sauna the longest. This represents the burning heat Kalma endured during the ultimatum. It was not long until I had to get outside again, as whipped the sauna into a wildfire, the room filled with steam so hot and dense that it was difficult to even breathe.
I ran out of the sauna and back into the pond, and they strolled outside of the scalding hot sauna as if it was nothing at all. Once back in the cool pond, the next trial began, of ice, which is to see who can stay in the water the longest. This part of the trials represents the icy cold Kalma endured as they plunged into the first primordial depths. I could swear that the pond became cooler as the spirit dipped themselves into it, feeling those cool streams of cold water rise from the depths and onto the surface. It wasn't long until I found myself to be freezing and had to get out! The spirit seemed amused enough as they laughed as I tried to warm myself back up in the sauna.
There was but one more trial, of spirits. This one based on a custom that the last person to come into a sauna should furnish the rest with berry beer. Each time they handed me the bottle to take a swig from, they also took one before extending their arm back to me to imply that I had to take a swig too. Before long I was drunk out of my mind, the breathers I had to take in between each swig became longer and longer, while the spirit remorselessly took a generous gulp each time and stoically extended the seemingly never ending drink back to me. Eventually I think I blacked out.
When I woke up I was out of the sauna and in my robes and next to me in two tidy piles were gathered berries and edible mushrooms. Somehow I did not even feel worse for wear and surprisingly was feeling better than ever! Pluf was still napping near the sauna.
It does seem to be impossible to beat these spirits in their games, but I don't think I'd be waking up feeling this good if I did not at least partake in their trials.