In the Gardens: Part Four

Leura spent many days in the Gardens, still confused as to how she had come to that location twice in such quick succession. However, she wasn’t going to question it, seeing as she had pulled off another impossible feat by running into the Ilzenor again. As it was, land folk she traded with were often only seen once by her eyes and then never again. To see a human of the land more the once was exceptionally odd, but Leura could hardly begrudge that fact. The silver-haired young man was of a kind that Leura actually did not detest. She hoped that Chysial-iun didn’t demand another body for his next offering; Leura would hate to have to throw the knight into the abyss. He was too good for such a minor thing. Ilzenor was amenable to Leura, placated her and gave her time to speak, and did not lust after her scales as a means to get rich. Yet Leura remained somewhat suspicious of him, never could anyone human or merm or otherwise act in such a way without an ulterior motive.

After nearly a ten-day, Leura was called back to the sea with the request for a body, luckily not a land dweller’s. Instead, Chysial-iun demanded a somewhat more difficult bounty handed over to the void. One of the deep sea anemones, a guardian of underwater life and preserver of the local ecosystem. However, it’s removal and likely subsequent death would not wholly damage or destroy the biome, Leura knew. The anemone creatures, the living entities that served as a sort of core for the underwater forests, lived extremely short lives and were replaced nearly every season by a new one. Taking one of the lithe plant creatures from the heart of the sea and offering it to the old one would cause no harm, at least not to the fish and critters who needed it.

The taking of the anemone guardian would prove a more harmful activity for Leura than the environment. These smooth, colorful figures were not only rooted deep inside the anemone’s wherein they were protected by all sorts of critters but also produced a venom. Though lacking proper appendages, the smattering of tentacles at their top could inject the poison into any unsuspecting passerby or, in Leura’s case, anyone who would harm the anemone. Cutting the venomous little stingers off wasn’t an option for Leura either. That kind of damage could kill the creature even if she used the halo. Not only would it go against Chysial-iun’s request, but it might taint the offering as the venom often did to the waters. It would be rough going, but Leura knew she would find a way to pull it off, that or all the other merms had to suffer.

Finding the vast fields of anemone that sat on the same coast as the lighthouse, opposite side as the dock, Leura began to search. The worst part about looking for this target was that it was almost entirely indistinct from the rest of the plants. It was a game of trying to spot the humanoid figure camouflaged in the same colors as its surroundings. Eventually, after more than an hour of studying the plants and how the fish interacted with them, Leura found the barest resemblance to a body. It looked, in truth, just barely like anything more than an anemone, but it was shaped in a way that would give the impression of a body. It had legs that were formed together as one that ran up to hips and a torso, its arms were one with that mass, and then a head. It wore a crown of sorts, topped with bubble-tipped anemone from which it would release its venom. Leura caressed her sharp-edged eleus halo but then thought better of it. She knew it wouldn’t be pleasant, might just kill her, but she had to pluck this creature from its nest and sneak away with it.

As Leura neared, the featureless face seemed to direct its non-gaze at her and follow the mermaid’s movements as close as possible. Noting this, Leura made to look like she was only passing through, steering well clear of the anemone. Diving lower as the ocean floor fell, Leura swam beneath an outcropping of rock that had been augured through by one thing or another. It wasn’t a cave that she swam into, just a massive tunnel, yet, there were lurkers inside. A great eel tried to slither out at her, ancient and covered with barnacles. Leura barely snaked by the cyclopean creature, noting much of its face had been ripped and decayed down to bone. Coming up on the other side of the outcropping, Leura reassessed her plan.

To make it back through the tunnel would mean Leura had to swim fast, that eel was aware she had passed through and possibly awaited her second coming. Moving fast would cause a ruckus and draw the ire of the anemone guardian seeing as her gently swimming had done that much earlier. There was not going to be an easy way to safely take the guardian either, so considering her options, Leura decided she would rush it. Avoiding the eel was a matter of life and death for her now. It would attack without warning, but it wasn’t what was likely to kill her. Leura knew the second she got too close, the guardian would shift into attack mode. Yet, if she were going to be poisoned, best it was done while taking the creature.

Shooting back through the tunnel, Leura glimpsed the inner wall for only a moment as the eel ejected from its hiding spot. This time it did not stop, and Leura realized just how massive the thing truly was. It was as wide and long as the gash in the ocean floor that led down to Chysial-iun’s domain, roughly the size of two brigantines. Leura darted as quick as she could, seeing the colossal snaking thing come ever closer to nipping off her tail fin. If that were to happen, Leura was dead in the water, and she knew it, yet so preoccupied with this danger, Leura nearly forgot the other.

Shifting her gaze forward, she caught sight of the feminine figure in the anemone, positioning its head tentacles into an offensive array. Now, slowing down would mean to be eaten, and carelessness meant getting injected with venom. Leura wasn’t sure what was worse. There was time, just seconds, but Leura would use them the best she could. Diving below the guardian’s waist, she took it where the ankles should have been, removing it with one pluck. Before she knew it, Leura was on her way, the eel no closer to taking her and the guardian incapable of poisoning her just yet. In fact, Leura realized that the presence of the eel was surprisingly falling away. She didn’t dare stop, but taking a quick glance, she found it halted at the anemone.

A thick, inky cloud hung before its already destroyed face, clearly giving it a reason to pause. For a moment, despite herself, Leura watched unmoving as the cloud closed in on the eel, seemingly clinging to its open wounds. After another second, the eel snapped back to life, as though it were only daydreaming, and as it darted forward, Leura too shot back to top speed. There was no point in looking back now, Leura felt as though she could feel that dead eye on her no matter what and wouldn’t stop until Chysial-iun’s eyes were upon her. The old god may have been a dangerous thing, but it was likely more compassionate to Leura than the eel would be. In fact, Leura considered, Chysial-iun may just snatch up the eel and take it as an extra offering.

Finally, in the darkness of the void, Leura felt less terrified that she might soon be a meal for the eel; a calm came to her then. It was a strange feeling to have in the depths, a first for sure that peace had found her in Chysial-iun’s lair. Yet, as the lively red orbs rose from the abyss, any relief Leura had found quickly vanished. Letting the guardian free from her grip, allowing it to freely float, Leura finally took good stock of her captive. The seafoam flesh had faded, sickened almost to a brownish hue, and the bubble tips topping its crown were deflated, folded across its face. A practically visible face was apparent beneath the dull flesh. It was like a mask almost, the features only vaguely pushing through at points. The lips seemed to trace words that Leura couldn’t hear but somewhat felt. Some cry for help and mercy, yet it was beyond Leura at this point. The appendageless body was yanked into the blackness, but the eyes did not follow with it. Slow to realize her query had been accepted by the old god, Leura didn’t move for a moment until recognizing the intense glares she received. It was the glass Ilzenor gave her, she was certain and just as quick as she realized it, dropped it into the dark. Without another thought, Leura swam nearly up to the surface before remembering the eel. Grabbing the halo tight, enough so that she sliced a decent sized gash into her palm, Leura found the creature had moved on. Perhaps the void caused the lurker fear, or maybe it found other prey.

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