In the Gardens: Part One

She tossed another of the shimmering iridescent scales up to the warrior who stood on the lighthouse docks. Thunder and lightning clashed and slashed through the cloudy night sky, but still, the magic of the beacon shown true across the coast. She flicked back her silvery hair, smiling up at the swarthy, bearded man with a giggle. In his low, old voice, too old for the man who owned it, he called, “And what do I call you my, dear merwoman?”
“I doubt our paths should cross again, landman, but you enjoy your shiny. Perhaps the folks in town will believe it a true scale this time,” Leura chuckled, trying to seem polite even as she denied him her name.
Rubbing the bluish scale between his fingers, the man’s eyes never left her vibrant pink flesh, “Doubt they will, but I suppose I have other things to barter with. But since you won’t give me your name, know mine. Ilzenor of the Ahlcestor Kingdom.”
“Then you best be hurrying, you’re far away from your lands of ice and snow, and I feel the rain coming again. Go now, Sir Ilzenor, good luck and my love to you on your journeys,” the mermaid spoke before plunging back into those dark depths.

She floated there, suspended in the water, midway between surface and ocean floor, watching the lightning crash so far overhead. She allowed her gills to become refreshed in the salty waters. Her ears, like scaly butterfly wings on either side of her head, rehydrated back to their usual size. Leura’s shirt, mesh-like and made from kelp, floated free from her body, no longer sticking to her lean, lanky figure as it did on the surface. The return to water always forced Leura to adjust for a few moments, but it was a minor inconvenience and a necessary one.

Lazily, Leura allowed herself to sink; she was in no hurry at all to reach the Cave of the Deep. Curious of the trinket she had been asked to acquire, she held the round piece of glass to the light filtering through from above. The disc was perfectly clear and flat, but when looking through it, the perspective of the world seemed to shift. Distant items grew near, and Leura could almost make out the dock when it sat far distant. Surely it was an odd piece, but the mermaid had no intent on worrying of its function; it wasn’t hers to keep. Without a doubt, she had to assert it was worth as much this far below the water as a scale was on land. However, was it worth as much as a mermaid scale was to those below the waves, that remained to be seen.

Diving down, Leura disrupted schools of fish, dodged bio-luminescent coral that flashed vividly in all the colors of the rainbow, and navigated the jagged rocks that made an underwater barrier for the peninsula. There were plenty of ships, desolate and water-logged, to insist that travel inward from the sea for humans was dangerous. Of course, the lands these coasts guarded were of great value to other kingdoms who would snatch them up gladly if given the chance. To have a network of underwater tunnels that led from the sea to inland lakes and rivers and then to the ocean at the far side would be invaluable. More importantly, were the creatures and old magic the land held in all its various forms, the mermaids being one such race.

Swimming through the decaying hauls, ignoring skeletons long left to time and ocean currents, and diving ever deeper, Leura made her way towards the trench. It was a deep gash in the ocean floor, none too far from the bit of land the lighthouse sat on. The rift ran so deep into the earth that the water went from the cold to frigid then was suddenly warm. After penetrating the mouth of the great chasm, Leura admired the rifts of magma running through the deep ocean walls like blood in the veins of a giant, fiery creature. That was, after all, whom she sought in the great abyss, an old god who demanded particulars from far above.

Chysial-iun, an ancient one who buried himself beneath the seas of the world, lay partially nested in this great rift. Leura floated in the void lit by volcanic material, waiting for that great creature of unknown origins to greet her. Eventually, three large, free-floating eyes of strawberry red rose to meet her, forming a triangle around the mermaid. The whole ordeal would be very discomforting for one not used to this ritual, yet Leura still felt a bit uneasy about it. Looking to the nearest eye, she opened her palm and allowed the glass disc to move freely in the water. Chysial-iun would snatch it up with one of their invisible hands in a moment before addressing Leura. She was only glad that the great creature of the void wasn’t demanding another human; they would always cling to her before being ripped away. The vibrations, internal and of some direct mental energy, assailed Leura as the disc slipped away from her. It was Chysial-iun entering her mind, speaking directly to her; she could rarely understand the noises it sent her, but it came out as, “Done well, pink fish, cities safe more longer now.”

That confirmation was all that Leura needed from the old god, bidding the man-sized eyes ado, receiving a strange good-bye of energy pulsing from the spheres, Leura swam back out of the trench. With the drop off made, there wasn’t much else for Leura to do for the time, that was until Chysial-iun called to her once more. From the trench, she swam to the end of the coral reef to look out on the sunken cityscape that lay in another deep indent of the sea. That had been her home once, she could see other merms swimming about still at this late hour, but she knew there was no place for her there. The welcoming lights, the familiar faces, and all of that sense of belonging wouldn’t matter if Leura journeyed into the city even for a night. She was marked with a sign that would never fade and tell those she met what her first and foremost duty was on this planet. The vassal of Chysial-iun was regarded with honor by the merms, even as they shunned the unfortunate person to be given that title. The merm who would keep the old god from destroying and devouring cities was a hero, but a villain just as well. One who would prevent the deaths of thousands was undoubtedly good, but if that came at the price of sacrificing other living beings to an ever-hungry beast, it was another story entirely. Leura didn’t let it get her down, not anymore, twenty years was too long to hold tight to that sorrow. Instead, she went beneath the reef and entered the labyrinthine tunnels that networked beneath the lands. It was time to see some new sights, if only for a while.

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