In the Gardens: Part Two

The underwater tunnels were narrow, barely wide enough for a merm to swim through comfortably alone, but rare was it that any but Leura was in there. Sometimes there were fish or eel or some sort of crustacean, but with the current, those things did not stay long. There were times, however, that Leura found blockages in the tunnels caused by larger creatures. An octopus trying to eat a sea turtle once blocked the route out while a bloated fishman once stopped up the way inward. Leura was forced into breaking up the latter while the former ended in the use of her eleus halo. The burning obsidian ring cut through the fishman’s scales and bones with ease, leaving only a thick pulp behind. It wasn’t the type of thing Leura liked to do, but she understood the necessity.

The pale green light of the deep sea flowers that only seemed to grow in the tunnels lit Leura’s way through the passages. She wasn’t quite sure where to go or where she was going. It was not as though the paths were charted. However, despite it feeling like there were only a few routes to take in the tunnels, Leura never seemed to come out in the same spot twice. Where she would find herself this time, she could not say, but Leura had hopes. Though it wasn’t as though she could choose her path, Leura wanted to end up at Sky’s Fall again. The hippocamps there were lovely swimmers and such elegant beasts to watch, even if they became aggressive at times. However, Leura didn’t concern much for where she would end up, so long as it wasn’t beneath the ice of Ahlcestor, that kind of cold was unbearable to her for too long. Not to mention the merms that lived in the icy water were less than civil creatures, almost more savage than anything, she thought.

Focusing on the archipelago of the western shores or some of the inland lakes, Leura let the current take her where it chose. All the while, as the tunnels worked their magic, the merwoman studied the path she went along, not as though she needed to remember how to get home. Were she near or far Chysial-iun’s call would draw her back to the chasm, even should she try to ignore it, the great one’s beckoning was too much. However, there were occasions he would transmit his message directly into her mind, being not far from the sea, and Leura would be able to collect what was needed from where she was. This was incredibly helpful when the god required fungi or moss that grew on one side of the island. Or, more pressing, if Chysial-iun demanded an item that could not be bought and would need to be stolen, Leura could collect it and be long gone before it was missed. Just like the people she would occasionally have to coax into the water, they would vanish without a trace or finger to point. The disappearances had, however, gotten some folk across the land uncomfortable about dealing with merms, yet Leura had never had any troubles with them.

Breaching the water’s surface, Leura felt warm beams of light fall on her, soaking into her skin and calming away any unwanted tension. The relief was broken the moment the merwoman opened her eyes as a whip struck just behind her. Glancing directly at the source, Leura found a shriveled old woman; however, to say she looked more like an elderly human and not like a hunk of tree bark was more than complimentary. This woman had grown so dreadfully old and possibly so disconcerted with her own health that her flesh had grown nearly as orange as a pumpkin. Feeble and thin bits of hair worked to conceal eyes like tiny buttons stuffed deep in the skull but did as much as one bramble against a whole desert. The whip came down again, but this time Leura was a little more prepared. Pulling up her eleus halo right before she could fill the painful kiss of a barb.

“Why you miserable little… First, you interrupt my offerings, and now you cost me my one good whip. Why I have half a mind to turn one of the seafolk on you, they’ll show you what for,” the old woman hissed, leaning over the brick lip that separated water from earth.
Leura didn’t get mad but stuck out her tongue before brandishing the half of the whip, “Go on, you old witch, send one of the fishmen for me! It wouldn’t be the first the time I had to slice one of them into a big old puff of chum.”
“Oh, you, I’ll make sure you regret crossing me, gill girl. I have ties to nobility just beyond the Gardens: Ahlcestor, Elyz End, the City of Rings, and the Starlli Mountains. Just you wait until I can get a proper message to one of them. They’ll hunt you down and skin your pink little flesh clear off, but not after they’ve plucked every one of those scales from you, and maybe even after they take that shimmery little wig. But perhaps, I could be made to forgive you, for a price,” the hag growled maliciously, a sneer that would sicken a demon stretching those pumpkin lips.
Rolling her eyes, Leura did little but splash her tail up, sending a gallon’s worth of water up at the woman, “I don’t make deals with witches nor hags nor pumpkin-faced old battleaxes like yourself. Now I’d like to enjoy my time away, be off with ya!”
“Oh, you have made a more powerful enemy than you could ever have considered, you wretched child. So a hex you’ll have until I get what I want of you,” with haste that belied her age, the old hag drew a stoppered bottle from her belt and doused Leura with it. In response, Leura splashed even more water up before diving down to the floor of the little pond. Retrieving a handful of silt loaded with sharp rocks and shells, she reemerged, ready to slosh it into the witch’s face. However, upon resurfacing, Leura found the pumpkin-faced woman to have entirely vanished.
With a sigh, she dropped the silt and muttered quietly to herself, “Why couldn’t Chysial-iun ask me to snatch him an old woman? That one would have done so well, and I doubt a soul would fault me for grabbing her.”

Even without being able to give that old hag a piece of her mind and a piece of the sea to boot, Leura was intent on enjoying her time away from the sea. The sunny grove, seemingly locked in a perpetual state of autumn, would be a fine enough excursion from her norm. It was odd how two places linked so close by the tunnels could look so different not only in looks but concerning the weather, yet Leura never bothered about it. She spent more time under the water where conditions were rarely changing all that much. Sure going to the colder regions would gain her icy water or warmer water in tropical areas. The tides could pick, and on great occasion, there were tsunamis that would lift sea life high and send it crashing down to earth, but she stayed far from areas that saw that happen all too often. For now, she would content herself with the warm sunlight, the quiet critters playing and stalking about the tall grass, and that sweet scent of maple wafting from the recently tapped trees.

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