Into the Depths: Part Two
As Caylis looked upward, she discovered the shadow's source: a small giant squid had been quietly pursuing her, and judging by its salivating beak, it was hungry.
I always imagined these creatures to be... smaller, Caylis thought to herself; apparently, even a small giant squid was still pretty huge.
She dodged with great haste, tentacle after tentacle crashing down about her as the small giant squid tried to entangle her in its suction-cupped grasp. Frantic, Caylis tried to hide among the kelp and seaweed, only to have the monstrous beast tear it up in search of her. With a forceful wave of its tentacle, the small giant squid struck at the poor Aisha; she was thrown back toward a coral reef, and as a searing pain bloomed in the back of her head, her world went black.
When she came to, slowly opening her eyes ever so slightly, she knew she was alive, to an extent. How she had survived, she did not know, but as her senses began to return to her, she could hear voices speaking over her. Caylis continued to lie still, lest these voices also belong to an enemy.
"It seems that the beast was after this child, Thalassa." Caylis nearly cringed at the rasping sound of the voice, hissing like a venomous sea serpent.
"Indeed, Delphyne, and she was here, as you said she'd be. Narcissa, shall we eat her too? The beast had good taste, certainly." The second voice was no less frightening than the first; its guttural tone was like the crashing waves upon the rocky shore.
"No, my sisters. Can you not feel it? This one is like us..." The third was different from the others; it held an air of power and authority in its range. It could have passed as that of a well-bred woman, had it not been dripping with a sense of malice and cruelty within each word. Though it was not so obviously hideous-sounding as the first two, it was the one voice that sounded the most monstrous.
A hand rested upon Caylis's shoulder, a cold and clawed hand that made the Aisha want to flinch in fright. She was shaken slightly, and one of the voices whispered, "Wake, child, we shall not harm you." She opened her eyes, which became wide with fear upon what she saw.
They had the appearance of three water faeries, and yet not. Their scales were dull and jagged, and they had fins of sharp spines. They bore fangs and long claws, and seaweed had become enmeshed in their hair. They might have been beautiful once, but now they gave an atrocious impression.
"W-Who are you?" Caylis's voice quivered, her eyes fixated upon the three. Having propped herself up by her arms, her body was shaking as if to say, "Flee, flee!" Yet she resisted the urge, for she knew she could not out-manoeuvre a water faerie, let alone three: they were in their element, and she stood no chance even if she tried.
"We are known as the Drenched," one of the water faeries exclaimed. "This is our domain. What is a Maraquan child doing here? We show no mercy to the people of that oafish king." As she said this, the other two Drenched sisters began to lick at their claws, in remembrance of fine meals past; their eyes looked upon Caylis with a hopeful gleam.
"They are not my people!" Caylis shouted, eyes flashing once more in anger. She quickly covered her mouth in surprise; it was not wise to speak this way to dark creatures such as these, especially when they looked so hungry.
But the centre water faerie merely smirked and said, "Oh? For such a young Neopet as yourself to harbour such hatred, they must have done something terrible to you." She slithered through the water toward the small Aisha and, spiny fins brushing against her cheek, the water faerie spoke into her ear. "Tell us, child, what those wretched Maraquans did to you"
Her arms draped around Caylis, as if to feign an embrace. But there was no comfort or warmth to be found in those arms, and the Aisha could barely breathe from the evil she was emitting. With no one else to turn to, though, Caylis was willing to pour her heart out for even insincere concern.
"I was banished from Maraqua; the Neopets there are afraid of me and claim that I've cursed them within my nightmares." Caylis shut her eyes tightly as the words came from her lips, her feelings of resentment and anger boiling up within her.
At this the other two Drenched sisters swam toward her and flanked her at both sides, their voices cooing in mock consolation. They turned to their sister embracing Caylis and said, "You were right, Narcissa; this child holds such a powerful anger within her. She has much potential."
"Of course I'm right," Narcissa snapped at them, her spiny-finned tail thrashing slightly. Leaning her head toward the Aisha, she spoke once more to her, "Child, I can sense what lies within your heart: you are filled with resentment and loneliness. You have been made an outcast by these fools, these Maraquans who fear you only because you are different."
Those words already running through Caylis's mind hurt all the more when spoken by another, and a stranger she had just met, no less. The grey-skinned Aisha looked back on all the times she had tried to warn the Maraquans of dangers she had foreseen in her nightmares; how no one seemed to listen to her until it was too late, and then they would recall her words. In baleful cries they accused her of being a witch, though worse than the accusations were the dreaded whispers that left their lips and passed between one another whenever she would pass by. And those eyes: those cold-hearted, hateful eyes that pierced through her like she was nothing; it left her feeling as cold and empty as the chasms within the depths of the oceans. But Caylis felt her heart become pained as she thought on the one who truly did her wrong: her own sister, Isca, who had abandoned her to live with the very same people who banished her.
Caylis began to weep at this final thought, her bitter tears washed away by the ocean currents. Narcissa stroked the Aisha child's head as if to comfort her, while the other two Drenched sisters stared on, their eyes gleaming in anticipation.
"Dear, sweet child," Narcissa cooed into her ear, "We all understand what it's like to be cast aside, and we wish to help you. You hold a marvellous power within you, and with our assistance, you would have the means of getting revenge for the wrongs done to you."
At this Caylis's four ears perked up: revenge? It was true that she was filled with anger over what they had done to her, but was she truly capable of acting in kind? Could she set her heart to stone and commit the cruelty that they had shown her? Deep down, Caylis was truly afraid to find out. But she was drawn to the Drenched and their promises of power; the darkness in her heart craved it and the ruin of those who had hurt her.
But even more so, the loneliness within her felt that she simply had no one else to turn to. She had no one whom she belonged to nor any kin to care for her. Reluctantly, she said, "I will go with you." The words struggled to come forth from her lips, her body resisting as each word tried to form.
A smile crept upon Narcissa's lips. "Very well, child; you shall be our apprentice, and you shall wield powers you have only dreamed of." Turning toward one of her sisters, she said, "Delphyne, escort the child; Thalassa and I shall lead the way."
Delphyne swam over to the Aisha child, her sharp scales gleaming. "Take my hand, child, for we are travelling through troubled waters," the hissing voice of Delphyne commanded. Caylis complied, and her small hand was soon imprisoned in the iron-clawed grasp of the wicked water faerie.
Onward they travelled, deep into the bowels of the ocean floor, a land of eternal twilight. Caylis noticed glimmers of light in the darkness but found no comfort in them, for they were the eyes of the creatures of the deep waters. Some of the creatures eying them deemed them fit to eat, such as the group of giant Slugawoo coming toward them. They roared and bellowed, "GO AWAY!"
But the Drenched sisters only smiled maliciously at them. Narcissa commanded, "Sisters, guard the child, and I shall deal with these beasts." Thalassa and Delphyne each took to Caylis's side, their claws outstretched in warning. The giant Slugawoos, seeing Narcissa as vulnerable, charged at her with full force. But they were mistaken, for without a moment's hesitation she lunged at them, claws bared. Caylis was amazed by her sheer strength: the Drenched sister Narcissa moved with a speed that few could match, a trail of bubbles the only indication of where she had been; her tail held spiked fins that she thrashed at her enemies, wounding them deeply; and her powerful claws could pierce anything they touched. She made quick work of the beasts, and soon the gleaming orbs of the onlookers vanished, knowing they were no easy prey. Caylis certainly hoped she would not have any reason to be at the other end of those talons.
As they continued their trek through the waters, Caylis suddenly thought of something and turned to inquire of Delphyne. "Mistress Delphyne," she began, being sure to speak very respectfully to the sea witch, "I thought it was said that the lair of the Drenched was in an underwater cliff?"
"Aye, child, that is what is told. However," she added, with a devilish smile, "that cliff holds not our lair, but our meals. We keep the land-dwellers there until we are ready to feed." She licked at her lips at the thought, and Caylis did her best not to be repulsed at the gesture.
"Our true lair is hidden away, a stronghold against those who would seek us out in hatred. You shall understand once we arrive."
Surely enough, as they ventured into the darkening waters, Caylis could see a cavern hidden within the deep trenches of the ocean. Surrounding it were powerful swirling whirlpools, threatening to tear apart any creature foolish enough to venture too close.
Narcissa nodded to her other sister and merely said, "Thalassa." The Drenched sister swam to the front of the group and raised her arms. Muttering an incantation under her breath, Thalassa's hands began to glow with a bright blue light. A wave of power came forth and struck at the whirlpools. Soon the strong water currents vanished, leaving the group free to carry on toward the entrance of the cavern.
"Quickly now, child," Narcissa said, turning to Caylis, "before the whirlpools reform."
Caylis dutifully swam faster to keep up with the rest of them; upon entering the cave she turned around and saw the whirlpools quickly reform in a rush of water, scattering a nearby school of Maraquan Petpets across the ocean sands.
Looking now upon her new home, Caylis was astounded to find the lair of the Drenched not just a simple cave, but a massive series of caves and tunnels. The rocky tunnels were lined with rings of kelp and jagged coral, giving the appearance of the throat of an enormous beast. In corners here and there she could see chests overflowing with treasures, presumably those found from shipwrecks, as Maraqua did not have a natural abundance of gold or wooden chests. Strewn about the walls were strings of pearls and sheets of fine silks, their origins undoubtedly the same as the treasures.
For a group of evil water faeries, Caylis thought to herself, they sure know how to decorate.
"Sweet child," Narcissa crooned to the small Aisha, "what is your name?"
"I am Caylis," she replied. The false sweetness in her tone made Caylis feel very uneasy, but she tried to bear it.
"Well then, Caylis, Delphyne shall show you to your room; you must be weary from your travels and could do with some rest."
With that, Narcissa and Thalassa swam into one of the many deep tunnels and disappeared into the darkness. Delphyne once again took Caylis by the hand and led her through the passageways. The Aisha tried to keep track of the many turns they took in order to return to the entrance if need be, but soon lost count and gave up. Delphyne stopped at a small opening along the side of the tunnel and brushed aside the long strands of seaweed like a curtain. The grotto was bare, save for a boulder large enough for her to sleep on and a caged Filamen for light.
"Forgive the lack of hospitality, dear Caylis," Delphyne said with an emotionless face. "But as you can imagine, we don't keep much company. At least, not for long." The sea witch pulled at a sheet of silk draped against the wall and handed it her. "Take this; I've heard that these caves can get deathly cold."
Delphyne then flicked her finned tail to motion the Aisha in, and Caylis obeyed. The pile of silk draped over her arms, Caylis said with bowed head, "Thank you, Mistress Delphyne." The Drenched sister stopped for a moment, staring at the Aisha child with her cold eyes. She then released the curtain of seaweed and swam away without a response, leaving Caylis to her thoughts.
Padding the large boulder with the silk sheets, Caylis made a makeshift bed to lie down upon. As her eyes moved about the small room, they eventually fell on the small caged Filamen, being the only other object in the room. The small Petpet shivered inside the cage of coral, its light flickering as it shook. Caylis stared at the Petpet and thought about how alike they were, both of them caged in this dark place, their light being slowly smothered.
Rising up from her bed, she reached her hand through the cage and gently petted the frightened Filamen. Its small tears subsided, and it eventually calmed down and began to drift to sleep. Unfortunately as the Petpet slept, its light went out, so Caylis could do nothing else but try to sleep as well. As tired and worn out as she was, still the Aisha dreaded to fall asleep, for fear of the dreams that would haunt her. But try as she might, she could not resist it, and soon fell into a fitful slumber.
She would one day come to realise that not all nightmares could be found in dreams.
To be continued...