It was her second vigil and Iantha had drawn the Dark Deeps for the second time. She had hoped for coral reefs, brightly coloured fish and sunlight. Apparently that was not meant to be, again. It was no less dark this time and no less cold. She was three months older now and Miranda had explained that it would take a year from the time she was made for her to be fully grown up. The colours were beginning to develop on her tail, pale streaks and spots of blue, green and mauve. Her chest was developing too, after this vigil she would no longer be considered a little girl and they were making tops for her now. At this point Iantha would have preferred to already be wearing one. Her hair was down to her chest these days but it didn’t cover anything and it certainly didn’t help with warm.
She had been studying the Dark Deeps and the Great Trench that lay just beyond it because this was where she had stood her last vigil. She knew more now about the deep ocean than she had before and had a greater appreciation of its hazards. It had probably been a good thing that Tu and Gralk had turned up last time, she knew now that there were things down here that would have considered her a tasty little morsel. There still were. Staying beside the token box might not have been sufficient protection. She knew the others in her class had been studying the locations they had stood vigil in and wondered briefly what hazards were to be found in those warm, sunlit seas.
It would still have been nice to have gone to one of those locations instead of repeating this one. Miranda had looked worried when she’d drawn this marble from the pot for the second time. Last time it had been the only one left and there was the possibility that those before her might have peeked before taking their marble. This time she was in the middle of the group so it seemed less likely that cheating was the reason she had gotten this draw. She’d pressed the marker on the token box as soon as she’d arrived, of course and now she had to wait for it to unlock so she could take her token and go. It seemed to her that she was feeling the cold faster this time and tried hugging herself – she didn’t think it helped much.
She heard a quick swish through the water just before she was hit from behind in the centre of her back and sent tumbling through the water. “Gralk!” The stern voice was calling the culprit to heel, “What are you doing?” Iantha was only able to straighten up when the momentum ran out and when she did so Tu and Gralk were hovering over her. “I’m so sorry, he normally doesn’t do that unless he-, Iantha?”
“Yes?” She straightened herself so that up was up and she was facing them.
“I’m sorry,” Tu repeated apologetically, “He does tend to greet his friends rather enthusiastically and most of his friends are bigger and heavier than you. He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
“I don’t think so,” Iantha replied, cautiously stretching to test everything, “Everything feels all right. Could you check my dorsal fin for me please?” She turned her back to him and extended the supporting spines to spread the fin for his inspection.
Her dorsal fin appeared completely normal and undamaged, but of course not yet fully developed. It was of the more usual type being of neither of the lionfish or sail variants and he thought that it was beginning to develop a sheen of colouring. “It looks fine,” he said encouragingly, “No damage done. Perhaps we should move back to that token box? Our position here might be a little exposed.” Tu looked down and Iantha’s eyes followed his gaze downwards to the inky blackness below them. The glow of his trident showed the top of the cliff that supported the token box and beyond that she could make out small luminosities, but beyond that...
“I hadn’t realised that the vigil station was right on the edge of the Great Trench,” she said quietly.
“I thought perhaps you hadn’t,” he smiled, “Now, moving?” They swam back together, being circled by Gralk, to the glow surrounding the token box. Her flukes, he noted, were going to be of the filmy type that could develop so much power in deep water as opposed to the plainer, commoner style that allowed for quick direction changes instead. “So why are you here again?” he asked as they reached the token box.
“I pulled this marble out of the pot again,” she shrugged then asked, “Are there really chaos beasts asleep at the bottom of the Trench? One of the books I found in the library at the Moon Hall said there were, but when I went to ask Miranda about them she took the book away and I haven’t been able to find it again.”
“I was always told there were,” he agreed, “One of my favourite stories when I was a child was how Chronus and Oceanus forced them to the bottom of the Trenches and Tethys put them to sleep.”
Gralk head-butted Iantha’s hip and she started scratching behind his jaw, “Miranda told me not to ask about them any more, that they were no concern of a moon maiden, but there was a prophecy in the book about the Moon and the chaos beasts awakening.”
“I know the one you mean,” he said gravely and she looked at him in pleased surprise, “And I would have said that it was of no concern to a child,” he caught the beginning of her objection and held out an admonitory hand, “Because I don’t think you should have to worry about such things yet.”
“Do you worry about it?” she asked curiously.
“Yes, sometimes,” he admitted, “But it’s part of my job to worry about things I hope aren’t going to happen for a long time yet.”
“What is-” she began then her attention was caught by the light on the box going green, “Oh, my token!” She grabbed it out of the box as if she were afraid she would miss her opportunity and put the cord around her neck so that the token hung beside its identical predecessor in the small valley between her breasts.
“Why don’t we swim you up to the sunlight again?” Tu asked. He liked this child. He didn’t agree with the decision to give her the draught of Lethe but as she had been given it, at her age she shouldn’t have to worry about more than her first set of clothes, playing with her friends and learning her lessons. It was beginning to sound as if not only was the Moon Hall under Mistress Katharine preparing candidates for induction far too young, they might be skimping on the normal lessons too. He might need to ask some more questions on their way to the light.
“You’re a natural hazard aren’t you?” She giggled then laughed at his expression. “Could I stop you swimming anywhere you wanted?”
Queen Melia was displeased. It was a long time since she had needed to have this sort of conversation with anyone.
“Last time you were here I told you the changes you needed to make to your administration of the Moon Hall and its students,” she said to Katharine, Mistress of the Moon Hall of the Third Aspect, “And it appears that you have ignored my instructions. I have no choice but to remove you from control of the Moon Hall of the Third Aspect. You have the summer to get your affairs and records in order. The new Mistress will take over on the autumn equinox. You will cease the preparation of child candidates immediately. Do you understand?”
“I understand that you are jealous of my influence over my students and priestesses,” snapped back Katharine, “They will never allow your candidate to supplant me.”
“You are rather missing the point,” Melia was beginning to wonder why they had ever allowed this woman, changed to a mermaid on point of drowning, to become a priestess let alone take over a Moon Hall. There seemed to be so much she didn’t understand.
“The point is that you don’t want any threats to your throne,” sneered Katharine, “Afraid I’ll become more powerful than you?”
“That is enough,” Melia was not going to lose her temper, no she wasn’t, “You have your orders. Leave me now and obey them. Don’t make me demonstrate the cost of disobedience.”