As I headed towards the surface, I started feeling panic rise up in me. The mermaids! I couldn't leave them alone! They might be set upon by who-knows-what?!
I quickly recognized this as the geas, and tried to fight it down. My tail thrashed about as I mentally wrestled myself. I've been in too many fights, too many impossible situations, to let panic master me. If fear had ever gotten the better of me, I wouldn't be alive right now.
Gradually, the panic became a low churning in my gut. I breathed a sigh of relief, trying to get used to the odd sensation of breathing in water rather than air. I tried swimming further up the tunnel, only to have the churning begin to bloom back into panic. No. I will not do this!
I struggled onward, crawling - or slithering through the water, rather - at a snail's pace as I tried to fight down the fear of leaving the mermaids alone.
Then, all at once, the fear and panic and dread left me completely. Astonished, I stopped where I was for a moment. I've beaten it! I thought ecstatically.
But as I turned to keep going, I was suddenly struck by a wave of longing, the desire to protect and nurture and love and mentor the mermaids.
This was even more cruel and insidious than the panic. I have lost so much in my life, denied myself so much; how could I resist such a longing for family and companionship and friendship, when its fulfillment was in easy reach?
Intellectually, I knew that the mermaids felt no such emotions to me, and that these feelings weren't real, and that if I did stay, their mother would return to kill me. But I couldn't fight it.
I swam back to the grotto.
But my mind was working furiously. I could still get around this. I could bring the mermaids with me on my excursion!
I'll beat this yet, I promised myself as I slid easily through the water, approaching the blue light of the crystals at the end of the tunnel.
You just wait.