Disclaimer: H20: Just Add Water and all its characters belong to Jonathan M. Schiff Productions. All other characters are of my own invention and therefore belong to me.
CHAPTER 21: ESCAPE
Rikki woke up with a groan. Her wrists were burning and her arms felt as though someone were trying to pull them out of their sockets. She tentatively opened one eye and gazed upwards, where she saw her hands chained up, and that she was suspended from the ceiling in some sort of tank. The water was up to her chin, and she opened both eyes wide to figure out how she could get out of the chains that were causing her so much anguish. She tried to shift her arms and only wound up rubbing the metal of the chains against her already bruised and sore wrists. The salt water in the tank splashed up against them as she moved her tail, and caused her even more pain, as it burned the parts of her wrists that it touched.
"Hello?" she yelled, trying to get someone's attention. The tank was extremely narrow. She would have enough room to turn sideways in it, and that was about it. It was quite deep, however.
"Is anyone there?" she tried again, louder this time, and desperation creeping into her voice. The chains were hurting her badly, and she was afraid to move lest she rub her wrists against the metal again, but it was agony to keep still, as her arms were thoroughly stretched out from being suspended from the ceiling for what must have been at least two hours.
"Please, somebody!" she called, cursing herself mentally for the small sob that escaped her.
Suddenly, she heard footsteps above her, and, looking up, she saw two men standing over her, on the ceiling of the tank. Actually, she realized, it was more of a pool, and the glass over the top was meant to keep her from climbing out. They looked down at her, and she recognized one of them as the devil who had locked them all up.
"Had enough fun, sweetheart?" he asked her gently.
"Let me go!" she raged. "Let. Me. Go!" As she exerted the last of her strength to yell at him, she felt herself slump against the chains, and moaned softly.
"Now, why would I do that when I know the instant I release you from those chains, you'll try to set me alight?" he asked her, mocking.
Rikki, driven to a kind of frenzy by the combination of pain, fear, and frustration, shouted up to him, "I swear, I won't! Please. Please take them off." She let her head fall down against her chest, which rose and fell rapidly, as she tried to control her tears and her temper. She only heard him say, "Go ahead," and then there was a click, as the chains came undone and she splashed into the water.
Her first instinct was to scream, as her sore wrists came in contact with the salt water. However, she bit it back and swam rapidly to the surface to catch a breath. As she rose further up, she saw Glover staring down at her. The other man had left.
"Well, then," he said gently, "That hurt, didn't it?" He had a nice enough face, and if his smile was not so vicious, Rikki might have thought him handsome.
"Where are Cleo and Emma?" she asked, angry with herself for the way her voice shook. She didn't want him to see her while she felt so weak, both emotionally and physically.
"Your friends need to learn their lesson, too," he told her, not reacting to her first wave of protest. "Perhaps in a month, I'll be able to keep you all together in the nice place I've built for you. Meanwhile, you'll learn to do as you are told." He walked away without a backwards glance, and Rikki bobbed in the water for a bit, before taking a breath and swimming downwards. There, she settled on the bottom. There was scarcely room to move, and she bent over on herself. And the entire time, she wondered, where was Zane now? Hadn't he promised he'd never leave her again?
Thetis swam without purpose, without hope, and without any ideas. She had seen the trap that the girls had swum into, and she had not done anything to stop the woman and those with her from taking the girls.
Worse still, she knew where they were being taken. Mermaids occasionally had the ability to take a glimpse into the minds of humans, and she had seen the cave-like enclosure the girls would be taken to, to be kept as pets for a cruel man.
She had seen all of this, but she had not done anything. She had not even told the young men what she had seen, for fear that they would attack her for her mistake. And what did it matter anyway? She was alone again and always would be. For eternity.
And these were her thoughts when she suddenly spotted somebody in the water in front of her. A merman. At first, she shied back, thinking it was one of the boys, but then she looked closer and realized that it was somebody she had not seen in a very long time.
Acis! she thought, her heart filled with joy at the thought of reuniting with her long-lost brother. She saw Julia, too, not far from him.
Zane was thinking of Rikki. He was thinking of how he'd failed her, of how he'd been unable to protect her once again. Except that drowning would have been a mercy compared to how Denman was going to treat her. He couldn't have known that Denman was an angel of mercy compared to the monster that held the girls now. What he couldn't understand was the severe pain and fear he was feeling, as though he was being tortured.
"I'm not going back in the water," Zane declared. "We're not going to be able to help anyone if they catch us, too, and I'm not up to swimming right now."
He realized that while rescuing Rikki was his number one priority, he was practically crippled by a sense of growing panic. What added to that was the fact that he realized it wasn't his sense of growing panic. Somehow, he could feel what Rikki was feeling, he thought. Ash and Lewis felt a similar foreign sense of unease, but they were not as handicapped as Zane, who was also in physical pain.
"I'll kill Denman the next time I lay eyes on her," he swore, trying to catch his breath to avoid crying out with the phantom pain.
Ash and Lewis turned concerned looks to him.
"You guys don't feel any pain, huh?" he asked, grimacing.
When they both shook their heads, he sneered, "It figures that Rikki would do something to get herself hurt first."
Lewis looked out at the water again. He knew they couldn't go out there, not like this, but at the same time, he knew they needed help. Whatever was happening to the girls was worse than they thought.
"How do we find her?" Ash asked quietly, looking at the lapping waves and the sun that was gently setting on the horizon.
"You don't need to," answered a female voice. "I've found you."
All three turned to look at the beautiful girl walking down the beach, a girl that was much older than she looked.
"Thetis?" Lewis asked with some surprise. "The girls said…"
She looked sadly at her legs. She was wearing a very old-fashioned dress, and her long hair, out of the water, hung limply around her knees.
"They said I couldn't become human out of the water like they could," she said quietly, mournfully. Then, perking up slightly, she added, "But this is my mess, so I have to fix it. The curse that you accidentally placed upon them has already been undone. Now we just have to get them out of that monster's cages."
"Dr. Denman, you mean," Ash asked her.
Thetis shook her head.
"He is so much worse than your doctor."
"He?" inquired Zane. "What 'he'?" His thoughts instantly jumped to his father and a knot of fear that was his own settled in his stomach.
"His name is Glover, and I know where to find him," Thetis stated, indicating that the boys should follow her steps.
"Ben Glover?" Zane checked. "The billionaire eccentric?"
"Follow me," was all Thetis would say, and they did, almost running to catch up with her swift footsteps.
Cleo and Emma woke up side by side, the ends of their tails dipping in the saltwater pool, roused by the sound of speech on the other side of the glass. They both opened groggy eyes and looked over at the speakers, Denman and an unfamiliar man, one of Glover's men, most likely. It took less than ten seconds to realize that Rikki was not in the enclosure with them.
"Is she in the water?" Emma said softly, trying not to panic immediately. Cleo, in response, pulled herself over to the edge of the pool and looked down. Not able to see far enough, she dove in and swam to the bottom, looking all around herself for any sign of Rikki, even knowing that if she was somehow unconscious underwater, she might not be alive any longer. Ironic, she thought, that one of the only ways they might die now is if they drowned by losing consciousness underwater.
After a few minutes' scrutiny, she swam back towards the surface and looked sadly at Emma.
"She's not down there."
"No," a voice cut in. "She isn't."
The girls turned to see Denman leaning on the glass, looking down at them with a strange mixture of contempt and wonder.
"You'll get her back when you learn to behave," she noted. "Meanwhile, I'd do as Ben says, or you'll find that your experience here will become very unpleasant."
She walked away, and Emma and Cleo exchanged a look. They could certainly agree that Denman had no reason to lie about Rikki's whereabouts, and they didn't exactly have any other sources of information. Anxious and unhappy, they huddled against each other up on the shore, behind a shrub planted near the glass. A force of habit made them seek out the land, wishing that they could regain their legs if they just stayed there long enough.
About an hour passed, during which neither Emma or Cleo said a thing, and which, apart from the panic attacks they were experiencing, was completely uneventful, until they felt themselves dry off completely and the familiar feeling of the change swept over both of them.
Shocked, they stared down at their bodies, completely human once more, and furtively looked at the glass. The one guard left in the room was lazily looking around, but his attention had not yet fallen on the girls, who were asleep, he assumed.
"How are we human again?" Cleo asked in a whisper. Emma shrugged, clueless as well. However, Thetis and something she had mentioned earlier floated into her mind and passed away.
"Let's just hope nobody notices for the time being," Emma replied.
"Should we go back in the water?" Cleo suggested. "That way, they won't know we're still able to change back."
"No," Emma said. "For now, let's just stay this way. It might be to our advantage if they go to open a door and check on us." She didn't voice her anxiety that Denman would have told Glover about their ability to change back when they became dry and that he would have taken precautions against any potential escapes as he seemed to have done with everything else.
However, what she had not anticipated was the cracking noise she heard at the door, and just as she turned to look, she saw the guard sprawled on the ground, and Lewis, Zane, Ash and, of all people, Thetis, standing in the doorway, looking straight at them in the enclosure.
"Lewis!" Cleo shrieked and jumped to her feet.
"Oh, this will make it easier," he muttered, seeing that both Emma and Cleo were completely dry and therefore human. He'd unhooked the security systems as well as he could and thought he might be able to delay the arrival of Denman and Glover for a few minutes, which should be enough to get them out of the enclosure, though maybe not the building.
Zane pulled a small plastic card out and held it against the glass. With a soft hiss, the door came undone and Emma and Cleo were able to jump out.
"Where's Rikki?" Zane asked anxiously, seeing that she was not with the other two. His face was drawn and pale, as if from prolonged and dull pain.
"We don't know," Emma said, taking his hand in hers, looking at him nervously, as if he was about to pass out right there. "Denman said Glover took her to another place. I think she's still here, though, in this building."
"I know where she is," Lewis said, his eyes wide. "I think I saw it on the security cameras. But Glover is there right now."
"I don't care," Zane said through gritted teeth. "We're getting her now."
They had decided that Zane was in no condition to go in, and he stayed behind with Thetis, who wasn't going to be able to contribute meaningfully. Although Ash and Lewis had protested, Emma and Rikki insisted upon coming along, and made the fair point that they knew how to control their powers better than the boys.
By now, the ominous silence of the guard in the main room had roused Glover and he had raised an alarm. Thetis and Zane just managed to slip out, while the group of four rescuers made their way into the heart of the lion's den.
At the door, they could see Glover and Denman, along with a few other men, sitting around a very small pool, like a cold plunge in an old-fashioned bathhouse, which had been glassed over at the top. The glass could be moved up, and it was on a latch. Now to get rid of the six or so people that would happily take two more captives in addition to the three they had started with.
Cleo moved her hand just so, and the water under the latched glass began to rise. She realized that there was no way to lift the glass off cleanly, and it would have to break, but she hoped that Rikki would be able to somewhat avoid the shower of splinters. With a last effort, she let the water burst against the glass and with a resounding crash, bits of glass and gobs of water flew everywhere.
Glover, who had been preoccupied with his cell phone, looked around wildly for the source of the glass explosion and spotted the four teenagers crouched behind the opaque door.
Rikki, meanwhile, hearing the crack of the glass above, rapidly swam upwards and, with a great effort heaved herself up on her elbows above the water. She was immediately surrounded by two men who held tranquilizer guns locked on target, but Lewis dispatched these with two large balls of water that Ash had managed to crystallize.
Glover had reached the door, but was also knocked out by one of the glass balls that were flying in all directions. Denman alone seemed to be left conscious, and that was because they needed her.
Lewis walked over to her, and she, eyes wide with panic, saw that he would have no moral qualms about strangling her. Everyone around her had been attacked and she was on her own, essentially defenseless.
"Get her out of the water and to the door. NOW!" he barked, and Denman moved over to Rikki to comply. She grabbed her under her arms and dragged her over to the door, where, Emma asked her to dry herself off.
Rikki, who had regained some of her wind for the few minutes it took to drag herself out of the pool, only shook her head weakly.
"I can't," she mewled. "I'm sorry. Get out of here yourselves."
Just as Emma and Lewis exchanged a look over Rikki's prone body about what to do, Zane came up with Thetis from behind and knelt down towards Rikki.
"See, just like I promised, Rikki," he said softly. "Not leaving you again, don't you worry."
As the last drop of water on her body evaporated, Rikki regained her legs, and was picked up by Ash, who waved Zane away. Zane himself looked as though he should also be carried.
Without sparing a glance for the mangled room, the prone forms and the terrified Denman behind them, they sped out of the room and towards the door, away from the hateful place.