I woke in uncomfortable coldness. I felt damp and stiff, and all around me, it was dusky grey. I couldn't remember where I was, and through a pounding haze of muggy thoughts I stumbled back over the past few hours in my mind.
The memories flooded back into my numbed brain, and I was filled with a consuming terror, which swelled in my chest.
I was under the sea. Under the sea. I trembled and shook and my breath seemed to stick in my throat like glue.
Slowly, laboriously, I pushed myself up from the floor, and glanced down. The hole in the floor was shining dim light up, and I wondered fuzzily if I could swim my way out.
Pfft. What was that about not submerging myself?
I edged close to the hole, and dipped my toe in the bubbling water. It was freezing cold, and I shied away as it brought back memories of the horrible journey last night.
I still could not believe it. How could Zeth be everything I thought he wasn't? I had stupidly presumed he was a 'nice' merman, had never doubted his motives, had never questioned why he was friendly towards a useless, not especially good looking girl. I had never thought of anything.
I groaned. What had I done? Did I even want to know?
I sat there in silence, alone with my thoughts until a splash signified someone entering up through the hole, and propping themselves up with a wet flop onto the floor, inches away from me.
"Who is it?" I croaked, my voice hoarse with disuse, "If it's Zeth… well, I won't tell you what I'll do to you." My words sounded brave, but in truth I was so frightened that I could hear myself trembling- my voice wobbled tremulously, like a child on the verge of tears.
A slow laugh echoed around the room, drawled out lazily. It didn't sound like Zeth, but, then again, I didn't know Zeth anymore. Zeth. I even hated the name now.
I couldn't see the person, it had grown darker, but suddenly the room was illuminated. I looked up, and saw someone who looked a little like Zeth holding an open oyster shell, which contained a brightly glowing pearl. A strange source of light, I thought, absently, but my attention was grabbed by the merman. His hair was longer than Zeth's, but as dark black as his had been underwater, and his eyes were murky and shadow filled.
"I see you are no longer succumbed to my brother's charms!" the merman laughed, and his voice was just as mocking as Zeth's had been.
"Your brother?" I asked, with about as little enthusiasm as can be expected of a girl held hostage.
"Yes, my brother. Quite the mermaid's man, that one, as I'm sure you'll agree." he chuckled, and caught sight of my legs, poking out of my ripped dress.
"Whoa! You have legs!" He reached down and poked one inquisitively, earning him a hard slap.
I couldn't believe my vicious response, but I was so… furious with the world that I didn't care.
"Ooh, calm down, feisty," he told me in surprise, holding his cheek, "I'm Zander. It means the protector and helper."
"Can you help and protect me?" I asked, half sarcastic, half hopeful.
"What, to escape?" he laughed, and it echoed off the walls. "I don't think so, young lady."
"What does Zeth's name mean?" I asked, changing the topic quickly.
"Investigator. It suits him- he's off investigating most of the time. You're Airla, aren't you? Ethereal. Yes, I can see that working, definitely. You've got a 'spiritual' look about you."
Bombarded by chatter, I felt suddenly very overwhelmed, and far, very far from home.
"Why did you come up here?" I asked, "To talk me to death?"
He laughed again, causing me to cringe as it filled and rasped in my ears. I felt faint, suddenly, very faint.
"No! Though I probably could if I wanted," he looked at me, contemplating whether he could, "Hm. Ah well. I came to give you food."
He handed me a shell filled with some long strips of seaweed. They dangled over the edge and emitted a foul, fishy sort of smell.
"No?" he asked, whisking the shell away with childish glee. "Then no food for you. Farewell!"
He darted down into the water, splashing it all over me. Now wet, I was experiencing violent shudders and shivers, and realised my feet were slowly getting harder and harder to feel.
I got up reluctantly, my stiff bones creaking, and began a series of star jumps and sprinting on the spot. I was exhausted by the end, but a lot warmer, and I felt slightly buoyed up with a sudden hope. I would try and stop whatever they were doing, or die with the effort.
Filled with purpose, my star jumps became more and more enthusiastic, until, almost inevitably, I tumbled down the hole.
Preparing to get wet, I winced, and fell onto hard rock.
The light from the oyster showed me the steps leading down. They were slimy and puddles lay on them, but apart from that, they were no longer covered in water.
The tide must have gone in.
Timidly, I took the oyster lamp and tiptoed down the stairs. Several times I almost slipped, but just about kept my balance.
I reached the bottom, and saw the water receding down the slight slope of the ground. I was in a huge room, with ominous statues placed around the sides and a ridiculously high ceiling. Did the water reach the ceiling? I realised it must do- the hole below where I slept was full up at high tide.
I gulped anxiously. I had better keep my visit short, or else be caught by the rushing tide as it filled the room up again.
A few door holes lead out of the room, and I looked over at them curiously, wondering if there were air pockets there too.
I was terrified about entering one, but I put aside my fears, tried to ignore my shaking legs and marched into one. Disappointment soaked through me. It was an empty room.
I leaned against one of the walls, feeling suddenly very tired. The room was huge, but there were no maps of how they would destroy Atlantis, no lists of things to do that might reveal what they were up to.
You idiot, I told myself. What were you expecting, a step by step guide to how to save yourself?
I looked again, realising the back wall seemed to have strange dips carved into it. I went over to one, and ran my fingers along the rough edge. If I knelt, and hoisted myself up on the two handily placed curves for my hand, I could get into it.
Looking up the wall, I saw that there were a huge amount of them, and realised they were on every side.
Puzzled, I heaved myself into the next, then the next, then the next. I glanced below me, and felt nauseous. The floor seemed to swirl and become faded from the height. If I fell… I didn't want to think about it.
I hoisted myself higher and higher, curiosity winning out over fear. Curse my inquisitiveness, I grunted, as sweat trickled down my back, and my shoulders felt near pulled out of their sockets with the strain.
When I finally reached the top, I looked up, confused.
I had merely reached the ceiling. I looked around, bemused, clinging onto the rocks like a limpet. A slit at the top of one of the walls caught my attention, and I edged round to it, praying desperately that I would not fall. My hair was streaming round my face as I got to it, and I had to pause and fling it back out of the way.
I gripped the top of the wall, and gazed into the slit above it. It was wide enough for me to fit through, I thought, and so, shaking with fear, I pushed myself, feet first, through the gap.
My feet fell into darkness, and I gripped the top of the wall with one hand, fumbling with the other for the oyster. I opened it awkwardly, and gazed around.
I was in a huge cavern, which was filled with water at the very bottom. The floor sloped down to the water, and seemed to be sandy. I dropped down onto it, and sunk a little in the wet, gritty sand.
The noise echoed round, and I paused, in case anything should dart out and grab me, the intruder, but no one seemed to have noticed.
My heart pounded in my chest, and I edged towards the top of the cavern. I leant back, and realised that the rocky wall I was touching seemed softer than it should have been. It was definitely rock, but it seemed almost squishy.
I poked it, and found it gave way slightly, like pushing cake. This wasn't ordinary rock!
"Airla?" said a voice behind me.
I leapt in the air, and spun around, my arms flung out in a desperate attempt to defend myself. I knew that voice anywhere.
Zeth looked at me. I saw eyes behind him in the darkness, glinting in the oyster light. More were rising from the water, smiling in a mocking way.
"How did you get here?!" Zeth couldn't seem to believe his eyes. He clearly thought I was weaker than I had proved to be.
"I climbed and walked," I said, in as sarcastic a tone as I could manage. "How else?"
He raised an eyebrow.
"What is this place?" I asked, deciding to try and not show that I was actually terrified.
The merpeople behind Zeth began laughing at me, but he silenced them with a wave of his hand.
"I suppose you can know… later." He lunged and grabbed my arm.
"Not again, Zeth, please." I groaned, having no desire to be hauled through water and thrown into a damp prison again.
"I just want to show you something," he said, sweetly, and the tone was so fake that I felt like retching all over his once shimmering tail.
He shoved my hand into the wall. "Push as hard as you can." he instructed.
I stared up at him, petrified by the look of pure evil in his eyes. I gave a feeble little shove.
"No, push it!" he shouted, into my ear. His tone terrified me, and I pushed harder.
"You idiot! Not with your measly strength- with your powers. Use your spirit strength!" he yelled.
"What?!" I shouted back, "I don't have any powers like that!"
I was furious at this humiliation; I felt like some sort of show that the merpeople were enjoying.
"Yes, you do. You've just never tried." Zeth leant down and put my other hand onto the wall. "Reach into yourself, like you do when you glide around, and use that space to push at the wall."
I was so ashamed of being put to show like this that I looked into myself, an attempt to hide from this humiliation. I saw all the shame and terror and guilt, and the pumping red glow of my heart.
Right next to my heart was a small gap of pure shining white and blue. It shone with bright rays, and as I came closer, I touched it lightly with my mind. Images of Solo, Solo? came to mind, and my heart swelled. Abrupt and sudden power ebbed into my limbs and body. This was bizarre.
I heard Zeth faintly yelling "PUSH!" and with very little effort, I gave the wall a gentle tap.
And, with a crumbling roar, it fell.
White light seemed to be radiating from somewhere. It took me a while, in this thick, dreamy sleep, to realise that I was emitting it.
I looked up at Zeth. He looked astounded. The wall was lying in a peculiar sort of mess on the floor, and I looked up to see that it was no longer holding up the ceiling. In fact, the ceiling was now slanting down, and slipping. The other walls were too weak and soft to deal with the loss of another, and the ceiling was caving in.
Zeth stared at it all in wonder. "We did it. We did it!"
"You did what?" I asked impatiently, "Caved us all in? We'll die!"
The merpeople seemed to be in a trance, watching the imminent destruction of their lives.
I stared. "MOVE!"
Zeth snapped out of it, and blew into a large shell, which emitted a deep, booming sound. Then, grabbing me by the waist, he dived into the water at the bottom of the cave, followed by the others. Looking back from under the stinging water, I saw clumps of rock flying down to where we had just been stood.
The beast who held me actually remembered I couldn't breathe underwater sooner this time, and rubbed his hand over my face so I could actually survive most of the journey.
Faint with surprise and confusion- why were they so pleased about the destruction of the wall?- I let myself droop in the arms of the enemy, and wondered about the power I had found in myself. What… why… how? I rubbed my forehead and tried to rest. Who knew what was coming next?