Sight is always the first thing to come back to me in moments such as these.
It makes sense, then, that the first thing I remember being aware of are these strange shapes and shadows dancing under my eyelids, each sway interrupted by the brief flash of an image, one of cyan colored flames blazing underwater, blinding me as they ravaged the seabed.
Then it was touch, the scorching rough edges of burnt coral under my shaking hands reshaping into a cool, smoother surface digging into my lower back. Shivering cold alternated with searing heat all too easily, almost overlapping at times; flames lapped at my skin, yet I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.
Sound was last and came without any warning as, suddenly, ear splitting screams tore through all my other senses, cries of agony and fright surrounding me from all sides, calling for something, calling for help that I couldn’t give. They were screams of people burning, dying, the horribly sweat smell of burnt bodies that piled up around me overwhelming, sickening, surreal...
I can’t breathe...!
“Fern, I said wake up!”
With a jolt, I pulled myself up, one arm coming up to clutch one of my sides. Eyes closed, I began to breath through my mouth, taking in large amounts of disturbingly warm water and letting it flow through my gills as I attempted to quell the suffocating feeling of panic.
Opening my eyes, I squinted up at the imposing figure of Owen floating above me.
“You ... you alright?” he asked, a questioning frown heaving down on his tanned face. At my nod he continued, “Do you remember anything?”
Of course I remembered. Alex had betrayed us and we had been surrounded by men armed with weapons loaded with sedatives. We were attacked and forced to fight but, outnumbered as we were, our fate had already been sealed.
I went down and...
“Aya!” I exclaimed, looking around frenetically.
“She’s over there,” Owen informed, pointing to a purple figure laying down between a cluster of tall unfamiliar looking algae at my right. “She’s alright. Just hasn’t woken up yet. Same as the others,” the blonde explained curtly, glancing behind us, where three other figures could be seen lying on the sand.
Sighing in relief, I turned to take a closer look at our surroundings. The glass panel was a glaring sight and it made my heart clench painfully.
“We’re in an aquarium...” I heard myself whisper, doing my best to identify the dark contours of the room on the other side of the glass.
“Looks like it,” Owen replied, his dry tone and expression potentially hostile if it weren’t for the tiredness that had clearly worn down his mind and now pulled at the edges of my own.
He had been awake in this tank for a long time. Too long, it seems.
Merfolk don’t cope well in captivity. Just the mere thought of being trapped in a net or a tank against our will was enough to drive anyone of us to the brink of insanity.
The tank was of considerable size, with dense vegetation, saltwater and a realistic seabed. But none of that could change the fact that it was just that, a tank - a cage.
Strong lights shone from outside and from somewhere inside and above us, hitting the panel and illuminating the entire tank; they were too strong to our sensitive eyes, we had no need for such intense light. The water, although not necessarily unpleasant, was warmer than what we were used to, the vegetation unfamiliar and no other creatures apart from us.
“Didn’t think you'd be the next to wake up.”
Owen’s thoughts couldn’t be clearer. Compared to him and Denver, I was fragile looking, the chemicals should’ve had more of an impact on me than his friend. I could also tell that he was slightly suspicious and curious about whatever had made me jolt awake in such a frightened state.
Bitting my lip to keep myself from snapping something back at him - it wasn't his fault, anyone would be like that in this situation - I swam closer to Aya’s still sleeping figure, stretching my limbs along the way and getting rid of any leftover lethargy from the drugs.
“I’m used to sedatives, I guess,” I replied honestly, there was no sense in lying at this point. “I used to have these ... panic attacks. Mild sedatives helped.” That didn’t mean, however, that I had tell him everything. Why should I tell him about my fire phobia?
Despite everything, Aya looked peaceful. Hesitant, I brushed a few locks of hair away from her face, wishing she would wake up so her conscious mind, that was becoming so familiar to me, would mingle with my own.
“Ugh, Owen...” I heard Denver’s voice groaning out in discomfort. “What happened? I feel like I was run down by a bus... no, wait, make that ten buses and a train.”
“Welcome back, buddy.”