Payton didn’t go straight into the lab, but instead went to her dorm to dry herself off and get a change of clothes before she went back to the infirmary. Despair darkened Francesca’s face when Payton explained what happened in the garden.
“Poor girls,” Francesca lamented. “I wish we could help them, but Jackson is going to want to treat Annaliese’s injury himself. I could never make sense of why he does that, that is, healing the injuries he inflicts on his workers. However, for now, I need you to help me clean these tools.” The cries of the mermaids continued to echo in Payton’s mind and ripped through her heart as she helped Francesca disinfect the tools. Those lamentations began to incur a sense of indignation within Payton that overtook her sense of fear. There had to be a way to stand up to this twisted man. While she was placing the scissors in their rightful place, a light blue book caught her eye on the tiny bookshelf in the infirmary. The spine read ‘Mermaid elixirs’. It gave her an idea. After all the tools were properly disinfected, she subtly tucked the book under her coat and snuck into the lab. Flipping through the pages, she finally found an elixir labeled ‘scale regrowth elixir’. It required the fallen scales of the mermaid to be using it, so Payton stepped out of the lab and peeked her head out the infirmary to survey the surroundings.
“Payton? What are you looking for out there?” Francesca inquired.
“More like who,” Payton replied, “just making sure Jackson’s not in sight.”
“I can assure you that you won’t find him out there at this time.” She looked down at her watch and sighed. “I have to go.” It was an odd, consistent occurrence that Payton noticed. Francesca would look down at her watch from time to time, look sorrowful, then leave, as if she were dreading where she had to be. When Francesca left and Payton was satisfied with his confirmed absence, she slipped back to the garden and collected some of Annaliese’s bloody scales.
“Payton, why are you taking my scales?” Annaliese asked breathlessly. Payton leaned in close to Annaliese.
“I’m going to make you a scale regrowth elixir,” Payton whispered. The mermaid’s eyes widened.
“You should know that Jackson likes to take care of the injuries he inflicts himself. You’ll get punished if he finds out.” Payton paused for a moment as the pangs of caution tapped at her sternum. If Jackson could rip the scales off a mermaid so easily, how much more could he do to her? Then, that voice of outrage broke through her mind once more. Payton had a message to send to Jackson, and she was going to see to it that it was heard loud and clear.
“Well, a phouka once told me that if I was to get myself in trouble again, I should make it intentional and do it with finesse,” Payton winked. “However, I have to hurry. We don’t know when Jackson will be back. Wait for me.” So Payton snatched a handful of the scales and slinked back into the lab, put them in the boiling cauldron and added the rest of the herbs and other ingredients necessary for the elixir. After about thirty minutes, the elixir was ready. She could not wait for it to fully cool down, so she brought it out to Annaliese lukewarm. Before she applied the elixir, Payton washed the blood off her fin with a wet towel. It pained Payton to see a thin layer of bloody skin where her gorgeous scales once glistened. Annaliese only let out a sharp hiss as Payton poured the scale regrowth elixir liberally over the mermaid’s fin and gave it a few minutes to absorb completely. After all that was done, Payton grabbed Annaliese by her hands and dragged her with all of her might back to the pool where she could be back in her own element and with her sister. This was especially difficult since Annaliese’s fin was still delicate and had to be done with as much gentleness as possible. Arianna and Annaliese hugged each other for a good few minutes. Watching the two sisters embrace made her heart ache for Lawrence.
“The elixir said it would take a few hours for the scales to grow back.” Arianna swam up to the edge and gave Payton a wet hug.
“We’ll never forget what you did for us. Thank you,” she said.
“It was the least I could do. Get well soon.” Payton yawned. Although it was still early in the evening, Payton stumbled back to her room as the weight of her taxing day drained every ounce of energy from her. Once Payton climbed into her bed, she succumbed to her exhaustion and fell right asleep.
Payton woke up to someone opening up her door and walking in. It was still dark in her room and she didn’t have a chance to fully shake the sleep from her mind, all she could see was a shadowy figure coming closer with heavy footsteps. However, the sleepiness flew right out of her the moment she realized who it was.
“Going to bed so early?” Jackson asked with a menacing edge to his voice, “You can’t possibly be that tired, are you?” Payton simply stared at him blankly. “I noticed that Annaliese’s scales have grown back. Not only that, but she was in the water with her sister, which is not where I left her. Someone must have intervened, and the only one I know that would be foolish enough to do that would be you!” Payton swallowed hard and looked to the ground. “So, why did you help someone that was clearly being punished? I assume you want to take the punishment yourself?” Payton’s body tensed even more as she shook her head. “Oh, but you must, if you interfered with the punishment of another member, right?” Jackson grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the room and into the elevator.
“W-where are we going?” Payton stammered.
“Somewhere where you’ll hopefully learn a good lesson once and for all!” Jackson snarled as he dragged her past the dungeon area and into a torture chamber. Payton’s heart and lungs caved in on themselves at the sight of the bloody machines welcoming her with voracious sneers. “You are so petite. Maybe we could make you a little taller,” he said with a sinister grin as he picked her up and began strapping her into a limb stretcher. Once she was strapped in, he pulled a lever to swing the stretcher so it was vertical instead of horizontal.
“Why this?” Payton barely squeaked out against the cry of the machine.
“This is for direct insubordination against me, dumb troll! Now shut it!” Of course, he wouldn’t give a straight answer as to why he chose the stretcher over the rest of the torture devices or why he made it vertical, which only added insult to injury. Payton could only hyperventilate as Jackson pulled the lever that activated the automatic stretcher. The machine let out a bone chilling hiss as it gradually stretched her limbs farther apart. It took an excruciating fifteen minutes for the stretcher to put her left shoulder and right hip out of place. She let out an ear piercing scream as her muscles and tendons ripped as well. Payton couldn’t remember experiencing such physical pain in her entire life. All the while, Jackson stepped away from Payton to give out orders to his other employees over his watch as he let her hang on the stretcher for an additional fifteen minutes. Eventually, he sauntered up to Payton and positioned his hands around Payton’s dislocated shoulder. Payton shrieked as he put her shoulder back into place. When he popped her hip back into place, the jolt of searing pain caused her to black out.