It was easy for Payton to lose track of the days. She could have sworn at least a week went by since the potion incident, or perhaps it had been ten days. The snakes had been on the forefront of her mind ever since it happened. From time to time she could still feel the cold scales of the serpents crawling on her. Payton bit her thumb in an effort to keep herself from scratching her arm open again as she finished off one of her potions. After she was done bottling it up, Francesca knocked on the door.
“Hey, it’s time for the midday meal.” Since Payton started her work early this particular day, she was already half way through her work by the time the midday meal came along. Once the midday meal was over and she had finished the last potion on the list, Payton found a bit of time between her nursing duties to explore the inner city to see what else she could find that may be interesting. Payton went down the elevator one floor and turned right when she heard the mystifying sound of two women singing in such spell-binding voices. They were singing in some language she did not understand, but it was still beautiful to her. Payton followed the voices that led her to a beautiful garden with soft green grass, trees with blue, pink and pale violet leaves, and a waterfall spilling into a pool that glowed with greens, pinks, and purples. Sitting on a rock were two mermaids that seemed to be identical twins. They both had long, dark blue hair, dark purple eyes, pale skin, and light purple fins. The only way she could tell them apart was that one of them wore her hair in a single loose braid with a silver ribbon woven in while the other had her hair down and wore a head piece of pearls. One of the mermaids turned around and saw Payton and immediately stopped singing.
“Hey, it looks like we have drawn in a victim.” The mermaid wearing the loose braid laughed. “Hello there, sweet heart. You must be the new alchemist here. I’m Arianna, and this here is my twin sister, Annaliese. Come closer, love.” Payton came over and sat down close to the mermaid twins, which was a mistake. When Payton got close enough to the water, Arianna and Annaliese grabbed her arms and dragged her into the pool. They laughed as Payton tried to scramble out of the pool. “No, don’t leave! Stay with us a while!” Arianna teased. She gave up trying to leave the pool as it was apparent they were not going to let her leave.
“We should show off our new pet human to our friends! They shall certainly be impressed!” Arianna gushed. Mermaids were a strange folk whom had a habit of living by their own rules and impulses such as showing off their new ‘catch’, especially if they found that catch to be pleasing to the eye.
“Of course!” Annaliese replied. They turned to Payton and her cheeks turned slightly pink. “Come, little pet! We shall help you to breathe under the water.”
“Oh, I don’t think that would be very wise, since Jackson doesn’t want me leaving here,” Payton protested.
“No, Jackson said he doesn’t want you going above ground yet. We’re not going above ground.” So Arianna and Annaliese dragged her under the water. The mermaids looked slightly different under water. Their long hair gently floated around them and they looked all the more graceful and beautiful. Arianna came in front of her and blew a huge bubble around Payton and it wrapped around her head, creating an air space for her to breathe. Arianna took her by the hand and dragged her deeper and deeper into the pool. This pool ran much deeper than Payton had imagined. They came to a huge underwater tunnel lit only by colorful glowing rocks that made up the walls. Payton gaped in awe at the beauty of the colors of light floating around her. Annaliese saw Payton’s expression and smirked. “It is beautiful, isn’t it?”. Her voice sounded like an echo, but Payton understood her clearly. Payton nodded in response. They swam for about fifteen minutes before they reached the other end of the tunnel and swam into the wide, open expanse of the sea. Seeing the vastness of the depths of the sea made her feel smaller than she’d ever felt before. There was an entire world here that she had only heard about until now. This world that was once inaccessible to her was now surrounding her, which was intimidating. It was a world not made for her, one she could not survive in, at least not on her own. The light of the sun from above penetrated the waters with beams of golden light. Fluorescent rocks and plants gave off colorful glows that served as lanterns for the deep. Creatures and merfolk of all shapes, colors, and sizes swam around going to and fro like a bustling city. There were no words that Payton could find to properly express her awe. She kicked her feet vigorously behind her as Arianna continued to lead her deeper and deeper into the waters. Soon enough, the three ladies stopped in front of two mermen. One had long seaweed green hair that was floating behind him in a ponytail with dark blue eyes and a silver fin. The other had shorter dark purple hair with a small braid hanging down the side with light purple eyes and a silvery blue fin.
“Ammirias! Zarin!” Arianna called out excitedly, “Look what Annaliese and I have!” The two mermen stared at Payton with wide eyes.
“My goodness, you brought a land creature to the depths! It’s a human, right?” Asked the merman with purple hair. His gaze landed on Payton’s ears. “It’s the humans that are slightly taller than elves and have the round ears, right? Except this one doesn’t seem very tall.”
“Yes, it is,” Annaliese confirmed. “She’s our new pet human! Her name is Payton.” She clenched her jaw at being called a pet human once again. Other merfolk began to take notice of the scene and began crowding around to see the strange but adorable little land creature that the two mermaids had brought from the land above.
“I haven’t seen hair that color before,” one mermaid noted, “it’s like the color of the underwater volcano that erupted seven days ago.” It was disturbing at best being paraded around as a pet. Not to mention, she was taught from the time she was a little girl that mermaids were deceptive creatures that were not to be trusted. There was really no telling what could come of this. Payton searched the seas for an effective excuse to persuade the mermaids to bring her back to the garden. After a few more minutes more of being shown off, she tapped Arianna on the shoulder.
“I don’t think either of us would hear the end of it from our managers if they found out we were absent for too long,” Payton explained. Arianna grunted and rolled her eyes, but turned to her twin sister with agitation.
“We should bring the little human back in case our managers notice we’re gone. We really don’t want another incident like last month,” Arianna said. Annaliese likewise grunted and rolled her eyes. So, they grumbled their goodbyes to their merfolk friends and swam Payton back to the garden. Once they finally reached the pool and Payton’s head broke the surface of the water, her little air bubble burst. She had only taken a few breaths of real, open air when she turned around and saw none other than Jackson himself coming in. It was as if fate had timed everything against Payton, like fate had some sort of grudge against her. He looked at the three ladies for a few moments and frowned.
“What business do you mermaids have with my new alchemist?” He asked. Arianna flipped her hair and looked at him with mock innocence.
“We were simply showing our new pet human to our friends,” Arianna smirked. Jackson crossed his arms.
“Who did you show her to, exactly? I don’t want her seen by too many creatures and you know that. I said she was not to leave the inner city.”
“Oh, we just showed her to Ammirias and Zarin, and maybe a few others that have not seen her face before.” Annaliese said, waving it off. “Besides, you said you didn’t want her above ground, so we broke no rules.” Payton held her breath despite having her head above water. He sighed in annoyance.
“No, I’m most certain I said she was not to leave the city without mine or Tiffany’s permission! You are fortunate that you only showed her to a few. It is unfortunate, however, that you misunderstood me.” Jackson then stormed over to the pool and grabbed Annaliese out from the water. He wasted no time in dragging her to the other side of the garden. Jackson pulled out a dagger, got on his knees and started ripping the scales off of her fin. Payton closed her eyes and held her hands to her ears as Annaliese let out a blood-curdling scream.
“NO! STOP!” Arianna shouted, but it was no use. Annaliese’s blood spilled onto the floor like a red river. “What. Is It. Going. To Take. To Get. My. Employees. To behave!?” He cut off her scales bit by bit between words for emphasis. When Jackson was finally done with her, he left her there in her own river of blood with her lovely light purple scales all around her. He turned around and looked at Payton and Arianna, who was holding her hand to her mouth to muffle her crying. Jackson went toward the pool, holding the bloody knife in his hand.
“If you attempt anything like that again, you shall be next, Arianna!” He then turned his gaze toward Payton. “And you,” he pointed to Payton with his knife, dripping blood all over the floor, “You have a lot of explaining to do with Francesca, so get back in the infirmary and get to work now!” He pointed to the direction of the lab with the knife. Payton wasted no time in booking it to the elevator, leaving a water trail behind her. The mermaids may have been unsettling to spend time with, but they certainly didn’t deserve that. The mermaid’s cries continued to ravage her mind long after she was able to hear them physically.