Weightlessness. Subtle chill. Stagnation. Roughness against her fin. Coldness girdling her throat. Something hard around her tail.

Her eyes opened, and she looked around her, trying to get an impression of her surroundings.

Nothing but darkness.

She reached out with her hand, then jerked it back in response to a flash of pain, a prick on her finger. She tried to whip her tail as part of the recoil, but she couldn't move it. She couldn't move at all! There was a surge of panic, as she realized that she was completely trapped, and she strained. The powerful muscles of her tail flexed, twitched, and then burst the thing trapping it. Suddenly, it was free. But she couldn't move her head.

Panic threatened again, but a deep, cold center in her mind prevented her from a thrashing fit. She thought hard, let herself drift, making only gentle flicks of her tail to keep close to stationary.

She concentrated, focused inwards at the place inside where the scream was. She tightened, squeezing it free, and it burst from her in a musical shriek. The sound was back to her in an instant, and she straightened up in shock.

The sound hit her skin and ears, penetrated inside and her mind formed a picture. There were walls on every side and a floor below, while the water stopped a little above.

Jutting from the walls around her there were many somethings, long thin somethings, impediments to the scream. Gingerly, she reached out again, blindly but cautiously fumbled, she felt several little stabs of pain as her skin was threatened, then closed her webbed hand on just one of the things.

Metal. Forged, worked, pointed metal.


Spikes like the Humans had in their torture chambers.

"Help," she said softly, reaching up to touch the collar around her neck. Metal again, with four thin chains leading to the walls around her.

"Somebody… please help me," she said, subtly breathless, mind twisting to keep control. She knew there was nobody. She was alone in the dark, with her collar, and her cell, and her spikes.

But the water's surface was only a little above her head. She couldn't quite reach, yet she strained for it nonetheless.

She started feeling around her collar again, swallowed hard and closed her eyes. The motion helped her focus a little, even if it made no difference at all to what she saw.

The webs of skin between her fingers caught on one of the chains, and she froze up, mouth opened in a breathless, pained cry.

There were sharp ridges on the chains. She had just slit one of the skin webs open. The first thing she was sure she was thinking of, was that it hurt so very much. The skin had been impaled, and it screeched in her mind.

She smelt blood in the water moments later, and squeezed her eyes shut against it. Raw animal instinct began to growl, and she felt the heat of frenzy building. She had to get out of here. If she snapped…

She tried not to think about how close those spikes were. How sharp they were. Her skin began to itch, as she imagined herself thrashing, desperately trying to free herself in a heedless animal surge and goring herself to pieces on the walls of her cell.

Releasing a plaintive whimper, she moved her transfixed hand, and the pain redoubled. With tiny movements, she slipped her hand free, and froze, shaking in fear as the blood scent continued to press in on her, threatening to addle her mind and drive her to death.

Gingerly, now, she felt around her neck, starting at every fumbling prick of steel. Even the collar seemed sharp, but she faintly realised that it was just shaped strangely. It had no edge to it. An unconscious spasm caused her to thrash, and she opened her mouth in an agonized scream as her tail was punctured in a dozen places.

She pawed at the collar as desperation grew. She could feel the water thickening, blood being breathed in and filling her mind with a growing haze.

Finally, reward. Her finger touched a loop, a metal place where the chains were fixed to the collar. She quickly found all four, and realised suddenly that she was sealed in. There were locks between the loops and chains, linking them together.

"K-key," she whispered, mind racing, "find the key… there must be a key."

She screamed into the black water, kept herself still with iron will alone, as her muscles started to twitch and spasm. She blinked and squeezed her eyes shut, slapped herself in the face.

"Where's the key?" She muttered.

Groping wasn't going to help. No chance at all. She focused as hard as she could, concentrated on what was left of her stability. She flexed her inner muscle, and let loose the sight scream again.

Again her mind drew her tiny map, but this time she looked harder than before. So many spikes all around her, so many eager to feed her frenzy.


Spaces. Gaps in the spikes. Circular areas where she could touch the walls.

She reached out, clinging desperately to the mental image even as it vanished, trying to remember where they were. Her teeth gritted, she started to pant, her pulse grew and she felt as if the water was heating up.

"No, not now, not now, not now," she said, building to a determined scream as she reached out for her only hope.

A spike tasted her blood again, scraping her finger, before her groping search found reward. She reached in the other direction with her free hand, and found the gap.

She fumbled, and felt them. Two keys. Thoughtlessly she yanked them free, hissed as she opened up the back of one hand. The pain was slowly dulling as her senses were overwhelmed and instinct began to slip the leash.

The muscles of her tail began to cramp with the effort she was exerting to keep it still. She wanted, needed to be free!

She fumbled at the collar, found one of the locks, but it moved as she tried to insert the key. With an undulating shriek she thrust one into her mouth and clamped her jaw on it, tasted metal mixed with the dizzying scent around her.

Then, progess. A brief twitch, and one of the chains fell away. She wrenched the key from her teeth and struggled with the second lock, the key didn't fit. She tried another, then the final one, let out a growl as she thrust lock and key away from her.

She screamed again, thrashing in a circle, no longer able to keep her tail still. The water running over her gills seemed to be growing thin; it wasn't rich enough to sustain her properly.

"Breathe, breathe," she muttered, clawing with mind and voice at her last scraps of self-control.

She cried out again, fumbled, found and struggled. The third chain fell away. Her weight and instinct commanded, she started floating up and felt the collar dragging her back down, forcibly changing her direction.

Angling her facefirst towards the spikes.

And then the fourth key left her grip. She shrieked, just felt the key, grasped for it once, twice, then held it in her palm.

She felt the spikes, now, so close to her skin, to her eyes. She found the final lock, managed to fold her palm to grip it and thrust in the key, swimming with cautious, gradual movements to maintain her life.

Amid a scream that hurt her throat she twisted the key and jerked her head away from the spikes as the last chain dropped.

She burst up, felt the bone cap of her head break the water, then collide with solid, unyielding blackness with a thick, sickening thud-scrape.

Her head swam, thoughts blurred. She floated on the surface, as her head numbed for a moment. The cap had done its job, though. She was still alive.

She raised her head from the water, gingerly, felt her eyes sliding out of focus, saw the first hints of light as little stars and shapes crawled before her.

She breathed. There was a moment of airless panic, then she felt her gills slither shut and her throat open.

Her throat and lungs filled with fetid, stale air. She gagged, and almost dived again. But she kept in mind what lay below, and the polluted water around her. Using tail and hands to keep still, she just thought about staying focused, while the faint scent of blood continued to sing to the animal inside.

"I, am Czeran," she muttered quietly. "We are better than that. We are lords of the sea."

She was able to reach no further, before the air-blood stink caused her new throat to retch violently. She let herself breathe, let her body remind itself of what it felt like to take in air like a landwalker.

Finally, she started fumbling above. Dripping, wet stone. Cold and slimy. Nothing dangerous, though she imagined if there had been she would be dead.

"Help!" She cried, and immediately snapped her head round to look in one direction. The sound wasn't closed in. It echoed, but only from the roof and three walls.

Tentatively, she reached in that direction, arm shaking. There was no sight scream to help her now. She was completely blind.

Fingers twitched, half-grasped, but nothing met her hand. She leant further, moving her fingers experimentally, then raising and lowering her hand to see if there was roof or floor.

She jerked back with a little cry when her finger touched solidity.

Her right hand twitched with memory, the skin web between the index and middle fingers twinged when she closed it or moved it in any way. She rubbed the back of her hand, and centered herself.

Very carefully she angled her body in the water, and used her hands to reach out and grab the stone ledge. She pulled herself to it, and clung on as if it held the answer to every question she had ever asked.

She willed the change, and shuddered as her body obeyed. There was a flash of pleasure that swiftly turned into a flood of pain as her injuries were touched by the process.

As her tail tightened and thinned, the dozen shallow wounds were stretched then split, spread over her developing legs. As the tail tips melted into shapely feet and ankles, the sole of one foot split and bled. Knees bubbled into existence, one already numb and pained. As the webs of skin pulled back from her fingers, a deep slit opened between her middle and index fingers. The other hand sported a slash down the back, and her grip on the stone ledge almost slipped.

She gritted her teeth as her skin changed, turned smooth instead of rough and one-side sharp. The bone cap on her head melted and split into a wave of fine hairs, and every one of them seemed to ache with pain. Her fin shuddered and cracked as it flattened into the base, leaving her with an even, carefully sculpted mass of bone on her back. There was a quiet click, and the shape of her face changed, flattening out a little. She blinked, and felt her eyelids twist, leaving her blinking vertically in confusion.

A slow, building wail escaped her throat, as the pains warped and shifted to match her configuration, causing her to feel them anew.

"Goddess," she whispered, shuddering, "it's… not meant to feel like that."

With difficulty, she put her elbows on the ledge, and grunted herself up out of the water. As her wounded knee touched the cold stone, she jerked in pain and fell flat on her belly. The wind partly left her, and she coughed through the last length.

Finally, exhausted and panting, she rolled completely out of the water, and curled up on her side.

She lay, whispering her pain to the uncaring, invisible stone around her. There were only two routes to go. Forward, into the unknown, or back into the already too familiar.

With a little difficulty she managed to move into a sitting position, resting her butt against the corner of floor and wall, leaning forward onto her curled up knees. The roof was low, the walls not too wide apart. She stayed still for a time, gathering herself and shaking with pain from the change. Dimly, she realized that she was still collared.

The thought inspired indignation and anger, but with no direction or focus it died swiftly. Without the unwanted instincts burning in her mind, her intellect reinforced itself.

She considered where she was, how she had ended up in this… she didn't even have the words to think of what it was. A prison?

Her ears cocked, strained for sound. But all she could hear was the sound of her own breathing, her own tiny movements as her bare skin pressed against the stone, and the quiet drip of water falling from her skin and hair.

There was only one option. Nobody was listening, and she was developing the horrible feeling that even if they were they wouldn't come to help her. She moved onto hands and knees and started crawling forward, periodically pausing to reach a distance ahead of her.

Her breath started to become a little laboured. She hadn't used legs (italicize) in months, and her crawl was a little clumsy. The injuries to her legs only made it more difficult, forcing her to stop and gather her strength every once in a while.

Who put me here? She wondered. This makes no sense.

A frown crossed her face. She closed her eyes, and listened hard. There was a scratching sound. It was irregular, distant. But it was a sound. For a time she sat, wondering what it might be, straining to catch ebbs and flows, to engage her mind in something useful. Her stomach growled, and she put her hand to it. How long since she'd last eaten?

She began crawling again, shaking her head as she realized that it didn't matter whether or not she was going towards or away from the sound. As it stood, she had no more control over her direction in the tunnels than she did over the weather.