The darkness swirled around him in a mixture of odd feelings. He felt like one of the many boulders resting on the ocean floor; heavy and compressed by the tons of water surrounding it. Then, the darkness somehow became less dark. All at once he felt as if he were floating and sinking further into himself. He tried to stir, only to find that his body was not responding. The darkness became brighter still. At last the mysterious lightening stopped and he was drawn up to full awareness.
He scrunched his eyes against the bright, only to find that they were closed. With great effort, he peeled his eyelids apart. After blinking a few times the face of his best friend came into focus.
“H-hey,” Flounder said.
Ariel heaved a sigh and offered him a tentative smile, “Oh, Flounder. It’s you.” She eyed him for a moment, then turned and yelled, “He’s awake!”
Before anyone could answer, her attention was back on Flounder, “Are you ok?”
“Uh… yeah,” the little fish blinked. In the distance he heard a shuffle, “What are you doing in Atlantica?”
Ariel’s eyes dimmed a little at the question. “We-“
The arrival of a dark skinned man cut the princess off. He came up from behind Ariel at a brisk pace, his face a mask of worry. Though he was moving quickly, his legs were not quite steady which caused him to stumble next to the red head rather than crouch. Flounder had never seen the likes of this human before. When the man spoke, however, he found that he was more than familiar with his voice.
“Who is it, child?” Sebastian’s thick accent tumbled out of the stranger’s mouth. Flounder’s eyes doubled in size. What was Sebastian doing as a human? He was so preoccupied with his friend’s condition that he didn’t quite register what the former crab was saying.
“It’s Flounder,” Ariel explained.
“Him, too?” Sebastian’s hand made contact with his forehead, “Oh, man!”
“Se-Sebastian?” Flounder’s voice broke.
Ariel and the man exchanged a pained look, “Yes, it’s him.”
Why are you human? He wanted to ask, but the words refused to come.
Sebastian heaved a sigh, “Alright. Let’s get ya up. Ariel, help me get him to his feet.”
In a motion that was faster than Flounder thought possible, he snapped his head down and came to a couple of very sudden and very dismaying realizations: the first was that he had a head to snap. The second, which was really an extension of the first, was that he, like Sebastian, had inexplicably and unexpectedly become human. His face flushed (such an odd feeling for a fish), and his eyes managed to grow three times their size. At the sight of his legs and the strange material that covered them Flounder didn’t know whether to scream or gasp. The result was a short, strangled whine, followed by a look aimed at Ariel that made her insides feel as though she’d just swallowed a sea urchin.
“We have to get you to daddy,” Ariel said, “He’ll want to know that you’re… safe.”
“The King?” Flounder managed to sit up. Were they near the shore? For the first time, he got a good glimpse at their surroundings. They were in a cave of some sort. A big cave with a hard floor and walls covered in glossy, white squares; black crusted lines between them made it clear that the place wasn’t clean. The ceiling, he noticed, had strips of harsh, glowing light. An unfamiliar type of algae, perhaps? Whatever it was, Flounder had the inkling that they were far from the ocean, which could only mean…
“He’s human, too.” It came out as a statement.
Neither Ariel nor Sebastian bothered to confirm what he already knew.
“Come on.” Sebastian said and the two lifted Flounder to his feet.
After a few close calls and a long battle against gravity, Flounder was able to stand.
“There,” Ariel said. She kept one hand braced between his shoulders for extra support, “Do you want to try walking?”
They began with small steps, each one a bit steadier than the last. Flounder clung to Sebastian and Ariel at first, but by the time they traveled a few yards or so, he found that he held them more for comfort than necessity. It was something about lifting one leg into the empty space while balancing on the other that scared him most. That tiny sensation of falling that didn’t exist in the ocean posed a very real threat to him, but once the sole of one foot made contact with the ground it became easier to lift the other. Before long, he had settled into a rhythm. All the while Sebastian and Ariel encouraged him until he had learned to work with gravity.
It was in the midst of their walking lesson that a shriek echoed through the cave. The trio froze. Each of their eyes widened at the sound. Just as they turned to each other, another man came round the corner.
Flounder gasped and leaned back. Ariel only placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Ariel!” Flounder was only mildly surprised to hear Scuttle’s voice come out of the stranger’s mouth, “Si-Sa-Su Cecil!”
“Sebastian,” the former crab frowned.
“Right,” Scuttle said, though he didn’t take note of the correction, “Ya gotta come quick!” He took hold of the girl’s free arm and gave it a tug.
“What happened?” she asked. They began walking again, each step faster than the last until they were practically jogging.
“Somethin’ bad,” Scuttle said. Ariel stopped for a moment, trying to figure out what could possibly be worse than-
“C’mon!” Scuttle’s cry brought her back to earth, “we got an emergency here!”
This time she gave Flounder a quick glance, then broke into a run. The little fish tried his best to keep up with the others, but his feet fumbled over each other. Still, he managed to avoid taking any major spills.
Scuttle, Ariel, Sebastian, and Flounder rounded the corner and ran until they came to a chamber. On one side was a black metal gate with openings and metal contraptions. Farther up was a strange formation of stone than led up to an opening in the ceiling, on their left was a giant pit that disappeared down a dark tunnel. Strange as this place was, nothing could have prepared them for the sight that met them when they turned the corner.
It seemed to Flounder that they had burst in on a rather delicate situation.
There were five figures, two standing as if they were bracing themselves for a fight, one sitting up against the gate spewing whatever curse came to mind, and two sprawled over each other, rubbing their heads trying to figure out what happened. King Triton and Prince Eric, the two standing, where fighting to keep cool. At the sound of the four’s entrance Eric shot them a look and raised an arm. The King, however, didn’t dare take his eyes off the remaining three.
“Damn it to the trenches!” the Sea Witch didn’t notice the others.
Flounder wasn’t sure what to think. Wasn’t Ursula supposed to be dead? Did this mean they were dead? He turned to Ariel for guidance only to find the girl was struggling to keep calm. He took one of her hands in his. Whether it was to support Ariel or to settle his own nerves, even he didn’t know.
Ursula caught sight of her humanized henchmen and cursed again, “That blasted potion!”
“Potion?” Eric shot King Triton a look, but the monarch was too lost in his thoughts to return it. Ursula, however, looked up at the sound of Eric’s voice.
Meanwhile, the King was moving past his shock, choosing to focus instead on his newfound anger.
“You!” It was a mere whisper, but it contained every drop of contempt King Triton held for the witch, “You did this!”
“But…But how?” Sebastian couldn’t hold it in anymore, “She’s supposed to be dead!”
Ursula stood glared at Sebastian, “Oh, there are many things that were supposed to happen, and I assure you this was not one of them.”
Flounder felt his best friend tense. There was very little that scared Ariel, so for him to see her so distressed did little to soothe his own fear.
The King’s anger tripled. In one motion, he stepped forward and slammed Ursula against the black gate, “Explain yourself, witch!”
The two figures still on the floor, Flotsam and Jetsam, growled in protest, but were unable to anything more than sit up.
“Don’t treat me like one of your subjects! I’ve been banished remember?” the Sea Witch snapped, then placed a hand on her chest in mock sorrow. When the King’s grip hardened she continued, “As for our current circumstance, there was a mishap with a potion.”
“A potion? What sort of potion?” Eric, who was still adjusting to the idea of magic, didn’t like the way she had referenced the potion. It was almost as though the word left a bad taste in her mouth.
Flounder tried to swallow his fear, but it bubbled up again in a matter of seconds. He had always been wary of magic, especially magic that didn’t come from the King.
“Is there any way to reverse this?” King Triton demanded.
Ursula shot the King a look, “You and I both know it is not as simple as that.”
The King searched the Witch a moment for any signs of deception. He knew what she had said was the truth. Ursula had been too angry at whatever it was that happened to bother spinning any lies. Still, there was something that the Sea Witch was not telling them. With a sigh he let go of her. He would pursue the matter later. At that moment, there were more important things to worry about.
“Alright,” he turned to address everyone, “the first thing we need to do is finish searching the area. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind.”
“We’ve looked everywhere,” Ariel said, “Flounder was the last one.”
The King nodded, then with narrowed eyes asked the witch, “Are we correct in assuming there are no other Atlanticans present?”
Ursula, who was now kneeling beside her two henchmen, rolled her eyes, “Yes, yes, you needn’t worry about anyone else.”
Taking the Sea Witch at her word was not something the King thought wise. However, he knew from many past experiences that Ursula was candid in her anger which meant he could rest assured that she was telling the truth.
“Maybe we should focus on finding out where we are,” Eric said, “As far as I can tell we might be in one of the farther regions of my kingdom. If that’s the case, it should be simple enough to find passage to the castle and figure out where to go from there.”
“Good thinking,” King Triton clapped his son in law on the shoulder.
Neither one of the royals noticed the wicked grins that had painted themselves on Ursula’s and the eel’s faces, but they did not escape Flounder’s attention. The little fish was just about to say something, when a faint rumbling distracted him.
“What’s that noise?” he asked Ariel.
The girl wasn’t sure what her friend was talking about until she heard the sound not a second later. Ariel looked around for the source but found nothing.
“I don’t know,” she said, “but it’s getting louder.”
By then, everyone was focused on the growing noise. A moment later there came a metallic screech that made the hairs on Flounder’s neck stand, followed by the arrival of a silver tube barreling through the pit. All nine figures watched in varying degrees of curiosity and fear, as the terrible thing travelled before them. With all the screeching and rumbling the thing was making, Flounder was convinced that it must of have been some kind of beast. An odd sort of land shark, or maybe a kraken. At the thought of the thing being alive, Flounder felt his heart begin to pound. Thoughts of what the creature could be and why it was making such an awful noise raced through his head. By the time the metal creature disappeared down a dark tunnel, the poor fish had been sent into a panic. Only one thought was able to make itself clear: he couldn’t stay there.
Without a second thought, Flounder bolted over to the strange formation and climbed it as fast as his legs would allow, clinging all the while to a black rail that ran down the center. So shaken was he that he didn’t hear Ariel call after him. All he could focus on was getting as far away from that beast as possible. And he did. Before he knew it, his foot tripped over the final step and he landed hard on the ground in front of him. Panting, he pulled himself to his feet, using the edge of the railing for support. Once steady, he lifted his head…
And received the shock of his life.
Behind him, Flounder was vaguely aware of the pounding of multiple footsteps and the sound of his name. The pounding of the footsteps died down as Ariel and Sebastian stopped short just behind him.
Flounder jumped at Sebastian’s voice, but otherwise didn’t move. His friends behind him were just as stunned by the bustling room before them, as were the other six Atlanticans just seconds later. For a moment, all nine of them just stood and stared out at one of the busiest rooms they had ever seen. People milled about an expansive grey space, either rushing somewhere or staring at a massive board hanging from the ceiling. Shops to the right glowed phosphorescent colors, while a disembodied voice mumbled unintelligible words.
Ariel was the first to recover from her shock. Flounder heard, though he couldn’t find it in him to turn from the alien sight of his surroundings, as she leaned towards Eric and said, “I don’t think we’ll be reaching your kingdom anytime soon.”