Chapter 4: Making a Splash!
Well. This was something.
No idea what, but it was surely something.
Slowly rotating around in what she assumed must be the "Middle", Juri tried to take the whole place in. She was standing in an indoor area on a raised circular platform, obviously designed to resemble a red and white symbol Juri was not familiar with. This platform was raised to offer a spot of dry land in the surrounding water. Barring four narrow, one-person-wide footpaths -- obviously present only to allow access to the central platform without going for a swim -- this room was essentially housing for a giant pool.
But to be fair, perhaps just calling it a "pool" was a bit of an undersell. Whoever designed it apparently had unique specifications and a hefty wallet. While the edges where one would hoist themselves in and out were fairly shallow, the depth sharply increased as it approached center until Juri could not even see a bottom despite how clear the waters were. The contained liquid quietly lapped against the pool walls, a hidden system ensuring ocean-like waves in this man-made enclosure. New reserves were apparently cycled in via stone artificial waterfalls in the four corners; each adorned with intricate carvings of strange, exaggerated aquatic life. And finally the left and right walls were almost completely filled by a huge video screen each, leaving just enough space above and below them to allow a line of speakers.
That last part struck her as particularly odd. Juri had seen cameras in these places before -- how else would whatever forces who set this up get their show? -- but never speakers. It wasn't like there were announcements or anything. Unless...
"I know you're here", Juri spoke to the seemingly empty room.
"Go away!", a shaky voice shouted through the speakers.
Bingo. This was some type of stadium, meant for a competition Juri neither knew nor cared about. The problem was that her prey had holed herself up in the control room for it, and she had no idea where that was.
"You're only making this harder on yourself" Juri replied, hoping to rope her unseen target into a conversation. The more she talked the more Juri could discover about her, and the more likely she was to slip up and reveal her location in some way.
"You're the one wanting trouble!", the broadcasted voice replied. It had tinges of aggression to it; but in a desperate, panicked way. Like a scrappy but knowingly outmatched dog cornered in an alleyway.
As an unconscious reflex, Juri licked her lips. Her prey was already scared, trying not to show it, and failing badly. This was going to be a good day.
"I don't want anything", Juri bluffed, "but by the way you're acting I think you already know how this goes. There aren't any exits from here until you come out."
"I'm warning you", the voice continued, "Leave now. I don't want to see you get hurt."
Juri didn't even honor that with a reply, instead crossing her arms and standing her ground.
"....You don't care, do you?" the voice finally followed up, low and sad. "Alright then."
Wow. That was easy.
Juri once again spun in place to try to take in everything at once as the arena underwent a small transformation. The lighting -- originally set to a soothing dimness in order for reflections off the water's ripples to play on the walls and ceiling -- rose up to full brightness. The monitors sprung to life, and Juri bemusedly watched a magnified image of herself come to be as they apparently got to work at displaying "cinematic" perspectives of whatever was in the room. The arena, in effect, had awoken and was now ready. Ready for what, Juri had no idea, but-
Confused by the meaningless exclamation, Juri was knocked a few steps forward as a small geyser of liquid hit her square in the back. Largely uninjured, but greatly annoyed, Juri turned around to find nothing.
Another blast of water came from the side, this time hitting an ankle and pushing one of Juri's feet out from underneath her. Descending to one knee and outstretching both of her arms to land lightly in a crouching stance, Juri looked back up to finally come face-to-face with her unknown attacker.
It was a cat... fox... fish... thing.
Largely blue in tint, the dog-sized animal seemed to have fins all over the place. Stygian, featureless eyes added a slightly unnerving touch to what was otherwise a generically cute visage. It looked like something the Loch Ness Monster would take on "walkies" at beachside.
Roughly half a second passed while they both sized each other up. Then the creature opened it's mouth and expelled another torrent of pressurized water directly into Juri's face.
Having quite enough of this nonsense, Juri swung her upended foot back around; intending a scything blow to the creature's neck which would put it out of commission if not outright decapitate it.
And decapitate it did.
For a moment, at least.
Juri watched in increasing bafflement as her foot connected with water; the head and neck of her foe somehow melting into liquid right before her blow landed. It flowed around her limb as it passed through the beast's form, and as her kick slowed to a halt on the other side the creature's head had already re-solidified into its previous state without so much as a scratch.
Growing in frustration Juri did not miss a beat, swinging back her outstretched leg to smash her heel into it's skull on the return.
The creature pulled it's liquification trick again, but this time doing so with the entire body. Seemingly "grabbing hold" of Juri's foot as it passed, the liquid which comprised it flowed up Juri's leg and body, eventually rebounding off of her head and re-solidifying into the original creature. Still using the inertia from it's push-off, the airborne monster brought it's finned tail to strike Juri in the chest with enough force to topple her off the platform and into the surrounding 'pool'.
Juri found, to her ever-rising annoyance, that the pool's contents was comprised of salt water for an authentic ocean feel. Closing her eyes to the stinging depths, she righted herself and began to swim for the surface.
During this lull in the action, Juri had a little time to wonder. As infuriating as this whole ordeal was, she wasn't really any worse for wear and the little nuisance she was dealing with was just that: A nuisance. What kind of strategy was this? The girl and her pet couldn't have been hoping to annoy her off, since they clearly knew that no one could just up and leave even if they wanted. What was their game plan? What were they even trying to accomplish?
...Why was it taking so long to reach air?
Opening her eyes to a painful squint, Juri found to her surprise that she had descended even further than she was when she first fell in. Through the rippling depths she could just make out the upper body of that strange creature (the lower half apparently melding perfectly with the water) swimming rapidly in a circle on the surface. The downwards current of this impromptu whirlpool was pushing her away from fresh air and downwards into what could soon be a watery grave.
Ah. Everything made a lot more sense now.
Her chest beginning to burn, Juri began to swim parallel to the surface in order to diminish the whirlpool's influence instead of futilely fighting against it. Focusing her blurring gaze on one of the pool walls, she pushed her way on to possible salvation. She only hoped that the water-cat-thing didn't catch on too fast; she was pretty sure that it would be completely invisible if it paid her a visit down here, and even if she could see the creature she wasn't sure if she could do anything about it.
There. Although her vision was starting to darken, Juri could feel the smooth wall of the pool brush up against the fingertips of an outstretched hand and her feet find purchase on similar floor. Vying for what little grip there was, Juri "climbed" the underwater wall with as much haste her increasingly lethargic muscles could manage.
Just before it could all go dark -- leaving her with only the sounds of her slowing heartbeat -- Juri broke the surface. She slumped against the pool's side lip, hands clutching the ground for dear life as she took in gasp after gasp of precious air.
"She's escaped!" that familiar voice rang through the stadium, the previous unease in her tone now almost completely submerged by new waves of hope. "Get her!"
Knowing that her moment of rest was over, Juri begrudgingly hoisted herself up the lip and out of the pool. While steadying herself on her feet she happened to look up, and was greeted by an almost comically enlarged video feed of her own face.
So she had come back up next to one of these monitors, huh? Maybe... maybe something could be done here...
Hearing the telltale sounds of splashing behind her, Juri turned just in time to see the aquatic creature finish it's leap onto land. Juri took a step back to gain some distance from it, and felt the smooth surface of the video screen brush up against her back.
There would be only one shot at this.
And even if it all worked out, it still was going to suck.
Juri leaned forwards and thrust out her left hand, mimicking the start of an attempted strike on the creature. The creature responded by meeting her halfway; enveloping her hand in it's liquid form to once again do it's fancy acrobatic strikes.
Leaning back, her left arm now completely enveloped in the creature, Juri thrust her right elbow backwards to punch a hole through the monitor and into it's inner workings.
The following surge of electricity the monitor put forth before it shorted out did Juri no favors. Her Feng Shui engine did not play nice with such jolts, she was only just recovering from almost drowning, and she was absolutely drenched in saltwater. But it was even worse for the creature, being completely made of so ever conductive liquid.
It was even worse for the creature as it's shocked body reverted back into it's solid form, only to realize too late that there was now a good length of arm where several rather important parts were supposed to be.
Juri must of blacked out on her feet for a fraction of an instant, as she lost track of time, but when it all flowed back she was greeted by two sets of screams. One was by the thing, now impaled on her arm and flailing in agony. The other, more surprisingly, was the girl from the speakers.
"Stop!", the voice pleaded, all previous haughtiness drained away to leave anguish and terror. "Please! It doesn't deserve this!"
So Juri's prey considered creatures like this to be more than tools. That was good information. It, in fact, made them incredibly useful tools to Juri.
"Deserve doesn't mean a thing here." Juri spoke to her hidden company, as she took hold of the wounded beast with her free hand. "You sent it out to fight in your place. Simple as that."
With a quick, violent motion Juri pulled her arm out through the rest of the creature and let it flop pitifully to the floor. It writhed with the little energy it had left, far too crippled for any more formshifting shenanigans.
"I'm sorry... I'm so sorry...", the voice babbled between sobs.
"You should be." Juri replied, laying it on thick. As if it was an afterthought, she placed one foot lightly on the neck of the finned creature.
"Please. Don't. Have mercy."
Juri thought about it for a moment.
Juri stomped and then twisted her heel, as if snuffing out a small fire. Which, in a way, she was.
Juri gave the girl on the speakers quite a length of time to weep uninterrupted. It was actually in her favor to do so. The girl had played her hand and failed, and every passing moment that the cost of her attempt sank in would only strengthen Juri's counter-strategy.
Finally, she decided that the time was right.
"The way I see things...", Juri began, stepping over the slain creature as she walked back to the center platform, "...you have two options."
"Option 1: You keep throwing these weird pets of yours at me, and I carve through them until you have none left. Then I'll have all the time in the world to find out where you are and wrap everything up."
"Or Option 2: You come out and face me yourself. Then it'd be just you and me; and no matter how it plays out, whatever little animal buddies you have left don't have to be part of it."
Juri waited, the silence deafening. She had thrown out her lure, custom made and specially baited for one specific target. Now she could only hope for the bite.
"...What do you mean 'however it plays out'?"
Juri grinned, an image of fishes on strings flashing through her mind. "Kiddo, don't sell yourself short here! You sound like a fiery type. Who knows what you're really capable of?"
Another pause. But one with far less tension, as the hook had already been swallowed.
"Do you really think I might have a chance?"
"Certainly.", Juri lied through her teeth.
"And you promise not to hurt anyone else here?"
"If you come out, I won't have to.", Juri danced around the question with the skill of a capoerista.
Another pause. Then a deep, slow, resigned sigh.
"Okay. I'm... I'm ready."
Juri felt the platform begin to shift underneath her and quickly stepped onto one of the connecting pathways. As she left it the logo rotated, and the two halves pulled back to reveal an elevator shaft descending into darkness. All this time and Juri's target was right under her feet. She had to admit, the setup was pretty clever.
Juri looked on with barely restrained anticipation as her next plaything rose from the darkness and took her place on the resealing platform.
The girl must have been in the realm of early teens; her small, lithe body just beginning to fully develop and fill out. Not that she had dallied in discovering some rather interesting ways to highlight her form. A set of daisy dukes hugged her already fairly impressive hips, and a connected pair of red suspenders were all that held in place a shortened yellow tank top. These were necessary, because it was obvious from the cut of the top's arm and neck holes that nothing else lurked underneath. Her chest was apparently not quite ready for even a training bra.
Moving upwards, her face was set in an expression that she undoubtedly thought was one of stoic determination, but under Juri's seasoned gaze was judged to be more of an adorable pout. Her eyes, saddling the line between blue and green just like the ocean itself, shimmered slightly with held back tears of worry. Her almost imperceptibly shaking hands were white at the knuckles as she gripped her... fishing rod?
"Seriously?" Juri asked, motioning to the tool. Sure, it looked like a good pole -- with a reinforced frame, metal wire for string, and a hardy looking hook -- but the girl was wielding it in front of her like a sword.
"I- I don't have any w-weapons..." the girl stammered out. "...I-I didn't want to fight anyone..."
"Aw, that's okay. I don't have any either." Juri cooed, technically not telling a lie. "What's your name, kid?"
The girl pulled her eyes away from her 'weapon' and finally managed to meet gazes with her 'opponent'. "M-Misty. I'm Misty."
"Weeell, Misty..." Juri sighed, stretching her arms above her head. "For being such a good sport about this, I'm going to do you a favor. First hit's on me. You have until I get to ten."
"One." Juri began to count, her outstretched arms lowering and settling behind her neck.
Juri watched on in glee as quiet panic spread across Misty's body, the opportunity thrown upon her filling her system with adrenaline while simultaneously paralyzing her with indecision.
Misty, having apparently come to a decision, took a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm her nerves and lessen her shivers.
With as much resolve as he could muster Misty raised the pole above and behind her head, as if preparing for a major cast--
-- and let it fall through her slackening grip as she crumpled against Juri's knee, the breath blown out of her.
"Ten.", Juri whispered into Misty's ear.
Juri stepped back and let Misty collapse to the floor, retching as her body simultaneously tried filling it's lungs and emptying it's stomach. The end result was about half-and-half. Misty had just finished coughing up what was left of her riceba-er-donut lunch when she was forced to make acquaintance with it again, courtesy of Juri's foot coming down on her head.
"Now don't you worry, kid." Juri purred, slowly twisting her leg to grind Misty's face more. "I know this is your first time. I'll go nice and slow."
Releasing her foothold on Misty, the redhead's resistance to the previous force sprung her up to a sitting position before she could correct her momentum. This earned her a sharp kick in the throat and more gagging as she clutched her windpipe.
Juri watched hungrily, but somewhat concerned. Not for the redhead of course, or at least not directly. This plaything was so small, so fragile, Juri would have to be extra careful not to go too far and utterly break her before she had her fill. This must be how huge meatheads like Zangief feel in their fights.
Huh. That was a thought.
Wanting to try something out, Juri gave Misty a good kick to the stomach to get her to lower her arms. Then she leaned down and wrapped her right hand around Misty's throat.
Juri took a moment to meet Misty's pleading gaze and flash her a smile as she made sure that her Feng Shui engine was totally powered down. Now for the moment of truth.
Slowly, and with surprisingly little effort, Juri lifted Misty entirely off the ground via the throathold.
Misty gurgled and weakly pawed at her captor's arm as Juri examined her handiwork. The girl was so light! This was almost nothing!
Her malicious grin managing to grow even wider, Juri now understood what this called for. Her mind raced to drag up every grandstanding attack half remembered from trashy performance-fight shows and beefcake showdowns.
The first one was a given, considering the moment of realization. With a hint of a flourish, Juri further raised her chokehold and then brutally slammed Misty to the ground. Her fragile frame bounced with an audible thud on impact, which was fairly impressive considering her weight and Juri's intentional lack of assistance. Although Misty's body involuntarily arched due to the trauma to her spine, she was quickly forced back down again as Juri's elbow plunged into her bare stomach.
Juri paused briefly to relax on Misty's quivering form before moving upwards and grabbing hold of the redhead's scraggly ponytail. Standing up, and dragging Misty along with her, she took a moment to adjust her hold so she now clutched the front of Misty's shirt with one hand and the waist of her shorts with the other.
"Ready for a ride, twerp?"
With a heave Juri lifted Misty above her head; her arms and legs flailing pitifully as she realized what was to come. And, after a dramatic pause, Juri brought the girl stomach-down onto her outstretched knee.
Not satisfied with just one go at a move that she so rarely got to use, Juri brought Misty up again. This time her struggles were weaker, and saliva from her open mouth silently dripped and splattered across the floor as well as Juri's arm. As she was impaled on Juri's knee once more she retched and heaved even harder than before, but there was simply nothing left to bring up.
Once more Juri lifted Misty into the air. But this time she had different plans. When Misty was at the height of her ascent Juri skillfully shoved upwards in such a way to rotate Misty without upsetting the balancing act; the end result being the girl now facing upwards. With that bit done Juri brought her down a final time, bending Misty's form with a grisly backbreaker.
Misty finally had enough breath to let out a scream as she landed; and her arms shot up upon impact, only to fall back to their sides. Consciousness left her, and she stared blankly at the ceiling as she hung loosely from Juri's knee.
Although Juri would normally be annoyed by her plaything passing out on her, in this particular circumstance she was not all that put off.
"You poor, poor thing," Juri cooed, petting Misty's fluttering, sweat-beaded stomach as she did so. "Big girl's had a big day. Maybe you deserve a rest."
Juri unceremoniously pushed Misty's twitching body off her as she rose, and began to scan the area for any other... inspirations. After all, she had promised that she'd go slow.
Misty came to, slowly and blearily, to a world filled with shards of glass. At least, that's what it seemed like.
Every breath was agony. Every movement was agony. Every heartbeat was agony. But still, she knew that her torment was far from over. Her torturer had left her alone for now, but she would be back, and when she did she would have new breeds of pain to inflict on her.
She knew that this was her one chance to escape, and if she couldn't take it she would die.
As quietly as she could, biting her lip hard enough to draw blood in order to muffle the cries of anguish she let out with every movement, Misty crawled towards the edge of the platform. If she could only reach the water. Misty no longer had any delusions of defeating her opponent, but she had grown up surrounded by water and could swim with the best of them. Her tormentor couldn't possibly catch up to her in there. And when she reached the pool edge she would hoist herself up and use her head start to find an escape from here.
There had to be a way out. Had to be.
Juri's examination of the surrounding area was interrupted by a splash, followed by the sounds of frantic paddling.
Juri turned to discover that her plaything had rolled into the water, and was making... surprisingly good progress, all things considered. Although the girl was fooling only herself here, Juri had to admit that at least step 1 seemed solid enough.
That is, until one remembers what she forgot to bring along.
Juri hummed a jolly tune to herself as she bent down to seize the twerp's fishing pole. Sometimes they make it all so easy.
She was making it.
With every stroke, with every kick, she was one step closer to freedom.
Her already abused lungs voiced their complaints as she denied them extra air in favor of speed, but it didn't matter. She was almost at the lip of the pool, and with such a wide lead the monster behind her couldn't possibly catch up to her now. All she had to do was finish the last few strokes, hoist herself up and--
Misty stopped in her tracks, bobbing in place, as a terrible cramp took one of her calves.
Then, as she started moving backwards, she realized that it wasn't a cramp.
Her own fishing hook, from her own Super Rod, was lodged firmly in her leg. She couldn't unhook it, as any attempt to reach it just gave the fisher slack to pull in. It wouldn't break or pull free, as she had specially designed it to be the most tenacious and resilient possible. She could only struggle in vain and despair as she was pulled in by a device designed to easily handle the strength of five hundred pound sea-dragons.
That did not stop her, of course. Mad with grief and rage, Misty flailed and pulled. She fought and thrashed and convulsed until she was being dragged through what was seemingly an ocean of her own blood; the wound from the hook growing in size and severity with each act of pointless rebellion.
When Juri hoisted her out of the water by her own line, upside-down due to how the hook hung her, she was utterly spent. It couldn't get any worse than this.
"Well well well," Juri mused, looking over her 'catch', "It looks like I've hooked a mermaid. Little on the scrawny side, though..."
Juri took hold of Misty to remove the hook, then took hold of her yielding form by the back of tank top.
"May have to release this one, actually."
Juri began to saunter down one of the walkways, Misty partially bobbing in the water beside her.
"C'mon, I know just the place."
"Y'know, it really is kind of beautiful up close like this."
Misty did not know what Juri was talking about, and to be honest she no longer cared. It was only when Juri dropped down into the shallow waters herself and turned her around that she realized that her captor was speaking of the fountains.
Well yes, they were rather pretty. She had similar ones installed in her gym back home. The artificial waterfalls, dropping a neverending stream into the pool below, really added a nice touch of symbolism to her establishment she found.
But what about them?
"I think this would be the best place for a young little mermaid, don't you think?", Juri whispered into her ear.
Well, maybe... Wait. No. No!
Misty's begs for mercy fell on deaf ears as Juri spun the tomgirl around to face her. They remained unheeded as Juri, grasping Misty firmly by the throat with both hands, carried her to the falling rapids. And as Juri extended her arms, and forced Misty under the torrent, her pleas were smothered by the unyielding downpour of water.
Juri watched with interest as Misty writhed in her grasp. The girl's arms were able to reach out of the falling water, but could do nothing more but ineffectually claw at Juri's forearms. Although it was not completely clear -- due to the nature of a waterfall -- Juri could see Misty through the water and observed her go through several stages.
First was the panic. Here she thrashed and shook and tried to pry Juri's hands away. This stage was fairly short-lived as she quickly realized that she was just using up the remnants of her air faster.
Up next was her trying to "cheat the system"; hoping that through some position or trick she could find enough consistent air to survive. She tried rotating her head in every way she could, but soon found that looking upwards only earned her a mouthful of water and the stream was too complete to create air pockets under her jaw.
Then was the waiting game. Resigned with the fact that she currently had her last breath of air inside her, she stopped moving in order to conserve energy and hold it as long as possible. Juri almost swore that Misty was staring back at her through the water here, and gave her a cheeky little nod just in case.
Of course, that couldn't last forever. Finally -- after an admittedly impressively long time -- Misty began to lose it. As she finally let the final bubbles of air leave her lungs she resumed her thrashings with newfound strength; her body giving everything it had left in a final desperate struggle. But, as her gasps for air only filled her lungs with seawater, her thrashes turned into convulsions. Then into twitches. Then into shivers.
Then, finally, into nothing.
After a little more time, just to make absolutely sure, Juri pulled back and brought Misty out of the waterfall.
She looked... shocked. That's the thing about drowning; it doesn't really have as many signs as most other forms of death sport. If it weren't for the loss of a certain gleam in her eyes, and the fact that the budding breasts outlined by her soaked tank top refused to move, she could have just merely have heard an off-color joke.
Satisfied with her work, Juri let what was formerly Misty drop and float face-down in the water.
Well. That was fun.
Now for a little exploring.
Juri stood on the elevator platform as it descended down the shaft, impatient with it's glacial speed. She briefly reconsidered climbing back up instead of waiting, but ultimately decided that if she came this far she might as well follow through.
Finally, after entirely too long, it finally reached it's destination. Amusingly enough there were no doors to walk through; the elevator platform just dropped directly into the control room.
The control room for the gym, like most of the gym itself, had a good amount of style to go along with its substance. It was located deep in the waters of the pool, and the "walls" and "roof" were made of reinforced glass, so one could actually look up through the water at what was above. She could even see the outline of Misty from here. Hi, Misty!
A more conventional observation terminal was also present -- complete with controls and a monitor hooked into whatever recording devices the screens upstairs were using -- and this was apparently where Misty had set up sho...
...There was something hugging her ankle. Why was something hugging her?
Looking down, she finally noticed two small creatures. The one actually hugging her looked like an egg come to life; the tiny, fingerless nubs it considered arms trying to wrap around her leg. The second, larger one was some kind of mallard. A mallard with hands. Looking more confused than anything, the bizarre bird was clutching it's cranium as if it had a migraine.
Juri thought she could help it with that.
She drew her one free leg back, and then...
...dropped it right back down again.
What was the point? If Misty was still alive Juri may have smashed them in front of her, but as it stood right now there was nothing to really get out of killing them. She couldn't even justify them as a threat, since she was pretty sure that if they were any possible trouble they would have been out there right alongside the water-cat.
Brushing the duck aside, and with the egg still stuck to her leg, Juri made her way over to the observation terminal.
This was a pretty good setup, Juri thought to herself. No wonder the twerp was so against leaving it.
Juri sat leaning back on the terminal chair, her crossed legs propped up on the counter itself. Her clothes hung from a rack nearby; being soaked, Juri wanted to give them a little time to dry before carrying on. That egg-thing bounced up and down on one of Juri's bobbing feet as she examined the little piece of metal she held between two fingers.
Juri had gone through Misty's belongings while she was down here, and most of it was the usual stuff; extra sets of clothes, some riceba-er-donuts, a few photographs of a boy, yada yada yada. But then there was this. Or, more specifically, these.
Little teardrop-shaped pins. A whole box of 'em. Why would you ever need so many?
Maybe they meant something. Perhaps Juri would take one of them when she left.
Turning her attention back to the egg, which had dropped from her foot onto the counter, she gave it a nudge with one of her toes. It rocked back and forth, tittering.
Maybe she'd take one. Among other things.