Simone muttered curses under his breath. Marceth was insane. He was just asking for a blood feud.
He glanced back at the line of wary, bedraggled women and men behind him. Criminal he may be, Simone had always been repulsed by human trafficking. It seemed that Marceth had the same sentiments, to the point of raiding the latest shipment from the Giovanni. Despite his sentiments on the matter, however, stealing goods from another family would land everyone in deep shit.
A phrase perhaps more literal than he was willing to deal with. Simone trudged on through the sewers, hoping a bath and a new suit were waiting for him at the end of the tunnel. He was splattered with blood, dirt, and other things that he did not wish to think about. In addition, he was beginning to get light headed from whatever miasma came from the offal. Drawing to a stop for a moment to get a glimpse of his surroundings, he chose the only marked tunnel of the branch, the one veering to the right.
Suddenly, a loud thud echoed through the tunnels, then the shriek of twisting metal followed by a splash. Simone paused, yanking his gun out. Whatever it was, it didn't sound good.
"What was that?" whispered one of the girls, dressed in a scandalous leg-baring outfit. She clung to one of the other girls, wide eyes turning to Simone for answers.
Simone held up a hand for silence, looking around grimly. He didn't see or hear anything else, but something in the air felt wrong. Still not speaking, he motioned for his little caravan to keep moving. They weren't far from the exit, and he wanted to get out of this eerie, foul-smelling place as soon as possible.
There was a scream behind him. Simone whirled around, seeing one of his charges being yanked underneath the water, red froth bubbling up from the sludge. The others scattered, and Simone pointed his gun at the spot, breathing shakily. The water settled, but the woman in the flapper dress shrieked. Rising from the water and cleanly sheering off her flailing arm with razor-sharp teeth was a monstrous eel. Or at least, Simone thought it was an eel. It looked more like someone skinned an eel and tried to refit the flesh back over it. Oozing pustules glistened in the meager light as its jaws snapped shut, bone cracking between its teeth.
He aimed quickly, and fired at the creature, but missed the head as it dove down, dragging the girl underneath the water and drowning out her screams. "Run!" he shouted. "The exit is straight ahead!" He shot at the water where the eel disappeared, then took his own advice.
Another one was taken as one of the men tripped. He was gone before Simone could even turn to help him. The remnant of his group scrambled up the ladder in sheer terror. Simone hefted himself up after them, the creature's jaws snapping just under his foot. He hooked an arm around one rung and shot the damn thing in the head with the other.
As the eel flopped back into the water, Simone watched with horror as the water started churning, staining the brownish brack with red.
There were more of them.
A chill ran down his spine as he hurried up, climbing out of the hole. He slumped down on the concrete, panting heavily in the cool, clean air.
Marceth stood in front of him, in his impeccable white suit and green tie. He gazed impassively at Simone kneeling in front of him, filthy and bloody. "I take it you met with some trouble on the way."
Nileas looked blankly at the cup, which held a brownish liquid that steamed from the heat. He held it up to his nose. It smelled bitter, with a bit of a spicy undertone. He wasn't sure what to do with it until he saw Ricardo lift his own up to his mouth. So it was something humans consumed, much like how Simone needed fresh water.
Determined to learn these odd human ways, Nileas poured the liquid into his throat...and immediately started choking. Ricardo got out of his seat ready to help him as Nileas spewed the brown stuff all over the table and started coughing uncontrollably.
"Sorry about that," Ricardo said worriedly. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," Nileas gasped. The tickling in his throat refused to go away, but the coughing subsided. "I don't think I like that very much. Sorry for the mess."
"Don't worry about the tea," he assured him. "So what is the name of the person you're looking for?"
"Simone," Nileas said. "I saved him from drowning."
Ricardo almost choked on his tea himself. "Simone! So that's how the bugger survived!" He shook his head and laughed. "I heard rumors about his ghost, but I guess it's more than that. For now, anyway."
"So you know where he is?" he asked hopefully.
"...No. I don't. But I can see if I can get my boss to find him. He's got a soft spot for us magical types."
"I'm not really magic..."
Ricardo smiled, leaning back. "All mer are magic in some way, even if they can't cast spells. It's in your blood." He lifted a finger. "So, if you didn't turn yourself human, who did? Must've been a blast convincing someone to do it."
"An ithae did it," Nileas said uncomfortably. "My people...the 'mer', you call them, and them tend not to get along very well, but he helped me in exchange for a favor."
"Ithae, ithae," Ricardo frowned in thought, twisting his facial scar up grotesquely. His eyebrows shot up. "Eel-kin? Seriously? All I've heard about them is nothing good."
"He's not so bad," Nileas insisted.
"They'll eat even their own kind," Ricardo said. "So. Tell me how this happened, anyway."
He listened intently, drinking the stuff he called tea. He paused when Nileas mentioned giving his talisman and conch to Isqa. "What did the conch do, anyway?"
"I don't really know," he said miserably. "My father didn't tell me, since I wasn't supposed to be the leader anyway. I know it can change currents, but I don't think that's all."
Chewing on his thumbnail, Ricardo gazed at the ceiling. "I think you shouldn't have trusted him, kid. He could have given you back the items after the transformation and everything would've been fine. Pretty sure he was after your memento."
"Yeah. Transformation magic doesn't keep working after you turned human. You were tricked, kiddo."
Nileas hunched, shame and embarrassment warring over his gullibility. He had been too trusting, and saw only what he wanted to see. Isqa's gaze had often lingered on the conch, if he recalled, but he had dismissed it as simple curiosity. He often wondered why he was cursed to bear it, himself. So what was odd about another wondering the same thing?
Setting down his tea, Ricardo took out a rolled piece of paper and lit it with a flick of flame magic. He inhaled the smoke and blew it out his nose. "Well, whatever you gave him, you'll find out soon enough what he wanted it for when you get back to sea, I guess."
"Yeah..." Nileas hoped the hermetic Isqa didn't think hurt any of his clan. He didn't think he could deal with that on his already burdened conscience. Isqa may not have liked his people, be he seemed to have a true loathing for humans. He paled a bit at the thought, but Ricardo drew him from his reverie.
"Let's find this friend of yours and get you back to fix whatever mess is going on under the sea, then."