Disclaimer: I only own Lily
Chapter 32: Showtime
"Showtime," Billy the Kid muttered. He tapped Josh on the shoulder and pointed toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
Josh crouched on a low rock on the west shore of Alcatraz and watched a long V on the surface of the water sweeping in toward the island. The bow wave broke against the rocks on the beach and white spume flew high into the air. A greenish-black snakelike tentacle burst through the surface of the water and waved about for a moment before it dropped onto the rocks. It twitched, moving delicately across the sand and stone, and then the hundreds of little suckers on the pale underside of the tentacle attached themselves to a boulder. A second tentacle appeared, then a third and a fourth. Josh swallowed hard and shivered. "Snakes."
"You're looking a little green," Billy the Kid said, dropping into a crouch alongside Josh. Lily, who was sitting next to Josh put an arm around his shoulders in concern.
The young man nodded toward the tentacles. "They look like snakes. And I really hate snakes."
"Never been partial to snakes myself," Billy admitted. "Got myself bit by a rattler when I was younger. Swelled up, I did, and would have died if Black Hawk hadn't tended to me."
Lily looked at Billy and raised an eyebrow and shook her head, she would never fully understand the relationship between Billy and Black Hawk
"If it was up to me," Josh said quickly, "I'd have no snakes in the world."
"I hear you."
Josh shivered. Although it was June, the wind coming in off the bay was brisk and the water droplets splashing up onto his face felt icy, but he knew that it was more than the weather that had him feeling cold. There was an almost palpable evil in the air. Ancient evil. "Have you ever met this Ner ... Nere ..."
"Nereus," Billy pronounced.
"Have either of you ever met him before?"
"I've heard of him, but I never met him before today. I've really never had a whole lot to do with any of the Elders or the Next Generation in the West. Dee and Machiavelli are the first of the truly old European immortals I've met." He pushed strands of his long hair back off his face. "I keep myself to myself and do odd jobs for my master, Quetzalcoatl. I run some errands, that sort of thing, act as bodyguard on his rare trips into the city. I've gone adventuring with Virginia into some of the nearby Shadowrealms, but most of them were close copies of this Shadowrealm, and we rarely came across monsters." He jerked his thumb back toward the cellblock above and behind them. "I never saw anything like those things before."
Lily shook her head "Most of my time was spent stealing or hanging out with Billy and occasionally Virginia, before today, I'd only ever met one Elder."
"Here he comes," Josh breathed. The surface of the water rippled and he braced himself, expecting some sort of tentacled serpentine monster. Instead, a surprisingly normal-looking man's head appeared above the waves, a mop of thickly curled hair plastered to his skull. His face was broad, with prominent cheekbones and a strong jaw covered with a thick beard that had been twisted into two tight curls, woven through with strips of seaweed.
"The Old Man of the Sea," Billy whispered. "An Elder."
"He looks normal to me," Josh began, and then Nereus heaved himself upward and the young man could see that the lower half of the Elder's body had been replaced with eight octopus legs. Only, something didn't look right. Three of the enormous legs ended as ragged stumps, and there was an ugly burnt patch of blistered skin in the center of the creature's forehead. The Elder was wearing a sleeveless jerkin of overlapping kelp leaves stitched together with strands of seaweed, and there was a spiked stone trident strapped to his back. Josh coughed, Lily put her hand over her mouth and nose and Billy wiped his watering eyes-the clean salt air had been tainted with the stench of long-dead rotting fish and rancid blubber.
"Nereus," Dee called, marching down to the water's edge. "About time. We've been waiting."
The Old Man of the Sea leaned his human arms on the boulder and smiled at Dee, exposing a mouthful of tiny pointed teeth. "You forget yourself, humani. I do not answer to you." His voice was sticky and liquid. "And I'm hungry," he added.
"That is an idle threat and you know it," Dee snapped. Nereus ignored him. "So what have we here..." The Elder looked up at Machiavelli and Billy, then Virginia and finally Josh. "Immortals and a Gold, come to end the world. As it was foretold in the Time Before Time." He looked at Josh and the young man's aura flared protectively into golden chain-mail armor around his body. "And you ... you are as I remember you," he said.
Josh attempted a laugh. "I've never met you before in my life, sir."
"Are you sure?" Nereus demanded.
"Oh, I'm sure I'd remember," Josh said, pleased that his voice didn't tremble too much.
"I was told that you would do my bidding," Dee interrupted.
Nereus ignored Dee and turned to Machiavelli. "Is it time?"
Lily snickered and whispered into Josh's ear "he hates not being in control."
The Italian nodded. "It is time. Did you bring it?"
"I brought it." The Old Man of the Sea looked from Machiavelli to Dee and then back to the Italian. "Who wants to control the Lotan?"
"I do," Dee said immediately, stepping forward.
"Of course you do," Nereus bubbled. A tentacle unpeeled from a boulder and shot out to wrap around Dee's wrist, jerking him forward. The immortal didn't even have time to cry out. Virginia Dare started forward, her flute in her hand, but a look from Nereus stopped her. "Don't be stupid. If I wanted him dead, I could have plucked him off this rock and fed him to my daughters." Behind him, a dozen green-haired Nereids broke the surface of the bay, mouths open to reveal their piranha teeth. "And you and I will have a reckoning for what you did earlier. My family is very dear to me."
"You're not the first Elder to threaten me." Virginia Dare's cruel smile turned her face ugly. "And you know what happened to him."
The stink of rotting fish grew stronger, and Billy, Lily and Josh gagged and inched away. Virginia threw her head back and breathed deeply. "Oh, I do so love the smell of fear."
Nereus turned back to Dee. "A little present for you," he said, pressing what looked like a small blue-veined egg into Dee's hands and closing the doctor's fingers over it. A tentacle wrapped around the English doctor's fist, locking it closed. "Whatever you do," Nereus said, "you must not open your hand." Then he squeezed tightly and the distinctive sound of a shell cracking could be heard.
"Why not?" Dee asked. And then he gasped, his eyes bulging in pain.
"Ah yes," Nereus bubbled once again, showing his teeth in a ferocious grin, "that would be the Lotan biting you."
Dee shuddered but remained silent, gray eyes fixed on the Elder's face.
"You're brave, I'll give you that," Nereus said, his mouth widening in an even more savage smile. "It is said that the bite of the Lotan is more painful than the sting of a scorpion."
The doctor had turned a ghastly white, and his eyes were huge in his head. Beads of yellow sweat gathered on his forehead, and the air stank of sulfur. "I thought ...," he said through gritted teeth, "I thought it would be bigger."
Billy looked at Josh and winked. "I thought that too." Lily giggled and snickered.
"It will be," Nereus laughed. "It just needs to feed off a little blood first." Dee's entire body was jerking violently now. He attempted to pull his left arm free, but another of Nereus's tentacles had encircled the doctor's forearm. "Once it tastes your blood, it will be bonded to you. Then it is yours to control. But you must act swiftly. The Lotan are like mayflies; they have a very short lifespan. You have three or four hours at most before it dies." The Elder's tentacles fell away from Dee's arms and he added, "But that should be time enough to begin the destruction of the humani city."
Josh watched as the Old Man of the Sea crawled back over the rocky edge of the island and slid into the chill green waters of the bay. Women's heads popped up around him, green hair spreading like seaweed across the water. The Elder turned to look back and fixed his eyes on Josh. He frowned, as if trying to remember something, but then shook his head and sank beneath the surface. One by one, the Nereids disappeared as well.
Virginia Dare rushed forward and caught Dee as he swayed on his feet. The Magician's skin was ashen; his left hand was still tightly shut, but blood was seeping from between his fingers, which had turned a bruised purple. "Help me!" Virginia shouted.
Billy clambered over the rocks and wrapped an arm around Dee's waist, holding him upright. "I've got him."
"Let's move him up onto the rocks," Virginia said.
"No!" Machiavelli yelled. "Wait." He picked his way over the slippery boulders and stood in front of Dee. "Josh, help me here."
Without thinking, Josh climbed down over the stones to stand alongside the Italian. Lily close at his heals.
"Observe me," Machiavelli said. He held up his arms and two ornate metal gloves formed over his hands. "Can you copy that?"
"Easy." Josh stretched out his hands, and the salty air was infused with the smell of citrus as golden metal gloves appeared over his fingers.
"Hold his arm," Machiavelli commanded, "and, whatever happens, do not let go." He looked at Virginia, and Billy, who were standing on either side of the swaying Magician, Lily next to Virginia. "Are you ready?"
The three immortals looked at one another and nodded.
The young man nodded and took hold of Dee's arm, stretching it out. The Magician's sulfurous aura fizzled and crackled where the golden gloves touched his flesh, but the scent of oranges was stronger than the stink of rotten eggs. Machiavelli reached for Dee's left hand, turning it palm upward, and then carefully opened his fingers. Nestled in the Magician's palm were the remains of the crushed shell. And in the midst of the fragments was the Lotan.
"It's kind of like a skink," Josh said, leaning forward for a closer look. The creature was tiny, not much more than one inch in length, four-legged, green- skinned, with long horizontal lines running down the length of its body. "Except for the heads," he added. Seven identical heads grew out of its body on short necks. Each head was attached to the flesh of Dee's palm, tiny round mouths sucking noisily as they drank his blood.
"If I didn't know any better," Billy the Kid said quietly, "I'd reckon the Old Man of the Sea was playing some sort of joke on us." He nodded at the tiny lizard like creature. "Not much terrorizing to be done with that."
Lily nodded "I mean seriously, he said that the Kraken was only about an inch big but we'd probably get as much chaos from a Kraken as from this.
"Oh, Billy, Lily." Virginia said simply. "What do you do when you want to make something grow?" Billy looked at her blankly and shrugged.
Virginia shook her head, clearly disappointed that he didn't know the answer. "Lily?"
Lily smirked "Add water." The two women grinned at each other.
The creature raised its seven tiny heads as Machiavelli carefully plucked it off Dee's bloody flesh. It thrashed about violently, squeaking like a newborn kitten, each of the seven heads striking out at the Italian's hands, tiny needlelike teeth squealing and scraping on the immortal's hardened auric gloves. "Filthy thing," he muttered. Holding the Lotan at arm's length, Machiavelli dropped it into a pool of water collected in the rocks by his feet.
"Now what?" Billy asked.
"Now we run," Machiavelli said.