And the new material begins! There will almost undoubtedly be some stylistic changes, considering that the original manuscript was started eight years ago and I’ve been through a bachelor’s degree and several life changes since then. Let us go forth and see what happens!
The Arms of the Ocean
The door opened and closed. Marius stood on the stoop for a moment and removed a glove before running a hand over his face. He then made his way back to the car a touch more swiftly than he might have otherwise. The small amount of Rilla’s essence that he’d taken hummed inside him, resonating like her voice did. It was strangely exhilarating in a way that few things had been since the Dive. He hadn’t taken much, just a taste, just enough to excite his senses. The craving for more was almost unbearable.
“What the hell am I doing,” he asked himself as he got back into the car. This was wrong, it was accelerating too quickly. If she had been any more forward they would be up in her bed right now. It was the sort of thing he didn’t do anymore. Not since he had been a young, reckless sailor on shore leave.
Pulling the glove back on, Marius steadied himself and started the car. Glancing back at the house, he could see a light come on upstairs, So that was her room, then. The one with the balcony. It would be easy enough to get up to. He would ask first of course, but she seemed the type who would find that completely romantic. Marius gripped the wheel and chastised himself for thinking what he was thinking. He shifted into gear and didn’t quite roar away but it was a near thing.
The phone rang as he was heading over the Fremont bridge. He fished it out of his coat, but trepidation and hope quickly shifted to aggravation. It was Janus that was calling. He turned left and considered not answering, but imagined Janus would just keep at him until he did.
“Your timing could be better,” Marius said evenly into the phone. “What do you need, Janus?”
“Good evening to you as well, Marius.” Janus’s tone carried amusement “I require your presence. Immediately. It is a matter of great concern.”
Eyes narrowing with suspicion, Marius cursed quietly to himself. He didn’t dare refuse someone of Janus’s age, particularly when he had no real reason to. “Where are you?”
“Harbor Island. You know where to go. Be quick.”
“I’m in Fremont. I’ll be there soon.”
In far less time than it should have taken, Marius got down to the pier and found an inconspicuous place to park his car. A little difficult down here, as most dockworkers didn’t drive expensive sports cars, but he found a spot. Janus would be waiting for him in an old warehouse that used to be used for fish packing but was now a forgotten corner of a shipyard, one of those buildings that get locked up and presumably used for storage. Marius didn’t know for certain, but he was fairly sure Janus had actually bought the building from the shipyard and paid them to keep it looking abandoned. Sighing, he made his way down towards the warehouse as directed. He wasn’t really watching for anyone, just focused on his destination, so it was with some surprise when a man appeared, blocking his path.
Pulling up short, Marius narrowed his eyes as he looked over the stranger. The man in question was about middling height with a medium build, dressed like he’d just come back from a long fishing trip. His hair was a vibrant copper, even in this light, and he looked strangely familiar. Marius suddenly let out a short, almost barking laugh, his expression relaxing. “I will be damned. James Patrick Lyle. What the hell are you doing here?”
“It’s Jack now, Mikey,” the man said with a wry grin. Jack, formerly James, had once been Able Seaman Lyle when he and Marius were still in the Royal Navy.
“I’m back to Marius now. The war’s over, I don’t need to pretend I’m English anymore.”
“Kept the accent though,” Jack observed with that same smile.
Marius shrugged. “It was harder to get rid of than the name.”
“You should have crossed the pond sooner,” Jack said with a laugh. Marius had to admit he had a point – there was barely a trace of Jack’s accent when he spoke. “You’re here for Janus, I take it? Don’t know who else could get you out here. You usually manage to avoid the dirtier work. That’s not a criticism, by the way. I think you got it right. Old man’s just inside the warehouse. We got ourselves a problem, Mikey. Why don’t you go inside and see what’s up.”
Nodding, Marius decided not to correct Jack and headed in. He also mulled over what the other sailor had said. He did tend to avoid the dirtier work. He’d managed to adapt his old skills to a job that rarely required him to do much other than examine photographs and water damaged antiques. Every once in a great while he had to strap into a wetsuit he didn’t need to dive and look at a wreck. Marius wondered if Jack meant it – did Jack, or any of the others, actually think Marius had done things right by leaving the shipyards behind?
Stepping through the doors and around a corner into the main room of the warehouse, Marius saw Janus before he saw anything or anyone else. Janus was old – at least 1000 years, and some rumors painted him to have been alive to see Rome fall. A tall man with broad shoulders, though it was getting harder to call Janus a “man.” The elder’s skin had become a deeply mottled blue with patterns of gray and purple overlaying his bare arms. A ridge of what looked like scales or small plates had formed across his shoulders, easy to see under the old, fading black tank he wore. His hair was still black, but kept in a combination of braids and dreads, adorned with shells and seaglass, the occasional bright flash of metal. His eyes were unnerving – the pupils too large, the orange-gold iris too vibrant. As Janus gestured, it was easy to see that his hands were webbed, and Marius reflected with some surprise that the elder seemed to be larger than he had been when last they met.
“Ah, Marius,” Janus said, his smile entirely too shark-like. Even if the man’s appearance did not immediately draw one’s attention, his voice would. The Song could be heard in Janus’s voice, vibrating at the edges. The women of their kind tended to have an easier time channeling and controlling the Song, but it still imbued them all, and at Janus’s age it echoed in every breath.
“Did you think I wouldn’t come,” Marius asked as he came within what he hoped was a respectful distance.
“Not at all,” Janus answered, easily and honestly. “You have always been a man of your word, Marius. It is part of why you frustrate me so. If I could inspire you to more action, I know I could count on you.”
Marius didn’t have an answer for that, and Janus didn’t really want one. The two regarded each other for a moment, and then Janus’s eyes grew wide in surprise. Stepping forward quickly, he got closer than Marius would have liked and inhaled. “This must be the girl, then. You fed from her? Hmmm, no. Just a taste. The friendship is progressing, then?”
Inhaling sharply through his nose, Marius let it out slowly. Getting angry at Janus would only get his jaw broken again. Or worse. “Yes, it is progressing. Though more for my reasons than yours. I still don’t understand what you and Priska hope to gain from her.”
Stepping away again, Janus looked amused. “It doesn’t matter what you understand. No one will hurt her. And your relationship with her can be whatever you wish, so long as you don’t burn any bridges.” Janus looked Marius over again for a minute, then shook his head. “But that’s not why you’re here. Come with me.”
Moving through the warehouse, Marius followed Janus into the other room, past a few more men around Marius’s age – both physically and chronologically. There were a number of young men who had been dying in the North Sea to whom a promise of a longer life seemed far better than a watery death. Priska herself claimed to have saved over 100 souls from drowning during those years. Their ranks were swollen with young men from the Allied Navies.
The first sign that something was wrong to Marius’s senses was the smell. It was oily and bitter, slightly acrid. Looking past Janus, Marius could see a body on a table on the far end of the room. His brow furrowed and he gaze became sharp as they drew closer. The person on the table wasn’t dead, but they were injured. Another former sailor based on the man’s apparent age and the faint blue cast to his skin that Marius found all too familiar. The man’s right arm, though, looked as if it had been partially digested, the skin eaten away in several places to expose the muscle underneath. The man was resting, likely drugged, and the arm looked like it had been cleaned and bathed in some concoction. The lingering smell was actually coming from a smaller table to the side, where the remains of the man’s shirt lay on a metal tray, the remains of some sickly looking green gunk clinging to it.
“We’re still trying to find out what happened,” Janus said after a moment, waiting to make sure Marius had taken everything in. “He was part of a small group patrolling some of the reserves around this area, making sure people don’t interfere where they’re not supposed to. He went off on his own for a while, and was found again screaming in pain. We knocked him out, got him stabilized, and now we’re working on the arm as he rests. It’s a nasty bit of business. Alchemical, certainly, as it reacts more strongly to flesh than inorganic material.”
In horror and confusion, Marius just shook his head. “What do you want from me? I’m a poor alchemist.”
“I know your strengths,” Janus said, his tone implying that he wasn’t an idiot. “You have relationships with all the salvage divers in the area. Talk to them. See if they’ve found anything. Find out if anyone has been hospitalized recently. Ask everyone you think might know something. I know I’ve criticized you for not doing enough. Here is your chance. Get me answers.”
Taking a breath and running a hand through his hair, Marius nodded. “All right. I…I’ll do whatever I can.”
“Good.” Janus led him back to the main area. “I won’t bother you unless I have information that I think will help, but I do expect you to come to me as soon as you have anything. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Marius appreciated that Janus didn’t intend to shadow him, though he also didn’t like the implied threat. What would happen if Janus thought it was taking too long? “You know it may turn up nothing.”
Janus nodded. “I know. But something tells me you’ll find something, even if we don’t understand it at first. After all, you found the girl, didn’t you?” Janus smirked at that, knowing Marius wouldn’t like having her brought up again. Marius managed not to physically bristle.
“I’ll let you know as soon as I have anything,” Marius responded evenly. Janus waved a dismissal, and Marius left as quickly as he could without being outwardly rude. Jack waved as Marius headed outside, and Marius waved back before returning to his car and leaving Harbor Island as quickly as possible. At least he was closer to home. Maybe he could get a little sleep before morning came and he started calling people. Not that he would reach many people on a Saturday. Sighing, Marius shifted and raced home faster than he should have. This wouldn’t be a short solution. He wouldn’t be able to make three calls and say he tried. He wanted answers, though – maybe not as much as Janus did, but Marius understood what the elder hadn’t said. Whatever that substance was, it was a weapon. It had been made to respond to living matter. Jack had put it simply but succinctly. They had a problem.
With another sigh, Marius pulled up to his house and headed inside, taking the stairs two at a time again. He spun the wheel in his room on his way to the shower. The problem wasn’t getting fixed at 3 am.