Table of Contents
Chapter 5 – You are here!
5. Sewer Sirens
Nick had been shot enough times to know that if he still felt the pain, it wasn’t as bad as it could be. Judging by the excruciating feeling in his calf where the crossbow bolt had pierced, things were dire, but not life threatening. The more pressing concern was the group of men and women gathered before him, pale, silvery eyes glowing in the moonlight. Even as he looked at them, their features shifted and changed. One minute, they would have sharp teeth, the next minute, back to normal. Their faces would go from old and wrinkled masks of pain to youthful beauty in a heartbeat. They were sirens, plain and simple; the same ilk that had plagued Odysseus in the Greek legend, and the focus of many mermaid sightings around the world.
In his experience, sirens were a cruel breed, preying on the opposite sex and dragging them to watery graves. It cast his own situation in stark relief. He cursed himself for not having more presence of mind.
Cass was standing in the middle of the group, whispering inaudibly to the others.
“Got something you want to share with the class?” Nick shifted, feeling rusty chains burning into his wrists. “Oh, come on, I’m not fucking Houdini. Is all this really necessary?” Strictly, it was necessary. Nick knew more than a hundred ways to break out of bondage, both professional and otherwise. All the treatises on the subject had one thing in common: without the assistance of substantial chemicals, humans can’t break chains.
One of the sirens hissed and stepped forward an inch, her hair briefly shifting to become a ball of snakes.
“No one believes you’re a hydra, sister.” Nick coughed, and the rattle sent pain through his tortured body. “I don’t feel like I’m turning to stone, and I’m pretty sure I decapitated the last Greek hydra in the nineties.” Now that had been a fun adventure. Nick vaguely remembered a plate of moussaka and some ouzo that could have melted paint. Good times.
“Come now, Rusalka. If you frighten him, the meat will spoil.” Cass stepped up and put a hand on the woman’s shoulder. Her form stabilized to become that of a beautiful young woman once again.
“Would you mind just picking a form and sticking with it? I really hate shapeshifters.” In reality, the constant changing of scenery was making him feel ill.
“Aw, is someone a little upset that the date didn’t go the way he wanted?” This time it was a man speaking. As with most shapeshifting creatures, he wore no shirt, showing a body of lean muscle, glistening in what had to be sewer water.
“Does it make you feel powerful to conjure a body like that?” Nick fiddled with the chains around his wrists, trying not to feel inadequate in his own state of sweaty rehab body. Unfortunately, his captors were no amateurs. The hold was secure, and if there was a lock, he couldn’t find it. He counted himself lucky that his legs were still free.
The muscled siren looked at Nick with hot fury. For a brief moment, the chiseled abs became a distended gut, sagging over the man’s wrinkled waistline. “I can’t believe this is the loudmouth that killed Sissy.”
Sissy, sissy, sissy. The name didn’t ring any bells. “You sure that was me?” Ordinarily, Nick would be first in line to take credit for any and all exploits attributed to him, but humbleness seemed more prudent.
Rusalka let out a piercing shriek that vibrated the walls and sent ripples through the water. “The impudence!”
Nick instinctively reached to clap his hands over his ears, but only succeeded in grinding them against the chains. “You know, you should really be careful with that. Aside from our eardrums in this enclosed space, there—”
“Are mutant turtles?” Cass laughed. “I did my homework. You took the bait.”
Well, that’s interesting. Nick thought back to the excrement he found in the tunnel. There were absolutely mutant turtles about, which meant things were about to get a lot more interesting. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
“Can we just kill him and be done with it?” asked the muscled siren.
“You know as well as I do, we must perform the rite. Otherwise, Sissy’s soul will never rest.”
“Oh god, I hate religious ceremonies. Can we skip to the part where I object, and you slit my throat or some other Machiavellian murder technique?”
“Can we gag him?” Rusalka licked her lips.
“Where’s the fun in that? Let him have his last words. It will make the screams that much sweeter.”
Even when she was about to brutalize him, Nick couldn’t deny Cass’s attractiveness. Fucking sirens. He wanted to, tried to, but the pea-sized part of his brain couldn’t help itself. She was a beautiful woman, and a part of him still hoped that this was all part of an elaborate joke. “So, am I to understand that nothing from rehab was real?”
Cass looked at him without a shred of sympathy. “I’m a siren, Nick. Lying is what we do.”
Was there a hint of a wink at the end? Nick couldn’t tell, but he wanted to believe there was. “Why do all the best romances end in bloodshed?” A ripple at the edge of the pool beneath them caught his eye. Nick was liking the chains around his wrists less and less. Sirens were one thing, combined with mutant turtles, it was an insurmountable problem. His crossbow was propped against the opposite wall and still loaded. Unfortunately, every shapeshifting eye in the room was trained on him.
Rusalka approached and began painting shapes around him using a foul-smelling liquid that came from a thick black bottle. She chanted in low, guttural tones that couldn’t have been farther from the form she was taking. The other sirens joined hands and formed a chorus somewhere between a warble and a wail.
“You really don’t want to be doing that.” Nick grimaced, the sound vibrating the bones of his face. What the books never seemed to get right about siren songs was just how damned painful they were.
A languid bubble broke the surface of the water beneath them.
Oh shit. Nick tried to back away, but the muscled siren’s bare foot caught him between the shoulder blades.
“Not to worry, this will all be over soon.” He chuckled, the sound warm and inviting like Nick had simply lost a board game rather than a mortal calculation.
“You know, usually that degree of shirtlessness is reserved for shitty lifeguards.”
Rusalka finished her filthy circle and stepped back to the edge of the platform. “Brother, sisters, today we take revenge for our kin.”
More bubbles rose from the water.
“Slain two years ago to this very day, we honor Sissy with the torture of her hunter.”
Two years ago? Nick remembered a brief pit stop in Cleveland after the Himalayas, but he had been blackout drunk for the better part of that year. Killing a siren to avenge his fallen apprentice was par for the course.
The water reached a steady ripple.
“Accept this sacrifice, so that we may honor the fallen and send her to a peaceful repose at last.” Rusalka pulled a long, crooked dagger from her waistline.
Nick wondered how the hell he hadn’t seen it concealed there and shuddered.
The sirens spoke in a chorus. “Nick Ventner, for the murder of our sister—”
A roar shook the sewer followed by an explosion of water as a massive snapping turtle leapt from the sludge beneath them with rocketlike force. A wave of sewage crashed over the platform followed by a triangular, reptilian jaw closing around Rusalka’s midsection. Surprise and shock filled her face as the mangled halves of her body fell to the ground.
“What the fu—” started the muscled siren, but a smaller turtle caught him in the back, missing with its jaws, but catching him with the flat part of its nose. He flew forward, slamming into a wall and cracking the concrete. Sirens were tough, but from the crooked position his body landed in, it was clear he wasn’t getting up.
Nick hopped to his feet, immediately regretting the action. His knee buckled where the arrow had pierced and he went sprawling forward, again catching the concrete with his face. Stars blotted his vision, and he smelled the horrible, fetid stink of age mixed with the rotting decay of apex predator. It was a pungent aroma he would never forget. Fighting through the haze, Nick tucked his legs up and brought his arms out in front him. The chains rattled on the floor behind him as he did his best to army crawl through the pain towards his crossbow.
Behind him, the shriek of sirens filled the small room. There were mournful wails, but they were quickly followed by a noise that could only convey extreme anger. Nick tried not to listen and ignored the looming possibility that an angry, carnivorous turtle was only a few feet behind him. The ground shook with several impacts and the room sprang to life with the sounds of battle. Nick ignored them, putting one arm in front of the other and making his way across the grimy concrete.
With each passing second, he wondered if he would be pulverized into a red slurry by the primordial beasts behind him. He also marveled at just how big the lead turtle had gotten. Reptiles had always fascinated and terrified him due to their evolutionary predilection for indeterminate growth. They were only confined by their environment and would continue to grow indefinitely given the space. Alright, enough with the Nat Geo, can you please focus up. Nick scolded himself for allowing such a distraction, but in the same instant, he bumped against the composite structure of his crossbow. Alright, let’s make this a fair fight.
Nick flipped onto his back just in time to see the hulking form of a turtle bearing down on him. The creature was somehow languid in its menacing stomps, approaching slowly now that it was out of the water. Its head was the size of a boulder, thick and surrounded by a mass of wrinkled skin that glistened in the dim light. The creature’s jaws ended in triangular points, and Nick could still see the remnants of Rusalka punctuating its foul black gullet. With each lumbering step, dull toenails scraped against the concrete, leaving long gouges.
Nick did what he did best and looked for a weak spot. The creature’s shell was likely over a foot thick, but the soft, wrinkly sin around its bony face looked like a prime target.
The turtle blinked a set of cold, beady eyes at him, opened its jaws and let out a horrible, high-pitched hiss.
Nick winced at the sheer power of the stench and leveled his crossbow. “Tell the Hare I send my regards.” Nick winced at his own line. “No, that’s not right.”
The turtle took another lumbering step.
Nick couldn’t help himself and laughed at the creature’s slow advancement. “Alright, let me try that again.” He took aim with the crossbow once more. “Suck on this you scaly fuck.” Better than nothing. He pulled the trigger and loosed a bolt directly into the soft meat of the turtle’s neck.
The creature’s reaction was immediate. It tried to pull its neck back toward its shell for protection, but the arrow caught, stopping the motion. The turtle let out another hiss and lumbered toward Nick with more speed than it displayed previously.
“Oh shit.” Nick had been expecting a more instantaneous reaction to the avocado-covered bolt, but if anything, the turtle just looked pissed. He scrambled backward, pushing with his legs and reeling at the agony from his wound.
The turtle shifted its neck again, snapping the crossbow bolt in half.
“Oh, come on.” Nick raised his crossbow and fired again. The bolt went wide, skimming off the creature’s armored shell and colliding with a far wall.
The turtle charged forward with surprising speed.
His fingers growing numb from the adrenaline, Nick fumbled with the trigger and loosed a final bolt. It hit the turtle in its right eye, sinking through the flesh and finding a deep root, but it was a second too late. The creature reared from the pain and caught Nick’s side, sending him flying over the lip of the concrete platform. He turned end over end in the air, hoping to hell he didn’t hit anything sharp. His eyes focused and he saw the green brown roil of sewer water rushing up to meet him.
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