The streets of Patitiri were quiet as Gia and I made our way toward our destination. A smile formed on my face when we turned the corner and saw the tavern was suspended over the water on a small pier. We moved down a nearby alley to come at the tavern from a different angle and found some deep shadows. The fog I had raised earlier still hung over Patitiri like a widow’s shroud. Two guards stood at the end of the pier, and there was a chain across the entrance. The chain worried me less than the AK-47s they were carrying at the ready. This would be a touch more difficult oyster to shell.
I heard Gia shifting into a nearby shadow, keeping a close eye on the guards. “Private party, I’m guessing,” Gia said, shrugging her backpack off of her shoulders.
“The good thing is, no one’s getting out of there without coming down the pier.”
“The bad thing is, Lord Nereus, we’re not getting out there without going down that pier, and those boys don’t look like they’re going to cooperate.”
“We’re not going out there. I will be. Your job is important. Take a good look and tell me how many guards you see.”
She pulled a small telescopic sight out of her bag and flipped a switch before putting it up to her eye and carefully moving it right to left and back. “Okay, we have the two obvious ones at the entrance to the pier.” She scanned some more. “Got one on the top of the building with a radio and a Dragunov. Also looks like there’s someone in a boat. And Lord Nereus, these guys don’t look like your average pirates.”
“Nope. If you asked me, they’re probably former marines or Special Forces types. That tells me the pirates inside are working for or with someone not from around here, one who’s really paranoid. Forget oysters. Godzilla would have a better chance of breaking in here than we would.”
“Gia, first off, the rubber monster in the movies looks nothing like a real kaiju. Secondly, as I said, we’re not breaking in. I am. Your job is to eliminate the guards outside as quickly and quietly as you can once I get in. Once I’m there, I do not want anything to disturb me.”
I waited as she opened up the rest of the pockets on her backpack and assembled her own custom sniper rifle by feel, never taking her eyes off her targets. I noticed she had changed out her usual weapon for something new. “New toy?”
“Zastava Black Spear. Fairly new. Serbian make. Also, it can’t be traced to me or you, so if we have to leave it behind, you’re only out a few thousand dollars.”
“So nice of you to think about my bank account. Don’t you suspect a .50 caliber round is likely to draw attention?”
She threw a thumb back over her shoulder. “I spotted a church bell tower a few streets back. I should have a clear shot of all the targets from there. By the time the sound gets here, I should be done.”
“Don’t get cocky, Gia. And, if you’re going to set up back there, why are you assembling it here?”
She gave me a look usually reserved for idiots or very young children. “To cover you until I see you get inside. Once I know you’re there, then I’ll move. Besides, while they may be meeting with the pirates, they are obviously not our targets. I won’t kill them unless they force my hand. I am a warrior. I only kill when necessary.”
I allowed myself to smile. “You and your sisters do your patriarch great honor. Give me a few minutes to get ready.” I waited until she had finished assembling her rifle and then back-tracked until I spotted a path leading down to the beach. I walked out into the dark, murky water and then dove beneath. As soon as I was fully submerged, I shifted into my natural form and allowed my massive tail to drive me forward until I reached the pilings holding up the tavern.
Floating to the surface, I lifted my head just enough that my eyes were out of the water and saw I was in a blind spot where none of the guards could spot me. I summoned a pillar of water and lifted myself until I came to a window on the second floor. It was locked, but a small jet of water from one of my fingers squirted beneath the latch and turned it, letting me raise the window silently. I slid inside and shifted back to a bipedal form, then gently lowered the column of water until it merged silently with that of the harbor.
The room I was in reeked of perfume, and I had no questions as to where I had chosen to enter. Luckily, it was unoccupied, and I cursed myself for not checking before entering. I couldn’t let myself get too cocky. Oh, mortal weapons aren’t likely to kill me, but whether it’s a bullet or a sword, it still hurts like hell when something pierces your skin.
Once I was confident I wouldn’t be disturbed, I pulled all the water from my clothing. I smoothed my slacks and jacket before opening the door. As I suspected, there was a small balcony with several other doors extending to the right and left of me. Music came from below intermingled with the sounds of bad singing, probably worse dancing, and the forced laughter of the women who worked here. I walked to the edge of the balcony and looked down at the main part of the tavern.
The pirates, some fairly young, others well-weathered, were sitting around tables with bottles of beer, ouzo, arak, vodka, and other alcohols piled in disarray on various tables. Sitting at a table in the corner were the men who interested me. One of them was John’s killer, still sporting a large bandage that showed beneath his new shirt. The other was obviously the leader of this band of riffraff. The other two caught my attention. Their close-cropped hair and the way they sat, almost as if they expected trouble, told me these were the leaders of the men outside.
I waited until the jukebox stopped playing and as one of the women moved to turn on another song before I spoke up. “Good evening to you all. I’m so glad I found you all together here. That’s going to make things so much easier.”
Everything stopped as I walked across the balcony and down the stairs. “I don’t believe you all know me, but let me introduce myself. I am Alexandros Korias. I am the owner of the ship you sank this afternoon.”
I saw at least three men reach for their weapons, but their captain stood up from his table and yelled at them to sit down. He approached me with the confidence that comes from knowing he was standing before his crew against one middle-aged man.
With a grandiose gesture, he slowly spun around, motioning to the crowd in the bar, his voice pleasant and unworried. “Mr. Korias, I’m not quite sure how you got in here, but I assure you, you’re mistaken. Why, we’ve been in port all day today. We have plenty of witnesses who’ll swear to that.” He let his eyes harden before he spoke again. “And, to accuse someone of piracy without a scrap of evidence, well, that’s quite rude.”
A soft rustle of nervous laughter broke out, and I felt a few of the pirates move to block my escape to the stairs or the door. The poor fools had no idea I wasn’t the one who was going to need to escape here in a bit.
“Captain Drakos, at your service, sir. But again, you break into a private party with such wild claims. Surely you are not here by yourself?”
“Oh, but I am, Captain Drakos. You see, I’ve dealt with pirates many times in my life. Greeks, Turks, Byzantines, Genoans, Venetians, and Persians are all pretty much the same. And they usually come with pretty aliases like Drakos. However, you’re definitely more ogre than dragon.”
The smile fell from his face, and his lips turned into a nasty sneer. “What kind of idiot do you take me for? The Byzantine Empire fell five hundred years ago. The Persian Wars were over two thousand years ago. I’m afraid your mind is going, old man. This isn’t Salamis. Now, I’m going to give you one chance to leave with your skin. Take your wild claims and leave before we have to throw you out.”
One of the men rose from Captain Drakos’s table. He approached me, and his face had a look of interest. When he spoke, there was no mistaking the hint of Russian in his accent, although his Greek was perfect. “No, wait a minute, Captain. I would hear more about what this man knows.”
“So, the king is finally placed on the chessboard.”
“You honor me, Mr. Korias, but at best, you could call me a rook. My king is not so easily trapped these days. Still, you accuse these men of piracy. What evidence do you present?”
I began curling my fingers as if summoning something, but I kept my voice level, even though I wanted to slap this impudent man across the room and through the wall. “Well, Mr. Rook, I have no hard evidence, unless I choose to raise the Azure Sea, but this is not a matter for the Coast Guard. You see, I know what happened today.” I tapped the side of my head and then commenced moving my fingers again to the amusement of a few nearby onlookers. “The first mate of Sophie’s Pearl there has a scar on his chest. A scar he received only today from a shovel striking him as he forced his way into the engine room of the Azure Sea. You see, I know exactly what happened and who was involved. So, you may rest assured I have no intentions of leaving…yet.”
He started to turn, but I spoke up again. “If you don’t mind, would you send the ladies upstairs? There’s no need for them to see what’s about to happen.”
I could see he wanted to say something, but I let just enough of my divinity show through to make him hesitate. “Fine, it’s probably better if they don’t witness this. Girls! Upstairs! Now!”
I kept my fingers moving as I walked into the middle of the tavern, slowly turning to ensure all eyes were on me. As soon as I heard the door slam shut upstairs, I bowed my head and began chuckling. The sound of my laughter soon filled the tavern, and the pirates retreated slightly as if unsure what they were dealing with…and they had no idea what they were dealing with.
I thrust up with my hands, and the pillar of water I had been raising ever since I walked downstairs burst through the tavern’s floor. As tables overturned and men ran this way and that, I lifted the water along the walls and the stairs to cut off any possible escape. The pirates rushed toward the doors and windows, but they found they couldn’t push them open. They had no clue I had raised a wall of water outside the tavern, too.
The room flooded, the water soon waist-deep. The captain waded toward me, a knife in his hand, but it was easy to send a tendril of water between his legs, sweeping him off his feet. The cacophony in the room grew as the water rose even higher as I pulled more and more of the harbor into the tavern.
To my surprise, the Russian simply stood there, unfazed by the chaos, but I figured he was simply the stoic type. As the water reached my chin, I morphed into my deity state and revealed myself in my glory to the struggling pirates. “The Aegean Sea has no room for men like you. Like the victims you sent to the depths today, so too will the sea claim you all as recompense.”
There were shrieks and plaintive prayers offered up to any god who might listen, but these men were my prey. I capped off the water coming in and then hardened the water on the edges, so none of them could swim to the surface. I watched their struggles slow and then cease. I snagged one of the youngest pirates and tossed him out, up onto the balcony to deal with later, and slowly turned to gaze on my handiwork when I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder.
I spun around to see two merfolk now floated where the two Russians had been, each armed with a nasty knife, one covered in a golden ichor. Mine. I took up a defensive posture, but they both simply raised their knives in a salute, and the leader spoke to me.
“First blood is yours, Old Man. While our fight is with your successor, let me say, Polybotes sends his regards.”
I froze at the sound of that name, and the two mermen took advantage of my distraction to swim through the hole in the tavern floor and disappear. I wanted to pursue them, but the pain in my shoulder was not going away like it should, so I waited until I was the only thing moving in the flooded tavern and then let the water drain out through the hole. I resumed my human form and walked upstairs, using my power to pull the water from his lungs.
He coughed, threw up, and then flopped onto his back. “What…why?”
“Two reasons. One, where did your captain keep the loot from the ships he pillaged?”
It took a bit for the young man to get his wits about him, but he soon gave me an address. I reached down and lifted him to face me, his toes barely touching the ground. “And if I have your attention, spread the word far and wide. The Old Man of the Sea has declared the Aegean off-limits to pirates. You are my messenger now. Fail me, and I will return to finish what I started.”
I tossed him aside as if he were an old apple core and walked down the stairs. As I stepped out, I saw two slumped bodies at the end of the pier and Gia sitting there waiting for me. I walked past her and started back to the Zodiac, and she fell in behind.
“Yes, and no. We have much to talk about on the ride back to the Aegean Star. Much indeed.”