Klara eyed the orange sphere in her scaly fingers with suspicion. Its skin was tough like hers, and when she scraped at the sphere’s pitted surface, a potent fragrance assaulted her sense of smell with an acidic bite, followed by a sharp, tingling sweetness unfamiliar to her palette. The fruit vendor in the green vest and long, blonde locks called it an orange. He tried to sell her on the fruit’s popularity, but Klara remained skeptical. She attempted to parse out what could be so enchanting about this fruit. She huffed in frustration as he explained how the edible flesh was underneath the brightly colored, tasty looking skin. Geneve leaned into Klara’s space and took a whiff of the orange sphere as well.
“My… what a… pleasant odor,” the Tritonia said in a long drawl. She pressed close into Klara to get a better smell. Unlike Klara’s rough, unyielding scales, the Tritonian’s body was elastic and pliable. Klara sunk into her friend’s bust and felt her wet hair stick to Geneve’s clothes. The warmth of her friend’s body contrasted nicely with the atoll’s cool water.
“Is it?” Klara asked. She brushed a few white strands of hair behind her sharp ears, unfazed. “I don’t understand the appeal.” She places the sphere back with the others in the merchant’s basket. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”
Geneve puffed out her violet cheeks. “I’m… having fun.” She pulled Klara below the Coral Market and into the bay of the atoll. Klara smirked as her friend slowly spun them in a circle. A panorama of aquatic monster girl species, their husbands, and the schools of children playing and swimming in the calm, summer waters of the Coral Market circled with them. The duo arrived at the busiest time for the Coral Market. Many shoppers from the nearby sea flocked to the Market. A ruby-red kraken with fiery hair held her younger husband in a gentle bind while their three daughters teased his flanks with toy swords. A gathering of Flow Kelp swayed with the tide as they bathed in the sunlight. Klara noted the Flow Kelp passing a basket of cookies between them. Robert mentioned cookies in his shopping list, she remembered. The Flow Kelp each took one as the basket was passed around and nibbled on the treats as they silently sunbathed.
A trio of mermaids in short-sleeved white coats were haggling with an annoyed looking crab girl over gorgeous jade jewelry. While the crab girl’s face did not show it, Klara recognized a foot, or in this case a back leg, tapping in frustration. Next, she saw two teenage Nereids showing off their own jade jewelry inlaid with soft-glowing blue gemstones. The taller of the two wore hers like an amulet. It reminded Klara of fish scales with a lapis lazuli set in the center. The other, shorter girl wore a bejeweled anklet fastened by two gold color cords.
Klara pulled free of Geneve’s suction hug, rolled her shoulders, and then examined her small bag full of Shells. “That helped,” she offered with a toothy grin.
“Were the oranges… something Robert requested?” Geneve adjusted her azure petticoat and bodice as she spoke. Geneve was twice the size of Klara, her upper human half garnished with a tight fitting bodice that extenuated Geneve’s already impressive breasts. Klara admired the Tritonian’s curves, but did not envy her friend. Klara’s own modest bust and tight fitting shirt did not impede her hunting prowess or impair her cruising speed. Geneve’s matching petticoat started just below her exposed belly button and covered most of the front of her body. Klara wore a grass woven skirt only at Robert’s request.
“Robert said he wanted fruit. A sweets craving he called it.” She punctuated her statement with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Fish is sweet.”
“Fish is fish,” Geneve said with one hand open, “and your husband’s… taste is not as refined as… ours. On the other hand…” she demonstrates with an open palm, “Robert may be more… amenable to your… affections should you… deign to meet his… needs.” Geneve curled her index finger like a hook under her lips and gave a coy smile. “Henry was very… appreciative… of my present.”
“Present?” Klara and Robert were neighbors of Geneve and her husband. Her den and the Tritonian’s seafloor cottage were an eel’s length apart. She’d know if Henry had a new toy. He was as boastful as his wife was long winded.
“I brought home… a jug of coconut milk.”
“Coconut… Milk?” Klara mimicked her friend’s drawl as she looked down at her own chest. “Milk?” She repeated, dumbfounded by the idea of lactating fruit. “You mean the floating, furry rocks from warm waters?”
Bubbles floated up as the Tritonian did her best, and failed, to stifle a fit of laughter. “Yes… the rocks.”
“And you milk them? Do rocks have nipples?” Klara puzzled over the dynamics of extracting milk from a rock.
“No, dear… I think I have… mislead you. Coconuts… grow on-”
“Trees. I know that. But do you squeeze them or wring them out?”
“You split them open.”
Klara winced as her mental image of a coconut cut in half. “But you said it was milk.”
“I meant more… like juice than milk. The greener… the coconut the… fresher the taste.”
Klara crossed her arms as she floated in thought. A swipe of her tail kept her level with Geneve. The Tritonian was capable of staying in one place with ease. Her body was buoyant and her many fins worked in graceful concert to keep her suspended at her chosen level. “But you are saying Robert will like this coconut juice? And he will fawn over me for it?” Klara swooned at the idea of her Robert waiting on her hand and fin. “Where can I find the milk?” She looked up at the various stalls distorted by the sunlight.
“Not coconut milk exactly… but I’m sure a more diverse… offering of fresh fruit is the perfect incentive.” Geneve took Klara by an eager hand. “Let us try… the oranges again.”
The vendor in the green vest was wary of Klara as Geneve helped her decide on which oranges to buy. The Coral Market was built on a small ring shaped atoll. During the summer, landwalkers set up shop on the edge of a tide pool while Oceanfolk swam under an entrance tunnel to the two tiered market and entered at the plaza at the bottom of the pool. It’s still waters stayed cool during the summer and allowed aspiring undersea craftsman and merchants to establish their own storefronts without tides shifting and scattering merchant stalls. At sea, nothing short of solid stone could withstand the constant motion.
Above, men like the green vested human sailed small ships from the nearby village to the beach loaded with precious treats and trinkets from further inland. As a rule, merchants sailing to and from the atoll were safe from the depredations of the monsters, although a few landwalkers were charmed by their customers, or so Klara heard.
The green vested man spoke before Klara settled on her assortment of oranges. “Aye lass, I ain’t selling ya no thing without yer names first.” The blond-haired man extended out his calloused and dirty fingers in what Robert called a handshake. “Name’s Phinneas.” He spoke at a half shout.
Klara took care to meet his hand and not graze him with her scales. “I’m Klara.” She replied with a bit of trepidation. His hand was muscular and tough, unlike her Robert’s. She was surprised by how powerful the human’s grip was. “And this is my neighbor Geneve.”
“Ah, pleasure,” he nodded to her friend resting on the rocky shelf in the water. Just her head and the tips of her back tentacles peaked out of the water. “The lot’ll be 7 Shells if ya got’em.”
Klara pulled 7 coins from her bag. Shells were bone white coins, with special clips cut on top and bottom to denote authenticity, and given by Sea Bishops. Klara knew the Sea Bishops called them something else, but it was long and most everyone else called them Shells so Klara did too. She dropped the shells into Phinneas’s open palm and was mid turn when he spoke again.
“Thanks Klara,” he said. He spoke as though he knew her more than a passing customer. “Was there anythin’ else I can do fer ya?”
Klara pondered on his offer for a second. “There is one thing.” She looked around the market. More than a dozen other kneeling or sitting merchants mingled with eager Oceanfolk, but she was stumped as to who was selling what might appeal to her husband. “My husband, he wants fruit, but um…”
“Ya don’ say?” He scoffed as he set the Shells in a box next to him. “Ain’t a mershark ’round ‘ver bought my oranges. I plum thought ya lost yer mind.” Phinneas rested his back against a full box of brightly colored oranges with a mirthful smirk. “I don’ mean nothin’ by it. My oranges are the best ’round. Ain’t a reason you shouldn’t ‘ave ’em yerself.”
“I feel like… that is true,” Geneve whispered. Klara defaulted to her friend’s judgement rather than argue. The vagaries of discourse were lost on her either way.
“I want to know what kind of fruit my Robert will enjoy,” Klara huffed.
Phinneas rubbed his black stubble as he examined the Market circle. “Ach, I spy with my beady eye.” He directed their attention to a merchant couple with spiky brown rocks placed on a table. “Pineapple, oh and um…” He swiveled his arm rightward. The next table is occupied by a dour looking woman who scowled at Phinneas’s direction. She was sitting, and huddled over her blush red merchandise like a hermit crab in its shell. “A bushel of strawberries! That’s a rare treat! Guilda’s a sourpuss, but a jade trinket ought to getchya in ‘er good graces. Mhm, and those uh, yeller fellas by the bundle, she ought to got them too.”
Klara nodded absently. The man’s thick accent eluded her. “So the…”
“I got… it Klara. Thank you Phinneas.”
“Any time dames.”
The pair waved to Phinneas as they moved along the surface of the tide pool. They passed by the red haired kraken from earlier. Two of her kids held tight to her lower half’s tentacles while her husband and the smallest child tailed just behind her. Klara gave a meek smile as they passed. The man returned the gesture with his free hand while the little red kraken did her best to shy from sight. Klara giggled. She was happy to be done with the oranges.
“Mister Phinneas… got on my nerves,” Geneve pouted. “A gentleman… does not refer to a lady… as a plum.”
“I believe that was a turn of phrase Geneve,” Klara replied. “He’s from a Highland country, yeah? Perhaps there’s a misunderstanding?”
“I am well aware… of what Mister… That man intended.”
They didn’t have long to debate the intentions of Mister Phinneas. The two of them entered the shallows of the busier couples’ stand. They settled in just behind an eel girl biting into the rather violent looking food, a prickly, brown rock with yellow insides that seeped yellow fluids that stunk even more sweetly than the oranges. She held it like the leg of the land fowl Klara tried during her travels before marrying Robert, and bit into a cut in its untantalizing exterior. The juice did not stick to the slimy eel’s face and fell into the water where the potency of the stench irked Klara’s nose.
“Oh, pardon me,” the eel girl squeaked out. She must’ve saw Klara’s annoyed reaction, the mershark reasoned. She scooped the juice dripping from her dumbstruck jaw as best as she could before more dirtied the water. “I wasn’t paying attention to who was behind me.”
The eel girl’s quiet voice betrayed her size. Even coiled tightly in the shallows, Klara could tell the monster’s eel half extended out five or six times Klara’s own length. She was a dark yellow, with overlapping black circles that move hypnotically under her cautious movements. Her human torso was covered by a dark blue shirt that clung to her narrow body like a sleeve.
“I like your hair,” Klara commented. The eel girl kept her flat, black hair under a sizable clip and rested it on her left shoulder. She pawed at it when the person in front of her finished their business. The eel girl was about to speak when the female vendor drew everyone’s attention with a loud clap.
“How can I help you miss?” She cheerily exclaimed. The female vendor’s body was covered by a pineapple stained apron, but by her sharp ears, narrow eyes, and pointed facial features suggested she was an elf of some type.The eel girl held up 2 fingers.
“Two, shaved pineapples coming right up.” She pointed the knife in her hand to Klara. “And you, miss?”
“Oh, I um, I’m not sure.”
“Not eating now?” The eel girl asked. Klara shook her head. “She wants two, but packaged, please.” Still bewildered by her options, Klara confirmed what the eel girl asked.
“Alright ladies, that’ll be 5 Shells for the cut, and 4 Shells for you Mrs. Teeth.”
The two seafarers exchanged coins with the elf, then stepped aside as another mermaid swam up to order. The eel girl was hesitant, again, but Geneve bubbling up next to Klara surprised the stranger.
“Good afternoon,” the Tritonia greeted the eel girl with a curtsey. “We are both unfamiliar… with the etiquette of purchasing… pineapples.”
“It’s really nothing,” she replied. “I’m here all the time.”
“We are quite a bit… a ways from home… but your assistance was much… appreciated.”
Klara interjected. “Far? No! Traveling at my friend’s pace we would have taken all day and her husband’s ears would’ve been covered in barnacles by the time we got back.” Klara gave a muted chuckle at her own inane joke.
Geneve glared at daggers at Klara. A stray tentacle from her back wrapped itself around Klara’s right shoulder. “Is that so… Mrs. I confused a shipwreck for a stone face and got us lost for a half an hour,” Geneve spat back. The tentacle gave Klara a playful tug down before releasing her. “Your speed… is wasted on your… impatience.” The eel girl’s wary eyes betrayed her confusion.
“You’re friends then?”
“Neighbors even,” Klara replied in jest. The Elf joined them for a moment. She set a ceramic bowl filled with two pared down pineapples that bobbed in the water, then the elf placed a leather bladder bag into Klara’s hands.
“The bag is waterproof for three days. Thank you for waiting,” the elf vendor conceded as she deftly dived onto the next order with a gleaming silver blade. The two Oceanfolk grabbed their respective orders and moved from the stand’s waiting area wading above the water as the eel sampled the overly sugary fruit.
“Do you mind helping… my friend and I… buy the fruit we need? We wouldn’t want… to trouble you…”
“Ah, I’m a local. I live near the blueish-red coral reef a little ways out. I don’t mind.”
Neither Geneve nor Klara recognized the description. “We are… more southernly… of the Market, miss-”
“Pluti. I’m Pluti Sympath.”
“That’s an interesting name,” Klara unconsciously prodded. Seafolk kept single names, and the human’s naming convention was slow to catch on among the denizens of the deep. Klara was Klara after all. Why would she change that? “Did your mother take a human’s name?” The question left Pluti ill at ease. The eel’s pastel white face darkened at the subject. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean, um,” Klara fumbled before dunking her own head in the water.
“It’s fine,” Pluti motioned with both her hands. Klara noted a wicked scar cut inside the full length of her left arm shaped like a bolt of lightning. “My father isn’t from here, but he’s living in Puller’s Bay.”
“Is he a… fisherman?” Geneve asked. Klara vaguely knew of Puller’s Bay. Once a bastion of zealous anti-monster sentiment, Puller’s Bay remains an unpleasant place for monsters or so she was told. “Oh, um, no?” Pluti templed her fingers. “He’s more of uh, diver, um, explorer person. We work together. He finds the pre-Change wrecks with books and stuff, then we find the boat or whatever is left of it, and I’m the one who takes all the good bits back up to the surface.”
“Ah! A marine salvager! My Henry was… in a crew of such fortune seekers… before the tides of fate brought us together.”
“Oh no,” the mershark intoned with dread. Geneve continued with her story despite Klara’s protest. Realizing she would be stuck here for another twenty some odd, long minutes, Klara excused herself. She said she wanted to find an appropriate jade gift for the strawberry merchant, but she would rather dehydrate on a beach of nails than hear Geneve’s romantic story one more time.
Short story short; Henry stumbled into shipwreck. Geneve lived in said shipwreck. Henry got caught in Tritonia’s tentacles. They’re married. Yet, despite Klara’s own concise depiction, the long winded Tritonia loved to relive the encounter with flowery words about the supernatural forces at play. She did so at the expense of her friend and neighbor who navigated back to the underwater circle of oceangoing vendors.
The jade dealing crab was alone now. Klara swam into her view, but the crab girl stiffened up as Klara approached. “Greetings.” The crab girl shifted uncomfortably in place. “I was looking to buy a gift for a human woman. Do you have any recommendations?” The crab’s eyes moved from Klara’s teeth to meet her gaze.
“A gift?” She asked.
“Yes. For Guilda, the strawberry merchant.” The crab girl’s subdued reaction masked her increased heart rate and physical unease. Klara didn’t mind. “I have plenty of Shells.” She flashed her bag’s contents. The crab girl’s eyes widen at the sight of a hundred and fifty-six Shells clacking together. She stared at Klara’s small fortune for a moment, but she realized her customer was waiting on her.
“I see.” She used her leg to pick through her wares with a jeweler’s precision. She presented Klara with two pieces. On the left was a marble of shiny jade resting in a silver ring. As the light reflected off the sphere she could make out the outline of a fish swimming just below the glassy surface.
The other is an onyx wristband with streaks of jade circling around it. Klara’s attention was grabbed by her reflection in the sheen of the wristband. “Wow, these are both beautiful. You made these?”
The crab girl nodded. “I did. Thank you.” She motioned to the ring. “I believe this will please Guilda. She is a frequent customer of mine. She had her eyes on this piece for some time.”
“Oh, that makes my life easier. How much is it?”
The crab girl then gestures to the other piece.”I believe 20 Shells will suffice for both.”
“Both? Only 20?” Her bag cost 20 Shells. The wedding band Robert purchased for her was a handsome 60 Shells.
“I want to apologize,” she said at a murmur. “I assumed the worst about you.”
“No, no. You aren’t the first or the last. I would prefer to pay for both.” Klara produced forty Shells. “I dislike taking charity.” The large pincher of the crab girl scratched her head as she weighed some invisible scale. She took Klara’s offer.
“Thank you. Have a pleasant day.”
Klara hummed as she left the underwater circle with her new bracelet and gift. Geneve and Pluti were still wading near the pineapple stand. The eel girl noticed her approach and pointed to her. The jagged scar on her left arm caught Klara’s eye again. She surfaced next to her neighbor. “I bought the trinket,” Klara stated as she flashed her own bracelet up. “And something for myself.”
“My, my… I love it,” Geneve commented as her finger traced the onyx surface. “It compliments your… natural color. So… dark.”
“Yes, it looks nice,” Pluti mouthed. She held her hands near her chest.
Klara showed them the ring. She could appreciate the color more in the sunlight. The engraved fish was outlined clearly now. She didn’t like the silver ring though. The way it drew her eye would distract her as she hunted.
“You don’t mind if I tag along?” The eel girl asked. She just finished the remainder of her lunch.
“I don’t,” Klara offered. “Especially if you help me out.”
“I would… be delighted,” Geneve said as she wrapped her arm around their new companion. Klara watched as Geneve’s back tentacles joyfully twisted, squirmed, and caressed Pluti’s back. The eel girl giggled as she blushed fiercely under the attention.
“Your hair feels… so nice.” Geneve played with the matte black locks opposite of her. The way the Tritonian sunk into the eel girl’s side reminded Klara of a starfish engulfing its prey.
“C’mon, let’s get the other stuff.” Klara swam to Pluti’s side as well. “I’m counting on you.” She offered Pluti an eager thumbs up.
The trio drifted towards Guilda’s stall and a new pair of nerieds discussing monsterization with the human woman. “… and we took a little vacation on a deserted island. Come on Guilda, we miss you. Why not take a dip with us and see what it’s like?” The neried in a blush-red shorts and top said.
“Oh, you’re too kind,” Guilda said with an air of annoyance, but her professional smile never cracked. The others couldn’t feel the disdain dripping from her words, but it slapped Klara like a wave. “You mean well, I’m sure, but I have other customers waiting.” She gestures to me. “Perhaps we can discuss this another time Helena, Kighly.”
The speaking neried clicked her tongue behind her teeth. “Sure, of course love.” She sighed, and slipped down to her neck in water. She glared at the Oceanfolk as she and her friend passed. Their heart rate was high. Klara could not help but hear the other whisper “She’ll join us. One way or another Guilda will see what’s she’s missing.”
An ugly laugh murmured up from the water as the Nerieds left. Klara was wary of monsters that were once human. Changing a human into a monster changed the human fundamentally. Becoming a monster was not a choice to be made lightly, or forced onto another. The way they spoke gave her the creeps from fin to fin.
“Ahem,” coughed an agitated fruit vendor. “What you want, scales?” Klara snapped to attention.
“I- I want fruit!” Klara squawked. “I mean, to buy fruit. For my husband.”
Guilda shifted her weight back onto her feet. “Aren’t you the one that was talking to that Phinneas?” She tapped her fingers on her kneecaps as she stared with fresh intensity. “I ain’t got time for his shit. I’m not interested.”
Geneve and Pluti surfaced adjacent to Klara. “I… think you have the wrong… idea miss. We were… simply directed to acquire… fresh produce for my friend here.” The Tritonian’s easy smile pierces through Guilda’s suspicion.
“I’m just tagging along,” Pluti added.
“Here, for you.” Klara set the silver ring in front of the kneeling woman.
“I ain’t touching it.” She scoffed. “I’ve seen cursed items before. I don’t take things from monsters, ya know. Shells only.”
“Oh, but it’s a gift. The man said you might-“
“Ah, what she means… is we intended to barter… but it seems you are not interested.”
“Oh, well,” Guilda said. She took a breath. “You bought this today?”
“We procured it with… my friend’s own bracelet.”
Guilda eyed the silver ring cautiously. She must have spied the fish in the jade because her demeanor eased up. Shoulders fall back, facial muscles unwind, and Guilda’s weight shifted back, the merchant’s hand moved over her produce and fished out of a bright yellow banana. It was a fruit Klara was familiar with, a popular treat to fry on a certain island she visited from time to time. She pointed the stem at Klara, then gave her own predatory smile.
“Perfect,” Klara nodded.
Guilda showed the Oceanfolk her other wares: ugly, red, bulging tongues with black specks she called strawberries. The merchant explains how the strawberries are a succulent treat and offered to let them try. Klara declined, stating she was a strict carnivore, but Geneve and Pluti took half a piece each in her stead. When Guilda bisect the tongue, blood like juice dripped to the earth, and despite the unappetizing smell, the sight had Klara licking her chops.
Geneve’s body shuddered as she took a bite and she stifled a little moan. The Tritonia woman was omnivorous. She liked fruits foremost, but she also enjoyed shellfish and idiodine rich eyes. Pluti was a little more restrained, but Klara’s ears caught the sound of a swishing tail somewhere below the water.
“Listen, you lot seem alright.” She slipped a bushel of bananas into a waterproof bag. Guilda sighed.
“We appreciate… your candor.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it.”
“It’s just,” she ran a palm down her face, “that Phinneas is a prick. I fucking hate him.”
“Did he… do something to hurt you?” Geneve’s soothing and soft voice carried no farther than Klara’s ears.
“No, no,” she lied. It was an obvious one, perhaps even surprising Guilda. She concealed a glance towards the green vested Highlander. “He’s a fucking asshole. Gets under my skin.”
Klara was about to speak, but Geneve got in front of her. “I see. We… appreciate your time. We shall take our leave.” Geneve bowed slightly. Guilda gave a curt wave and sat down next to her produce. Exhausted, the human woman slunk back and savored the moment’s peace. Klara read a spark of relief on her face. She followed her friend’s lead and retreated back into the market’s busy circle.
“Hey, Geneve, what’s the deal?” Klara asked. She only felt something was off, but her friend’s sudden departure left Klara more uncertain of her read on the situation. Pluti was just behind Klara’s dorsal fin. “What about Phinneas? She avoided answering questions about him,” Klara retorted. She didn’t read much into the Nerieds’ comment, but Geneve looked doubly concerned. She trusted Geneve’s judgment and stuffed her concerns in a mental compartment for later.
“I think… it’s best to leave Guilda be… for now.” Geneve smiled past Klara to their friend. “Pluti, dear, do you know who those two Neierds were from before.”
“Eh, a little. They hang out at the market when it’s busy, but I haven’t a clue where they live.”
“I suspect those two intend to force… Ms. Guilda to Change.” Geneve grimaced.
“Is that bad?” Pluti asked free of malice.
“Yes,” Klara responded. “I have seen what such callousness entails.
Klara simply explained what had happened. She was no verbose storyteller, rather stating the facts of her tale like a deckhand lists off a shipping document. “It was six years ago, before I met my husband or Geneve, when I was traveling north along the coast to the Highland territories. I happened upon a coastal town populated by amphibious lizard women and their mates. It was built upon an outcropping of rock above the tide, while they had smaller, undersea dens for their waterborne young.
They allowed me to stay with them for the night. I was given an empty den. They must not have realized how potent a mershark’s nose is, otherwise they would’ve found somewhere else for me. The small den reeked of landwalker blood. I only thought to ask if someone had drowned nearby.
They lied. A mershark is sensitive to lies, and when I put my nose to it, I can sniff out any falsehood.” Pluti awed at the claim to Klara’s embarrassment. “Ahem, anyway,” she choked out before continuing, “the lizard women carried trace scents to faint for any normal nose. I chose to follow them when they left.
I tailed the lizard women’s scent to a cave secluded from the village and any passersby. The smell of landwalkers came out.” She paused. Geneve heard the story before, but the details were disturbing nonetheless. Klara thought to spare the younger eel girl the grislier details. What she found scared her. Human women, tied up, caged, bound in manacles, and more, all kept there against their will as the lizards sought to bring them into the village’s fold. The victims were in various states of the Change, with those closest to completion in a state of shock and near inconsolable, and the others at various stages of instability. The hellish scene disturbed her to her core and thought to tear out the throats of the while damned village. Klara bottled up the bile in her soul, and continued.
“I summoned a Sea Bishop to the village and the secret cave. She was upset. I followed her as she confronted the village leaders. Evil, is what she called them. The three Goddesses of the Sea demanded retribution for the pain they caused. I was asked to assist in caring for the worst afflicted, taking them to an undersea hospital while the Sea Bishop was to gather others for the offenders’ judgement.
At the hospital, I learned what happens when you forcibly commit the Change on a human and screw it up. The poor humans’ souls are damaged with their bodies left in an incomplete state as their human and monster halves go to war. It will kill them if they go untreated, and even then, most don’t recover.”
“That’s horrible…” Pluti scanned Klara’s face. “How could monsters do such a thing?”
Geneve cut in. Her gentle smile radiated a calm that embraced Klara’s conflicted heart, and the Tritonian’s honeyed voice smoothed over the confusion. “The Change… was a weapon. The Succubus Queen sought to turn humanity to monster kind as she had turned monster kind closer to humans and achieve peace her way, but the results… were not what she intended. Rather… monsters and humans were… brought together by a renewed push for… peace. Changing humans was strongly discouraged among monsters, although the impulse remains for some…”
“It’s also how we can get human husbands for ourselves,” Klara added as the thought struck her. “Robert and Henry both went through a small Change so we could get married.”
An awkward silence passed between the two married Oceanfolk. Both recalled the ceremony at the mention of marriage. Klara coerced her husband into a proper ceremony. She wildly fucked him like a monster should: in front of the wedding reception and her few close friends, but the thought of the silly dress Robert requested she wear still embarrassed her. An arachne friend of his water proofed the white dress used in human weddings. It was large, ungainly and impractical and in it, she felt like a newborn pup swimming blind.
Geneve was surprised by Henry’s forwardness on their wedding day, as well as the start of his exhibitionist streak during the ceremony at which Klara attended. She had drunk so much she had to be reminded of all the much too personal details she shared between the two couples. Geneve motioned to dust herself off.
“I doubt they will act today. The Coral Market is packed to the gills.”
“True. Could you… investigate… them Klara. I would like a moment to speak with our friend.”
Klara swam back to the entrance of the market. The two Nerieds were scoping out a fish vendor’s stock. The passing malicious intent she felt before was far and faded now. She watched them swim out the exit and back into the wider ocean. Klara doubled back.
“Good… I have asked Pluti… to keep an eye on Guilda… for the time being.”
The eel girl nodded. “I never met a Paladin before,” she meekly said. She couldn’t meet Klara’s gaze.
Klara frowned at Geneve. “Yes, but please, do not call me that.”
After helping at the hospital, Sea Bishops would call upon Klara to help mediate conflicts between monsters or investigate other wrong doings. She retired after stopping her pirate husband’s crew and took Robert as her prize. Her marriage was paid for by the Goddesses’ temple and granted a hefty Shell pension as compensation for her deeds in the faith’s name. She did not want to advertise her title, nor affect whatever reputation being a Paladin afforded.
“Geneve explained. I’ll help however I can.”
“We can’t ignore their threat. Do you mind following Guilda home today?”
“Of course. I’ll be quiet about it too.”
“Thank you… Pluti.”
“As for Phinneas?”
“He is strange.” Geneve drifted ahead, then down. “It would be suspicious if we started… asking questions. Word… would get back to Guilda and offend.”
“I’ll speak to a few friends.” Klara could consult the local priestess, maybe some of Robert’s old crew, and other sources a degree removed from the Market. “We will have to come back.” She grinned and shone her sharp teeth to Pluti. “Which means we’ll need our fruit friend to show us around.”
“I… oh, we’re friends? I… thank you.” Pluti blushed and wound her lower around her to hide her embarrassment.
“If you suspect anything is wrong, go to Bishop Fortuna.” The Sea Bishop Fortuna was the younger sister of Klara’s handler, as well as the one who inspired her trip to the Coral Market. “She’s a friend too. Just mention me and it should work out.”
The day was winding down, the schools of Oceanfolk and the merchants both above and below the water packed up and retired to their abodes. The three women busied themselves with small talk and window shopping until sun dyed the horizons a red and pink. Klara and Geneve said their goodbyes; Klara gave a reserved bow, while Geneve smothered Pluti in another full bodied hug. They turned to the underwater exit, groceries in hand, and rejoined the greater sea. Klara felt Geneve’s matronly presence just behind her. Her concern was palpable.
“I am okay.”
“Are you? It’s not… too late to seek help.”
“No,” Klara quickly countered. “A quiet approach is needed. The more people involved, the harder it is to act.”
“Certainly… you would know best.” Geneve was smiling. “What shall we tell our beloved then? I… would prefer to have our… story straight.”
“Paladin stuff,” Klara replied. She was uncertain what the Tritonia intended. “There is no need to hide the truth.”
“Oh, pardon me… I was expecting you to be hesitant over exiting retirement.”
“No? I mean, it was nice living the married life, but there are people in danger. I am sure Robert will understand.”
“With those fruits I’m sure he will…”
“Right. I hope he likes them. I was getting nervous about that.”
“You don’t so much as blink… when it… comes to Paladin work, but you swoon… like a seasick merrow when it comes to romance.” A practiced, courteous laugh escaped the Tritonia. “He will love it. I am certain.”
“I-” Klara growled at her friends prodding. “You told Pluti who I was, but what about you Madame Geneve, Scourge of Laffety Coast?”
“The Tritonia legend who sunk a merchant fleet single handedly when they refused to pay off her bribe? Pluti would love to hear how the mershark Paladin defeated such a terrifying foe.”
“Aw, sweetie, you haven’t tamed me yet. I just… enjoy the excitement that follows you.”