“Intro to Archaeology proved as boring as ever, and I slept through another lecture, something about Aboriginal cultures and that sort of nonsense. It was fairly obvious the professor had never been to Australia, had no interest in the material he was teaching, which is something I actually have in common with him. I drifted off in the middle of the class and Glaucus told me he threw a book at me to wake me up, and if not for the red mark on my face I’d assume he made it up. When the class finally ended I don’t think I ever ran faster than I did then to get out, and I’ve been a wolf before. Outside the sun was shining, and some bird was chattering obnoxiously, it was probably the one that lands on me after I change.
After wards in the hall Glaucus rambled on to me something about being more alert in class, and to remember my karma. I told the fish boy to make sure he drank his elixir and left him mid speech. Exhaling deeply and rolling up my worn-out sleeves I left -whatever class that was- around four, because I needed some real sleep. On the way back, to my house I avoided the football players, and the flea mart- my last adventures with them were still rather fresh in my mind, and turning into a giant mammal and having to hide for a week didn’t appeal to me currently. Seeing the Donkey and Elephant signs—I went around the political debate group on the lawn, and then passed the angry preacher’s stand, after letting him telling me I was going to hell I received one of his handouts and went on my way.
“Stupid boy!” A harsh elderly voice screeched behind me, completely shattering my reverie. I turned when I heard the voice. But no one was there. Even so I was creeped right the heck out, so I picked up my speed. On the field in front of our house I heard that voice again, was it my professor? I turned around not to see a man, but a small light brown object hurtling in the air. I ducked as it flew by—it looked like a boomerang. “Not again!” I yelled, and hightailed it out of there, a bout 25 yards from my doorstep I felt something hit my leg, and I tripped, landing in a heap. Getting back up I looked again for my assailant, seeing a figure move closer and hearing a rustling in the grass, I demanded to know who it was and why they were following me.
He didn’t answer; he just laughed and walked away. “He’s just a sociopath,” I mumbled as I stood up. I searched around for my iPod, I happened upon the boomerang. It glowed as I approached it, before I could even run away; I heard a rip and a tug on my spine… “Aww shit” I blurted. Almost immediately the tail growth was followed by my ears perking up, as if they were crawling up the side of my head, which they were. After they changed into sound amplifiers the fur came, spreading across my body like wildfire, lighter on the underside, and darker elsewhere. My hands grew pads on the undersides and became clawed.
“It’s just not my day.” I said as my jaws contorted and grew into a kangaroo snout. My changing physique did a number on my jacket and shirt, having muscles was always fun, but not when they were furred and clothing wreckers. Legs reshaped, and my feet burst out of my shoes- resulting in me falling back on my ass. I think I had almost gone a week without a transformation into some pseudo animal and my record got smashed with an old ‘favorite’. I picked up the boomerang, I was fairly sure this is the one that changed me all those years ago and as my transformation finished, I stood back up. I was used to walking like this so adjusting to digitigrade movement wasn’t so hard. Gathering up my tattered clothing and pulling my butchered shoes off of my feet I hopped on home. I found my iPod and turned it on, walking in I dumped my clothing scraps in the “tailoring nightmare” basket Relana was nice enough to give me for Christmas last year. Heading to my room, I was still getting that nap. It as just going to last longer and if any of my roommates tried to wake me up they were getting a nasty kick.” -------------
That’s a remake. The line work was from June, I just finished it Saturday. I’ve been doing mostly sketches and school art, but this took priority when I visited home last weekend and did the colors in about an hour and a half. I’ve seen a lot of Kangaroo tfs proliferate recently, and a bunch of them were very influential in the remake. I usually don’t write tfs in the first person but Kejital hasn’t been talking much lately so I let him complain first-person. And yes he’s not so much surprised as he is pissed off; non-discrimination policies only apply to humans in universities.
New watermark also, this is a test run for it mostly, I may be replacing it with something new in the coming days but I’m sick of the floating “A” and the Greek text.
The knife shook in his hand. The granite eyes carved and still a moment ago exploded into alien life. They shook, glowing blue, a glow that soon expanded to encompass the entire tool.
In shock he dropped the item, but the blue glow leapt from the relic, and struck him in the arm. The blue bolt whirled itself into a vortex of incandescent energy which quickly enveloped him. Where the energy touched him, fur grew thick. Fingers fused, and toes grew and meshed into flippers.
The knife drifted down. His face also covered with fur and pushed out into a snout. Legs combined as hair covered them, becoming a tail, ending in a powerful tailfin. His shorts shredded as his body changed, and human understandings of modesty forced him to blush. The seal-man could feel new sensations, but questions welled up within him.
What was he? Why did the knife change him? But as he dove to retrieve the knife, he remembered the surface. He could hold his breath, but not indefinitely. The sea called and somehow, he knew he belonged in it now.
----------------------- The sea doesn't suffer its treasures to be stolen, and trying to take a cursed knife sealed his fate. Though I may put up another sketch or so, this is my last finished piece before I shove-off across the lake. Later guys
"Aye," said Cap'n Barnes, the old-time sea dog, taking a deep drag from his pipe, "the HMS Orca was a cursed ship, cursed as they come."
Cap'n Barnes was speaking to a huddled group of sailors, divers, longshoremen, and wannabes in the Seabee's Hive Bar down on the Riverport wharf. The wharf and waterfront had been redeveloped as a tourist destination, meaning that there was a Banana Republic on one side and a Hot Topic on the other, and actual boats had to tie up half a mile away, lest the sight of their splintered planks and the scent of their fishy cargo scare away the well-heeled tourists Riverport was so desperate to attract. But Cap'n Barnes—a harmless nickname, as he had retired an admiral—knew it was still a place where a receptive audience for his stories might be found.
"Aye, it pulled into this very port in 1765 laden with treasure, the likes of which hadn't been seen by mortals since Prometheus brought fire to them so they could see gold in the dark," Barnes continued. "Some say that the skipper had found Atlantis. Others say that he raided the ship that found Atlantis. Still others say it was just a heap of gold he threw together. But it all went down when the Orca was holed by a pod of killer whales just off the coast, near Deadman's Bar, never to be seen again."
Phil Adler, ever alert for tales of treasure or the scent of gold, was one in the circle of Riverport waterfront characters listening to Cap'n Barnes' tale. His lids were heavy, and his auburn hair was plastered across his pale forehead in the unbearable summer heat of the Seabee's Hive Bar. Barnes had been going on for hours every day, days every week. But people whispered about him, and the scent of gold was as thick about the old sea dog as the scent of rum.
"So what's the point of all this, Cap'n?" Phil asked. A few of the other listeners took up the cry. "What's the HMS Orca and its gold got to do with anything?"
"Yeah," said Sandy Donmace, another hanger-on and sometime treasure-seeker. "What Phil said, only with a bit more flair."
Phil glared at Sandy. Ever since the latter had gotten the jump on him and salvaged $1000 worth of copper wire from a sunken methamphetamine trade barge, Phil and Sandy had had it in for one another as treasure hunters.
"Pics or it didn't happen," added another regular of the Hive, Cleo Artap. She was on slightly better terms with Phil, though he didn't trust her as far as he could throw her after hearing stories of how she'd cut the rudder of a competing treasure hunter to secure salvage rights to a sunken yacht.
"Are ye daft, woman?" Cap'n Barnes exclaimed. "Ain't no pictures from back in the mists o' time…"
"So you're just hoping for one of us to buy you a drink in exchange for your long-winded tales?" questioned Phil. Honestly though, he was already reaching for his wallet to buy the old sea dog a drink—tales of treasure were almost as good as actual treasure in his book, and he considered Barnes a friend.
"Mere tales, eh, is that all they be?" Cap'n Barnes fished around in his pockets and produced something that he slapped to the table. "Gaze yer eyes on that, y'landlubbers, and tell me again how I'm naught but a teller o' tall tales."
Spinning on the table was a shiny gold coin of unknown manufacture, roughly doubloon size, with the imprint of an orca upon it.
The Hive was silent for a moment as the gold sat there and glittered enticingly. Phil's hand twitched, and it took every ounce of willpower he had not to immediately snatch it and scuttle, laughing, for the door.
"What...?" Sandy stuttered.
"How...?" Cleo clamored.
"Where...?" Phil posited.
"Oh, I see how it is now," said Cap'n Barnes. He snatched the gold piece and secreted it in the same deep inner pouch from which he had removed it. "Old Cap'n Barnes is just a barmy old salty sea dog until there's gold a-flashin' on the table. Then it's all different! Then he's the center of attention, he is!"
"Well," Phil said, trying all at once to be diplomatic, kind, and to hide his intense desire for the gold. "You did say that the HMS Orca took its treasure to the bottom never to be seen again. Seeing it again so soon after that is a little shocking."
Cleo slapped her hand on the table. "Can the act, old man. Where did you get the gold? I'll buy it from you at the going rate, right here, right now."
"I'll double her offer," snapped Sandy. "And you can have my parrot. I know how much you dockland barflies like parrots."
"Bah!" cried Cap'n Barnes, waving a dismissive hand at his audience. "Do you think I'd be in this dive sucking down Davy Jones Grog Lite™ if I had the whole treasure chest of the Orca in the folds 'o me trousers? Nar, nar. I found this fine doubloon on the beach yesterday during me weekly comb for beach glass and driftwood. Make lamps out of 'em to sell to tourists, ye know—the true treasure of Riverport. If I had to make a guess, I'd say the squall we had last week uncovered the wreck o' the Orca and laid its treasures bare for the taking."
Phil shuddered at the mention of the word "squall." Hurricane Grampus had hit Riverport as hard as Grampus Adler used to hit his old Cadillac when it wouldn't start. And, like Grampus Adler's Caddy, Riverport was thoroughly dented, rusted, slow to get going, and fast only when going downhill. It had been a miracle that his beloved treasure-hunting boat, the MV Griffin, hadn't been damaged—the storm had reached as far inland up the river as Phil had taken it.
Cleo and Sandy sat quietly around Cap'n Barnes, letting his words sink in, as Phil went through the same calculus in his auburn head: there was a treasure out there, gold coins as real as the one Cap'n Barnes had schlepped onto the countertop, and by the laws of salvage and the sea, they were free for the taking!
"You'll have to...excuse me," said Sandy. "I think I left a...food...in the...place...on my...raft."
"Yes," said Cleo, glancing at the others. "I also must go. My...engine...is probably still...engine-ing. I must...deactivate...it to save on...engine juice."
Phil nervously tapped the countertop, keeping a keen eye on Sandy, Cleo, and all the others. "The Griffin has a...football game...this afternoon," he said in turn. "I must go to...support...her in all of the...scoremaking."
The would-be treasure hunters were still and silent for a moment. Then, in a crashing, cursing cacophony, they scrambled toward the front door, sticking stodgily in it for a moment before popping free and rushing toward their respective boats.
Cap'n Barnes watched them go before slowly rising and loping to the Hive's front door. Chuckling, he pulled the cetacean-stamped coin from his pocket and flipped it with a smile.
"Cubby!" Phil cried, sprinting toward the ramshackle dock where the MV Griffin was tied up. "Cubby! This is it! This is the big one! Gold! Doubloons! Treasure! Cast off! Raise anchor! Smile, you sonofabitch!"
The Griffin was empty and silent, responding to none of Phil's hastily shouted orders. Where Cubby would usually have been lounging, there was only a note taped to the cabin door: "Gone to Riverport Renaissance Faire. Jousting 'til 11pm. Back after victory, death. –Cubby."
"Renaissance Faires…" Phil grumbled, crumpling up the note, "my old arch-nemeses." Undeterred, he made ready to sail by himself—casting off the lines, hauling in the bumpers, and stirring the Griffin's greedy gulping diesel engines to coughing, sputtering life. Clambering up to the wheel, he steered the vessel out toward Deadman's Bar, where he could already see Cleo's and Sandy's boats making full diesel steam.
Deadman's Bar wasn't especially treacherous, being about 30-50 yards deep—its name actually came from Jean-Paul Deadman, its discoverer. But even as he chugged up in the Griffin, the greedy gold-glint in Phil's eyes already had him scheming up ways to even the odds. To that end, he anchored his boat on the far end of the bar, stripped off everything but his diving skivvies, and threw on a snorkel and dive pack.
Diving in, Phil swum confidently and fluidly with cetacean grace—as a semi-experienced semi-treasure-hunter and diver, he knew his way around a regulator—toward the nearest vessel. It was Sandy's boat, the MV Chimera. Larger and therefore slower than Phil's beloved Griffin, it did have a few things that the smaller boat lacked, like a crew and lifeboats and a fresh coat of paint and a towed sonar array metal detector. Sandy tended to rely on the latter for his finds, at least when there was no darkness to cower under in order to steal salvage from smaller operators.
As the Chimera made a lazy turn over the edge of Deadman's Bar, Phil grabbed the towed sonar array and held on. Fumbling through his dive pack, Phil found what he was looking for: a dive knife. With a swift stroke, he severed the tow cable. The array, without the momentum to keep it afloat, quickly sank to the sandy bottom, now a treasure in its own right for generations hence. To keep Sandy and his crew from noticing more than a blip in input from the sunken buoy, Phil pulled the second item out of his dive pack: a battery-powered cymbal-banging monkey toy. He deftly spliced its waterproof circuits with those of the towline before letting go.
Surfacing and quietly swimming back in the direction of the Griffin, Phil could hear Sandy barking orders aboard the Chimera. "This is it, boys! Drop anchor! We're getting a strong and consistent set of pulses from down below! Gold and booty ahoy!"
Phil clambered back aboard his own beloved boat and chugged the engine anew. With Sandy safely chasing his own tail, there was only really Cleo to contend with—all the other would-be treasure hunters simply didn't have the equipment, the gumption, or the cheating hearts needed to compete for real gold.
Cleo's vessel, the MV Manticore, was quite a ways behind Sandy's, as if it had made a stop or otherwise been waylaid before casting off. Leaving the Griffin where it was, at anchor on the edge of the sandbar, Phil snorkeled over to see why that was.
The Manticore was smaller than Sandy's ship, with just a bog-standard metal detector for treasure hunting. But as Phil hauled himself up her gunwales with his strong, wiry arms, he saw why Cleo had been late in arriving...and why she stood to win the whole thing.
Cap'n Barnes himself was seated at the metal detector, watched over by Cleo. The latter was brandishing a flare gun, holding it sideways like a bright orange gat from the hood and peppering the old sea dog with questions about where, when, and how he had found the gold.
"I'm telling ye, I found the coin on the beach! Combing the beach!" Cap'n Barnes shouted. "I've no more idea where the treasure be out here than ye!"
"Lies! Lies told by a lying liar!" Cleo snapped. "You're going to sit there and run that metal detector until I find the gold, unless you want me to use this flare gun to light up your life!"
Phil edged closer along the gunwale, creeping up behind Cleo. She had her back to the sea, concentrating solely on trying to intimidate the old dog before her. So when Phil reared up and yanked her backwards over the side, she went down like a ninepin, splashing and sputtering as her flare misfired with a resounding phutt.
"Hey, Cap'n Barnes," Phil said, peeking over the side of the Manticore, "I need someone to run my metal detector for a half share of the gold. Interested?"
"Hmph," said Cap'n Barnes. "At least ye have the courtesy to ask. Just a second, lubber." The old seaman pulled a knife out of his boot, using it to cut the power supply of Cleo's metal detector and the fuel lines of her engine. That done, he kicked the Manticore's emergency inflatable dinghy overboard and jumped into it once it was fully blown up.
A few minutes later, the MV Griffin was cruising along at full speed, with Cap'n Barnes at the detector and Phil at the helm. Cap'n Barnes' protests earlier notwithstanding, he seemed to quickly lead the metal detector and the boat to which it was attached to a promising spot on the seabed, eliciting an excited reaction from the skipper.
"This is it!" Phil cried, hurrying to get his regulator and tank on. "We've found it!"
Indeed, the MV Griffin's metal detector was beeping like the keynote at a Morse code convention. And with the other treasure hunters out of the way, it was a straight shot to the bottom.
"You coming?” asked Phil to Cap'n Barnes at the wheel. "It is your treasure after all, in a manner of speaking."
"Nar, nar," said Barnes, with an unusual tone of humility. "Tis yer boat, tis yer treasure. I'll be up here afore the mast in case anything goes Davy Jones."
Nodding, Phil suited up. The wetsuit was custom-made in his lucky colors, green and white, with the MV Griffin's hull logo on the shoulder. It looked smart, and more importantly, it kept sticky-fingered tourists from helping themselves to a free wetsuit. It took a few moments to tighten the straps, wriggle into the flippers, get the goggles on nice and tight, and add the air tank and regulator. The rig also allowed Phil to stay in contact with the surface with the suit’s built-in microphone and earpiece. He didn't bother to tuck in his auburn hair, such was his haste.
Then it was over the side and down.
Deadman's Bar was clear and warm as he descended, the soft sandy bottom well-lit from above and fronds of kelp and seaweed swaying gently in the tide.
"Yer on the scope, laddie," said Cap'n Barnes in Phil's ear. "Should be doubloons aplenty straight ahead."
Sure enough, as Phil gently paddled through the water, he began seeing telltale signs of a shipwreck. Wooden spars, like the ribs of a dead sea animal, carved columns of a strange design. By the time he saw the figurehead of a killer whale mermaid, it was clear that he was in what had been the cargo hold of the HMS Orca.
And there, in between mysteriously flowing carved columns and the ribs of the shattered hull…was a treasure chest. Gold glinted all about the broken lock, while the newly unearthed lid bobbed listlessly like an aquarium toy.
"This is it!" Phil cried. "I found it! A whole chest of gold!"
"Aye? I knew you could do it."
Throwing back the lid, Phil saw dozens, nay, hundreds of solid gold coins with their stamped cetaceans. But there was a far greater treasure in store—atop the gold was a fantastic piece that seemed to capture the sunlight falling upon it and scatter it as blue incandescence. It was an orca, carved from a single chunk of crystal, with workmanship so fine that Phil could scarcely believe his eyes.
"It's beautiful," he whispered. Pulling it out and holding it up, he saw that it was actually a pendant. A fine golden chain ran through a small hole in the crystal orca's head. So much the better—Phil could throw it around his neck and have his hands free to fill with sunken treasure.
He placed it around his neck, carefully threading it under his regulator and air hose.
"You're not going to believe what I found, Cap'n," he radioed.
"What's that, lad?"
"I…I…HUUURK!" Phil's response was cut off by a sudden feeling of squeezing, almost like an asthma attack. A gorilla was sitting on his chest, daring him to breathe, and it felt as if someone had clamped a vise to every joint and inch of cartilage he possessed and began turning them in unison.
"Yar, lad, I didn't copy any o' that. Say again?" Cap'n Barnes' voice was strangely distant in Phil's earpiece.
Doubled over in pain, Phil looked down at where the sensations seemed the strongest: the firm straps on his elbows and knees and across his midriff to hold the air tank on. To his surprise, he saw—and heard, through the conductive medium of seawater—the straps stretching and straining as the thin coating of his wetsuit bulged on either side of them. The same was true of his chest, which if anything was worse.
His suit wasn't getting smaller—Phil was getting bigger.
"What's…happening…to…me?!?" he croaked. His mouth felt odd too, his gums, teeth, and tongue suddenly aflame and pressing very close on what was already a very tight regulator seal.
"Oh, it's nothing, lad," said Cap'n Barnes through the earpiece. "A fine treasure like that's liable to change a fellow, change his outlook."
Soon, the bulging was too much for the suit to take—the first hole appeared on Phil's forearm, the water suddenly and oddly cold against his skin. Another hole appeared across his belly, widening as it did, leaving warped and irregular tears in the parted wetsuit. But the strangest pain was near Phil's rear, where a mound of quivering PVC was building up around his coccyx.
"But I think ye will find that ye are not so different now than ye once were, laddie."
Phil's hands were swelling in their gloves before his eyes, with what looked like needlepoints pressing in sharp relief against the taut and flexible fabric. In a moment, those same points burst through, revealing that his fingernails had stopped being flat, pink nails within their latex cocoons—they were now claws, thick and darkening, atop fingers swelling like pork sausages. As the gloves peeled away, Phil saw that webbing was building up between his new, large, trembling digits, even as his pinkies glommed onto their neighbors and refused to let go until they were absorbed.
"C-claws?" Phil choked out the words through a tongue that suddenly seemed to take up his whole mouth.
"Nay, lad, it's no cause for alarm. Best ye do yer best to stay comfortable in yer own skin."
The most bizarre metamorphosis was Phil's skin itself, now poking through a dozen tears in his suit. Rather pale when he had poured it into the gear, he was shocked to see its tone changing rapidly to a light grey. What's more, he was shaken by the unreal sight of his skin's consistency changing to something almost as rubbery as his shredding suit.
"Keep yer head," Cap'n Barnes was continuing, "and ye'll be fine."
Phil felt his noggin aching with changes. His auburn hair prickled and itched under the dive suit, the follicles jealously beginning to yank it back into his scalp in the name of streamlined smoothness. Sound seemed to rush toward him, clearer than it had ever been, even as Phil's ears started shriveling and shrinking to nothing. His vision swam as his eyes—growing further apart—and his skull—just flat-out growing, period—caused the mask to dig painfully into his darkening skin. Dentists in a ten-mile radius cringed unbidden as Phil felt his mouth not only widening, but audibly crackling, filled with teeth caught between the flat ivories they had once been and the sharp cone-shaped blades they were becoming.
A sharp pain at the back of Phil's neck revealed its cause when that part of his suit popped wetly open, revealing a dorsal bump that was growing faster than any other part of his form.
"NGRRAHH!" Phil cried, unable to articulate the painful situation any better.
"Say again, lad? Yer breakin' up," said Cap'n Barnes through the communicator's earpiece.
The transmission wasn't the only thing breaking up. Phil's left flipper, being made of less flexible materials than his wetsuit, burst a contact-welded seam, releasing toes that were in the final stages of merging from five to three. Thick membranes were growing in the spaces in between, and the nails were but hard black claws.
It was like an evolutionary throwback, a glimpse through time at what cetacean limbs were like before they were lost in favor of flippers or faded away altogether. Phil probably would have been fascinated by the evolutionary and morphological implications of his new appendage had the rest of his stubborn wetsuit not been squeezing at him like a vise to contain the explosive growth brought on by the pendant.
Seconds later, swelling decisively overcame squeezing. The suit went to pieces in a dozen places at once, revealing a domed forehead already slickly grey and mostly denuded of auburn, save for a few wilting tufts. The fleshy hump at his rear, now free from the rubbery remnants of Phil's wetsuit, the great bulge at the base of his spine, ballooned thrashingly outward, longer and thicker at each moment. The unmistakable beginnings of cetacean flukes appeared as a pair of soft nubs at the tail end of Phil's new tail.
"T-tail!" Phil cried, the words coming out all wrong. This was the last straw for his regulator, which finally wriggled free and clear. Phil had time for one last deep breath, which to his surprise emptied the tank. He heard the beeping warning for low O2 in his mask, which was still hanging on.
"Nay, nay. None o' the others are tailin' us, lad," Cap'n Barnes said. "Yer free and clear."
The taut straps holding the remnants of Phil's dive suit to his changing form had finally had enough. The one across his chest parted first, leaving his tank connected only by the air hoses still entangled with their owner. The knee straps, with flesh pouring out on either side, were the next to snap with gunshot-like reports. Those on his elbow held out longest, until his changing musculature made them simply disintegrate. As the last warped bits of torn rubber fell away, Phil felt his body rapidly growing longer and heavier. His eyes grew further apart still on either side of an ever-widening snout over a now-gaping toothed maw. His neck thickened to near-nonexistence as the miniature dorsal fin sped out to its full growth in a mad dash. His five fingers were now four thick and fleshy digits, like blubbery clawed gloves to replace the ones he'd shed.
Though most of Phil's exposed skin had been progressing through darker shades of grey, not all the color changes were consistent. Phil saw light patches appearing on his skin where it was exposed. Some places were bucking the trend toward rubbery darkness by moving toward rubbery light—Phil's strange new palms and the bottoms of his strange new feet, a pair of dots behind his eyes, and a developing line from his chin to the tip of his rapidly de-nubbing tail—they were all bleaching to white even as the rest of him darkened, countershading for an oceanic habitat to which Phil was becoming increasingly well-adapted.
Only a few bits of the dive suit now remained to stand against Phil's new form, which was increasingly and unmistakably orca-like. His mask dug into his growing and now fully hairless head as the straps grew thinner and thinner against the pressure. The surge of rushing water that greeted his eyes was almost a relief when the mask finally popped loose and bobbed away. Phil’s thickening neck was the end of his air tank, too—it tore the lines loose in a torrent of bubbles that propelled what little air remained out into the ambient water.
The last bit of clothing that marked Phil as something that had ever been human was his other flipper, and that was not long for the world. It departed seconds later, revealing a foot that was down to only three toes, thick, but long and extremely strong and webbed. Now floating free, though with seemingly plenty of air from that last gulp, Phil writhed about in the water as his body made its final changes. His torso thickened to a vague pear shape, swimming muscles piled atop swimming muscles to make his arms and legs stubbier but stronger.
And the final touch was the nostrils on Phil's now-snout, squeezing shut and fusing into the skin. After a moment of dizziness and grinding, bone-wrenching pain as his sinuses shifted, Phil felt a pop, like his ears adjusting to altitude—it was the opening of his new blowhole, in the back of his head, which discharged a stream of bubbles to join those leaking from his discarded tank.
Floating there above a shredded pile of straps, rubber, and flippers, Phil had metamorphosed into a sort of human-orca hybrid, one that was regarding his new limbs with openmouthed shock.
"Ahoy there, lad!"
Startled, Phil fluidly spun around in the water, his mature flukes and webbed limbs adjusting his orientation easily. Cap'n Barnes, the old sea dog himself, was paddling up wearing the Griffin's reserve suit. His speech was still audible through the speaker in Phil's discarded helmet.
"Sorry for the deception, laddie," Cap'n Barnes continued, "but I knew there was a curse on this treasure, a curse that would tempt and ensnare any who looked on it. So I had ye and yer friends come out here to do me dirty work."
He hooked a towline around the chest as he spoke. Phil tried to ask a question, but all that came out was a stream of bubbles.
"Don't rightly know if it wears off, or what ye have to do to get back in the pink, as it were," laughed Barnes over the hiss of his regulator. "I suppose ye could stand to be a bit less greedy, but really, is being an orca so bad? Ye get first pick at everything now."
He was right about that. Even after Cap'n Barnes disappeared with his phat lewt, none of the other salvagers in Riverport even found so much as a rusty bolt on the ocean floor before Phil did, so long as he was an orca.