I may be past the 50,000 word mark, but the writing continues. I’m about three chapters into Part III of Maelstrom. The latest chapter is below.
Also, for those who want to be featured in the dedications section of Whiteout, the last day to donate for that reward will be Friday as we’re going to be submitting to publishers next week. You’ll still be able to get other backer rewards after that point.
Just a reminder, this is unedited, a rough draft, is the product of too much caffeine and CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WHITEOUT AND DOWNPOUR. You have been warned!
Links to previous chapters: Prologue,
8. The Library of Mysteries
The Mystic quarter was in the center of town, dominated mainly by a large cylindrical building. While the rest of Tortuga’s streets were dirty and lined with refuse, the Mystic Quarter looked almost pristine. The store fronts sported clear glass windows, showcasing oddities and antiquities that would have likely peaked the interests of finer men.
My first thought upon seeing the splendor was to rack up a considerable tab on the CIA’s card. It was a tempting notion, but ultimately I opted for self-preservation, and decided against it. If we were ever going to get back to our normal lives, pissing off the CIA anymore was likely not going to be the best plan.
Ike led us through the quarter’s main thoroughfare which was brightly lit and ended in a roundabout around the circular building he described as The Library of Mysteries. “Bit of pomp in the name if you ask me, but if its mythical creatures or gods you want to know about, likely someone in there has the answers. My friend in particular has spent the last year or so in this building, researching. Hardly ever comes out, mostly just mutters about finding the answer.”
“Sounds like the life of the party.”
“I sneak drinks to him every now and again, but the librarians are real crafty and don’t take too kindly to it.”
As we approached the building, Ike’s demeanor turned to slightly nervous. When we arrived at the doors, he shifted uncomfortably, not wanting to go in, as if the place exuded an aura that would burn him.
“Alright, what’s going on?” I asked.
“Well, funny thing is. I can’t actually go in right now,” he stammered. “I’ve got something the equivalent of a lifetime ban…”
“A lifetime ban?” exclaimed James. “When exactly were you planning on telling us that?”
“Well right now seemed good and proper.” He smiled, weakly. “Look, why don’t I help Miss Amy here find someone who can help her, and you can go on inside without me.”
“How exactly are we supposed to find your friend if you’re not there?” The building was huge. Happening upon the right man in it seemed unlikely.
“Oh he’s not that hard to find. Always hangs out in the section surrounding aquatic gods and goddesses. Hard to miss it really. Just go through the doors, walk up the spiral staircase until you reach the Deity section and you’ll find your way. Or, just ask a librarian, they’re dead helpful.”
“I thought you said they were crafty.”
“Aye, but they’re only a pain when you’re doing something you shouldn’t be. Seeing as how you’re just there to gather information, it should be fine.
There was no talking him out of the idea, that much was clear. “Well I don’t like it,” I admitted. “But you’d better help sort Amy out.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Right then,” said Amy. “I suppose this is goodbye for now. It’s been fun boys.” She reached out a hand to James who shook it, and then to me.
I tried my best to try and not think about the decomposing flesh, but barely succeeded in masking my revulsion. “It was a pleasure, Amy.”
“Right, it was a pleasure for me as well,” added Ike with a short bow, and then quickly led Amy away into the crowds.
“We sure he’s going to take care of her?” asked James.
“No, but I’m sure she can handle a drunk like him. I’d say she’s dealt with worse recently.”
With the pair of them gone, I returned my attention to the impressive building before us. Despite my thirst for knowledge, I had never liked libraries all that much. The quiet, musty air of them felt imposing, and my every natural instinct was at odds with their rules.
“Well, no time to waste then.”
The building’s entrance was made of a double set of white doors, embossed in gold. In the center of each was engraved an all-seeing eye. In my profession, the all-seeing-eye was the equivalent of a Tarantino poster on a dorm room wall. Those who really appreciated its significance weren’t the ones dumb enough to plaster it everywhere.
I walked up to the doors and pushed them open. The silence within felt as though it was swallowing the noise of the bustling streets outside. It was like stepping into the mouth of a hungry beast that had been waiting a long time for prey.
The inside of the building was just as lavishly adorned. Running around the edge was a massive spiral staircase. Along the inside edges were tall piles of books with rickety wooden ladders on gimbles leaned up against them. Several persnickety looking customers were swinging around at heights I thought to be dangerous, pulling out dusty volumes and then replacing them, disappointed.
On our right, was a long row of desks, behind which, elderly men and women in thick-rimmed glasses reviewed various books, over hooked noses. Their appearances were strikingly similar to one another, to the point where I began to wonder if the place was hiring purely for looks rather than skill.
The austerity of the place was staggering, and it was almost immediately clear that both James and I were out of our element.
“Let’s not spend any more time here than we have to,” I whispered. Even at the low volume, I felt the gaze of one of the librarians hover over me briefly, inspiring silence.
James nodded and pointed to the staircase.
Together we ascended past floors dedicated to creatures long-since extinct, battles fought before the dawn of the modern age, and various other subjects. About halfway to the top of the building, was a floor labeled “Gods, Goddesses, and Deities”. In the front were set of stacks donated entirely to the Greek and Roman gods of war. I nearly laughed to myself at the feud their proximity would have inspired, but thought better of it.
Turning off the spiral staircase, we made our way through section after section, winding around the building, looking for aquatic gods. Eventually, there was a marble entrance, flanked by two statues of muscled merpeople. One of them held a trident, likely representative in some way of Poseidon, and the other, a stick with a fat blade on the end. I was not sure what god it was meant to represent, but suspected it might have just been placed for decorative purposes.
The arch led into a long hallway, lined on either sides with impossibly high bookshelves. Each was supported throughout by massive marble pillars, and the floor had been done in sparkling blues, giving it the appearance of moving water. It was an impressive sight to behold.
At the end of the hallway, at the top of a long flight of stone steps, was a large wooden desk. At it sat a man, huddled over a pile of old parchment, tomes stacked high on both sides. The rest of the hallway was deserted. It seemed that the gods of the ocean didn’t draw much interest in such a place. As a point of fact, I found it surprising that Tortuga had a library at all, but it seemed that the town brought all types.
I looked to James who pointed at the man at the end of the hallway and mouthed: Do you think it’s him.
I mouthed a series of obscenities, followed by Of course that’s him. Quietly, so as not to disturb the man, we walked up the steps. As we got closer I got a good look at his face. Lines criss-crossed it in every direction giving the impression of extreme age. He wore thick reading glasses over clouded, blue eyes, stroking a long greying beard as he did so. If anyone was going to know about the gods, it had to be him.
We reached the edge of his desk and waited patiently for him to look up. The man did nothing, and continued to read his papers. It was unclear whether or not he was simply engrossed in his work, or ignoring us.
I looked down at the papers on the desk and saw an image of a large, crocodilian creature, depicted as swimming deep in the ocean. On another sheet was a sketch of what the creature’s inner-musculature and organ structure looked like. Other than in the time of the dinosaurs, I had never heard of such a creature existing. Most sea monsters were run of the mill Giant Squids or similar cephalopod hybrids. Occasionally there were rumors of massive dinosaur-like creatures, but I hadn’t seen much evidence.
“Excuse me,” I tried, breaking the silence. Even at a low volume, my voice echoed off the walls of the room, growing to an uncomfortable volume as it went.
Once more, the man didn’t hear it, or didn’t react to it.
“You must be really into sea monsters,” said James.
The man shuddered as if he had been struck by a lance, looking up in surprise. “Monsters? These are no monsters.” He held up the picture of the crocodilian creature and shook it, but still kept his voice at a respectful tone. “These are some of the most beautiful, intelligent creatures to ever inhabit the earth.” He scoffed and set the papers down again. “Monsters,” he said again, laughing. “Ridiculous.” Then, with nothing further, he returned to his papers.
“A friend sent us here to find you.”
The man looked up again, quizzically. “Did they now? Must be quite important if he wanted you to disturb my studies.” His voice was high and indignant.
“We’ve got a few questions about the gods of the Bermuda Triangle and Atlantis.” Saying it out loud sounded ridiculous, and the old man’s flabbergasted expression made me flush.
“Gods of the Bermuda Triangle? I don’t deal with the work of gods! I merely study the reproductive habits of their pets. If you’re looking for someone with knowledge on crackpot theories and conspiracies, I suggest you try him.” The old man pointed a bony finger to a lower corner of the hallway, where another man sat quietly reading a book by candlelight.
“Now, stop wasting my time. I’ve got important work to be doing.” He shuffled his papers, and returned to his reading.
“Eesh,” I said, turning to walk back down the stairs again.
The space in the corner was not nearly as extravagant as the one the old man inhabited. It was dim, and barely lit. As we approached, the man put the candle out that he was reading by, plunging his face into darkness.
“I’d say that’s close enough,” came a voice from the shadows. “Who are you, and what do you want with the gods?”
The voice was deep, mysterious, and yet somehow, familiar. “We’ve got some questions about the Bermuda Triangle and Atlantis,” I said, still feeling stupid as the words left my mouth.
“I think the whole library heard that,” chuckled the man. “But the question is why?”
“Long story short, James and I got pressed into servitude by the CIA, and we’ve got business there.”
“Both of you? In trouble with the CIA? That doesn’t sound like the Nick Ventner I know.” There was humor in the voice, and an all-too-familiar calm mocking.
“I don’t think I like your tone.” The words were more slurred than I would have liked, but I tried my best to put confidence behind them. I moved closer into the shadows, careful, but curious.
“Another step and I’ll have your head,” cautioned the voice. “It would be a shame to spill blood in such a beautiful place, but for you, I might make an exception.”
James backed away slightly.
“Hey man, I’m not sure what kind of stunt you’re trying to pull he—”
The figure lunged out from the shadows, swept my legs out from under me and brought me to the floor. The thud on the tile was more gentle than I had expected.
“Aha,” cried the figure. “Still too slow my friend.”
I looked up at the man and in the dim light saw the face of the man I had least expected. My racing heart stilled instantly, and the fight or flight response that had been slowly creeping its way through my drunken veins stilled. “Lopsang?”
“In the flesh,” smiled Lopsang, and let me up.
James stood further back, dumbstruck.
“Sorry for the bravado,” Lopsang said. “I try to keep a pretty low profile.”
“Will you keep it down or leave the fucking library?” shouted the old man atop his pedestal, standing briefly from his books to show outrage. “Don’t make me call a librarian in here!”
At the mention of the librarian, Lopsang’s eyes widened slightly. “We should go. There are other, more suitable places to talk.” Lopsang lit a candle and showed us back through the library stacks to a hidden door.