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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,
2. The Sea of the Lost
“I’m sorry, Mr. Ventner, I’m afraid that our time here is almost at an end,” said Good Cop, checking his wristwatch. “I’ve let you talk for four hours, and frankly, at some point tonight, I’m going to need to sleep.”
“I’m almost finished,” said Nick. His memory was coming back in fast bursts now. The headache beneath the ocean waves, being pulled through the portal by the giant squid. With every sentence, the events leading up to his incarceration were becoming even clearer. “Just give me another hour. I swear, we’re almost at the end here. I can feel it.”
Good Cop looked at Nick oddly. It was the first time he had shown any hint of sincerity since arriving. “And you’re sure we’re getting close to the end?”
“Yes,” he said, feeling scattered. “Well, ninety-five percent sure. It’s still fuzzy, but I feel like I’m on to something.” He closed his eyes, trying to think forward as far as he could. Everything past the island in flames was still blurry.
“Mr. Ventner, I’m going to need more than ninety-five percent.” If Good Cop had thought there was any value in listening to Nick’s story, he didn’t anymore.
Nick felt his heart race as he was stuck between not wanting to go to prison and figuring out what had happened. It might have been easier to tell a lie, but he doubted there was anything he could use that would forestall his inevitable incarceration. If the CIA were smart, they’d get me out of here. It was incredible to think that he was divulging highly classified information and yet no one would believe him.
“Look, I can’t tell you for sure, but I remember that volcanic island, and it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago. Maybe a day at the most.”
“A day ago you were on a volcanic island?” Good cop looked down his nose at Nick again. It was the look of a parent who wouldn’t believe that a dog had eaten their child’s homework.
“Yes, I know it’s ridiculous. I don’t even know where I am now, but I was there a day ago, I’m almost sure of it.”
“You’re in Florida, Mr. Ventner. There hasn’t been volcanic activity in Florida since the late 1800s.”
Nick’s mind went numb. Dear God, no. “Did you say f-florida?”
“Yes, Florida. Is there something wrong?”
“No,” Nick lied. God I fucking hate Florida. Maybe escape wouldn’t be that much better than jail afterall. “I just didn’t think we were in Florida is all.”
“Your mind really is fried like an egg isn’t it?” Good Cop seemed genuinely concerned.
“Yes, so can we finish with this story so I can figure out what the fuck happened?” A part of Nick was angry because he was so close to remembering and kept being cut off, the other part was just infuriated by the fact that he was in Florida. I said never again and I god damned meant it. Entire state should just be leveled. Can’t global warming hurry up already?
“Alright, I’ll make you a deal. I give you an hour, and you wrap this up.”
“Deal.” No promises. Nick had no clear picture of where his story ended, but he did recognize something new about the photograph. The boat sitting atop city hall was very clearly Bertha. Slowly the truth begins to emerge.
“Alright,” Good Cop clicked a button on his wrist watch. “Your time starts now.”
“So I was on the edge of a fiery inferno, probably suffering from some form of the bends when Bertha comes floating in, peaceful as ever, as if no battle had happened whatsoever…”s
The first thing I noticed was Lopsang, hanging over the edge of the boat, looking at the water below him. I waved and in my best impression of an action hero, yelled: “Took you guys long enough.” I’m not sure what actually came out, but whatever it was, was enough to make Lopsang concerned. The world felt like it was inside a bubble, everything muted, and my ears still hadn’t fully adjusted.
I knew I wasn’t deaf, because I could hear the bubbling and crumbling of the volcano behind me, but everything sounded like it was coming through a filter. Time was also passing at an odd rate. For instance, from the time I had waved to Lopsang, and the time I was being pulled aboard, felt like it passed in the blink of an eye.
Before I knew it, I was laid out on the bow of the boat with both Lopsang and James huddled over me, fussing about. Blankets were draped over me, and I was forced by Lopsang to drink hot water with a slight bite to it. Slowly, the feeling of unreality began to fade, and when I looked more stable, the boat began moving again.
It still took hours before I was able to fully stand and comprehend exactly how close to death I had been. Under most circumstances, a dive like that would have killed me, but something about the portal saved my life. At least that’s what I assumed. Otherwise there’s no earthly reason for me to be here, and I might actually just be a member of the clinging dead.
When I did finally stand, Lopsang rushed over to help me to my feet. “That was a close one, even by your standards, Nick,” he said. What the hell happened?”
“Giant squid,” I coughed, spewing water onto the deck. “Harpoon in the side, it dragged me down, lots of pretty colors.”
“Yeah, we saw the squid light up the water for a few seconds and then you were just gone.”
“I think it took me through the portal.” A slow popping sound filled my ears as the liquid that had filled them moved its way out. “How did you end up getting through?”
“The machine worked.” Lopsang motioned to the pyramid which looked almost brand new again. “A few seconds after you were taken by the giant squid, another portal opened up and James steered us right through it.
As my wits came back, I was able to get a better look at our surroundings. On one side was an immense volcano, reaching high up into the sky. Upon looking up, I realized the sky was also dark, and had an odd shifting quality to it. It was like looking up at the surface of the ocean from the bottom. I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. The pain came through loud and clear.
Staggering, I made my way to the navigation booth where James, looking haggard, was steering the ship. “Good to see your up,” he said. “Thought we almost lost you there.” There was a distracted nature about him.
“You alright?” I asked.
“I’m currently trying to steer us through waters with magma jets running beneath them that could blow a hole in our boat at any minute.”
“What?” I scoffed. “What makes you think there are magma jets?” I had been expecting a little bit of a warmer welcome coming back from the dead, or what they had presumably assumed was death.
James pointed in the distance.
I turned to look and saw a behemoth military cruiser, split in half in the water, with an active jet of magma shooting up from its middle. The halves of the ship looked to be in the process of sinking, but were also being held in place by the lava. “Ah,” I said. “Where are we then?”
James shrugged, but refused to take his attention from the water before us.
“If my research is correct, and so far it’s been on track,” said Lopsang. “We’re in the Sea of the Lost. Think of it as a waystation between the Bermuda Triangle and our world. Many have theorized its where most of the wreckages that people can’t find go. They get a little too close to a portal and get sucked in.”
I walked back onto the bow to look out over the sea before us. Sure enough, accompanying the military craft in the process of sinking, there were other ships. Not all of them had sunk either. Some just bobbed up and down, placidly in the water. It looked to me like a graveyard, and the thought sent a shiver racing up my spine.
Lopsang came out on the bow to join me.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” I said.
“I should think not. If this is where the sea monsters are coming from, then they’re likely still around here somewhere.”
In the water, about thirty feet off the starboard side, the water glowed red, orange, and then shot a stream of lava into the air. Bombs of lava flew into the air and splashed down, cooling instantly and sinking back into the water.
“What’s that old saying about frying pans and fryers?”
“It’s that you should never go into the frying pan,” said a strange voice from behind. It took me a second to recognize that it wasn’t James’s. I wheeled around, ready to attack, but nearly ran into the point of a sharp spear doing so. Standing on the deck of the ship, was very muscular, blond man, wearing a dark blue suit that appeared to be made of scales, running from his feet to his neck. In his hands was a gleaming golden spear with the point at my neck.
“Who the hell are you, pretty boy?” I knew perfectly well that he was a merperson, but also that he would walk all over us if allowed. Merpeople are easy to spot for a few reasons. The first, they’re always astonishingly good looking. The second, they are very aware of the fact that they are astonishingly good-looking. The third, they’re highly aggressive because they have a superiority complex when it comes to the rest of the world, mainly stemming from the fact that they are so astonishingly good-looking.
The merman scoffed at my insult. “I am Adamyr, you insolent swine, and you, are trespassing.” His eyes glittered with malice, and it was clear that he wanted nothing more than to jam the spear into my throat. The fact that he hadn’t already was a good sign, and mean that they had no intention of harming us, despite a want to do so.
“James, get him!” yelled Lopsang.
“Shut up, Lopsang. You can’t fall to pieces every time we’re in danger now that you’re mortal.”
A second merperson, also blond, equally muscular, but wearing a dark green suit came out, holding James by the collar.
“You know, you two look really similar. Maybe you should start a boy band.”
Adamyr turned his spear sideways and smacked me with the flat end, opening up a small cut on my face, and sending stars shooting across my vision.
“So much for the hospitality of the divine.” This had been the second point in my life that I had been escorted by divine creatures at spearpoint.
“If I were you,” seethed Adamyr. “I’d stop talking. My patience is wearing thin, and while Poseidon may be angry, he can forgive the killing of a few meaningless prisoners if it’s really necessary.” He flexed his muscles in a way that looked like a mix between glamor posing and trying for intimidation.
It took all I had to stifle a laugh. “Right,” I said, gaining control over myself. “So if you haven’t killed us, and Poseidon’s going to be mad, I’m guessing that he wants to speak with us.”
The merman looked angry that he had not gotten to say this. “Yes, Poseidon wants to see us.”
“And because we can’t swim through the water like you can, you’re going to direct our boat there.”
“Yes,” said the merman, color rising in his face. “Stop doing that.”
“And, let me guess, you’re going to tell me and Lopsang here to sit quietly or you’re going to cut his,” I motioned to James, “throat.”
Adamyr swung his spear back to strike again, but I ducked it, expecting the move.
“No need to be hostile.”
He swung again, this time faster, barely missing me as I moved aside.
“Stop that!” I admonished.
“Then stop talking, imbecile!”
Lopsang began to laugh quietly at my side and Adamyr turned the spear on him. “You too. Both of you, shut up and get up against the railing.
Like children being sent to detention, Lopsang and I turned around to face the ship’s railing. “Benamyr, take that one back and set a course for Atlantis. I will watch these too.”
“Similar names, you two aren’t brothers are you?”
Adamyr pressed the spear to my spine, ending the conversation.
Throughout my travels and dealings, I had learned that merpeople were essentially the mythical world’s version of high-school jocks. They were big, pretty, and not that bright. For the longest time, I had assumed that if there ever had been an Atlantis, it had been sunk over a quarrel related to sports or light beer.
The boat began to move, but changed directions slightly. Now, rather than avoiding the volcano, we were on a direct course for one of the largest lava rivers flowing from it. The heat almost immediately became oppressive. “You know that this boat isn’t mean to travel on lava right?” I asked, growing a little nervous. You picked a hell of a time to go on a suicide mission, James.
All-in-all, the fact that we were being led to Atlantis, even if it was as captives was better than I could have expected given the level of planning we had engaged in. Which is why I was so surprised to see us heading straight for certain death in such a hurry.
“James, what are you doing?” asked Lopsang from beside me.
I tried to turn my head to look back at pilot’s cabin, but Adamyr’s spear stopped me. “Jesus, no need to be a prick about it, Adam.”
“Adamyr,” he hissed in my ear. “Enjoy the fire,” he said, laughing slightly.
As we continued to draw closer to the river of lava, I could not help but shift uncomfortably in the heat. Being at the front of the boat meant that both Lopsang and I would be burnt to a crisp while James had to watch. At least he’s going to have that on his conscience. Ordinarily I would have preferred to die last, but when that wasn’t an option, making whoever went next feel guilty would suffice.
“Come on guys, I was just playing around earlier. No need to anger Poseidon by burning us to death.” I still didn’t think they were going to do it. Mostly I thought it was an intimidation tactic, but still, as the heat licked at my face, my heart began to pound slightly. Escaping drowning only to burn to death hours later seemed only appropriate.
When the boat was a mere twenty feet from the mouth of the lava river is when I started to feel really concerned. Sweat beaded on my face in the heat. “If we burn alive here. Come find me in the afterlife. Maybe we can trick Xolotl again.”
“My afterlife will be in rebirth, I’m afraid. I could be a butterfly for all I know, but if I retain my memories of you, I might try to help.”
Together we laughed at this, and the boat pushed forward into the lake of lava. Though I wanted to remain brave in the face of it, the heat made me shut my eyes. Its strength continued to grow, until it was replaced by a cooling sensation that ran across my entire body. Is this what death feels like? It was not the first time that day I had thought it. When I found my eyes would still open, I looked up to see the shimmering heat of the lava flow passing above us.
We had passed through an illusion, hiding the entrance to a long engraved tunnel. On both sides of us, stone guardians looked down, eyes glowing in the light of the lava. I thought back to the entrance to Shangri-La, and hoped that the guardians didn’t care if we were armed.
At the end of the tunnel was a blue light, glowing brightly, and what looked to be a large structure made of glass. As we approached it, Adamyr whispered in my ear. “Welcome, mortal, to the lost city of Atlantis. Drink it in. You will not be leaving here alive.”
“We’ll see what Poseidon has to say after I talk with him.”
“I will laugh when he feeds you to the eels. Most people survive for a few minutes, I’ll place a bet on you to last less.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve proved someone wrong in the arena.”
Adamyr huffed, as if he disbelieved this. “I will enjoy watching your screams.”
“People who say things like that around me don’t often live long.” I made a mental note to stay as far away from Adamyr as possible if we were ever let out of captivity.
It took us all of five minutes to reach the docks at the end of the tunnel, and the domed glass building that encased them. Above the clear ceiling, lava flowed in streaks, running to other parts of the volcano. Waiting on the dock was another squadron of merpeople, all wearing the same jumpsuits, each in a slightly different color.
While I wanted to make fun of them more, I was staggered by the women’s beauty. Beside me, Lopsang had gone starry-eyed as well. The only other time I had seen him so distracted was when he had met a goddess. “Hey pal, don’t get too lost in their eyes. They’re holding spears too.” I said it mostly as a reminder to myself. There was something intoxicating about them, like the sirens of Homer’s Odyssey. Maybe it was just the fact that for the most part my company had been drunks, deadbeats and the dead for the past week.
We were escorted roughly off the ship and led down a series of ornate hallways. Some of them passed out from underneath the volcano, providing pristine views of the ocean beyond. In the distance, I saw an armored shadow, swimming lazily. At least we didn’t have to deal with any of them. I thought back to the bandoliers on the ship and hoped the merpeople wouldn’t raid them. We were going to need them if escape was to be an option down the line.
Eventually we were stopped in front of a massive gold door, with two carved gold tridents on either side, meeting in the center. “Good luck in there, mortal,” spat Adamyr. “I’d be more careful talking with a god. He will not be as forgiving as I was.”
“Do you get your eighties clichés from our movies, or do merpeople just make their own?”
Before Adamyr could swing, I walked forward toward the door. “Are we just supposed to knock?” I asked.
James and Lopsang stepped up to the door beside me.
“Why are you being such an ass to them?” asked James.
“Because they’re just a bunch of big, dumb, merpeople, and I don’t like them.” It was also a tactic of distraction, to keep them aggravated, just in case we ever had to fight them.
The golden doors slowly opened inward, and bright light shone out from within, blocking my view. “What do you say guys? Ready to meet another god?”
“Sure, what’s the worst that could happen?” said James.
“He could use each point of his trident to impale one of us,” suggested Lopsang.
“Jesus, as a mortal you’re a real downer,” I said, and with no further hesitation, walked through the door.