As I near the end of Maelstrom, I am becoming aware of just how ridiculous that end is going to be. I will say that I had planned something quite odd from the beginning, but I’m enjoying how it’s getting there. Of course, there are plenty of chapters to be added and some of these scenes will be beefed up a lot (maybe even describing Atlantis in more than two sentences), but that’s for the rewrite!
If you haven’t, check out the GoFundMe for my first novel, Whiteout, below.
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,
4. The Wager
Talk to anyone who’s done it and they’ll all say the same thing; entering into a wager with a god, demon, or otherwise mythical being is a terrible idea. For the most part, these entities will never make wagers where they don’t think they can win, and when they lose, it’s never a pretty sight. Luckily for us, Poseidon’s wager was a simple one, with even odds, but, still carried the highest penalty.
We rode in a series of what felt like plush mine carts through the streets of Atlantis. A small railway ran adjacent to the walking paths, sometimes dipping above and below to offer potential stopping points. As we rode, Poseidon explained the history of the city, and the cataclysmic event that led to its sinking.
“That,” he pointed to a large glass spire, “is the heart of Atlantis. It’s the beacon that protects us and keeps the whole city from caving in on itself. Without it, the water above would come pouring in, and anyone who wasn’t at least part sea god would perish.”
The spire was situated in the middle of the city, surrounded on all sides by tall buildings made of metal and glass. It seemed that while the city had originally been constructed in ancient times, the residents had adapted to the more modern style of life. In the end, it looked like any other big city, but with a few glaring exceptions. The sky was always dark, due to the fact that it was the deep ocean, suspended above us. The other was the futuristic technology and building style that the Atlanteans had taken on.
“Where did you get all the materials to build this?” asked James.
Poseidon shifted uncomfortably. “Every day we send out scavenging teams to the sea floor and the Sea of the Lost. There’s no shortage of metal or supplies.”
James looked around the city as we sped through it and did not look entirely satisfied. I was similarly skeptical. The buildings looked far too modern to be made out of old scrap, but it was possible for the Atlanteans to have built the facilities needed for refinement. But still, the city seemed far too shiny and neat to be constructed out of scrap metal. I was about to ask more when the carts began to slow.
“Ah, there it is. My crown jewel. The arena.”
As with most ancient cities, the arena of Atlantis was a massive structure, dominating the buildings nearby. It had been constructed in the style of the great Greek hippodrome, a long oval on one side. The other was made up of a series of tangled offshoots from the building that twisted and turned through the middle of the surrounding buildings.
“This is where we come to separate the warriors from the children.” Poseidon swelled with pride. “This is where we will have our wager.”
The carts continued at a languid pace, sinking into a tunnel that ran beneath the arena’s outer wall. Golden lights illuminated the sides of the tunnel, pulsing and giving the impression that we were traveling at great speed. Far above us there was the unmistakable rumble of a crowd watching a sporting event.
“You want your powers back?” Poseidon turned to Lopsang.
“Well then we will wager on one race, and depending on that outcome, you shall have them.”
“And what if I lose?” A shadow crept over his face.
“Well, seahorse racing isn’t the only sport we host at the arena.” Poseidon’s eyes flickered with the potential for inflicting future pain.
“You don’t have to do this Lops—”
“Deal.” His tone was final and held little hesitation.
“God damnit. If we have to haul your body out of here, I’m going to be really pissed off.” Getting back to the surface was going to be enough of a pain without hauling dead weight behind us. Besides, Lopsang was the only one who knew how to work the contraption that had got us there in the first place.
“Oh don’t worry about that,” said Poseidon. “There won’t be much left of him if he loses.” His laugh echoed through the tunnel, crashing around oppressively.
Lopsang looked pale.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” criticized James. “We just got you back.”
“I have lived for four years without my powers, and I do not intend to continue a day longer.” There was an assured, impulsive nature to his voice that almost made him seem like a willful teenager.
“You’re an idiot, Lopsang, but at least it’ll be interesting to watch.” I have been in an arena twice as a combatant, and while I left with my life on both occasions, it was close. It had been a long time since I had seen Lopsang fight, but he was more than capable. His odds were good, so long as the opponent was another humanoid, but given Poseidon’s reputation, it seemed unlikely.
The entrance to the viewing stands was a large glass elevator, suspended between four golden pylons. As we rose, we passed by an underwater scene unlike anything I had ever seen. Through the glass, I could see the twisting tunnels that had made outside of the building appear so strange. A large blur shot past the glass at incredible speed just long enough for me to make out a bright red racing number. The shape quickly disappeared down one of the tunnels leaving nothing but a trail of bubbles behind it.
“Seahorse racing?” I asked.
“Bit of a misnomer actually.” Poseidon gazed out into the water as we rose. “A few hundred years ago, maybe, but nowadays people will ride anything.”
Just as we rose above the edge of the glass tank, another dark figure streaked past the window with tentacles flailing behind it. I gulped at the memory of flailing behind the giant squid and rubbed my temples at the thought of the ocean’s pressure. “Anything?”
“Well, whatever they can find. It makes for one hell of a show.” Poseidon was practically beaming. The carriage continued to rise, and then suddenly, a bright light appeared above us. The glass cylinder rose out of the water and into the excited air of a stadium.
The sight of it was awe inspiring. Fans sat in oblong rows, ringing a massive pit of water and rock. Waves crashed across the surface, and on the far side, large ripples of water broke the surface above what I assumed were the creatures racing. The arena itself was a mix of wide open stretches with nothing but cool blue water and a sandy bottom, followed by a series of tangled rock tunnels, rooved with glass so the crowd could see in.
As our carriage rose into full view, the voice of an announcer boomed across the water. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a real treat today, the god of the ocean himself, Poseidon has come to join us!” The crowd’s roar was deafening, shaking the glass case as we rose.
Poseidon made a slow wave at the audience members. “Always good to keep up appearances you know.” He smiled and shot a thumbs up at nearby fans who were clambering over their seats to get closer to the elevator. Above the rings of seats was another set of viewing areas with glass floors that slightly overhung the track. In the very middle, the ceiling was open, revealing the ocean water high above.
The elevator passed through the ceiling and stopped at a hallway shaped from living coral. The door slid open with a hiss and Poseidon led us out. “I only go to the best box when I’m making wagers with a guest.” He winked. “Best seats in the house, right above the labyrinth.” He led us to the end of the hallway to a door recessed in the coral.
Inside was a room inlaid with gold. On one side was a bar with a wide array of unfamiliar bottles, and in the middle was a series of plush blue couches, circled around a glass window that took up much of the floor. Below us, the crowd cheered loudly and there was the sound of a cannon that shook the building.
“Ah good, the race has ended. Shouldn’t be too long before the next heat.” Poseidon sauntered over to the bar, plucked some ice from a chest and put it in a tumbler. He then filled it with a sterile-looking clear liquid before moving to the couch to take a seat. “If you want anything, help yourself.” He sipped his drink and stretched his arms, yawning.
Lopsang strode up to the bar and grabbed one of the bottles, not bothering to find ice, and took a swig. Smiling appreciatively, he took the bottle to the couch and had took a seat opposite Poseidon.
Wanting to show a little decorum in front of a god, I mixed myself the closest thing I could to a white Russian. While I’m not sure what half the ingredients were, the base was made from some approximation of sweet cream. By the time I was finished, I had a passable, but strong drink. It was the perfect combination for a sporting event.
James took a seat next to Lopsang, looking paler than usual. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Enough with your pity,” spat Lopsang. “Sit down, shut up, and let’s watch the race.” He took another long pull from the bottle and smacked his lips in delight.
The man’s strategy was clear. Hope to hell that he won the wager, and if he didn’t, numb the pain of death just enough to make it a little easier. Honestly, I would have done the same had I been on the other side of the table. As it was, I took my drink and sat next to Poseidon.
He clapped me hard on the shoulder. “This is the sport of kings. Only the bravest will hop in those waters, and most of them won’t come out.” His voice was about as reverent as one could get when one was a literal god. “Ah, here they come.” He pointed excitedly at the arena below.
Three golden chariots were floating to the center of the arena, a merperson riding atop each. Three men looked out at the crowd waving and whooping to draw up interest. The announcer, muffled by the glass beneath us introduced each of the competitors, and a screen on the far end of the arena showed their mounts one by one. Each of the mounts was unique, and only one of them familiar. The first was a giant rainbow squid, not unlike the one that had dragged me to the depths. The second, looked like a massive coelacanth, with a large shell and tentacles poking from beneath it. The final mount was a large armored serpent, that looked both mean and fast.
“Name your champion,” said Poseidon to Lopsang, grinning across the glass. “If they win, you get your powers and I let you all leave. If I win, you have to fight against my—”
“Gimme the snake,” slurred Lospang. “Seems fast right?” The bottle in his hand was near empty, and sloshed back and forth, threatening to spill as he spoke.
“Seems as good as any.” I tried to watch Poseidon for a reaction, but he was an experienced gambler, and knew how to keep a poker face.
“Right, good as any.” Lopsang took another drink. “Gimme the snake!” he repeated, louder.
“Alright, the snake is yours. I’ll take Iyara, or as you would likely call it, the giant squid.” Poseidon sat back on the couch, clearly pleased.
“What happens if the shell thing wins?” I asked.
“The we push and try again.” Poseidon’s smile widened. “But trust me, it won’t come to that.”
A roar of cheers went up from the crowd below. The riders had moved their barges to the open sandy area of the arena and were climbing into the water. Below the surface, a large colorful streak went through the water, and causing a sizeable wave, halted beneath the rider’s platform.
“Well, this is going to be interesting.” I took another drink, hoping that the race was the only sporting event we would have to attend for the day. Under other circumstances, it might have been quite interesting to watch, but the stakes were too high, and an uncomfortable knot had formed in my stomach.
The final competitor, the rider of the shelled creature looked nervously at both sides as he stepped into the water. His creature had been placed in the center lane. A burst of nervous bubbles came from beneath him and he placed a hand beneath the water in an attempt to calm it. He then slipped below the water, sinking down to his mount.
A platform emerged from the stands, and the announcer from earlier could be seen again. Like most of the other citizens of Atlantis, he wore a colored scale jumpsuit. Pieces of it sparkled as a spotlight was shone on him, and he smiled brightly at the crowd. His hair had been slicked up and over to one side and his face was clean shaven.
“Competitors, are you ready?” He called down to the water, his voice amplified to fill the arena.
An odd high pitched whine came from beneath the surface, like an aggressive whale song.
“On your marks,” he said, grinning. “Get set.” He flashed a smile our box. “GO!”
In a matter of seconds, the massive snake turned to it’s right, opened its massive jaws and smashed the coelacanth’s shell. Blood filled the arena.
“Oooh, it looks like Suraya was hungry today,” joked the announcer. “Oh! But it looks like her rider is getting away.” The nervous merman could be seen swimming away from the mass of bubbles and carnage. With a quick jerk of its neck, the serpent lashed out and ate him whole.
“Ouch, that’s gotta hurt.” The announcer tugged at his jumpsuit uncomfortably.
The giant squid had flown out of the starting grid with ease and was already beginning to make its way into the tangles of rock beyond.
“Looks like Iyara is already into her first lap through the labyrinth.
“Come on you stupid beast!” yelled Lopsang, falling off the couch to pound on the glass. “Stop eating and get moving!” Fear had crept through the drunken stare as he realized quickly the race had already been lost.
As if hearing him, the serpent took one last bite of the creature, and then took off at great speed. Even so, through the glass-roofed tunnels of the labrynth, it could be seen that the squid was already most of the way around the track.
“How many laps?” I asked.
“Just two.” Poseidon’s smile was one of a man who knew he had already run.
Lopsang continued to pound at the glass floor for the entirety of the race. It did not take long, and by the time the giant squid had crossed the finish line and began showboating, the serpent was only halfway through its second trip through the labyrinth.
My body went cold and numb as all hopes of an easy escape disappeared before my eyes.
James cursed and punched at the couch in anger. “Lopsang you fool.” Tears brimmed at the corners of his eyes.
Lopsang looked up from the glass, shakily, and turned to Poseidon. “Double or nothing?”
“No,” chided Poseidon. “I’m bored with racing. I think it’s time for something a little more brutal…”