Happy Black Friday everyone. Here’s a new chapter from Maelstrom!
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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,
6. Silver, the Cure-All
As far as fighting pits go, the one we were led to was pretty standard. We were set on three platforms in the middle of a circular arena, with spectators surrounding us on all sides. We were led out across a hard-packed, wet, sandy floor to three platforms in the middle. It was there that Adamyr gave me the fondest of parting words: “Die good, idiot.” And then left.
Overall, things were better than I could have expected. The arena was above ground, which was better than I had expected, and with the uniform floor, there didn’t appear to be any room for traps. I looked up to see Poseidon sandwiched between two very muscular mermen who looked down at the pit hungrily.
“There’s quite a lot riding on this match, so let’s make it one to remember,” he boomed.
“Alright,” I looked around the arena and saw two gates where creatures could come from. “They’re going to come from one of those g—”
The platforms beneath our feet began to rise, and Lopsang nearly tumbled off of his. From around the arena came the sound of rushing water, and spouts opened up from the edges, beginning to fill it.
“Couldn’t just leave it filled could they?”
“Probably for dramatic effect,” said James, numbly. He gripped his spear with white knuckles.
The platforms continued to rise until we were up above the edge of the arena watching the water fill in below us. Lopsang peered over the edge of his platform and raised his axe. He still was nowhere near sober, but he was starting to look like he might be useful in a fight.
The arena filled quickly, and then there was the grinding of metal on metal as the gates beneath opened. Bubbles rose from the two spots that had opened on the edges of the arena. Seeing that James and Lopsang had already turned to one, I turned to the other. “Yell if you see it,” I said.
It did not take long for our opponents to join us. The water above my gate broke and roiled as something swam quickly out of it. I could see a dark blue streak beneath the water, moving quickly towards me.
“I see it,” yelled James and I in unison.
I looked over my shoulder to see a second wake of roiling water on the other side of the arena. “Shit, there’s two of them!” I turned back to face my own opponent and the life drained out of me. Time slowed down as it always does when one experiences something near death.
A thick-jawed eel with long, needle-like teeth protruding from its gaping maw had jumped from the water. The head alone was about as big as my entire body. It turned slightly sideways, opening its mouth wider to get a better bite. There was a crackle of static electricity in the air.
Without speaking to me, my hands raised the trident in front of me to ward the beast off. I had just enough time to wonder how conductive silver was before the beast collided with me, knocking me off the platform and into the water. From the lack of sharp pain, it was immediately clear that the eel had missed with its bite. I looked forward to find that the trident had stuck in its lower lip.
It was less than a second later that the pissed off eel used its best natural defense and sent out a pulse of electricity. A bright blue light filled the water around it. Had I not been dumb enough to hold on to the trident with a death grip, I might have been spared the blast. Unfortunately, silver, while being a cure-all, is also the most highly conductive metal. Needless to say, everything went black almost instantly.
I could still hear the sounds of the arena, but they were distant, muffled. I was only semi-conscious and felt like I was floating in a dream. How one of the eels didn’t pick me off in those moments, I’m not entirely sure, but when I came to, I was floating in the water on the side of the arena, belly up. The first thing I saw was Adamyr’s face jeering from the stands, clearly upset that I hadn’t died. The second, was the battle that continued to rage in the middle as Lopsang and James continued to fight.
At first the situation was confusing, and it took a minute for me to understand that the danger was very much so still present. Most of the time, waking up from a blackout tends to happen after the fight. Coming to in the middle of one was disorienting. I righted myself in the water and began treading water.
James and Lopsang were back to back on top of the middle pillar, the eels circling in the water around them. Occasional blue bursts of light illuminated the pool from below. One of the eels moved to the edge and then lunged out of the water at them.
“Left!” shouted Lopsang. He leaned left and swung his axe to the right, catching the creature in the mouth. The blow left a gash on the creature’s lower lip, but the force of it also sent Lopsang spinning off the platform and into the water.
James was left alone, gripping the spear tightly, turning in circles trying desperately to keep an eye on both attackers.
I looked down in the water below me and saw the trident about fifteen feet down. Not wanting to waste any more time, I dove for it. Any weapon, even if it occasionally electrocuted me, was going to be better than nothing. As I dove down, my ears popped uncomfortably, and I wondered about the consequences of my earlier depth exposure. Picking up the trident and kicking back toward the surface, I thought it best to worry about the nitrogen bubbles in my blood at a later date.
When I reached the surface, Lopsang was treading water while trying to hold the axe threateningly above the surface. The result was almost comical.
While the creatures were distracted by Lopsang I swam back to the center of the arena, a plan beginning to form. The first, and most important detail, was that I needed to let go of the trident the next time I tried to swing with it. I wasn’t sure how many more jolts my heart could take, but I guessed with my lifestyle, it wasn’t many. The second, was finding a way to get both of the eels to attack at once. Likely they had some immunity to the low level electricity they produced in the water, but connecting them with both ends of the trident could deliver something much stronger.
From the other side of the arena there was a loud yell followed by a gurgle as Lopsang was dragged down beneath the surface. For the time being, I chose to ignore him and kicked harder for the middle. James was standing looking at the water shouting at the eels. I scrambled up on the platform behind him just as he threw his spear into the water, striking one of the eels in the side, sending a blue electrical discharge into the water around it.
“Shit,” he groaned, watching the spear sink to the bottom of the pool. He was about to jump in when I stopped him.
“Wait, I think I’ve got a plan.” Below the surface, Lopsang sank to the bottom of the tank, unconscious. “And it looks like there isn’t much time to put it into action.”
“No shit, what is it?”
The eels began to circle once more.
“We goad the eels into attacking at the same time, duck at the last minute, and get them to connect with this!” I held up the trident.
James stared at me blankly. “I’m going to go get my spear.”
He made to jump in the pool but I put out a hand to stop him. “It’s conductive.”
“And it’s going to get us both killed, now if you’ll excuse me.” One of the eels snapped at James’s platform.
“Oh come on, you have any better ideas that don’t involve poking it to death?” I knew that unless Lopsang was incredibly lucky or gifted of lung capacity, he wasn’t going to last long at the bottom of the arena.
“God damnit. Fine,” agreed James. “But I get to hold the trident, because it’s your turn to be bait.” Without further argument or consultation, James grabbed the trident from my hand and dove into the water.
Cursing, I followed him, making a mental note to consult the bait ledger afterward and reprimand him if he was wrong. For the third time over the course of a day, I found myself exactly where Steve had said not to be. The eels swam away from the platform in unison and looped around the edge of the arena, preparing for another attack.
“Now’s our chance.” One way or another, the fight was going to be over soon, and my aching body welcomed it. Exhaling, I let my weight carry me down to the bottom of the tank, once more feeling the pressure it brought. James did the same, and together we looked out at the murky arena. In that moment, it felt like for the first time, we were actually in the flooded city of Atlantis. There wasn’t long to appreciate it, as the eels whipped around on both sides of the arena, skirting around the edges.
I quickly separated a few feet from James, drawing the first eel off to one side. The timing was going to have to be perfect. I churned my arms, trying to remain at the exact same height as James. It was nowhere near perfect, but either way, it did the trick of getting both eels to attack the same place. The creature’s jaws widened once more in their hideous, sideways smile as it darted toward me.
Hoping that James was doing the same, I quickly darted out of the way.
James did the same, shooting upward, but leaving the trident in place. There was a moment when I thought the eels would be able to break off, but it was too late. James pulled his hand away right as the creatures collided with a muted thunk, jaws spread wide, enveloping each other. The steady buzz of static electricity filled my ears, and both creatures gave off bright blue light. Together, they let out high pitched whines, and thrashed, trying to dislodge the trident.
It was no use, their long teeth tangled with each other, keeping the eels snagged at the mouth like some high-school prom horror story. The blue light continued to grow in strength, and so did their shrill cries. Using the moment, I summoned what little energy I had left and dove for Lopsang who was floating slightly a few inches above the bottom. Above, James kicked toward the surface, trailing red blood behind him as he went.
Arms burning, I beat against the water, struggling to drag Lopsang upward. Slowly, we made progress, and by some miracle, were able to break the surface. The muted sounds of the water went away, instantly replaced by the cold silence of a crowd that was unsure of what they had just witnessed.
“For the first time in history,” boomed Poseidon. “My eels have been defeated.” He spoke with grandeur, but also disappointment.
The crowd erupted into cheers, but I could not focus on them. My eyes were drawn to James lying panting on the platform clutching the bloodied stump where his hand had been.