As of last night I have finished Maelstrom! The final word count ended up being around 65,000 words, making it the longest first draft of the trilogy by around 30%. The story is definitely going to need some TLC and rewrites when I get to it, but it’s ended up being one of my favorites. Thanks for reading. I’ll post the last few chapters here over the next three days and then it’s Chadpocalypse, other new short stories, and working on the treatment for Downpour (Book 2 of the Nick Ventner series).
If you can, please donate to my campaign for the first book in the Nick Ventner series which is due out early next year. Can’t wait to share it with you all!!
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. Flight of the Bertha: Part II
The next few seconds were a blur. There was a bright flash as Poseidon hurled a lightning bolt at me, followed by the odd sensation of being teleported behind him. In a puff of blue smoke, I was out in the palace corridor, looking at Poseidon’s back as Lopsang popped back into the room. James was still staring dumfounded and drunk at the charred crater where the bolt had struck.
In the moment, I was still stunned by what we had uncovered. My brain took a while to catch up, but the more time went by, the clearer it became. We had stumbled on to possibly the world’s largest conspiracy, and the man committing it found out. Ordinarily I would have been thrilled to find the truth behind such a mysterious legend, but given the circumstances, I was in shock.
Poseidon hurled another lightning bolt. “I should have never given your powers back, mortal.”
Lopsang had time to mutter: “Not mortal anymore,” right before he teleported out of the way. In another few seconds, he was back in the hallway with James in tow. “Bet you’re glad I was practicing now.”
“No time for I told you so.” I began to run as Poseidon was still staring quizzically at the spot where Lopsang had just been. The suite we had been staying in was not far from the port so as to make our exit in the morning inconspicuous. After the fact, it made more sense. If the citizens of Atlantis started to notice that people could just leave, there’d be nothing to keep them there.
Bolts of lightning zoomed past us down the length of the palace hallway as we all stumbled drunkenly at high speeds across the polished floors. A marble pillar exploded, showering dust and rubble in front of us. “Guess we’re lucky he’s been drinking,” I slurred, stumbling and barely managing to regain my balance.
“Hold on.” Lopsang put a hand on my shoulder and another on James’s.
Before I had time to argue, the world turned to blue smoke and I was on the other side of the corridor. A wave of nausea swept over me, but it was quelled as we once again teleported forward. The world was a mess of blue and orange colors, flashing brightly before my eyes as we moved at high speeds through the halls of the palace.
“What in the hell is this guy blabbering about?” asked a woman dressed in heavy armor waiting in the loading dock where several police vehicles were parked. She held a rifle loosely in her hands, clearly thinking Nick to be more of a nuisance than a threat.
“He’s been going on about Atlantis for about the last hour. Thinks he’s remembering some great conspiracy.”
A fleeting part of Nick’s brain thought it might be time to try and escape police custody, but another part knew that the story was more important. “Guards came out of the palace on all sides, mermaids and mermen armed to the teeth. I felt lucky that Adamyr was nowhere to be seen.” The scene was still flashing before him vividly as though he were experiencing it at the same time as his impending incarceration.
“That’s the guy who put a boat on city hall?” She chuckled. “Doesn’t look like much.”
Nick scowled, wanting to tell her that he could summon a demon that would make her shit herself and that would be as paltry as a card trick, but focused. “The Bertha really wasn’t that far. Lopsang had to knock a few merheads against marble, but really he was only making an example. The potential for facial disfigurement kept the vain guards at bay.
Murphy pushed Nick’s head down and he realized that he was being loaded into the back of a police cruiser. “If you shut up, I’ll see about getting you another cup of coffee when we get downtown.” He looked tired, black bags forming underneath his eyes and stress plain on his face.
“The ship was luckily still intact.”
“Alright then, have it your way.” Murphy shut the passenger door and got into the front seat. “Just know that they don’t mind using the ball gag downtown.” Murphy laughed to himself and started the car.
“We were safely aboard the Bertha and preparing to cast off when all hell broke loose…”
The trip to the boat was mostly just a hazy blur of smoke, the sound of merbones crunching and the cursing of the pretty but very dumb guards. There were plenty of Poseidon’s goons guarding the dock, but at the sight of Lopsang’s powers, they dropped their weapons and left. I can’t say I blamed them. In their absence, James had started the boat, and I tossed the ropes off, preparing us for launch.
Luckily, none of our weapons had been confiscated, and while water-logged, our gear bags were still on deck. My bandolier had been lost in the sea with the giant squid, which left us with two full belts, minus the rounds that had been used on the kraken, and a handful of grenades with no instructions on how they were to be used. Likely if there had been more time, Steve would have explained their purpose, but as it stood, I just assumed they were explosive.
Lopsang was already loading his rifle once more with the green shells from his belt when I saw him. Running down the guilded hallway that led to the dock was Adamyr, and he was not happy. Somewhere behind him, lightning cracked and the side of the hallway exploded into rubble. Given Bertha’s general lackadaisical demeanor about escaping, I suspected we were in for a fight.
I picked up the other rifle and stole a few shells from James’s discarded bandolier.
“They say anything about what to shoot merpeople with?” asked Lopsang. He shook on his feet and looked as though he were about to pass out.
“Nope,” I said, loading one of the blue shells into my rifle. “But I assume they go down same as anyone else when you shoot high velocity lead.”
Lopsang swayed a little bit, but then cocked his rifle confidently.
“Any reason you can’t tear apart a few mermaids with your newly regained powers?”
Lopsang cocked his head angrily. “I just teleported three people the length of a palace.” Even saying it, he was panting. “I’m a little weak at the moment.”
“Jeez you gods are touchy.”
As Adamyr neared the water, his scale suit began to creep up his neck and onto his face. The scales grew thicker and larger with each step until his footfalls had become thunderous. He did not stop at the end of the dock, and instead put his hands in front of his face, preparing to dive. They turned into armored claws as he splashed into the water. Beneath the water, his figure grew until it was wide enough to span length of the tunnel.
“Well, at least we know we’re not facing mermen anymore.” Looking through the shells in my hand, I selected the green buckshot and began loading them.
James floored Bertha’s throttle, trying to get us out of the tunnel as fast as we could. There was still a long way to the surface, and the issue of opening the gate once we were back in the Sea of the Lost. Both of these were small problems in comparison to what happened next.
From the water behind us, the massive scaled form of what Steve had referred to as a “Hulker” launched toward us. It’s head was wide like that of a hammerhead shark, but heavily armored, and filled with rows of long, thick teeth. Behind it, a long and powerful tail propelled it forward with great speed, slamming into the back of The Bertha. Both Lopsang and I were knocked off our feet.
My vision blurred as I looked up. The creature’s mouth had engulged the back of the boat, and its thick, rod-like teeth were doing their best to dig into the metal hull. Hot blasts of wet air came from within it, wafting the putrid stench of death and decay over us. The ship creaked and groaned as the creature bared its teeth, trying to rend Bertha in two.
I nearly vomited, but adrenaline took over, keeping it down. Leveling my rifle, I fired a round of buck shot right into the creature’s gums.
The blast was deafening, but nothing compared to the roar of pain that followed it. Upon striking the soft flesh of the creature’s mouth, each pellet erupted into a tiny pillar of flame, searing and dissolving whatever it touched. A second later, Lopsang fired, hitting the creature’s other side.
The jaws unclenched, releasing the boat, but leaving a few teeth behind as the burning pellets tore through it. Black blood sprayed over the deck as the creature sank back into the water. Behind it, a massive thundercloud rumbled down the tunnel obscuring everything beyond it from view, and carrying the same uncomfortable hum of static electricity as it went. With it came a massive wave that pushed Bertha forward with more speed than I thought she was capable of, but also threatened to tip us over forward.
Returning to my feet, I reloaded the rifle with a blue shell and fired it into the oncoming storm. It parted the grey clouds momentarily, but did nothing to stop them. “Well, it was worth a shot.” I scrambled back across the deck to the bags and began pulling out whatever explosives we had left.
James leaned out of the window from the helm. “What the hell is that?” His words were still slurring, but getting better by the minute. By some miracle he had still been able to guide Bertha through the tunnel without much weaving.
“Poseidon’s wrath?” I guessed.
James looked down at the quickly growing pile of explosives beneath my feet.
“And those?” His voice rose nervously.
“My wrath,” I replied, and tossed one of the grenades into the cloud where it exploded with a bright orange flash, sending licking flames through the tunnel and blasting us with heat. Once more the cloud briefly dispersed. In the moment before it reformed, the dark shape of monster in the water moved from side to side, keeping pace.
“Nearly there. Just hold him off a bit longer!” James pulled his head back in and concentrated on keeping Bertha steady. It was difficult with the chop building in the tunnel and the battle happening behind him. Up ahead, the tunnel narrowed and ended in the façade lava flow that we had entered through.
Dismayed by the lack of effect, I resorted to the only tactic I had left, insults. “Oh come on you big, dumb, merbastard. What’s a matter? Afraid my bag of fun here is going to mess up your pretty little face?” I shook a fistful of grenades at the water, wondering whether I was about to be struck by lightning.
“Do you really think pissing them off more is the way to go?” asked Lopsang. He had reloaded his rifle and was pointing it at the storm wall.
I shrugged. “It’s worked before.” Enemies tend to make more mistakes when they’re angry, and I was drunk, tired, and pissed off. I was about to begin cursing Adamyr’s lineage when the giant beast roared to the surface once more. It’s scaly body sailed through the air with more grace than I would have thought possible, fully leaving the water and launching its massive body onto the boat.
I stepped aside right as the creature landed, causing the steel deck to groan, and pushing Bertha forward through the volcanic entrance. In an instant, I could feel the heat of the volcano around us as lava spit up from either side of the ship. The creature gnashed its massive jaws and I fired another shot into a scaly nostril. Jets of fire shot from it and the creature let out a high-pitched whine that sent pain shooting through my ears.
I ducked to the deck right as one of the creature’s claws came swiping past me. In a flash, James was out of the cabin and fired at the creature as well. It shook violently, and thrashed, trying to maintain its hold on the ship. I loaded the last of my green shells into the rifle and fired again, striking it in one of its large yellow eyes. It instantly went black, filling with blood and making a sickening popping sound.
The creature’s shaking intensified until it felt like the entire boat was vibrating. It squealed and squalled, almost as if calling for help, but the entrance remained mysteriously clear. Poseidon was nowhere to be found. From behind the boat, another jet of lava went up, singing the backside of the creature, and raining molten liquid down upon it. Slowly, it began to shrink, clambering and clawing at the boat as its size diminished.
The scales thinned and turned to pale skin as the creature’s form returned to Adamyr, bloodied, and most certainly dying on the deck of our ship. James, kind-hearted idiot that he was, bent low as if to hear the man’s last rights. Adamyr might have been missing one of his eyes, a few teeth, and dying, but the first thing he did was spit black blood in James’s face.
He backed away cursing and wiping it from his face.
Adamyr laughed the throaty chuckle of a dying man, or merman I suppose in his case. “You fools think that Poseidon would just send me?”
I stepped over and kicked him hard in the ribs.
Adamyr coughed up blood.
“Sorry,” I said to James who was giving me an uncomfortable look. “It had to be done, and no,” I returned my attention to Adamyr, “I assume that’s what the whole storm cloud was about.” As usual I hadn’t actually thought that far ahead.
“Fool,” spat Adamyr.
“You said that already.” I twirled in a gesture for him to go on. Some of the most helpful information comes from nearly dead men monologuing about their plans.
“You still have to deal with my brothers, and Poseidon isn’t going to be happy.”
“Well you can take comfort in the fact that you’re going to join them soon.” I loaded a blue shell in the rifle, pointed it at his face, and was about to pull the trigger when he coughed, spluttered, and died. “Well, that was disappointing,” I said, tapping his forehead with the rifle to check for a response. Adamyr lay still, his eyes glassing over.
“You were going to shoot him?” asked James, incredulously.
“He tried to break your Bertha,” I pointed out.
James looked at the dead merman, and then to his boat. “Fair point.”
“Lopsang, how long until we can get this thing running?” I kicked at the small pyramid that had miraculously stayed on deck.
Lopsang shrugged. “If all of the cables are still working, four or five minutes?”
“Then get moving on it, I don’t know if our friend over there,” I pointed to Adamyr, “was lying, but I don’t want to find out.”
As if on cue, lightning cracked across the bizarre ocean sky above us and dark clouds began to form.