Helheim of Atlantis – A Novel by Ryan Stahl (Excerpt Only)

Prologue

The River Oceanus

777 B.C.

The tiny boat was manned by a crew of five. Four of them tended to the menial tasks of securing lines, sails, etcetera, while the fifth kept the boat on course and protected their preciously dangerous cargo. There were two skies on that night as the stars reflected with a mirrored perfection on the still waters of the River Oceanus. The wake of destruction, however, could still be seen for miles as flames clawed at the sky from the continent of Atlantis. The fifth man on the boat—whom the other four had not spoken of or to since they escaped the great inferno—watched the horizon with a wildness oft seen in that of a rabbit being chased by a pack of hungry wolves. The man donned a well-trimmed gray beard though his eyes suggested an age far beyond the grayness.

One of the four crewmen worked up the courage to speak to the man and said in the humblest of voices, “Sir, it will not be long before they begin their pursuit, if they have not done so already.” The crewman paused and turned to the other three as if to draw from a collective courage pool then continued, “We want to thank you for saving us back there. I suspect we are the only ones from our village left alive.”

The man turned at a three-quarters angle to the crewman and smiled a smile that seemed to channel warmth from the blazes of Atlantis and replied, “Please, call me Tyche. It always was my favorite name.”

Tyche hovered around a chest carved from the native stone of Atlantis. The other four crewmen passingly wondered what the chest contained, but were too indisposed with the idea that they had survived the unspeakable tragedy that had befallen their homeland to ask Tyche of its contents. The stone obelisk, also carved from the native stone, that had been brought along at Tyche’s request was more than familiar to the crewmen. They had been land markers that were placed all throughout the six rings of Atlantis which contained stories of the distant past when the old ones covered the world in darkness and chaos. The obelisks served as both a reminder of the inexplicable horrors that once were and a warning of what could forever be.

One of the crewmen noticed something peculiar about Tyche: He looked completely different than most of the people that lived in Atlantis. There were several reasons why it took the curious crewman this long to notice such obvious differences, lack of observations notwithstanding. The four crewmen were from a village within the populous—or second ring as it was referred to sometimes—of Atlantis whose people were known as the LaGrasse. Tyche’s skin was pale and lacked the color and texture that most of the LaGrasse people were known for. What stuck out the most, in the crewman’s mind, was Tyche’s eyes. They were gray, like his beard, but somehow surrounded by white instead of the traditional colors of the LaGrasse. The crewman kept darting quizzical looks from Tyche to the planks of the boat’s deck and back until Tyche finally caught the crewman’s eye.

“I must look strange to you, no?” Tyche said with an understanding smile.

The crewman shook his head with an embarrassed negation.

“It’s ok,” Tyche continued. “I am actually a LaGrasse, just like you…only from a many, many years ago.”

“So the stories are true then?” Another crewman spoke up.

Tyche only smiled and went back to watching the horizon as they sailed ever northward with the wind and flames of a burning civilization at their backs. The five men sailed on in relative silence for hours. Even at the distance they traversed, smoke could still be seen clotting the sky from Atlantis.

“Where are we going?” The third and yet unspoken crewman asked Tyche.

“Somewhere to hopefully rid this world of what we carry on this boat.”

The crewman wondered why they had not left the cargo in Atlantis to burn with the rest of its secrets, but soon dismissed the thought as being discourteous to the man who had saved his life and the lives of his three brethren. Tyche took a seat beside the stone chest and touched his hand to its lid. The stone from which it was carved was a dark green, but the warmth of Tyche’s hand caused it to glow ever so slightly around the shape of his hand. The four crewman were not fazed by this and seem to barely notice.

The riptide hours slipped into a current of days, then weeks, and, soon enough, two months were counted off before the five travellers made landfall again. Tyche had guided the boat to a gallbladder shaped patch of land in territory far to the north that the crewmen had neither heard of nor dreamt existed. For all the crewmen knew, they had sailed to a distant star. The ground was covered in a cold, white powder and hard as rock which were both foreign sensations to the four exiles of Atlantis. They offloaded the boat as Tyche clutched to the stone chest like a dying breath. He eventually found a place to settle and carefully unbound the metal clasps that held the lid shut. From it, he withdrew a large, pale bound book that had caught the attention and entranced the crewmen. Two months on the River Oceanus and not a word whispered about the contents of the chest and now its secret unraveled before their marveling eyes.

“Please,” Tyche said cautiously, “let us focus on the task at hand. Our time is limited.”

Under Tyche’s direction, the crewmen carried the obelisk to a designated spot on the island and sat it upside down in the mud so the point of the obelisk was jammed into the hardened ground. The curious crewman, who had noticed the subtle differences in Tyche’s appearance, became undeniably aware of how much shorter Tyche was from the rest of them. In comparison, the four crewmen were, at the very least, a head and a half taller than the obelisk where as Tyche’s head barely broke even with its height. The curious crewman felt ashamed for not realizing this sooner, especially after being on the same boat for two months.

Once the obelisk was steadied, the four crewman backed away and Tyche began reading from the pale bound book. The words were blasphemous to the ears of the crewmen. They stood in awe and shock as Tyche drummed the words off his tongue with a feverous excitement. The obelisk started to glow and pulsate to the phonetic highs and lows of the spoken words. The crewmen edged back even further and wanted to bury themselves in the ground, but resisted the urge to do so. In the space of a heartbeat, the obelisk plunged into the earth and disappeared like a knife blade into unwelcoming flesh. The four crewmen rushed to the edge of the newly formed hole in the earth and watched as the glowing stone disappeared into the earth at an unfathomable speed. The crewmen were so amazed by this feat that they had failed to notice Tyche had stopped talking and slipped around behind them.

The earth trembled and the hole in the ground began to crumble in on itself, widening its circumference. Before the other three crewmen had time to react or help, the most curious of the lot quite literally had the earth yanked out from under him and was swallowed by the groaning pit. Seconds later, two more of the crewmen tumbled in, but this time it was by a great heaving push which came from Tyche. The last remaining crewman turned and looked just as Tyche leapt and sunk a jagged stone blade into his chest. The earth was still rumbling as the crewman toppled inches from the mouth of the pit.

“Why?” the crewman sputtered between labored gasps.

Tyche gazed into the crewman’s eyes with an almost apologetic smile and said, “I am ensuring that the most dangerous secret of this world stays just that…a secret.”

The green and red eyes of the crewman lolled in their sockets as Tyche withdrew the blade and rolled the body into the trembling, hungry hole in the earth. He then said a few more words from the book, replaced it in the stoned chest, and hurriedly dumped the entire package into the hellishly deep pit. Tyche began to make his way back to the boat then noticed he was still clutching the jagged stone knife. He rushed back to the edge of the hole and sunk the blade into the mud.

Months later…

A pale, battered cord of a man sporting a patchwork duster coat approached the edge of the pit with a slow burning rage in his walk. He noticed the jagged stone knife sticking out of the ground and withdrew it, holding it above his head and examining it. Even in brightness of the day, the jagged blade glowed green in the warmth of the midday sun. The cord of a man smiled and revealed two pointy teeth which also glowed green.

“We will meet soon enough, old man,” He said as he tucked the knife into his duster and leisurely strolled away from the pit.

 

I

Oak Island, near Nova Scotia

July 20th, 2010

“Oak Island has been the site for many treasure hunters and pirate lore fans since its discovery in 1856,” the female news reporter cheerfully relayed from her cue card. “The treasure that lies hidden beneath multiple layers of booby traps is said to be that of the most feared pirate to have sailed the seven seas, Captain Blackbeard. Blackbeard was once quoted as saying, ‘I buried me treasure so deep that the devil himself guards it.’ Now, after nearly two centuries of failed attempts to recover the treasure, a rag-tag team of treasure hunters are optimistic that they, with the aid of their research vessel the Vardøger, have what it takes to outwit the devil and Captain Blackbeard.”

Drasil chuckled to himself as he switched off the newscast on the television in the galley of the Vardøger. He ascended the spiral staircase to the wheelhouse to do his morning rounds.

“Good morning Captain!” A lightly peppered Russian voice called.

“Morning, Nikola,” Drasil replied. “How are things looking for—“

A jittery noise in the corner grabbed Drasil’s attention away from his original thought. “What is that thing?!” He protested.

“Do not offend. This is Thor, my gerbil. He is my co-pilot,” Nikola smiled with a guilty shrug.

“It’s not going to…I don’t know…give us the plague or something equally as terrible, is it?” Drasil said as he looked into the cage and poked his finger at the spaghetti blond gerbil.

“Thor is very clean. Look at his face, you make him sad,” Nikola joked.

“Keep him away from the dinner table. He is still a rodent in my book,” Drasil replied with a wry smile.

“Do not listen to this mean man Thor,” Nikola said over his shoulder. “To answer your question, preparations for today are almost complete. A Low Key company relay ship is on its way to offload 1,124 tons and drop off 250 tons worth of junk leaving us with approximately 874 tons to play with.”

“Sounds delightful,” Drasil scoffed. “Do me a favor and go down to the cargo bay. Make sure all of our less than legal hatches are secured. Just in case.”

“Alright, Thor, keep an eye on the Captain. Make sure he doesn’t break anything,” Nikola said as he tipped his brown cabby hat at Drasil then disappeared down the galley staircase.

Drasil moved over the ship’s wheel and stared out over main deck. The outer cargo bay doors were closed at his request. He didn’t want any wandering eyes or bodies and shut the ship up tight as a preventative measure for the duration of the exposé reporters were running on the Vardøger.

“Captain?” a voice crackled over the shortwave radio.

Drasil stared at the receiver with a disdained interest.

“Captain? Are you up there?” the voice called again. “Okay, well, we figured out a way to reverse the polarity and­­—“

Drasil snatched the receiver and growled into the receiver with a quiet discontent, “And had I not been up here do you think it would have been the best use of your breath to announce whatever it was you were about to announce into thin air?”

The prolonged silence that followed made Drasil’s ego smirk with satisfaction.

“Tom?” Drasil finally said. “You still with me or did I lose you somewhere between all those hard to pronounce words?”

“A hypocrite and a prick,” Tom’s voice statically rang. “You must be the battle-hardened, cookie-cutter badass of this lovely sea-faring epic?”

“Love you too Tom,” Drasil said flatly. “Now, what does my dorky, yet somehow unusually lucky, brother need of his badass captain?”

“Right. You might just want to come down here Drasil. We are almost ready to go,” Tom answered.

“Alright, I’m on my way,” Drasil said as he hung up the receiver.

Drasil was Tom’s thirty-six year old brother and boss. Oddly, there weren’t that many sibling feuds between them given the boss/brother gray area and the fact that Tom was eight years older than Drasil.  Their entire family had been sea-faring folk for as long back as history could trace. Tom and Drasil’s father used to joke that the wood from their family tree was used as a mast on some great, heavenly ship. This was, of course, after many shots of spiced rum. The two brothers were brought up to be hard workers albeit in different areas of expertise. Drasil went the path of his ancestors and remained on the sea while Tom pursued his master’s degree in physics at Miskatonic University.

As Drasil turned to exit, his nose came tip to tip with the nose of an unconventionally attractive woman in her early thirties who was glaring at Drasil with caramel brown eyes.

“Alba?” Drasil said barely moving his lips.

“We need to talk,” Alba said. “And don’t call me Alba. I hate that name.”

“Aw, come on. It’s so cute,” Drasil squeaked antagonistically. “Besides, we have work to do. No time to talk.” Drasil began to sidestep Alba.

“Now, Drasil,” Alba growled as she intercepted Drasil’s sidestep.

“Now is not the time, darling,’” Drasil smiled with a twinkle of annoyance in his eyes. “And if you ever bark orders at me on my boat again, we are going to have more than a few unkind words.”

“Wow. Tom was right. You’re a hypocrite and a prick,” Alba scoffed as she turned and trotted down the galley steps.

“He also said I was a badass,” Drasil called with an amused tone.

“No, you are just an ass,” Alba’s voice faintly echoed up the stairs.

“I heard that,” Drasil said with a satisfied chuckle.

Drasil stood for a few more moments while scanning a oceanographic chart with index finger.

“Captain?” An unfamiliar voice called from behind Drasil.

“Someone is always calling my name—“ Drasil muttered under his breath as he turned to face the voice, “What? Oh, hello.”

Drasil changed his tone from cranky to charming at the site of the petite but full-breasted frame of a light skinned blond that had a press pass hanging between her delightful bosoms.

“I was wondering if I could ask you some questions?” The little blond squeaked.

“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before? “ Drasil asked knowing full well he, in fact, had not.

“Probably. I am a reporter for the Channel 3 news. I just do field reporting mostly. For the surrounding islands and what not,” The blond explained innocently.

“Of course! Well, my services are at your disposal. Walk with me,” Drasil offered  the direction towards the Galley steps with a curt hand.

“How long have you been Captain of the Vardøger?” The blond called behind her as Drasil held her hand to help her down the galley’s spiral staircase.

“Seven years,” Drasil replied.

“And you have had the same crew for the duration of those seven years?” The blond asked as she jotted down notes on a flip out notepad.

“Thankfully, yes,” Drasil responded as he held the door to the galley open for the reporter.

“So I take it the crew’s dynamic together is pretty good?”

“As good as seven years worth of blood, sweat, and sea water can get.”

“Is it odd having only one female crew member and how does that affect the relationships between other crew members?” The reporter asked as she looked shyly at Drasil.

“Are you trying to ask me out on a date?” Drasil teased.

“Wha—No, I was just—” The blond blushed.

“You little minx,” Drasil smiled. “I’m just kidding with you. We are one big happy family on this boat. No complaints to report, gender based or otherwise.”

“Oh, oh ok,” The blond shook her head as if to shake loose a journalistic dingleberry. “Your corporate sponsor is Low Key Incorporated, is that correct?”

“Yes it is,” Drasil replied as they slowly made their way down the outside staircase to the main deck.

“Now, you do research and cargo transport for Low Key but you have also been known to take on independent contracts yet there is no information on the specifics of those contracts. Care to comment on the rumor that you take on smuggling jobs as part of those independent jobs?”

“No,” Drasil said without changing his swaggering tone.

“Why have you never advertised your services on the internet?” The reporter asked in desperation.

“We are not the type to advertise our business. Internet or otherwise,” Drasil said as he began to outpace the little voluptuous blond. “You’ll have to excuse me.”

Tom stood waiting halfway down the main deck. Tom was nearly an inch taller than Drasil pushing the limits of 6’2”. Drasil and Tom both had full heads of Auburn hair courtesy of their mother’s father however; Tom’s hair was, of late, becoming infested with patches of gray around his ears. Tom wore a pair of small round spectacles that always reminded Drasil of the type of glasses a mad scientist would wear. Often times, Tom could be found wearing black waders and an old lab coat, which just intensified his mad scientist image. If it were not for his brown eyes, Tom could pass as a clone of his father. Drasil was blessed with the mysterious grey eyes of their father that looked like storm clouds about to burst forth a fury of lightning.

“What was Alba all in a fuss about?” Tom questioned as they walked toward a waiting shore boat.

“I’m sure I’ll find out later,” Drasil smiled dryly.

“You always were the caring type,” Tom said.

“Oh, what? You have a complaint now too?” Drasil replied.

“No,” Tom smiled. “Just a concern.”

“Well I have a complaint!” growled a husky, six-foot tall, red-bearded gorilla of a man standing at the bow of the shore boat.

“You always have a complaint,” Drasil said to the Grizzly Adams clone.

“Alba chopped off his balls,” Tom nodded his head in the general direction of Drasil’s crotch.

The large man looked at Drasil with a grimacing concern as Tom and Drasil positioned themselves in the shore boat.

“She did seem a mite fired up when she left a few minutes ago. Maybe she just needs a good, hard—“ The red-bearded gorilla began.

“Ogre?” Drasil inquired openly.

“Yes, Captain?” Ogre replied.

“Kindly put us in the water now,” He said with a tinge of annoyance. “And don’t break anything while we are gone.”

“I see he wears panties now that his balls are gone and they seem to be in a bunch today,” Ogre said as he lowered the boat eight feet down the port side of the Vardøger to the water’s surface.

“I’m not liking all these reporters poking about,” Drasil eyed Tom cautiously.

“All we can do is hope for the best,” Tom replied addressing the unspoken issue. “Nikola and Ogre can keep a handle on things for a while. Quit worrying.”

The ride into Oak Island was approximately two nautical miles from the anchored windward position of the Vardøger. The ride was long enough for Drasil’s mind to start envisioning worst-case scenarios and escape plans for those scenarios. Prepare for the worst even in the face of skepticism.

Many people had heard the news of Drasil’s proposal to convert his father’s cargo ship into a research vessel after his father died ten years ago. Several corporate sponsors and three years later, the Vardøger was launched from its berth.

One corporation, Low Key Incorporated, took an uncanny interest in Drasil’s proposed modifications and funded over 85% of the total cost for the project which worked out to nearly 1.5 million dollars. Not only did the funding give the cargo ship a scientific makeover but it also helped Drasil learn that empty spaces on his ship can come in handy as long as the authorities didn’t know about them.

Drasil knew that smuggling was the quickest way to repay loans and earn a profit. He also knew that he needed an honest front to throw off any curious authorities. The cargo to research vessel transformation was feasibly tricky. Drasil had included a non-negotiable clause in his contract with Low Key, Inc. that he would be permitted to assemble both the renovation and ship’s crew. That was the feasible part.

The tricky part was calling in favors owed to Drasil from less than reputable associates for the renovations and convincing the only four people under the heavens he trusted, to sail into potential danger with him. Drasil was very particular about trusting people based on lessons learned the hard way. As taught by his father, Drasil wanted to give and receive trust and respect amongst his crew. He felt fear was a foreshadowing of failure and should only be used on an enemy. This is why before any of his intended crewmembers agreed to join, Drasil made them openly aware of the fact that both honest and dishonest jobs alike would be considered depending on the profit and plausibility of the job. Drasil also informed his intended crewmembers that there would be no hard feelings if they said ‘no’ to his proposal. They were the only people he trusted not to go running to the lawmen after hearing his intended plan. All he asked was a little trust that he would never put any of their lives in danger needlessly. Drasil was raised in a close-knit family and felt that a good crew should mirror that knit.

Tom was onboard without hesitation. Having a PhD in physics from Miskatonic University had landed him a lab job. Tom had turned out to be a less than successful family man and had no paternal obligations after his divorce so his schedule was pretty much open. Tom never preferred the open sea to land despite his nautical upbringing but was a fish to water, so to speak, as soon as his feet hit the deck of the Vardøger.

Nikola was the second crewmember to join almost immediately. He had one condition to Drasil’s proposal: He wanted his room to be in the wheelhouse. As there was plenty of room for a small cot in the wheelhouse, Drasil had no objections. Nikola was born in Russia, raised as a Russian but considered his home to be at the wheel of a worthy ship. This was a large contributory factor as to how Drasil, Tom, and Nikola all became friends. They grew up together albeit on different ships and usually thousands of miles apart for months at a time. They felt that knowing someone was not so much about time spent together as it was about trustworthiness of character. The only difference they agreed to disagree on was their methods of problem solving. Drasil and Tom were not the type to fix something that was not broke whereas Nikola was methodically mathematical about solving life’s little riddles. Nikola spent endless hours during his youth studying and memorizing schematics for all manner of naval vessels. Lost in the chaotic jungles of numbers, Nikola felt at home. It was a centering mantra for him when the outside world became too much to deal with. He put off most people that met him. He was handsome enough but he would often times get in ‘moods.’ Nikola had the brain of Einstein but the social skills of a piece of sandpaper. Drasil simply recognized that even perfection has bi-products.

Ogre was a dishonest traveling drunkard whose name matched his general demeanor and appearance. Eight years ago Drasil had gotten into a drunken debate with Ogre about who should have the last cashew in the nut bowl at a bar in South Boston.  Ogre, not knowing Drasil, felt that the cashew should be his. Things got heated and eventually resulted in punches being thrown, teeth being cracked, and ribs getting bruised because Drasil refused, in his drunken reasoning, to be pushed around by someone who didn’t have to wear a fake beard at Christmas. The fight was pretty one-sided until Drasil got lucky and smashed a half empty keg of beer over Ogre’s head, ending the fight instantaneously. Ogre was so impressed by Drasil’s keg smash that when he came to, he offered Drasil his services, when need be, which included ship engine maintenance, cooking, and smashing teeth if necessary. As Drasil reached for Ogre’s hand as a sign of truce, Ogre drew back with his free hand and tried to get in one last sucker punch. Living by an old rule that a dishonest person can always be trusted to be dishonest, Drasil was on guard enough to block the incoming punch and jabbed a pool cue into Ogre’s groin. Ever since that encounter, Ogre was always eager to work with Drasil and was on board before Drasil could finish his speech about personal danger.

Alba took a bit more finessing to convince. Alba hated the name Alba and could be heard randomly screaming at one of the other crew all of whom were steadfast in their decision to call her Alba. It was not the fact that Alba was not her real name that bothered her. It was the embarrassing story attached to the name that caused a prick in her paw every time someone casually said, ‘Hi, Alba.’

It was Nikola who coined the nickname Alba at one of the first dinners aboard the Vardøger. Alba never asked Nikola why he called her that and vainly assumed it was because he thought she looked like the actress Jessica Alba based on the way he always raised his eyebrows when he said Alba. At the time, she did not know Nikola was prone to facial twitches. After a few nights of Nikola using the name Alba, Drasil got curious and pulled him aside to ask why he kept calling her that name. The next morning, the entire crew had converted to the name Alba. Alba, being of a sensitive nature but smart enough to sense collusion, finally asked what was up with the name Alba. Nikola, through uncontrollable gut wrenching laughter, told her he had no idea who Jessica Alba was and thought she knew he was referring to the Albatross from ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Formerly a sign of good fortune, some jackass killed it then had to wear it as penance. So the story goes. Nikola was raised with an ancient mariner attitude and felt that women onboard a ship, especially during its launch from its berth, were bad luck. The name Alba was Alba’s personal albatross that hung heavy around her neck along with her personal history with Drasil. Drasil met Alba under nefarious circumstances during an Eco-rally hosted by Miskatonic University in 1998. At the time, Eco-maniacs were passively protesting cargo ships such as the future Vardøger with flyers and petitions. Alba was finishing her first degree in Marine Biology and helped organize the Eco-rally by adding important issues to the flyers such as illegal cargo transport, i.e., smuggling. It was the small ironies in life that warmed the deepest cockles of Drasil’s scoundrel heart.

During the demonstration, a fellow sea merchant 20 years Drasil’s senior, got irritated by some of the protestors and threw an ice cream sandwich which consequently bounced off of Alba’s head. Drasil stood nearby and watched the situation unfold with an observed interest. Without a word, Drasil sauntered over to the assaulting merchant with an approving swagger and an outstretched hand. As the merchant moved in to accept the handshake, Drasil sucker punched him with a southpaw haymaker. The punch connected with such a driving force into the eye of the 220 pound man that his head bounced off the telephone pole he was leaning against. Drasil, having the image and ding of a fight bell stuck in his head, almost forgot to assume a defensive stance in case of retaliatory action while trying to stifle a chuckle. A schoolyard fight circle formed around Drasil, the merchant, and the telephone pole with the few quick shuffles of feet and a chorus of muffled ‘oh, my gods.’ The merchant fell to one knee and staggered to brace himself against the telephone pole. Alba stood frozen in half horror half delight at the violence and taste of ice cream in her mouth. Drasil put down his guard and cautiously approached the merchant.

“You alright?” Drasil said as he offered a hand.

“Guess that was a pretty dumb thing to be doing at my age, eh?” The old merchant chuckled.

“No dumber than what I just did to you.” Drasil smirked as he helped the sea merchant to his feet.

“Your father’s a good man,” The sea merchant said while dabbing the blood away from his eyebrow. “You’re not turning out so bad yourself.”

“Thanks. On both accounts,” Drasil smiled and met the merchant’s eyes.

“Would you mind doing me a favor? I’m a bit embarrassed and was wondering if you might apologize to that young lady for me. Judging by the way she’s been undressing you with her eyes, I’d venture a guess she’d rather hear it from you anyway,” The merchant winked at Drasil and clapped him on the back then disappeared into crowd.

Drasil was confident about his looks. He was an average Joe Smo at his worst and handsome at best. His real weapon of choice, when talking about tracking a mate or a temporary mate of carnal affections, was his swaggering charm. He loved to fight and fought for what he loved. He also knew that, despite how much women complain that they ‘just want to find a nice guy,’ it is the bad boy who has the most fun. He had been in enough trouble not to look like an idiot and had a justified tale of wit for each of his 12 public offenses. Drasil approached the eco-rally’s foldable table with a faint smile and a solid stare at Alba who was darting looks between Drasil and a group of papers on the table.

“Sorry about that,” Drasil said as he met Alba’s eyes. “On both accounts.”

“Such a gentleman. Tell me, does that bad boy, alpha male bullshit get all your other girlfriends wet?” Alba scoffed.

“Only after I get them too drunk to know better,” Drasil replied matching Alba’s sarcasm.

Alba stood with her mouth slightly ajar.

“Such a charmer. Straight to business, skip the pleasantries. Kinky. That is what a real woman like me needs,” Alba batted her eyes. “Jerk.”

“Hey, no need to jump to conclusions. I just came over to apologize for the other guy because he was too embarrassed. I’m sorry you took that as me coming onto you. I was just trying to be civil,” Drasil turned around and began to walk away.

“Wait, wait. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude,” Alba called after with sincerity.

The corners of Drasil’s lips curled into a smirk.

“Yes you did,” Drasil said as he turned around straight-faced. “But, it’s okay. You were right. I was just using the apology as an excuse to come over and ask if you wanted to have dinner or a drink later.”

Alba grinned up at Drasil with a won over gleam, “You are going to be trouble aren’t you?”

“As much as you can handle, darling,’” Drasil returned the smile. “Be back at 7? Will that work for you?”

“You don’t even know my name!” Alba said incredulously.

“You can tell me if you decide to go out with me. How’s that sound?” Drasil reasoned. “That way if you decide to skip out before 7, you won’t have to worry about whether or not I know your name.”

“Why would I worry if you knew my name? Are you a killer?” Alba joked.

“No. But I figured if you decided to stand me up, it would be less embarrassing for me and less uncomfortable for you. See you at 7. Maybe,” Drasil smiled and left.

At 7’oclock the crowds had died out and the sunlight began to fade. Alba finished packing up her papers and paused briefly to look around expectantly.

“So did you decide?” Drasil said from the infamous telephone pole.

“I’m still here aren’t I?” Alba replied.

“I meant on food or drinks,” Drasil said with a smirk.

“Well, what if I want both?” Alba smirked back.

“You’re bad,” Drasil shook his finger.

After that night, Drasil and Alba were as inseparable as the seas would allow. Alba finished out her degree in Marine Biology at Miskatonic U and acquired a job at a sea life reservation in Boston. Drasil always made it a point to convince his father to take cargo shipments that passed near or around Boston. Drasil and Alba’s relationship, if described briefly, was one hot mess. When they were physically together, they could not keep their eyes, hands, and other unmentionable appendages off of each other. It was the weeks apart that drove them to pointless arguments and empty threats regarding their relationship. When Drasil took over the family business when his father died in 2000, it became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. He worked so much that in two months he saw Alba once. Two months after that, Drasil pretty much disappeared. The accumulation of missed dates and broken phone conversations prompted Alba to say the four words that Drasil knew to be the herald of relational tragedy: “We-Need-To-Talk.”

Alba stayed at the sea life conservatory in Boston while Drasil poured all his energies into the renovation of the Vardøger.

Alba was the last person Drasil wanted to proposition about being on his crew. He knew he could trust her. He was just not positive as to whether emotions would rule the boss/co-worker relationship given their past history together. She was the best in her field and was looking to do some research of her own based on her articles published by National Geographic. Drasil now appreciated what it was to be stuck between a rock and a place of unforgiving hardness. The bottom line was she would be an asset to the crew either way and it was that rationale that helped Drasil make a trip to see Alba.

“You are out of your mind!” Alba protested after listening to Drasil’s proposed plan over an uncomfortable reunion dinner.

“Thanks for your honesty,” Drasil replied. “But you know I’m not crazy…well, not completely and I need you on my crew. I’ve been open and honest with the pros and cons as they apply to you. Now, give me an answer.”

“What is wrong with you?!” Alba scolded. “You can’t just decide something like that over dinner! This is a life altering decision.”

“How?” Drasil playfully jested. “You are going on an extended cruise with a the possibility for more fun than any other boat could offer.”

“I don’t call the possibility of death or life in prison fun.” Alba retorted.

“There is danger in every job and I don’t aim to land anyone in prison. Besides, you work with wild animals. I’d say there is a pretty significant chance of death involved in that. How is this any different?” Drasil persuaded. “Plus, you get complete control of the research front. You order the equipment, maintain the upkeep, and continue your studies. The rest of us will be the dirty workers.”

“Now I know you’ve lost it,” Alba said in between chews.

“Come on darlin.’ Don’t be like that,” Drasil antagonized.

“Don’t call me darlin.’ I hated it when we together and it is twice as bad now,”  Alba said as she rolled her eyes disapprovingly.

“I’ve got a few other choice names I could call you. As I recall you were quite fond of a couple of them,” Drasil grinned.

“Shut up!” Alba said incredulously.

“Look, I know it’s a lot to ask. Will you at least promise me that you will give me a definite answer within the next couple of days? Please?” Drasil asked with dignity.

“Okay,” Alba agreed.

“Okay, you’ll do it?” Drasil said with bright eyes. “That’s great!.”

“What? No. I’ll think about it,” Alba looked at him with disapproving eyes.

“It was worth a shot,” Drasil shrugged.

Alba and Drasil said their goodbyes outside of the restaurant and began to go their separate ways.

“Drasil?” Alba called. “What about us?”

“I made it a point not to make a fuss about that subject at dinner. You can be assured of the same ‘no undue fussing’ policy if you accept my offer,” Drasil replied.

“And what happens if we change our minds?” Alba persisted.

“Every job has its dangers darling,’” Drasil waved goodbye one last time and made his way to his rental car.

The next morning Drasil awoke to the clanging ringer of the old rotary telephone on the night stand of his motel room.

“What?” Drasil spoke into the receiver as he fumbled it to his mouth.

“Just promise me one thing?” Alba’s voice echoed through the receiver. “I mean if I decide to say yes.”

“Mmmkay,” Drasil said with grog in his voice.

“We can explore locations I decide on. In between other jobs I mean,” Alba said with a waver in her voice.

“Sure thing darlin,’” Drasil said still refusing to disturb his comfortable nest egg position. “Be at the docks by six tonight. I’ll introduce you around, show you the new layout, get you situated, et cetera.”

“Don’t call me darling,’” Alba growled.

Drasil rolled back over and lazily placed the receiver in its cradle.

For nearly seven years, Drasil had been sailing with his handpicked crew. They had endured all the trials and tribulations seven years at sea could muster and still managed to function well. One big happy family.

A sharp splash of water from the wake of the shore boat sliced Drasil’s cheek and brought him out of his memories.

“We’re almost there,” Tom called noticing Drasil’s attention shift.

Drasil stayed quiet and nodded in acknowledgement.

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