Order of the Crown

- Part 1 -
Atlantis was once a shining beacon of humanity. A city of art, culture, and technology, it was a civilization of enlightenment ahead of its time. The earth, however, was a restless world that shifted, flexed, and groaned through an evolution and formation that stretched across eons. Being a coastal city, Atlantis was always at risk of inclement weather events and even more so to events that impacted the tectonic plates. Such was the fate of such a glorious city of learning and wonder that it would be swallowed up by the oceans and be forgotten over the centuries that passed. Humanity, however, is not so easily thwarted. One of humanities greatest strengths is adaptability and so it was that a new Atlantis grew from the sunken ruins of the old with an aquatic species of humanity taking to the oceans in the same rapacious way their ancestors swarmed the surface lands. The sub-surface Atlantis that rose from the ruins of the old city was a muted and sallow reflection of the former’s glory. It’s citizens; angry, broken, and twisted versions of their former artists and scholars blamed their new environment for their predicament and sought instead to conquer and dominate their new oceanic world, unleashing their technology with wanton cruelty and disdain for all.
- Six Months Before Uprising -
Much of the submerged city of Atlantis still lay in ruins centuries later, with most of the decimated population leaving within proximity of the palace, which had remained remarkably intact. The Atlantian population had eventually swelled as all human based civilizations do, but rather than re-build the collapsed and ruined outer city, they instead expanded to form new settlements out amongst the oceans and seas of the globe.

It was to a dilapidated old farmhouse on the outskirts of Atlantis that Nagano approached, swimming low to the ground and skimming the broken stone fences and outbuildings. A hammerhead shark of middle age, Nagano was different from his kind in several ways. First, he liked to dress to impress, having salvaged a navy admiral’s uniform from a sunken warship, repairing the medals and epaulettes to a pristine condition that was matched by the trim and cut of his classic fedora hat. Nagano was also fond of wealth and all things shiny, and he possessed a vast hoard of coins, ingots, jewelry, and riches, mostly from the Atlantians he was visiting again this day. Lastly, Nagano loved poker. Not many sharks enjoyed the game, but the Atlantians did, and they were experts at plundering the wealth of the oceans. So, Nagano learned the game and learned it well and soon he was re-distributing the ill-gotten gains of the Atlantians into his own private collection and into the gold plating on his razor-sharp maw of teeth.

Nagano entered the farmhouse cautiously, surprisingly alert for someone decked out in so much bling. Inside, he scanned the main living room and nodded once in satisfaction, seeing the usual suspects of the Atlantian underworld gathered around a neatly established semi-circular table of wet felt and weighted chips. A few of the Atlantians nodded a wary greeting, but most of the gathered players pretended to ignore or outright scoff at his arrival. Nagano enjoyed an inward smile of satisfaction at the reactions, knowing it gave him an edge even before they were seated. Taking his seat, he addressed the elderly octopus dealer with a friendly banter that only served to further antagonize the Atlantians.

“How’s the family Charles?”

“Quite the handful, thanks for asking,” Charles replied with a rueful expression, while four of his arms independently shuffled and cut two separate decks for imminent play.

“You know what they say,” Negrano rejoined, “Never have more children than you have arms.”

This brought a short-lived burst of laughter from the other players, more from a nervous desire to seem part of the conversation than any genuine understanding of the joke.

For his part, Charles just rolled an eye and bared his beak in response, the meaning of which was lost on everyone in the room and then quickly forgotten as the cards began flying out from the octopus dealer’s hands in a deft display of prowess to land neatly and perfectly aligned before each player.

Nagano folded the first hand quickly and settled in to study his opponents, ready for a long evening of enjoyment as he sought to best them at this game of their own devising. 

Hours later, Nagano sat hunched over two cards that lay face down on the wet felt table before him, the pile of weighted chips before him forming a defensive bulwark against the aggressive play of his remaining opponent. The Atlantian glowered at him from across the table, one eye twitching slightly from the intensity of his stare as he sought to divine the truth of the hand now held by this well-dressed Card Shark. Nagano weathered the stare and the gamesmanship with a calmness that only served to further antagonize his opponent, a fact Nagano was acutely aware of. Minutes passed and not even the current dared stir through the cracks in the farmhouse walls. Nagano waited. Charles waited while his arms independently stacked and unstacked piles of chips. Eventually, the Atlantian twitched and in a sudden flurry of movement, pushed all his remaining stack of chips into the middle of the table. “All in!” was the call. 

Neither of Nagano’s eyes even blinked once before he casually announced a call, using his wide head to easily push his wall of chips forward while he absently adjusted the cuff on one sleeve of his admiral’s uniform. Charles easily gathered both piles of chips into the middle of the table, signaling the showdown that would crown the winner of tonight’s game. The Atlantian was clearly dismayed by how quickly Nagano had called his bet and so he was reluctant to flip his cards, speaking sullenly as he did so. “Jacks over tens.” 

“Two pair,” Charles confirmed impassively, privately wanting the night to be over already, as he gestured to the two cards of the Atlantian and the pair of tens revealed in the turn and river cards in the centre of the table.

“Ah,” Nagano drawled, his wide smile brightening the room considerably with the reflection of the glowing algae lights, off his golden teeth. “That is a very good hand my friend, very good indeed….” He continued. “Only, not quite as good as my Kings over Tens.”

Slamming the table in frustration, the Atlantian growled an obscenity and reached behind him, his hand closing around the stock of a gas-powered harpoon leaning against the wall of the farmhouse. Nagano’s eyes narrowed at the curse and movement, even as he was gathering in the chips of his victory. Charles, also noting the aggression pushed back from the table in alarm, a small squirt of black ink escaping him accidentally as primal reflexes kicked in.

Furious at his defeat at the hands of this foppishly dressed freak shark, the Atlantian flexed one arm to bring the weapon around in a fluid move that would soon cut this Card Shark in two. Unnoticed by the Atlantian however, a large shadow had detached itself from the darkened corners of the farmhouse where the illumination from the glowing algae could not quite penetrate. Stepping into the light at the table, a huge figure, easily three times the bulk of the Atlantian moved swiftly to intervene, one fin stopping the heavily muscled arm of the Atlantian before it could move the gas-powered harpoon more than a few inches.

Skin like cooling lava, black with pulsing red veins covered this enormous great white shark’s physique, only partly obscured by the metal studded leathers of the biker jacket he had acquired from a previous customer. Leaning forward, so his bulk didn’t dislodge the heavy beams of the farmhouse roof, Fergal spoke to the Atlantian is a calm, measured voice that was as thick with intent as it was deep and gravelly.

“No need for that friend,” as his mouth opened in a smile devoid of friendship. “We wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt, right?”

The Atlantian glowered up at the great white shark looming above him and he could tell from the red eyes that stared back at him, that his prior use of the term ‘anyone’ had been pointedly generous. Releasing the stock of the weapon, the Atlantian carefully moved his now empty hand away and clear of it, keenly aware of two sets of beady shark eyes that followed his every move.

“There now,” Fergal followed up, a less obvious menace in his tone, “There is always another day and another game, right? And, if you find yourself a bit short on funds, perhaps ol’ Fergal here can help you out?” he smiled broadly.

Standing slowly, the Atlantian nodded once to Nagano and Charles, before backing up towards the farmhouse door, being sure to keep the great white shark in his field of view. 

“I don’t need your services Loan Shark!” he growled angrily. “And I’ll see you another time Hammerhead,” he finished, exiting the farmhouse sideways before quickly disappearing into the gloom of the shadows amongst the ruins.

“Timely arrival Fergal,” Nagano greeted his colleague gratefully as he finished gathering up his chips and cashing them in for Spanish doubloons with Charles.

“It wasn’t by chance Nagano. I was sent to collect you,” Fergal answered, being careful with his words around the Octopus dealer. 

Sliding the wealth of a small nation into a large pouch at his belt, Nagano flicked a single doubloon through the water towards Charles, who easily gathered it in, whilst facing the other way as he packed up the cards and table setting. 

“About time, if you ask me,” Nagano replied to Fergal, who just nodded very briefly in agreement.

As Charles finally finished packing away the table, he turned back to the sharks, curious as to why they had stopped their conversation, only to find the farmhouse eerily empty. His eyes widened in surprise as he carefully clutched a gilded case to his chest before the room suddenly filled with an eye-watering black ink haze as Charles also made good his unseen escape from the outer ruins of Atlantis.