My father’s first words to me were ‘You shall be our salvation.’
His second words to me were my name. Ku-kaili-moku-polemo.
There is incredible power in names. Every one of my people know this. So my people gave me the names of war, because that is what my people needed; A leader, a champion, someone who could lead us into battle. The godwhisperers worked long tides, shaping the regalia that would be mine when I was ready. Dankatis, a blade with teeth taken from our greatest generals, fed on the blood of humans, given a lust for violence. Mohai, a leather war-thong made from the carcasses of those we had lost, fed on the tears of mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, given a stoic fortitude. With these, I was told, I would ride a bloody crusade against the land-dwellers. Perhaps I would have, had fate not… intervened.
I took a breath of the cool, harshly dry air. It was not what I had expected, but I had never known what to expect. The idea of needing to drink, to continuously ingest water to keep myself from dying was… bizarre, but not entirely without precedent. I had other needs that also had to be filled, after all.
I sat in the bedroom, and stared at the human as he slept. This was another strange habit. The need to leave oneself totally vulnerable. The need to trust. I stepped closer, moving with all of my grace and stealth, and he didn’t wake up. I rested a hand very gently in the air just above him, inches from the fine short hairs that grew from his body, the only early warning system he had. He was so helpless like this, so dependent. It was strange to imagine that a species could survive like this, needing one another to such a great degree that their bodies shut down entirely. They would have to be clever, or trusting. I wondered which he was.
These are the ways that I knew him.
By sight, the surface of his body. Small, though probably not by human standards. Muscles lay under the skin, tensed in places into stiffness, but with a generous layering of fat compared to my own body. Designed to protect him from the cold. It made him look soft, like a seal. But he had delivered a surprisingly harsh blow with his club. Beneath the skin, humans were all hard edges and stiff bones. Not something you would want to bite into without being prepared for it. And my people were about to do just that.
By electricity, much like any other human. The flicker of sapience in the brain, the flashes of a nervous system at rest, the random flickers that occasionally spiked into fevered activity. Each time I saw the activity increase, I went still, stealthy, closing my eyes, falling beneath his notice. But those nerves and synapses raced as well as any of my people. They were smart, these humans. They were unquestionably sapient. I had to get close to feel it through the haze of the air, the strange and insulating material that always intervened between those above water. But they could be reasoned with.
By scent, he became more interesting. Though he claimed he had not become Bastet’s mate, he smelled of her. He smelled of many things not human. He surrounded himself with them. They hinted at his true nature, but it was only a hint.
And as to that true nature…
It is strange to think that humans could not use this sense. Among my own people, everyone possessed it- though some, confessedly, in greater detail and clarity than others, like any sense. Those for whom the sense was most attuned became the godwhisperers, able to follow the subtle passage of divinity and faith, the twin currents, as they ran through all things; all tools. In my world. Seeing it was a simple matter of opening oneself to it, like opening my mouth. It manifested itself like a light; I had heard different colors from different people, but always one representing divinity, the other faith.
In this world, few things glowed with that inner light. And that was perhaps the greatest sign my people would have taken as to the nobility, the inevitability, of our crusade. Perhaps one in ten- one in a hundred- showed any glimmer of faith coursing through them. It was there, of course- but poorly exercised, a muscle atrophied through disuse. And few things around them flared with divinity. A building here, a small god hidden among the humans there, but so few of their tools.
Horace was… strange. He was surrounded by divinity. Every tool in this household twinkled gently with it. A few things fairly glowed- The vehicle that he drove, the small bundle in his pocket, the strange clubs in the forest behind this dwelling- and yet, he himself was…
Even this close, nearly touching him, I couldn’t detect any faith in him. Not even the slightest hint dwelled in his bones, leaving him strange to touch.
That’s why I wanted to bite him. Maybe his faith was hiding. Maybe I’d be able to taste what was strange about him. But it would probably be a deep diplomatic misstep if I bit him while he was sleeping, especially after he’d fed me so kindly. So instead, I crept out of the room, and studied the map again.
Why would Bastet connect herself with someone who had no faith? What had invested its power into all the gods around him? It was a buffet of mysteries, all of them begging for a bite.
It wasn’t as though I would bite hard. I just wanted a taste, not a meal.
Nonetheless, I wanted him for my own. I needed a consort, to continue my bloodline. My senses told me that he was compatible. The greater the rank of the human I married, the greater the support for peace; tying us together with bonds of blood. After all, what depraved creatures would slay kin?
But I would find the right time to propose that to him. A time when he was more… amenable.
It answered one question, at least. Without faith, it did not matter what he called someone. His words would have as much effect as the passage of an eel through the water, unable to tilt even the smallest of gods. For divinity did not change, save in response to faith.
I thought of my own people. And how terribly, desperately lost they were. In despair, they had turned to old gods and lost gods, and even now, they were preparing to do things unthinkable. They would trade life for survival, sell their souls and future in order to live another day, and I could not allow that.
But I could not allow them to die, either.
The sun dawned. It was strange, this world; light came sudden, all at once. Instead of a gradual build, the lances of blue and then green and then yellow and so on and so forth, it struck in a single great tidal wave of illumination. Far more powerful than the fluorescent and twinkling creatures that dwelt in the depths of Atlantis, and harsher by far than the cool lights which lit its chambers. It brought a twisting heat, and fierce radiation, its searing tongue only slightly blunted by the atmosphere.
It was strange how air could insulate from all that was good, all that fostered community, and yet no barrier at all to some forms of savagery.
“Oh, hey, you’re up.”
I spun, surprised. The human smiled cheerfully. I hadn’t even felt him coming, the slow propagation of electricity and scent through the air still new to me. I took a deep breath, my heart slowing down to a reasonable pace, and smiled at him. “Did you sleep well?”
“Eh. Had some weird dreams.”
“Yes, I noticed that you seemed somewhat disquieted.”
Horace opened his mouth, then closed it. He frowned at me. “How do you know that?”
“I watched you while you slept,” I announced, smiling, proud. “And I didn’t bite you once, despite ample temptation.”
He stared at me with obvious gratitude, moved by my magnanimous gesture, both avoiding taking advantage of him, and providing him with additional safety. “Thanks,” he said, with obvious emotion over the deepness of the bond we had shared.
“We are to undergo a great and dangerous quest together. I needed to show you that you could trust me. Do you always sleep so deeply?”
“Probably not anymore,” he said, and I nodded.
“Yes. We shall be in great danger. You will need to sleep lightly. I am grateful that you already understand the need.” I stood up. “So, how far is this Manitouin Island?”
“About 700 miles,” he said.
“Is that far?”
“It’ll take us about half a day to reach there.”
I nodded as though I understood what that meant for distance. “I have thought of the problem. You say that there is a border we must cross, like the border between this world and mine. How difficult is it to breach?”
“Not difficult at all, with the right documents.” He held up a small sheath, like what a warrior might use to hold a knife, filled with tiny glittering leaves. I peered at them. His face appeared on one of the sheets.
“A writ?” I asked.
“Can we whisper a god into one of these objects to act as a witness to my good name?”
“Probably not. There’s only one god that the border guards pay heed to, and it’s a cruel, harsh god. It’s name is-”
He said a word that I did not understand. I frowned, and nodded. “I see. And this Byoorah Krasi will not be persuaded?”
“Not unless we’re willing to wait two to three months.”
“Mmmm. I fear we may not even have a single phase, let alone many moons. ” I nodded. “Then I shall have to avoid its gaze. Is there water nearby this crossing?”
“Well, yes, but I thought you couldn’t get through to your world?”
“I don’t need to get through that barrier. I simply need to swim from one side of this border to the other.”
“Ah. Do you have falls in your world? Places where water moves from one place to another? Really violently?”
“The size and speed of the current does not matter,” I said proudly, standing straight. “When we arrive there, I shall pass.”
“That reminds me. The other thing. Is there any way you could… disguise yourself?”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean… Like, so you look… more like a human. I don’t think I can keep you in the trunk the whole way, and I’m not sure you’d even fit.”
My back hunched, entering an attack posture out of sheer embarrassment, my heart pounding in my chest. The impertinence of it. The daring of it. Even if he didn’t know what he was asking- and how could he not?- it was a shocking request to hear at any rate. The man was asking me to change my shape, to make me more compatible with his kind. A more suitable bride, a more pleasing mate. I looked aside, and allowed the slightest smile to tease across my lips, teeth shining. “I suppose that I could manage it.”
A moment later, the change was done. I grinned up at him.
I bristled, flashing my sharp teeth, arching my back. “Yes, I am not the largest! I have not finished growing! I am still a fine leader!”
He grinned, and that just made me angrier. “It’s okay. This is a lot less intimidating. And it means that we can actually get some clothes on you.” He frowned. “What are those tattoos?”
“They’re a part of my culture,” I said. He looked ready to ask more, but then he let it drop, and I was grateful for that. Explaining them would be… difficult. What they meant. Why I had them. What these particular tattoos signified.
“Alright. Some of my mom’s clothing should fit you. Go find something suitable. It’ll be old, but it’ll fit alright on you.”
“Clothing? Is that really necessary? I look like a human, after all. I don’t need to hide anything.”
“It’s a big thing with humans. Just trust me on this, okay?”
I retreated to the bedroom, to find clothing. It was not easy. Everything the humans wore was so rough against their absurdly sensitive skin, confining. It blocked my sense of the electricity running through the walls, made it harder to feel the air move around me. I walked through the room, examining the closets, and considered the room itself. A large bed, one half immaculately made and pressed, the other still messy. A picture of a couple- Horace’s parents, no doubt. They looked much like him. They were both smiling brightly in the picture. A child in their arms- Horace, or possibly one of his siblings. I didn’t know if he had siblings.
The image brought up a pang. My own upbringing had been both crowded and lonely at the same time, of course. It was natural to be isolated from others while also being surrounded by them. That was the pain of ascension, of ruling. But I wondered, for a few moments, whether there was something else to it. I did not want to be isolated. I needed someone close to me. My father had never been able to do so for me. But…
The human was interesting, for any number of reasons. The strange divinities that gathered around him. His ability to keep cool in a crisis. His connection to the goddess Bastet. It was this last one that most made me want him. Whatever she saw in him, I wanted to see as well. And… If I were perfectly honest with myself…
Horace was kind, considerate, and helpful. He did not deserve the fate being Bastet’s priest brought.
Finally, after another few minutes searching, I found something that would fit just right.
He stared at me as I came down the stairs, and I preened, feeling quite proud of the effectiveness of my choice. “Well,” he said, and then stopped, unable to find a way to continue. After another few seconds, he said, “I had no idea my mother owned yoga pants.” He seemed to be having trouble looking directly at me. “Is that a tube top?”
“They are good fighting clothes.”
“Your people don’t have much of a concept of underwear, do they?”
“Ugh. More clothing, on top of this?”
“Under, technically, but…” He sighed. “Fuck it. We’ll head towards the Niagara Falls crossing. If we can’t get you past there, we’ll check out that stretch of road. I looked it up last night, it’s a small town called Zion.”
“Mmmm. It would not be ideal, for any number of reasons,” I said. In truth, the entrance through Manitoulin Island would be the weakest. The defenses I had referred to were not only on the side of Atlantis. The power churned strangely around the southern shore of the great lake, and I was not certain what fearsome gatekeepers might await there. And as to the eastern shore… That one was strange. It was reminiscent of the mark at Manitoulin Island, one divine being’s tremendous impact. I did not recognize its flavor, but whoever was responsible had been fearsomely powerful.
Best to avoid trouble. I knew precisely what had caused the rift at Manitoulin Island, and it was no longer much of a factor in the world.
The two of us sat in the vehicle, and Horace began. The sensation of being disconnected from the movement outside was no less disquieting than it had been the day before, and I found myself somewhat nervously squeezing the door handle by my side as it accelerated down the bumpy road without any feedback. I was used to the rush of water, or at least air, as I traveled. This was more like being trapped within a current. Hurtling forward, watching the world pass by, with no control over where you moved, caught like a fish in the tendrils of an anemone.
“So… I met two, I guess, Atlanteans once before. They attacked a place where I worked, and then disappeared. They looked like fish, too, but… different fish.”
I was not paying attention to where we were driving. I had been strategizing, figuring out plans of attack, paths of retreat from Atlantis, how to make sure that my objective could be achieved. Like one of a dozen strategic games my father had played with me, first educating me, and then losing to me. I considered the question. “Our people resemble marine life, it is true. In much the same way that your kind resemble certain animals.”
“So, can you breed?”
“What sort of question is that?!” I asked, face flushing.
“An important one. Tells me whether you’re the same species as each other, or something else.”
“We can indeed breed, though we do so rarely. Our lifespans are long enough that we seldom need to renew our population. And Atlantis, beautiful though it is, has limited space. We must exist in a careful balance, lest our population grow too vast and violent, or too small and inbred. That is why these attacks have created such an uproar. We can ill afford the loss of even a handful of lives. Hence why I refuse to support this foolish war.”
“Strange,” he murmured. “Maybe some form of demons.”
“We are not beings of divinity. We are beings of faith. Like you. We once shared your world with you, but were… forced to leave.” I looked down, frowning. “Driven away.”
“By humans?” he asked softly.
“Humans are, I am told, difficult to live with. You do not react well to rivals, to predators, to prey… It seems entirely possible that it was the cause.” I was silent for a moment or two. “If we are able to stop my people’s plans… Do you think there can be a peace between our peoples? Can we coexist? Or will I just be feeding my people willingly into a predator’s jaws?”
“Yes,” he said, instantly, and I felt something then. Just a flicker, but strong. The warmth of faith. “We might be stupid, sometimes. We might do the wrong thing. We might hurt people without considering our actions. But I’ve got to believe that we’re capable of getting along with your kind. There are some bad humans, and they wield a lot more power than they should. But the fact that we’re even still here tells me that we can get along.” Then the flicker died away, and his face became melancholy. “I hope.”
“I see,” I said, and considered his words. Strange, to see his passion so strong, and yet so inconstant. That might explain more about him. That his power came and went. It was strange to see someone whose faith was so strongly linked to their emotions. Certainly, there were ways to channel and contort faith- Hymns, rituals, sacrifices- those designed and engineered by the godwhisperers. But those were multipliers. They could not create faith where none existed. They could not make the flame of divinity spring from nothing.
The drive was curious. The hills rolled and twirled as they did in my world, but instead of swimming high above them, we were forced to follow their curves like crabs on our bellies, unable to see beyond them. No way to see what was there. And yet…
And yet, my vision could pierce so far, up here. I looked up, and stared at a distant glimmering bird, trailing a white line behind it like a wake. How far away must it be? A thousand armsbreadths? More than that, even? And yet I could see it there, glimmering brilliantly. Humans could not see far on their own level, but they could stare into the heavens forever. Perhaps that was why they could create such wonders, and use them with such callousness.
My father, when I had been young, took me on one of my very few trips to the human world. Just briefly. To an island that had once been. I saw the shattered glass that was all that was left of the lands that had been consumed. My father had shown me the vile and poisonous divinity that lingered on that place, killing everything that did not know how to hide itself from the tiny and malevolent god’s sight. The humans created such things. And then, they did not use them against each other.
It was difficult to tell whether that was a cause for hope or despair. But they also had their unquestionable goods.
“All of it?” I asked, my voice hushed.
“Well, all that you can eat. It’s not polite to take food and then not eat it,” said Horace.
I stared once more out across the large room. Dishes of the strange, shiny material that seemed ubiquitous in the upper world covered tables, filled with more food than a hundred people could eat. People wandered up with plates, filled them to overflowing, and then walked away. It was a testament to abundance, a place where sated and starving alike could enjoy the same price for as much food as they needed. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
“What is it called?” I asked, my voice soft.
“A Chinese buffet.” He smiled. “Betty doesn’t usually care for them. Says they’re low-class. But I figured you might enjoy them.”
“This is truly a place of enlightenment,” I murmured softly, my eyes lidded. “To have food in such abundance that such vast variety is available to all.” I approached one of the trays, and reached out.
“Ah, you’re supposed to use this.” He handed me a flat saucer made of another strange material. So many curious techniques they used on this world. Their lack of gods was made up for with a fascinating variety of materials and imagination. But it all seemed so complicated; One set of material to hold the foods, another to carry them around, still others to use for drinks. It was overcomplicated. I was used to the same ice being used to forge most tools needed, blessed by godwhisperers as necessary, given shape and purpose.
But the food showed the other side to that. It was so varied, so exciting, so unusual. It did not have the warmth and tenderness that Horace’s own food had, but it was exciting and full of so many different flavors. I smiled as I bit into a chunk of some strange, tough land-dweller meat. Then I looked out through the window.
“That’s the falls?” I asked, nodding my head towards them.
“Yeah. I think we can get past them, and you can jump into the river-”
“I want to swim up them,” I said, and grinned, my teeth shining, shark-like. There were certain things I could not change- and there were certain things I did not want to change.
“They’re… really, really big falls.”
“I can swim them,” I stated confidently.
Perhaps it was somewhat childish of me, to wish to show off to him. To show my physical fitness and my adequacy as a mate. A little way of catching his attention. Proving myself to him. Capturing his imagination. There was a reason why I insisted on going around so naked around him, though it seemed that there was some issue with his hormones. That, or he was spectacularly loyal to the cat goddess. Either way, it made him more interesting.
I returned to the meal, and dove into it with reckless abandon. I had not eaten so well as long as I lived.
An hour or so later, I stood at the edge of the river, studying it. “We don’t have to do this,” said Horace, who was repeatedly checking his environment, eyes wandering around for any sign of intruders. Good instincts on him. “Like, this would probably be a lot easier if we didn’t.”
“I could use a good swim.” I smiled, and began to remove the tight clothing. “I will meet you on the far side, when you arrive.” I watched him carefully as I stripped, and was amused by the way he averted his eyes, the way his synapses began to crackle and pop furiously, able to read them from this distance. Not enough to know exactly what he was thinking, but certainly enough to tell his metabolism was getting worked up. Nothing wrong with his hormones, then.
I dove into the water in a smooth, graceful arc, breaking through the surface in one smooth movement. The water was deliciously cold, and churned with grit and air, brought down by the massive falls. I changed, and in an instant, I was myself once more. My legs and arms moved fluidly, as I swayed through the water, towards the ferocious falls.
In truth, there was nothing quite like them in Atlantis. There were powerful currents, even deep abyssal shelves where water rushed down along a current to create something similar. But the way the water and the air mixed in this world meant that this was completely unlike that. The water rushed down far too fast to breathe it in, and was so full of air that it would’ve been unbearably painful anyway. My gills sealed shut as I swam towards it, the rumbling thud of water striking the surface of the river with the force of an avalanche filling the air.
As I approached, I dove down, into the turbulence, and then powered my way up. And up. The fall’s power was phenomenal, and the water so aerated that it was difficult to find purchase. Yet, despite it all, I scythed up through the water, my dorsal fin cutting through as I approached the top.
I erupted triumphantly from the crest, arching for a single glorious moment through the air. Then I was in the water again, powering upriver. I smiled to myself at the thought of Horace’s expression at my feat of prowess as I scythed towards the open bank of riverside where we had agreed to meet, and waited for him.
And began to grow somewhat cross.
The sun had shifted a nearly a dozen degrees across the sky when the car drove up, and he stepped out. I climbed onto the bank, hands on my hips, human-shaped once again. “What did you think?”
“My swim! You saw me, didn’t you?”
“I was driving through the checkpoint. It took forever.” He gave me a quizzical look. “Were you trying to show off for me?”
“You know that Betty might literally eat you alive if you try to muscle in on her territory, right?”
“You are not her mate, are you? She hasn’t claimed you, has she?”
“Well, no. But she tends to be fairly possessive, anyway.”
I looked aside. “You are very loyal to her, aren’t you?”
“She’s a friend. A really, really close one.”
“She is a goddess. That is not the same thing.”
“Yeah, well.” He smiled, and held out the clothes, and a strange sheet of thick, absorbent fabric. “That all depends on how you look at it, doesn’t it?”
I did not know all the details of friendship. It was not an emotional connection I’d had the opportunity to experience. But I knew the broad details. Loyalty, support in times of plenty and times of famine. You were supposed to care for your friends. Protect them, if you could.
Bastet was many good things, but she brought misfortune into the lives of others. To the benefit of all, but still. I knew the story of why she had slain our gods. And every one of Bastet’s stories began and ended the same way.
With the much-too-soon death of her priest.
I used the strange, rough sheet to dry my body off, wondering at how strange a device it was, before dressing, feeling a bit embarrassed. All that effort, and he hadn’t even noticed.
“So, I’ve got to say, for someone who’s planning on asking Betty for help, you seem to have a somewhat… low opinion of her. What with the hitting on me and all.” He frowned at me. “What’s that about?”
“I think she is a great and respectable force. A champion, and someone without whom neither of our worlds would still exist. But she is very, very dangerous.” I frowned at him. “I will admit to being fond of you. You are thoughtful, caring, and capable, at least in a small way. I would hate to see you die, sacrificed on the altar of Bastet, as so many have been before you.”
His expression went stiff, his jaws tensed. He didn’t speak for a few moments, and I realized that he had grown quite angry. “I’m sorry,” I said. “But there used to be people who are like you in my world. Penitents who have committed some great injustice. Caused the death of kin or loved ones, been responsible for great destruction, or broken most sacred taboos. They give their lives in service to one of the gods. Sacrificed everything, every erg of their existence to that god, to repay their debt to all. Even this- You are accompanying me on a dangerous journey. If my people intercept me, they will kill you, at best. And so, when I see you act that way, I wonder to myself… What crime did you commit?”
He was quiet for a moment. Then another moment. Then several more moments past that. I lowered my head.
“I am sorry. It is a very personal question. I just want to understand how someone so young, and so kind, could think themselves guilty enough to be blasé about their existence.”
“You’re awfully perceptive,” he said, and a light smile touched his lips. “Maybe I’m just suicidally overconfident, ever think about that? I believe that I’m going to survive no matter what I do.”
“If a priest of Bastet had such an attitude, he would be long dead,” I said, softly.
“Yeah,” he murmured. “I suppose they would.” He turned onto one of the great long avenues of paved stone that ran across the lush fields, and the car hummed as it accelerated. His eyes flicked down to the controls and then back up, an unreadable expression on his face. “Then let’s talk about this island. Manitoulin island. Why can we cross over there?”
“A god once escaped from Atlantis through that place. Or perhaps was trapped there. I was never told the details, but it left a shattered place. From Atlantis, every body of natural water can be reached. The Keeper of Gates must have been used to lock them, but it is only a modest god; We have little need for it, most of the time, because your kind are incapable of opening the gates. Usually.” I frowned. “The Keeper of Gates can lock those portals, but some have been damaged by the passage of great and powerful forces. Gods, usually old and powerful ones. The Keeper of Gates cannot lock a door which has been knocked off its hinges.”
“You have doors and hinges down there?”
“Of course. Clams.”
He gave me a slow look, as though he didn’t believe what I’d just said, though I had no idea why he would doubt me. Finally, he turned back towards the road. “Once we’re in there… How crowded is Atlantis? How hard is it going to be to find our way there?”
“It should be easy, really. Once we have entered Atlantis, we can break out easily enough. The Keeper of Gates is meant to keep others out, not to prevent escape. We enter, and open a path to Bastet. With you to guide me to her, it should be relatively easy.”
“So what was all of that stuff about Bastet? The sense that I’m going to commit suicide, and all of that dramatic stuff?”
“Because,” I said, turning my head to look out of the window, “Bastet has a type.”
There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment, but he chuckled. “I appreciate the concern. I may not agree with it, but I can respect someone who wants me to be safe. But I’ll be alright.”
“Why?” I asked, softly.
“Because I’m surrounded by strong people. I may be helpless, but at least I seem to have a knack for being able to help people who are strong.”
“Ah,” I said, and my stomach fell.
He believed in me. Trusted me. Thought I would be able to keep him safe. That was frightening, of course. Very alarming, in fact.
Because I couldn’t protect anyone. That was the whole reason my father had been taken away from me.
I stared out of the window as we continued across the roads and the great, open plain.
What it reminded me of most was swimming across the underside of the surface of a lake. A great flat plain beneath you, the endless blue above. So close you could almost touch the surface. “Can I open the window?” I asked. Horace nodded, and I gently turned the small crank, opening the window, and letting the air rush through. My hair began to dance and fly in the wind, green braids flashing through the air. I held a hand out, and felt the air dance around my fingers. At this speed, it was almost like trailing them through water. It reminded me of home.
Home, which had changed so much over the years of fear and siege.
Home, which was not home anymore, but might be again someday, if I did this right.
“Hey. I’ve always wanted to ask, but why the hell do you even find me appealing?”
“What?” I frowned over at him. “Is it that strange?”
“Yeah. I seem to have good luck romantically, but only with monsters. I’m wondering why that is.”
“Ah.” I paused for a moment, and considered. “Well, there are many things, but I think the most important part is how we met.”
“You mean how I hit you in the face?”
“And then gave me food and promised to help me.” I smiled. “It makes an impression.”
“As does the flashlight,” he said, shaking his head slowly. “I’m the first human you’ve ever met, and from the sound of it, the first person you’ve had direct experience with who wasn’t your family, or your subject. Don’t you want to be a little bit more… selective?”
“When you see something you want, something that you need, you seize it between your jaws, and do not stop to worry.”
“That is… a very shark philosophy.”
“Thank you,” I said, beaming.
“Worry as in feel anxiety, or worry as in shake it until it’s dead?”
We drove mostly in silence the rest of the way. The landscape rolled along beside us. Then, we approached the lake.
I had never seen the water quite like this, before. From within, lakes and oceans all looked much the same. You couldn’t see very far inside of them. I could sense them in other ways, but they didn’t communicate that size in quite the same way that this did. The water rolled on towards eternity, no sign of anything on the other side. It could have gone on forever. Knowing how far my sight reached up here, on this surface world, that made it all the more incredible.
“Alright. This is the spot, yeah?”
We got out of the car, and walked down to the edge of the shoreline. It was surprisingly cold, a bitter chill in the air, and I shivered slightly as I undressed, and took on my true shape once more, breathing in the sharp air. “This is it. If this goes as planned, we should be there for less than a few minutes.”
“Well, fuck. That’s asking for trouble,” said Horace. “You watch. We’re going to get to the other side, and they’ll be waiting for us.”
“Because you tempted fate. You never tempt fate. What could you have been thinking?”
“Do humans really believe in such things?” I asked, an eyebrow raised. “This leads to an ancient and unpopulated region of Atlantis. There are hundreds of such gates into Atlantis. They could not be prepared at all of them. How would they even know where we were?”
“I’m just saying, if we get onto the other side and there’s a bunch of smug bad guys waiting for us, I told you so.”
“That’s ridiculous. Saying something doesn’t make things happen unless you’re talking to a god.”
“Yeah? Well, Dramatic Irony’s about the most powerful god humans acknowledge. And you’re tempting him.”
I groaned. “We don’t have time for this.”
“I thought this wouldn’t take long?”
“Or patience. Whatever!” I stepped towards the water, grumbling as I reached out.
The water twinkled. Normally, my people would need to propitiate the water to get through, using their faith to channel the divinity of the Sea. I did not. I simply reached through, and opened the gate. The small waves began to grow, crashing, becoming larger. Horace frowned. “Hey, uh, it occurs to me to ask, but is there air on the other side of the portal?”
“Of course not. Why would there be?” I asked.
“Wait, then so how the hell am-”
The lake rose, in a great wave, twenty feet tall. It surged towards us suddenly as Horace took a step back, and then two. Then it came down on top of us.
I was back in Atlantis. Underwater. I blinked, and looked around. There was no sign of Horace. Divided as we were, he must have come into Atlantis somewhere else. Fortuitous.
Because I did see my father, and three dozen royal guardsmen, their coral armor sparkling as they raised their toothed swords towards me. My father stood, smiling, his skin a coruscating pattern of dreamlike colors, the tendrils hanging down around his mouth, his eyes sparkling with madness.
I whispered a silent curse on the name of the capricious human god called Dramatic Irony.