Atlantis lost, p.2
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       Atlantis Lost, p.2

           T.A. Barron
 
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With a grim nod, Narkazan announced, “While you warriors do your work, I shall do mine. I will turn my thoughts to two of my servants already in the mortal world. First of all . . . that sea captain turned machinist, Reocoles, will soon have another dream. A truly memorable dream.”

  He rubbed his pointed chin. “And second, from deep in that rancid pool on Earth’s newest island, that place called Atlantis . . . a being will emerge. A monster filled with deep hunger. Yes—the kind of hunger that can be satisfied only by death and destruction.”

  In a raspy whisper, he added, “And that monster will carry with it something else—something that will make my ultimate conquest of the Earth much easier. Once that is done . . . nothing can stop me from seizing the rest of the universe.”

  The scars on his face darkened. “That monster could serve another purpose, as well. That fool Promi cares far too much for mortals, proof of his weakness. And the monster from the pool might just bring him out of hiding.”

  The mistwraith trembled excitedly.

  Narkazan strode over to the metal chest beside his cot, the spot where he’d kept the precious scrolls with his battle plans. And then, for the first time in a long while, the malevolent warrior smiled. Though it looked more like a predator baring his teeth, it was for him a real sign of pleasure.

  “Now I know,” he said aloud, “what to do about those wasted plans.”

  He nodded with confidence. “If this new idea works . . . it will ensure my victory.”

  Turning back to the mistwraith, he barked, “Now go!”

  Instantly, the shadowy being zipped across the chamber and through the doorway.

  CHAPTER 3

  Evarra and Noverro

  In an entirely different part of the spirit realm, far away from Narkazan’s lair, five immortals strolled across one of the realm’s grandest creations—the Universal Bridge. While a vast distance separated them from the warrior spirit’s lair, his goals of conquest weighed very much on their minds. The group included Promi; his parents, Sammelvar and Escholia; and his sister, Jaladay (whose ever-sassy companion, the blue kermuncle Kermi, was riding on her shoulder).

  Spanning two of the most populated clusters of worlds in the realm, the Universal Bridge had been lovingly crafted ages earlier to connect those places—and to symbolize the eternal bonds among people everywhere. At one end of the bridge was a cluster that constantly radiated a rich array of colors; at the other was a cluster always shrouded in darkness. But the light from the first place was more than enough to make the entire bridge glow and shimmer like the brightest of rainbows, an endlessly luminous archway of shifting colors.

  The more radiant end of the bridge rose from one of the spirit realm’s most populated galaxies, a collection of worlds called Evarra. Composed of countless bubble worlds, Evarra’s planets continually emerged out of the swirling mists, swelled in size even as they transformed in shape and color, vanished suddenly with a pop, and then ultimately reappeared from the vapors. Even though, when viewed from the bridge, it might seem that those bubble worlds lasted only a few seconds, time moved differently on the worlds themselves. So in those few seconds, millions of years could have passed on a bubble world.

  That cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth repeated itself over and over and over again. Given the vast number of worlds in the galaxy, and how rapidly they evolved, anyone who stood on the bridge could hear an endless popping sound—as if the very firmament of the heavens was boiling with the heat of creation.

  The group of five paused, leaning on a railing made of reflective vaporstone, to watch the shimmering lights and colors below. After watching in silent contemplation, Sammelvar pushed some locks of white hair off his brow and spoke.

  “This view always reminds me how brief our lives really are—winks of light that never last very long. Even we immortal spirits eventually fade away and return to the cosmos. And when we do, whatever we have done with our lives was merely a flash in the ongoing parade of lights.”

  Escholia, who was standing beside him, placed her delicate, long-fingered hand on his. “What matters most,” she said gently, “is not how long our light lasts . . . but how bright it shines.”

  He nodded, his golden eyes studying her careworn face. “And your light, my dear, shines brighter than anyone I’ve ever known.”

  She shook her head humbly. At the same time, though, the ocean-glass crystal she wore around her neck turned a lighter shade of blue, showing that her mood—along with the amulet’s sense of the future—had improved.

  Modestly, she protested, “That’s just because I’m reflecting the light you radiate, Sammelvar.”

  “Not true,” he replied. “You’ve always shined bright. Even all those years ago at our wedding, when I gave you that ocean-glass amulet, you glowed like a star! And now . . .”

  He smiled at her, running his hand over one of the bridge’s cables that had been studded with prisms to catch the light. “Now you are a whole constellation of stars.”

  She, too, smiled. The amulet glowed even brighter.

  On Sammelvar’s other side, Jaladay leaned over the railing. While her eyes remained hidden behind a turquoise band, she could see very clearly the evolving bubble worlds below—more clearly, thanks to her abilities as a Seer, than anyone else. For her vision included glimpses of the past and future of each world and the lives of its people. In fact, she chose to wear the band over her eyes so that she could, in her words, “see without getting distracted by what is too easily visible.”

  Scanning the array of luminous worlds below, she leaned even farther over the railing. Promi, standing behind her, put his hand on her shoulder and tugged her back toward him. With a chuckle, he said, “Haven’t I already saved you once recently? It’s too soon to go jumping off a bridge.”

  “Don’t get so cocky, brother. Even if I fell off this thing, I could fly back here without any help from you.”

  “Not so sure,” he objected, shaking his head so that his long black hair swished on his shoulders. “You might get so focused divining the future of some creature down there, you’d forget to fly until you crashed into the planet.”

  Jaladay almost grinned. “You’ve got me there. These bubble worlds are just too amazing.”

  “Harrumph,” grumbled the monkeylike creature on her shoulder. “I can blow bubbles, too, you know. Much better ones than those amateurish efforts down there.”

  Without waiting for her reply, Kermi tapped his long blue tail against Jaladay’s back, then released a long breath. More than a dozen blue-tinted bubbles rose from his lips into the air, wobbling as they glistened with sparks of color from the lights of Evarra.

  “Not bad,” said Promi congenially. “I thought your only real talent was insulting people. Guess I was wrong.”

  “Guess so, manfool.” Kermi’s wide blue eyes narrowed. “Which is no surprise, since your real talent is getting things wrong.”

  Refusing to take the bait, Promi said, “That comes from many years of practice.”

  “Not that many,” Jaladay chimed in. “Though you’ve come awfully close a few times to ending whatever years you’ve had.”

  Promi tapped his tunic over the spot where, above his heart, was the black mark of the Prophecy—a bird in flight, wings spread wide. “You have a point there. And I even managed to die once, as I recall.”

  “Some people just can’t take a hint,” grumbled Kermi.

  Sammelvar gazed at his son, an unmistakable look of pride in his expression. “You also found a way to love that most unlovable of beings, a mistwraith.”

  Hearing that word, Jaladay shuddered. Although she’d been safely back with her family for a full day now, she could still feel the cold, destructive power of those shadowy servants of Narkazan. Even the memory of their negative magic seemed to pour darkness into her veins, her lungs, her mind.

  Sensing her daughter’s
distress, Escholia moved to her side. “Are you still feeling the mistwraiths’ touch, dear one?”

  Jaladay nodded slowly. “As if they still hold me prisoner . . . shrouding me with their darkness.” Frowning, she lamented, “I used to enjoy the many degrees of darkness—the shadows, the surprises hidden there. But no longer.”

  “That’s one reason,” said Sammelvar, “I wanted us to come here today.”

  He pointed to the opposite end of the bridge, the side shrouded by night. Completely unlike the wondrous illumination of Evarra’s galaxy, the far side of the bridge seemed to be anchored in a place with only one color—totally black. Yet that place, too, was a galaxy in the spirit realm, holding more worlds than could ever be counted.

  Noverro. This galaxy of lightless worlds had long intrigued explorers, who had searched for—and found—creatures and civilizations that had evolved in ways enabling them to thrive in the endless night. And Noverro had also long intrigued philosophers, who were compelled by the questions these worlds raised . . . and by the new metaphors they offered. Some argued that enlightenment had a parallel virtue in “endarkenment”; others maintained that understanding shadows could actually be a form of “illumination.”

  Jaladay peered into the dark galaxy, following the arc of the bridge until it faded into utter blackness. Slowly, she began to notice subtle differences—layers of darkness within darkness, shadows inside shadows. Then, on the shrouded worlds themselves, she sensed the histories and futures of diverse peoples. The high aspirations and deep downfalls of cities. The hopes and fears of individuals.

  Observing more closely the bridge where they stood, Jaladay noticed that subtle shadows from the darkened worlds rippled across the prisms and reflective surfaces so full of colors from the lighted worlds. Surprised, she drew a sharp breath. So the bridge itself is a metaphor, she thought. Light and dark completely entwined, each part of the other, each defined as much by what it is as by what it is not.

  “Which is why,” said Sammelvar, who had heard her thoughts, “this is called . . .”

  “The Universal Bridge,” she finished. “Now I really understand.”

  “Or perhaps,” offered her father, “you really see.”

  CHAPTER 4

  The Universal Bridge

  As Jaladay and Sammelvar continued to talk, the Universal Bridge shimmered with colors and shadows. Its great arc, connecting worlds both light and dark, seemed somehow to embrace sunrise, sunset, and midnight all at once.

  Escholia listened intently to their conversation, the glow from all the luminous bubble worlds below playing on her white hair. Meanwhile, on Jaladay’s shoulder, Kermi remained quiet. Though he wasn’t normally someone given to talking philosophy—and would have soundly rejected any suggestion that he might be interested in what he called existencebabble—he leaned forward to hear every word.

  Promi, however, wasn’t listening. Distractedly, he tapped the prisms embedded in one stretch of cable supporting the bridge. With each tap, his thoughts shifted—as if he was giving birth to new ideas as rapidly as the galaxy below was creating new worlds.

  Tap. Looking at his mother’s face, deeply wrinkled yet just as beautiful and loving as ever, he recalled that people had long ago called her Spirit of Grace.

  For good reason, he thought. That’s how she could slip so gently into my dreams during my childhood years among mortals and sing my favorite song. So even while I was banished . . . we were still together.

  Tap. Promi’s thoughts shifted to his own dream visit to a mortal—Atlanta, the young woman who’d so unexpectedly captured his attention. And in more recent times, his heart.

  But I never told her that! He ground his teeth, frustrated that Atlanta’s sentient house, sensing an intruder, had woken her up—right before he could finish the sentence he’d started to say. The sentence he’d finally felt ready to utter: I really do love you.

  Maybe, he told himself, I’ll get to tell her soon. In person this time. The idea cheered him, and he drew a deep breath. But as if the shadows from the far end of the bridge had crept into his mind, his thoughts swiftly darkened.

  How old will she be then? He knew well that time usually moved slower in the spirit realm than on Earth. (There were exceptions, of course—such as the remote worlds he’d experienced when he and the wind lion, Theosor, had been fleeing Narkazan after stealing the Starstone. In those worlds, time could move very fast, in sudden episodic bursts with no memory between them, or even sideways.) As a result, when he visited Atlanta in her dream, he’d found that what had been just a few weeks for him had been five years for her.

  He tapped one of the prisms decisively. I don’t care how much time has passed for her. I’ll tell her anyway! With a swallow, he added, I just hope she’ll want to hear what I have to say.

  Tap. His thoughts suddenly turned to Shangri, the young woman whose carrot-colored hair always wore a dusting of flour from her father’s bakery. Shangri’s heartfelt prayer, delivered to him by Theosor, had told him that the ship of Greek sailors he’d managed to save from drowning had brought many worrisome changes to Atlantis. Though their leader, Reocoles, called this change “progress,” it seemed to Shangri more like destruction. And it also seemed likely to get worse before long.

  Glancing down, he saw the familiar bulge in his tunic pocket—the journal Shangri had given him. Like the old one he’d sacrificed to help defeat Narkazan’s henchman Grukarr, it was actually a book of recipes. Also like the old one, it had plenty of room in its margins for scribbling journal entries. Too bad, he thought sadly, my life’s been moving so fast that I haven’t had time to write even a single word.

  Tap. His thoughts turned to Bonlo, his other good friend from Atlantis, and more recently, from their brief encounter in the spirit realm. In both places, Bonlo had saved Promi’s life—first, in the terrible dungeon of Ekh Raku, whose stones had been soaked in centuries of blood, where the old monk told him for the first time about the Prophecy that would bring the end of all magic. And second, in the sky above a vast ocean, where Bonlo appeared just in time to rescue Promi from the tortures of Grukarr.

  He saved my life both times, recalled the young man somberly. And then I lost him in that ocean, deep underwater where he couldn’t possibly survive! After all he’d done for me . . . I couldn’t help him when he needed it most.

  Promi heaved a heavy sigh. What made everything worse was the old monk’s unending faith in Promi—faith that Bonlo wore as openly as his white hair. “You may not know it, good lad,” he’d been fond of saying, “but you are destined for great deeds.”

  What’s a great deed worth, lamented Promi, if I can’t save the life of a friend?

  Another tap—and he thought of another brave friend he’d probably never see again. Ulanoma, the turquoise dragon, had volunteered to distract Narkazan’s band of mistwraiths—the same foes who had murdered her mate—to give Promi the chance to rescue Jaladay. As the eldest of all the sea dragons in the spirit realm, Ulanoma was also able to sense the future, both through her own powers and through the ocean-glass crystal she wore as an earring. Yet neither of those could predict whether or not she would survive the mistwraiths.

  “What did you think of them, Promi?”

  His father’s question jolted him back to the present. “What? What did you ask?”

  “Harrumph,” said Kermi, curling his long tail into the shape of a question mark. “Clueless, as always.”

  Sammelvar, not amused, restated the question. “I asked you what you thought of Narkazan’s battle plans.”

  Sensing that Promi needed a moment to collect his thoughts, Jaladay commented, “For my part, I was surprised at how detailed they were. But all those details boiled down to one basic idea, the core of his plan: to lure us into a surprise attack—”

  “At the Caverns of Doom,” finished Promi, sending a grateful glance to his sister. “And it’s als
o clear that he’s been assembling a large army.”

  “Yes,” agreed Sammelvar, knitting his brow in concern. “Larger than I would ever have guessed.”

  “The real question,” declared Jaladay, “is what he’s going to do now—after we’ve seen those plans.”

  “Something different, that’s all we can say for sure.” Sammelvar ran a hand through his hair. “But what?”

  No one answered. Silence fell heavily over the bridge. It seemed to Promi that the shadows from the bridge’s far end had grown thicker and darker.

  Suddenly Jaladay gasped. She wobbled on her feet, then grabbed hold of the railing. Her mother wrapped an arm around her waist for support. Jaladay tilted her head back as if, through her turquoise eye band, she were reading some message scrawled upon the sky.

  Which, in a sense, she was—for, as everyone knew, she was having a vision. And by her grim expression, they also knew it wouldn’t be a happy one.

  CHAPTER 5

  A Difficult Choice

  Jaladay shuddered, then faced the group. Beads of perspiration rolled down from her forehead onto her eye band. Her skin, paler than usual, seemed to have lost its silvery sheen. Turning her full attention on Promi, she gazed right at him—and from his perspective, right through him.

  “The Starstone,” she declared. “Narkazan wants to get it back again! He’s sent a band of mistwraiths to find it.”

  “But it’s hidden,” objected Promi. “Well hidden.”

  “Yes,” his sister countered. She pulled off her eye band and peered at him with eyes as green as a forest at dawn. “It’s hidden on Atlantis.”

  Promi winced as if he’d just taken a heavy blow. “And now, thanks mainly to me, there is no more veil to stop them from getting there.”

  He glanced guiltily at Sammelvar. “I’m so sorry.”

  The elder man merely placed his hand on Promi’s shoulder. Showing no hint of scorn, he said quietly, “You only did what you thought was best at the time.”

 
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