"I have the powers of a god, remember? I can feel your emotions and they are ripe with malice. Why do you hate him?"
He gave her a patronizing smirk. "If you know that much, then you should know the answer."
"I can only feel emotions, I can’t trace their roots. And you are eaten alive by what I feel, which also begs the question of how a Skotos has emotions that strong."
Solin shrugged. "I’m only a halfling, remember? We’re immune to the curse."
"Ah," she said as if she finally understood.
He was intrigued by her tone. "What?"
"I was wrong. It’s not hatred, it’s envy."
He laughed at the very idea. Him jealous of a Skotos? Pah-lease. "You don’t know what you’re talking about."
He could tell by her tone that she was amused by his denial. "Yes, I do. The smell of it is all over you.
You’re ripe with it. Envy is just gnawing away at you like a worm inside a juicy apple." She tsked at him.
"Yep, there’s not enough deodorant in the world to mask that odor."
She was being ridiculous and he was growing tired of dealing with her.
"This discussion is over." He started away from her.
He paused to look back. "Yes?"
"I’ve already told Arik and now I’m telling you I will not allow him, Geary, or anyone else to uncover Atlantis. Ever."
He sneered at her concern. "As if I give a shit about Atlantis. I have much more self-serving interests at heart."
"And what would those be?"
"As you so eloquently put it, it’s none of your business. Good day, goddess. And good luck."
ARIK PAUSED AS THEY NEARED THEIR DESTINATION. Apollymi’s voice grew louder as the boat slowed. They were only a few feet away from where the main harbor of Atlantis had once stood. If Arik closed his eyes, he could still see it in his mind.
It’d been a bustling port, filled with merchants, pirates, and fishermen. Prostitutes, sailors, and officials had blended in seamlessly on the docks that had always been crowded to overflowing. The smell of fish, spices, and perfumes had hung heavy here as the capitol city had glistened on a mountain from behind stone walls.
Highly advanced, the Atlanteans had been a peaceful race who’d only wanted to help others. But Zeus and Apollo had refused to let them exist that way. The Greek gods had waged war on the Atlantean pantheon by manipulating their people.
In the end, it’d been those people who’d suffered most.
Pushing that thought aside, Arik glanced about the boat that was filled with people wanting to learn the
truths he already knew. Humanity was better off with Atlantis at the bottom of the sea.
The crew rushed about as they set up for their doomed excavation. Arik crossed the deck to where Solin stood by the pump. "I need a favor."
"Haven’t I done enough for you?"
Arik scoffed. "Considering what you did to me, no. Or more to the point, hell no."
"I would disagree, but curiosity has me by the throat. What is it that you want now?"
"Knowledge," Arik said simply.
"How to dive."
Solin’s eyes narrowed speculatively. "Why?"
Arik gave him a droll stare. "Why do you think? I want to make sure they don’t venture into the wrong area and disturb a certain goddess. I can’t do that two hundred feet above her, can I?"
Solin still looked less than convinced. "Megeara won’t let you go."
"If I know what I’m doing, how can she stop me?"
Solin laughed. "You’ve got a lot to learn about women." He narrowed his eyes before he placed his hands on Arik’s head.
Arik felt a sharp stinging pain an instant before he had all the knowledge he needed to dive like a pro.
Unfortunately, he also had a nosebleed. "What the hell?"
Solin looked on him derisively. "You’re human and I just rewired your brain. It doesn’t like that. As gods, we can accept these things. As a human…" He pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to Arik.
Great. Just great. Arik wiped the blood away before he went over to Megeara, who was checking the air hoses. "Where’s my suit?"
Geary actually gaped at the unexpected question. "Excuse me?"
He indicated the dry suits that were beside her. "I plan on going with you."
Her mouth worked for several seconds before sound would actually come out. "Uh… no. This isn’t a game, Arik."
"And I’m not playing. I intend to go with you and help. Trust me. I know what I’m doing."
Geary was skeptical. The last thing she needed was an amateur on board.
"He’s not lying," Solin said as he joined them. "I can assure you, he’s part fish. Jacques Cousteau has nothing on him. Aquaman, either."
Still, she wasn’t sure as she frowned at Solin. "You do know how dangerous this is?"
"I wouldn’t send him down there if I didn’t fully believe he’d be back to piss me off." Solin had a delivery so dry, she could rent him out as a dehumidifier.
Geary hesitated. She didn’t want any of her team hurt.
Or Arik, either. "If you can swim like a fish, how is it you were drowning when we met?"
Arik tensed. He’d forgotten about their meeting. Luckily he was quick with a response. "I’d been swimming for a while when you found me and was tired. Normally, I don’t have any problems. I was just lucky that day… in more ways than one."
There was no missing her skepticism.
Kat came up to her. "What’s going on?"
"Arik wants to dive with us. I don’t know."
Kat and Arik exchanged a look that was both hostile and respectful. "Do you know what you’re doing?"
"Then let him go with us. What’s the worst thing that could happen?"
Geary scoffed at Kat’s nonchalance. "Death."
Kat shrugged. "You can die crossing the street, and there aren’t many cars two hundred feet down."
She strangely had a point.
Kat wrinkled her nose at Geary. "Let him go. I’ll keep an eye on him. Believe me."
Kat was the only person Geary knew who was an even stronger swimmer than she was. If Kat said it was okay, then it should be. Geary looked back at Arik. "All right. You can suit up."
Geary watched Arik closely to make sure that he wasn’t lying about his expertise as he prepared for the dive. She had to give him credit. He wore the gear as if he’d been born to it and he did know how to dress in it. There was no hesitation in his movements at all.
But that confused her. "Tell me how someone who was raised in the mountains would have been diving?"
Arik froze at the question as he tried to think up a plausible tale. "I told you, I’ve been searching for Atlantis. It’s hard to do that on the surface. I’ve spent a lot of time on research boats here in the Aegean."
"Hmm… you know there’s something about you that doesn’t make sense. But I can’t figure it out."
He offered her a soothing smile. "All you need to know is that I’m here to help you."
Instead of his words drawing her closer to him, she took a step back and her eyes flashed with suspicion. "Yeah."
Arik wanted to curse in frustration, but he didn’t have time. They were getting ready to go down. There were four of them for the dive. Geary, Kat, him, and Scott.
Geary led them to the platform that would lower them, along with a dredge, to the water. None of them spoke until after they’d submerged. Arik could hear his own breathing as he followed them deeper, away from the surface light.
It was murky and dark. But it was the pressure of the water against his body that was the strangest part of it all. And the deeper he went, the worse it became. It was almost oppressive, and part of him wanted to panic. But that was ridiculous. It was only water, and he was with people who knew what they were doing.
For that matter, he knew what he was doing.
Geary paused at the first dive station to let her body adjust to the pressure and depth. "How’s everyone doing?"
Scott grinned. "Great, boss lady."
Kat nodded. She looked at Arik.
He inclined his head to her. "Fine."
But something belied that. It was an instinct she had, and she didn’t know why. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I’m just having a vision of what would happen if someone were to jerk one of our helmets off at two hundred feet down."
Geary screwed her face up in distaste.
"Ew," Kat snapped.
Geary concurred. That was the kind of thing that no one wanted to think about.
Scott cleared his throat. "Is it too late for me to go back? I’m not sure I want to be down here with Freddy Kruegar having these kinds of visions. What’s to keep him from having an experiment?"
Geary shook her head. "Arik was just kidding. Weren’t you?"
"No buts," the three of them said in unison.
Geary patted Arik on the shoulder. "Let’s just think happy thoughts, shall we?"
"You know," Tory’s voice filled their heads from the link. "Now that Arik mentioned it. At two hundred feet, given the pressure on the human body-"
"Tory!" Geary snapped. "Please don’t give me odds or stats right now, ‘kay?"
"You’re such a spoilsport."
Ignoring the pout in Tory’s tone, Geary started down to the next station. She’d factored in four stops to help them adjust. But honestly, she wanted to be able to dive straight to the site.
It took them a little bit of time to get to the area and then to stake it out. They had to be careful to anchor the grid but not accidentally damage something that might be hiding under the silt and sediment.
Geary’s father had drilled into her head that much of the historical Troy had been lost because of Heinrich Schliemann’s fervor to find proof of it. He’d damaged as much as he’d salvaged.
She didn’t want to make the same mistake.
Once the datum was set and photographed, they regrouped.
"How’s everyone doing?" she asked them.
They each gave her a thumbs-up.
"Everyone’s air supply is steady?" she double-checked.
Scott nodded. "Doing great, boss."
"I’m good," Kat chimed in.
Arik grinned at Geary. "Let’s dig."
Something hot pierced her at his eagerness. He really did seem to mirror her enthusiasm. Geary headed for the first section she wanted to explore. They carefully suctioned the area until they could find what appeared to be an encrusted wall.
Her hand actually shook as she touched it. She just wished she weren’t wearing gloves, so that she could have the tactile sense of it. "This isn’t a natural object," she said, looking at Scott for verification.
"No. It’s too precise."
Geary took a picture of it while Scott scraped a sample of the sediment.
" I see you…."
She froze at the sound of the low, seductive female voice in her head.
"You’re so close, little rose. Playing with the wall. But that’s not what you want, now is it?"
Geary looked at the others, but they didn’t appear to hear the voice. Who are you ? she asked in her head.
" I am what you seek, Megeara. I am Atlantis. Move closer to me, child. Three feet over. Dig down below the silt. There’s a box waiting for you…."
It was crazy to even entertain the idea of obeying the voice. What could it know?
And even as she told herself to ignore it, she found herself doing what the woman had said.
She ignored Kat’s voice as she dug into the silt. It swirled around her in a hazy blur. As she dug deeper, she found nothing.
I am insane.
"Geary!" Tory’s voice was sharp through the intercom. "Stop moving."
"Move the camera half an inch right."
Geary did as ordered. "Why?"
Before Tory could answer, Geary saw what her cousin had seen on the feed. It was the corner of something that appeared to be a box.
Geary held her breath as she gently pulled it free. It was encrusted with funky deposits from the sea. But that wasn’t what fascinated her.
The box was ancient, with a clear design of lions pulling a chariot where a tall god holding a staff stood, directing them. It, like her necklace, held that strange indecipherable writing.
Her hands shaking, she carefully pried the lid off to see what the box contained.
"What is it?" Tory asked, her voice filled with anticipation. "I can’t see it, Geary. What’s inside?"
Geary let out her breath in frustration as she realized the box was empty. "Nothing, Tory. But the box is old."
She handed it off to Scott so that he could preserve it for examination topside later.
Hoping to find something even better, Geary had bent down to continue her search when she heard what sounded like Tory dropping something. There were muffled voices in the background like someone was arguing, but Geary couldn’t tell what was going on.
"You okay, bud?"
There was no answer.
Two seconds later, something popped loud in her ears. It was followed by nothing but empty static.