Think of a mage gate like a wormhole. Two openings are made on the surface of an apple, allowing a worm to burrow through, rather than go around. In physics, a wormhole does not necessarily create a shorter path across a frame of space—this is simply a convenient mechanism for science-fiction movies. It is possible that a wormhole could make a path between two positions in space longer.
However, Atlantis is not across space from Earth. It is in a parallel universe, considered to be the centermost realm of Fae. I have not studied enough of wormhole geometries to understand how they came to this conclusion, but I do know that portals connecting reference frames across the multiverse take less time to traverse than those in the same universe.
Mage gates create a negative energy density to keep the conjoined points in space from pinching off, allowing the portal to remain open between two differing realms. Rather than traverse the Fae Realm, a traveler can use the gates to reach other realms or distant points in our own universe.
Pretty badass, right? Eat your heart out, Einstein.
Of course, few can intuit the currents of Fae. Without a Map or a guide—like the one we’d just paid dearly to bring us here—a hapless wanderer can find many pitfalls and predators quite easily. In short, if the Ferryman decided not to return us across Fae to our own universe, we would become stranded here, but let’s worry about such trivial details after planning and pulling off the heist. I mean, dead mages didn’t care much if their bodies were stranded somewhere.
As I stepped across the archway of the portal, I cringed for the terrible sensation I’d felt leaving Antartica for the Fae Realm. It never came. Stepping out of Fae was almost euphoric. My body felt light as if in free fall, but pulled outward. My skin tingled with a warm glow for a full minute, making my stomach dance.
When the sensation ended, I was standing on a beach with white sands and a blue ocean behind me. The sun was just rising, sending colorful rays skittering across the rolling waters.
There was no sign of Victoria.
Up the beach was a long queue of people—using that term loosely—leading up to a colossal wall, which surrounded a large patch of the sand, extending into the ocean. The setup had the feel of crossing the border at an airport, with roped off sections guiding travelers to guard booths.
Only, you would not see angelic creatures with dark-winged feathers protruding from a medieval, steel breastplate at the airport. After all, they’d never get passed the metal detectors in that. Beyond, there was the hint of people bustling. I smelled coffee. Maybe Atlantis wouldn’t be so bad after all.
“She’s not here,” Aiden said. “She must have gone through the smaller line.”
As he took a step, I grabbed his arm to stop him. He yanked free, scowling at me. “She’s going to get a way.”
I pointed to the sign. “My Atlantian is a bit rusty, but I’m pretty certain that says ‘Citizens only. All others to the right’.”
Aiden glanced up at the sign and squinted. “You can read that gibberish? Looks like Chinese.”
“Wow. In a single breath, you insulted two civilizations in separate universes.”
“What can I say? I’m an overachiever.”
“Maybe it’s good you can’t speak the language. Far less likely that mouth of yours can start a duel.”
“Ha. Ha. You are so funny. Almost as comical as that shit-stain you call a face.”
He walked up to the back of the long line to the right. I followed, trying not to curse him. I should follow my own advice, right? No telling who I might end up offending with a careless word. After all, some of the people I invoke as expletives might actually live here. Dropping Loki’s name as an insult might draw the wrong kind of attention. As two of the few earthling humans around, it would be difficult to blend in, but we could strive not to be noticed.
Glancing at Aiden’s frown, I would not hold my breath. As we waited, I did my best at remaining inconspicuous while noticing those nearby.
The person in front of us in the line was exceptionally thin with curves similar to a human woman. Her skin appeared granular, as if made of stone. She wore tight-fitting fabric, almost like a unitard, but open at the top, exposing her shoulders and upper chest. Her hair was silver. Not white with a sheen— pure silver. She glanced back at us as we got in the queue behind her. I could see her eyes. They were turquoise with diamond pupils.
“Now who is being insulting?” Aiden whispered. “Ogling the aliens, eh?”
I jerked my eyes away, feeling my cheeks flush. I had been staring. Despite being a different species, likely from a different universe, she was exotic and stunning. Aiden was right. Staring could be taken as an insult as well. Still, I felt the need to reply. “Here, we are the aliens.”
Aiden gave a snort, which I could not interpret as descent or affirmation. I let it go, continuing my surreptitious studying of those in my immediate vicinity.
A group of Tennin soldiers came through the portal. I recognized them from my studies of Japanese lure. The shortest of them stood twice my height with pale, almost porcelain-colored faces and rosy cheeks. Some wore their hair bound in intricate braids, while others kept theirs loose. Their white wings were folded behind them, tightly enough to be mistaken for cloaks. They each wore leather armor with a circular emblem on their breasts. They carried swords, still spattered with the remnants of blood from whoever they’d slaughtered before coming here.
And they got into line directly behind us.
I sent mental pleas to Aiden to mind his business. He didn’t seem to notice the hulking forms behind us. One arm wrapped over his chest to prop up his elbow so he could rest his chin on his palm. He shuffled forward, expression split between half-bored and half-asleep. A few times, he might have actually dozed on his feet.
The Tennin gave us both a glance over. I could see the dismissal in the largest one’s eyes. They did not see us as a threat in the least. Good. Beneath noticing. That’s great actually.
For the next two hours, the line ebbed slowly forward. The crowd behind us grew at about the same pace it shrank in front. I saw many more classes of denizens I did not recognize, including an ape-like creature with four arms and a biped snake-lizard creature with at least twenty offspring.
There were other races I recognized, including a few minotaurs, some gnolls, and even a troll. All the half-bull creatures stood with an air of smug superiority. The three of them were dressed in tailored suits, leftover from an 80s Bond film. Rather than shoes, they stood motionless on hoofed feet, arms crossed in front until time to step forward. Somehow, they made the gesture look like a purposeful march, rather than a mindless shuffle. Their movements emphasized heavily muscled torsos hidden beneath those expensive jackets. Each of the minotaurs studied everyone and everything around them, including Aiden and myself. I pretended not to notice, trying to adopt Aiden’s bored expression. I’m certain I failed because I locked gazes with the tall minotaur with a hooped ring going through the septum of a fat nose. He did not glower, his face never changed, but I felt his attention on me after that. No matter which direction the line turned, I stayed in his periphery. Thankfully, they were several groups behind us in the queue. We’d be long gone before they came through after us.
The gnolls were one of the few creatures smaller than Aiden and me. They were cuter than the images we had of them in the archives as well, with round, hairy faces and pinched noses. Their barking language made me want to pet one, and scratch behind those long adorable ears.
The troll was a huge, gangly thing with a humanoid face, complete with nose and mouth, but skin like dark leather. It wore actual sunglasses, too dense to see its eyes and nothing else save a loincloth made of white fur. Its muscles had more muscles with pale scars cut into countless places. And though the troll stood above every other person in line, the gnarled staff in its hand drew more gazes. The wood was covered in runes—a language I did not know—with a multicolored prism resting in the head. With minimal focus, anyone attuned to magic could feel energy radiating from the staff.
More “mythological” and scary-as-hell creatures came as our time in the queue grew shorter. Suffice it to say, by the time we reached the front of the line, I was reminded how small earth is and how weak humans are compared to all the other denizens in the multiverse. And of those, the most powerful beings across the realms take up residence in this universe and live on Atlantis.
In case this detail was not apparent, Atlantis is an entire planet. Most people expect something out of Arthurian Legend, like a city in the clouds. But it’s more like a steampunk earth. Only, there is a single nation, ruled by The Pantheon (note the capital “T” and “P”).
Athens is the entry point into Atlantis. Much like it’s counterpart on earth, it is located on a peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea, only it spans the entire northern region and is filled with people trying to break into the lucrative economy. There are also refugees, those fleeing the harsh conditions of a hostile home world. And of course, there are several criminals, coming here to escape justice. None of those are Citizens of Atlantis. All the real-estate is spoken for and rented out at a premium. The currency of Atlantis isn’t bitcoin. It is regular coins. Believe it or not, the precious metals of earth are rare in the multiverse and is a convenient means of multiversal currency—which is why the Collectives of earth use it. We are fucking sophisticated, bitches.
Sorry, spending too much time with Aiden.
Athens is one of the largest cities of Atlantis and has little crime because this region is ruled by Theseus, hero of the Attic legend, who is famous for tying criminals up and ripping them apart in front of crowds of onlookers. Brutal but effective. Yet, what did it say about our wisdom seeing as how the entire reason Aiden and I came here was to steal from him?
We would buy the artifact from him, but we are only earth rich. Dollars won’t do much here. Even if it did, all of Aiden’s and my wealth combined might be able to afford a single bed rental for a year here. And it wouldn’t be lofty. It would just be a place to sleep. I was already cringing at the room we need to procure.
I looked up from my musings to see the way between us and the gate empty. Thirteen stations were open. Beside each was an archway. Though invisible, I could feel the energy barring entry into the city. A minotaur at the fourth booth waved us forward. She also wore a suit, though it was much tighter in the chest than the minotaurs still in the queue behind us.
As we stepped forward, Aiden asked beneath his breath. “You think she has utters?”
I’m certain he meant it as a joke. Though they possessed the head of a bull, minotaurs had human bodies. No utters. Just breasts like the rest of us. Still, my cheeks instantly heated. I almost tripped.
When I regained my footing, I glared at Aiden. “Be cool, man.”
He gave me the smirk that always makes me want to flatten his smug nose. I took deep breaths to compose myself.
I smiled at the border security guard. “Good morning.”
She spoke in Atlantian in a husky but feminine voice. “Passports.”
Fishing the rune-covered stone from my purse, I placed it on the counter, motioning for Aiden to do the same. The talisman is attuned to each mage. It requires an individual’s ethereal pattern to be constructed and is extremely difficult—if not impossible—to counterfeit. Each ethermage gets one upon becoming a master. Aiden plopped his down next to mine with a resounding thud.
“Blood,” she said. “One drop at the center.”
Though she offered a needle, I used my belt dagger to prick the tip of my index finger and touched it to the stone. The runes resonated with energy.
“Liamorandus Fianna,” she said as if reading the waves of energy. Ethermage of the Celtic Collective of Earth. Race, Human. You are a master of ether magic?”
“Yes,” I said in Atlantian.
“What is your business in Atlantis?”
“We have come on pleasure to Athens. I hear you have the best coffee in the multiverse.”
“Do you plan to travel outside of Athens?”
“Not likely. No.”
“Where do you intend to stay while within the region?”
“We have yet to procure lodging,” I said. “We plan to find something on the gulf side. Any recommendations?”
She turned her attention to Aiden. “Blood.”
Aiden went through a similar procedure, me acting as an interpreter. I modified some of his answers, removing the pomp in favor of conservative dialogue.
She used a rod to send pulses of energy into our passports then pushed them back to us. Whatever she’d done had the feel of invocation, likely some form of divination pattern. In other words, they could keep tabs on us easily.
“Keep your passports on you at all times.” She gestured toward the portal, then turned her attention back to the queue. “Enjoy your stay.”
As she called for the next traveler, part of me considered asking for recommendations again, but that was just the lack of coffee talking. Everyone knows, you do not want to push boundaries with airport security. Those assholes have a god-complex worse than Loki’s, looking for any excuse to feel you up—rather … pat you down. That truth holds doubly here. Only the pat down involves protrusion into orifices using magic.
No thank you.
So I sauntered through the archway and into a stone walkway of earth tones. People rushed left and right, barely glancing our way, even though I had stopped to gape like a yokel. The clash of genres was off-putting. I could not tell if I had stepped onto an episode of the Jetsons or Game of Thrones.
The walk path ended at a street, also cobbled but with red stone. Self-driving cars without wheels hovered next to horse-drawn carriages. One person flew a Harry Potter style broom, while another rode the motorcycle from Grease—an actual Honda Scrambler. In the air, valkyries flew through skyscrapers which disappeared into the sky. Down the street, I could see a gray wall. Behind it was a castle, complete with spires and ramparts. Every architectural wonder from anywhere in history existed here plus others from fantasy.
“Hello, stranger. You look lost.”
The familiar voice made my back stiffen. I turned to see Victoria standing behind me. She had changed into a red dress, fit to her form. A necklace shimmering with prisms fell across her bare chest. Her hair had been arranged in a woven bun. Four minotaurs in black suits were with her, two on either side.
She smiled at my discomfort. “Can we go somewhere and talk?