Chapter 17: Best of the Worst

“What choice do we really have?” Aiden asked. “They all have us by the short hairs. If we screw over Victoria, she’s going to go straight to Theseus after we’ve fled. And though she will neglect to mention the part where she also planned to steal from him, he’ll put bounties out on us. Like real ones, where all the scariest, ugliest bastards in the multiverse come to collect our heads. I’m not so eager to go work for the Ferryman. You?”

“Not particularly,” I admitted. “So we just do it all?”

“I don’t see any other way. You don’t either, or you would have suggested it by now.”

“If we do this, you and I will be writing up the oath.” 

“Great,” Aiden said, “Who first?”

“The Trickster God,” I said, intentionally avoiding his name. “He only gave us an hour’s deadline. So, we go to him first.”

“No. We get a room, then you curse that bastard’s name until he comes to us. I’m not going anywhere near his domain again.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Agreed. But where should we stay?”

“One second,” Aiden said. He downed the rest of his coffee then got up, breaking our sound barrier, and stood at the back of the queue to get more. 

The sound of grinding beans and steaming milk overpowered the voices of those sitting at the tables around me. It felt so normal. We could be on earth still, if not for the family of goblins and angel-looking creature in front of Aiden, waiting to get coffee. 

For some reason, my thoughts drifted to Skyler Turney, my calculus TA. Last time I’d seen her, she’d been drunk and flirting with me, until the excessive alcohol proved too much. She’d gotten sick, and her ex-boyfriend escorted her away. I hoped she got home safely. I wished I could check on her.

Since last seeing her, I’d passed through a dozen time zones to get to the portal in Antartica, then we’d traveled through Fae. And now I sat in Atlantis. I could only guess at the number of days that had passed. Certainly, it was at least Wednesday by now, so I’d already missed my second calculus course in addition to all my other classes. I still hadn’t slept. 

Gods damn it all, I was supposed to be on a break.

And where was Abigail? She seemed perfectly content to let Victoria do her bidding. But what was Aiden’s sister up to? 

Fuck me, I’m an idiot. It was in front of me this whole time. We needed to get back to earth, sooner rather than later. I stood up. Aiden was next in the queue. I cursed all the way to him. 

“And a venti soy latte, hold the masculinity.” 

“What’s that?” the barista asked with the barest hint of an accent. She had four arms, useful for a coffee artist. Otherwise, she could have passed as a human girl with green hair and sapphire eyes, albeit with skin far paler than anyone else I’d met.

“Nothing,” Aiden said. “Was just teasing my friend here.”

“You speak earthling English very well,” I told her.

“It is a requirement to work for Starbucks. Would you like anything else?”

“Yes,” Aiden said. “Would you please suggest a decent place to rent a room?”

“Hmm,” she said. “If I were from an outer world, I would look into The Pyramid, in the bay. Go two streets east to Northway, then go north. You will see the golden pillars along the water.” 

“Thank you,” Aiden said, handing her some silver coins and placing one in the gratuity jar. 

She smiled. “My pleasure.”

As we waited for our coffee, I still fumed over my recent epiphany, feeling like a dumbass for not stopping to think this through sooner. 

“What is it?” Aiden asked. “You look as though someone switched your soy for almond milk.” 

“Abigail,” I said. “She planned all this with Victoria. Artemis is pulling the strings, sure, but Abigail has her hands all over this.”

“Yeah,” he said, slowly. “We already knew that.”

“But where is Abigail? What do you think she’s doing while we are here?”

“Still recruiting, most likely.”

“And what do you think she is doing with all those recruits?” 

Aiden’s face went slack. “Readying to turn them into minotaurs to take on Poseidon.”

“And we are helping her.” 

“We have no choice,” Aiden said. “We’ve already been over this.”

“That’s not what’s bothering me. Well, it does. I’m furious but that isn’t the worst part. It was our idea to come here, right?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“Then how could she have planned all of this? How could she know we would come here unless we were betrayed?”

“Gods. Not this again. We are all alone here. It’s just the two of us, and we’ve been together since this whole thing started. Even if I had the inclination to betray you, there was never an opportunity.”

“I know.” I said. “That’s not what I’m saying, but that does not change the fact that Victoria could not have planned to use us to get here and then blackmail us into stealing for her unless she knew we would come before we did. There are only a couple possibilities. Do you think it was clairvoyance?” 

“Pfft,” he snorted. “You know as well as I, all possibilities exist in quantum states, making it damn near impossible to predict which state our reality will slide into. In some universe, I am bent over Loki’s knee right now, and actually enjoying it.”

“Mmmm,” a rich voice said from beside us. “I will have to find that universe and play imposter.”

Before I could reprimand Aiden for using Loki’s name, he’d appeared. Aiden jumped, spinning to face the Trickster God standing next to the bar. 

“We still have 15 minutes,” I complained.

“I heard my name on those sweet lips and came.” He winked at Aiden. “Then I ported here.”

“Ugh,” Aiden said. “You are disgusting.”

“Have you decided?” Loki asked. 

I nodded. “We accept your offer.”

“Bray, mother fucker, bray.” He smiled at Aiden. “You be my mule, bitch. Bend over and let me take you for a ride.” 

“Jesus,” Aiden said. “Do you ever stop?”

“Only after we’ve fully and completely exhausted one another, sweetums.”

Aiden made a sound of disgust and left Starbucks. 

“Would you lay off him?” I asked, immediately regretting my word choice. Loki was worse than a pubescent boy. As the Trickster God opened his mouth to give me yet another visual image I had no desire to think, I added, “I need him to be clear-headed. Please, stop distracting him.”

He bobbed his head and swayed his shoulders. “Oh fine. Since you said please.”

“Thank you.”

“Sure thing, buttercup. Let’s talk about our blood oath back at my place, and we—”

“Nope. Aiden and I will write the draft. You’ll make revisions. Then Aiden and I will write the final version. We all approve and then sign it in our room at the Pyramid.”

“Nice choice. You can afford that?” 

“Don’t worry about what we can and cannot afford. We will call you when we finish the first iteration. Agreed?”

“Suit yourself.”

He kissed his palm and blew me a kiss as he vanished. I felt the barest trickle of wyther and ether, not enough energy to determine what he’d done. He could be standing in front of me behind a veil, or he could have teleported. I swatted at the air where he’d been as if trying to strike a fly. My hand passed through the space uninhibited. 

Fuck Loki, but I hated dealing with the gods.

Sighing, I took a sip from my coffee before putting in a green stopper. Then I met Aiden on the sidewalk. He stopped pacing when he saw me. 

“You are carrying him,” Aiden declared. 

“Sure,” I said. “Let’s find this hotel.”

We followed the barista’s instructions. Aiden silently brooded the entire time we walked. I let him. We reached Northway and stopped at the intersection. The road was at least 12 lanes wide with traffic stopped in 2 layers. Those along the street drove vehicles or walked on their own power. Various creatures and contraptions hovered above the wagons and cars. Some were motionless, suspended on ether or wyther. Others flapped wings or sat in a myriad of flying carts and wagons too numerous to count. 

“I want one,” Aiden said, staring at a Segway device. 

Dozens of the gadgets floated between the larger beings and vehicles, swaying side-to-side, moving in and out of traffic. Rather than two wheels, round jets aimed downward with the riders standing atop them. 

“Look,” he pointed to a long row of them on the sidewalk. “We can rent one.”

“Why?” I asked. “We don’t need a device to fly.”

“Yeah but why spend the energy?” 

As the light changed, I watched the chaos of fliers merging with non-fliers and vice versa. It looked like a nightmare where those with less metal surrounding them were likely to get splatted between to massive creatures or … dear gods, was that a flying bus? They all moved at autobahn level speeds across 12 lanes—24 if you count both levels.

“We don’t know the traffic rules. I mean look at that mess.” 

“How hard could it be? Besides, the bay is several kilometers away, and I don’t want to walk it.” He pointed to a sign which read: No Flying Above Walkway Except to Enter or Leave Motorpool

“You’re paying,” I said. 

Aiden walked up to the rental machine and placed his hand on the screen. After hitting a few buttons and placing coins into the slot, two of the Segways flew from the front of the line and settled next to the roadway. Aiden climbed atop his like a kid stepping onto a rollercoaster, grinning wildly. He’d stopped brooding at least. 

I stepped onto mine, next to him and placed my coffee in the holder. A blue shield popped up around it. That was a nice touch. Flying with coffee was always a bitch. 

A feminine robotic voice asked in Atlantian, “Hello, what is your preferred language? Speak any word, and I will adjust my settings.”

“What did it say?” Aiden asked.

“Hello Earthling. Welcome to Atlantis.”

“Cool,” he said, grin growing even wider.

“Due to your lack of experience,” the voice continued, “your ride will be automated. Please tell me your destination, and I will carry you there.”

His smile slipped. “What the fuck?”

“You would like to go to a brothel. Is that correct?”

“Wait, what? No. We are going to The Pyramid. It’s a hotel.”

“We do not have a hotel in this realm. The closest match is The Pyramid Inn, Luxury Rooms and Cuisine. Would you like to go here?”

“Yes,” Aiden said, scowl as deep as his smile had been wide. 

“Is your companion traveling to the same location?”

“Yes,” he growled.

The voice came from my Segway. “Your companion has chosen for you to accompany them to The Pyramid Inn, Luxury Rooms and Cuisine. Is this right?”

“Yes,” I said, glad Aiden would not be zooming through traffic.

“Hold on. The Tinker Guild is not responsible for user injuries. You must hold on for the safety features to remain in effect. Lifting off in 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1.”

The hover crafts powered on and very slowly rose from the sidewalks. Lifts (you call them elevators) moved more swiftly than this. It took several minutes for us to rise to the second level and merge in with traffic.

Aiden rolled his eyes toward me. “Wow. This might actually muss up my hair.” 

“At least we are not burning ether, right?”

“Whatever.”

We did move at the speed of traffic, but the Segways traveled in the slowest lane to the far left. Aiden’s red hair did flop about, though he did not seem at all amused. He held on to the handles as if trying to urge the thing to go faster. Occasionally, the disembodied voice would say, “Manual drive override has been disabled. We apologize for the inconvenience.” 

I could taste salt before seeing water in the distance. Golden pillars rose into the sky, holding up colossal pyramids. The surface shimmered as if coated in metallic glitter. Out front was a walkway the size of a dozen football fields, separating the pyramids from the bustle of traffic. Vendors and entertainers filled the space around a gigantic statue of Theseus. The detail was exquisite. 

Theseus stood over the minotaur, holding his right horn in one hand and a sword in the other, held high overhead as if ready to strike. The minotaur was naked, kneeling on one knee, while Theseus wore a toga. Both the victim and the victor were ripped, muscles bulging and tense. The minotaur’s bullish face looked frightened, while Theseus’s expression was one of callous apathy. His Caesar-style hair perfectly curled around angular cheeks and a chiseled chin. The minotaur’s thick mane covered most of his back with an empty patch above his short tail. 

A pool surrounded the pair. Coins sparkled beneath the crystalline water in the basin. Here when people made their wishes and called out the name of a god, they were likely to get an answer. Belief held power, and the gods favored those who worshipped them.

From my experience, their favor isn’t altruistic. After an eternity of living, they get bored. And they enjoy the ego trip of lording over the lives of lesser beings. Though Theseus was not technically a god, he had a lot of power. 

Our hover devices moved to the end of the boardwalk and slowed. From the pace of the descent, it would take another full minute to reach the ground.

“Please hold on while the craft descends. We will be grounded momentarily. Thank you for choosing the Tinker Guild for your product needs.”

Aiden said, “This is some bullshit.”

He pulled ether and stepped off. The voice continued descending and repeating its proclamation. Grabbing my coffee, I stepped off to the chorus of duel voices speaking the same message, slightly out of sync.

Other people flew above a space of grass and along the beach by the sea, so we flew toward the pyramids. The space beneath was sectioned off by thick panes of glass, preventing beach-goers from crossing into the Inn’s domain. Valets, all biped catlike creatures, rushed about, escorting people or luggage in every direction. 

Five golden pillars supported the base of the polyhedron, each twenty meters in diameter. The columns doubled as lifts. The central one carried people to a check-in station above. The lowest level, at least twenty meters above the ground, also appeared to be made of glass.

We could see a restaurant covering most of the floor. An Olympic-sized pool was at the far end, facing the beach. Children of every imaginable specie played in it with parents screaming at them from the sides, not all that different from an Earth hotel. 

We stopped just outside a revolving door. I turned to Aiden, “You sure you can afford this place?”

“Aye,” he said. “My father left me a substantial inheritance.” 

“I thought he gave away all that he stole. You know, to give to the poor.”

“He did. Except for the bits he kept for us.” He nodded toward the door. “Come on.”

The spaces between the revolving door was large enough for a team of elephants to pass. It rotated automatically as we walked through. A cat-person with white fur appeared from nowhere and walked toward us with a feminine grace. She wore a gold and white tux and bowtie. Aside from an impossibly thin waist, her torso was human-like with generous curves to her hips and chest. Her tail protruded from the back of her trousers, standing straight in the air.

“Do you have a reservation?” She asked in Atlantian. Her voice was sing-song, almost a soprano. 

“No,” I replied. “We wish to book a room.”

“This way if you please.”

We followed her to the central pillar and up the lift to the base floor. She led us to a counter with several more cat-people. She approached the orange-furred male at the center. He was thicker than our escort with long arms. His dark whiskers were fashioned into a sort-of mustache. 

“They do not have a reservation,” she said. “Do we have any suites available?”

“Two rooms?” he asked, voice almost as soft and high-pitched as hers.

“Yes,” I replied. “If possible.”

He tapped at the air. A holographic pyramid appeared. He rotated it and tapped on a square, spreading his fingers apart. The square magnified. He rotated it toward us. There was a kitchenette and common space that opened to a balcony. Two doors led to small rooms. 

“We have a west-facing suite,” he said. “Will this suit your needs?”

I looked at Aiden and spoke in English. “Will this work?”

“How much?” he asked.

The male answered in English. “Each night is one hundred gold or a thousand credits. How will you be paying?”

“Gold,” Aiden said. “We need it for one night. Is platinum all right?”

“Of course.”

“He pulled 10 platinum coins from his cloak pocket and set them on the counter.” 

“Passports,” the attendant said.

We handed them over. He scanned them with an arrium and passed them back to us.

“This way,” the valet said. 

We followed her to the pillar in the corner. She stepped on and hit 37 of 100. We lurched upward. Our escort’s tail swished slightly, but Aiden and I stumbled, forced to hold on to the rail or fall. The door opened, and she took us to our suite. 

The door opened as we approached, sliding up into the frame above. 

“Will there be anything else?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Thank you.”

She bowed and left. The door closed after we entered. Aiden went straight to the bar, which was fully stocked with alcohols from all around the multiverse, as well as local wines and liquors. 

“Is that the best idea?” I asked.

“Yes. Yes it is.”

“We need a clear head when drafting this.”

“I am more creative with a drink. Besides. I just want one.”

“Someday, you need to consider whether or not you have a drinking problem.”

“Nothing to think about,” Aiden said with a shrug. “I have no problem having a drink when it suits me. You want a glass?” He lifted a dark bottle of red wine.

I sighed. “Sure.” 

He uncorked the bottle and poured us both a glass. Then we sat at the bar and got to work.

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