Water levels rising, stuck in a collapsed 140,000£ can, and all I could think about was the mirror in the back seat. Had the Soul Breaker been destroyed? If so, my entire journey here was for naught. Well, not entirely. I had managed to steal the largest treasure trove in the world for the Collective’s greatest enemies. I owed debts to the Ferryman and the ruler of Athens, Viscount of Atlantis.
Oh, and I was facing imminent death. I could just lie here and die. But then, my service to the Ferryman would begin. There was no winning. So, I might as well keep on keeping on. Life’s a garden, dig it.
Everything ached. I would have some hella whiplash. You know, if I lived.
Almost as an after thought, I considered my go-bag in the trunk that had my gold coins, a change of clothes, food and water—things I would need if I climbed out of this hole before being drowned. Hopefully, some of it was intact.
I was fairly certain I was buried somewhere at the bottom of that picturesque cliff I had been admiring moments before. The view was less than stellar from the bottom. I could reform the stone around me, but moving mountainous rocks stacked on your head could prove catastrophic.
And Victoria was out there still. Waiting for me to climb out. It would be like it had been on the beach, only this time I had no leverage or means of escape. Loki would just smite me. Or she’d sick her mercenaries on me. They’d put me in a box, only this time she would cut me off from wyther and ether. Then, she’d take me back to Artemis to do the gods knew what.
I needed to survive, get back to the Collective, and tell Bodhi Caderyn what I had discovered. Likely, he thought me dead. How much time had passed now? One day here is a month on Earth. We were on day 3, I think. Or maybe 3 and a half. It would be November by now.
This line of reasoning wasn’t getting me out of this hole.
The steering column was beneath my stomach. My feet were still by the pedals. Water came in from there and was up to my knees now.
Closing my eyes, I cast the needed spell. “Faireachdainn.”
I shoved my awareness into my surroundings. Instantly, I felt the sword and the mirror behind me. Both were whole, still emanating power. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding. I moved beyond the car, sensing the surrounding rock.
My Maserati had plummeted 50 meters into the cliff, the way collapsing behind me. I pushed further in that direction, feeling where rock met water. I must have crashed into the gulf, slammed into the cliffside, finally coming to a stop in the hardened stone. Water filled in the chunks of stone destroyed by whatever the abyss had hit me hard enough to penetrate solid rock.
My shield had saved me. It’s the only reason my car was not a flaming pile of ash and debris.
I reached the surface of the ocean, and my awareness stopped expanding. I could feel the movement of fish of various sizes, the impact of the waves striking the cliff that entombed me, and I could feel all the rock between there and here. But I could not know if the Finder Ship was still out there.
I waited, just allowing myself to be aware. The water continued pouring into the car. It was above my waist now and on my cheek. I craned my head, almost as an impulse, to keep my mouth and nose free. Taking a deep breath, I readied my mind for what would come next.
The bonding between minerals is called a covalent bond—the strongest possible bond—typically between silicon and oxygen. This gave rocks the properties of being difficult to break.
However, ether makes all matter malleable.
I gathered ether and will, pushing energy into the rock. I hardened the stone above me, strengthening the bonds. Water rose above my mouth. I tilted my head upward, but I only had seconds until it would fill the cab of my busted auto.
Dual-wielding spells always came at a cost. But I had no choice. Focusing my will, I said, “uisge gu èadhar,” drawing the oxygen from the water, fusing the O2 molecules together around my face. I sucked in the pure oxygen and instantly felt light-headed. Too much oxygen gets you high.
It couldn’t be helped. I would not last long without air.
Holding the breathing spell in place, I urged the rock to close in behind my Maserati, forming a wall.
That did three things.
First, it closed off the flow of water. The caveat was that air was still getting in from there as well. That was the second thing. I had a limited supply of oxygen. Lastly, the biproduct of this way of breathing is that I would be creating a huge pocket of gas—specifically CO2 and Hydrogen. In otherwords, I was creating a huge pocket of methane. Incidentally, this is how an ethermage is able to make a ball of fire appear from thin air. Volatile molecules are all around. The magic is combining them in a way they can more easily explode, not something I wanted down here.
Still, I couldn’t go back and I did not want to drown, making the wall was a necessary evil.
The only path was through. But I needed to take care of the gas, so I burrowed into the rock with a hole no larger than a finger. Burrow isn’t quite the right word. I urged the bond between the minerals to part, making a chute climb all the way up to the surface. It was large enough to release the gas but not so large as to draw notice from someone in flight.
I did the same thing below the car, only I opened up another cavern far enough beneath me to drain all the water in my little cave. Slowly, I widened the drainage pipe, allowing water to flow swiftly to the lower chamber. At the same time, I made the space around my car much larger, roughly a sphere 10 meters in diameter.
As water leaked out of the car, my head was freed. Releasing both spells, I sagged back into my chair and passed the fuck out.
I can’t say how long I was unconscious but it was lengthy enough to give me cramps from sleeping in the awkward position. I pulled in ether to ease the pains.
By now, Victoria had likely left me for dead. She’d been on a schedule and already had what she wanted from me. This had not been my plan back on the beach, but I had escaped. All it cost was a lifetime of gathered artifacts, my dimensional pocket, most of my gear, and all the goods we’d acquired from Theseus.
At least I had my pride.
With a burst of gathered ether, I forced the door to my car open with raw energy and a good shove, then fell out onto the darkened cavern. I created two sources of light, as I had in Theseus’s vault, and pinned them on opposite ends of my little cave.
I could only stare at my broken Maserati. Victoria had been with me when I picked it out. We’d both given it a test drive. Countless memories followed the purchase. Long drives along coasts on every continent. Parking on the beach and enjoying each other.
And now, much like every thing else between us, it was a wreck.
She’d played me like a fiddle. Aiden too. But no. She’d gotten to him somehow. Victoria may have been responsible for organizing the ball, but Aiden had been the one to get me to the dance, all while making me think it was my idea.
Looking back, I could see it. He’d presented this as our only way and had been his usual antagonistic self. When I am pushed, I push back. It has always been both my greatest strength and weakness. Aiden knows me better than anyone, with the possible exception of Victoria.
And he was bonded to Loki. He had to be. There was no other explanation that made any sense. Not that I could do anything about it.
If a day here was a month on Earth, that meant an hour here was just over 1.25 days on Earth. The Finder Ship was likely already back. Asterion had been delivered to Artemis and Abigail for whatever purpose.
And I was here.
I went to the boot—you call it a trunk—and needed the help of telekinesis to pry it open. My bag was there, still soaked of course in grainy salt water. Opening it up, I took stock. Clothes, water logged jerky, a hunting knife, and a canteen of stale water. I had a good amount of gold, but it would not last long here.
A few days in a room but not nearly enough to buy my way home. The Ferryman would not take me, and I could not afford a Finder Ship. That left me with only one option.
I needed to find a smuggler. I had a good idea of where to start, but I could not just leave my car here. I knew it was totaled, but it was mine.
Snatching up the bag, I moved away from the car. With a quick spell, I smoothed out the stone ground and etched the required runes for the ritual. Another spell dried out the bag—a Janson Sport—and I placed the pack at the center of my circle.
The next part took a deep amount of effort. I spoke the words to connect me with our physical space. “Tha ùine agus àite a ’leudachadh.”
Higher dimensions are difficult to explain.
My body became like an empty shell. I felt ether coursing through me, but my mind became more. My awareness was anchored in this physical reference space, but I could perceive the “space” beyond. It differs from our 3 physical dimensions in that additional dimensions can also contain our physical laws. Seizing a pocket of this space, I gathered my awareness around as much as I could hold and directed it toward the bag, simultaneously, I infused the runes around the Jansport with ether, providing a temporary anchor for the extra dimension.
I spent the next hour, reshaping the space into a rectangular room, identical to the one Victoria had stolen from me—minus my furnishings and other belongings. I removed the anchor points from the ritual circle and attached them to the ether-fused bag.
This effectively transformed the backpack into a doorway into this extra-dimensional place. The best part about such doorways, the opening was malleable.
Pulling the pack wide enough to drive through, I used telekinesis to move my busted car into the pocket. With a bit of effort, I opened the convertible top and inspected the mirror. The Soul Breaker did not have so much as a scratch. The sword was also fine. I exited the pocket and closed the pack.
Then I sat on the rough ground, suddenly weary. Evocation is not my speciality. With the exception of some very short distant dimensional hops, this was the extent of my ability, but mostly because I could use thaumaturgy (the big ritual circle) to guide the process.
After several minutes, I forced myself to stand on shaky legs. Gathering ether, I widened my air chute, making it roughly Liam-sized. Natural light flooded my little cave. Still day out there. Which day though?
Only one way to find out.
Strapping my pack to my back, I said a quick spell and flew upward, out of the hole. The sky above me was clear. It was evening, maybe 2 to 3 hours until dusk.
No Finder Ships lingered. As I had expected, Victoria was long gone.
I landed on a cliffside, overlooking a bay. I saw a yacht out on the water and a few fishing vessels beyond.
Resolving to relate more to the working class than the elite members of high Atlantian society, I gathered more ether and flew to a medium-sized fishing boat, moving slow enough that the crew could see me coming.
They were all gnolls.
A female wore a captain’s hat and medieval style of privateer clothing. Beneath her red vest was a white puffy-shirt that would not be amiss on an episode of Seinfeld. Her black tights disappeared into boots that laced up to her calves. Baggy woolen breaches stopped at her knees. Her hand rested casually on the hilt of the cutlass on her belt.
The crew stood behind her, similarly attired, albeit with older dingier clothes. All eyes watched me as I slowly lowered onto the deck, half-a-dozen paces from the captain.
She spoke in that barking language. I could only guess at the words, but her manner seemed more curious than hostile.
“Good evening,” I said in Atlantian. “My ship wrecked. Please, can you tell me where we are?”
“You are aboard the Fleece, and we sail the Thesean Sea and are bound for Athens. And we do not care for the magi upon our vessel. It is bad luck.”
“I understand,” I said with a slight bow of my head. “I will be on my way without delay. Which way to Athens?”
She nodded toward the north. “About 50 kilometers due north.”
I mumbled my spell in attempts to assuage their superstitions. They all tensed. A few half-pulled their swords. But I was in the air and out of reach seconds later. No longer confined by the need for caution, I gathered as much energy as I could and flew with as much speed as I could muster, fast enough to require a shield of air in front of me as a buffer.
It took me about 15 minutes to reach the mainland. And though I’d flown slightly off course, there was no mistaking the massive city of Athens. Vehicles swarmed about the skylines. People were done with their work for the day, going to restaurants or wherever as if nothing had changed.
I landed about a kilometer from the wharf, as far from other people as I could. Technically, I still had a room at the Pyramid. Aiden had only paid for one night, but we’d never checked out. Maybe the hotel would let me stay another night. Though I would love the sleep, I wanted to see if Aiden left some clue behind as to how all this got so fucked.
Also, I needed to see how far Theseus’s mercy extended. He’d allowed me to leave, but he had also sent his guards after us. It was possible a team of minotaurs was waiting for me in the lobby or even watching the place to see if I came back.
I had no material for a disguise and hoods would be suspicious in a place like this. Instead, I changed my garb to match some of the rich styles I’d seen adorning others, consisting of an expensive suit, black with a red tie.
But it was all for nothing.
The guards did not so much as glance at me, as I walked in. No one screamed “Go, go, go,” and came to arrest me. No one cared to look my way, while I made my way to the desk.
The same cat-person that was here when we checked-in stood in attendance with two others in white and gold. They all looked at me as if I’d stumbled up on a private conversation.
The one with rich, white fur said, “Good evening, milord. Can we help you?”
“Yes,” I said, giving them a polite smile. “I failed to check out this morning and would like to settle my bill.”
“It would be under MacGregor. Aiden MacGregor.”
She tapped on her tablet then asked without looking up, “Liamorandus?”
“Aye. That’s me.”
“Your room has been paid up for the remainder of the week. Mr. MacGregor left this for you.”
She handed me a letter.
I stared at it, a multitude of emotions tearing through me. Fustration, pain, annoyance, but most of all confusion.
“When did he leave this?”
She pulled the post-it note from the back of the note and read it to me as if I was simple. “Yesterday evening around 20:00.”
While I was asleep.
I muttered my thanks and found my way outside to the beach. I hurried away, wanting to be alone. Apparently, evening strolls along the beach were all the rage, because couples walked everywhere. I soared on wings of ether a mile up the beach clutching the note.
I landed on a secluded area near a private home. The home was dark, but the sands were walled off.
My name was written on the front but nothing else. I recognized Liam’s shitty writing and paused, afraid of what I might read inside this letter.
Was it a confession? An apology? Instructions on how to get home? Maybe he was imbedding himself inside enemy lines and this was a way to reach him when I got back to Earth.
I ripped the envelope open. After the first few lines, my knees buckled, and I sat hard on the cool sand.
I cannot imagine how you must feel, abandoned and alone in Atlantis, but if you are reading this, we did not die horribly this morning, so you have that going for you. We lived. Go us, right?
You want answers. I cannot give all of them to you, but I can give you solace in the fact that you never had a choice in this. Victoria had your number from the beginning. This isn’t a ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ sort of thing.
I wasn’t completely honest with you before. After discovering the existence of the Soul Breaker, I came to Atlantis, made contacts, even cased the castle to see if I could steal from Theseus. When I knew I would fail, I got shit-faced. I’ve never been so drunk. Epic story, complete with dwarves and pixies. They can shrink you down to their size and … suffice to say you’ll never be the same.
On the fourth day of the bender, I met Loki for the first time.
Of course, I did not know it was him, but that bastard tricked me into bonding with him. It should not be possible. Bonding requires willful consent to take root. However, it turns out that my subconscious needed to understand how Abigail could betray us all and permitted my enslavement to the trickster god. The details don’t really matter, but I am one of them, have been for three years now.
None of us wanted this fate, but there is no way to break the bond. Not even with the Soul Breaker. Well, probably not. But they needed to get you here. We could not have done this without you. More importantly, this was the only way to get you out of the fight in a way that would not leave you dead. Victoria and I both agreed on that point, assuming she wasn’t lying to me as well. But that isn’t your problem anymore.
You are out, just like you’ve always wanted.
The Collective cannot pull you back into the fray from Atlantis. You can start over. Earth will soon be unlivable with plagues and raging gods running rampant. Not the sort of place to earn that next degree. What is it, six or seven now? I never understood that about you. Why doggedly pursue pieces of paper from the muggles? You can absorb their books in minutes. Why go through all the rigmarole? I guess I’ll never understand now.
Live well, my friend and know that I’ll miss you as often as Loki allows me to.
The moment I finished reading the last word, I felt a puff of energy. A hole seared into the middle, then spread to the edges, burning the words alongside my tears. As I let go of the page, the ashes fell scattered to the winds.
Along with my hope.