Poseidia, capital of Atlantis, 11,000 BCE
“But…my King –”
“The only ‘butt’ I want out of you is that fine piece of ass.”
“For Highest Light’s sake –”
“Shush!” His perfect incisors pierced her. He lapped blood and she whimpered, but her cries fell short of the room’s perimeter. Here in his cavernous chambers, he always looked forward to that particular lack of echo. It meant he’d weakened another one. In a matter of minutes he’d opened wounds all along the merbeing’s body. And knowing he’d hurt her quickened his breath.
When he was thus aroused, he noticed things all the more. Like the taste of metal and salt stiffening him. Like her blood and the walls were the same shade. Like the smell of fear and defiance. Of macadamias and mangoes she’d in all likelihood eaten yesterday, in between diving for pearls to enrich his coffers. Yet not even the considerable quantity of liquor he’d downed could drown out the fact that her spine was too knobby, her voice so thin and squeaky it would try his very short patience before he could finish this dirty business with her.
Within his kingdom, Gadeirus could command weather and control fate, or at least bribe those with the magic to do so. Such power mostly made him feel invincible, beyond question or consequence. In the face of unending privilege, the only things he took seriously were the ones he could indulge. Or abuse. Things like booze. Drugs. Females. And he indulged and abused with vigor.
But it was another story when it came to the only woman he’d ever wanted. Despite his best efforts to manipulate her circumstances, he felt impotent against her heart. And unable not to notice. Which endlessly pissed him off.
He understood the queen he coveted was long since matched, her soul mated. To the rightful king of the realm’s most spiritual planet. Gadeirus knew not how their star-crossed bond had endured, through depravity and the separation his own hand enforced. And the deep, slow stretch of centuries. Nor did he care. He could only appreciate the memory of that first hit, staring wide eyed and wasted at her palace portrait. In that beat of his heart, she’d become the jones in his vein. He understood obsession, how having rarely equaled wanting. But love? He wished for it, yes. Yet he knew only lust, that different and hungry animal. One of his mind’s most intimate beasts, which at the moment needed to feed.
With sweat slicking his rounded belly, he forgot all he’d never had and focused on what he craved, and his thrusts into the weeping mermaid intensified even as the pounding at the door grew more insistent. He was this close to release, this ready to spew the seething buried beyond reach of all his other self-medicating means. Nothing in his treasure trove of mind-tripping substances ever made him quake with the promise of relief. But with the mermaid’s back to him, kneeling as she was on his vast bed, he began to quiver.
“Shush, I said!!” His hands punished her, gnarling in red curls. Brutalizing lovely curves that most surely would be bruised tomorrow, if he decided she had a tomorrow. She could never be her, but for now he had to admit she felt almost right. Near enough, anyway, so he could close his eyes and pretend.
“Gadeirus!” The threat was unmistakable. Clearly Desineus cared not he was yelling at the king of Poseidia. “Let me in this Light-damned bordello or so help me I’ll force my way in!”
“Hounds of hell, just wait!” A final thud shuddered the door before it trembled to silence. But the quiet had cost him, as he realized he’d lost more than his temper. He’d softened, slipping from the mermaid’s body, even as wrath raged to the surface. Scowling at the nightstand, he cursed the empty shot glasses, the hand-rolled magic smokes burned to ash. If he left the bed now and re-upped his stash, the sweet deliverance he so desperately needed would be gone for good. Instead he jerked the sea nymph’s surgically altered hips toward him. And raised his raven’s eyes.
Relishing the most potent elixir he’d ever longed to taste, he leered at the painting opposite the bed. The one with her laughing green eyes. Those full lips, curved into radiance, lighting up an angel’s visage. A face framed by red ringlets, spiraling the porcelain length of her neck. His sweeping stare raked creamy shoulders, scraping the shapely bosom trussed above a plummeting gold neckline. White knuckles gripped the mermaid’s flesh, groping for the sensation of how soft he knew she would feel. As always, the sight of her readied him. He leaned over the sea nymph, his cupid-bow lips ravaging her shoulder, the nape of her neck, letting her long tresses tease his stubble. So long as he didn’t have to look at her directly, the fantasy worked well enough. As long as he didn’t have to look in her eyes. The shape and the feel and the smell and the taste all seemed easy enough to replicate. But those eyes….
With a groan he erupted as the mermaid collapsed, sobbing. He’d barely withdrawn before snatching a robe from the bedpost, where it dangled by a sleeve. Marching to the bedchamber’s gilded entry, he flung wide its double doors. On either side of the entrance, his guards stood erect in ebony breeches and high-collared waistcoats. And across the mahogany hall lounged Desineus, ivory tunic unbelted, head tilted back. Sandy hair fell in waves around a face etched with duty. Beside his sandals lay a leather satchel. As Gadeirus’ bloodshot eyes burned into his, Desineus noted the smeared scarlet lips. He sighed, the resigned exhalation of a friend long tired of making excuses.
“What?!” Gadeirus growled. “What is so Light-forsaken urgent you simply couldn’t wait?!”
“The Ahlaielian delegation has landed.” Propelling himself from the wall, Desineus retrieved the satchel, his fingers skimming black marble veined with crimson. He brushed past Gadeirus and entered the royal quarters. Curled on the bed lay the bare and bawling mermaid, her bloodied ribs heaving for breath. Desineus raised manicured eyebrows at the king, who was fisting unkempt hair the color of midnight.
“Shut the hell up!” Gadeirus snapped.
“Gadeirus – ”
“I said to shut the hell up!” In a fury, the king charged the bed, striking the mermaid’s face. She coiled more tightly, bracing herself for another blow. As he moved to hit her again, Desineus intercepted his wrist mid-air.
“You’d best get hold of yourself,” Desineus murmured, with an authority penetrating even Gadeirus’ radically altered consciousness. “I told you the missionaries have landed. Those Light-damned do-gooders are now here in Atlantis. Which means they’ll find out they’ve been lied to long before they can kiss your ring and your ass and try to save your sorry soul like they came here to do. When they’re supposed to be dead! Or are you so strung out you can no longer comprehend the political nightmare this has become?!”
“No,” Gadeirus replied at last. “I’m fully aware of the implications. Although she was never meant – ”
“Yes, I know. And she’s safe.” Desineus released the king’s arm. “Along with the rest of them. The coding meant to disrupt their starship’s oxygen supply…malfunctioned.”
“I see.” From the bed’s platform, the mermaid wailed louder. Gadeirus squeezed his eyes shut. “Get the guards.”
“But – ”
“All right.” Without a word, Desineus approached the doorway. He motioned the guards inside. Grasping sheathed crystal sabers, they turned identical blank stares on Gadeirus.
“Get rid of her,” he barked. As the mermaid scrambled in retreat, the guards stormed the bed. Her huge green eyes pleaded with the king, who glanced at her without emotion. She shook her head, her shrieks now shockwaves tremoring the silk-covered walls. “Not back to the labs. But gone. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Your Highness,” the guards replied in unison, wrestling her writhing body from the sheets. One snatched her newly created, human-looking legs. While the other snapped her neck.
“That will be all for now.” Gadeirus’ fingers flicked dismissal as they bowed before him. The taller of the two hoisted the limp mermaid over his shoulder, and they exited the chamber, easing the double doors closed behind them.
“Are you lucid enough to hear me?” Desineus pivoted to stare at the king. “Because there is much we need to discuss.”
“Yes,” Gadeirus answered. Cinching his paunch with the sable robe’s belt, he strode to the rosewood bureau beneath the painting. He splashed lemon water into a glass from a waiting decanter before fixing his gaze on Desineus. “I’m listening.”
“You missed the cabinet meeting. The one where you were supposed to sign the lab expansion decree. We were also ready to vote on increasing funding for crystal weaponry research and development. As well as officially endorse the frequencies your seers have devised in order to reprogram the Tuaoi Stone.”
“Damn it to hell,” Gadeirus breathed, gulping from his glass. He slammed the empty goblet back onto the bureau. Sloshing more water into the crystal vessel, he peered at Desineus. “Did you bring the decree?”
“Good.” He hastened to the bedside armoire. Hurling open its carved doors, he fumbled for a stamp, a candle and red wax. Desineus noticed he also popped a thin wafer from a pouch into his mouth. “I will affix my seal immediately.”
“You should know the psychics and the scientists are at odds.” Desineus watched Gadeirus dump the candle and implements onto the bureau. “Both sides want control over the experiments – and the weaponry r & d. And they each desire a voice in deciding the particular Lesser Light energies the Tuaoi Stone will soon beam around the globe. So today we heard their arguments. And yet who will ultimately be in charge of what is your decision.”
“I will be in charge.” Gadeirus fumed at Desineus. In large swallows he drained the lemon water. “Or is that something my brief absence has made you and the rest of the cabinet members forget?”
“Gadeirus, please listen to what your advisors – ”
“My advisors!” Gadeirus threw back his head and cackled as Desineus shifted his feet. “What do my advisors have to do with running this island?! Poseidia was an absolute monarchy the last time I checked. Which means my power and my wishes rule the land. And they have no limits.”
“Yes, but – ”
“No ‘buts’, Desineus. And no limits,” Gadeirus whispered, his black eyes glassy as a smile split his face. He wagged a tapered finger that would look at home on a woman’s hand at his closest confidant. “No limits.”
“Yes, of course.” He bowed his head. “My apologies, Your Highness.”
“Accepted.” Gadeirus spilled more water into his goblet. Crossing the room, he shoved at the glass doors opening onto a balcony. “Please join me. I’d like to be updated on where we stand with our crystalline arsenal. And the Tuaoi Stone, since she’s our greatest weapon.”
“Certainly.” Desineus settled the satchel on the bureau and followed the king outside. Here they were perched five stories high, overlooking a view unequalled anywhere on the continent. He felt relieved trading smoky-stale air for the ocean’s fresh breath. A tired evening sun yet showed some strength, as both men leaned against the stone balustrade’s baked surface. Its polished smoothness overlaid iron pickets, forged with roses to match the castle’s coat of arms. Before them sparkled downtown Poseidia, her crystal and marble buildings alight beneath roofs of sun-kissed copper, silver and gold. Her skyline had been meticulously planned, a chorus of pleasing geometric shapes voicing perfect harmony. Beyond her boundaries lay the city’s concentric circular outskirts, her curves hugged by canals and spanned with spectacular white bridges. All along the canals sprawled Poseidia’s markets, where any type of indulgence – from foods to furnishings to other, darker desires – could be gratified, at any time of day. And past that lay the ocean’s aqua expanse.
“The arsenal continues to grow, and is on target to meet our agreed-upon expectations,” Desineus said at last. “I don’t anticipate any problems there.”
“Good. I’m pleased something is going along without a hitch.” He downed more lemon water. “Are the scientists and psychics at least on the same page about the army I wish to create?” His black stare scanned the horizon. “I need absolute compliance, Desineus.”
“I know. And we’re working toward that.”
“What seems to be the problem?”
“Are these walls secure?” He eyed Gadeirus, certain the king was much more alert as he pondered what might have been in that wafer.
“Yes, of course. Sonar scrambles any conversations, preventing them from being overheard – either conventionally or psychically.” For several moments Gadeirus scrutinized his chief aide’s face. “Why do you ask?”
“There have been too many surprises of late. Too many…unexpected events.” He shook his head. “I dare not speak of specifics beyond what was debated at the cabinet meeting, my friend. Because in spite of your claims to the contrary, I believe certain factions are listening. Unauthorized factions.”
“Unauthorized – ” Gadeirus broke into giggles once again. A laugh Desineus had never before noticed sounded utterly mad. “But you realize I have an authorized team of the best seers from all over the Universe – ”
“Yes,” Desineus interrupted. “The absolute best there is. I’m aware.”
“Then why are you so worried?”
“Many reasons, of which I can go into detail at another time. In a more trusted location.”
“Desineus, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were paranoid.”
“Perhaps,” he replied. “But too many unexplained happenings speak for themselves. Like the preachers. Who failed to meet their Angel of Death, despite our best efforts at an introduction.”
“Well, surely all is not lost,” he whispered. “As long as she’s – ”
“Speak no more of it.” Desineus’ cobalt eyes flashed a warning. “We must accept this latest revelation and make our plans accordingly.”
“Watch everyone,” he insisted. “And trust no one.”
“We’re doing that already, are we not?” Gadeirus asked, and both men laughed.
“We are,” Desineus said, looking out over the city. “And yet we need to be more careful.”
“You mean I need to be more careful.” The king’s voice was soft. Vulnerable even.
“Yes, my friend.” Desineus unleashed the persuasiveness he mostly kept tethered. “You need to be much more careful. Especially when it comes to her.” He shook his head. “I’ve never seen you so consumed by a woman. And normally I wouldn’t object, as I want you to be happy. You know that.”
“But she’s pure, Gadeirus. The very essence of Highest Light. And you’re anything but pure. Not to mention, you know that she’s his.” He leaned closer to the king. “You realize such differences make her the enemy. Make her cloud your head. And your purpose.”
“Desineus, I have my…moments,” Gadeirus confessed. “When I indulge myself. And at times I admit she…occupies me. She is, after all, the most intoxicating of agents. Yet I assure you I’m committed to our shared vision. To Poseidia’s rise to ultimate power.” He swigged lemon water. “Tell me if you can, if you feel you can bear the unauthorized ears you fear so much upon these grounds. What of the Dark Heart energies? Are they holding?”
“Yes,” he murmured. “The incorruptible has been irreversibly tainted. Of that you can be assured.”
“Good. So – ”
“So the Tuaoi Stone is another matter. One we must address.” Once more he amputated the king’s words. Desineus watched, unfazed, as a shadow bled across Gadeirus’ face. “Everyone wants a say in how it’s wielded, for obvious reasons. Of course, some made stronger cases at the meeting than others.”
“Lorelei, for one.”
“Lorelei?!” Shaking his head, Gadeirus chuckled, although to Desineus it sounded more like choking. “So our Dark Heart whore wants even more power, does she?”
“She does,” Desineus confirmed. “And considering what she’s been able to do, I believe she’s earned it.”
“Clearly the Dark Heart is a key to our expansion,” Gadeirus mused.
“Then we will do what we have to do to keep her happy. At least for now.”
“Good. So in regard to the delegation – ”
“I’m handling it,” Desineus said.
“Wait and watch.” Desineus surveyed the king, realizing his focus was now piercing. Laser-like, even. Again he wondered about that tiny wafer as Gadeirus grinned, a smile that never touched his newly whitened and brightened eyes.
“What are you not telling me?” He stepped closer, and Desineus could feel the king’s intensity.
“Nothing you don’t already know,” he replied. “He’s impossible to read. Even your best seers must be saying that.”
“Yes,” Gadeirus whispered. “I’ve been warned. Over and over. And over again.”
“Unlike you, he’s exceedingly cautious,” Desineus observed. “But with the evangelists on the ground, he will let down his guard. It’s inevitable.”
“All the seers say the same thing.” Gadeirus sighed, rubbing his eyes. “I’m simply not a patient man, Desineus.”
“Throughout time, the finest women, fiercest battles and most savored spoils have all been won through patience, my friend.” Instinctively he recoiled as a hawk’s wings clipped the balustrade.
“Indeed, patience is a virtue.” Gadeirus chugged the last of the lemon water. “But as you so readily point out, I’m much more vice than virtue.”
“Perhaps vice is your virtue,” Desineus suggested. “It’s gotten you this far.” He slapped the king on the shoulder. “Besides, look at what all that virtue has done for Ahlaiele.”
“It does appear purity is no match for the ways of the Dark Heart. Truly we’re fortunate to have her keeper within our midst. And under our influence.” For a moment he studied his glass. “And yet it would be a mistake to underestimate the delegation. Even under…compromised conditions.”
“Yes,” he muttered. “They’ve sent their very finest. Who were once their most powerful. And gifted.” He turned toward the king. “Tell me the truth. Are you prepared to meet her?”
“What a question!” Again the king cackled, circulating doubt through Desineus’ veins. Then the raven’s gaze grew serious. And when his face looked thus determined, Desineus could see a monarch capable of ruling the world. “Perhaps no man can ever fully be prepared to meet his destiny. Yet he must at all times be ready to embrace her.” A wicked gleam lit his eyes. “And I am most ready to embrace her.”