Sycorax waited on the beach, enjoying a pleasantly cool beverage with little swizzle stick in it. She would have preferred a tiny umbrella but she could sense her prey drawing near and she wasn’t going to miss their arrival for a minor aesthetic concern.
Once she’d banished the last of the field agents who worked for the detestable Potestates, she could claim the titles she’d lost long ago to PrimaLux and its founders.
“That’s gotta be her,” a muscular young woman said. Another, taller, woman stood beside her. The two weren’t sisters. There was no family resemblance between them. The hard lines they had chiseled their bodies into though were points of similarity strong enough to blur that line.
They had arrived dressed for a day at the beach, unlike the previous pair. Both wore knee length shorts and sports bras with colorful patterns. The only thing out of place about their ensemble were the laced gloves each had hanging over their shoulders.
Sycorax ignored those. Doubtless, they were some form of enchanted weapon, but no sorcerer’s tool could endanger her. Her mastery of the mystic arts exceeded that of any earthly caster by a margin as wide as the Milky Way.
“Greetings to you, daughter of the rock, and to you, daughter of prosperity,” Sycorax said. She knew their names, but what she cared about was their essence. Name a quality of the essence and bind them to your words. It was the simplest of magics, but Earth dwellers were so careless with their identities that simple magics always caught them in Sycorax’s experience.
“This is the witch?” the taller woman, Nike, asked.
“No,” Val said. “She’s not a witch. Witches aren’t bad guys. Well except for Yasmin Jones, but that’s just till she pays me back the five hundred bucks she owes me.”
Sycorax smiled. The daughter of the rock wasn’t taking the situation seriously. It was as good as over already.
“But she is the one we’re looking for right?” Nike asked.
“Oh, definitely,” Val said and shrugged the gloves off her shoulder. They were big puffy things, red, with laces that secured them over a good part of the wearer’s wrists.
Sycorax kept smiling. She’d seen a wide array of mystic talismans employed to thwart her aims over the centuries, but these had to be the silliest ones anyone had yet chosen to wield.
“Come now, Earthborn champions, it is time for you to follow your destiny and sacrifice yourselves in an attempt to save those dear to you,” Syrcorax said. It had been so long since she’d been able to sport with earthly mortals, it would have been fundamentally wrong not to enjoy toying with them.
And what could the harm be? They were already doomed. The poor fools were simply too limited to see it.
From the moment they’d arrived, Sycorax had felt their intention pressing in on the space around her. Valeria Perez and Oyenike Lapido, two warriors who did not kill (an absurdity in Sycorax’s view), had come before her with the sole purpose to retrieve those she had already lured to the depths of her Lost Ocean.
It wasn’t a question of whether they could escape or not. The two women didn’t have any interest in walking away. All of Sycorax’s schemes and contingency plans for them refusing to fall into her trap were unnecessary. The fools had no thought for their own safety. Their only concern was reaching their friends in time, before the fold between the world unraveled.
“Lace me up?” Nike asked.
Val helped secure the puffy gloves on Nike’s hands before wiggling her own hands into the oversized gloves she’d brought.
“Offer me tribute and I will set you on the path you need to walk,” Sycorax said. “Deny me the honor I am due and you will wander for all eternity.”
It wasn’t true. They would perish before more than a handful of days had passed no matter what they did. Extracting offerings from her prey pleased Sycorax though, and would grant them the small measure of immortality in that she might some day remember them if she spied their treasure, whatever it might be, in the gleaming horde she planned to collect from the Earth.
“She wants us to give her what she’s due?” Nike asked.
“Think she knows what she’d asking for?” Val asked.
“Pretty sure she wouldn’t be asking for it if she did,” Nike said.
It occurred to Sycorax that neither woman was speaking to her. Neither in fact seemed to be acknowledging anything she said. That set her left eyebrow twitching. She was an Elder Being. She was not to be ignored.
Val stepped up to her, hands held in front her body in what could have been supplication.
Sycorax felt her jaw shatter as something with the force of a runaway cement mixer collided with the side of her face.
Blinking back pain she hadn’t experienced in an eternity, she struggled, stumbling backward but keeping her feet beneath her.
A city bus hit her in the ribs, fracturing them.
It wasn’t possible. She wasn’t made of mortal clay. She couldn’t be broken.
Sycorax tried to spin their names into a binding.
A red glove collided head on with her face and the words were broken to pieces.
Rubbing blood from her lips, she blinked and found the two hard women standing over her.
“How?” She gasped out with a weak breath.
“You out magicked Tam, and social-fu’d Anna,” Val said. “So I decided not to take any chances.”
“”But you cannot hurt me!” Sycorax said. The pain was nothing. The damage was nothing. She wasn’t human. All wounds could heal in an instant if she chose. All pain could be ignored or forgotten. Except none of that should have occurred in the first place.
Not from a human.
And certainly not from so small a creature as one of the women which Potestates employed. They had the credit for felling PrimaLux, but PrimaLux’s downfallen had been more attributable to its founders shortcomings and the weak links of failure sown throughout the organization.
“We can’t hurt you?” Nike asked. “Ok, I guess we can keep going.”
She raised her right hand but Sycorax flinched away, raising her hands to ward off the blow.
“So here’s how this is going to work,” Val said, towering over Sycorax like one of the primordial titans. “You’ve got a whole spiel you want to lay on us. We’re not listening to any of that. We’re going to rescue Tam and the rest. All three of us. Whatever fate she meets, you’re going to meet it too.”
“Oh and if you think you’re immortal,” Nike said. “Allow us to assure you that with what we can do to you, that’s the last thing you want to be.”
Sycorax looked from one woman to the other. She considered the stratagems available to her. Every path open to her ended in disaster. Worse, none led to the recovery of her stolen titles.
“We can’t go after them,” Sycorax said. “They are in a labyrinth of corrupted desire.”
“Yeah, we know about that,” Val said. “James figured out how your puzzle box is setup.”
“Then you know that seeking them will ensure we cannot find them,” Sycorax said. “And even if we did, we could never escape. The labyrinth will turn our intentions against us. The more we struggle to achieve them, the harder the resistance will be.”
“Let us worry about that,” Val said.
“Sacrificing me won’t save them,” Sycorax said. It was what PrimaLux and so many others would have tried, so she had made certain to close that loophole in her trap’s design.
“Lucky for us we don’t work like that,” Val said, and lifted Sycorax to her feet.
Sycorax felt her wounds knit back into place. The damage done was an illusion because the body she wore was as much illusion as reality. She couldn’t quite forget the blows she’s suffered though. They were a puzzle and an irritation and a mystery. She found herself following Val and Nike as much to learn the answer to their strength as anything else.
“They lie at the bottom of the Lost Atlantic, in the ruins of Drowned Atlantis,” Sycorax said as they stepped across the fold and into the other Earth.
“What’s that tower?” Nike asked, looking out across the long descending hill which was the ocean floor. Around the tower tower strange beasts of a thousand different shapes soared and swooped. The world before them was unmistakably alien, but it shared a fundamental connection to the one they knew. It wasn’t home but even the strangest alien elements felt somehow familiar and alluring.
“That was my first snare,” Sycorax said. “It is what drew the daughters of Lighting and Fire into this realm.”
“James said it was a Tower of High Atlantean Sorcery,” Val said. “And that it was an illusion, which I guess is bad.”
“Imagine a library with all the knowledge you could ever seek,” Sycorax said.
“That doesn’t sound that bad,” Nike said.
“Now imagine trying to find what you need there, amidst a sea of infinite knowledge,” Sycorax said.
“It’s called the Dewey Decimal System,” Val said.
“Or Google,” Nike said.
“But it wouldn’t really be a trap if it was organized would it?” Val said. “Or if it didn’t come with a compulsion to keep studying a problem endlessly.”
“You understand more than your companion did,” Sycorax said.
“Not really,” Val said. “Tam bypassed the tower, and I’m just repeating what James told me.”
“Yes, I planned on that. She was adept enough to see the danger. As I expected, she sought deeper, more dangerous answers, which led her to her doom,” Sycorax said. “As for her mentor, his work is irrelevant. He makes no mark on this world, his own domicile confines him more securely than my trap ever could.”
“Wrong on both counts,” Val said. “Tam wasn’t seeking answers. She was looking for mysteries that you hadn’t explored yet. And James? Everyone makes a mark on the world. James just does it from behind the scenes, by supporting the rest of us.”
“How do you know this?” Sycorax asked.
“Because I told them,” Tam said, stepping from a shadow from behind them.
“But you are trapped in the Great Depths! You can’t be here. Drowned Atlantis does not give up those who cross its borders!” Sycorax couldn’t see how her plan had come undone. Nothing that was happening made sense by the rules she knew.
“The Sovereign of the Realm decides its rules,” Anna said. She and a party of twenty others, including Cynthia and Zoe, stepping from around a bend in the path which lead down to the bottom of the ocean.
“Drowned Atlantis has no sovereign,” Sycorax said, eyeing the party with suspicion. In its ranks were men in monastic robes from centuries before, women in laced dresses from the turn of last century, and people in suits from decades past.
“It had no Sovereign,” Anna corrected her..
“Bow before your Queen,” Cynthia said, gesturing to Tam.
“That is absolutely not necessary,” Tam said.
“How?” Sycorax asked. “How is she Queen?”
“Drowned Atlantis has been collecting scholars and seekers of the unknown for a long time,” Tam said. “Time runs differently in the Depths though so most, or maybe all, of them are still alive and searching for the answer that drew them here.”
“But they are not Atlanteans,” Sycorax said.
“They weren’t,” Anna agreed. “But once Drowned Atlantis claimed them, they, in turn, gained a claim on it.”
“It was a clever trap,” Zoe said. “You just missed the part where someone else might change the rules of the game on you part way through.” She shot Anna an accusatory look.
“But none of them was a sovereign,” Sycorax said.
“Funny thing about that,” Cynthia said. “We explained things to them, and the New Atlanteans were all pretty happy to elect Tam as Queen once she promised her first royal act would be to set everyone free.”
“There is a more important matter at hand though,” Tam said.
“Take care,” Sycorax said. “You may be able to order my execution, but my death curse can strike down even the Queen of Atlantis.”
“She’s really into the whole death thing, isn’t she?” Val asked.
“People play hardball where she comes from I guess,” Nike said.
“We have no intention of taking your life,” Anna said.
“We wanted to understand why you would do this,” Tam said.
“We figured it wasn’t just for power,” Cynthia said.
“There are other, better methods of acquiring power than baiting people like this,” Zoe said. “But I know PrimaLux carved a lot of mystical power base out of people like you, so I was able to guess what it was that connected you to this place, and what it was they’d taken from you.”
“The fold to this world is unraveling already, so we don’t have long,” Tam said. “But before it fades, we want you to have this.”
She handed a coral encrusted ring to Sycorax.
Sycorax blinked, her breath escaping in short, panicked gasps.
“My ring?” she asked.
As Sycorax put her finger through the ring, the encrusted coral fell away and a brilliant circle of multi-hued crystal was revealed.
“I was looking for my lost titles,” she stammered, unable to believe what she held in her hand.
“The titles were only the smallest portion of who you are, Daughter of the Seas,” Tam said. “Take back what was lost when your realm fell below the waves. Reclaim the Heart of the Ocean. Atlantis is reborn and it is yours once more.”
A mountaintop retreat was about as far as they could manage to get from the sea, and in Tam’s view that was the best possible location for their debriefing session.
“So what does it mean that Atlantis is back?” Nike asked.
“For us? Less than you might think,” Tam said.
“Atlantis is a mythical land,” James said. “It’s history touches on our own in only a few spots.”
“So we can’t take a boat out to visit it then?” Val asked.
“Not unless the boat is driven across the waves by a sprite who knows which stars to follow,” James said.
“Think of it like it’s on another world, which is close enough to the truth,” Tam said. “We can get that with some magical cheatery but otherwise its in its own little corner of reality.”
“But you’re still Queen of it right?” Cynthia asked.
“Not exactly,” Tam said. “I was Queen of Drowned Atlantis. When we restored Sycorax’s position and brought Atlantis back, it wasn’t drowned anymore, so no more sunken city, no more Queen to rule it.”
“What about all those people you found?” Val asked. “Why did they stay with Sycorax when the fold started coming undone? I thought they wanted to get out of Atlantis?”
“They wanted out of Drowned Atlantis,” Tam said. “Aka the dead version of the city. Sycorax’s Atlantis will be a living, breathing place.”
“And one without the corruption of intention turning their efforts against them,” James said.
“Plus, there is one other thing in its favor,” Anna said.
“Yes, the fold is gone, but a bridge remains open,” James said.
“I was wondering if you would do that,” Zoe said. “Why give Sycorax a second chance to cause you trouble? You know she’s capable of it.”
“She has lived in a world dominated by powers who seek to tear each other down,” Anna said.
“She needs a chance to see another way for things to be,” Tam said.
“And that’s what we do,” Val said.