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GEARY WOKE UP AT DAWN FEELING INVIGORATED. SHE'D had a restful, dream-free sleep the night before and now she was anxious to be about the excavation. It was time to get cracking and set fire to the world.
Tory was already up and dressed, sitting in the corner with a flashlight as she reviewed pictures of their site. She looked like an eerie specter in the darkness.
"What are you doing?" Geary asked.
Tory pushed her glasses up on her nose and gave Geary a wistful look. "Wishing I could dive with you. It would be so cool to be down there and be the first on site, touching everything."
Geary nodded, at two hundred feet down, it was far too deep for Tory, who was only a recreational diver. Not to mention, it was just too dangerous for her to chance. Both Jason and Tory's father had died during diving accidents. That was one family legacy Geary had no intention of bequeathing to anyone.
Tory sighed. "Yeah. Just keep the live feed going so that I can see it and pretend I'm there, too."
"Yes, my queen. Anything else you'd like?"
Tory grinned. "A million dollars and Brad Pitt."
As Geary threw back the covers and left her bed she laughed at Tory's stock answer. "You forgot world peace."
"I'm feeling a bit selfish today. Teenage hormonal overdose, I think. Or just general excitement."
Geary rolled her eyes as she went to brush her teeth. It didn't take her long to get dressed. As eager to get started as Tory, she all but sprinted to the upper deck. The sky was just starting to lighten. Pink was laced with the blue as orange broke through in ribbons that spiraled above her, promising her good weather for the dive and excavation. Closing her eyes, she inhaled the fishy scent of the sea and smiled.
It was a good day to be alive.
And grateful to the man who'd given her this dream, she went to the hammock to wake him.
Only Arik wasn't there. He lay on the deck with his back to her. Afraid he was ill, she rushed over to him and knelt by his side.
He groaned ever so slightly as she shook him. Rolling onto his back, he opened his eyes, and she saw a slight bruise on his forehead.
"What are you doing on the deck?"
Arik gestured to the hammock above him. "I fell out of the hammock while I was sleeping."
"On your head?"
"Apparently. Good thing it's hard, huh?"
She grimaced at his misplaced humor.
Arik's breath caught as she gently brushed the hair back from his brow to examine his cheek and forehead. The look of concern on her face was enough to make him want to bruise himself again to see if she'd duplicate it.
Luckily, he wasn't that masochistic.
"You need to be more careful."
"I intend to," he said honestly. He wasn't about to let the Dolophoni get the drop on him again. While on the boat he was semiprotected, since they wouldn't cause a commotion in front of a group of humans.
At least that was the lie he was telling himself. The problem with the Dolophoni was that they didn't really have a set of rules to follow that anyone knew. You merely hoped they'd abide by the ones set down for everyone else.
In the end, they, like the Chthonians, were a law unto themselves. The only difference being that the Cthonians truly had no one holding their leash. At least with the Dolophoni, the Erinyes could call them off. Not that they did that often. The Furies had a tendency to revel in conflict, and there was nothing they loved more than a good bloodbath.
Megeara sat back on her heels to stare at him. The dawn's light highlighted her hair and made it glow. Her cheeks were pink, and all he could think of was the hours he'd spent kissing those lips.
And the hours more he'd like to spend making love to her.
He was already hard for her, wanting to taste her again. Why wouldn't she grab him in this realm the way she did in the other?
"You are so beautiful."
She gave him a doubting look. "Man, you hit your head hard, didn't you?"
He frowned. "Why can't you take a compliment?"
"Because I'm just not used to them. I come from a family that doesn't believe in randomly patting people on the back. The assumption is if no one's yelling at you, you're doing a great job. And no one ever complimented each other on appearances. Those are trivial. It's what's inside that matters."
His smile turned gentle and guileless. "And you're even more beautiful there."
Geary merely stared at him. What did a woman say to that? "Thank you." But that was extremely inadequate for what she felt. Everything about Arik touched her deep and made her want to stay with him.
She turned at Teddy's call. "Yeah?"
"We got a kink in the dredge. Justina is working on it right now. I just wanted to let you know."
Geary pulled back and smiled at Arik. "We've got a lot to do. You feeling up to it?"
"Absolutely. I'm here to help."
And over the next hour as they prepared the boat and equipment, he proved to be true to his word. No matter how hard or dirty the task, he lent himself to it without complaint.
They were just about to weigh anchor when Solin showed up on the docks looking perfectly groomed and highly offended.
His eyes heated, he boarded the boat and made his way straight to Geary. "You weren't about to leave me, were you, Doctor?"
Geary didn't know what to say. Honestly, she'd forgotten about him.
Luckily, Arik showed up at that moment and distracted Solin from chastising her. A stern frown creased Solin's brow as he noted the slight bruise on Arik's brow. "What happened to you?"
"He fell out of his hammock last night," Geary explained. "And if you two will excuse me, I want to get under way immediately."
Arik didn't speak until he was alone with Solin.
"Hammock?" Solin said with a mocking laugh. "It looks more like you had a run-in with something hard."
"I did. The Dolophoni showed up last night in my dreams."
Solin went completely still. Anger radiated out of him with such ferocity that it actually singed Arik. One would think they'd attacked him instead. "How many?"
Solin arched a shocked brow. "And you lived? I have to say I'm surprised."
"I don't go down easily."
"Apparently. So how did you get away from them?"
"They pulled back after I killed one of them, then—"
Solin gaped. "You what?" he asked in disbelief.
"I killed one of them."
Solin gave him a look of supreme respect. "How did you manage that?"
"I'm real good at what I do." He didn't say that arrogantly, he was only stating fact.
"Yeah, and have you any idea of the firestorm you've just unleashed for yourself? The Dolophoni don't like people to get the better of them."
"I know and I'm sure we'll battle again."
Solin shook his head as he looked out over the water.
One corner of his mouth lifted into an evil grin. "So which bastard did you nail?"
Arik didn't know their names, but he had a feeling Solin must have had more than his fair share of run-ins with them to be this interested. "The one with a staff."
Solin laughed. "Erebos. Good man. Wish I could have seen it. Zeus knows I've been wanting to shove that staff up his ass for centuries." He indicated Arik's face. "Are you sore, too?"
And it was. None of this made sense. There shouldn't be a single remnant of their battle on him. With the exception of death that happened in the dream realm things shouldn't transfer to the human plane. It just didn't happen. "All I can figure is it has something to do with the fact that I'm Skoti and don't belong in this realm. Maybe that's why I can feel dream pain in this world."
Suddenly the sound of a tin whistle rent the air as the boat engines started up. Arik cocked his head as someone started playing an Irish tune. A few seconds later, he heard a beautiful voice singing the folk song "I'm a Man You Don't Meet Every Day." The rest of the crew picked up the song as they pushed away from the dock and headed out of the harbor.
Every one of them was working together, and the sight of them like that warmed him.
Arik smiled at the camaraderie. "They're incredible, aren't they?"
"They can be, I suppose."
Arik watched Solin as he kept himself apart from the others, and he couldn't help wondering what it would be like to have the best of both worlds. To be able to feel and walk among humans both in this realm and in the sleep one. How could Solin be so lackadaisical about it all? Surely he had to appreciate the beauty of this world. "So what's it like?"
Solin frowned. "What's what like?"
He let out an angry scoff. "Basically sucks. I highly recommend returning to your godhood as soon as you can."
Arik didn't understand that. There was so much charm here. So much of everything. "Listen to their song… look at the landscape. How can you not love it here?"
Solin curled his lip. "Disease. Filth. Waste. Crime. Brutality. What's there to like?"
"There's brutality on Olympus."
"True, but I hate humanity as much as I hate the gods. Both groups are selfish bastards bent on destroying everything around them. They were given a perfect world and rather than enjoy it, they'd rather destroy it and each other. Excuse me if I don't look at them with love in my eyes but rather scorn in my heart."
Arik cocked his head at the heated rancor that bled from every part of Solin. "Yet you're helping me. Why?"
His features blank, Solin shrugged nonchalantly. "Nothing better to do. Eternity is boring. Really boring. I'm hoping that when you pop the seal on Atlantis, there will be a giant explosion to add some humor and interest to my life. If we're really lucky, Apollymi will come out and thoroughly entertain us with a massive fireworks display. Hell, if she does half of what she did last time, there will be belly rolls aplenty for those of us who hate the Olympians and humanity."
Arik didn't understand how anyone could get bored with the sensations of the human existence. Never mind hate it to such an extent. But then Solin had been here for centuries. Perhaps, given time, he'd become jaded, too.
As the song ended, the crew picked up with the Beatles' "Revolution 1."
He turned as Tory came running up to him with a small foil package that she handed to him. "Frosted Pop-Tarts. Fudge. Trust me." Then she went bounding off again.
Laughing, he realized it must be more food. She seemed bent on corrupting him.
Solin wandered off while Arik broke into the package and realized that Tory had excellent taste. These things were delicious. While the Beatles melted into the Bee Gees, the boat picked up speed as it raced them to the spot where eleven thousand years ago a very pissed-off goddess had destroyed her family and sent an entire continent to the bottom of the sea.
Popular legend told that it'd been Apollo who had destroyed Atlantis because their queen had ordered the death of his child and mistress. It was good propaganda for the Greek pantheon, who wanted to be thought of as the most menacing. But the truth was very different.
They were neophytes compared to the Atlanteans. Their power nothing.
Apollymi the Destroyer would have swept over the entire earth until nothing was left standing had she not been imprisoned in the middle of her bloodthirsty tirade by a trick of fate. Now she sat trapped in her netherworld, Kalosis, watching this one, waiting for someone to free her.
Even though Arik lacked his god powers, he could hear the Atlantean goddess calling out for release. She was like a beacon, summoning people to her. It was probably why so many quested for Atlantis.
The other gods were why those quests ultimately failed. No one other than Apollymi wanted her released.
He looked up to catch Kat's gaze from where she stood on the prow. They were at odds over this, but so long as Megeara didn't disturb the seal what was the harm in her poking around the ruins? So she'd find a few shards of pottery and maybe some jewelry. None of that would interfere with Apollymi's prison.
They were safe.
At least that was the lie he wanted to believe.
SOLIN FROZE AS HE MOVED ALONG THE DECK AND SAW the exceptionally tall woman standing by the railing. Lithe and graceful, she was completely striking. But greater than her beauty was the power emanating from her. It was an aura he knew well. She was an Olympian.
And there was nothing he hated more than Olympians.
He approached her cautiously, sizing her up and wondering how much power she carried. "You have the presence of a god, but I don't know you."
Her green eyes narrowed suspiciously on him, and he knew she was feeling his powers to measure him just as he was her. "I'm a servant to Artemis."
He laughed at those words. "You a servant? You have much more power than that and we both know it."
"And you have a lot of juice for a demigod. Makes me wonder if you haven't made a deal with someone yourself."
Solin gave her a cocky smirk as he glanced about to make sure the humans couldn't overhear them. "I like to keep people guessing about me."
"I'll bet. So what brings you here? Isn't it unusual for two Dream-Hunters to work together?"
"Not really. There are a lot of tag-team Skoti out there who make it their habit to work together." He looked her up and down, taking in her delectable body. She was prime material for his kind to play with in dreams. "I'm surprised you haven't been visited."
"Oh, I'm not. Artemis fed the last person who made a pass at me to a wild boar. When it comes to my dreams, she's even worse. Only the most suicidal would tread there."
"Oooh." He sucked his breath in sharply at her warning that actually made him smile with anticipation. It also made him instantly hard. "You make it all the more tempting."
She returned his smile, only hers was beguiling, with a hint of malice and challenge. "And you still haven't answered the question of the day. Why are you here, Skotos?"
He shrugged nonchalantly. "Originally, I was just going to screw with Arik. But I'm rethinking that now. I mean honestly, this whole situation shouldn't be the least bit interesting, but with you here that means that Artemis is extremely interested. And anything she's interested in I'm interested in, which means things around here are about to get really interesting. Wouldn't you say?"
"Not really. Why not save yourself the headache and sod off?"
"Oh see now, that's no way to get me to leave. You're pushing me away. Why?"
"I find you irritating."
He laughed at that. "I haven't even begun to irritate you yet. Imagine what I could do if I applied myself?"
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "I can imagine. I can also imagine ripping your throat out and tying my shoes with your larynx."
"Really, kori, you have to stop. You're seriously turning me on."
She screwed her face up at him. "You're a sick bastard, aren't you?"
"Is that not the very definition of a Skotos?"
She stepped back from him before she looked around the boat to make sure no one was within earshot. Her gaze paused on Arik. "As you can see, we already have one of you on board. We don't need another."
"That's what everyone thinks, but they were running a special. Two Skoti for one, so here I am in all my glory just to get under your skin or skirt. I'm really not particular."
"Yes, but there is a law that says you can send back defective merchandise. I can't think of anything more defective than you."
"I can. An immortal possessing god powers who passes herself off as a servant and expects the rest of us not to notice. Definitely defective, don't you think?"
"I think it's none of your business."
"Hmm…" He really was becoming intrigued by her, and that was highly unusual for him.
She cocked her head and looked at him. "Why do you hate Arik so anyway?"
The question was a non sequitur and surprised him. "Excuse me?"
"I have the powers of a god, remember? I can feel your emotions and they are ripe with malice. Why do you hate him?"
He gave her a patronizing smirk. "If you know that much, then you should know the answer."
"I can only feel emotions, I can't trace their roots. And you are eaten alive by what I feel, which also begs the question of how a Skotos has emotions that strong."
Solin shrugged. "I'm only a halfling, remember? We're immune to the curse."
"Ah," she said as if she finally understood.
He was intrigued by her tone. "What?"
"I was wrong. It's not hatred, it's envy."
He laughed at the very idea. Him jealous of a Skotos? Pah-lease. "You don't know what you're talking about."
He could tell by her tone that she was amused by his denial. "Yes, I do. The smell of it is all over you. You're ripe with it. Envy is just gnawing away at you like a worm inside a juicy apple." She tsked at him. "Yep, there's not enough deodorant in the world to mask that odor."
She was being ridiculous and he was growing tired of dealing with her.
"This discussion is over." He started away from her.
He paused to look back. "Yes?"
"I've already told Arik and now I'm telling you I will not allow him, Geary, or anyone else to uncover Atlantis. Ever."
He sneered at her concern. "As if I give a shit about Atlantis. I have much more self-serving interests at heart."
"And what would those be?"
"As you so eloquently put it, it's none of your business. Good day, goddess. And good luck."
ARIK PAUSED AS THEY NEARED THEIR DESTINATION. Apollymi's voice grew louder as the boat slowed. They were only a few feet away from where the main harbor of Atlantis had once stood. If Arik closed his eyes, he could still see it in his mind.
It'd been a bustling port, filled with merchants, pirates, and fishermen. Prostitutes, sailors, and officials had blended in seamlessly on the docks that had always been crowded to overflowing. The smell of fish, spices, and perfumes had hung heavy here as the capitol city had glistened on a mountain from behind stone walls.
Highly advanced, the Atlanteans had been a peaceful race who'd only wanted to help others. But Zeus and Apollo had refused to let them exist that way. The Greek gods had waged war on the Atlantean pantheon by manipulating their people.
In the end, it'd been those people who'd suffered most.
Pushing that thought aside, Arik glanced about the boat that was filled with people wanting to learn the truths he already knew. Humanity was better off with Atlantis at the bottom of the sea.
The crew rushed about as they set up for their doomed excavation. Arik crossed the deck to where Solin stood by the pump. "I need a favor."
"Haven't I done enough for you?"
Arik scoffed. "Considering what you did to me, no. Or more to the point, hell no."
"I would disagree, but curiosity has me by the throat. What is it that you want now?"
"Knowledge," Arik said simply.
"How to dive."
Solin's eyes narrowed speculatively. "Why?"
Arik gave him a droll stare. "Why do you think? I want to make sure they don't venture into the wrong area and disturb a certain goddess. I can't do that two hundred feet above her, can I?"
Solin still looked less than convinced. "Megeara won't let you go."
"If I know what I'm doing, how can she stop me?"
Solin laughed. "You've got a lot to learn about women." He narrowed his eyes before he placed his hands on Arik's head.
Arik felt a sharp stinging pain an instant before he had all the knowledge he needed to dive like a pro. Unfortunately, he also had a nosebleed. "What the hell?"
Solin looked on him derisively. "You're human and I just rewired your brain. It doesn't like that. As gods, we can accept these things. As a human…" He pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to Arik.
Great. Just great. Arik wiped the blood away before he went over to Megeara, who was checking the air hoses. "Where's my suit?"
Geary actually gaped at the unexpected question. "Excuse me?"
He indicated the dry suits that were beside her. "I plan on going with you."
Her mouth worked for several seconds before sound would actually come out. "Uh… no. This isn't a game, Arik."
"And I'm not playing. I intend to go with you and help. Trust me. I know what I'm doing."
Geary was skeptical. The last thing she needed was an amateur on board.
"He's not lying," Solin said as he joined them. "I can assure you, he's part fish. Jacques Cousteau has nothing on him. Aquaman, either."
Still, she wasn't sure as she frowned at Solin. "You do know how dangerous this is?"
"I wouldn't send him down there if I didn't fully believe he'd be back to piss me off." Solin had a delivery so dry, she could rent him out as a dehumidifier.
Geary hesitated. She didn't want any of her team hurt.
Or Arik, either. "If you can swim like a fish, how is it you were drowning when we met?"
Arik tensed. He'd forgotten about their meeting. Luckily he was quick with a response. "I'd been swimming for a while when you found me and was tired. Normally, I don't have any problems. I was just lucky that day… in more ways than one."
There was no missing her skepticism.
Kat came up to her. "What's going on?"
"Arik wants to dive with us. I don't know."
Kat and Arik exchanged a look that was both hostile and respectful. "Do you know what you're doing?" Kat asked.
"Then let him go with us. What's the worst thing that could happen?"
Geary scoffed at Kat's nonchalance. "Death."
Kat shrugged. "You can die crossing the street, and there aren't many cars two hundred feet down."
She strangely had a point.
Kat wrinkled her nose at Geary. "Let him go. I'll keep an eye on him. Believe me."
Kat was the only person Geary knew who was an even stronger swimmer than she was. If Kat said it was okay, then it should be. Geary looked back at Arik. "All right. You can suit up."
Geary watched Arik closely to make sure that he wasn't lying about his expertise as he prepared for the dive. She had to give him credit. He wore the gear as if he'd been born to it and he did know how to dress in it. There was no hesitation in his movements at all.
But that confused her. "Tell me how someone who was raised in the mountains would have been diving?"
Arik froze at the question as he tried to think up a plausible tale. "I told you, I've been searching for Atlantis. It's hard to do that on the surface. I've spent a lot of time on research boats here in the Aegean."
"Hmm… you know there's something about you that doesn't make sense. But I can't figure it out."
He offered her a soothing smile. "All you need to know is that I'm here to help you."
Instead of his words drawing her closer to him, she took a step back and her eyes flashed with suspicion. "Yeah."
Arik wanted to curse in frustration, but he didn't have time. They were getting ready to go down. There were four of them for the dive. Geary, Kat, him, and Scott.
Geary led them to the platform that would lower them, along with a dredge, to the water. None of them spoke until after they'd submerged. Arik could hear his own breathing as he followed them deeper, away from the surface light.
It was murky and dark. But it was the pressure of the water against his body that was the strangest part of it all. And the deeper he went, the worse it became. It was almost oppressive, and part of him wanted to panic. But that was ridiculous. It was only water, and he was with people who knew what they were doing.
For that matter, he knew what he was doing.
Geary paused at the first dive station to let her body adjust to the pressure and depth. "How's everyone doing?"
Scott grinned. "Great, boss lady."
Kat nodded. She looked at Arik.
He inclined his head to her. "Fine."
But something belied that. It was an instinct she had, and she didn't know why. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I'm just having a vision of what would happen if someone were to jerk one of our helmets off at two hundred feet down."
Geary screwed her face up in distaste.
"Ew," Kat snapped.
Geary concurred. That was the kind of thing that no one wanted to think about.
Scott cleared his throat. "Is it too late for me to go back? I'm not sure I want to be down here with Freddy Kruegar having these kinds of visions. What's to keep him from having an experiment?"
Geary shook her head. "Arik was just kidding. Weren't you?"
"No buts," the three of them said in unison.
Geary patted Arik on the shoulder. "Let's just think happy thoughts, shall we?"
"You know," Tory's voice filled their heads from the link. "Now that Arik mentioned it. At two hundred feet, given the pressure on the human body—"
"Tory!" Geary snapped. "Please don't give me odds or stats right now, 'kay?"
"You're such a spoilsport."
Ignoring the pout in Tory's tone, Geary started down to the next station. She'd factored in four stops to help them adjust. But honestly, she wanted to be able to dive straight to the site.
It took them a little bit of time to get to the area and then to stake it out. They had to be careful to anchor the grid but not accidentally damage something that might be hiding under the silt and sediment.
Geary's father had drilled into her head that much of the historical Troy had been lost because of Heinrich Schliemann's fervor to find proof of it. He'd damaged as much as he'd salvaged.
She didn't want to make the same mistake.
Once the datum was set and photographed, they regrouped.
"How's everyone doing?" she asked them.
They each gave her a thumbs-up.
"Everyone's air supply is steady?" she double-checked.
Scott nodded. "Doing great, boss."
"I'm good," Kat chimed in.
Arik grinned at Geary. "Let's dig."
Something hot pierced her at his eagerness. He really did seem to mirror her enthusiasm. Geary headed for the first section she wanted to explore. They carefully suctioned the area until they could find what appeared to be an encrusted wall.
Her hand actually shook as she touched it. She just wished she weren't wearing gloves, so that she could have the tactile sense of it. "This isn't a natural object," she said, looking at Scott for verification.
"No. It's too precise."
Geary took a picture of it while Scott scraped a sample of the sediment.
"I see you.…"
She froze at the sound of the low, seductive female voice in her head.
"You're so close, little rose. Playing with the wall. But that's not what you want, now is it?"
Geary looked at the others, but they didn't appear to hear the voice. Who are you? she asked in her head.
"I am what you seek, Megeara. I am Atlantis. Move closer to me, child. Three feet over. Dig down below the silt. There's a box waiting for you.…"
It was crazy to even entertain the idea of obeying the voice. What could it know?
And even as she told herself to ignore it, she found herself doing what the woman had said.
She ignored Kat's voice as she dug into the silt. It swirled around her in a hazy blur. As she dug deeper, she found nothing.
I am insane.
"Geary!" Tory's voice was sharp through the intercom. "Stop moving."
"Move the camera half an inch right."
Geary did as ordered. "Why?"
Before Tory could answer, Geary saw what her cousin had seen on the feed. It was the corner of something that appeared to be a box.
Geary held her breath as she gently pulled it free. It was encrusted with funky deposits from the sea. But that wasn't what fascinated her.
The box was ancient, with a clear design of lions pulling a chariot where a tall god holding a staff stood, directing them. It, like her necklace, held that strange indecipherable writing.
Her hands shaking, she carefully pried the lid off to see what the box contained.
"What is it?" Tory asked, her voice filled with anticipation. "I can't see it, Geary. What's inside?"
Geary let out her breath in frustration as she realized the box was empty. "Nothing, Tory. But the box is old."
She handed it off to Scott so that he could preserve it for examination topside later.
Hoping to find something even better, Geary had bent down to continue her search when she heard what sounded like Tory dropping something. There were muffled voices in the background like someone was arguing, but Geary couldn't tell what was going on.
"You okay, bud?"
There was no answer.
Two seconds later, something popped loud in her ears. It was followed by nothing but empty static.
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