“We should go back,” one of the soldiers said, echoing Spiro’s own thoughts. “It’s easy to laugh at superstition when the sun is warm and bright above our heads.”
“Silence, coward,” General Zosimos said. “Look to the courage of this young acolyte. He’s barely a man. He’s never fought in battle, yet he is braver than you who call yourself a warrior of Atlantis.
“Spiro, lead on.”
Spiro aimed his flashlight ahead, hiding the fear etched on his face. With every step, he felt weaker. With each breath, he became more desperate for air. Spiro’s pace slowed, and he watched his feet lest he should step unsuspectingly in a living puddle. In these decrepit catacombs, courage and bravery were meaningless words.
A light shined at the far end of a narrow passage. As Spiro and the soldiers approached, they heard a woman speaking.
“You’re a Lethvian from the planet Polyhydrasphere,” she said. “You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?”
The sound of splashing, gurgling water came in answer.
“Not many Lethvians choose to become bounty hunters. What enticed you into this career?”
More splashing. More gurgling.
Spiro peeked into the next cave, holding his laser ready. He saw a wide cavern with a great fissure in its roof and layers of rock cut at diagonal angles. A tiny, pale light floated in the air, whether suspended by sorcery or technology Spiro couldn’t tell. A shallow pool covered most of the floor. Talie sat on the far bank with her servant crouching beside her.
“The Acelera are offering 300 million credits for the fugitive,” Talie said. “You’ve spent centuries chasing him. What will you do with all that money?”
The pool of water–the Lethvian–spoke, bubbling its reply.
“And if any of the humans get in your way?” Talie asked.
The Lethvian thrashed about, splashing water this way and that.
“In the name of the nameless god,” General Zosimos shouted, “open fire!”
The soldiers scrambled to obey. Beams of deadly light sizzled through the air, but the lasers had no effect. They passed through the Lethvian as light passes through any body of water, refracting only slightly.
The water surged, sloshing over its banks and rising as a colossal, liquid wall. It crashed upon the soldiers, sweeping them aside. The soldiers kicked and struggled, but the Lethvian would not let them go. General Zosimos screamed as the tide engulfed him. Meanwhile, on the opposite shore, Talie burst into hysterical laughter.
Spiro fired his laser. He fired again. It didn’t matter. The Lethvian advanced on him, churning and foaming in anger. In desperation, Spiro kept firing.
A hand grabbed Spiro’s arm and pulled him back. It was Harmonia. “Stay behind me,” she said, waving a lit torch at the mass of living water.
The Lethvian ebbed back from the heat of the flame, but soon it drew near again, striking from two different directions at once. Harmonia waved her torch, fending off the Lethvian’s attack.
The Lethvian struck a third time, seeping through cracks in the walls and spraying Harmonia from the sides and from above.
“Run!” Harmonia yelled.
Spiro didn’t hesitate. He ran, Harmonia following at his heels.
* * *
The sounds of water echoed through the caves. Dripping, trickling sounds–they came from every direction, sometimes nearby, other times farther off, as though the Lethvian were toying with its prey. Gentle, rippling currents, the occasional splash–the sounds grew louder; the sounds grew softer, but the sounds never went away.
Spiro aimed his flashlight up at the ceiling then down at the floor. He could hear something dangerously close–a steady drip, drip–but he couldn’t find its source.
“This way,” Harmonia whispered, heading down the next tunnel.
The air felt heavy and dank. Spiro struggled to breathe. Harmonia mumbled something about underground streams. They’d entered another section of the catacombs, but not one Spiro recognized. He couldn’t read the strange symbols on the walls or guess what bizarre rituals had occurred in this place, but in the largest chamber he saw an ancient, bloodstained altar. Around it lay human skulls, many too small to belong to adults.
“Where are the stairs?” Spiro said. “I need to get you back to the surface.”
“I’m not going back to the surface,” Harmonia said.
“But I came down here to rescue you.”
“As I recall, you were the one who needed rescuing.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Harmonia snapped. “You’re an acolyte of the nameless god. Where’s your devotion? Your loyalty? You can’t run off to the surface and let your god fend for himself.”
“The nameless god is just another god,” Spiro said. “If he dies, we’ll find some new god to worship.”
Harmonia shook her head. “You acolytes and priests living high up in your temple deigning to speak to us lowly city dwellers only when it’s time for preaching. You know nothing! Prometheus can read the thoughts in your mind and the intentions in your heart. He knows how you loathe him, how you grumble as you work in his service. He knows how his appearance revolts you. He told me all this about you, Spiro, but I didn’t want to believe it.”
“Is a whore now teaching a priest about piety?” Spiro said.
Harmonia clenched her teeth. She glared at Spiro, the torchlight flickering red in her eyes.
“Remember what Talie said?” Spiro asked. “The nameless god betrayed his own race. He killed his own countrymen. I harbor no sympathy for him. He’s an abomination, and his people have the right to seek vengeance. If any man in Atlantis committed such crimes, would we do no less in the pursuit of justice?”
“You forget Talie is the harbinger of doom,” Harmonia said. “Do you think Atlantis will be spared the nameless god’s fate?”
Spiro turned away from Harmonia. “No,” he said. “I haven’t forgotten who Talie is.”
“The island will erupt in fire,” Harmonia said, “or be cleaved in two by earthquakes, or sink to the bottom of the sea. Or perhaps destruction will come in a form beyond imagining. Nothing will remain but a story no more substantial than the other myths and fairy tales they tell in mainland Greece.”
“Then come with me,” Spiro said, looking at Harmonia again. “We’ll sail away from this place before the end comes.”
Harmonia started to speak. Her lips began to form an answer, but she stopped herself.
“I can’t,” she said. “The nameless god… Prometheus… he promised to take me with him when he returns to the stars. He has a machine called a ‘starship’ hidden somewhere nearby. I don’t understand it at all, but think of it, Spiro! I’ll be up there among the constellations like the hunter Orion or Princess Andromeda. My fame will outlive Lady Electra. It will endure… forever…”
Harmonia glanced upward as she spoke and fell suddenly silent. Spiro followed her gaze. The torchlight revealed a body of water suspended overhead, clinging to the ceiling like a shallow pool in inverted gravity. For the first time, Spiro realized the Lethvian was not just some monster but a thinking, intelligent being, both ruthless and cunning. How long had it been listening? How much had it heard?
The Lethvian, aware of its discovery, began drizzling down the walls, oozing its way to the ground. Tiny droplets fell on Spiro’s face. When Harmonia threatened the Lethvian with her torch, it sprayed her with water, trying to douse the flame.
Harmonia shrieked. She turned and ran, her sandals slapping loudly on the stone tiled floor.
Spiro ran after her, but the Lethvian overtook him. Water gathered at his feet. It rose to his waist then to his neck, and it dragged him under. He tried to scream, but his lungs filled with liquid. He gripped his laser pistol tight, firing madly in every direction, even though he knew it wouldn’t do any good.
The Lethvian pummeled Spiro against the wall; then, the waters washed away. Spiro found himself coughing and sputtering on the cold, stone floor, very much surprised to be alive. His tunic, soaked through, clung to his skin. Strands of wet hair stuck to his forehead.
Spiro sat up, listening to a sound like waves crashing against a rocky shore. The sound receded into the distance.
* * *
“Harmonia!” Spiro called.
Blundering in the dark, Spiro tried to follow the Lethvian’s path. His flashlight no longer worked, but the laser seemed functional. The indicator light showed that the battery was ready. Perhaps the weapon was designed to be waterproof.
Spiro touched the wall. It felt moist. He moved forward, using the Lethvian’s moisture trail to guide him.
Why did the Lethvian leave Spiro alive? Spiro reminded himself of the Lethvian’s intelligence, of its single-minded determination. Maybe it hoped Harmonia would lead it to the nameless god’s starship. In its haste, it may have considered Spiro too insignificant to bother killing, choosing to cast him aside instead.
“Harmonia!” Spiro shouted again.
He heard voices ahead, the voices of men. More soldiers must have entered the catacombs, Spiro assumed, but then he heard one voice among the group, a voice he recognized: the voice of General Zosimos.
* * *
Spiro found his way into a cavern larger than any he’d seen before. With row upon row of thin, sharp-tipped stalactites and stalagmites, it looked like the gaping maw of a vicious beast–no, Spiro thought, it looked like the mouth of the nameless god. There stood Zosimos and his troops, drenched and shivering but still alive. A massive, convoluted machine pulsed with green light behind them.