Footsteps approached. Spiro turned and saw Talie and her servant enter the cave.
Talie nodded to Spiro. “You’re right on schedule.”
“Mr. Cognis, let’s set up over there,” Talie said, gesturing toward a nearby outcrop. “We’ll want a good view of the action.”
“Affirmative,” Cognis said.
The nameless god emerged from his machine. He watched Talie, puzzled perhaps by her thoughts. The god rose to his full height, craning his long, spindly neck, his legs extended like the agile legs of a spider. His wings, torn and frayed, flicked nervously.
Talie smiled at the nameless god and winked.
The nameless god turned his cold stare back to his starship. He hobbled around it, touching it with his clawed hands, searching for some particular mechanism or control. The green light pulsed at a slower rate, becoming steadily dimmer.
“What do you mean I’m on schedule?” Spiro said, but Talie shushed him.
Water began to spread across the cave floor, seeping around rocks and between stalagmites. It poured into cracks and fissures then climbed out again, moving ever toward the nameless god and his ship.
“Defend the nameless god!” Zosimos shouted. He and his soldiers opened fire, but the Lethvian ignored them. The waters surged around the men’s feet and passed them by, accelerating toward the nameless god.
Helpless, the nameless god scurried back, but the Lethvian had him cornered.
At that moment, Harmonia appeared. She leapt down from an overhanging ledge, still bearing her torch, and positioned herself between the god and the living flood. She crouched like a warrior ready to fight as the nameless god’s champion. It would be a duel of fire and water. No doubt water would win, quenching fire with a single mighty wave, but Harmonia remained defiant, as brave as Heracles or Odysseus or any other mythical hero.
But the nameless god snatched Harmonia off her feet, lifting her into the air. Her torch clattered to the ground and went out.
“Back off, Lethvian, or this child dies.”
The Lethvian halted its advance. After a moment’s hesitation, the waters began to recede.
The nameless god laughed. “If only you had eyes like mine, senses like mine, you’d see the impurities in this girl’s soul. She obsesses over fame and money. She defiles herself for material gain and spurns the attention of the only man who truly cares for her. She does not deserve to live, but you know the terms of the Acelera’s contract. They want me dead, but not one additional life may be lost. Not one.”
The nameless god tightened his grip on Harmonia.
“The Acelera love this universe. They refuse to tamper with it, even to improve upon it. They’ve sworn to protect the existence of every single unworthy creature, past, present, and future. They’d be angered even by the death of this prostitute. So you will let me go, Lethvian. If you’re lucky, you might track me down on the next planet I visit.”
The Lethvian burbled a response.
“No,” the nameless god said. “I’m taking the hostage with me. If I detect any sign of pursuit, she dies. Understood?”
The water answered with a placid rippling. The soldiers glanced at their general in confusion. The nameless god climbed atop his starship, perching near an open hatch.
Harmonia struggled to free herself, but she couldn’t escape the god’s strong, nimble fingers. She whimpered.
“Quiet, my love,” the nameless god said, pressing a serrated claw to her throat.
“Mr. Cognis,” Talie said, “this is it. Get that shot!”
Talie pointed at Spiro. Cognis swung his gaze around, adjusting his mechanical eye.
Spiro stepped forward, his heart pounding, his mind in turmoil. Without thinking, he raised his laser pistol. The targeting scanner locked onto the nameless god’s many luminous eyes. Spiro pulled the trigger, and with an unearthly screech, the nameless god stumbled and fell, collapsing in a tangle of multi-jointed arms and legs.
The Lethvian descended on its prey. The nameless god kicked and thrashed against its foe, spending the last of his strength in an effort to break free. The water became tinged with blood, and the god screeched again.
“Harmonia!” Spiro yelled, running toward the battle.
The green light pulsed, its glow rapidly diminishing. It pulsed again, giving barely enough light to see by. It pulsed one final time then died. Before the darkness fell, Spiro saw Harmonia lying facedown in the dirt.
* * *
The temple had been destroyed before by storms, by earthquakes, and by wars, but the people of Atlantis always rebuilt it. This time, they would make it grander than ever. In the center would be a statue of the latest deity the Atlantians wanted to worship, one who would not live among them like the nameless god but who had indeed tread upon Atlantian soil. Artisans had already begun their work before Spiro could stop them, carving the idol from ivory, crafting hair of gold, weaving a dress of peacock blue silk.
Spiro objected, but no one would listen. In fact, the people of Atlantis demanded that he serve as high priest to the goddess of tomorrow. Had he not seen her first? Had he not recognized her for what she truly was? Who else was better qualified?
Spiro yelled at the fools who now worshipped the harbinger of doom, warning that invoking her name could only bring death and destruction. Then he fell to his knees, sobbing as he spoke of the terrible fate that still awaited Atlantis.
The Atlantians listened to this as they’d listen to any sermon and praised Spiro for his colorful rhetoric. Children lined up, begging to become acolytes of the goddess Talie. Masons and carpenters began work on Talie’s temple. Seamstresses chased Spiro from one end of the island to the other until he finally agreed to let them sew his new robes with Talie’s name emblazoned upon them.
Many days passed before Spiro saw Harmonia again. She’d suffered numerous scrapes and bruises when the nameless god dropped her. The marks still showed on her skin, and her arm was tied up in a tourniquet when she came to visit Spiro’s new quarters.
“Why have you summoned me, High Priest?” she asked.
Spiro glanced at his priestly robes, lying in a pile on the floor.
“The Lethvian returned last night,” Spiro said. “It brought a frog creature to act as an interpreter and told me that, in its opinion, I deserved part of the reward for killing the nameless god.”
Spiro stood and handed Harmonia a hexagon-shaped coin.
“That’s a ‘credit chip,’” he said. “It’s a standard intergalactic currency–whatever that means–stamped in pure gold. I have crates full of them, enough to make me the richest man in Atlantis, maybe in the whole Greek-speaking world. Rich enough, at least, to hire you as my consort and insist that you have no other clients.”
Harmonia turned the coin over, examining the alien writing on each side.
“I guess I won’t object too strongly to that arrangement,” she said, a tiny smirk forming on her lips.
Spiro forced himself to smile. He sank back into his chair. Heavy thoughts still weighed upon him: memories of Talie and what she’d said before she disappeared. But Spiro felt some relief, at least, knowing that he would not have to bear the burden of the future alone.
“It seems to me,” Spiro said, “that we should try to find what happiness we can in the time we have left.”
“We could still sail away,” Harmonia said. “Leave Atlantis before the end comes.”
Spiro shook his head. “Even the nameless god could not change the future. I don’t think any of us can escape our destiny.”
In the caves deep underground, as the Lethvian dragged the nameless god’s body away, Spiro had spoken to Talie one last time. He told her what he’d thought when he first saw her. Her appearance could only mean death and destruction for all of Atlantis, he’d said.
Talie laughed. “Oh, don’t worry,” she answered. “I’ll be back soon.”