By Kaitlyn Carter Brown
Don’t think about the portal—anything except the portal.
Elwick swallowed. He gripped the ship’s wheel, desperate to keep his hands from trembling. But it wasn’t the endless ocean, its waves lapping against his ship’s hull, stretching out on all fronts that provoked his fear.
No, the man peering over his shoulder, his hand on his blood-splattered cutlass, embodied the terror of every adventurous sailor on the high seas.
Elwick darted his line of sight to the airship anchored above him. Under normal circumstances, the Zeplanous 310 would’ve fascinated him, but this particular ship belonged to the Blood Bard, the most treacherous pirate of the eastern isles. In less than two hours, Elwick’s ship had been overtaken, boarded, and several sailors’ throats slit.
El, focus—Atlantis depends on you.
Maneuvering the vessel over a large swell, Elwick gritted his teeth. He adjusted his scarf, hoping the pendant—the sunstone locket—lay hidden beneath his shirt.
Atlantis should have never agreed to grant him passage to the portal—particularly through telepathic link.
A sharp pain pricked at his spine. “Yer takin’ us off course, lad.”
Elwick arched his back. “I’m taking the only course I know. Unless, of course, you want to steer this thing yourself.”
The Blood Bard stepped closer, his rancid breath hissing over Elwick’s shoulders. “I hope the legends are true concerning Atlantean stingers—so I can feed ’em your corpse myself.”
The stingers—huge, graceful, and dangerous—guardians of the portal.
No! Idiot! Don’t think about the portal!
Islyn drew a shallow breath and opened her eyes. White sand caressed her bare feet, and gentle waves of sapphire water lapped about her rocky perch. Behind her lay a glorious city, all white, gold, and aquamarine, but her face looked not to that pristine pinnacle. Rather, she watched the unhindered horizon, that blurred line where water met sky.
Hold on, El.
She grasped the locket around her neck, the second sunstone. In her mind’s eye, the handsome sailor manned the wheel, but the pirate held a knife to his back.
Tears ran unchecked down her cheek. “Foolish, foolish!”
“Princess Islyn.” Her captain, Golhorn, called out behind her. “We must sever the link.”
Only a telepathic link with an Atlantean-born could open passage to Atlantis.
Islyn spun around, the wind whipping with her lavender hair and pearl-studded gown. The captain stood with a guard serpent on either side of him and a trident in his fist. The creatures, brought from the depths, glimmered with silver scales, their long bodies as thick as her waist.
“Your mortal cannot hold forever,” Golhorn growled. “His link to the portal will cause it to open—eventually.”
“Those pirates will kill him!”
The captain shook his head. “They’ll kill us. That airship is loaded with enough artillery to damage our defenses. We fight from the sea, not the air.”
A whimper escaped Isyln. She buried her face in her hands.
“I’m sorry.” Golhorn extended his hand, his palm open. “It must be done.”
Islyn shuddered in a long exhale. Terror, cold as ice, sent scurries of gooseflesh up her arms. She bent her head, staring at the water, wondering if it were difficult to drown.
My princess? I can feel your terror.
She swallowed and unclasped the necklace.
“El… I’m sorry…”
Islyn? What are you doing?
“I love you, El…”
No! Stop, please! Don’t do this!
With trembling fingers, Islyn handed the sunstone locket to the captain. How small it appeared in Golhorn’s massive hands. A deep sigh escaped his chest.
“Princess, I grieve with you.”
Islyn sank to her knees, sobbing, but she couldn’t avert her eyes as the captain tore the sunstone from its setting, severing her last connection to Elwick, her mortal love.
Elwick felt the lost connection immediately, and it stung more than the tip of the Blood Bard’s knife in his back.
Without the link, he would never reach Atlantis or see his beloved Islyn again.
“You won’t find the portal.”
If he was to die, then he would die satisfied, knowing that the pirate would fail.
The Bloody Bard cursed. “Useless sea rat!”
Grabbing Elwick by the shoulder, the pirate sent him sprawling across the poop deck. Elwick looked up to see the knife exchanged for the cutlass.
Kill me quick.
He grabbed the locket, the sunstone dull and dark, a relic of all that he had lost. Closing his eyes, he summoned the memory of his Atlantean princess.
“Captain! Off to port! What is that?”
Distracted by the frantic crewman, the Blood Bard squinted at the horizon. After a moment, he raised his cutlass. “To arms!”
A clatter of movement and weapons followed. The pirate thundered down the stairs, leaving Elwick alone on the poop deck. He scrambled to his feet.
A terrible sight, the kind to fuel a sailor’s nightmares: long lengths of muscle, armored scales, and a head full of sharp teeth at the end of a serpentine neck.
Elwick smiled. Stingers weren’t the only guardians of Atlantis.
One serpent kept the pirates engaged while another stealthily approached from the starboard side. The pirates didn’t stand a chance.
Gazing into the turquoise waters, Elwick breathed in deep. He grasped the sunstone in his palm.
Islyn, find me.
Vaulting over the side of the ship, he plummeted. Perhaps by drowning, he might find another life.
Islyn clutched Golhorn’s arm. The linked image of the serpents wreaking havoc upon the pirates appeared between them, but there was no sign of Elwick.
Then, the horizon exploded with light. Rainbows shot across the sky. A perfect arch appeared over the water, wreathed in sunlight.
“The portal!” she gasped.
And there, a massive stinger surged up from the water. Its leathery wingspan clipped the waves, its long tail lashed behind it. Upon its back lay a man.
Islyn wept for sheer elation. “Atlantis welcomes you, Elwick.”