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Chapter 7. THE MAN FROM ATLANTIS


"You can't be real," I gasp, backing away from the figure. "You're not my brother. You never really existed. I made you up."

"Yes," the boy nods. "You transformed Artery into this shape and kept him safe, even though he should have perished on your world, by subconsciously utilizing the power of the Kah-Gash. We were surprised it cooperated with you. But the Kah-Gash never ceases to surprise us."

"You're not Art!" I shout. "Art didn't speak like this. He never spoke at all."

"True," the boy says. "Artery could communicate with his own kind, but only telepathically. Art would never have been able to speak, even if he'd grown up.

"I'm not the demon you stole or the child you turned it into," the boy continues. "I am the ball of light from the ship. Sensing the difficulty you had accepting my natural form, I adopted the body of someone you would feel more comfortable with. If you prefer, I can switch to the shape of your mother or father, but I think you will find me easier to deal with this way."

My head's spinning. "Are you a shape-shifter?" I ask, getting to my feet and walking around the boy, checking him from every angle.

"No," he says. "I have no physical body. I assembled this from a corpse, remolding its flesh and bones. It was a creature like the one that attacked you. They are pitiful beasts. Hard to believe they are descended from beings once as industrious as yourself."

"What do you mean?" I frown.

"It's a descendant of the Atlanteans," Art says. "They were bipeds, like you, and their society was similar to yours. Indeed, your distant ancestors were strongly influenced by the beings of Atlantis."

"Atlantis?" I croak. "What are you talking about? Atlantis was a mythical city."

"No," Art corrects me. "It was a world of immense, amazing cities, the closest inhabitable planet to Earth. The Atlanteans explored this world to its fullest, then the lifeless planets nearby, finally extending to their neighboring galaxies. They visited your world. Your ancestors worshipped them, built monuments like theirs, dressed in their honor, wrote things down as they did."

"Are you pulling my leg?" I growl.

"I do not understand," Art responds.

"Are you trying to fool me?"

"No. Atlantis was an advanced planet. The Atlanteans were wise and kind. But they harnessed the raw energy of this universe, and that is dangerous. They knew the risks and accepted them. It was the price they paid to explore further afield, beyond the confines of their own sector of the universe.

"They fell within the space of an hour," Art goes on, and although he has a child's face, he looks like an adult as he gazes upon the wrecks of the buildings. "An explosion set off a chain reaction and their society crumbled. The ships they'd sent off into space were linked to the home world, so they were destroyed too. The sky filled with pollutants and ash. Death claimed nineteen billion souls. A few Atlanteans survived and mutated, but I doubt they would have wished for their offspring to end up like this. It would have been better if they'd all perished."

Art falls silent. I stare at the boy who is the image of the child I once thought of as a brother. Now that I'm over my initial shock, I find that he was right-it's a lot easier talking to someone who looks like a boy than a ball of light.

I study the graveyard of the world around me. Art could be lying, but I don't think so. I'm standing on the remains of Atlantis. The most famous lost city of legends was never a city at all, but a different world. The information is mind-boggling. If Art's telling the truth, the Atlanteans visited mankind in the past. They taught us to read and write, to build. Maybe they even bred with us and-

"No," Art interrupts. "The Atlanteans did not breed with lesser beings."

"This is incredible," I gasp, the word not doing my feelings justice. "But if they traveled to our world by rockets, not windows, is this still the human universe?"

"Of course." Art sounds surprised. "I thought that was clear."

"You said we hadn't crossed but I wasn't sure."

"We have not left your universe and will not during the course of our travels," Art says.

"This isn't the end?"

The boy giggles the way Art used to when he bit someone. "Hardly. This is merely the beginning of an amazing journey."

"Where are we going?" I ask.

"Far away," he answers mysteriously.

"What if I don't want to go with you?" I counter.

"You have no choice," Art says.

"Is that a threat?"

"No," he shrugs. "It's just the way things are."

"Who-or what-the hell are you?" I snap.

"Those who know us give us many names," Art says. "Your people called us the Old Creatures."

"Beranabus told me about them. He..." That reminds me of the ancient mage's death and the danger the others face. "We have to go back!" I cry. "You've got to take me home, so I can-"

"That won't happen," Art says firmly. "Purge yourself of the notion. We have come far from your world. As skilled as you are at manipulating the strings of the universe, you cannot find your way back alone. You must see this journey through to its end."

"What sort of an end?" I hiss. "Where are you taking me? And if you're not specific this time, forget it-I'm not going to wander aimlessly through the universe with you. I'd rather stay here with the slugs."

"Very well," Art says. "We are traveling to the birthplace of all things, where time and space began. We call it the Crux. And it lies at the center of both this universe and the Demonata's."

"That doesn't make sense," I complain.

"Don't worry," Art smiles smugly. "By the end it will."

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