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    xTony
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Reflecting Equation - 11. Homecoming

If the sight of Atlantis hadn’t stolen my breath, then Kevin’s statement would have. I took a step forward and then stopped. Kevin smiled at my indecision, and I crossed the distance between us and threw my arms around him. I tuned out the murmurs of the crowd who continued staring about in abject wonder.

“I missed you,” I said in something like a sob.

He hugged back with matching intensity and laughed with nervous relief. “I always seem to leave you. Don’t I?”

“Just keep coming back,” I said, pulling away to look at his face, “And we’ll call it even stevens.”

Alarm spread through the crowd of refugees, and our heads all turned to look up at the blue sky. Even in daylight, the shower of shooting stars was bright against the backdrop of day. The falling stars got brighter…and closer.

“Meteorites?” I asked under my breath, more to myself than anything.

Kevin shook his head. “No.”

“I’ve seen this before,” said Ryan, tugging lightly on the front of his duster with a knowing expression. “Dreamcatchers.”

One by one, the stars touched down on the ocean coastline, lighting up the beach in an otherworldly display. The lights dimmed slowly, revealing the tall armored beings cloaked by starshine and wonder. Most had white wings, but some had wings as black as ravens, and others dual colored. They looked like wrathful angels as they faced us with fire and anger warring in their eyes. The dreamcatchers assembled, and they were mightily displeased.

“How dare you trespass in these lands of dreams,” said a dreamcatcher with ivory wings and a deep scowl. There was anger in his voice. His hand extended, and a lance of jade lightning crackled into existence. “Turn back now or die.”

The crowd behind us surged with panic. Almost immediately, they quieted when Halo stopped forward. As he moved, his uniform changed, trousers and a silk-like tunic the color of spun gold formed to his figure in an unusual but flattering cut. Upon his brow appeared a crown of adamant that glittered like molten starlight. Prince Gaius was revealed, and he stood with a sense of dignity and importance.

I barely registered him, grabbing my wrist and tugging me forward as well. My soul recognized its brother, instantly triggering my transformation. My uniform shifted into a similar formal suit only in blue and silver hues. A circlet pressed against my brow, and together, we stood side by side to stare down the guardian angels.

The dreamcatcher leader stared with wide eyes, and his slackened jaw would’ve been comical if the situation wasn’t so dire. A similar shock spread through the rest of the angelic ranks.

“The Princes,” he breathed out before trailing off in stunned silence. At once, the angels fell to their knees and bowed.

My brother glanced at me, and I sent him a barely there nod. It was his right to begin diplomatic parley before me. And really, judging by their reaction, the dreamcatchers looked ready to roll over for us.

For the first time in over fifteen thousand years, Prince Gauis took his place as Crown Prince, and he became the leader of the people. He stepped forward and said, “We have come to see the king.”

The dreamcatcher inclined his head respectfully. “By your leave.”

He faced the ranks of guardian angels behind him and nodded firmly. Together as one they lifted their hands to the sky. Across the blue sea, light bloomed into existence in a dazzling rainbow that connected the beach to the sparkling city on the waves.

“Come,” said the dreamcatcher leader once the bridge formed. “The rainbow road will last as long as we hold it.”

“Chad?”

I turned to the faint voice as Kevin with the Chosen began the task of herding the refugees across the bridge. Morgan touched her fingers to the glimmering bracelet of mithril around my wrist.

I rested my hands on the shoulders of my mother and sister. Their stunned quiet was expected. For Mom, I hadn’t gotten around to explaining the whole prince factor, and Morgan was still in the dark over the whole thing. I opened my mouth and closed it finally, I just shook my head.

“I’ll explain everything later,” I said instead of the long confession they deserved. “I promise. There are things to settle first.”

The information was surely overloading her because Mom didn’t argue. Morgan was dying to interrogate me. I could see it in her eyes. For once, she kept quiet at Mom’s even stare.

We followed the dreamcatchers over the bridge. Kevin and I led the way as protocol from millennia ago intuitively took hold. The Chosen walked directly behind, accompanied by Morgan and my mother. Then, the six hundred disheveled men, women, and children, who felt like they’d been swept away in a dream. And in a way, they had.

Atlantis was still as majestic as it remained in my memories. It rested on the horizon in all its glory, easily as big as Manhattan. Yet, the city skyline was as alien as it was beautiful. Ocean waves lapped at the pylons that jutted out from the city’s outer perimeter. There were six in total, and they formed a geometrical snowflake pattern that connected to a central mass, which included the Imperium Tower. These vast pylons were at least 6 miles in width and doubled that in length. Each cradled a metropolitan distract within its metallic supports containing inner-city streets, pedestrian traffic, parks, and tall tritium spires.

The skyscrapers caressing the sky were like nothing on Earth. Their kilometer range height was more impressive and breathtaking the closer we got. Sunlight glinted off long, spindly crystalline sky bridges connecting building to building like walkways. Frequent gawkers were cajoled along as they couldn’t tear their eyes away from the crystal-metallic monoliths that soared above as the bridge’s pathway led into Atlantis proper.

The rainbow bridge finally ended its arc and brought us into an environment I recognized as quickly as home. The grass and trees made it seem like any park I’d ever been to, but the adults and kids dressed in robe like garments were undeniably different. Atlanteans, every one of them, and they were all frozen, staring at the odd procession descending from the rainbow bridge.

I bit my lip as Atlanteans everywhere stopped abruptly in their business as we became the new focus of attention. Conversations went silent, and even children quieted as the quarter hushed. Pedestrian traffic came to a stop as people one by one went to their knees, silent until our bedraggled company passed.

“I’ve never heard Peace Pavilion so quiet,” whispered Kevin as we walked down the silent street.

The name alone of this ward shook loose countless memories. And I nodded even as flashes, memories, of walking these very streets for the fairs and artisan performances danced behind my eyes.

A little girl with wide eyes and dark hair met my eyes hesitantly, and she smiled shyly. Whatever lingering tiredness felt, I shook off as I returned the smile with a blinding one. Two red dots appeared on her cheeks, and she waved exuberantly, eliciting a chuckle from my brother.

Kevin’s eyes twinkled with humor. “The Perfect Prince returns.”

I would’ve rolled my eyes if we weren’t on display. Like his own title as the People’s Prince was any less lofty. A slime pale, white colored arch marked the end of the path.

The Executioner let out a delighted laugh. “A Farpoint. God, I just now remembered these.”

A dreamcatcher touched a sequence of keys on a pad that was fit into a pedestal stationed near the Farpoint. Immediately a crystal inlaid at the arch’s peak lit up with azure light.

Science fiction had their Stargates, teleporters, and beaming devices -Atlanteans utilized Farpoints to get around. The Farpoints linked together in a network allowing transport between two points instantaneously. Theoretically, they could allow for interplanetary travel, but stellar drift was a lot harder to compensate for than fiction makes out. The furthest a network’s range extended was a planet’s moon. That’s only because of gravity wells and the barycenters between the two planetary bodies.

No wonder I was obsessed with science fiction. It reminded me of Atlantis. Of home.

I was honestly kind of freaked out by how much I was remembering. I’m used to regaining memories by now. Still, the rate at which I was recollecting the past just by being in Atlantis was overwhelming. With each step, my shoulders straightened, and I felt more and more like the prince I used to be.

Walking through the Farpoint was like walking through a sunbeam. There was a warming sensation against the skin, a bright light. Then another step took you into an entirely different location. The company filed out into a plaza that was off from the main artery of foot traffic. The area didn't seem to have a proper street. It was just a series of walkways branching out from the main avenue that intercepted at several points with many green parks interspersed at the skyscraper’s foundations.

Ahead of us, a looming tower climbed into the clear sky larger and taller than any of the surrounding skyscrapers. Light glanced off its edges, refracting the beams into an impossible kaleidoscope of prismatic color as the tritium metal of the building gleamed like a flawless diamond in the morning light.

“It’s beautiful,” Adam whispered from behind me.

His whisper was barely audible, but I heard it in the silence that descended over the square. The constant bustle of Republic Square was at a standstill. The reaction of the plaza’s occupants was much the same as the park’s populace. People saw us and fell to their knees after a reverent murmur of recognition.

“We sent a messenger ahead,” said the dreamcatcher, who acted as the leader of the dream host so far, “The king is expecting you.”

A pair of sentries stood before the doors marking the entrance to the Imperium Tower. They wore cream double-breasted tunics that looked official, and they saluted and went into a deep bow as Gaius and I led the company through the doors.

We proceeded into the atrium of the tower. And everyone this time took a moment to pause, taking in the vast space. A fountain stood in the atrium’s center, throwing crystalline water into the air. Columns went around the hall marking corridors leading off to different locations. Typically the atrium would be filled with people, but it was empty. I already knew where everyone was.

Kevin gave me a look, but I was already thinking it.

I led the company down the center corridor through a pair of doors that slid open with a low chime yielding to a breathtaking piece of nature. A waterfall fell from the far wall, into a pool around which grew a plethora of plants, from grass to firelilies to golden trees, forming a park of indistinguishable beauty and splendor. Golden light poured from the crystals in the ceiling, and it felt as real as the sun as it warmed the skin. A number of benches were spaced in the park and terminals stood nearby that could access information or replicate nourishment. The entire park was easily the size of two football fields. There was probably even enough room left over for a Little League baseball field. Birdsong trilled in the park, and a phoenix zipped between tree branches.

Kevin faced the bedraggled company and drew himself up. And when he spoke, it was as Prince Gauis addressing the company. “I know you’re exhausted and confused. I promise you’ll be safe here. We call this Tranquility Park. For now, please rest here and lay down your burdens.”

I touched the dreamcatcher leader on the shoulder. “Will you look after them, please? Some of them are hurt, but most are just tired and hungry.”

“We will do anything you ask of us, Your Highness.”

“Thank you,” I smiled at him, touched at his steadfast dedication. “What’s your name?”

He uttered a string of flowing words in a lyrical language that reminded me of poetry.

I was rusty on my Theban, so the chances of me pronouncing any of that were zero point zero, zero, never.

“Do you have anything I can call you? Something shorter,” I asked, not unkindly.

His head cocked as he visibly pondered, dark hair fell across his face at the movement. Then he said slowly like he wasn’t sure the name sounded right on his lips. “Orophir.”

I thanked him, and he looked like he took the task to heart. A steely determination shone in his eyes as he and his angels moved through the crowd. And now that I was looking for it, the company looked healthier already, as if a weight had been lifted, and they actually looked at us with gratitude.

“I think once they recover, they’ll be all over us,” said Solaris.

I raised my eyebrow. “You sound hopeful.”

“I’ll take it where I can get it,” he retorted. He avoided the elbow Ryan aimed at his ribs. “Of course, I meant that jokingly, babe.”

The doors slid open and a woman strode into the park. She was tall, with black hair, pale, youthful skin, green eyes, and cherry red lips. Her outfit was a beige dress in a soft fabric that begged to be touched.

“Melia!”

A wide grin spread across her face, and she let out a delighted laugh. I beamed at the sight of her. While Nat’ahn taught strategy and combat tactics, Melia was the woman who taught us politics and etiquette. The Diplomatic Marshall was in charge of arranging ceremonies for the royal household.

“I had such hopes.” she started to say, but Nathaniel cut her off by wrapping her in a hug and sweeping her off her feet.

Melia sighed and said tenderly. “Missed you, dear brother.”

We let them have their moment. Nathaniel needed this reunion. He didn’t have much family in the waking world. Seeing someone you thought lost, I looked at Kevin. I knew how he felt. That happiness was priceless.

She accepted our enthusiastic greetings when Nathaniel pulled away to wipe his eyes discreetly. Melia’s eyes were wet, and she was practically glowing with joy.

“You’re so young,” Melia whispered, studying us for a full minute. Composing herself, she said with appropriate decorum. “The king is expecting you in the throne room.”

We walked through the doors again, and I signaled at Morgan and Mom to join us, as they lingered behind, unsure. This was a time for reunion, and for family, new and old, and for counting our blessings.

Nathaniel walked with Melia as she led us to the Throne Room carrying on a rapid conversation in Atlantean. I shared a smile with Adam. I’ve never seen Nathaniel happier.

We came to the throne room entrance doors that were wide open and waiting. I wanted to look in, but a bout of anxiety overcame me. Frantically I mentally went over the proper forms. Melia folded her hands together, facing us with a gentle smile and knowing eyes.

“Be at ease,” she said. “This is an occasion of great joy.”

A musical chorus hummed clearly through the air that sounded like flutes but lighter and impossibly more airy. The music was the cue, and a herald’s clear voice announced our entrance. Mom shot me a questioning look as Melia gestured for her and Morgan to enter the hall.

I nodded reassuringly. “It’s okay, Mom. Go.”

I glanced at the others as my family followed Melia through the doors. They looked intimidating and impressive in their uniforms, ready to face down a legion of demons or a hall full of Atlantean nobles. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know to start with. Hell no one else did either. It was all so overwhelming that we were still trying to take it all in. We shared anxious smiles, then Kevin reached over and tapped my wrist twice. That grin of his managed to settle some of my nerves.

“Crown Prince Gaius and the Prince Emrys and his court,” the herald’s clear voice announced over the softly playing music.

Here we go.

“Nat'ahn, Justice Chancellor to the Crown, Advisor to the Chosen and Viscount of the Western Sea.”

Nathaniel adjusted the Windsor knot of his tie and fixed his cufflinks. He looked completely unruffled as he marched confidently through the open doors.

“Lord Apollo, Champion of Light, Count of the Khanite of Mars, Chief of the Legion of Seven Stars and Second Priest of Sol.”

Killian’s shoulders straightened almost unconsciously as each title was sounded off, and he strode through the doors without falter. Those titles sparked a memory, and then another, and another. I shook my head as momentary dizziness swept over me. Things were clicking into place, sliding together like puzzle pieces in my head. I took a breath to clear my mind.

“Lord Aurek, Champion of Soul, Baron of Eden Circle, Heir to the House of Eldana and Knight of the United Order of Agamemnon.”

Ryan closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he let it out, there was absolute confidence in his eyes that wasn’t uncommon when he approached a battlefield. His chin tilted, and with a flash of remembered insight, I just knew that Aurek had been born high nobility. He slipped into form like putting on a coat as he walked with a noble bearing.

“Lord Admerion, Champion of Miracles, Arch-Duke of the Scarlet Shogunate, Saint of Holy Bell, Herald of the Omega Torch and First Defender of the Chosen Prince.”

Adam’s hand brushed against mine, fingers briefly entwining, squeezing gently. Wonderment and knowledge shone in his eyes before it was gone, replaced by a calm grace, and he was striding forward to take his place with the others.

The titles illuminated half fogged memories and events that longed to be revealed. They meant something a long time ago, and still meant something, and would forever define us. Then and now. The music rose in fervor, and my musing halted as a choir of melodious voices blended to weave something so complex, so beautiful, that it temporarily shorted my breath.

“It’s time,” said Kevin without a hint of nerves. I envied his cool. Having all his memories was advantageous.

“The Prince Emrys, Champion of Magic, Prince of Atlantis, Lord of the House of Cor, Count of the Iridescent Vale, Minister of the Council of Metaphysics and Supreme Commander of the Royal Forces of the Empire.

His Royal Highness, Prince Gaius, Crown Prince of Atlantis, Heir to the Supreme Throne, Lord of the House of Cor, Duke of Winter Valley, Viceroy of the Free Moons of Jupiter and Guardian of the Imperial Scepter.”

The throne room was a long hall with marble floors and a beautiful arched ceiling that glowed like polished mithril. It bathed the entire room in a glamorous light giving it an ethereal quality. Slender columns ran parallel down the room’s center to a raised dais that supported a throne of unearthly gray metal with blue accents.

There had to be over eight hundred people in the room. Everyone in the immediate area had crammed into the room to witness our homecoming. All eyes were on us as we swept through the hall in perfect step.

King Oriens sat on the throne, clad in full formal garb. He regarded us with the same intense focus we had for him. We passed the various lords and ladies of the Atlantean Court that formed the beginning ranks before the dais. The Chosen proudly stood at attention to the left of the platform, ready to act as shield and sword for the crown if need be.

Kevin and I stood at the first step of the dais. Then our arms moved in unison, performing a series of sweeping gestures ending with one palm above the other. Keeping them centered before our abdomen, we went into a low bow.

King Oriens rose to his feet. “Greetings, my sons.” His cape billowed behind him as he descended the steps. “Princes of Atlantis, heirs to the Atlantean Empire.”

“We greet you, father.” I started unsteadily, and Kevin deliberately slowed his cadence so I could match his words without stumbling. “King of Atlantis, ruler of the Atlantean Empire.”

Once fealty was acknowledged the forms were done. King Oriens’s face lost its calm and a smile broke out as he crossed the last distance separating us. He threw his arms around us in a fierce hug and the room thundered with applause.

“My boys, I’ve missed you so much.” His voice was gruff with emotion. He pressed his nose into my hair, breathed deep and murmured. “Welcome home.”

The applause faded when our embrace ended. Pulling us close, Oriens began studying us in earnest. He touched his fingertips against the edge of my eyebrow. “You’ve refused your birthright.” He moved his fingers to my heart. “The strings of godhood have severed. Oh Emrys, are you sure?”

“I haven’t regretted it yet,” I answered honestly.

He looked me in the eyes, and his smile turned proud. Warmth flooded my chest at his approval. Oriens held up his open palm. Light gathered there, and from that light an elaborate silver and jewel rod shimmered into being.

“Here lies the Imperial Scepter. This is the most treasured object of House Cor. It’s the chief emblem of royal authority of the Empire.” He held it reverently and presented it to a stunned Kevin. “You’re no longer its guardian, son. You are its bearer.”

“Father,” Kevin bit his lip, uncertain.

King Oriens smiled gently but continued nonetheless. “Atlantis lives on in the land of dreams, but the Waking World still has vestiges of our mighty empire that awaits its king.” He presented the rod to Kevin. “You will become that king. And your brother will be the light that shows you the way.”

Our eyes widened in shock.

King Oriens stepped back and announced. “A fortnight of celebrations we will have to celebrate this glorious occasion.” He smiled warmly at the Chosen. “Welcome home, sons of Atlantis.”

Once more the entire hall erupted with applause. And across the city in homes, streets and parks, citizens watching the precedence on the holonet, too, cheered.

I looked around the hall, took in the smiling faces and sheer joy, and beamed. It was exhilarating and felt a lot like flying.

-

“This is awesome,” said Killian, peering down at the small table against one wall covered with an assorted buffet of foods. After the reception in the throne room, Melia led us to King Oriens’s parlor. Several comfortable sets of furniture were spaced around the warm room.

“I could go for a drink,” Morgan muttered, staring at the wet bar.

Mom sat next to her on the couch, looking unsure but not wholly overwhelmed like my sister. “Over my dead body.”

We explained to them the basics, in Mom’s case filling in the blanks, and for Morgan, it was like turning her whole world upside down. Not only was I some superhero, but I was a prince. She kept looking around like she expected to be knifed or something. It was kind of funny.

Melia and Nathaniel lounged nearby, catching up. The Chosen took the opportunity to relax finally. These couches were unbelievably comfortable, and we couldn’t stop smiling at one another. You would think it was Christmas morning in here.

“Can you believe this is all here?” asked Killian. He was beaming.

Ryan matched his smile, and they were too cute at how they completely lit up around each other. He nodded. “I knew it existed, but to actually see it all. The city, the King, it’s all like being back in time.”

“But we’re in a dream,” Morgan interjected tentatively. “None of this exists, right? It’s like...” She frowned, thinking deeply. “It’s like VR or something.”

“I promise this is all quite real,” Melia said with amusement coloring her otherwise lulling tone. “It takes certain willpower and strength for a dreamer to enter these lands naturally. The Dreamlands are formed of dreams from every creature across our system of space. The Outer Powers like King Oriens govern it, and the Dreamcatchers police it from Nightmares.”

“So, you were all dead and this is like heaven?” Mom asked, her inquisitive nature to the fore.

Melia shook her head. “Despite our prolonged lifespans, the reaper of death has dominion in the Dreamlands just as he does in the waking world. We are long lived or, in some cases, immortal, as long as we avoid disease or injury.” She smiled gently. “My third daughter was born in the Dreamlands. That makes her as real as her two sisters borne in the waking world, you, or the Sun that sets on the western sky.”

“Well said, Melia,” Oriens said.

We all looked up as King Oriens entered through the door. He had taken off his ceremonial cape and discarded the white crown. It was easier to see the resemblance between us. His jaw was strong and defined, cheekbones set a little higher than mine, but our eyes contained the same brilliance, and his hair was the same spun gold.

“You don’t know how good it is to see all you again together like this,” said Oriens. He and Kevin shared the same smile I noted. “All of Atlantis is celebrating.”

“What about the rest of the empire?” I asked, finally getting to ask the question that had been burning in my mind for hours. “The off-world colonies, the kingdoms, and other principalities.”

“The Outer Powers, while we do govern these lands, our power only extends as far as this solar system.” He looked unhappy as he explained. “The empire is intact from here to Pluto. Beyond this system of space, if something lingers of our kingdom, it’s beyond my dominion. They’ll have their own Outer Powers.”

I frowned. “I wondered about the remains of the empire in the waking world. If some planets survived the genocide, hopefully, they would have initiated the quarantine protocols.”

He tilted his head with interest, sharp eyes assessing me. “Being in Atlantis is triggering your recall isn’t it, Leto? We theorized that a reincarnation event would have such a side effect.”

“Leto?” I said blankly.

Kevin smirked, trying and failing to hide his snickering. “All hope.”

“That’s enough, Elu,” Oriens said sternly, but his amusement was apparent in his twinkling eyes. “Leto is your private name, just as Elu is your brother’s. He is the ‘bright star’ of the evening sky, and you are all your mother hoped you would be.”

I saw the curiosity in Mom’s eyes and sent her a pointed look. She read the intent there. Thank goodness.

There was one thing we never did in Atlantis, and that was talking about the Queen. She was the Lords in Shadow’s most tremendous blow dealt to our family. When King Oriens made war against their sovereignty, they captured mother and didn’t just kill her, but obliterated her soul and scattered the pieces throughout time and space. It was a tragedy still whispered about in certain sectors of the empire years after. The Unnamed Queen people called her, or the Queen That Never Was, depending on if they were being rude or not.

I scowled at my friends who shared conspiring grins, still snorting at the name. I retorted before I could stop myself.

“Laugh it up, Orion, Pallas, Gilead,” I snapped, pointing at Killian, Ryan, and Adam.

My mouth closed with a snap. I didn’t even know I remembered that until I was saying it.

“Those are our birthnames.” Ryan’s expression turned thoughtful.

“You were bestowed royal names when your celestial bindings were activated,” Nathaniel said to confirm the unspoken thoughts.

Adam frowned, muttering with clear distaste. “Gilead?”

Kevin smirked at Adam and then turned to father. “We brought about 600 or so civilians with us. Centennial’s a wreck, father. They aren’t safe there. Can you look after them until we take care of the danger?”

“I’ve already begun to see to their needs.” He said easily, sensing our unease. His smile dropped and expression turned serious. “I’ve been apprised of the situation on Earth. We have much to talk about, but that will wait. Tomorrow we will hold council. I won’t darken today’s joy with talk of gloom.”

Killian sat up straight, alarmed. “But, Your Highness, the longer we put it off the greater the destruction. People are dying back home.”

Oriens only raised one eyebrow in the face of Killian’s firm resolve. “I haven’t ever been in the business of dealing death, Chosen Solaris. The passage of time has not changed that.” He barely smiled at Killian’s remorseful face. “Time flows at a different rate in the Dreamlands. Hours on Earth represents a week or more here. A traveler can spend months in the Dreamlands during a single night's sleep on Earth.”

“Weird,” Morgan muttered under her breath.

King Oriens glanced at her thoughtfully. “And who might you be?” Blue eyes studied her soft, heart shaped face. “A sister, then.”

A smile manifested at his conclusion. Morgan ducked her head with blushing cheeks, shyly letting her hair curtain in front of her face. It was kind of adorable really.

“My baby sister,” I said to father, grinning. “Morgan.”

Oriens turned to Mom. Her shoulders straightened, finding his gaze on her. “And that makes you his mother.”

Mom blushed as she visibly flustered. Oriens looked like every bit of a king that he was. I think she was a bit intimidated. She stood up to courtesy, imitating the court nobles she’d seen earlier, and it was somewhat clumsily done as she’d never attempted the movement before.

Oriens crossed the room, quickly grabbing her shoulders in mid movement. “No, my lady,” he said firmly, gently tilting her face to look into his eyes. “You’re the mother of my youngest child. You bow to no one.”

Mom opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again, eyes wide with shock. She composed herself quickly enough and nodded. “Thank you, your Highness.”

“Call me Oriens, my lady.”

A sunny smile broke across her face. “Only if you call me Samantha.”

Mom and Father in the same room. Face to face, smiling. It was a surreal moment that my brain had trouble processing. And when the feeling passed, I was left with contentment. I smiled and finally let out the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.

-

I wanted to spend time talking with father, but he put his foot down and sent me off to bed. And when the King of Atlantis tells you to do something you didn’t argue. Not like I had much energy to carry on a real conversation. I was falling asleep on my feet. We pretty much all were. We’d been through a lot today.

Admittedly I was pretty much useless at that point. I barely remembered being led to the floor containing the apartments for the royal family. Adam did the leading and I followed, allowing him to tug me along with my hand held in his steady grip. The room itself didn’t so much as get a glance from me. I only had eyes for the bed.

“Go to sleep, Chad,” Adam whispered against my ear, curling up behind me on the bed.

My eyes were closed before my head touched the pillow. “Love you,” I murmured, sleepily, stretching out against his body.

“Love you too,” Adam sighed into my neck, wrapping his around me. The last of his strength seemed to leave him as he lazily petted my hair.

I clung to him letting the warmth and security he radiated follow me into dreams. In the dream time seemed to move at insane speeds as images, fast and fleeting, raced through my slumber. I dreamed of the past.

A childhood with Gaius spent racing through the halls of the Imperium Tower, learning magic under the tutelage of master wizards, diplomatic missions with King Oriens to foreign star systems, and fighting at the sides of my Chosen, who made up my court.

When I woke, it was to an empty bed. Starlight shone through the open doors of the terrace. I kicked off the blankets with a long stretch. Even with the psychedelic dreams, that was probably the best sleep I had in days. I absently rubbed at my bare stomach, only vaguely surprised that I was only in trunks. I didn’t even remember taking off my clothes. That was crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired.

There was some clothing set over a desk. The top was some combination of a sweater and a tunic made of super comfortable fabric in beige with a turnover collar. The trousers were loose and in dark beige that I tucked into a pair of long brown boots sat on the desktop. A beautiful circlet rested beside the outfit. It was made of woven silver set with seven diamonds and a red jewel rested in the center.

“Hey, sleepyhead,” greeted Adam as I walked into the suite’s den.

The Chosen lounged around in deep-cushioned sectionals in an arc around a low table, talking amiably. Adam sat on a couch with his legs kicked up on a low table. Surprisingly, Morgan was curled into his side with her head resting on his shoulder.

“I thought you were dead,” Kevin joked.

I sat down on the couch beside him. “Looks who’s talking,” I retorted, punching him in the shoulder. “That’s for making me worry, jackass.”

“Wow, oww,” he said, exaggerating a pained wince. He smirked when I rolled my eyes. “Grudge much? I already said sorry. We’re in Atlantis. Take a load off.”

Morgan snickered and I turned to her. “Where’s Mom?”

“She’s with your dad,” she said without a trace of doubt or uncertainty. Well, she adapted to that bombshell fast. “She, Nathaniel and the King were getting along like they were bffs. I think they were going to braid each others hair.”

I snorted. Nat’ahn had been my father’s closest friend that wasn’t startling. It was surprising that Mom was getting along so well with them. In fact, it was downright eerie.

“How much have these guys been telling you?” I said only half jokingly.

Ryan smiled. “Nothing bad, promise.”

“Don’t lie to him, darling,” Killian interjected over his boyfriend’s shoulder. “We’re spilling all your dirt.”

Rolling his eyes, Ryan leaned back. His back smacked into Killian’s chest hard. He smiled serenely when Killian went into a coughing fit.

“Be nice, Killer.”

Killian wrapped his arms around Ryan’s waist, pulling him tighter into the sitting position between his legs. Ryan settled like a perfect fit, and Killian pressed his face to Ryan’s, didn’t quite kiss him, just nuzzled against the slope of his neck, content.

“Whatever my baby wants.”

Kevin raised his eyebrows, surprised and amused at their open affection. “Since when do you guys do PDA’s? Thought I was looking at the loverboys for a second.”

Adam stopped making eyes at me, jerking up and blinking, utterly bemused. “Is he talking about us?”

“Jealous,” I muttered.

Kevin petted me like a child. “Of course, right.”

“Well.” Ryan flushed with embarrassment, his hand sliding across Killian’s forearm. “We weren’t together when you left. We broke up.”

Kevin watched them, amused. “And now you’re back together.”

“Definitely.” Killian squeezed Ryan between his legs, making him laugh. The blond hummed happily, Ryan’s hair tickling his skin as he ran the tip of his nose against his ear.

Kevin looked away from the clinging boys. “Nice to see some good changes after being gone so long.”

“Were you really in Heaven?” Morgan asked in a rush, blue eyes filled with stark wonder.

Kevin ducked his head as something like sadness flashed in his eyes before everyone could see. I saw it though and it worried me. He was holding something back, and no matter how much pulling I did he wouldn’t spill, not till tomorrow.

“Not Heaven, same zip code, but a different address,” Kevin began, ignoring my judgmental stare. Tomorrow some hard questions would be asked. “The Silver City is the stronghold of the angels. Heaven’s only for mortal souls.”

Morgan shook her head, cuddling more into Adam’s side. “Crazy. This is just too unreal. My brother’s a prince, his best friend is really his reincarnated brother, and his boyfriend and friends are wannabe sailor scouts.”

“Ouch,” Killian mumbled, causing Ryan to arch an eyebrow. “That was a burn on us.”

Ryan nodded. “Second degree burn, too. Kinda stung a little bit.”

“For real,” Adam returned blandly, but let the comment pass.

“Such girls sometimes,” Morgan shook her head, still straddling the line between belief and disbelief. She perked up, suddenly excited. “Can you guys do magic like Voldemort?”

“He Who Must Not Be Named,” Adam corrected sternly.

Morgan held him with a lidded glare. “Chad’s idiocy is contagious, isn’t it?”

“If only.”

The comment was joking and teased a smile from Morgan. It was ridiculous, but my heart squeezed tight at the words, warmth spreading through every bit of me.

“Love you. You know that, don’t you? That I love you?”

A prominent, silly statement, but it’s out there, and for some reason, Adam needed to know this. That he knew how much I cared for him. I held my breath, feeling a little seasick.

Affection lit Adam’s eyes as a slow smile spread across his face. It was fond and soft with dimples in his cheeks. It made me feel warm all over, cared for. This smile was the one I fell in love with.

“Yes, Chad, I know.” he said, thickly, “Love you, too.”

It burned all the way to the soles of my feet, the look on Adam’s face as if he was telling me that I was his and only his. And of course, I was. Whenever we got some time alone, I was going to enforce that claim. Heat blazed in my eyes, and I licked my lips. Adam squirmed anxiously under the look.

“Do they think they’re alone?” Morgan asked, scooting away from Adam with a confused frown.

Kevin tapped idly at a crystalline datapad, bored. “You get used to it.”

“So about that magic,” Morgan drawled out, intent on erasing the last minute from her mind. “Can you transform this table into a cat or something?”

“That’s transmogrification,” I explained. “And I’m the only one in the room who can do it. Metaphysics is my area.”

“Metaphysics?” she asked.

I shrugged. “Magic.”

“So you’re like a wizard or something?”

“Wizards are the most common magic practitioners, and they’re origins are found here. Through training, force of will, and concentration wizards can accomplish feats of power. They’re directing of magic is amplified and focused through tools like staffs, wands and other foci.” I rubbed my collarbone absently, remembering the comforting weight of the lost pendant. “I’m the only Chosen directly bound to the energy that’s known as magic. I don’t need a wand. I’m the strongest magic user this planet has ever seen. Saying I’m a wizard is like comparing a pistol to a nuclear bomb.”

More information unloaded rapidly in my mind, and I winced at the flood of unbidden knowledge. Power cannot come from nowhere. It must be borrowed. The Chosens power came from our celestial bindings, mystical links tethered to autonomous cosmic forces. I was bound to the timeless force termed magic. It was the catalyst enabling the physical birth of the universe alongside the Power Creation that infused the cosmos with energy and life-”

“Chad!” Kevin’s voice freed me from the ocean of information I was mentally drowning in.

Rubbing my head, I grimaced at him. “Overload.”

Look at me, Adam’s voice entered my mind and my shoulders sagged as I met his eyes. Clear your thoughts, he said telepathically, brows furrowed with effort.

I got a brief impression of a wall and a heavy door, and then all was silent in my head. My thoughts felt lighter when he withdrew from my mind. He rubbed small circles into my back.

“You okay?”

I nodded. “What’d you do?”

“Psychic barriers,” he answered, peering intently into my eyes. “It’s not permanent, but it’ll stop you from getting lost in your mind again.”

Ryan wore a contemplative expression. “I think I know what’s happening.”

“Please share with the class,” I said.

“It’s just a theory.” he began slowly, “But your memory recall has always been the weakest. We even remembered more than you when we were first tapped. I think being in Atlantis has removed whatever blocks were hindering your recall.”

I grimaced. “It’s like once I think of something I recover a memory, and that will trigger something else, and tangents of information just explodes in my brain. It’s not fun.”

“If you had training in the mental disciplines, it would be easier, but Emrys knew only basic meditation techniques,” Ryan replied, clasping his hands together and leaning forward. “You’ll just have to concentrate on clearing your mind from focusing too hard on one subject. Otherwise, it’ll trigger another overload.”

“Are you, like forgetting?” Morgan trailed off, chewing nervously on her lower lip. “These memories. Will you still be my brother?”

I rushed across the room right as she looked down to stare at the top of her hands. Adam vacated his spot and I swooped in, pulling her tight against my chest.

“I’ll always be your brother,” I promised, squeezing her shoulders. “Just because I remember Emrys loved to ice skate and fly starships doesn’t mean I’m not still Chad. I still like the color blue, caffeine, secret stuff and shiny things.”

“So do raccoons,” Killian muttered, winking at the glare I shot him.

I touched her chin gently, tilting her face to meet eyes. I smiled at her softly, almost fond, and I pressed a kiss between her brows. A sweet smile formed on her face.

“The things I’m remembering make me more of your brother. I’m becoming the person I should’ve always been.”

Ryan pulled out a beeping datapad. He tapped at the crystalline screen, terminating the noise. Killian and Ryan moved to stand and I stared at them curiously.

“We’re going to see our families,” said Killian, with barely contained excitement. “There wasn’t time earlier with the ceremony and meeting with the King and the staff later.”

Leaning into the arm wrapped around his waist, Ryan asked, “You guys want to come?”

I shook my head. “Later. This should be a private time for family.”

“I agree,” said Kevin, standing up too. He extended a hand to help Morgan to her feet. “Come on, Mo’. I’ll show you around Eden’s Circle while the guys have qt with their family.”

The others weren’t gone a whole minute before I was climbing on Adam’s couch and into his lap. I straddled him feeling kind of small, though physically, I wasn’t that much smaller. Adam’s hand slid up my back and pulled me in closer, his eyes locked on mine.

“Do you remember when we first christened this couch?” Adam leaned in and brushed his nose against mine.

I shook my head, leaning into his hands spread across my back. “It’s not really the same couch, is it. I mean. This was constructed in the Dreamlands.”

“Guess we have work to do then.”

Adam moaned, pressing his face into my neck. His mouth latched onto mine, and my lips buzzed pleasantly where they touched, and I wanted more. I licked my way inside Adam’s mouth, moaning when one hand slipped under my shirt, making me shiver as he stroked his fingers over my spine.

The friction and heat grew impossibly more intense. He pulled me closer and we both groaned, simultaneously panting and moaning, suddenly unable to take much more as we ripped at our shirts. I dipped my head down licking at his neck, biting and sucking hard enough to leave a mark, and Adam groaned tipping his head back with his hips pushing up against me.

“You taste so good.” I mouthed at his neck. And he mewed low in his throat, bucking against me, rubbing his erection against my ass.

I ground down against him and Adam let out a gasp. My whole body felt hot and his groans made me more desperate. I wanted his skin against mine. Adam worked his hips up against me again, sliding his hand down between us to my crotch. He licked his lips, feeling how hard I was for him, eyes glazed with need.

“Do you have any idea how hot you looked earlier – I wanted to rip off those fancy clothes piece by piece right in the middle of the throne room.” He whispered it huskily, and dear God, that turned me the hell on. “Sometimes I have these dreams. Want to know my favorite one? You’re sitting on the throne. And the entire room is empty but us.”

If I wasn’t turned on the way he was talking would do it alone. I was so hard and Adam didn’t take his eyes off me as he talked, palm rubbing hard over my dick.

"You look me right in the eyes and say, 'Get on your knees.' And I do it without question, shaking, and I want it, baby, so fucking much. There’s this look in your eyes, anticipation, but you hide it by looking sort of mean and you spread your legs, and you say, ‘Omega suck me off, or you will be punished.' I’m so nervous and my face is red, but I’m aching to do it and ready to swallow every drop. I mouth at your dick through pants and you’re so hard for me, and I kind of fumble pulling it out, because I want it so bad. Your hands tighten in my hair as you guide me down on your dick that’s throbbing, and it’s the hottest thing I’ve ever seen."

"Oh shit." I can't take it anymore. I tugged my pants down, pulling out my cock, Adam’s hand instantly closed around it. Pleasant sparks exploded under my skin and I threw my head back, writhing and cursing as Adam stroked me with long sweeps.

“Don’t stop,” I whined out, my cheeks burning. “Keep talking. Please. I want.”

Adam nodded jerkily as I bucked wildly on his lap. His pupils were fat and he moaned when I deliberately settled down on his erection, teasing it between my legs.

"Fuck, yeah, Chad, oh, I – I start off slow, licking you from base to tip, you just melt under me, making the hottest noises. You um, oh shit, you grip my hair, and then I can’t move as you start to just fuck my mouth, because you can’t take the teasing anymore, and you love the way my mouth feels. I don’t even fight it, because I’m rock hard and my skin feels like its on fire, and I can’t believe I make you feel this good, this out of control. I take you down my throat and I gag at first, but then deep throating you becomes like second nature, like I could do it all day - your hips start swiveling out of control and you’re holding the sides of my head, moaning and grunting and God, its so fucking hot, and your dick starts getting harder and then pulses, and I swear I’m ready for it, my face is wet and I want it on my tongue so bad —-”

I slammed my mouth on his kissing him hungrily, all tongue and with little finesse, practically writing my name on his tongue with mine. I dropped my pants, scissoring myself open with nothing but spit as he scrambled to take out his cock. Adam worked both our cocks together, skin against skin, and the friction was almost too much, amazingly I didn’t just cum from that, while I fucked myself open, moaning.

“Adam, please,” I said panting.

Adam pressed his hand against my breastbone. “Are you sure you’re ready?” Gently he nipped my earlobe, breath hot against my skin. “You drive me crazy - I’m gonna make it so good for you, baby, s’promise.”

Adam’s body was flushed and his eyes were hooded, dark with lust. He held my hips to brace himself and lined himself up with my body.

He pushed into me slowly and the thickness of him made me wince, and it hurt a little in moments. Adam petted at my hair easing me through the pressure that seemed to fill me completely. Whispered reassurances fell from Adam’s mouth as he talked me through the pain, stroking my face, telling me to relax and how well I was doing.

“You feel so good.” Adam’s voice was husky and his eyelids were so heavy they were almost closed. “Love you so much, baby.”

“Adam,” I said his name like something holy, as I finally grew accustomed to the searing heat pressing into me.

Adam looked at me questioningly and I nodded. His face and neck shined with sweat and my heart clenched when Adam kissed me so softly. Then he started to rock his hips, drawing a low and deep moan from my chest. Adam mirrored the noise, pulling out and thrusting with a slow, languid pace. All the rush and fervor was expelled during our kisses and now the union of being together was too much, almost euphoric, hips rocking in perfect sync.

My tunic was unbuttoned, hanging half off my body, skin gleaming with sweat and Adam clutched tightly at my slick shoulders, moaning. We kissed like we were running out of time, and I was afraid to shift angles rather than break the kiss. Adam read my mind because he shifted his hips as best he could, hitting that spot inside of me that made my vision white out, and sending me into spasms as boiling pleasure exploded through my nerves.

Adam’s hand wrapped around my cock, pulling at it and timing it with our thrusts, and adding a new height of sensation. It was too much. I fell forward and pressed our foreheads together, kissing at his eyelids, nose, cheeks as Adam thrust into me once more, hard and sudden, and I was coming into his palm with a non-scream that’s a combination of fuck and Adam’s name.

I looked into Adam’s eyes and nodded, rocking against him, silently giving permission. Adam’s hands curled tight around my waist, and his eyes slammed closed. Groaning his body went tense as he released deep inside of me.

I could hardly breathe. Fuck that. The only thing I registered was the pounding of my own heart loud in my chest. Adam put his hand on my chest feeling my heartbeat. A moment later warm lips replaced his palm as he kissed the skin above my heart.

My fingers slid into his damp hair and I pressed a kiss there. “Love you,” I whispered hoarsely.

I didn’t see it, but I could feel Adam smile against my skin. He gently blew against my skin, whispering the words back in Atlantean followed by whispered promises of the future and our intertwined fates, about holding tight and glimpsing forever. He sealed the promises with a soft kiss there making my skin tingle. I collapsed on top of Adam and nuzzled into his chest, deliriously content. Adam sighed happily against my skin, pulling me closer.

We fell asleep soon after that, all tangled up with our foreheads pressed together, hands pressed against each other’s hearts.

-

“You look like a child lost in the mall.”

I gave Killian my best glare, but it was more halfhearted than anything. I never was a morning person and Oriens had chosen to call the council meeting at the rising of the sun. I managed to banish the last traces of sleepiness from my thoughts as King Oriens entered the council chamber, bringing the guards at the door to attention.

“I have called this council meeting to bring clarity on the past,” said Oriens. “And to discuss the future.”

He looked around the table where Killian, Ryan, Kevin, Nathaniel, Adam, and myself sat in various states of tiredness.

“My attaché to the dreamcatchers should arrive at any moment, and we will begin.”

The doors opened again, and I wasn’t the only person who gasped. It had been a year since we’d last seen the dream angel. Cerulean was clad in full crystalline battle armor, and his wings were still pristine white and beautiful. His dark hair was tied back and even though his expression was professionally blank, there was a little smile there when he saw us.

“Cerulean,” said Ryan smiling, bright and happy.

He dipped his head, smiling at us each in turn. “Hello again. It’s good to see you well.”

Killian frowned, hard. Ryan saw his frowning profile and rolled his eyes fondly, and took Killian’s hand gently squeezing his fingers. Killian’s frown turned into a little bashful smile.

“Cerulean acts as my envoy to the Dreamcatchers. He’s also tasked with specifically guarding over your dreams,” Oriens elaborated, seeing the unspoken question in Kevin’s eyes. “He’s prevented many enemies from doing you harm in your dreams.”

“I guess we owe you one,” said Kevin, smiling brilliantly.

Cerulean dropped his eyes with a crooked, bashful smile. He looked nervous. “I was just doing my duty, my prince,” he answered, ducking his head.

He took his seat at the octagonal shaped table. Then Oriens steepled his fingers together, his eyes troubled. “Cerulean keeps me informed of the Waking World’s affairs. Your clones are a formidable enemy.” He sighed wearily. “Regrettably, they aren’t your greatest foe.”

Ice ran through my veins as dread sank heavily in my gut, and an inkling of thought grew.

“Descent of entropy,” I whispered.

Killian, Ryan, Adam and Nathaniel all looked extremely confused with mounting alarm spread across their expressions. Kevin’s face said differently. He looked – fearful.

“The past is going to repeat itself.” Oriens frowned deeply, eyes shadowed. “There are many circles within circles.”

I pinned him with a startled stare. “I’ve heard that before, dad. What does that even mean?” I rubbed the wrinkles between my brows, unsure of what to make of the situation at this point. “This is all connected somehow. Kevin being in Heaven and Celeste being all shifty, the clones, us, all of it – goes back to something, but what...”

Oriens’ unease manifested by the slump of his shoulders. “You’re right.” He nodded at Cerulean, who was utterly still, body tense. “Cerulean, can you start at the beginning, please. You were there on the frontlines.”

“Our universe, like a great many things, thrives on balance. Good and evil, light and dark, death and life. Without balance the universe falls apart.”

Killian stared at Cerulean, nonplussed. “I highly doubt the universe will end if, let’s say, good destroys all the evil in the world, or Mary Kay invents a true anti-aging cream.”

Cerulean fixed him with an even stare. “Even though the walls of the universe are thick, they aren’t impervious. It has an expiration date. Death is as old as the cosmos. One day he’ll reap this universe, too.” His eyes went flat as he struggled in his memories. “Angels were created by the They Above All. The First Gods made us to look after the universe on a cosmic scale.”

“Chosen before the Chosen,” I muttered, remembering the transcript. I shared a thoughtful look with Kevin.

Cerulean nodded. “Angels were the first Chosen. We were charged with making sure the universe stayed on its natural course so it could live a full and ancient life. Our main job was keeping certain power vortexes separate and kindling stars. There was order and it was good.” His whimsical smile dimmed. “Then came the Last Great War.”

Silence hung in the chamber for a long hanging moment after Cerulean concluded his statement. We’d all heard about the Last Great War. It was a dark time that even history books didn’t record. There wasn’t a portion of the universe the war didn’t touch. It burned galaxies, killed stars, and turned planets to rocks and dust. After the war and during the interim of chaos is when the Lords in Shadow gained their foothold.

“You fought in the Last Great War,” said Nathaniel, eyebrows rising to his hairline.

“An enemy entered our universe more terrible than anything we had encountered previously. He swept across the galaxies leaving devastation in his wake, obliterating star systems, and leaving a horde of travesty. We should’ve engaged him immediately, but never had we had encountered an enemy with powers to rival our own.” Cerulean shook his head, scowling. “Entropy wasn’t the first evil, but until this day there’s never been a being that’s come close to the devastation he singlehandedly wrought.”

Was Entropy a person? So that meant-

Adam made a startled noise, simultaneously connecting the dots. “Descent of Entropy? The bedtime song my mom used to sing to me. That’s what it’s talking about? Some cosmic evil guy.”

Cerulean stared at him with wide eyed surprise. “The song you speak of is... has been lost to the currents of time – only the angels know it. How you know the tune, let only the words...”

“I don’t know how she knew it,” said Adam defensively, turning away from Cerulean’s piercing stare. “It’s just a nursery rhyme.”

Oriens shook his head. “It’s a warning. A cautionary tale.”

Cerulean nodded. “When Entropy began destroying those power vertexes I mentioned, the Prime Points, endangering the universe – is when we acted.”

Ryan held the angel with a questioning stare. “Prime Points?”

“They’re energy vortexes that keep the universe in equilibrium, like natural stabilizers. Too many in one place and the laws of physics go away. Planets are turned to whitestars, people mutate into eldritch degradations, and water becomes clay.” His lips thinned into a line. “Destroy too many and Alpha Armageddon happens.”

Killian risked a glance at Kevin. “You mean Beta Armageddon?”

“Beta Armageddon means death and rebirth. The universe will be reborn and life will continue anew in some fashion. Alpha Armageddon is the ultimate end. Everything from the tiniest insect to the oldest god will die. Hell, heaven, the Dreamlands - all of reality will be brought to an end in this universe. Forever.”

Adam was the first to break the dead silence to follow. “How many Prime Points are there?”

“There were dozens of them. Now they’re only seven.” This came from Oriens. “The central one is called the World of Elegance.” He looked at me and I knew what he was going to say, feeling it in my stomach. “You would know it as the Key of Time and Space.”

“Chad’s pendent?” said Ryan, gaping, which was pretty much the reaction of everyone else.

Killian looked thoughtful. “I knew that thing was freakishly powerful.”

“It’s the central Prime Point. It acts as a nexus for the other points to draw power from and feed power back into a feedback loop,” Oriens explained. “It’s why it was chosen as a seal to Heaven’s Trumpet because of its power channeling capability.”

“I don’t. I mean, I’m not surprised,” I said finally. “When I channeled power from it, I always felt connected to something bigger, you know?”

“The World of Elegance is weaker nowadays without the other points feeding power into it,” said Cerulean. “The seven points were saved by the blood of hundreds of angels. In the end, Entropy was stopped. He took out two-thirds of the angelic host with him.”

Adam frowned. “How did you manage to kill him?”

“We didn’t.”

Oh. Well, shit.

And now we’ve come to the crux of the problem. “What did you do?” I asked grimly.

“We couldn’t kill him, so we imprisoned him by creating a vortex to suck in the asteroids and planets around him, creating a spherical cage.” Cerulean illustrated by miming with his hands. “Then we locked it with seals, the seven hundred Dread Barriers. Over time, Entropy’s cage evolved; oceans formed, mountains rose, plants grew and life-forms began to sprout upon it. Soon those life-forms evolved into humans and the cage in which the Entropy resided became Earth.”

“What!”

The shout surprisingly came from Ryan. He wasn’t the only one affected. We all were shocked. I almost fell out of my chair at the revelation. I gaped at Oriens.

“You stationed the capital of your empire on a prison planet?” I asked incredulously.

“Every prisoner needs a warden.”

Adam leaned forward, frowning. “All this talk about Entropy returning, how is that possible?”

“As of today, only one Dread Barrier remains.”

Killian slammed his hand on the table, startling everyone. His face was pinched tight with anger. “Why now and all of a sudden? This doesn’t make any sense and what’s this about circles and things connecting. I’m so freaking lost.”

“The Barriers have fallen steadily over the centuries like my brothers predicted they would. There remain only one and its losing power and will soon fall.”

This was just too much. I let out a deep breath, smoothing my shaking hands against wrinkles in my pants. I held Cerulean with a lidded glare.

“What happened to the other six hundred and ninety-nine barriers?”

Cerulean shared a glance with Oriens. It was father who spoke up when the angel couldn’t. He turned to us and there was deep sorrow in his eyes. He traced a shape in the air forming a circle of blazing green light. Then another, and another, and another, each one entirely drawn one within the other.

“Circles within circles. No matter how you draw it, a circle has an ending and a beginning. And you always end up at its beginning to complete it. The Fall of Atlantis. Do you remember that night?”

I gripped Adam’s hand hard under the table. “Of course. The Lords in Shadow attacked and we lost.”

My hollow reply made Kevin take my other hand. Oriens looked like he wanted nothing more than to wrap me in his arms, but he continued nonetheless.

“They shouldn’t have even detected the city. Even more, if they had found our location the shield could withstand anything that threw at the city.”

Ryan tilted his head, agreeing. “But the shields weren’t up when the Lords attacked. It was undergoing diagnostics because one of the emitters blew.”

“Are you trying to say Entropy had something to do with it?” Killian said. It was a testament to how much the situation was throwing him because he didn’t mask his sarcastic disbelief.

“Entropy has powers we couldn’t contain,” Cerulean said. “And with Atlantis’ fall, so did the first Dread Barrier. We suspect he was behind the Order of the Dying Star’s plans, whispering in the Black Pope’s ear, secrets and lies.”

Nathaniel’s brow furrowed with concentration. “We thought that was the Elder Spawn pulling their strings.”

“The true puppet master was Entropy,” Oriens answered grimly. “For with the Elder Spawn’s resurrection fell another Dread Barrier.”

I gripped the table’s edge so hard my knuckles were turning white. “That’s how they kept finding us. I figured they had some super scrying spell, but damn it.” I took a breath and narrowed my eyes at my father and the angel. “What the hell is the last Barrier, and how can we stop it from completely collapsing?”

Oriens shook his head. “It’s too late,” he said sadly. “The Seven hundredth Dread Barrier began to crumble when Chosen fought against Chosen, bringing true the Chosen Wars prophecy predicted centuries ago.”

Well, wasn’t that just dandy. Someone makes a prophecy about us and as per the damn par, we didn’t know about it. I couldn’t reign in my temper anymore.

“No one told us about that prophecy!” I said, glaring at my father.

King Oriens didn’t waver in the face of my anger. He blinked and calmly replied, “Would that have changed the outcome of your decisions? Would you let them continue to destroy and make a mockery of your very selves.” Seeing my hesitation, he smiled gently, “Prophecies always come to pass. Knowing of them makes it self-fulfilling. You were better off in ignorance.

“Another Barrier was lost to the destruction of the midrealm of the Equinox Faerie. They might not know it, but Entropy’s influencing your clones. Just as he’s used other events to chip away at the locks of his prison.” He drew another circle in the air. “No matter the path it always circles back to him. We’re unsure of how much history he’s controlled, but as his bonds broke the greater his control became.”

It was starting to sound like this was our fault. Three of the Dread Barriers collapsed because we didn’t stop our enemies. I should’ve been stronger, better. If anyone was to blame, it was me. I was the leader and I let them down.

“I can see the guilt hanging heavy around you,” said Cerulean gently. “Other barriers were tied to events that didn’t just factor you Chosen. Most were lost to the centuries between your death and rebirth. One fell to the Oblivion War between the Deathsmiths and the Legion of Seven Stars. Another to the death of Greater Lumina.” His stare shifted into something like understanding. “We’ve only recently become aware of Entropy’s manipulation of one my brother’s into betrayal. That betrayal led to the first civil war of heaven and ended with the Morningstar Proclamation.”

Nathaniel gasped. “You don’t mean...”

Sadly, Cerulean closed his eyes and nodded. “The twentieth Dread Barrier fell alongside Lucifer.”

“Heaven is now close to civil war again since that time,” said Kevin, speaking up for the first time since the council began. “It’s why I stayed so long. The Silver City is divided. They know the Dread Barriers are collapsing and they’re scared. Few angels believe in us and think we have a shot against Entropy. Most want to drop a black hole in the sun and let the vertex suck in the Solar System, including the Earth. They hope the new cage will hold this time.”

Something like anger shone in Oriens eyes as he sat stiffly in his chair. “Genocide I cannot abide. Such action is folly. If he can get out once, he can free himself again.”

“We’re practically an endangered species now,” said Cerulean, sorrow heavy in his voice and movements. “They fear if Entropy is free, he will finish the job and wipe us all out this time.”

“That’s not an excuse,” said Killian sharply.

Ryan laid his hand on his shoulder, calming him. “It’s not his fault, Killer. He’s just explaining.”

Kevin nodded, offering Cerulean a comforting smile. “You’re one of the few who disagree on sacrificing mankind. No matter how I tried, they wouldn’t see reason. They’re deadest on the greater good.”

“So Heaven’s out to get us, our clones are trying to rule the world, and some ancient badass is caged at the center of the Earth and almost free.” I smiled brightly. It wavered and fell flat. “Those aren’t good odds.”

“We’re so fucked,” muttered Killian.

“Oh,” I tried to argue, but the only thing that came out was a small, humorless chuckle. “Oh, damn.”

The pieces fell into place, the curtain was pulled back, and it looked like the joke was on us. Entropy was coming, and he was going to drag all of us to hell, screaming. When he was done, there wouldn’t even be a Hell.

Well shit.

Copyright © 2018 xTony; All Rights Reserved.

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