Requiem of a Lost Civilization
By W. T. “Shatter” Hughes
Six Days, Eight Hours
“The silence is unbearable here, you know,” Karr-yn said, standing on the walls of the outer ring. Behind her, eleven similar, massive, circular walls surrounded the city, separated by gigantic canals. Under her feet, the River ran from the ocean to the heart of Atlantis, sifting through the humming desalination generators that gave the city her fresh water and her energy.
Karr-yn, her long, brown hair waving softly from underneath the shining gilded helmet she wore, turned away from her companion—a shrrr'k. The feline creature yowled softly, rolling onto its back to stare up at the guard. She looked over her shoulder and smiled down at it, taking the moment to admire the sleek shape of the creature and the way it's silvery fur and blue-grey stripes glimmered in the sun. Shrrr'k were native only to Atlantis and rare even then, although they did make excellent pets and companions.
“When does Reb-et get here?” she asked aloud, turning to peer down the length of the walk, hoping to catch a glimpse of her replacement, perhaps the light flashing off of his pole-arm or a wave as he saw her. She sighed. Being stationed upon the walls was a great honour but incredibly boring. No other humans were advanced enough to build a ship to reach Atlantis and the only other sentient species they had ever made contact with, the amphibious Shem, no longer deigned to come to the surface to speak with the Atlanteans. Karr-yn sighed softly, closing her eyes and leaning against the rampart in front of her. Even her armour was ceremonial—in this modern day, no one used spears or axes to fight and the flimsy steel surrounding her chest would barely stop one shot from any decently charged energy pistol.
Not that there was much fighting going around any more, the guard reflected, reaching down to scratch behind the shrrr'k's ears. It purred and pressed its head into her lap, making her chuckle a little bit. “You want to go home as much as I do, eh?” she asked, stroking the animal's back softly, making it shiver a little.
They continued like this for sometime before the creature lifted its head up and walked to the rampart, staring intently at the ocean.
“What is it?” the guard asked, standing. The shrrr'k looked over its shoulder and wurfed at Karr-yn before turning back to watch the roiling seas.
“Seems rougher than usual,” said a sombre voice from behind her. Karr-yn jumped and whirled to face a scowling male guard. He was not wearing his helmet, revealing his shoulder length hair and serious black eyes. She was, as always, slightly shocked at the long scar running from his temple to his chin.
“Reb-et,” Karr-yn gasped, clutching her chest and trying to will her thumping heart to slow to its normal rate. “We... I didn't hear you come up.”
The elder guard shrugged his massive shoulders, uncaring. He stared over the wall, watching the terrible waves crashing against the gates. “The Priests say that the Ocean God is angry at us.” Karr-yn could not tell what he thought of his own statement—Reb-et had never been particularly forthcoming about his beliefs. On the other hand, Karr-yn had never heard this rather impressive warning from the Priests themselves—if they were hiding it from the general population, they may have only told the most devout of the Atlanteans in an effort to save the religion. She waited for Reb-et to continue.
“Go home,” he said suddenly. She blinked, confused. They had known each other a long time and she had never heard him be so cold or distant to her. He turned towards her, “I guard the walls, in the honour of the Ocean God,” he said, formally. It was the traditional phrase used when switching guards—from his mouth, a complete dismissal.
Karr-yn's lips twisted angrily, to be shooed away so roughly, but she bowed deeply and responded in the traditional way, “Guard us, in the honour of the Sky God.”
Karr-yn stormed from the walls, making her way towards the city. Normally, she took one of the canal transports from the outer walls in—the city was a good six miles walking distance—but she needed to calm down after the short treatment she received from Reb-et.
The shrrr'k followed her from the walls. Normally, it stayed there until late in the day—it knew where she lived and was perfectly happy to come sneaking in through a window after she'd gone to bed. She had long since gotten used to going to sleep alone and waking up to a purring lump of fur using her as a pillow.
She watched as it slunk after her, its ears back, tail bristled and tucked between its legs. Karr-yn sighed and sat on one of the many stone benches that lined the walks running along the canals into Atlantis. The shrrr'k rowled softly, pressing its head into her knee. She smiled at it wearily as she petted over its ears, “I don't know,” she murmured softly, leaning back on the bench and closing her eyes, “Something bad is going to happen, I think.”
Karr-yn may have drifted off to sleep; she was unsure. She remembered petting the shrrr'k for a long time and it purring hypnotically back up at her. She was sure that was no dream. She was not so sure of what followed, however, although it did seem disturbingly real—somehow, even more real than her waking hours.
A boat glided into the canal, moving too slow for the currents that ran through the River. The craft was wood but trimmed in purest silver that shined in the afternoon light like a miniature sun, the silver applied in loops and whirls, like the giant, burning fingerprint of a god. There were no sails or crew, just a single woman, wearing a veil and gloves and long flowing dress and naught else, carrying a baby boy with a jagged, steel crown on his head. As Karr-yn watched, the child reached up and put a purple amulet on a complicated set of black velvet straps around the woman's neck. The lady hissed softly, tilting her head back as the straps slowly constricted, pressing firmly against her neck and upper chest. Her skin darkened and turned green, the light flashing off tiny, fish-like scales as her hands convulsed and her fingers grew into long talons, shredding the gloves like paper. There was a small flash of light, the baby now cradled in the hands of what Karr-yn recognised as one of the Shem. The amphibious woman turned her head, parting the veil so that the guardsman could see her face, and smiled darkly, her black eyes shimmering liquidly in the light. Karr-yn stared in horror at the alien face—taking in every detail of the alien face, from the non-existent nose to the semi-prehensile tentacles that sprouted in the place of hair atop the Shem's head.
“What do you want?” Karr-yn asked.
The Shem replied, “Safety.”
The alien woman just smiled, holding the human baby closer to her bare chest. The boat began to move faster and Karr-yn stood up to follow it down the canal, trying to get an answer. “From what?” she yelled as the boat drifted around a corner.
“Five days,” the voice whispered back and then was gone, woman and child and ship vanished into the late afternoon mist. Karr-yn sped up to try and catch up with the boat, still yelling her question into the fog. Her foot caught a loose piece of stone and she tumbled, head first, into the canal.
Five Days, Seventeen Hours
Karr-yn groaned and blinked, looking around. She could remember the boat with the Shem and the baby but she could not, for the life of her, remember where she was or how she got there.
“Finally awake, are you?” a voice growled. Karr-yn rubbed her eyes and looked around, recognition taking a moment before hitting her. She was in her bed in her small home in the centre of the city. Outside, the canal gurgled, barely a few feet under her window.
She pulled the covers off of herself, surprised and slightly embarrassed to see that she was still dressed in the ceremonial armour of the wall guard. She stood, swaying a little as she was hit with a momentary patch of dizziness.
“Careful, there,” the voice said again. Karr-yn steadied herself and headed towards the door, into the kitchen, from where the voice issued.
She stared in frank disbelief, “Reb-et?”
The elder guard nodded, smiling at her grimly. He was wearing civilian clothes—a grey tunic and pants, his sword, symbol of his office, hung awkwardly from one of her chairs while his energy pistol, fully charged and emitting the quiet but high-pitched whine that indicated it was on but locked, was stuck in a holster at his side.
Karr-yn squinted out of the window, the early morning sun glinting painfully off of the whispering water, the River splashing up against the side of her home. “What are you doing here?” she asked. He shrugged.
“Another guard found you, half-drowned and floundering in the canal. You were unconscious by the time he fished you out but otherwise unharmed. He and a friend dragged you back here and put you into bed and then came back to fetch a doctor and myself. The doctor went home a few hours ago, but I decided to stay and cook you breakfast.”
Karr-yn stared. She didn't think that she had heard that much come out of his mouth in an entire day, let alone all at once. She shook her head as she sat down at the table, watching him fry what looked and smelt suspiciously like some strips of sweetfish. The sweetfish was a beautifully coloured animal, all blue with streaks of gold and silver, that swam in the canals of Atlantis and nowhere else. It was a primary staple of Atlantean diet.
Karr-yn opened her mouth to ask a question when the shrrr'k leapt in from the window, its fur wet from what was obviously a recent swim in the River. A sweetfish quivered in its jaws.
“Your friend there has been helping me with breakfast,” Reb-et added, smiling tightly. The shrrr'k wurfed and wagged its tail a little bit, dropping the fish into Reb-et's waiting hand. “What's his name?”
Karr-yn blinked up at the older man. She had never noticed before but his hair was quickly fading to a pale, steel grey. She was not that much younger, three or four years at the most, but people had always assumed that Reb-et was around twice her age. “He doesn't have a name, as far as I know,” she said after a moment, running her hands through her hair. She winced as she accidentally put pressure against a painful bruise on the back of her head.
He nodded a little bit, carefully sliding some of the sizzling meat onto a plate in front of her before taking a seat at the table. She dug in with a will, suddenly realising how hungry she was. “This is really good,” she gasped out between bites. Reb-et chuckled.
When she had finished, he patted her wrist and stood. “I have to get back to the walls. There was a minor quake yesterday and they need someone to supervise the repair crew.” She nodded and started to offer to come with him but he shook his head, “You stay here, in bed, and get better. I'll stop by later this afternoon and see how you're doing.” He smiled again before exiting. Karr-yn watched through the window as he hailed a transport heading for the outer walls.
She sighed softly, stretching as she stood. She cleaned up the breakfast dishes and then spent a long time in the hot shower, washing the grime of guard duty off. After she got out and dried herself, she spent most of the day puttering about her house, bored out of her mind.
She finally settled on watching the news feed from the Palace. She shivered, unexpectedly, as she turned on the viewer and tuned to the proper frequency. She settled onto the couch and the shrrr'k hopped up next to her to rest its head on her legs.
The news was the same basic minutiae that it always was—new bills before the parliament, boring gossip about the Queen, petty crimes. She sighed and closed her eyes, ready to fall asleep, when one last item popped up, startling the newscaster nearly as much as Karr-yn.
“We've just got in a special report,” the tiny holographic image squeaked, peering at a piece of paper slid across his desk. “A-apparently, the leader of the Shem, a woman known only as Mother, arrived in Atlantis late yesterday evening on the royal barge. We have a picture here from the Palace Docks...” He trailed off as the screen cut to an image of the ship that Karr-yn recognised from her vision the previous day. She snapped instantly awake, sitting up and turning the volume up on the viewer.
The image switched back to the newscaster. “It is confirmed—Mother is, indeed, staying at the Palace—” the screen jumped again, showing the woman Karr-yn saw the day before, standing with the young Queen, Jes-yi, and the infant Prince, Mik-el. The woman was wearing the same dress and long veil and hand-less gloves that Karr-yn remembered from her vision. She gasped allowed staring in shock before she could turn her attention back to what the newscaster was saying, “—ueen was quoted as noting that, while the Shem Mother's visit is unexpected, it is, I repeat, 'Good to see our amphibious neighbours return in goodwill.' Mother would not comment beyond, 'I have come to see about safety for our people.' There are unsubstantiated rumours that Mother has been seen with crown prince Mik-el. The Palace discounts such talk as substanceless hearsay.”
Karr-yn switched off the viewer, shivering. Something bad was going to happen, she knew it now. She extricated herself from the shrrr'k and dashed outside, grabbing her pistol on the way out and turning it on. It began to hum quietly as it charged.
She began to run through the familiar streets, heading towards the Palace. People stopped and stared as she raced through the walkways, wondering what her hurry was before turning back to their daily business.
As she finished climbing the stairs leading onto the main boulevard—raised above the major canal leading to and from Atlantis—the city gave an almighty lurch. Several people screamed as the boulevard swayed alarmingly. There was a growl from deep within the earth, followed by a terrifying rumbling and then the ground leaped out from under Karr-yn. She yelled—not for herself but for the Palace—as the suspended road slammed into the buildings to one side of the canal. She looked up and saw the massive granite façade of an office falling towards her and then everything was dark.
Just before she passed out, she heard a voice, laughing quietly. It whispered to her in the darkness, “Three days.”
Three days, ten hours
Karr-yn groaned again, prying her eyes open. She was in an unfamiliar place, white, sterile. It was simultaneously comforting and terrifying.
She tried to raise her hand to rub an itch under her chin and found it bound to her stomach. She looked down and saw her right arm bound tightly in a cast. She groaned again and a doctor hurried over.
“Ah, good, you're awake,” the doctor said, making a note on her clipboard. She was about medium height with short, curly red hair and ice blue eyes. Her voice was perfunctory and she wore the sterile lab coat of a scientist. Karr-yn swallowed with difficulty, her throat felt painfully dry.
“Now, my dear,” the doctor said, “You're alright. Just a broken arm and two cracked ribs. Much better than most people, you know. My, it was terrible. They tell me that even part of the Palace itself fell.”
“What...” Karr-yn coughed, her voice raspy, “What happened?”
“Earthquake, of course, my dear,” the doctor said, holding a cup of water to her lips. “Knocked out the Boulevard and most of the inner city, and two of the Walls have fallen.” Karr-yn choked on the water, coughing. She turned to stare up at the doctor. “Oh, my, yes,” the older woman nodded, “It was horrible. They're still having aftershocks, of course, but they're hardly anything to worry about.”
“How long was I out?” Karr-yn gasped.
“Not too long, really,” the doctor said kindly, looking up at the clock. “Mm, they dug you out of the rubble yesterday, so you've only been here for a little over a day. Of course, no one's quite sure how long you were buried. They only found you because a shrrr'k kept digging at the dirt, trying to get to you.”
“Where is he now?”
“Mm, yes, your voice is getting better, my dear. Now, then, you mean the shrrr'k? After they pulled you out, it followed them all the way to the hospital here. As far as I know, it's still waiting outside for you. Is it your pet?”
Karr-yn shook her head, wearied by the conversation. She lay back into the firm hospital pillows, closing her eyes. In a few moments, she was asleep again.
Three Days, Two Hours
Karr-yn groaned as she woke. Her ribs felt like they were on fire. She sat upright, hissing in pain, rubbing her eyes with her left hand. The doctor from earlier bustled over, looking stricken.
“You shouldn't be up, my dear. You're not nearly healthy enough yet, oh my, no. Back to bed with you.” She started to hurry off again but Karr-yn grabbed her by the sleeve.
“What's happening?” she growled through the haze of pain.
“Another earthquake is all. Nothing to be worried about. It's not major at all.”
Karr-yn started to slide out of bed, gasping at the jolt to her ribs as her bare feet touched the floor. The doctor looked absolutely wild, as if she were witnessing Karr-yn grow a second head.
“Oh, no,” she said, trying to guide the guardsman back into the cot, “Oh, no, not at all! You must get back to bed, you simply cannot get up yet.”
Karr-yn shrugged the smaller woman's hands off of her, standing up. She wobbled a little, unsteady, but quickly stabilised. She looked down at the gauzy hospital gown before turning a glare on the sputtering doctor. “Where are my clothes?” she asked as she tested the cast on her arm.
The doctor stared in shock at Karr-yn. With an exasperated sigh, she pointed to a locker down the hall. Karr-yn let go of the doctor and smiled soothingly.
“I'm sorry to do this to you,” she said, “but there is something I must do, or we're all doomed.”
The doctor gaped as the guardsman walked calmly to the locker and carefully picked out her clothes and pistol, the picture of serenity as she pulled her things on, totally oblivious to the absolute chaos that surrounded her.
Two Days, Twenty Hours
It took Karr-yn a long time to find Reb-et. She wandered the remaining walls, amazed at the devastation. Everywhere she went, houses had crumbled in on themselves. Families stood upon rescue boats, speedily sliding away from their homes and memories, some staring in shock, others crying in despair or shivering in disbelief.
Even more worrying to Karr-yn was the sun—it seemed to hang lower in sky than it should be. It was only about midday but it seemed deeper and darker than what she had been expecting.
The shrrr'k found her just as she neared the last of the still-standing walls. It bounded down from an abandoned warehouse, rubbing its muzzle against her legs. She nearly cried with relief as she knelt to give the feline creature a tight, one-handed hug. It licked at her cheek and whined softly, its tail wagging slowly back and forth.
She patted it on the head and stood, once more setting off to find Reb-et and what help he could provide.
The shrrr'k seemed to understand who she was looking for and raced off ahead towards the fallen outer walls, wurfing over its shoulder at her. She hurried after it.
Karr-yn almost yelled in shock as she came across the last walls. The destruction was complete—there were no longer any outer walls. She stumbled along the crumbling path, staring out towards the wild ocean that was swiftly washing away the last remnants of the walls' foundation.
“I was wondering if I'd see you out here.” Karr-yn spun, hand going for her pistol. She sighed as she saw Reb-et, a twisted smile on his face, sitting on a mound of rubble and smoking a pipe.
“I've been looking for you,” she said, letting her hand drop. He nodded.
“I know. That's why I'm here. Everyone else cleared off hours ago. I figure this part's already been destroyed, so it's probably where I'm safest.” He sighed, looking out over the ocean. “Boats have been leaving, slowly, heading off to hide with the other humans until Atlantis is safe again. I don't think we'll ever see them come back.”
“Reb-et, what happened here?”
He stared into her eyes and she shivered, frightened to the bone by the hopelessness swimming in his eyes. “The Gods are angry with us, Karr-yn,” he said. “You were in the hospital so you probably haven't seen the night sky yet.” She shook her head. “The stars have moved, Karr-yn. Slid north wholesale. Look, even the sun is lower in the sky than it should be.”
“What about the Shem?”
“Mother, you mean? She received the dignitary salute, of course. Full parade and everything, the Queen insisted. I saw her up close.” He shivered. “She hates us. You can tell. Whatever she came to tell the Palace, it was not good news. It has something to do with the desalination machines that they installed on the shore a few months back, I think. The Queen ordered them shut off immediately.”
“What desal machines?” Karr-yn asked, suddenly suspicious. Reb-et chuckled softly.
“You didn't know? New machines were recently installed. They were supposed to increase Atlantis' fresh water supply by nearly a hundred percent. Something to do with drilling into the crust and using the magma to create giant, renewable freshwater pools along the shores. The Palace kept it a big secret because they were afraid people would object to massive deep drilling.”
“How does the magma help anything?” Karr-yn asked, confused.
“They're using it to build the pools, primarily, as well as boil the salt out.” He sighed and shrugged. “Mother probably came to tell us to stop, or we'd damage her home or something. I just hope it isn't too late.” There was a moment of silence.
“We need to get to the Palace.”
Reb-et looked up sharply, blinking at her. “Why?”
“Mother is going to do something terrible to Atlantis. That's why she's here. She doesn't want us to stop, she wants us to be destroyed so she doesn't have to worry about us any more.”
“I hate to tell you this, Karr-yn, but there is no Palace, any more. It collapsed during one of the first aftershocks.”
“Then your last hope has fallen, humans,” said a voice from behind them. Both turned to face a green-scaled figure climbing out of the water.
It was another Shem, a male. He wore a green skirt and finger-less gloves of a matching colour. Around his neck was a complicated series of buckles and straps, made of shark skin, that pressed tightly into his flesh. He wore nothing else.
“Who are you?” Reb-et demanded, standing and reaching for his pistol.
“I am he who is called nyoh Ah. I have come to warn you of danger to your race from the one we call Mother.” The other two stared at him, disbelieving. “I understand your mistrust but you must believe me, for your own sake. She who is called Mother hates your race and is willing to destroy you for her hatred. She who is called Mother believes Atlantis to be responsible for the extinction of our own species.”
“Extinction?” Karr-yn asked suspiciously.
“That is correct. There are less than a dozen of us left, most of whom are beyond the egg-laying age. Our species is no longer capable of self-sustainment. She who is called Mother is right about one thing,” the Shem's voice grew tight, his countenance dark, “Your species is responsible, although not in the way in which She who is called Mother believes. I digress. She who is called Mother is using your machines against you and, as a result, will destroy your entire civilization.”
“How?” Reb-et growled.
“You spoke of desalination machines that have drilled deep into the planet's crust. We who are called Shem have long known how to apply the force of one's will against will-less mechanicals. This is what she has done in the place that is called Palace, causing the drills to burn into the crust, far deeper than they were supposed to be used.
“Beneath the planet's surface is what you might call an ocean of molten mineral. The surface of the planet floats atop this ocean like a cork in the midst of a pot of boiling water. The devastation wrought by your machines has caused the boiling liquid to upset. If the machines continue to dig, the planet itself will shift, burying your city in ice.”
“Oh my god,” Karr-yn gasped.
“What does Mother seek to gain with this?” Reb-et said quietly.
“Most of your species here will die. Those that do not, She who is called Mother will transform into Shem to repopulate our species.”
“She can do that?”
Nyoh Ah sighed and hung his head in shame. “We who are called Shem possess the ability to transform beings from one form to an alternate, either permanently or for a length of time. It is a secret we hide from outsiders—most who know it fear us and the rest seek to use us for their own purposes. It is not a... pleasant gift to possess.”
Karr-yn turned towards the other guard, “We need to get to the Palace to stop Mother.”
“You go,” Reb-et said. “I will gather a century of our elite troops and either take command of or destroy the desalination plants. If only one of us succeeds, Atlantis will be saved.” They spent a moment huddled together, making complicated plans involving routes and material.
“Your shrrr'k,” the Shem said, suddenly, indicating the creature, “What will you do with him?”
Karr-yn put a hand possessively on the feline's shoulder. “I will take him with me.”
“He will not be safe near she who is called Mother.”
“I will protect him.”
Nyoh Ah shook his head. “I will protect him.” The shrrr'k wurfed softly and rubbed its head into Karr-yn's leg. “I have a boat. I will take him and what others I can convince, should both of you fail. She who is called Mother will not be able to transform them if they are under my protection.” He looked up at the sky. “I shall return in two days time, if you have saved Atlantis then I shall return your people and your shrrr'k. Otherwise, I shall sail north to warmer climates and let your people settle there. Is this acceptable?”
Karr-yn opened her mouth to protest. She closed it again at a glance from Reb-et, understanding flashing between their eyes. Nyoh Ah's plan made the best sense. She knelt and hugged the feline tightly with her unbroken arm, smiling faintly as it licked at her face. “Be good,” she whispered into the shrrr'k's twitching ear, getting a quiet rowl in return. “I will be back for you.” She smiled as she stood. The feline whimpered softly, rubbing its head against her leg before walking over to stand near the Shem, its tail tucked between its legs.
She nodded at the Shem, who nodded back. “I will see you again,” she said, solemnly.
He smiled faintly. “As you say it, let it be done,” he intoned. Karr-yn shivered softly as she thought she felt the weight of the words and their meaning press down on her shoulders.
“Reb-et?” she asked, reaching her arm out to the other guard. He stood and pulled her close in a crushing hug.
“I am always watching over you, Karr-yn,” he said, the traditional farewell of Atlantis. “Watch you always over me.”
She smiled at him as they separated, both sets of eyes welling up with tears. They turned and, without another word to each other, headed off in opposite directions.
One Day, Seventeen Hours
Karr-yn slept fitfully. Her house no longer stood and she was forced to camp atop the innermost wall. She could see the ruined remains of the Palace from her little tent but could no longer stomach to stare at it.
She had spent most of the day running through the city, trying to locate all of her friends and family, getting the ones she could find to leave the city and head either for one of the Atlantean ships bound for the human world or nyoh Ah's promised arc.
After she had located as many people as she could, she had gathered supplies—a new pistol, her old armour and pole-arm, her tent and as much food as would fit in her backpack.
Her dreams were confused. Mother and nyoh Ah were fighting in the sky over Atlantis which floated on a sea of roiling, frothing lava. Her and the shrrr'k were racing through the streets as they collapsed underneath them, barely a half-step ahead of tumbling into the boiling stone lake. At the end, there was a forked road. One way lead to the realm of the dead, the other to the realm of the lost.
She woke up with a scream, shivering. She could hear Atlantis rumbling underneath her, felt the next earthquake coming in her bones before it did.
Karr-yn huddled in her tent the rest of the night, crying softly to herself, missing the comforting warmth of the shrrr'k. She wondered if she would survive to see daybreak.
One Day, Three hours
Karr-yn stayed atop the wall most of the day, the lurching and groaning of the ground making it too dangerous to climb down to the ruined city blocks. It was nearly nightfall by time the quake slowed enough for her to climb down and begin moving towards the Palace.
Travel was difficult. People were screaming, a never ending wave of Atlanteans struggling to escape the the death and destruction in the inner city. Karr-yn fought her way through until she managed to make it into the courtyard around the Palace.
She stopped dead in her tracks, staring in wonder. Even half destroyed, the Palace was an awesome structure, all white marble and gilded stone, shining in the sun. It was built on Atlantis' only hill, looking out over the city.
There was no activity here. The Palace was completely dark except for a few dim fires lit in the main hall, visible from the gates. Karr-yn guessed that was where she could find Mother.
She glanced towards the setting sun, sighing quietly. She shivered in the chill air—it was unseasonably cold and getting colder with each successive earthquake. The sun travelled low across the sky, barely cutting above the horizon, now. Karr-yn worried that even if Mother could be stopped, Atlantis was still doomed.
The earth jumped under her feet and she instinctively clutched at the pillar that bounded the gates. The earthquakes had become milder but much more frequent, coming nearly every hour.
After the tremors had passed, she set up her tent and climbed inside. She curled into her sleeping back, listening the ground rumble beneath her. She prayed, possibly for the first time in her life. She prayed to all of the Gods that she could think of. She prayed that this was all a bad dream, that she would wake up and this nightmare would be all over. She prayed that she would succeed. She prayed that Reb-et would succeed so she did not have to. But most of all, she just prayed.
And when she was out of prayers, she curled up into a ball and shut her eyes tight. She thought she heard, in a tiny portion of her mind, a voice whisper that everything must end, for without an ending there could be no beginnings. The voice comforted her as she drifted off to a dreamless, restless sleep.
Eleven Hours, Seventeen Minutes
Karr-yn slept a long time. She woke to an earthquake. It wasn't a little one, like through most of the night, but a massive quake, even stronger than the first one, when she was atop the boulevard.
She covered her head with her good arm, whimpering quietly as she waited for the shivering earth to quiet. It seemed like a long time before it did.
She crawled out of her sleeping back to find that frost had set in over night, covering what was left of the city. She shivered as she pulled on her armour, checking her pole-arm and her pistol. The gates had fallen during the night and she merely walked through the inner courtyard to the Palace doors.
The doors were shut tight but unlocked. Karr-yn pushed them open and stepped through into the long hall. At the end, in what used to be the throne room, a lone light flickered pitifully in the dark. She strode purposefully towards it.
As she walked in, the lights swelled to life, illuminating the room. She gasped.
The throne room, the heart of the Palace, was almost completely deserted. Disturbing stains made abstract patterns against the far walls. At the foot of the throne, the Queen lay, unseeing, dead. Her face was preternaturally calm.
Karr-yn shivered as her eyes slide upwards towards the large, wooden throne. There, sitting as if she belonged there, as if Atlantis was her plaything, was Mother, still wearing the pale white skirt and gloves and veil pushed back from her face, the tiniest trace of a smile on her lips. In her long-taloned hands lay the infant prince, Mik-el, huddled up naked against the Shem's breast.
“Welcome.” Mother's mouth did not move when she spoke.
Karr-yn stopped short. In one smooth, easy motion, she drew the pistol from its holster and flicked it on, aiming it steadily at the purple gem resting against the Shem's chest.
“You are under arrest for the murder of the Queen and treason to sovereign Atlantis. Put the prince down. Carefully.” Mother smiled more. “You have until the count of three. One.” The Shem blinked serenely. “Two.” The smile grew more as Mother raised one hand towards Karr-yn. “Three.” The guard pulled the trigger.
The pistol whined louder but did not fire. Karr-yn swore softly, tossing it to the side and snapping the pole-arm out of the back holster. She held it awkwardly, in one hand, as she advanced towards the Shem.
“You only have a few hours, Karr-yn of Atlantis,” Mother said, not stirring except to hug the human child up closer to her. “Then your precious city will sink beneath the waves. Your prince will become my child, the first of a new breed of Shem. Your species will die so that mine may live.”
“What will you do? Can you even think to strike me while I hold your prince in my hands? Look, already now, his skin turns green. In less than an hour, he will be Mik-el no longer. He shall be mye Eh of Shem.”
“I will kill you both to prevent that, if I must.”
“Put the weapon away, Karr-yn of Atlantis.” Mother stood, still cradling the child to herself. “Follow me.”
Karr-yn stood in indecision, her head held high. Mother smiled again.
“Do you know why I have come to Atlantis?”
“To destroy it.”
“That is not the only reason. Follow, and I will tell you.”
Eight hours, thirty seven minutes
Karr-yn's curiosity got the better of her and she followed Mother through the Palace in silence for sometime, like a dog might follow a human teasing it with a piece of steak.
Finally, they found themselves atop the highest still standing rampart of the Palace, looking out over the city. More than half of it was gone, sunk beneath the waves or laying in rubble. Karr-yn turned her eyes from the destruction.
“Do not look away,” Mother commanded. “You have brought this upon yourself.” Karr-yn shot the Shem a withering glance. Mother smiled. “There, look.” One long, slender, claw-like finger cut out towards the edge of Atlantis, against the shore of the continent. “Do you know what those buildings are?”
Karr-yn shook her head.
“Those are your newest assault on our home. The new, massive desalination plants build by your scientists to cleanse our precious water. Do you know what happens when you separate the salt from the water?” Karr-yn shook her head again. “You pump fresh water into your cities for your people and turn the salt back into the ocean. Over the course of many years you have raised the salinity of the oceans—the entire oceans—by over three percent. Do you know what that means for my people? You have been slowly killing us off!”
The guard took an involuntary step backwards at the sudden anger in the Shem's voice.
“That should have been enough for you. That should have been all you required. We might not even have noticed until it was too late. But then you had to build great big machines, more terrible than before. You had to cut your way into the very fabric of the planet itself to heat our water and suck the salt out. The lava flows you created destroyed entire villages of my people. The new salt killed most of the life in the oceans here, spreading out in a wave of death that will take thousands of years to equalise. Are you proud of yourself, Karr-yn of Atlantis? I have seen you, day after day, parading along the walls of Atlantis in your shining armour. Are you proud to be Atlantean? Proud to have killed off my people? But it is too late to stop me now. Soon, our two people shall be one. The Shem shall be whole again.”
The earth quivered underneath them and then was silent.
“We will stop you,” Karr-yn said softly.
“Will you then? Can you stop me? Look at your precious desalination plants and tremble. The planet shivers at my whim.” Mother held her hand out towards the distant machines and the earth jumped and thundered beneath them. Atlantis groaned in protest.
“We will stop you,” Karr-yn repeated, watching and hoping, waiting for Reb-et.
“Too late,” Mother snarled, her hands contorting. The city shuddered and then, in one sudden, terrifying moment, the desalination plants exploded in a brilliant flume of yellow flame and acrid smoke.
Karr-yn stared in horror, imagining Reb-et and his hundred men, trapped in the terrible pillar of smog and fire. Something snapped in the primal centre of her brain and she roared as she yanked the pole-arm from its holster, swinging it with all of her rage and hatred. Mother half turned, a look of shocked surprise spreading across her face as the foot long blade slammed into her side above the hip. The wooden handle snapped like kindling as the blade lodged itself in the Shem's ribs.
Mother stared in horror at Karr-yn before crumpling into a lump on the floor.
“Too late,” the Shem whispered as the light faded from her eyes. “For all of us...”
Six hours, forty-three minutes
It took Karr-yn some time to pick her way from the rampart back into the city. With the prince cradled safely in her arm, her armour and weapons tossed away as useless, she stared wearily about Atlantis. No matter where she looked, there was no life, not even a simple plant or bird. Atlantis was totally abandoned.
She stumbled through her tears, casting about, looking for someone or something, anything to let her know that things would be alright. She sat down heavily on a piece of rubble, hugging Mik-el to her tightly, shivering and choking back the tears.
Beneath her, the ground rumbled and quivered. Karr-yn could feel the next earthquake, the last earthquake, build beneath doomed Atlantis. The city had slid so far south that the sun barely even touched the horizon. She could no longer tell what time of day it is.
Mik-el shivered in her arms and began to cry. Karr-yn looked down at the baby, wrapping him in whatever spare bits of cloth she had left, hoping to keep him safe from the cold. He soon settled and nuzzled back up to her, sleeping once again.
She looked up, the giant plumes of smoke rising from the desalination plants still visible even in the gloom. “I have to know,” she muttered.
Karr-yn squared her shoulders and stood, marching, with purpose, towards the billowing smog.
Two hours, nineteen minutes
The ground was shaking more, now, leaping underneath her. She knew that this was merely the beginning. Massive waves, able to penetrate the few remaining walls, swept over Atlantis, forcing her to find what shelter she could until the wave had crashed. The water level had raised by at least three feet and Karr-yn was forced to wade through the icy liquid for most of her search.
It took her hours to pick her way through the destroyed city and reach the smoking wreckage of the plants. Except for her and Mik-el, she saw no life at all in Atlantis. The city was completely deserted and soon would be destroyed. This no longer mattered to Karr-yn. She accepted it as inevitable.
As she neared the twin craters that marked the sight of the desalination plants, she was challenged by what she assumed to be a guard.
“Karr-yn!” she yelled back, coughing as she peered through the smog. In a moment a figure, decked in armour and holding a fully charged pistol stepped out of the smoke.
“My god,” he whispered. “It is you! We thought everyone else was dead. After the machines exploded...”
“Rik-ar? Is that you?” Karr-yn coughed, cutting off the guard as she peered through the smog.
“Yes!” the other guard yelled, dashing through the smoke to hug her. “Yes, it is! But, what are you doing here? You need to leave! Right now!”
“Rik-ar!” Karr-yn's strong voice cut through his ranting. “Tell me where Reb-et is.” The young man looked stricken, blinking at her face for a long while before answering.
“He... when the plants exploded, he was at the front of the charge. Most of the century was wiped out then. Many of those that survived, including Reb-et, were washed out to sea before we could rescue them. I... Karr-yn, I'm sorry. If he could make it to a passing boat, he may have survived but, other than that...”
Tears welled up in Karr-yn's eyes but she shook her head. “It is not your fault, Rik-ar. It is mine for waiting too long. You... you should leave. Atlantis is not safe. Take whatever men are left and run. Hide among the other humans in the world.” She gripped his arm in hers. “Do not forget Atlantis, Rik-ar. I do not know many of our people survived this holocaust, so act as if you are the last. Teach the other humans our lesson—these machines meant to serve us instead served our enemies and brought us ruin. Teach them all you can about how to live, how to farm and mine, but do not tell them of our science. They must learn that for themselves.” She pressed the child prince into her companion's arms. “Take Mik-el with you. See him safely to shore.”
“What about you, Karr-yn? Surely you'll accompany us. We have a boat, the others are preparing it now.”
She smiled sadly into Rik-ar's eyes. “I am afraid I cannot, my friend. I have a promise. Remember me. Remember Atlantis.”
They stood, gripping each other's forearms, for a long time, before Karr-yn turned and started walking back into the city.
Five minutes, thirty seven seconds
She walked slowly, stumbling through the gloom, shivering as the pale, slim day waned into unceasing night, falling often as the ground bucked and leapt, tossing her about like a marionette. She was crying as she left the desalination plants but numb shock had long since moved in. There was nowhere left for her to go and so she wandered the city, watching as building after building tumbled into the ocean and massive waves crashed against the last remaining wall, sweeping the rubble that was once her home out to sea.
She no longer knew where she was going, only that she needed to fulfil one last promise. She could not remember her name or the name of her once proud city, pounded to dust and shaken apart by an angry earth, just a creature that had always been there for her, no matter what.
She found herself outside the last gates, staring at the ocean, waiting.
“A boat,” she whispered, shuddering in the icy wind, her clothes shredded to tatters from being thrown about by the jumping earth. “A boat,” she whispered again, louder, desperate. She remembered her promise, she remembered why she wandered all the way out here, waiting for nyoh Ah's boat and her friend, the shrrr'k. The only thing she had any more was on that boat.
And that boat was nowhere to be found.
She stood waiting for a long time. Eventually the ocean slowed and then stilled, the ground stopped quivering. It wasn't the end, she know, but a beginning.
“There can be no beginnings without endings,” she whispered.
And then the world as she knew it shattered. The earth screamed in pain as it quaked, the last of Atlantis shaking apart and into the water, lost. Karr-yn stood, staring, waiting, hoping, until the last of Atlantis, the wall upon which she sat, trembled and then collapsed. Her last vision was of the dark sky falling in upon her.
Three days later
She woke to unceasing pain. Her entire body ached and burned in turn. She tried to open her eyes and found that one was swollen shut. Every breath was agony.
But she was alive. That was more than she had expected.
“You are awake?” a voice asked softly. Her eyes focused slowly but surely and, through the haze of pain, she could see the She, nyoh Ah, standing above her, a worried look on his eerily featureless face. “Do not try to move,” he cautioned as she tried to sit up. “Your body is badly broken. I do not yet know if it will heal.”
“Atlantis,” she gasped out, wincing as she felt her jaw grate up against herself. The Shem hung his head sadly.
“It is gone. Already, the ocean has swept in over it and is starting to freeze. She who was called Mother did her work well. Too well. Most of our people, too, were destroyed in the cataclysm, as were many beings that had nothing to do with the war of she who was called Mother. I was too late. I am sorry.”
Karr-yn grunted softly, closing her eyes. She soon faded away to another pain-filled sleep.
One week later
She spent much of her time drifting in and out of lucid states. Nyoh ah told her that her wounds were terrible. Even if she lived, she would never again have the same range of mobility that she enjoyed as an Atlantean guard.
There was another option, he told her. She listened but did not respond.
The shrrr'k returned to her during the travel on nyoh Ah's boat. It spent all of its time by her side, purring her to sleep when she was awake, carefully licking and cleaning her wounds when she was unconscious. It is probably that, without the feline, she would have long gone insane from the agony.
Finally, with land in sight, she told nyoh Ah, as best she could, than any life would be better than dying slowly, trapped in a bed. He understood.
The ritual was carried out that night. The ship, filled with what people and animals nyoh Ah could save from Atlantis, was dead silent as Karr-yn was dragged out of room on a pallet and set in the middle of the open deck. He told her to pick a form. She smiled, as best she could, and pointed weakly at the shrrr'k.
He smiled back and nodded and began to chant.
Karr-yn gritted her teeth in pain as her bones grated against themselves, sliding and shortening and lengthening. Her wounds melted away as her flesh rippled. Her jaw stretched as she screamed, her teeth elongating and sharpening, the scream turning into a long howl. Her clothes ripped as her body contorted into a new shape, tearing as a tail sprouted and grew.
It took an hour, from beginning to end, for the ceremony to complete. Nyoh Ah shook with the effort, collapsing into a lump as the chanting died away. Karr-yn, no longer Karr-yn, clawed her way out of her old clothing, stepping awkwardly onto the deck. Her wet nose snuffled the air, her whiskers twitched at a thousand new scents available to her. She flicked her tail shivered as she stood on four paws. The shrrr'k, her old friend, walked over and supported her with his body, leading her over to a barrel of water, from which she drank thirstily.
When the water cleared, two felines looked back from the pool. Karr-yn, now no longer Karr-yn, tilted her muzzle at the reflection, giving a small wurf of confusion or perhaps satisfaction.
One month later
The two shrrr'ks and nyoh Ah were all that remained aboard the ship. The other humans and animals were released on various ports and places along the new southern continent.
“It is time for you two to go, my friends,” he said, smiling at the feline creatures. “I must return to what remains of my people. We will try and rescue the place that was Atlantis, or what remains of it, for the humans to find, for the future. You and your sacrifice will not be forgotten, I promise you.” He sighed softly, resting one long, taloned hand each on the twin feline's shoulders.
“We are very alike, now. Your species, like mine, no longer exists. Unlike me, however, you will be able to take your place among a new species.” The female shrrr'k hissed softly and he patted her soothingly. “No, it will not hurt like the last time. This is merely a cosmetic change, I swear it.”
He knelt before them, running his hands over their fur and chanting softly. The felines' silver fur shivered under his hands, slowly darkening until their coats were black as night, nearly invisible rosettes shimmering briefly in the mid-day sun before fading to dark grey. Two jaguars stood, their tails swishing slowly back and forth, before the Shem. He smiled at them. “I have a new home for you,” he said softly, petting them. “With others of your kind. They are solitary creatures but I am sure you will manage.”
Several years later
The two panthers watched from their trees as the strange smelling man stepped off of the small boat onto their land. The female twitched her whiskers softly, purring deep in her throat to the other feline before hopping down from the branch and trotting cautiously up to the human.
He wore plain grey clothes that matched his steel grey hair, although he could not have been that old. A pistol hummed softly in a holster tied against his hip but he did not reach for it. Instead he smiled, kindly, kneeling down and offering his hand to the panther, who sniffed it curiously as her mate leapt down and sidled over.
“Hello,” he said softly, smiling at both of the felines. “I wondered if I would ever see you again, Karr-yn.” He petted down over her ears gently. She leans up to lick softly at the scar running from the human's temple all the way to his chin.
“Yes,” he said, softly, kindly, “I've missed you, too.”
The panther, panthera onca, is native to Brazil. They do not normally stay together but are solitary creatures that split after mating.
Speculative history regarding the fall of Atlantis is based upon the unproven evidence gathered in the book When the Sky Fell: In Search of Atlantis by Rand and Rose Flem-Ath. Further information regarding the idea of Earth Crust Displacement (the theory that the planet's crust occasionally shifts as one massive plate, effectively shifting the poles of the planet) can be found in that book, as well as Path of the Poles and Earth's Shifting Crust by Charles Hapgood
The possibility of survivors and where they might go after the destruction of Atlantis is based primarily upon Hapgood's Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings.
The author of this story takes no responsibility nor makes any claims regarding the validity of the theories or possibilities expounded within—it is merely a work of fiction. All characters and places are purely fictional and any resemblance to any real persons or places—with the exceptions of those theories propounded by the Flem-Aths and Hapgood—are purely coincidental.
This story was written with British English spellcheck and dictionary. Unusual spellings, such as colour instead of color or fulfil instead of fulfill are purposeful.
© 2005, W. T. “Shatter” Hughes, all rights reserved.
From a technical standpoint, this story is excellent -- very well-written and with few typos. You've incorporated a lot of interesting ideas into the setting, too, even if a lot of them were taken from other researchers. (That's not a criticism; if somebody's going to do a story based on a historical or speculatively-historical setting, I'm impressed when they take the time to do their research first.) The Atlantis myth has always fascinated me, and the way you integrated it with the idea of the Great Flood was very clever. (Nyoh-Ah's ark, indeed...)
For all these strengths, though, the story lacks heart: none of the characters have very well-defined personalities, and Karr-yn seems to spend most of her time wandering around getting injured, which doesn't make her a very compelling heroine. It also doesn't make for a very plausible heroine: it's not clear how Mother managed to slaughter the whole royal court singlehandedly, and yet was killed by a half-crippled woman with a spear. The whole story unfortunately seems rather flat from an emotional standpoint, and I found it hard to empathize with any of the characters. You need to get the readers inside Karr-yn's head more effectively for us to really appreciate the pain and loss that she's feeling.
The scene in the picture occupies a climactic position in the story, and both the scene and the Shem themselves are described well enough to make them easy to visualize. Ultimately, though, this story is not about the child or the Mother, but about Karr-yn and the loss of her world. This costs you a little in the Applicability category.
In sum, top marks for your technical skills, and I applaud your efforts at scholarship. Focus your efforts on improving characterization, and putting energy and life into your prose, and I think you'll be capable of some really fantastic fiction.
Final Score: 41 out of 50
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