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Sneak Peeks


Belles Beaux & Gifts is openChapter One


A Dozen Disciples


Lo, a girl-child hath been given unto us
Alone, among the fishes of the Sea.
And she shall summon a wondrous Age,
and loose the great Catastrophe…


“Lay of the Deluge”



“There we are!” I laughed aloud, tossing the rat into my cage. Gnashing his vicious teeth, he brawled against his motley fellows. “Twelve of you! A dozen Disciples of Aegeia.”


“Awesome!” said Cindy, my best and only friend. The two of us were prowling the sewers, intent on another devious prank. “This’ll be loads better than when we stole the tithe. You know that, don’t you?”


“Let the Gods feed themselves!” I loftily opined. “Why do they steal from us slaves?”


“I bet the Gods never see that food,” said Cindy. “I bet those fat Jesters gobble it up.”


“As if there were any Gods,” I said.


“But…you sure you want to get Aegeia again? I mean, we did her last time. Why not Vulcana, or Terra, or…”


“You know why,” I growled.


“I know, but…I thought…maybe just this once…you know,” she giggled. “Don’t want the other Gods to feel left out…they might get jealous, and…”


“No! It has to be Aegeia.”


Cindy sighed. “Fine, Pallas. Don’t have to bite my head off. Why do you have to make everything so…personal?”


I bit my sullen lip. “Sorry,” I whispered. “I…I don’t know why.”


Cindy donned a naughty grin. “Come on. Gotta hurry if we’re gonna catch that Festival!”


“You're terrible!” I said with glee. Though I adored my father, Cindy was the only one who could tease me from my moody grief.


We journeyed through the bowels of the tiny village, hauling our treasure through the grimy maze. The putrid air tasted of reek as we neared the center of Kelly Tree. Finally beneath the Water Temple we dropped the heavy cage, baptizing our captives in the river of filth.


“Gotta make sure they’re good and smelly,” I said.


“You should know,” Cindy wickedly replied. “You’re the queen of the rats…Goddess of the sewers!”


I guffawed, savoring her jibes. “Leads right to the Volumetric Flask!” I said, gesturing up to a drain. It was marked by a sliver of light; graced with a chorus of solemn music. “You know, where the Jesters bless the ambrosia…in the very middle of the sanctuary!”


“Excellent! But…how are we gonna get ’em up there?” The ceiling was quite high. “There’s no way we’re gonna lift this thing over our heads.”


“Way ahead of ya.” Producing a fistful of rope, I strung it from a pair of pulleys that were hanging from the rafters. “Remember the pulleys we stole last week?”




“Rigged ’em yesterday. Been planning this for weeks.”


“The effort you invest in your hobbies is admirable.”


“You know me…always have time for extra-curriculars.”


Together, we hoisted up the cage until it was firmly against the drain.


“That Jester’s gonna need some serious therapy.”


“Especially if he drops the Volumetric Flask!”


“I hate that thing. It’s so…strange.”


“Duh?!” said Cindy. “A gift from Aegeia. Whatdya expect?”


“Yeah,” I halfheartedly agreed.


Yet there was something alien about the Holy Volumetric Flask. The ambrosia it contained – ecstasy of the Gods – was definitely magical. The bliss it bestowed was an escape from reality, a holiday from the misery of our tenuous lives. Yet the goblet itself was strangely unreal. Its rounded bottom was oddly triangular, narrowing to an impossibly slender stem. The glass itself was crystal clear, yet there were lines and numbers painted on its side. It certainly embodied a strange aura, yet it didn’t seem…holy.


“Ready?” said Cindy, poised to release the rats.


“Not yet! Wait till he does the magic.”


“Oh, right,” she sniggered, listening to the canticle. The music died a grateful death, replaced by the voice of a wizened old Jester.


“We ask you Mighty Aegeia, Queen of the Unquenchable Sea, to bless this holy Water...”


“Unquenchable Sea!” I spat. “It’s so stupid!”


“Shh!” chortled my friend.


“We pour this life-giving Water, into this, your Holy and Volumetric Flask. Give us the gift of your sacred bounty, that we might sanctify your beloved Disciples…”


“I’ve got your beloved Disciples,” I said, nodding to my friend.


Cindy squealed as she opened the door. Twelve pilgrims scurried up the drain.


“Come and drink of the Water which she gives. Drink, drink, ye Disciples of Aegeia…”


“Eeeek!!!” someone cried.


“Holy Aegeia!”


“Save the Flask!”


But the Holy Volumetric Flask smashed upon the floor, sending its divine contents down the rusty pipe.


Cindy howled with raucous laughter, soaked by the sacred cascade. “Look!” she said. “It’s a shower from heaven!”


But I couldn’t enjoy her giddy triumph. Instead, I scoffed and scowled.


“Take that, Aegeia – you stupid old cow.”



DC BeltonChapter One




Born upon the Egg,
Alone, among the fishes of the Sea
And Her name was Diandre
Yet She knew it not…


“Lay of the Deluge”



Pallas was an ordinary girl – though no one knew it. She came from an ordinary fishing village, which lay upon the gentle shores of the Eastern Sea…


Yet my ordinary days were far behind me. Six months ago I rode a dolphin, outwitted a lady of the Zoo, and escaped an army of soldiers. A week ago I beat up a prince and tamed a shrew…


…and just last night I escaped the fabled fury of the Lord God Mulciber.


Why did a God want me dead? Even I didn’t know. I was just a slave, after all, unlearned in the ways of heaven.


But I knew someone who did.




My fluffy mentor had been the evil God’s pet.


Didn’t my kidnappers mention a spy? Isn’t it logical that he’s the mole?


But that didn’t make sense. Othello taught me how to read, a talent forbidden by the mighty Gods. If the cat truly wanted to kill me, he unwittingly orchestrated my miraculous escape.


Because reading’s the only thing that’s kept me alive!


So I wondered. Was Othello a friend…


…or a conniving little spy?


The trip to the quay was filled with whispers, a fleet of sailors leading my way. The ride on the gig was hushed and muted. Even the Commodore had nothing to say.


I felt imprisoned. Not by the loyal mariners, but by my own irreverent fame. I gulped with relief when we reached the Yorktown.


The coxswain blew a horn pipe. Sailors lined the prow. Curious and eager, they stood and saluted.


“Mistress of the Sea, arriving!” shouted Mr. Rees.


I feebly boarded the flagship. Mariners ogled and stared. Their mood was ominous, sacred. I wished that someone would break the stillness when the Twins embraced me with an earnest hug.


“Pallas!” popped Lucy. “You gave me such a fright!”


“Honestly,” pouted Casey. “Why couldn’t we come along?”


I bit my lip, willing myself not to cry.


Buoyed by the Twin’s excitement – emboldened by their friendly embrace – the sailors peppered me with their many questions…


“What happened, Mistress?” asked Mr. Rees.


“Were those chariots from Volcano?” asked Mr. Gridley.


“There was Fire in the forest…”


“Rain on a cloudless night…”


“Was it really the Lord God Mulciber?!”


Oliver silenced them with a wave of his hand, with surprising authority for such a young midshipman. Yet he, too, entered a plea. “Can you tell us, brave Mistress?”


The fervent sailors tightened their ring, as if desperate for their Goddess to speak. But I was too emotional for anything but tears. Grimacing my face, I fought my craven fears.


“Oh, bosh!” burst Lucy, as gay as a sprite. Hiding my face in a protective hug, she whispered, “Can’t have you blubbing.”


Casey answered in a worried hush, “Not in front of the crew.” Marring her face into a vicious scowl, she rounded on the midshipman. “Honestly, Oliver! Can’t you tell the poor thing’s tired?”


“I…I didn’t mean,” he stammered.


“She’s going to our cabin to freshen up,” said Lucy. “Straightaway, without all of your bothersome questions.”


“And do tell Cook to prepare a meal.”


“Something scrumptious and light.”


“Of course,” he muttered. “Only the Commodore,” he motioned to the soundless lord, “ordered me not to leave her alone, under any circumstances.”


“She won’t be alone,” riled Casey.


“She’ll be with us girls.”


“You know what I mean,” he said.


“Oliver!” said Lucy. “The child just battled the Volcano God. She did it on her own.”


Casey flashed an impish smile. “Do you honestly believe she needs a git like you to protect her after she just got the better of a God?”


Oliver looked to the Old Man. The Commodore nodded his wordless approval.


“Very well,” said Oliver. “If you will escort the Mistress to her cabin, I shall arrange for her supper.”


“And don’t forget ice cream,” said Lucy, “She’s especially fond of chocolate.”


“Yes, your majesty,” he said with a bow.


They dragged me to the safety of their splendid cabin.


“Please Pallas, tell us what happened!”


“And don’t skimp on the slightest detail!”


But I did not heed their giddy pleas. Instead, I glowered at the vicious cat. Perched on the windowsill like a merciless predator, he gouged his claws into the supple wood.


“Disappointed, are you?” I said aloud.


“Why should we be disappointed?” said Casey.


“Honestly,” gulped Lucy. “We’re just glad you’re alive.”


I studied the terror on their cherubic faces. I knew they had had a terrible night.


What have I done to House Catagen – to the Commodore – to the Twins?


Before I could answer, the hatch swung open, revealing the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. Sapphire eyes filled with reproach, she toured our guilty faces.


“Think you were clever; sneaking off the ship? Think it’s funny, now that she’s alive? Never mind the entire fleet has been looking for her! Never mind I’ve spent the entire night crying! Never mind that Grandfather has been absolutely mad with worry…”


“Please, Elena,” I muttered. “It was my fault…”


“Of course!” she tittered with a vindictive laugh. “Because it’s just a jolly game, isn’t it? Grandfather nearly died rescuing you. He’s lost his allies and his friends, shielding you from the Volcano God. Yet you steal away like a common urchin?”


I hung my head in shame. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”


The princess pursed her ruby lips. “Come, Pallas. I want to hear all about your…your little jaunt.”


I sighed at the Twins and reluctantly obeyed. For even though I’d ridden a dolphin – even though I’d bested a God – I didn’t have the courage to quarrel with Elena.



That night I was wakened by a searing pair of claws. It was two in the morning, yet I wasn’t surprised. I knew this would happen – knew it would happen at his very favorite hour. Wrapping a shawl around my shoulders, I obediently followed him to the secluded bow.


The cat was fierce and angry. “I thought I told you to stay on the ship!”


“I thought I could trust you!”


“What?” he said, taken aback.


“You’re a spy, aren’t you? A spy for that wicked Fire God!”


“A spy?” he huffed. “Of all the impertinent things to say.”


“Admit it. You knew I was going to shore and set the whole thing up to get me kidnapped!”


“You told me you weren’t going! You promised me, in fact.”


“You knew I was lying. You tricked me into lying…”


“Tricked you?”


“Yeah,” I snarled. “So that the Fire prince could capture me and take me to Mulciber.”


For a moment, the cat was at a rare loss for words. But he quickly recovered, with a vindictiveness which gave my heart a lurch. “Don’t flatter yourself. Believe me…if I was working for Mulciber, you’d be begging for death.”


Faltering at his vicious rebuke, I opened my mouth in an attempt to reply.


“What did Mulciber look like?” he spat. “Was he an older man or a young blond?”


“You should know,” I sulked. “You were his pet.”


“Just answer the question,” he scolded, his tinny voice dripping with venom.


I shrugged. “He looked around twenty…blond, with striking dark eyebrows.”


“What exactly did he say?”


I told him everything. Though the cat kept up a withering commentary, even he was startled at how close the God had been.


“He called me a Water Witch,” I complained. “As if!”


“Water Witch?” he purred. “Now there’s a clever idea.”


“What do you mean? I’m not a Witch!”


“You’re not exactly a drone, either,” he said, apparently enjoying my ire. “Ah…but you wouldn’t understand.”


“You are so mean.”


“The wretched creature has a point. A Water Witch indeed! Perhaps I should buy you a pointy hat and teach you to fly a broom.”


“Whatever,” I said, having no idea what he meant. “But what about that owl?”


“Owl? What owl?”


“The one that gave me this knife?” I said, revealing the dolphin-shaped blade. “I mean…it looked like an owl. Only it had three wings…and they twirled around in a neat little circle.”


He raised his brow in answer, evidently impressed. “Though it’s rather hard for me to believe, it appears you’ve somehow made a good impression on Aegeia.” He took a moment to chortle aloud, as if enjoying some ridiculous joke. “On the other hand, no one wants a new Token – especially one as entertaining as you – dying off too soon. Any decent mouser will tell you…the excitement is in the chase.”


“What are you talking about?”


“You’ll learn,” he smarmed, “or you’ll die. In the meantime, you’ll remember who gave you that knife: Aegeia, Queen of the Unquenchable Sea. And in remembering, you shall be grateful. Eternally grateful.”


He continued his interrogation far into the night, determined to hear the smallest detail. Yet he refused to offer me the same courtesy.


I asked why Mulciber wanted me dead. I asked about the knife.


But all he offered was a handful of lies, cherishing his many secrets to himself.


Inwardly, I saw the knife as a secret source of hope. For it meant that someone, Aegeia…I suppose, was watching over me. Help would come when I needed it the most, almost as if…


Was I really praying to the welter of the waves, bowing my head in a penitent request? When did I become so devout?


But I had something else to consider. I fired the summoning box, learned how to use the compass, and moved the raft by learning how to read.


The tools of the Gods were enchanted, with deep and powerful magic, yet they can be wielded by an ordinary slave…a mortal who can read.


Mulciber called me a Witch. Could he be right? If I conjured the marvels of those holy artifacts, does that really make me a sorcerer?


Othello taught me how to read. Did he also make me a magician?


Was the road I followed narrow and sacred, or were my epic deeds wicked and depraved?



We arrived at Greenstone the very next day, Yorktown’s banners in regal display. Sailors and fishermen stopped to stare as the Fighting Lady made her entrance.


The port was littered with thousands of masts, weirdly reminding me of a dead, leafless forest. The horde of boats was loud and impressive, yet I didn’t linger on ships when I had a kaleidoscope of colors to savor.


Before me lay the capital of my tiny world. Merry streets of cobblestone rose above the quay as the terrain climbed away from the bustling harbor. Myriads of chimneys dappled the rise, continuing the forest-in-winter theme.


I could hardly believe the monstrous size. Twenty times, forty times the breadth of Kelly Tree, the city sprawled as it scaled the growing mount.


My eyes reached the very top to behold the most fantastic structure man had ever created. On the highest pinnacle stood the God-like Zoo. Like an ageless crown adorning a mighty monarch, it thrust its spire high into the Sky. Towering over the tiny inhabitants, its bronze roof aging to a mottled shade of sage, it reminded me of the letter “A.”


Though no one else, except that stupid cat, would ever think to describe it that way.


“Impressive, isn’t it?” said Lucy.




“Though nothing compared to Atlantis,” Casey jibbed.


I smiled. “No, nothing like that at all.”


The Twins smirked, enjoying their little game. After my brilliant battle with the Fire God they, like everyone else, were certain I was a denizen of Atlantis. Thus, they kept tricking me into revealing the secrets of heaven.


But as I’d never been to Atlantis, it wasn’t a difficult secret to keep.


Yorktown pulled alongside the dock. To the right were the admiring stares of Argo. To the left, Yamato looked angry and resentful. Her motley sailors actually spit in the Water as Yorktown moored to the narrow pier.


Once the ship was fully stopped, Elena emerged from her lonely hermitage. Pale from a fresh bout of Seasickness, she ordered me to her cabin.


“I thought we were going ashore?” I said as I entered her stateroom. It was the largest, of course, a more opulent version of Dewey’s cabin aboard Hornet.


“Not dressed like that, you aren’t. Those dungarees are fine on a ship,” she said, though unconvincingly, “but you’re part of House Catagen now. As such, you’re expected to make an appropriate entrance.”




“Why?” she tittered. “Is that a question? You are about to be presented to the whole of Greenstone…for everyone to see! You must look the part.”


I smiled, pondering the Fates that brought me to this happy place. A few months ago I was a lowly slave from a smelly fishing village. Now I was an honored princess of the Sea. I’d be attending the best school in the world and have the chance to compete in the University Games.


Yet whom did I have to thank? Certainly not the Old Man. He wanted to sequester me to the safety of the Isle.


No. It was Lady Uncial, Chancellor of the Zoo, who came to my unasked-for aid, ordering me to attend University.


I wonder why?


But I couldn’t be bothered with trivialities when faced with a thousand delights. Elena bragged about Greenstone while Abbey prepared our hair.


Dressed and groomed to Elena’s exacting standards, we finally returned to the deck.


The wharf was crammed with eager onlookers – tens of thousands, more people than I ever thought existed – keen to watch House Catagen bravely disembark.


I studied their curious faces, noticing something odd. The slaves of Kelly Tree tended to have high foreheads, while those on the Isle of Catagen had ruddy cheeks. Here in Greenstone, they were weak shouldered with sallow skin. Yet they all shared the same blank looks, the same glassy stares.


I’d heard the Bull brag that the nobility were more intelligent than the rabble.


They’re more educated, there’s no denying that. But are they really smarter?


But I didn’t have time to ponder the question. A band started a triumphant march, raising cheers from the eager onlookers. In a choreographed procession worthy of a king, House Catagen filed ceremoniously ashore.


First came a retinue of Marines, dressed in martial blue. Then an army of servants, followed by a contingent of naval officers. Finally came the family members themselves. The Twins just reached the wharf when the music was interrupted by a low, mournful horn.


Thundering their way through the gathered crowd shoved a grim parade of sallow knights. The brown-clad horsemen, resplendent in heavy mail, surrounded a carriage encrusted with gems.


“Triton’s Waves!” scowled the Old Man. “That man likes to show off.”


“Who is he?” I asked, watching a balding lord lumber out of the carriage. He was so stout, several servants had to help him.


“Lord Gauntle,” Elena said with a frown.


“Oh.” I was about to ask if the Catagens and the Gauntles were friends, when something quite unexpected stole my breath.


Oliver appeared on the deck: not wearing a sharp naval uniform, but a chocolate cape with thick, black boots. A golden breastplate adorned his chest, stark contrast to his charcoal pants and shirt.


Whisking towards me in a militant march, he froze to a stiff attention. Loudly, with unexpected violence, he stomped his heel on the wooden deck.


Then he knelt and kissed my hand, cradling it with simple, gentle reverence. “Please, Mistress. Forgive me.”


Elena raised her chin in her arrogant pose. “Forgive you? Of course she forgives you.”


The mariner ignored her, gazing in my eyes. His face was a grimaced frown – as if he were apologizing to the Mistress – as if he’d betrayed me somehow.


Clamping his teeth into a stubborn smile, he stood and strode across the gangplank. Stomping his foot like he had before, he faced the lumbering lord. Their greeting was forced and oddly formal.


“But…I thought.”


But I hadn’t thought at all. It never occurred to me that he was anything but a midshipman being groomed to become an officer.


“Oliver’s related to Lord Gauntle?”


“Didn’t you know?” Elena quipped. “Lord Gauntle is his father; Captain William is his grandfather. His mother is Clyme, my older cousin. Ah, there she is now,” she waved.


Father? Grandfather? Cousin?!?


All at once, I felt desperate and afraid.


I don’t know anything about the great Houses, anything at all! Sure, I fooled the Catagens. But Othello’s right, they want to believe my fictitious account. What will the other Houses think, the ones who don’t like the Water?


I didn’t hear the roar of the crowd as the Commodore took my arm. Nor did I witness the banners that welcomed their mythic princess. Instead, I felt the crushing weight of the delicate tiara.


What am I doing? Why am I here? I’m just a slave! A stupid girl who got lost in a raft.


It was a wonder I didn’t fall off the narrow gangplank as I entered this dangerous arena. Before I realized I was on the wharf, the Commodore was introducing me to the fat lord.


“What?” I flushed. “Pleased…uh, pleased to meet you.” And though Elena spent hours teaching my how to curtsy, I completely forgot.


“I…should think so!” boomed Lord Gauntle. “Not everyday…you meet…the Lord Master…of the Pass!”


“Now, now, Gauntle,” said the Old Man. “There’ll be plenty of time for titles.”


“It’s about time…she learned…don’t you think?”


“That’s why she’s here,” said the Commodore, with a growl that made the onlookers wince.


Gauntle huffed. The Commodore scowled. There was a very awkward moment, the two lords glaring at each other, when Oliver broke the brutal silence.


“Mother, this is the hallowed Mistress, Pallas.”


“I know who she is,” came her hollow reply. The only child of Captain William, unfortunately favored of her father. Tall and overbearing, Clyme had dark hair and large, mannish hands. I could see very little of Elena or the Twins in this older cousin.


The greetings came to another embarrassing halt, the in-laws glowering at each other.


They’re family, I thought. Yet they hate each other.


The uneasiness seemed eternal when a pretty, lithe girl appeared. Her glowing face, a rapturous smile, she embraced me in a heartfelt hug.


“Mistress,” said Oliver, with a tenderness quite unexpected from the salty mariner. “Please…allow me the honor of introducing my fair sister, Genevieve.”


“I’ve been waiting all summer to meet you,” said Genevieve, affectionately holding both my hands. “Oliver’s told me all about your adventures. I’m so jealous of you, dear brother, as you’ve spent so much time with her already.”


I couldn’t help but gawk. She’s their daughter? It was hard to believe this graceful girl was the progeny of these considerable hulks. Genevieve looked nothing like any of them, their overlarge features replaced with thin, delicate lines. Oliver never smiled, and his parents looked like they didn’t know how, yet Genevieve seemed illuminated with happiness.


I instantly liked her.


“But Oliver didn’t tell me how beautiful you are. Really, brother, you couldn’t help but notice.”


“Oh, he noticed all right,” shot Elena.


I gaped with mounting surprise. Where did that come from!?


“Elena.” Genevieve floated to the tall beauty, kissing both her cheeks.


The contrast was bold and palpable. Elena’s more beautiful, I thought. Yet the smile that decorated Genevieve’s face was more attractive in my mind.


“You should have visited us on the Isle, poor dear,” said Elena. “Then you too could have met our rising star.”


“You’re too kind,” said Genevieve, with a charm so innocent it seemed impossible to contrive. “What a lovely invitation. I promise to travel to the Isle next summer.”


“Perfect,” said Elena, raising her chin in her signature pose.


Another awkward moment arose, the two great Houses flaunting their enormous egos.


Once again, it was Oliver who broke the stagnant silence. “Come here,” he said as he pressed Genevieve’s feathery frame into a bear-like embrace, “and give me a hug.”


“I have missed you, brother,” she blithely cried.


Clyme scolded the loving pair. “Genevieve, please. Oliver, you’re making a scene.”


But the two ignored her, as if they hadn’t heard.





The ride into the city was practically a parade. Elena had never seen so many spectators. Thousands of slaves crowded the streets, hoping to glimpse the dolphin rider.


Only a few months ago, Elena thought to herself, they would have been shouting for me, the crown-jewel of House Catagen. Instead, shouts of “Mistress of the Sea!” and “Daughter of Triton!” filled her jealous ears.


Back straight, head high, chin up – she assumed a regal pose.


Right next to the careless, slouching God.


She’s so silly, so inane, so completely unaware. She glanced at the divinity’s blushing face, desperate to know her parentage. Was she a bastard child of an Aquarian God – perhaps even Triton himself?


I hinted at the prospect a hundred times. She didn’t even know what I was talking about!


She graced the Goddess with a welcoming smile, careful to hide her heretical musings. She knows nothing about civilized behavior, nothing about politics. She doesn’t even know how to wear makeup!


Were the Gods born, fully grown? Did she really hatch from that Egg?


She hated her envy, but she simply couldn’t help it. Elena had been the queen of her universe, the undisputed lioness of House Catagen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Now I’m playing second fiddle to a girl who doesn’t know the difference between eye-liner and blush?


Still…the Goddess saved her from Borelo, tamed a dolphin, and escaped the wrath of Mulciber.


If she’s not an Atlantian, I can’t imagine what she is.


Yet deep down, she fought a growing anger. For Pallas’ light was growing ever brighter, while mine is slowly fading.


They finally reached the citadel near the very top of the city. Passing beneath the heavy gates, the carriage pulled into the walled enclosure.


“This is the Water Quarter,” she patiently explained. “These six manors are where the six Aquarian Houses reside.”


“What about the Air and Earth?” came her ignorant reply.


It’s like talking to a child! Didn’t they teach her anything in heaven? “They have Quarters of their own, dear Pallas. Air to the left, Earth to the right. Fire is opposite Water on the other side of University.”


The Atlantian gazed at the largest of the manors. She rudely pointed at its flag: a Sea of white emblazoned with a blue cup. It was a flag of storied might, with a long history of influence and power.


“That flag has the shape of a ewe on it,” said the God.


“A female sheep? Of course, it doesn’t.”


“Who lives in that manor, the one with that flag?”


“The Lady Uncial, of course.”



DC BeltonChapter One




She journeyed home to her hallowed grandmother
Alone, among the fishes of the Sea
To live in the bounty of her heavenly kin
And forsake those mortals, whom she once called friends…


“Lay of the Deluge”


Proteus V


I found myself falling into another world, a wonderful cosmos of fishes and whales. Marvelous creatures, huge, tiny, long and short, followed me down to the Ocean floor.


Triton placed a hand on my shoulder. I gazed at his beautiful face. Though I wanted to ask him a hundred questions, the vision of heaven stole my voice.


A monstrous globe dominated the city. Corridors of titanium, plastic and steel fanned out like spokes of a colossal wheel, connecting the globe to a kaleidoscope of buildings. Speckled with thousands of multi-colored lights, the alien construct filled me with triumph. “Behold the Glory of Atlantis!” I whispered, reveling in the rapture of my sudden Godhood.


And in that moment, I truly felt divine.


But as we drew closer to heaven, I was reminded of the frolicsome Twins. They’d tried for months to trick me into telling them about Atlantis.


Oh my Gods! The Catagens! Is the Old Man searching for me this very moment? Does he know that I’m safe at the bottom of the Sea?


But that loving thought was murdered by another. How could he be worrying about me, Pallas, when Elena’s been kidnapped by Lord Excelsior?


But no, that wasn’t right. “Pallas” no longer existed. I’m Diandre, granddaughter of Aegeia, Queen of the Unquenchable Sea!


“Why do you call me Diandre?” I asked, still uncertain of anything.


“It’s a cherished name,” Triton said with a grin. “One that Aegeia chose for you. A magnificent boon from the mighty Queen.”


“But why?” I asked, employing the favorite question of every toddling child. “What does it mean?”


“It comes from an ancient language, from a far, distant planet. It means…child of God.”


A warmth of importance swelled within my chest. I’m not a slave. I’m not a mortal. I’m a God! Denizen of heaven, munificent and wise!


Yet, a nagging doubt crept into my mind. My father lodged a silent protest. I don’t feel any different. I don’t look any different. Am I truly a God, just because someone said I was?


The chariot swept beneath the giant globe. Myriads of triangles, too numerous to count, divided its circumference of glass and steel. The colossus swallowed the entire horizon as the crystalline sphere loomed large above us.


Gardens of coral decorated an opening. The chariot pierced into a long, dark hole. Handsome mermen solemnly followed.


Smiling with girlish delight, I remembered how Lucy fancied the mermen. All of them were blond with striking blue-eyes, chiseled chins, and hearty faces.


I peeked inside the chariot. A pedestal was plastered with buttons and lights. Triton touched a many-colored pane. The picture on the glass instantly vanished, replaced with another wondrous delight. Dozens of squares, bright and shiny, were filled with letters formed into words.


I tried to read the words. But before I could make them out, Triton touched the glass again, conjuring yet another apparition. “Autopilot,” he said with a wink.


I hadn’t the faintest idea what he meant. I knew what a pilot was, of course: the crewman who navigated a ship. “The pilot’s name is Otto?” I said. “Where…where is he?”


Triton boomed a huge belly laugh. “You certainly are a jokester! Just like your mother!”


“I guess,” was my humble reply. “Can I…can I learn to drive this some day?”


“Sure,” he smiled. “Teach you myself.”


“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.” I even thought to curtsy. It’s certainly what Elena would have done.


“Diandre,” he said, his arms surrounding me in a paternal embrace. “Please…call me Uncle. I am, after all, your mother’s only brother.”


“Yes, Sir,” I repeated. “But…where is my mother? Can’t we find her? Won’t you please tell me how she is?”


His merry countenance softened to a frown. “We will speak of that another time. For this is not a day of mourning, but of joy and bliss and mirth! You were lost to us, Diandre. Yet now you are found!”


The chariot halted its magic progress, rising into a clammy chamber. I couldn’t believe it, but within this realm of deepest Water was a tiny roomful of Air. Remembering my disembarkment off Yorktown, I expected a lavish ceremony…or perhaps my first glimpse at my fabulous grandmother. Instead, the mermen sank into the Water as a squad of women wordlessly appeared. That is…I think they’re women. Completely garmented in layers of white, it was hard to tell with their thin, paper masks. Even their hands were covered by a milky membrane.


“Sorry, Diandre,” said Triton, helping me onto a metallic pier. “Decontaminate protocols must be followed, especially for…” He swallowed a frown, as if not wanting to offend me. “I’ll join you when you’re finished, and then you’ll meet the mighty Queen!”


The white-clad women, cold and distant, led me to a colorless room. Though their garments were white instead of green, I guessed they were followers of Deme, for they talked with the same mistiness as the Sagittarians at University. Their white-on-white was oddly disturbing. Their harsh, bright lights hurt my eyes. Uncomfortable with their sterile silence, I tried to make conversation. But the Healers remained completely aloof, speaking to each other in analytical phrases.


Far from a glorious home-coming; they tore apart my ragged clothes. Then they painted a stinging goo over every inch of my naked body. Telling me to enter a coffin-shaped box, they told me to close my eyes and wait. There I lay, nude and alone, as a blinding light searched my skin.


“Look at the bacteria count,” said one of the women.


“Contagion-levels off the charts.”


“Think of the diseases she’s been introduced to.”


“Decontamination protocol procedures, Level Three,” said the eldest. “We can’t be too careful.”


Hours passed, the Healers continuing their cynical conclusions.




“Ultraviolet radiation scans complete. Virus levels still outside acceptable parameters.”


“It’s hard to believe they can live in such filth.”


“Continue with decontamination protocol Level Four.”


“Are you sure? The chemicals are extremely harsh.”


“Of course, I’m sure. That drone could be the death of us all. Do you realize what would happen if we were introduced to those contagions?”


I was led to a tiny chamber called a shower. Pleasantly warm Water sprinkled from above, soothing life into my miserable frame. But before I could relish this comforting device, another Deme pulled me away.


Thick, gelatinous gloves scrubbed me with an evil, acidic-smelling solution. Metal brushes scoured my skin as the Healers scraped off a lifetime of sin. Smarting all over, I painfully reentered the shower. The Water, so enjoyable before, seemed to rip me apart.


Next, they moved me to another chamber. My dripping wet frame was dried by a device that blew pleasantly warm Air. Then a cantilevered arm rolled over my limbs, up my torso, and over my head. Satisfied I was no longer an epidemic blight, a covey of Healers gathered in the room. Measuring and scanning every inch of my body, they sounded off a dizzying array of numbers. They took skin samples, stuck a needle in my arm, and listened to my heart. A humming comb stroked through my hair to see if I had lice.


Finally, when I didn’t think I could stand it any longer, I was escorted to yet another room. This was more to my liking as the walls were soft and the lights were faint, and there was a complete lack of Healers. Instead, a trio of servants did my nails, my face, and my hair.


The matrons’ wordless service reminded me of my time in Lady Oxymid’s castle. Except the servants of heaven didn’t speak at all, performing their duties in complete silence. And they must be sisters or triplets, I thought, because they all look exactly the same. Completely alone in this strange new universe, I didn’t feel like a beloved child who was about to see her long-lost grandmother. Rather, I felt like an unwelcome guest.


Wondering if the harassment would ever end, I was fitted in a cream-colored, iridescent robe. I gasped with happy surprise. This, at least, had a familiar feel to it, for it was the same material as the multi-colored dress Father gave me for my sixteenth birthday. Mother must have brought it from Atlantis! Father saved it all those years!


But that happy memory spawned a troubling question. Why hasn’t Aegeia rescued mother?


Yet, thinking of my grandmother made me tremble. Aegeia was more than just a God. She was one of the Pentathanon Five, Queen of the Unquenchable Sea, Goddess of omnipotent power and might. What will she think of little ol’ me?


Wearing a similar cream-colored robe, Triton re-joined me in the soft blue room. “Sorry you had to go through that,” he said. “The Demes can be rather thorough.”


“They’re Sagittarians?” I asked, pleased at my guess. “What are Healers doing in Atlantis?”


“We have to have doctors,” he said, puzzled by my question. “Beta drones are capable of performing routine medical procedures, but in case of chronic problems, we need the expertise of the most advanced medicine.”


“Oh,” I said, having no idea what he meant.


Triton smiled and bid me to follow. I trailed along like a lost puppy. His demeanor was friendly yet delicately aloof…as if there were hordes of secrets he couldn’t tell me. Though I asked him a hundred questions, the most he would say was, “You must ask the Queen. She will explain.”


The newness of Atlantis delighted me, walking through the halls with eager eyes. But I soon felt cramped and oddly cornered, suffocated by the sterile, Sky-less abode. University, of course, was full of corridors, but those were spangled by windows and doors. The path I trod now was pressure-sealed and bleak, with only a few, friendless placards to break the bland monotony.


The hallway ended in a pair of doors. They slid aside to reveal a tiny chamber. We entered. “Level Thirteen,” said Triton as the doors closed behind us.


“What?” I asked.


He cocked his head in a curious stare. “Aegeia is waiting on the thirteenth floor.”


The pit of my stomach lurched in reply. Gripping the handrail, I looked above the door at the number “2” that magically appeared. My body told me I was flying upwards, yet my startled eyes disagreed. I looked down at my feet. They were firmly on the floor.


Triton chuckled. “I keep forgetting. You’ve never done this before.” “Done what?” I gasped, searching for the cause of the upward acceleration. The only things that were moving were the ever-increasing numbers.


“Forgive me for staring,” he said. “It’s just…you look so much like your mother.”


The acceleration stopped. The console read “13.”


“Here we are,” he said with a smile.


The door slid open of its own accord, surprising me with the most impressive sight I’d ever seen. Nestled within the giant globe was a path of white marble leading to a huge, forty-stepped dais. On either side were rivers of Water, handsome mermen posted every several feet. Behind the dais was a scalloped-shaped fountain, roaring with gallant, titanic noise. The fount was the origin of the two happy rivers, its Waters flowing to the waiting door. Centered on the dais, bathed in lustrous mother of pearl, was a gorgeous conch-shell throne.


Sitting on the throne was the Lord God Aegeia.


I trembled tremulously forward, Triton walking by my anxious side. Mermen soldiers, rugged and wild, graced me with reverent salutes. Triumphant arias soared in answer, playing from instruments and musicians unseen. “What is that music?” I whispered.


Jupiter, by Gustav Holst,” he said. “Performed by the London Philharmonic. Aegeia loves the classics.”


“London filla-who?”


“London. A city on our home world.”


“They’re playing from a world far away?”


“It’s a recording,” he said, amused. “Those musicians are centuries in the grave.”


I gaped my mouth ridiculously open, wondering how ghosts could play such strains. The trumpets stirred my soul in triumph as they heralded their powerful, magnificent refrains.


I reached the bottom of the solemn dais. The line of mermen abruptly stopped. A new set of soldiers, two lines of brawny men, guarded every step. Each soldier looked exactly the same, sporting crisp blond hair and opaque blue eyes. I gazed at the matching array. It’s not as if they look alike. They’re identical! I looked up the stairs and quavered. The ascent to the dais was set so high I strained my neck to see the Goddess. Yet Aegeia looked down with perfect ease. The effect was daunting, endowing the dias with an aura of might. Tremulous, I struggled up the many steps.


The summit was a beautiful, scalloped-shaped mesa. The deafening fountain was magically muted. Beautiful women subtlety surrounded me, eyeing me with cold, salacious stares. None of them deigned to welcome me, firmly rooted to their marble places.


Wild emotions played upon my heart: joy, nervousness, and a bucket-load of fear. The Goddesses were so beautiful, so perfect, so divine. And they’d be smart, smarter than Elena, smarter than Archimedes, smarter than…


No! I snarled. Not smarter than my mother!


My gray eyes met holy Aegeia’s, Queen of glorious power and might. Her hair was blond and richly flowing, her lips a luscious ruby red. Her perfect face was thin and unblemished, her emerald eyes alert and knowing. She did not rise from her conch-shelled throne. Nor did she speak.


I hesitated. This is Aegeia, Queen of the Unquenchable Sea! How can I, an insignificant slave, approach the most powerful God on high?


But a wave of loneliness tested my heart, reminding me how much I missed my father. And just like that…I understood. This aged Goddess, this omnipotent being…she was family. Without really deciding to, without thinking at all, I launched myself into my grandmother’s arms.


I heard the divinity gasp aloud, eagerly appalled at my irreverent display. But Aegeia’s voice was soft and sweet. “Welcome home, my beautiful child.”