Another tremor shook the white marble tiles beneath their feet, and a crack that resembled a long serpent crept up between Lilith and her remaining family members, cutting them off from each other. Crystal dishes on granite shelves next to the large, stone fireplace in the main room crashed to the floor.
Lilith jumped and hugged herself, feeling her soft linen top cling to her sweaty body like an oyster stuck in its shell. Segund leaped over the crack and snatched his daughter up in his strong arms. He hugged her fiercely. “No harm will come to you, Lilith. I’ll see to that. I promise on your mother’s honor.”
Lilith pushed her face under her father’s warm neck, smelling the stale sweat of these last few days and feeling his rapid pulse against her cheek. His soft beard gave her small comfort. Her hands crept around his neck, and she reached for the clump of crystals that held his long hair in place. This calmed her instantly, took away the unknowingness.
She pushed back and stared into his eyes. “That’s a silly thing to promise, Father. If Mother was here, she would say that all we have is now.”
“When did you start getting so wise, Lilith?” Kukulkan asked, jumping the narrow fissure
Segund smiled. “I believe she takes after Meg in that department, Kukulkan.”
He laughed. “And her Aunt Ambeno!”
Screams pierced the air like tiny daggers, making Lilith shudder. The doomsday prophecy was really happening. Maybe not tonight, but soon Atlantis would crumble and sink into the ocean. This horrific event had been predicted over one hundred years ago by the House of Seers, after the first major earthquake destroyed the southwestern portion of Atlantis.
A year in advance of the time of destruction, Lilith’s father planned the mass exodus with the king’s permission. Many Atlanteans had left immediately, some going west to where Uncle Kukulkan was heading, others toward the north where it was colder, and the rest sailing east to the dry climate of the Black Land. Then there were those who had decided to stay, debunking the seers, calling their bluff, saying Atlantis would never die.
“You can put me down now, Father. We need to start packing before this place falls apart.”
Kukulkan’s brows rose. “How is it that you’re not afraid of the earth trembling and crumbling around us, but you freeze at the mere mention of a sna—”
“You know it’s your fault, Uncle!” Lilith snapped and wagged a finger.
Segund sighed, then gently put her down. “I’m afraid Lilith’s got you there, Kukulkan.”
“How was I to know Lilith would react the way she did when I showed her what I bought for her from a merchant trader? I thought it would make a great pet!”
Kukulkan shrugged. “Poseidon knows, she needs to get her nose out of those scrolls she studies and get outside more often. I thought the snake would help her connect better with nature.”
“Well, it didn’t!” Lilith felt her chest harden, her fingers curled into a fist. “You woke me from my nap and put that snake in my bed! You scared me! I felt so trapped, so helpless! It could have eaten me!”
Kukulkan grunted. “I would not give you anything that could harm you, Lilith, understand that.”
Lilith realized she had been holding her body tight. She took a breath and let it out like her mother had taught her to do when she was upset. “I believe you, Uncle, I do, it’s just that…that when I opened my eyes and saw the snake staring at me, its dark eyes never blinking, and its long forked tongue flicking out to taste my cheek…” She retched, tasting a sour gob in her mouth.
“I see. Then, I trust you have no use for this?” He reached into his jewel-encrusted satchel attached to his embroidered sash roped around his soft purple robe. “It belonged to your aunt. She wanted you to have this when you became of age, but fate has not been on our side.”
Kukulkan passed the shiny object to Lilith. She stared at it. At first, she made a face. It was a coiled snake bracelet. Immediately, she knew it was made of orichalcum. The
brilliant hue of pink made it appear shinier than gold. Individual scales were etched to perfection going in an upward pattern until reaching the snake’s head. Tiny diamonds were embedded into the mouth for teeth, and two sapphires—the size of her fingernails—were used for the eyes. It was a masterpiece created by a master artisan.
Although the bracelet looked heavy, Lilith knew better. The pair of orichalcum dolphin statues on her father’s desk was double its size, and each weighed no more than a pomegranate.
Lilith reached out to touch it just as another tremor exploded, rippling through her body. Kukulkan grabbed her before she fell. “We need to leave. Now!”
Segund stumbled and reached for the closest pillar. “But…I need to get the five other arches on their appropriate ships with the keepers I have chosen and trained. They must leave when I leave. The arches are our only direct contact with the Children of the Law of One and will make sure our race is preserved, and that this old, red land doesn’t disappear forever.”
Lilith’s insides jiggled like a beached jellyfish during a storm. She clasped her hands. Her father had been named the Keeper of the Arches years before she was born. His purpose was to receive the messages sent through the arches from the Children of the Law of One, and then share them with the appropriate Atlanteans in authority. Lilith knew these ethereal messengers were wise and kind, and they taught that everyone and everything living on the Earth was interrelated and interdependent. To disrespect another person was to disrespect yourself. It was a simple way, and many Atlanteans followed this doctrine.
But there were those who opposed the Law of One, those who were immoral and corrupt. Lilith’s stomach clenched at the thought.
“It will do no good if the Keeper of the Arches succumbs with Atlantis” Kukulkan replied, shaking his head. “At least the seventh arch is safe. And you know as well as I do that the fifth arch has been gone from here for over one hundred years.”
Lilith’s father snorted, making his nostrils flare in an undignified manner. “The fifth arch might as well be destroyed, seeing as it is in Belial’s possession. That evil magus has been draining the arch’s spiral energy long enough by using it to control the people in the country he landed in. And if they don’t submit to him, he sacrifices or enslaves them. I thank Poseidon that you’ve been chosen by the Children of the Law of One to go deal with Belial personally.”
Kukulkan’s jaw tensed. “And I shall not disappoint, my brother. The survival of our culture, our race, and this old red land’s memory depends on it.”
An eruption from Mount Atlas shook all of them. More screams resounded outside their stately home, with its flowering vines winding around the balcony, that overlooked the ocean. Lilith wrung her hands. She had gotten used to the instability of her country, the frequent quakes and mini-eruptions. She knew they must go. They had no choice if they wanted to live. In truth, their house hadn’t been a home since her mother had been taken from them.
Lilith felt a slight tug on her arm and unclasped her hands. She hadn’t realized she’d been staring into space until she looked down at her left arm. Uncle Kukulkan had wound her aunt’s snake bracelet around her forearm. It was loose and awkward. The bracelet wouldn’t stay up and slid down to imprison her hand.
Lilith wrinkled her nose. “It doesn’t fit.”
He laughed. “Don’t worry you’ll grow into it, Lilith.”
“It’s still a snake,” she said, grimacing. “I don’t think I’ll ever learn to like it.”
He lightly touched her cheek. “I hope you do, Lilith. It served your aunt well.”
“What do you mean?” She toyed with the bejeweled snake head.
“As you know, Ambeno was a seer,” Kukulkan said with a slight smile. “She once told me this bracelet connected her to her purpose, and I hope it does the same for you, Lilith. I must go now. Take care of your father for me. It’s not always easy being the oldest in the family.”
He kissed Lilith on the forehead. Holding back tears, Lilith wrapped her arms around her uncle’s waist. The soft purple fabric of his robe soaked up her tears like a hungry sea sponge. He hugged her back, then reached over and grabbed Segund’s hand. He squeezed it so tightly Lilith felt her father jump. A less threatening tremor broke them apart, signaling it was time to leave.
“Is there a message that you want me to convey to Belial, Segund?”
Her father’s lips curled upward, much like the snake’s mouth engraved on her bracelet. She shivered at the comparison. “Yes. Tell him that time is not on his side.”
Sharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/young adult time travel adventure series, THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS, and the teen psychic mystery series, MYSTERIOUS TALES FROM FAIRY FALLS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, exercising, anything arcane, and an occasional dram of scotch. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a southern tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.