Cari sipped her drink, savoring the sweet nectar of the gods. The secret ingredients of the nectar had been stolen long ago from the Greek pantheon, and in her opinion was the best acquisition the Atlantean gods had ever made.
Her quiet contemplation was rudely interrupted by the arrival of the most powerful goddess currently awake. Medina, Goddess of Love, appeared in the garden amid flashes of lightning and a flurry of pale pink silk robes.
“Ah, there you are.” Medina didn’t bother waiting for an invitation. She sat on one of the cushioned chairs and helped herself to a drink. “This modern world is so vast, don’t you think?”
“The world itself is the same size it’s always been. There are merely more humans inhabiting the planet than there used to be.” Cari wondered what Medina wanted. She doubted it was a pleasant chat about the changing times. She didn’t bother to ask, Medina would reveal the reason for her visit in her own good time.
“Have you been to Greece recently?” Medina inquired.
“Yes. I enjoy eating Greek cuisine in its home country.”
Medina waved her hand in dismissal. “You can keep the food. Have you seen what’s become of the temples?”
“Times have changed. The old gods are no longer worshipped as they used to be. It’s not just Greece. The Roman ones, the Norse, so many of them are mostly forgotten in these modern times. Only scholars of history even know their names, and they don’t truly believe.”
“The people have forgotten us. Even in Atlantis they don’t recall us. Most of the mer call the place the sunken city.”
Cari shrugged. She had long since resigned herself to never enjoying the power which came from having thousands of followers. Unfortunately for Medina, the goddess of love had been sleeping for centuries and had only recently awoken. Cari supposed it had been a shock for her to find what had become of the world they had once known.
“If they were to remember,” Medina continued, “our powers would eclipse those we once had. Imagine the benefits of being worshipped by even a fraction of the current population of this new world.”
Although Medina’s tone was mostly wistful, Cari detected a sense of purpose there too. The goddess of love was never going to be happy with merely a handful of followers.
“How it is you didn’t sleep like the rest of us?” Medina asked. “What kept you in this realm?”
“My followers were not composed of Atlanteans alone,” Cari replied. “Many of the mer already believed in me on that fateful day. Even though they didn’t worship me in my temple, they had seen the power of my Oracles with their own eyes.”
“The mer believed in me too,” Medina pointed out impatiently. “I still slept.”
Cari knew what Medina asked. She had a few ideas about why some had slept and others had remained in the world, though they were only theories. “You’ll recall you performed some powerful magic in the weeks before you slept?”
Medina tapped her lip. “Are you talking about the little spell I put on Caspian?”
Cari snorted. “Little spell? Yes, I am referring to that. It would have taken a lot out of you to put a love spell on a god as powerful as Caspian.”
“It shouldn’t have taken that much power to put him under the influence for less than a day.”
“Had you done other magic on other gods in the days leading up to our fall?”
“Yes, of course, the gods often came to me for assistance with matters of the heart.” Medina huffed. “So, are you saying my good deeds are the reason I was too weak to stay awake?”
Cari ignored the remark about good deeds. She was certain Caspian didn’t see her meddling that way. “It’s as good a theory as any.”
Medina took a sip of nectar. “So, now you choose your trio of Oracles from amongst the mer.”
Cari frowned at the direction the conversation was taking. “We all needed followers to stay in this realm.”
“And lucky you, the mer were ready to fall at your feet. Rather a shame you couldn’t have warned the rest of us so we could take similar precautions.”
“I didn’t know what would happen.”
Medina laughed in obvious disbelief. “The Goddess of Prophecy didn’t see the biggest disaster to befall our kind before it happened? Forgive me if I don’t believe you.”
Cari glared at her uninvited guest. “You know as well as I do, our powers are useless within the temple of another god. I could not see what would happen. If I’d had any idea, don’t you think I’d have done everything in my power to stop it?”
Medina nodded and lowered her eyes. “Whatever our differences, I know how much you care for your brother.”
Cari took another drink and wished it were something stronger. “What transpired weakened me too. It nearly drained me to appoint new Oracles.”
Cari waited, her patience wearing thinner by the minute, wondering what Medina wanted from her. She tapped her manicured finger on her glass, subtly hinting for the goddess to get to the point.
“Your current Oracles are all untouched,” Medina commented.
“Yes, I know.”
“You used to take most of your Oracles to your bed,” Medina continued. “The men at least. Are you losing your touch, or don’t you like the idea of letting a half-human fuck you?”
“I’m not prejudiced against the mer. I’ve invited some to my bed over the years, just not my Oracles.”
“Is there any particular reason why not? What’s changed since I was last here?”
“The Oracles are forbidden to have sexual relations with anyone. Not that any of the present ones would accept an invitation from me anyway, both Kai and Delwyn are what humans these days call gay.”
“What?” Medina’s jaw dropped and she placed her glass on the table with a shaky hand.
“You heard me,” Cari replied. “They’re homosexual. It’s really not so unusual.”
“That’s not the part I’m shocked at. You’ve forbidden the Oracles to enjoy sexual pleasures?”
“It would appear the power of sight carries down through the generations now.”
“It never used to, did it?”
“Then how did that happen?”
Another question Cari didn’t have an answer for, though again she’d had plenty of time to formulate her own theory on the matter. “I suspect it was a side effect of my mother’s interference with the mer physiology.”
Medina snorted in a thoroughly unladylike manner. “Your mother seems to be at the bottom of all our troubles, doesn’t she?”
Cari smiled softly. “Oh, I think there’s plenty of blame to be left at other doors as well.”
Medina grimaced. “So, because the powers you gifted on the Oracles are hereditary, you’ve forbidden them to have sex.”
“It’s for the best.”
“To live without love is never for the best.”
“The descendants were discovered to inherit more than one gift if there were two or three different Oracles in their line.”
“Ah, now I see what the problem is. If a humble little mermaid or merman could see more than you intended they might rival your own powers. Only you are permitted to see everything. Rather selfish of you, don’t you think?”
Cari bristled at the accusation. “Many years ago there was a mermaid who did see all. She saw the past, the present and the future and was driven crazy by the visions. She didn’t even live to see her first mating season. We imposed the rule to prevent the same thing happening again.”
“I’m surprised it wasn’t already too late. How many mer had powers by the time this was discovered?”
“A great many, I’m afraid. Relations were banned for all of them so each line ended with them.”
“Could you not have simply removed their powers?”
“I tried, but it didn’t work. My Oracles are appointed automatically. When one Oracle dies, another comes into their powers without my doing a thing. When I undid the original spell, my appointed Oracles lost their powers, but those who had been born with the powers retained theirs. The law was the only option. I cast my original spell for the final time.”
“The final time?”
Cari sighed. “I cannot undo the magic and start over. As you have already seen, we don’t have the followers we used to, or the powers our believers instill in us. I think I would have the strength to remove the powers of the present Oracles, but I wouldn’t be able to cast the spell again.”
Medina nodded. “Yet I still don’t like the idea of your Oracles being unable to love, especially considering they are mer, and as you know, go into heat twice a year. Surely it’s painful for them.”
“They have learnt to cope with the solstices.”
“And how do they cope with a life without love?”
“They know it’s for the best.”
Medina waved her hand and a vision appeared in front of her. Cari recognized the two mermen at once, Kai and Delwyn, her Oracles of the present and past. They were under the water, where they stayed, and Delwyn had curled up in Kai’s arms. They were stroking and kissing. It was nothing Cari hadn’t seen before.
“They are not soulmates,” Medina commented. “Although they are close, their souls don’t cry out for each other.”
“That would be a good thing,” Cari replied. “Were their souls bound, it would make their solstices even more unbearable.”
“Then you admit they struggle on the solstice nights?”
“Yes, of course they do, as does any merman or mermaid who doesn’t find relief in the mating season.”
“You don’t think it’s wrong to stop your Oracles finding love?”
Cari stood and stalked toward the vision, shattering the image as she approached. “It’s not ideal, but right now there’s nothing to be done about it.”
“Kai’s soulmate will soon be on his way to Atlantis, and Delwyn’s is already there.”
Cari used her powers to see into the future. “Oh, damn.”
“You see him?” Medina asked.
“They must not meet. It would make Kai’s mating seasons unbearable.”
Medina laughed. “No one can avoid their fate. Surely you, of all people, know that?”
“Destiny is not a set course. You must help me to stop them meeting.”
“Must?” Medina rose and glided over to Cari. “I am the Goddess of Love and the only thing I must do is right this wrong you have inflicted on your Oracles.”
“You can’t interfere!”
“Of course I can, and I will.”
With a gloating smile Medina vanished.
This was not good at all. Cari didn’t need Medina meddling in the lives of her Oracles. They were protected in Atlantis and it was where their powers were most potent. They could not be allowed to leave.
* * * *
The heat of the sun warmed Dax’s bare back. He hadn’t moved from his spot on the sand in nearly an hour. Most of the clan had congregated a little way down the beach, but he was reluctant to join them. He knew he was simply putting off the inevitable, yet he couldn’t seem to help himself.
Nearly three years had passed since he had parted ways with the clan he had grown up with. In that time he had traveled with any clan who would let him. Most merpeople he came across happily welcomed him into their group, though there was the occasional tight-knit clan who were reluctant to let him travel with them for more than a few days.
Dax had been with the current clan for nearly eight months, but the time drew near when he would have to move on. Like so many small communities, they talked about traveling to the sunken city, the most secure colony of merpeople in all the oceans. His original clan had decided to go there, and considering the dangers of the oceans, Dax couldn’t blame any leader for making the decision to seek sanctuary there.
Unfortunately for Dax, the laws of the sunken city were strict and rigorously upheld, and one in particular made his skin cold and his fins shudder. There were no same sex relations allowed by those who chose to reside there. As a merman who found pleasure with other males, Dax had no choice except to bid farewell to any clan who chose to seek refuge in the sunken city.
Cale, the scout who had been sent to the city in advance, had returned earlier in the day. Dax didn’t need to hear what he had to say. He knew the report he would give all too well. It would be the same as the one from the last clan’s scout, and all the ones before.
Malka, the leader of the clan, had been in seclusion with the scout ever since his return. Dax knew from previous discussions that Malka already leaned toward the idea of moving to the sunken city. She had been in charge since her mate’s death ten years ago, and although she had kept the clan together, from what Dax had heard and seen, she had grown tired of the continuing struggle some time ago.
As soon as she made the announcement to swim to the sunken city, Dax would part company once more and seek out another clan to travel with.
“Dax!” Keshet’s shout startled a nearby bird. Dax lifted his head and smiled as his lover approached.
Keshet nodded as he dropped down onto the sand. “Malka has ordered everyone here to the island by dusk. She’s going to make an announcement.”
Dax sighed. He hadn’t spoken to Keshet about the law in the sunken city yet. He guessed now was as good a time as any.
“What is it?” Keshet asked. “Do you think they won’t want our clan in the city?”
“Where’s Gilad?” Dax replied, avoiding the question for the moment. Their other lover should hear what he had to say too.
“He was relaxing in the rock pool last time I saw him. Do you want me to fetch him?”
Dax stood and brushed the sand from his body. “No, let’s go to him. It’ll be quiet there.”
Keshet frowned and furrowed his brow. “You want to fuck?”
Dax chuckled. He couldn’t blame Keshet for the conclusion he had come to. Usually when the three of them spent time alone together sex was their favorite activity. Dax would always be grateful for the way Keshet and Gilad, the only homosexual mermen in the clan, had invited him to join them. Even though the two mermen had been in an established relationship for several years, they hadn’t hesitated to assure him they wouldn’t let him suffer through the solstice alone.
“You know you don’t have to wait until the solstice if you want a little relief,” Keshet continued as they slipped away from the beach. “Gilad and I are happy to have you join us whenever you want.”
“I don’t wish to intrude on your time alone too much,” Dax reminded him.
“It’s not an intrusion. You know both of us would consider making this thing between us more permanent?”
“I know, but I’m a selfish merman. I want someone all of my own. I don’t like to share.”
Dax caught Keshet’s roll of the eyes. “You don’t seem to be doing a bad job of sharing, if you ask me.”
“I do what I must to survive the solstice without the pain that comes with abstinence.”
“Is that all we have together?”
Dax shrugged. “You and Gilad have a connection, a closeness, something special.”
“I love him.
“Yes, and he loves you.”
Keshet smiled and a dreamy expression spread over his face. Dax had no doubt about his two lovers’ feelings for each other. A part of him wished he shared those tender feelings, but he didn’t, and no matter how good the sex was with the two of them, Dax knew he never would. His heart wasn’t involved. He suspected it never had been.
They found Gilad right where Keshet had said, reclining in the rock pool, his orange fins mostly hidden beneath the water. Gilad grinned up at Keshet, barely casting a glance at Dax. Keshet climbed into the pool, transforming into his mer form and swimming into Gilad’s arms. They kissed languidly as they wrapped their arms around each other.
Dax could tell he had been momentarily forgotten and he stifled a twinge of envy.
“Aren’t you going to join us?” Gilad asked once they had parted.
“Dax has something he wants to talk to us about,” Keshet explained.
Gilad’s face lit up with a bright smile. “He’s decided to join us permanently?”
“No.” Dax immediately shut down that line of conversation. “It’s about the sunken city.”
“Has Malka made a decision yet?” Gilad asked. “Most of the clan are eager to go there, especially if it means safety for the youngsters.”
Keshet answered before Dax could say a word. “It’s not been announced yet, but I think we all know we’ll be heading to the city before the next solstice.”
“It’s the best decision for all of us,” Gilad said. “Even when a clan has been traveling for as long as ours, it’s no good upholding the nomadic traditions when the result is there’s no one left to do so.”
“I think we all know what she’ll say,” Dax agreed. “The scout will no doubt be reporting to her that the sunken city will welcome us there, they always do.”
“What do you mean?” Keshet asked.
“My first clan reported the sunken city welcomes all mer there, and so has every clan I’ve traveled with since.”
“You’ve been with a lot of clans, haven’t you?”
“A fair few,” Dax replied. “They all eventually seek shelter in the sunken city. I’m sure Malka will be doing the same soon enough.”
Keshet gazed at him steadily. “You won’t be coming with us, will you?”
“Why not?” Gilad asked. “Surely the city would be safer than traveling the oceans on your own?”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about,” Dax explained. “There’s something you need to know about the laws of the sunken city.”
“Yes?” Keshet prompted when Dax struggled to find the words to break the bad news to his lovers.
“Sexual relations between two mermen, or two mermaids, are strictly forbidden,” Dax finally blurted. “None of us would be allowed to have sex together if we were to go there.”
“But what about on the solstice?” Keshet asked. “My mating season fever breaks when another merman takes me.”
“And mine breaks when I fuck another merman,” Dax added. “That’s why I’ve not gone to the sunken city and I never intend to. My clan was a small one and, try as I might, I couldn’t find my release with a mermaid. I suffered through several mating seasons without release until Kyle, my first male lover, reached maturity.”
“Where’s Kyle now?” Gilad asked. “Surely he didn’t go to the sunken city if he needed a merman to break his fever?”
“He had no choice,” Dax explained. “When his father died in the final shark attack that decimated our clan, he became leader of our people. He made the only decision he could for the safety of everyone.”
“Couldn’t he have left the city after seeing your people to safety?” Gilad asked. “Why would he want to stay there if he couldn’t break his fever?”
“He wouldn’t have left his family.” Dax had no doubt Kyle would have stayed in the sunken city, no matter the cost to himself. He was that sort of a merman, and his selflessness was one of the reasons Dax loved him. He just wished he had told him as much before he’d left. Instead, he had convinced Kyle all they had shared together was a mutual need to get off during the solstice. Perhaps sex was all it had been for Kyle, but Dax knew his own feelings had run a little deeper.
“Perhaps you could come to the sunken city with us and see whether Kyle is prepared to leave with you now?” Gilad suggested.
“He’ll have settled into his new life after all this time.”
“How long has it been since you saw him?” Keshet asked.
“Nearly three years.”
“Well, there you have it,” Gilad declared. “That’s plenty of time for his people to build lives in the city and for him to swim away with the love of his life.”
Dax laughed and shook his head. “I’m not the love of his life. We just used each other during the solstice. We never even sought each other out the rest of the year.”
“I bet you wanted to,” Gilad teased. “You enjoy sex way too much to be celibate all but two nights of the year.”
Dax ducked his head to avoid the knowing gaze of his lovers. They were right, of course. Dax had never been with Kyle outside of the mating season, but he had been tempted. Only Kyle’s youth, and the niggling doubt about his lover’s feelings for him, had stopped him from being with him every night of the year.
“If you’re right about the city, then perhaps it’s not the right place for us,” Keshet suggested. “The three of us could travel on after we reach the city, and perhaps bring your Kyle along for the journey.”
Dax couldn’t prevent his smile at the idea of the four of them starting a new clan. Maybe he would travel to the sunken city after all. He could at least see Kyle and his other friends before making his decision.
* * * *
Kai, Delwyn, and Ula swam into the quarters of Justin, heir to the throne of the sunken city, and his lover Lucas. They had been invited over for dinner and Kai looked forward to the break from their normal routine.
As Oracles they spent most of their time in their temple, and although they sometimes ventured out to the market or the temples of other immortals, they never traveled past the boundaries of the city.
Ula and Delwyn spent most of their days secluded in the temple. For Delwyn it was a chance to study the old texts and writings on the walls of the building. Ula meanwhile chose to hone her skills in music-making with a variety of shell-made instruments. Kai had no interests in the ancient inhabitants of the city and had no talent for music or other restful pastimes. Of the three of them, Kai found his imprisonment the most confining, and escaped the temple whenever he could, though a guard always escorted him wherever he swam. More often than not, Kai chose to swim to the barracks, using his powers to see the trainees going through their drills. His dream had been to become a warrior, yet now that had been dashed upon the rocks. His spear had been taken from him before he’d arrived in the city, his mother convinced he would do himself harm with the weapon.
Kai spent most of his days in boredom and restlessness, watching others live out his dreams, forever wondering what might have been, had he not been inflicted with the curse of being an Oracle.
The opportunity to leave the temple, even if just for an hour or two, was one he never missed.
Kai didn’t need to use his powers to see their ever-present guards with them. Under the pretext of escorting the blind mermaid and mermen, the guards watched them constantly whenever they left their home in Cari’s temple. Kai tried hard not to think of the temple as their prison, but he found it almost impossible to do so.
Justin, recently blind, still struggled with traveling about the city, but Kai was pleased to see he had become more adept at navigating his own suite of rooms.
Today Justin was telling them how he and Lucas had met. Kai had heard some of the tale before, but he was always happy to hear the story again. The knowledge that Justin and Lucas were allowed to be together in the sunken city gave him hope that one day another law might be changed, the one stopping the Oracles from enjoying the pleasures of love.
“I guess Medina isn’t so bad,” Justin said. “Though getting on the wrong side of her is definitely not recommended.”
Kai chuckled. The Goddess of Love certainly had a temper, as Justin had learned the hard way.
“You’re quiet this evening,” Delwyn commented, his voice in Kai’s head concerned. “Are you well?”
“We all know the old Atlantean gods and goddesses are waking, yes?”
“What of it? It’s not as though the mer worshipped them. Why should their rising make any difference to us?”
“Maybe if we did go to them things would be different,” Kai suggested. “What if we were to go to the Goddess of Love and ask her for help?”
“Help with what?”
“Finding love, of course,” Kai replied.
Delwyn sighed. “Finding love isn’t the problem. It’s the whole being trapped underwater during the mating season. Falling in love with someone will only make our situation worse.”
Kai knew Delwyn made a good point, yet he couldn’t help wondering whether Medina might be able to assist in that regard too. From what Justin and Lucas had told them, the goddess was extremely powerful. Could she be the answer to their problem?