© 2000 Paul Kupperberg
Thalis dreamed of Kahna.
She was the Amazon, tall and muscular, skin the color of burnished bronze, hair braided in a tight tail that hung to within inches of the floor. She was the most beautiful, the most dangerous, the most desirable woman he had ever known. Even before he saw in her startling sightless gray eyes the same soul reflected back that he had seen three time previous. He whispered, “Kahna,” and she whispered, “Thalis,” and they were together again.
She stood in his dream on the terrace outside his quarters. The sun was rising and the morning breeze was warm. Her arms were wrapped across her chest but as the sun rose, its golden light bathing the First City’s gleaming towers in a light so brilliant as to be painful, she slowly spread wide her arms, raising on her toes, turning her face to the sun and laughing like a delighted child.
Thalis lay in his bed, watching through the doorway the golden light wash over her golden skin, the silk of her robe shining like white fire in the morning sun.
As he watched, he was content to live forever, if only so the memory of the moment would never, ever die.
* * *
At sundown on the second day, Celepha sent creatures to attack the Yar.
They were three, exploding from the roiling waters to surround the heaving ship. They were twice the height of the Yar's main mast, waterbeasts dark and featureless save for gaping, dripping maws lined with coral teeth sharp enough to rend wood and metal. The first of the beasts closed its jaws around the ship's railing and the serpent roared in rage and pain.
Thalis strode from beneath deck, staff in hand, and screamed an incantation of fire at the beast. The spell surged through him and the great staff, and tore a gash in the fabric of reality that separated this world from the Darkness, releasing a torrent of eldritch fire that turned the raging thing into a howling column of steam. He turned the staff on the second beast, releasing the magical bonds that held the waters to this shape even as it swooped down with its jaws wide to snatch the old sorcerer from the rain washed deck. The attack died in a torrent of sea water that sent Thalis crashing to the planks.
The third and final beast found its throat caught in the teeth of the serpent and it bellowed and thrashed as it tried to escape Yar's grasp. The serpent held firm, until the beast decided to return to its primal form rather than face humiliating defeat. It collapsed into water, washing back into the sea that birthed it.
Thalis regained his footing and, wiping the stinging salt of the sea from his eyes, held high his staff to the thundering clouds, and screamed, "I am coming, Celepha!"
Lightning flashed, making night as bright as day. Thunder shook the very air around the ship.
"Celepha mocks us still," growled the serpent, its great head whipping back and forth.
Thalis tightened his fist around his staff. "Celepha toys with us," he said. He knew what she too must know. He was one old man, weary of life and of living. What did a god have to fear from one such as him?
* * *
Thalis's staff was carved of the wood of the first tree felled to build the First City.
The gods had gathered members of the Twelve Tribes inhabiting the world and brought them to the place on the edge of the Great Sea and decreed that upon that spot was to be constructed the First City of Atlantis. A craftsman named Argon had taken his axe to the great tree and felled it with twelve blows, grunting the name of each tribe as his blade bit into the wood.
The tree fell. A piece of wood as thick as a grown man's forearm and near three lengths tall splintered off the tree when it fell to the ground. Thalis took up the splinter.
"Here is the nexus of all the magic of the One," Wynsgar nodded in approval at the place the gods had directed them to. "Atlantis shall grow great and powerful here. Its people will spread out across the world, but its heart will ever thus beat here, upon the lands that the gods have gifted us."
Thalis took out his knife and began to carve at the top of the staff the visage of Atlannis, first of the twelve deities. When he finished the carving, Atlannis smiled out at him. Over the years, the visages of the rest of the pantheon joined Atlannis on the staff.
Now, so many thousands of years later, he feared to look at the staff lest he find the mother of all the gods no longer smiling.
* * *
Thalis huddled in a chair in the cabin wrapped in furs and coverlets. He would not, could not bring himself to lay on the berth. How could that be right, without Kahna to share it with him?
"Yar," he whispered.
"Yes, Thalis," replied his old friend.
"I cannot sleep," the old man said.
"Perhaps that is best," the ship said softly, in a voice like sea spray through the riggings. "Think of the dreams you will miss."
Thalis closed his eyes. He saw swimming before him the faces of thousands. Of Kahna, of Gith, of Shanar, of Wynsgar, of countless others he had known, had loved, had lost. His life had surged through the ages, bloody with violence and destruction. He had received his share of wounds, had faced death too many times to remember, but he was still here.
How many had he lead into brutal, ugly deaths?
He could count each and every face, passing like specters from the Darkness before him now. Then he would know how many.
His eyes snapped open, banishing the ghosts. He sighed. "Ahh, well. There will be time for sleep later."