CHAPTER ONE (draft)

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CHAPTER ONE

August, 2048 / Green Mar-Yan.


Today is the day everything changes.

What have I done?

I won.

I used my Logos power voice to raise the Atlantis Grail monument but instead I blasted open an ancient, buried secret.

And now I stand in the largest arena in the City of Poseidon, amid the stadium wreckage that I've caused, held in the arms of my beloved Aeson, while the nose section of an ancient starship juts forth from the broken ground. . . .

The shocked spectator crowds have grown momentarily quiet. They're full of confusion, still under the influence of the Imperial compelling voice. . . .

I, on the other hand, have not been compelled. But I have been stopped and silenced—by the enormity of the consequences of my actions.

The stunning things that Aeson Kassiopei, my Imperial Bridegroom, has just told me are ringing violently in my head. Unbelievable, impossible things implicating his Father the Imperator, my future father-in-law, in a dark plot—an intricate scheme presumably to prevent an alien invasion (although the grim details and causes have yet to be unraveled) that includes Aeson's father sending the deadly asteroid on a collision course to destroy Earth in a few months from now. . . .

The Imperator is responsible for so much.

But then, so am I.

Because of my actions, the ancient ark-ship that had been lying dormant for thousands of years, buried underground, has been activated somehow, and now they will come—they, the mysterious ancient alien enemy of both Earth and Atlantis.

After all that's happened today and over the past four weeks—the violent insanity of the Games, the relentless uncertainty of my every living moment—this knowledge comes as a heavy blow. . . . I feel as if I've been punched in the gut.

"My God . . . I've caused all this," I continue to whisper even as Aeson tightens his embrace around me and stares into my eyes with loving force. "I caused this. . . . If, as you say, they can track this ship, they will come because of what I did!"

"Let them come!" he repeats fiercely, a hard smile on his lips. "Together we'll handle them, im amrevu! Look at me! Do you hear?"

"Yes." I nod, but the word comes out without conviction.

I glance yet again in the direction of the Imperial Box among the audience tiers, where Romhutat Kassiopei, the Archaeon Imperator of Atlantida stands looking at me like a dragon.

Our gazes meet.

Or maybe he has never stopped watching me. . . .

"Gwen!" Aeson's strong fingers dig into my shoulders, anchoring me, forcing me to turn back to him. "It's over, we must go!"

I part my lips just to say something, not even sure what, because I'm trapped in the bizarre moment that somehow must not end . . . because whatever comes next will be impossible.

What have I done?

The Priest of the Grail had called it blasphemy. . . .

What does it mean? What happens now?

I glance behind me at the dais in the center of the arena where the other Champions and runners-up remain standing before the judges. . . . Hedj, Kateb, Brie, Kokayi, Leetana, Rurim, Ukou—all in brightly lit uniforms that indicate Champion status. . . . Chihar, Lolu, and two others—their fates as Champions or runners-up are as yet unresolved. . . . Finally, Sofia and Fawzi, my two direct competitors in the Vocalist Category, who lost by virtue of the fact that I won.

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