Atlantis

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"Step back." Alden uncorked the top and flung the bottle into the ocean. A huge blast of wind whipped against their faces, and the roar of churning water filled the air.

"Ladies first," Alden shouted, pointing to the edge.

She took a slow, deep breath, closed her eyes, and stepped off the edge, screaming the whole way down. Even after many trips to Atlantis, Sophie never seemed to get used to the way you had to enter. She rocketed into a sponge at the end of the tunnel.

She jumped off the sponge to the slightly squishy ground. It felt like packed wet sand.

"Now, this is Atlantis." Alden gestured to the gleaming metropolis ahead of them.

Sophie acted amazed and in reality, she was. It was easier to fake that she hadn't been here before than anywhere else.

They finally reached the main canal, and Alden hailed one of the carriages floating along the water—a silver, almond-shaped boat with two rows of high-backed benches. A driver in an elbow-length green cape steered from the front bench, drawing the reins of some sort of brown creature skimming the surface of the waves.

Sophie held her breath as the eight-foot-long scorpion with deadly pincer reared against the reins. Its tail curled up, looking ready to sting.

"You're not afraid, are you?" Fitz asked.

She gave him a sideways look.

"What is it with girls?" Fitz leaned down and stroked the shiny brown shell along the eurypterid's back. Sophie waited for the pincers to slice him in half, but the creature held still, emitting a low hissing sound, like it enjoyed being petted. "See? Harmless."

Sophie was determined to show him that the eurypterid didn't bother her. She copied him and stroked the creatures back.

Fitz laughed and jumped into the carriage.

Alden followed, holding the door open for her. "Quinlin's waiting, Sophie. It's time to find out what's in that impenetrable mind of yours."

"Where to?" the driver asked Alden with a laugh.

"Quinlin Sonden's office, please."

The driver shook the reins, and the giant scorpion thrashed its tail against the water, pulling them along.

The carriage entered some sort of business district. The streets were packed with elves, all in long black capes, and the silver buildings stood taller than the others, with round windows tracing down the sides and glowing signs bearing their names. TREASURY. REGISTRY. INTERSPECIESIAL SERVICES. But half the signs were unreadable.

They turned down a narrow, quiet canal lined with purple trees with thick, broad leaves like kelp. The water dead-ended at a single silver building, a square tower with no windows or ornamentation, other than a small sign with precise white letters that read: QUINLIN SONDEN: CHIEF MENTALIST. All signs of life had vanished, and the small black door was closed tight. But the sea scorpion slowed to a stop, and Alden took a small green cube from his pocket. The driver swiped it across the cuff above his elbow and handed it back to Alden after it made a tiny ping.

Sophie followed Alden as he bypassed the receptionist in the dim foyer and headed to the only office in back. The small square room smelled damp, and half the space was filled with a massive stone desk. A tall, dark-skinned elf with chin-length black hair jumped from his seat and gave an elegant bow. Sophie recognized Quinlin immediately.

Quinlin and Alden began to talk about her-right in front of her and Sophie fought the urge to roll her eyes. She remembered how scared she was when the first did this to her. Now that it was the second time around, it wasn't so bad.

"You tell me," Alden told Quinlin. "Do you have her file?"

"Right here." Quinlin held up a small silver square before handing it to Sophie.

Sophie licked the square and everyone gave her a weird look.

"How did you know to do that?" Fitz wondered.

"I watched Kenric do it earlier," She said panicking.

"I don't remember Kenric ever..."

"He had to access my file remember?" Sophie was mentally pleading for him to drop the conversation.

Thankfully, Quinlin stopped the conversation by beginning the probe.

"I'll be done in less than a minute," Quinlin whispered.

Two cold, slender fingers pressed against her temples, and Quinlin closed his eyes. Sophie counted the seconds as they ticked by. Two hundred seventy-eight passed before he pulled away—so much for less than a minute.

Quinlin's mouth hung open.

"That's what I thought," Alden murmured, almost to himself. He turned and began pacing.

"How is that possible? I heard nothing. What does that mean?" Quinlin asked quietly.

"It means she'll be the greatest Keeper we've ever known, once she's older," Alden said through a sigh.

Quinlin snorted. "If she isn't already."

"Perhaps we should talk upstairs." Alden gestured to the foyer, where the receptionist was leaning toward them, making notes. Clearly eavesdropping.

Quinlin led them to the far end of the small office. He licked a silver strip on the wall, and a narrow door slid open, revealing a winding stairway. They climbed to an empty oval room with live footage of brush fires projected across the walls.

"There's no reason to worry, Sophie," Alden promised. "I know this all seems very strange to you, but I assure you we have everything under control."

The calm tone to his voice made her cheeks feel hot. "Sorry. It's just been a weird day. Between the guy trying to grab me this morning and—"

"What?" Quinlin interrupted, glancing between Sophie and Alden. "Was he . . . ?"

"An elf?" Alden finished. "Sophie thinks so. She read his mind. His name is Gethen and apparently he knew her name."

Quinlin whipped around and started to type on a computer-like object. After a few moments he gestured to Alden to come closer. Alden obeyed.

"No matches found?" Alden said, "See Sophie? No reason to worry."

"I searched Gethen on this database. If he was an elf, he would have came up." Quinlin added, "He must have been human."

"No!" Sophie said suddenly, "He was definitely an elf! I know it, you have to believe me!"

"All I can do is promise to look into it more," Alden replied. "There's no proof of anything."

Sophie froze, "You don't believe me."

"Sophie, I'll do as much as I can to find out what ho that was." Quinlin assured her.

"Thank you. Good to see you, my friend."
Alden's pace felt rushed as he led Fitz and Sophie downstairs, bypassing the receptionist without so much as a nod. He hailed another sea scorpion carriage, but this time Sophie was too distracted to care about the evil-looking creature as it pulled them through the canals.

Fitz took her hand again. "Ready to go home?" he asked, holding his pathfinder in the sunlight.
She barely had time to agree, before light surrounded the three of them.

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