Cayal blinked and shook his head vigorously, clearing it of the strange fog that had come over him without warning and clouded his mind momentarily. He glanced toward the pilot's chair where his fellow Tide Lord sat unmoving. The helicopter in which they were flying was dipping dangerously towards the rough waves of the Pacific Ocean below, uncontrolled and losing the battle against gravity.
"Rodent!" Cayal nudged Declan Hawkes, then shook his arm with greater vigour when the first approach failed to elicit a response. "Not a good time to sleep Rodent. We might survive the crash but it's a bloody long swim back to Japan."
Declan stirred and awoke with a start, shaking his own head in a mirror of Cayal seconds earlier. The helicopter twitched sideways and worryingly further downwards in response to Declan's involuntary movement, his hands having remained locked around the cyclic, but he immediately took in the situation and wasted no time restoring the chopper to a steady and level trajectory, his hands and feet manipulating controls and pedals with practised ease.
"Ah, you're back. I thought you were dead for a moment there." Cayal said, not quite able to hide the worry from his voice entirely.
"Very funny. Did you feel that to?" replied Declan. "And what did you mean when you said 'magic word'?"
"What?" Cayal paused, as though that should mean something to him but couldn't think of what. "Magic word? I didn't say anything. We were both out of it for moment there. The question is, for how long was it? And was it the Tide?"
Declan looked at the roiling, frothy waves below but with ocean stretching in every direction as far as he could see, the GPS would be a better, if not entirely reliable indicator of their location. "I don't know what it was. We've hardly moved at all from where we were. It must have been only a few seconds. Never mind, we're done here. Let's get back to solid ground."
"Good idea Rodent. If you can keep this metal monster from crashing maybe we won't have to swim back." Cayal needled him, already back in his usual spirits. Even after tens of millions of years he never tired of the game, but he suspected Declan knew that his constant fun at his expense had lacked any real venom or malice for at least the last few thousand millennia.
"Shut up Cayal, unless you want to fly yourself or get out and ride the Tide back with a magic carpet you happen to have on you." Cayal looked out at the uninterrupted view of the ocean, stretching from horizon to horizon.
"You know, that's not a bad idea. If I arrived on the coast of Japan riding a tidal wave on the back of a whale or shark, that would certainly give the mortals and their wretched media outlets something to talk about. Other than the worsening conditions of the planet or discovering a living human in the vacuum of space that is". Cayal stared at Declan expectantly while Declan remained silent for a time.
"I don't want to talk about this Cayal. Not now." Declan replied woodenly. Since video footage arrived from Declan's, or rather Deke Hawkins' corporation's space exploration vessel, the Cape Canaveral, showing Arkady Desean, Declan's first love and Cayal's last, alive and having survived for over sixty million years in the extreme cold of space where no human could venture unprotected and live, he'd been worried and his usual confident demeanour was starting to fray. Declan's father, the immortal Tide Lord Lukys, suggested at their recent meeting that all seven of the immortals who came through the rift they had opened and that had brought them to Earth from Amyrantha so many millions of years ago, should consider moving on again. To open the rift that time had taken the combined efforts of several Tide Lords, channelling every drop of Tide magic they could at High Tide. And that High Tide was to this coming one as a regular tide was to that one.
That High Tide had risen in a matter of months and years. This one had been coming in for almost a century and still hadn't peaked. Even with it only as high as it was, Cayal knew there was enough power there that a single Tide Lord could cause a devastating cataclysm if he, or she, should choose to. Cayal and Declan were both powerful Tide Lords, as were Kentravyon, Lukys, Maralyce and Coryna, four of the five other immortals that had made it through the rift to Earth. The seventh was Arryl who, while not able to wield the Tide remotely close to the same level the others could, was no less accomplished a healer for it, nor was she any less immortal than they were. She was also the only other immortal privy to their recent actions to foil Lukys' plan to open another rift.
As well as an immense amount of Tide magic, opening a rift between worlds required the Chaos Crystal, a crystal carved in the shape of a human-like skull. It drew in and absorbed the Tide as a sponge does water, storing it in greater quantities than any Tide Lord could individually. Lukys could manipulate and harness this enormous reserve of magic to open a gateway between worlds, but such was the power involved in the undertaking that the forces unleashed by the rift's closing was enough to annihilate a planet. Cayal's and Declan's birth world, Amyrantha was gone, destroyed more than sixty five million years ago when they had come here. All that remained of that planet were lifeless chunks of rock, now asteroids orbiting the Earth and Mars. Well not entirely lifeless...one of the other immortals had been found. Well that wasn't entirely true either...an immortal no one knew about survived. Arkady Desean. A woman both Cayal and Declan had loved and thought lost. A woman who had been very much mortal the last time they had seen her.
"We have to talk Rodent. This is a pretty big problem we have on our hands and if we don't do something, Lukys and the others will." Cayal said forcefully. He knew Declan knew he was right, but the two of them had come to an unwritten, unspoken accord about Arkady shortly after arriving on Earth and Declan was evidently finding it a lot harder to break than Cayal was. "If they decide they want the Chaos Crystal we just flew hundreds of miles out here to hide, there may be awkward questions asked. And neither of us wants to see this world destroyed as Amyrantha was."
"I don't want to talk about this now. Let me concentrate on flying and if we really have to talk, wait till we're back in Tokyo." Declan persisted. Despite the handful of weeks since all the immortals had met in Paris, Declan still needed a little longer alone with his thoughts. Cayal thought it strange. After all, if he hadn't come to terms with the destruction of Amyrantha or their supposedly lost love, Arkady, after sixty-something million years, what possible help would a few more hours be? Still, it wasn't an unreasonable request, Declan hadn't dismissed Cayal entirely as he feared might happen and if being immortal had taught Cayal anything, it was patience.
"Suit yourself then Rodent. I'll wait then." Cayal shuffled about on his seat to get more comfortable, or as comfortable as the cramped co-pilot's chair would allow. "I think I'll get some sleep in the meantime. Try to avoid any turbulence and wake me up when we get there." His eyes were closed and he was feigning sleep in an instant, as though he even could get any sleep with the constant noise of the rotors mere feet above his head. The noise also gave him a perfect excuse for missing Declan's passionate, eloquent, extensive and frankly quite rude reply. He smiled inwardly. Despite the passing of countless millennia, the game never got old.
Hours later, Declan and the Immortal Prince found themselves in an elevator heading to the top floor office Deke Hawkins kept in Tokyo. The return helicopter journey and subsequent flight on a private jet, followed by the final stretch from the small airport in a comfortable, stretched limo had been uneventful and mostly silent, apart from some banal chit-chat. Declan couldn't put the Immortal Prince off any longer and the worst part was that Cayal was right. They did need to do something, but none of Declan's ideas sat well with him. He sighed as the elevator came to a stop and he straightened his suit's jacket and tie as the door opened. His personal assistant was there, sat behind a large desk, a sentry guarding the double doors that lead to the office of the world's richest man. He probably had some important messages describing company matters that required his attention. But business would have to wait; there was no time for that now.
"Taine, I won't be seeing any more visitors or taking any more calls today. You can finish for the day and I'll see you tomorrow." He pre-empted his PA before he could even welcome Declan back, or ask difficult questions about where his boss had been that he really couldn't answer.
"Oh, of course Mr. Hawkins. Your messages?" Taine asked.
"Tomorrow Taine. Thank you. Feel free to use the limo for the rest of the day."
"Of course, thank you sir."
Declan didn't wait as his assistant shut down his computer and began tidying his desk, but instead opened his office door and let Cayal precede him in. The Immortal Prince made his way in silently, apart from his footsteps, expensive leather shoes clacking on the grey marble floor and heading unerringly towards the sideboard and its small array of liquors. He poured two snifters of expensive brandy, one modestly and the other almost to the brim, replaced the crystal decanter and took both glasses over to the lounge area of the office. Declan walked to his glass-topped desk and pretended to be absorbed in checking paperwork and other corporate affairs. He didn't, but it bought him some precious few more seconds. But neither his heart nor his mind were in the charade and instead he sighed again and went to stand by the massive window with its sweeping panorama of Tokyo at dusk. He didn't say anything and for once, perhaps in a rare show of empathy, neither did Cayal. Declan took in a last deep breath and squared his shoulders, savouring this last moment of calm before turning back to the Immortal Prince. The eternal twenty six year old Prince of Kordana, a country even longer dead than the planet it had been part of (if not by very much) was leaning back on the generous two-seater, white leather sofa, one leg folded over the other in a figure of four, hands behind his head. In front of him on the glass coffee table was an empty snifter, opposite to which was another that still contained a very modest amount of Declan's brandy.
Declan walked to the identical sofa across the coffee table from where Cayal lounged, downed his miserly drink in a single gulp and sat down with a quiet "Oomph" as he savoured the quiet burn at the back of his throat. He was interested to hear what Cayal had to say but maybe he could at least control the conversation.
"What do you think Lukys is going to do? What would Arryl have told him?" Declan asked, beginning with a subject they were both comfortable with.
"It's anyone's guess Rodent. He's your father; I would have thought you'd have a better idea of what he's likely to do than I would." Cayal replied noncommittally.
"Is that the best you can offer? We're not exactly a typical father and son and besides, you've known him longer. If you've got nothing useful to say then why are you still here?"
"You're asking the wrong questions Rodent. Look, we've done the best we can for right now. The Skull of Doom is hidden deeply enough that the pressure alone will crush the life out of any living thing that gets even halfway near it. That's assuming they even knew where to look." Cayal wasn't saying anything Declan didn't already know though he was wrong about one thing.
"It won't crush the life out of an immortal Cayal. But obviously it was the best way to stop the others from getting any ideas about destroying this world as they did Amyrantha. At least Arryl is with us too. Speaking of which...?" Declan left the question hanging.
"The plan was that she would take the skull to Lukys in an identical case to the one I brought the real crystal in. She'd meet them at the same hotel where we met them not that long ago, and hand it over with no idea that it was a fake. She's not a Tide Lord so wouldn't have felt the same, definitive effect in its vicinity as we did, and it was given to her already packaged by a mortal who couldn't tell one artifact from another. She's safe and ignorant, we were in Tokyo and have no idea where the real deal could be." Cayal said in an echo of the original plan the three of them had come up with in Paris. "But you already know that Rodent".
"Then why are you still here, drinking my brandy if all you're talking about are things we both already know." Declan asked exasperated.
"Because you're avoiding the real issue" Cayal responded without missing a beat.
"I..." Declan stammered. "I'm doing no such thing! What is the real issue then?"
"Arkady. Desean." Cayal let that hang in the air for what felt like an age before continuing, "She's the reason Lukys suggested we use the Skull of Doom in the first place. She's the reason for the awkward questions all over the wretched media and she's the reason we hid the Chaos Crystal. Well, not the whole reason for that last part, but indirectly she is." Cayal must have been at least as uncomfortable as Declan himself was talking about the woman who had unknowingly and for no actual effort on her part, caused the original animosity... or at least ambivalence between the two immortals. She had driven each of them to actions they would not have taken in her absence. She had also been mortal when the rift had opened. Declan still remembered her with crystal clarity, despite the eons that had passed since her supposed death... not the image of her from the video footage taken recently from aboard the Cape Canaveral, but her as a girl and as a young woman in the slums of Glaeba where they had both grown up, and later as a woman, a Duchess and for the blink of an eye, his lover.
"She's stuck in space till the ship returns and that mission isn't due to end until the crew either find what they're looking for, or two years, whichever is the sooner. Tell me what on Earth we can do about that without making things worse?" Declan asked, silently hoping Cayal really did have a better idea than he did, while still wishing they didn't have to have this conversation.
Cayal closed his eyes for a long moment, long enough that Declan wondered if he'd even heard him. Eventually he did speak, and without opening his eyes answered him. "Finally, you ask the right question Rodent. And if you can shut up for a few minutes, I'll tell you."