Soteria pressed the button and switched the photo to one that made him sit up straight in his chair as he recognized it. It was the broken bust of his mother, Apollymi. And there was only one place the good doctor could have found it.
She pushed her glasses up on her nose with her knuckle. "This is one of many artifacts my team and I have brought up from the bottom of the Aegean." She used a red laser pointer to show the Atlantean writing on the bottom that spelled his mother’s name. "I’ve been looking for someone who can translate what appears to be a form of early Greek writing. Yet no one has been able to decipher the words or even all the letters. It’s as if this alphabet has characters that are missing from the traditional Greek."
Artemis hit him on the arm. "Looks like you’re broken, Acheron."
"Busted," he corrected under his breath.
"Whatever," Artemis huffed.
Soteria looked out at the audience and then centered her attention on Dr. Allen. "Because no one can read this or even identify all the ancient letters, I’m convinced it’s Atlantean. After all, if Atlantis was in the Aegean Sea, as my family and I believe, it’s possible their language had a Greek basis or maybe it was their language that shaped what we know as Greek. The island’s location would have firmly put it in the center of where Greek sailors traded, making it a power to be reckoned with and allowing it to shape the culture, traditions and language of ancient Greece."
She clicked to the next photo which showed a fragment of wall from the royal Atlantean palace. "This is from a building I uncovered . . ."
"Aren’t you going to say something?" Artemis whispered.
Ash couldn’t. He was too stunned as he stared at images he hadn’t seen in over eleven thousand years. How could this one young woman have found it?
How could he have not known?
Then again, there was an easy answer. Damn his mother. She would have known they were pilfering the island’s site, but rather than let him in on it, she’d be sitting back hoping one of the archaeologists released her from her captivity.
"My partner thinks it’s from a temple," Soteria continued, "but given its location I’m convinced it was a government building. You can see here where there’s more of the writing we saw on the bust, but again I can’t decipher it." She flipped to another photo of underwater columns. "Now here is a sister site we found that we believe to be a Greek island which traded frequently with Atlantis. I found a piece of stone with the name Didymos etched into it."
Ash couldn’t breathe. She’d found it. Dear gods, the woman had found Didymos . . .
She went to another picture that literally made him break into a cold sweat. "This is a journal we uncovered in the Didymos ruins of what appeared to be a royal palace. A bound journal," she repeated excitedly. "I know what all of you are thinking-they didn’t bind books at this period in time. They shouldn’t even have had paper. But again, we have the same writing and the dating on it shows it to predate anything we’ve ever found in Greece. What we have here is the Holy Grail of Atlantis. I know it with every part of me. These two sites are integral to each other and the main site is in fact Atlantis."
"Acheron?" Artemis snapped again.
He couldn’t speak as he stared at one of Ryssa’s carefully made journals-at her handwriting that was as clear as if it’d been written yesterday. That page documented nothing in particular, but what scared him most was what else it might contain and, unlike the other writings, it was Greek. There weren’t many people in the world who could translate it. But there were enough that it could ruin his life if they did and it held something incriminating.
"Oh this is boring," Artemis huffed. "I’m out of here." She got up and left.
The next picture was a bust with a crushed-in head. It had been one of many in Didymos that had lined the streets and it was an image of his twin brother Styxx. Ash almost came out of his seat.
It was time to stop this before she exposed him.
He forced himself to appear nonchalant even though inside he was terrified and angry. "How do you know the carbon dating on the journal isn’t contaminated?"
Tory looked up at the calm masculine voice that was so deep it commanded attention. It took her a second to realize who it belonged to.
Mr. Goth Asshole.
Pushing her glasses back on the bridge of her nose in a nervous habit, she cleared her throat. "We were meticulous with it."
He gave her a cocky grin that seriously annoyed her. "How meticulous? I mean let’s face it, you’re an archaeologist with an agenda who’s out to prove her father and uncle weren’t treasure-hunting crackpots. We all know how data can be corrupted. What was the time span of the journal?"
She cringed at the question. Lie, Tory, lie. But it wasn’t in her. "Well some of the initial tests showed a much younger date."
"How much younger?"
"First century B.C."
One finely arched brow peeked up over the rim of his black sunglasses, mocking her. "First century B.C.?"
"Still too early for a book and yet we have a book," she said firmly, flipping back to the picture of the journal. "Hard empirical evidence that no one can refute."
He actually tsked at her. "No, Dr. Kafieri, what we have is an archaeologist with a preconceived agenda looking to wow us into financing another vacation for her in the Mediterranean. Isn’t that right?"
Several people in the audience laughed.
Tory felt her anger rising at his accusations. "I’m a serious scholar! Even if you discount the journal, look at the other pieces of evidence."
He scoffed. "A woman’s bust? A building? Some pottery fragments? Greece is littered with that."
"But the writing-"
"Just because you can’t read it doesn’t mean it can’t be read by someone else. It could be nothing more than an undocumented provincial dialect."
"He’s right," a man in the front row said.
A man behind the Goth dick laughed. "Her father was a lunatic."
"Nothing compared to her uncle. Must run in the family."
Tory gripped her pointer in her hand, wanting to hurl it at the jerk who’d started this session of ridicule. Worse, she felt the prick of tears behind her eyes. She’d never cried in public, but then she’d never been so humiliated either.
Determined to succeed, she went to the next photo and cleared her throat. "This-"
"Is a small household statue of Artemis," the Goth prick said in a sarcastic tone she could swear resonated throughout the entire building. "Where did you find it? A giousouroum in Athens?"
Laughter rang out.
"Thanks for wasting my time, Dr. Allen." The older man in the front row got up and walked out.
Tory panicked at the way the crowd was turning on her. At the look of disgust on Dr. Allen’s face.
"Wait! I have more." She went to a picture of an Atlantean necklace that held the symbol of a sun. "This is the first time we’ve seen anything so stylized."
The Goth dick held up a komboloi that had the same exact image on it. "I picked mine up in a store at Delphi three years ago."
Laughter rang out as the rest of the room got up and left.
Tory stood there in complete embarrassment and rage.
"Whatever committee was dumb enough to approve her dissertation should be ashamed of itself."
Dr. Allen shook his head before he abandoned her, too. Tory gripped the pages so tight in her hands that she was amazed the edges didn’t turn into diamonds.
The Goth man got up and retrieved his backpack from the floor. He loped down the stairs, over to her. "Look, I’m really sorry."
"Fuck off," she snarled, using the phrase he’d delivered to the other woman.
She started to leave, then stopped and reversed course before she raked him with a scathing glare that was only a pittance of the hatred she felt stinging her every molecule for this man. "You punk ass**le. What was this? A game for you? This is my life’s work you just annihilated and for what? Shits and giggles? Or was this nothing more than a fraternity prank? Please tell me that you didn’t just ruin my integrity to get some kind of drinking points. This is something I’ve been working for since before you were born. How dare you make a mockery of me. I hope to God that one day someone degrades you like this so that you’ll know, just once in your spoiled pompous life, what humiliation feels like."
Ash was going to respond until he realized something.
He couldn’t hear her thoughts. Nor could he see her future. She was a complete blank slate for him.
"You better hope that I never see you walking down the street while I’m driving my car!" She whirled about and stalked off in anger.
He didn’t even know where she was going. Everything about her was a complete blank for him. Everything.
What the hell?
Not wanting to even contemplate what that might mean, Ash teleported himself from the room to his condo in New Orleans. He didn’t like not being in control or being blind to anything.
Until he figured out what was going on, retreat was the best answer.
Tory threw her pages into a garbage can on her way out the door. It wasn’t until she’d reached her car outside that she finally let her tears fall.
The laughter still rang in her ears. Her cousin Megeara had been right, she should have let Atlantis go.
But both of her parents had given their lives in pursuit of it. Unlike Geary, she wasn’t going to stop until she restored honor and dignity to her family name.
Well you certainly did a good job of it tonight.
She snatched the rental car door open and threw her purse inside. "You freaking, flippin’, moronic frat boy!" she shouted, wishing she’d pulled that stud out of his nose and made him eat it.
Disgusted, she pulled her phone out and started the car. She called her best friend, Pam Gardner, as she left the parking lot for Centennial Park and headed for her hotel room.
"How’d it go?"
Tory wiped at the tears as she stopped at a light. "Awful! I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life."
"You didn’t drop your pages again?"
She cringed at how well her girlfriend knew her-the two of them had been best friends since they’d met in her aunt’s deli up in New York when they’d both been small kids. "Yes, but that’s nothing compared to this."
Tory pulled out into traffic as she snarled. "There was this . . . this . . . I can’t even think of a word strong enough to convey what he was, there, and he made them all laugh at me!"
"Oh no, Tory." She could hear the tears in Pam’s voice for her. "Are you serious?"
"Do I sound like I’m kidding?"
"No, you sound really pissed."
And she was. God, how she wished she could find him walking back to his dorm room so that she could mow him down. "I can’t believe this night. I was supposed to be applauded and instead, I’m ruined. I swear to God in heaven if I ever see that man again, I will commit murder."
"Well if you need help moving the body, you know where Kim and I live."
She smiled at her friends. She could always depend on them in any crisis. Kim and Pam were living proof that while a good friend would bail you out of jail, a best friend would be in jail alongside you. "Thank you."
"Any time, sweetie. So when are you coming back?"
"I’ll be back in New Orleans tomorrow." She couldn’t wait to be home again where everything was familiar.
"Well look on that bright side, Tory. Whoever the dickhead was, you’ll never have to worry about seeing him here."
That was true. Tomorrow she’d be home and she’d never see that ass**le again.
Tory’s dignity was still stinging two days later as she knocked on the office door of Dr. Julian Alexander. He was supposed to be the leading expert in the world on ancient Greece. She’d been told that if anyone in the world could read her journal, he was the man.
She prayed it was so.
A deep masculine voice told her to enter.
She pushed the door open to find an exceptionally handsome man in his early thirties sitting behind a beat-up wooden desk. He had short blond hair and beautiful blue eyes that seemed to gleam in the dim light. His office was littered with ancient Greek artifacts, including a Bronze Age sword hanging on the wall behind him. Bookshelves lined the walls and were filled past brimming with additional artifacts and textbooks.
Man, she could easily call this place home and was grateful to be with a kindred spirit. Even though she didn’t know him, she liked him already.
Looking up, he frowned at her as he closed his leatherbound agenda. "You’re not one of my students. Are you considering taking one of my classes?"
She hated how young she looked at times, not that she was any older than an average grad student, but still . . . she had a hard enough time with her credibility that she didn’t need that strike, too. "No. I’m Dr. Kafieri. We spoke over the phone."
He stood up immediately and offered her his hand. "Sorry for the confusion," he said graciously as she shook it. "I’m really glad to finally meet you. I’ve heard a lot of . . ."
"Mixed things I’m sure."