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Introduction:

"The Search for Atlantis" is a celebration of curiosity and courage, a testament to the idea that every legend holds a grain of truth waiting to be uncovered. It is a thrilling adventure that will captivate anyone fascinated by history, mystery, and the unyielding human spirit.
Chapter 11 – Golden opportunities.

Nick woke to the muffled sounds of conversation drifting from the living room adjacent to the bedroom. Curiosity nudged away the last vestiges of sleep as he quickly dressed and made his way out to investigate.

“There he is,” Julie announced with a bright smile as he entered the room. Sitting beside her on the couch was a woman whose presence exuded both warmth and intellect, Dr. Eleanor Harding, Julie’s mother.

“Dr. Harding,” Nick greeted her formally, a slight nervousness tinting his voice.

“Please, Nick, I think since you are dating my daughter you can call me Eleanor now,” she responded with a gracious smile, easing the formality between them.

Nick returned the smile, relieved by her approachability. “Okay, Eleanor,” he agreed, his tone reflecting his comfort.

Lindsey then stepped forward and gave Nick a quick kiss, marking her territory in a gentle but firm manner. “Actually, Eleanor, we are both dating him,” she revealed candidly, standing beside Julie who nodded in agreement.

Julie’s eyes sparkled with mischief and fondness as she addressed her mother. “And before you say anything, Mom, you know how close Lindsey and I have always been. So, we knew this would happen at some point, and well, Nick, he’s just perfect,” she explained, her voice full of affection and certainty.

Lindsey chimed in, her voice soft but firm, “As long as we take care of each other, make sure no one feels left out or is mad at the other.”

Eleanor nodded thoughtfully, taking in the unusual but heartfelt arrangement before her. “Well, as long as you are all happy and care for each other, that’s what matters,” she said, her acceptance and motherly concern apparent in her tone.

Julie’s laugh filled the room, light and carefree. “Oh, there’s no worry about that. He knows what he’s doing,” she assured her mother, winking at Nick.

Lindsey’s smile widened, and she nodded in agreement. "Definitely," she added, her affirmation reinforcing the bond they all shared.

Nick shook his head, amused by their praises but aware of the complexities their unique relationship entailed. “They are both wonderful. I’m sure they’ll kill me over time, but right now, they are wonderful,” he joked, bringing laughter from the three ladies.

The mood in the room was light, yet filled with an underlying strength from the understanding they shared. As they continued to chat, the conversation flowed from personal updates to broader discussions about their future plans, especially the upcoming trip to Vegas. Eleanor listened intently, occasionally offering insights or asking thoughtful questions that showed her deep interest in her daughter’s and Lindsey’s happiness.

The room fell into a brief silence as Eleanor posed her question about the findings besides gold. Julie glanced at Nick, seeking confirmation. He gave a subtle nod, giving her the go-ahead to share more. "I will tell you, Mom, but you can't tell anyone," Julie cautioned, emphasizing the seriousness of what they were about to disclose.

Eleanor nodded solemnly, her curiosity piqued. "We found Atlantis," Julie declared, her voice a mix of excitement and anxiety, unsure how her mother would receive such a fantastical claim.

Eleanor laughed, half in disbelief. "Right, and the Loch Ness Monster guarded it," she joked, still thinking her daughter was playing along with a fanciful story.

Nick smirked, understanding Eleanor's skepticism. He pulled out the laptop where they had transferred all the pictures from their expedition and had kept them password protected. He opened the folder and clicked on the first picture, a clear shot of the sign in the cave.

"Want a translation?" Julie offered, her tone serious as she challenged her mother's disbelief.

Eleanor shook her head, her demeanor changing as she leaned forward, intrigued. "I have studied the language since Nick came and saw me at the University," she explained, ready to test her knowledge.

She read aloud the in***********ions:

“Welcome to Atlantis.

Enter with honesty, leave with honor.

Welcome: Atlantis opens its gates to those with pure hearts and truthful spirits. Seek wisdom and prosper within our ancient realm.

Warning: Atlantis remains hidden to those with deceitful hearts or malicious intentions. Only the virtuous will find their way.

Blessing: May Atlantis enlighten and enrich the noble-hearted. Discover the secrets and grow in the light of our ancient wisdom.

May the honest thrive, and the treacherous learn virtue.”

"Fuck," Eleanor exclaimed, stunned by the implications of what she was seeing and reading.

Julie gasped, shocked to hear such language from her mother. "Mother!" she exclaimed, a mix of shock and amusement in her voice.

"There is a time and a place for such language, and I believe this was the right time," Eleanor said, her eyes still fixed on the screen, absorbing the enormity of their discovery.

Nick chuckled, appreciating Eleanor's reaction. "That it was," he agreed, then changed the picture to display the huge golden ornate gate that marked the entrance to Atlantis.

"Beautiful," Eleanor whispered, awe coloring her voice as she took in the sight.

Nick nodded and proceeded to show the gate opening, then the next picture of the cave just inside. He continued to click through the images, each one revealing more of the man-made tunnel adorned with gold carvings.

"You are really not kidding, are you?" Eleanor asked, her voice a mix of wonder and incredulity.

Nick shook his head, confirming the truth of their adventure, and changed the picture again. This time, Eleanor gasped as the image of Talise and five Atlantean guards standing in front of the submarine with Nick and Julie filled the screen.

"That is Talise, the Atlantean Queen," Nick explained, as Julie beamed proudly beside him.

"And my great, great, great grand aunt," Julie added, linking her family directly to the mythical city.

Eleanor looked at Julie, her expression a mixture of astonishment and pride. "What?" she breathed, her mind racing to connect the dots.

"Remember the stories of however many greats back, grandmother Serina and grandfather Elias?" Julie asked, her eyes sparkling with the thrill of connecting her lineage to such a storied past.

Eleanor nodded slowly, her academic mind thrilled by the historical implications. "Well, Serina was Atlantean, and the Queen’s sister," Julie revealed, closing the loop on a family legend that turned out to be spectacularly true.

Nick’s smile broadened as he absorbed the gravity and wonder of their discussion, a hint of amusement dancing in his eyes. “What that means,” he said, his voice tinged with a mix of awe and humor, “is that you and Julie are essentially princesses.”

Eleanor’s expression, a mixture of disbelief and fascination, shifted between Nick and her daughter. She was processing the incredible revelation that her family's lore, which she had entertained as mere tales, was anchored in truth. Julie was nodding, her face alight with the joy of sharing this connection with her mother.

“Fuck,” Eleanor muttered again, the word slipping out in a whisper of overwhelmed realization. The academic in her marveled at the historical implications, while the mother grappled with the fantastical reality of her daughter's heritage.

Julie laughed, a light, joyous sound that filled the room. “That one I will allow,” she conceded, her earlier reprimand fading into shared amusement over the situation's surreal nature.

“So, Vegas?” Eleanor queried, trying to catch up with the rapid developments.

Nick nodded affirmatively. “Yes, and then, if the girls agree, we move,” he stated, hinting at a more significant decision lurking beyond their trip to Vegas.

Julie looked at him, a mixture of curiosity and anticipation in her eyes. “Move... down?” she asked, seeking clarification on Nick’s vague suggestion.

He nodded again, confirming her guess. Julie’s smile broadened at the confirmation. Turning to her mother, she said excitedly, “Mom, you should come too.”

“Where?” Eleanor asked, her interest piqued by the prospect but still unclear on the details.

“Nick wants us to move to Atlantis,” Julie revealed, the idea sounding even more surreal as she said it out loud.

Lindsey, who had been following the conversation quietly, chimed in with a supportive smile. “I will go,” she declared, her adventurous spirit undeterred by the enormity of such a decision.

“Me too,” Julie added, her decision firm.

Eleanor looked at her daughter, searching her face for signs of jest. “You are serious?” she inquired, needing confirmation for such an extraordinary claim.

Julie nodded earnestly. “Yes, the Queen offered it to us, but Nick wanted to think about it first,” she explained, “and I guess he did and made up his mind,” she said, outlining the gravity of their choice.

Nick affirmed Julie’s account with a nod. His agreement sparked another playful exchange among them.

“I assume he will take the queen as his girl too,” Julie teased, glancing at Nick with a mischievous grin.

Lindsey laughed, joining in the jest. “You really think she wants him?” she asked, her tone light and teasing.

“The way she kissed him, yes,” Julie retorted, her words drawing a chuckle from everyone in the room.

Nick rolled his eyes at their teasing, then shifted the conversation back to the decision at hand. “It’s simple. Either we go, or we stay,” he posited, framing their options starkly.

“We go,” Julie said decisively.

Lindsey nodded in agreement, her enthusiasm evident.

Nick then turned to Eleanor, extending the invitation. “You are welcome to come. You can learn about your family’s history, and you will see things you would never believe,” he offered, knowing the appeal such an opportunity would hold for someone of Eleanor's scholarly background.

Eleanor paused, considering the life-changing implications of such a move. After a moment, she nodded. “I will go,” she declared, her voice carrying a mix of excitement and resolve.

“Two weeks,” Nick stated, setting a tentative timeline for their departure.

“And this stays here; you cannot talk about it,” Julie added, stressing the need for secrecy about their plans and the reality of Atlantis.

Eleanor nodded understandingly. “Who would believe me anyway?” she remarked, acknowledging the incredulity of their situation.

Nick glanced at the clock, noting the time. “I will take these to the jeweler; he can add chains to them,” he said, referring to the coins they intended to turn into necklaces.

Julie, acting on a sudden thought, grabbed an extra coin and tossed it to Nick. He caught it, looking at her questioningly.

“For Mom,” she said simply, wanting to include Eleanor in this tangible connection to their journey.

Nick smiled warmly and nodded his approval, then walked out to fulfill the task, each step echoing with the promise of new beginnings and uncharted territories that awaited them.

Eleanor's curiosity peaked as she contemplated the implications of their upcoming move to Atlantis. She turned to Julie, her brows arching inquisitively. “So, the queen?” she prodded gently, seeking more insight into the dynamics that awaited them beneath the waves.

Julie chuckled softly, her eyes lighting up with understanding. “She has a thing for Nick, I think. It’s his curiosity and his mind that she’s attracted to,” she explained, her tone reflecting admiration for the qualities that even a queen found irresistible in Nick.

“And the fact that he’s hot,” Lindsey chimed in, unable to resist adding a more lighthearted observation. Her comment drew a laugh from the others, lightening the mood.

Julie smiled and nodded in agreement. “And that,” she conceded, then turned her attention back to her mother, ready to delve into a more complex aspect of their discussion. “I noticed in Atlantis that the ratio of women to men is about five to one. Everywhere I looked, men had multiple women around them,” she noted, her voice laced with a hint of concern and fascination.

Eleanor's smile grew, her academic interest piqued by the social structure Julie described. “So, Nick will be expected to have more than just you and Lindsey?” she asked, her tone neutral yet probing, trying to understand the societal norms of a culture so vastly different from their own.

Julie nodded solemnly. “Lindsey, me, and the queen, of that I am sure. And there will probably be more,” she said, her voice steady despite the unusual situation. The concept was strange to her too, but she seemed to have accepted the potential realities of their new life.

Lindsey's expression turned playful yet proud. “He will be a king,” she declared, half-joking but also half-serious, acknowledging the status that Nick might hold in Atlantis.

Julie nodded, her mind racing with the possibilities and challenges that such a title implied. “Incredible,” Eleanor remarked, her voice a mixture of awe and slight apprehension, reflecting her struggle to fully grasp the unconventional life her daughter was stepping into.

Julie's smile widened as she saw her mother processing the information. She appreciated her mother's effort to understand and accept the complexities of their situation. This was more than an adventurous escapade; it was a life-altering decision that brought with it a wealth of opportunities and a cadre of challenges.

Nick's eyes lit up as the jeweler carefully handed him the four necklaces, each featuring a gold coin securely mounted in a specially designed silver attachment originally meant for dollar coins. The contrast between the lustrous gold coin and the gleaming silver setting was striking, and the thick gold chains, though heavier than Nick had initially envisioned, complemented the setup perfectly, accentuating the coins’ inherent value and beauty.

“Thank you,” Nick expressed his gratitude, genuinely impressed by the craftsmanship.

The jeweler, an older man with a keen eye for detail, smiled back. “I saw you on TV the other day. I can’t believe Donovan attacked you,” he commented, his tone mixing professional courtesy with personal concern.

Nick nodded, his expression turning somber for a moment. “I don’t think he liked that I made friends with his daughter,” he replied, trying to lighten the mood with a hint of humor.

The jeweler chuckled, appreciating the understatement. “No, I guess not,” he agreed, handing over the finished pieces.

After paying for the necklaces, Nick left the store, his spirits lifted by the successful transaction. As he approached his car parked just down the street, he sensed something off—a prickling sensation on the back of his neck that told him he was being followed. Stopping in his tracks, he called out without turning around, “What do you want?”

A voice from behind him responded, hesitant yet urgent. “A word, rumors have it you found Atlantis.”

Nick let out a dismissive chuckle. “Sure I did, and the Loch Ness Monster guarded it. The city was populated with yetis and werewolves too,” he joked, trying to deflect the inquiry with sarcasm as he turned to face his pursuer.

Standing there was a young man, his expression tense, a gun held awkwardly in his hand. “Take me there,” he demanded, his voice betraying a desperate edge.

Nick shook his head, maintaining a calm demeanor despite the threat. “I cannot take you there; it doesn’t exist,” he tried to dissuade the young man, hoping to deescalate the situation.

“You spent the last two years trying to find Atlantis, I read your papers, you had that coin,” the young man insisted, his desperation evident.

Nick nodded, acknowledging the man’s research. “Had that coin, yes. It’s gone, stolen by someone who valued gold more than knowledge,” he explained, weaving a narrative that he hoped would deter further pursuit.

“Just take me there, please,” the young man pleaded, his voice cracking slightly.

Nick, observing the man’s tense stance and the way he held the gun, advised, “You know, asking for help while holding a gun, and especially pointing it at someone, is a bad idea.”

“I need your help, I have to find her,” the young man blurted out, his plea carrying a personal urgency.

“Find who?” Nick asked, genuinely curious despite the circumstances.

“My sister,” the young man replied, his voice softening.

“And why would she be in Atlantis?” Nick probed further, trying to understand the young man’s motivations.

“It’s a long story,” he admitted, his gaze shifting nervously.

Nick saw this as an opportunity to defuse the tension. He noticed someone approaching in the distance, likely drawn by the unusual standoff. “Unless you want to be arrested for brandishing that gun, you better put it away, and then come with me. You can tell me what’s going on,” Nick offered, extending a chance for a peaceful resolution.

The young man glanced around, noticing the approaching figures. Realizing his precarious position, he quickly nodded and stowed the gun away.

Nick walked into a cozy coffee shop and ordered two cups of coffee, one for himself and one for the stranger trailing him. He chose a secluded corner for a bit of privacy and sat down. Soon, the young man joined him across the table. “So, your sister?” Nick prompted, wanting to cut straight to the matter that had brought them together under such unusual circumstances.

The young man nodded, his face marked by a mix of emotions. “I was twenty-two when I left. She stayed behind. Mother always told me that the surface would be dangerous, and that the people up here would not see the truth as more than a fairy tale,” he began, his voice tinged with nostalgia and a hint of regret.

Nick studied him, surprised by his youthful appearance. “Twenty-two? I’m sorry, you look to be in your teens,” he remarked.

The man smiled, a wistful look crossing his features. “Like me, you will feel the prolonging of a long life. I came here in the year 1926. I have just celebrated my one-hundred-twentieth names day, only a month ago,” he revealed, his statement hanging in the air with the weight of a profound truth.

Nick instantly knew the man was telling the truth; the term "names day" was the same one Talise had used, a unique cultural marker. “And how many Atlanteans are up here on the surface world?” Nick inquired, intrigued by the implication of other Atlanteans living among them.

“You’re not questioning my story?” the man asked, a note of surprise in his voice.

Nick shook his head, an understanding smile playing on his lips. “No, Queen Talise used the same term, 'Names Day.' It's your version of a birthday,” he explained, feeling a connection through their shared knowledge.

The man smiled and nodded, relieved to be understood without skepticism. “Your sister, she stayed in Atlantis?” Nick asked, refocusing on the young man's personal story.

He nodded again. “Okay, let's start over. What is your name?” Nick asked, wanting to reset the conversation on a more personal note.

“My surface name is David,” he responded, then added, after a pause, “And the other?” Nick prompted.

“Zaleon,” he answered.

“Well, Zaleon, why did you leave?” Nick inquired, genuinely interested in understanding his reasons.

“Mother wanted me to be with someone. I did not like her,” Zaleon disclosed, his face shadowed by the memories. “Such is life in Atlantis; there are many more women than men. Who you like is not always viable; you have to do your part for the community,” he explained.

Zaleon nodded, his expression somber. “That’s true, but I was only twenty-two. It was unreasonable of mother to put it on me like that. I was still a child,” he said, his voice soft.

Nick nodded, recalling the little girl Lysara, who looked to be eight or nine but was in fact twenty-seven. “So a hundred years ago you left, and now you want to return?” he asked for clarification.

Zaleon nodded. “Is there a punishment for you if you return?” Nick asked, understanding the potential consequences of such a decision.

Zaleon nodded again. “Unless the queen finds in my favor, leaving Atlantis is a crime. Her sister did it, and it was never forgiven,” he explained, revealing the strict laws of their underwater society.

Nick nodded, now aware of the queen’s sister’s history. “If I could get word to her, I would ask her for help,” he mused aloud.

Zaleon smiled and showed Nick his bracelet, which was damaged. “This is my bracelet,” he said, prompting Nick to turn his bracelet so the underside was the upside.

Nick complied, and the bracelet started to glow faintly. “Good, now think of the Queen. If she knows you and would speak with you, she can hear you,” Zaleon instructed.

Nick closed his eyes and focused, placing his other hand on the bracelet. “Talise,” he thought, immediately feeling a connection.

“Well, well, well, Nick, you’ve learned something new. I wonder how you came to this knowledge?” he heard Talise’s voice in his head.

“I found a lost Atlantean,” Nick thought back, hoping to pique her interest for Zaleon’s sake.

“Over the years, as you call them, we have lost a few,” she replied thoughtfully.

“Zaleon,” Nick thought, giving her the information she needed to understand who he was referring to.

“He was but a child when he disappeared,” Talise replied, her tone reflecting a mix of surprise and concern.

“So he says. He wants to return and see his sister,” Nick communicated, hoping to find sympathy in her response.

“There is punishment waiting for him if he returns. Those chosen to be his wives, they are without children,” she thought back, revealing the social complexities Zaleon had escaped.

“Talise, he was a child. It is a lot of pressure to put on someone who still thinks about playing,” Nick argued, hoping to sway her with his perspective.

“It is, but a favor of what you are asking begs for a favor returned,” she stated, hinting at a possible negotiation.

“What favor do you ask?” Nick ventured, wary of her conditions.

“You,” she answered straightforwardly.

“As in?” he pressed for clarity, his heart rate picking up.

“Be my king. Julie and this Lindsey, they will be my sisters, and you will rule Atlantis,” she proposed, laying out her vision for their future together.

“And if I don’t accept?” he asked, needing to understand all his options.

“Then I cannot help Zaleon, but you are still welcome in Atlantis,” she replied, her tone firm yet open.

“Nick, I like you. I know Julie wants this. I can hear her voice; she does not know her strength with the bracelet, but her thoughts are of you, and she wants us to be together,” Talise conveyed, hoping to convince him of the mutual benefits of their union.

Nick sighed deeply, the weight of her words heavy on his shoulders. “If I accept, Zaleon will be welcomed back?” he asked, seeking confirmation.

“Yes, Nick,” she affirmed.

“So be it, my queen. I will return him, and I accept you, but I am also bringing the mother of Julie. She is after all also your family,” Nick declared, setting his terms.

“When you return, I will be yours, husband,” Talise agreed, her voice resonating in his mind with a mixture of victory and anticipation.

Nick closed the connection by turning the bracelet back to its original position. He opened his eyes and looked at Zaleon, ready to share the news of their new, intertwined destinies.

Nick watched Zaleon closely, reading the mix of relief and apprehension on his face. "You will be welcomed back," he assured him. "Queen Talise will ensure you are not punished." The words, filled with the weight of promise and new beginnings, hung in the air between them.

Zaleon's expression shifted to curiosity and concern. "What did she ask for in return?" he asked, his voice tinged with wariness.

Nick allowed a wry smirk to play on his lips. "A union," he revealed, the simplicity of his answer belying the complexity of the arrangement he had just agreed to with the Queen of Atlantis.

He stood up, signaling the end of their clandestine meeting in the quiet corner of the coffee shop. "You know where the ship is in the harbor?" Nick asked, his tone shifting to practical matters as they prepared to part ways.

Zaleon nodded, his expression serious as he processed the magnitude of what was being orchestrated on his behalf.

"Meet us there in fourteen days," Nick instructed firmly, setting the timeline for their departure. He added with a pointed look, "And Zaleon, for this, you owe me a favor too." The statement was firm, reminding Zaleon of the stakes involved and the reciprocity expected in their dealings.

Without waiting for a response, Nick turned and walked out of the coffee shop, leaving Zaleon to ponder the new lease on life he had just been granted. As Nick stepped outside into the bustling street, he felt the weight of the future pressing down on him.

He walked over to his car parked a short distance away, his mind racing through the events of the past hour. Sliding into the driver's seat, he shut the door with a soft thud that seemed to echo the finality of the decisions made. Nick took a deep breath, trying to steady his nerves as he grappled with the personal and political implications of his agreement with Talise. “Fuck,” he muttered under his breath, a succinct summation of his tangled emotions.

Starting the car, he pulled away from the curb, the engine humming smoothly as he navigated through the city streets. The drive back to Lindsey's house felt longer than usual, giving Nick ample time to reflect on the monumental changes that were about to take place in his life and the lives of those he cared about.

His thoughts drifted to Julie and Lindsey, wondering how they would adapt to the new realities of Atlantis and their roles in it. He contemplated the balance of power, love, and duty that he would have to navigate as a king in a foreign underwater world. The road stretched before him, a literal and metaphorical pathway leading him towards a destiny that seemed as daunting as it was thrilling.

By the time he reached Lindsey's house, the sun was setting, casting a warm glow that bathed the neighborhood in golden hues. Nick parked the car and sat for a moment, watching the sun dip below the horizon. With a sigh, he gathered his composure and his belongings, ready to face Julie and Lindsey with the news of their impending journey and his new role as both partner and king in the mysterious, ancient city of Atlantis.
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