No matter what they called us—couriers, bards, merchants—we were either spies or traitors, in the end. We all went through the Blue Gate for the first time with our idealism intact. Back then, the Gate shone like a beacon made of periwinkle, azure and cerulean, plus shades we couldn’t name.
An exclusive group with varied talents, we crossed between the Dry Lands and Atlantis, swapping legs for tails at the Blue Gate. The transformation wasn’t painless, bones transmuting into thickened muscles, fish skin, scales. Gills split open on our necks and that first full breath of water always, always felt like drowning.
Then we swam between the worlds, with an escort of merfolk in formation like a net. Perhaps they never trusted us, their goodwill a masquerade. But Atlantis values stories, fairytales and myths. That’s all they ever wanted from the Dry Lands, tales to ponder and preserve, to tell by globelight, write in books, kept safe in soaring libraries. In return, they gave us tech—hydroponics, mining, engineering—enough advanced science to end famine, homelessness, pollution.
Of course, that isn’t what we did.
Jerry-rigged portals and black markets opened overnight, underground bazars that dealt in mermaid jewels and scales. And flesh. More exclusive venues offered wealthy buyers smuggled secrets: Atlantian research in pharmaceuticals, biotech and molecular weapons.
A lot of couriers made deals, becoming traffickers and spies. But the Atlantians weren’t fools. By the end, the merfolk escorts simply left their charges in the wide kelp forests, in the hunting grounds of sharks.
Some of us, a few, worked as double-agents for Atlantis, delivering names and dates. Locations of the markets. Coordinates of illegal portals. After the gates were sealed, after the epidemic and the riots, the profiteers lost all their fortunes. But those of us who chose Atlantis in the war were labeled traitors, hunted down by vigilantes.
I am the last surviving bard—a solitary memory, mine, the slip of water through my lungs, the bite of salt on gills. I’ve grown my hair out, died it black, but a hunter only has to lift the strands to find the gill scars on my neck. It won’t be long.
I don’t regret my choices. Down deep, the ocean tasted smoky-sweet like chocolate with chipotles. The coral in Atlantis bore the scent of gingerbread. Shadows broke and twirled inside each curvature of light. The crash of waves became a heartbeat. Home.
Now, mobs attack the Blue Gate round the clock. They batter it with steel, claw off the paint. The stones don’t crack. I wonder if Atlantis watches. I wonder if they’ll see me when I walk down there at sunset, my hair pulled back, my scars exposed. Will anyone with scales mourn me? Will they smell my blood against the Gate? They owe me nothing, really, but I hope they let a drop pass through. A drop of scarlet in the Blue. I hope I am a story in Atlantis, both cherished and preserved.