Sunlight filtered in through the heavy curtains, sending slivers of light dancing across the room. Penelope shifted slowly, trying not to wake Daraxan, who lay asleep beside her. She felt disoriented at first, then remembered what had occurred between them that night, and she pressed her lips into a shy smile. The corners of her eyes tugged upward. After a moment's hesitation, she snuggled in next to him, sliding the sheet up over her breasts. Now was she sore today? Her whole body felt limp and used, in a delicious, wanton sort of way. Yes, she was relaxed, but this wasn't the best state to be in if she had a work to get up to. She glanced lazily at the clock, five past nine. She stirred and awoke for real, jolting in bed. Five past nine! Holy hell, when did she start working today? Then she realized that it was Sunday and the library was closed, and she let her head fall down on the soft pillow with a content sigh. Grinning, she arched her back into a slow stretch and rolled to face her bed companion again. He lay on his stomach, head resting on a crooked arm. She spent one long moment by simply admiring him. Even in sleep the toned muscles on his back showed off his power and dominance. The very things which he had established with her in depth of the night. The sheet had ridden down while they slept and it revealed the upper curve of his ass. Rounded and tight, the way a man's rear should be. And right now, this man was with her! Much of last night was a blur but Penelope remembered all the ways in which Daraxan had enjoyed her and how she had gone along with his every suggestion. Who would have known that she was such a sexual creature? She had never been like that with Joseph, her last boyfriend, which was almost two years back in time now. Then stark realization slapped her in the face. She was falling for Daraxan! This wasn't a simple case of lust or even infatuation, because in that case she wouldn't have let it go as far as it had done last night. No, she had let him into her body for the reason that he had managed to capture her heart. In a handful of days had she gone from thinking that love was just something for books and movies, to have fallen head over heels into it. What would her mother had said? Somehow though she thought her mother would be happy for her, for letting someone else in, for trusting again. She might even have liked Daraxan, with his easygoing attitude and zest for life. What a freeing thought that was! Now the question remained, if Penelope was falling in love with Daraxan, what to do about it? If there was a possibility that he returned her feelings, did that mean that they could be together? They were so different. She, just a mortal girl, who might live to see eighty, perhaps ninety, he an immortal god, who had already lived for more than a thousand years, and who would go on and live for how long? How long did gods really live? She had to ask about that, immortal, did that mean that they'd exist as long as time and universe did?
Then Daraxan stirred and made a sound she couldn't decipher, before his eyes fluttered open and he was looking at her, newly awakened disorientation giving in to pleasure.
"Good morning, Daraxan," she smiled.
"Good morning, sweetheart," he returned. "You look lovely in the morning."
"Why, thanks! But you meant to say something grander and wittier, didn't you?" She traced a finger along his chest, though he was pretty sure it was unconscious on her part.
"Whatever it was, it seems to have business elsewhere."
"It'll come back to you when you least expect it," she smiled. "Tell me then instead and I promise, I'll give it a favorable hearing."
"I'm honored to know that!" There was a beat of silence before he went on. "I like what you're wearing."
"I'm not wearing anything," she grinned and he inched himself up in a sitting position.
"That's what I mean." His head shifted just a tiny bit so he could press a lingering kiss against the corner of her mouth. "So, today is your great day, Penelope."
"My... great day?" she searched in her mind for what he might mean and he gently tugged her chin until she turned to face him, her body following suit.
"Yes, the first day you're going off-planet. Remember. We're going to Kandanaki."
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do," it all came back to her at that moment, the things they had talked about, the next step in their tries at locating the lost Palladium of Troy. "What's it like, the Kandanaki?"
"It's beautiful," Daraxan whispered into her ear. He rolled onto his side facing her and ran a finger in between the curves of her breasts. "But hardly as beautiful as you." He touched the tip of his tongue to the outer shell of her ear before he moved in for a long, hot kiss. Raising her hands to the back of his head, Penelope pulled him in deeper. Strange how this man could make her want him desperately, no matter how many times they'd already made love. When he slung one arm around her waist and pulled her up, sliding his other hand down her behind and between her legs, she broke away with a throaty moan.
"I thought we had to go."
He winked at her, a naughty twinkle in his eyes. "I guess, it can wait a little longer."
Three hours later, Penelope and Daraxan entered the summit of the Acropolis. It was a quite nice day, summer had decided to grace the city with a come-back, and the sun was actually warming their backs again after the last few days' tenacious raining. People spread out all over the great lawn, studying the ancient ruins, taking pictures and selfies. The scent of decaying leaves mixed with the aroma of sunbaked stone and fried food filled the air. Penelope craned her neck staring at all the tourists.
"How do we get about entering the Parthenon without anyone noticing? I mean that's strictly prohibited, and if we should get caught, we'll be fined heavily."
"Don't worry, there is a sneak way in, past those surveying eyes."
"How?" she frowned.
"Just trust me, will you?" By that he took her hand and they walked across the hill and to the eastern side of the famous old structure, where once the temple entrance had been. Contrary to the Christian churches, which almost always opened from the west, the ancient temples used to open to the east, with the idea that the rising sun should great the deity inside. But now not only the entrance door was gone but almost the whole eastern wall was missing, still there was no goddess for the rising sun to great anymore. Athena had moved on elsewhere and of her statue remained nothing after centuries of decrepitude. A large boulder lay on the derelict staircase, surrounded by an invisible force field. It repelled all mortals, preventing them from seeing anything within its direct vicinity, including two trespassers. That was the only way an inter-dimensional portal could exist in a place as populated as the summit of Acropolis. Trusting that Daraxan knew what he was doing, Penelope took his offered hand in hers and followed him towards the stone and across the vaguely purple force field which seemed to pulse slightly, although it was barely visible in the bright autumn sun light. The force field made a slight sucking sound as it accepted Daraxan and Penelope. Anyone happening to be looking directly at them would see them disappear just like that. But knowing mortals, they would probably chalk it up to the harsh glare of the sun or a strange trick of the eyes. And besides, the two of them would return only a second later, such was their entrance coordinated in the temporal-spatials. Consequently, even the surveillance cameras would be fooled.
Traversing the portal happened within a blink of an eye and if Penelope might have felt some kind of trepidation for the transfer, she didn't even have the chance to appraise that one, and perhaps hesitate before they were through. The next moment they stepped out on a large, matte-black surface, smoother than concrete yet not as smooth as plastic or marble. Thus, they found themselves in an octagonal hypostyle carrying a cross vault perhaps eight metres up in the air. The vault was made from clear glass and let in the sunshine. The hot, humid air practically clung to her skin like a lover's sticky caress, and with wide eyes she gazed around at the people coming and going. Or 'people' weren't perhaps the correct word, she seemed to be the only human here, most of the other Sapients were petite characters with greenish or bluish hues to their skin and either long and flowing hairs or bald heads. There was even a woman with writhing tentacles instead of hair. Another duo had huge, fin-like crescents covering their heads. An estimate told Penelope that as many as eighty percent of the people moving around here seemed to be women. One of the exceptions was the bent and long-bearded character by the portal, dressed in a long gown or cloak with the hood folded back to display a conical head with a smock of snow white hair. He looked like a black version of Gandalf and Daraxan was handing him something which his leathered hands eagerly reached out to grab. Payment, Penelope guessed. After that, the theos turned around towards her. "You okay?"
"Hot," she fanned her hand across her face to hit home the point.
"Yes," he nodded. "That's because we have entered through the Minodewan Portal. Minodewa is near the equator on Kandanaki. So it doesn't matter what time of year it is in Minodewa. The weather here is always the same. Come on, we have an airship to catch."
"You'll see!" With that he led on, and still holding his hand she followed him across the black floor, weaving in and out of the groups of strange characters, who had her turning her head several times, and it gave her a hard time keeping up with him and not stumble over her feet at the same time.
"Daraxan!" she breathed. "Not so fast! Or are we in a hurry?"
"Not really," with that he slowed down. "I guess I just want to be efficient. Then I forgot, that it's your first time around. So have a good look if you like."
"Those people don't mind me staring?"
"As a matter of fact, they stare as much at you as you stare at them. It's not every day Earthlings come here. Or even every year for that matters."
"That seldom, huh!"
"Yes, Earthlings in general do not travel the multiverse, simply because they have not figured out how to do it yet. Which is a bit strange taking in mind all the other achievements your kind have made. Generally, races figure out portals before they figure out computers, nuclear power or space flight. As a matter of fact, most races have no need for space flight, since they use portals instead."
With that the two of them stopped and Penelope turned around and took a really good look at the scenery. To her this structure looked like some kind of an outdoor lobby with several hazy 'sheens' in the middle, 'sheens', which she understood were the portals to various other places, as she saw people disappear into them and others yet entering. She also spotted long, curving sofas where Sapients were sitting alone or in groups, some eating, others talking, yet others studying what looked like this world's equivalent of smartphones. There were also long banners hanging from the walls, which she first thought were some kind of textile decorations, until she saw that their motifs were changing. Some kinds of screens apparently, showing pictures of places and Sapiens interjected with what appeared to be writing, of the kind that ran form the top and down, letters looking like drawn flowers. She saw some people selling things from stands and others purchasing the same. And off to a corner was a quartet on ladders who were apparently mending or cleaning a part of the structure. After that, she turned around and glanced out at the area surrounding them, noting that they were on a hill inside of some kind of a town or perhaps a city with lines and lines of three or four story houses with pointy saddleback roofs and high chimneys. The houses were ornately and brightly coloured and with large windows, a lot of them round or semi-circular and with balconettes outside. Quite a few of those balconettes held small ladders or spiral staircases leading down to the ground and in some places, she saw people descending or ascending, then disappearing inside of the houses. She also noted that the main way of transportation here seemed to be a kind of Segway-like one-man vehicles with small canopy roofs over or some sort of tuk-tuk rides pulled by hairy beasts walking on their hind legs. And just like every other city, this place was noisy, even if the noises were unlike those of Earth cities. Instead of the constant drone of traffic, there were chatter and growls, twitter and roars, music, bells and carillons, blasting horns and clattering feet and the city smelled of odd burnt things, flowery fragrances, newly sawed wood, musk and decay and over it all a salty deposit, as if they were near an ocean. Or that would have been what she'd guessed it was, had they still been on Earth. But here she had no idea if it was water she smelled or something entirely else. She turned to the left, looking up at an egg-like dome with a high, conical spire on top which was towering over the otherwise low-cut skyline. And to her right, she spotted what she guessed were mountains, fading away in the haze. But most of all it was the pinkish sky that surprised her. Pink and cloudless, yet misty and with a blazing sun scorching her neck as soon as they stepped out from under the protection of that glass roof, and she understood why most people seemed to be wearing hats or scarves.
"Is this... what did you call this city?" she asked.
"Minodewa," Daraxan said.
"Did your mother come from this place?"
"This planet, yes, but Diktynna is from, well almost the other side of the globe, and way down south, almost by polar area."
"Is it cold there?"
"Compared to this place, yeah."
"I could almost use some snow now," Penelope said, wiping sweat from across her forehead as they began their walk down the avenue. "Are we walking there?"
"Just a few metres," Daraxan said, and then he pointed to a polka-striped pole with a golden knob on its top, and with those funny letters dancing down the darker stripes. "And right on time too!"
The next thing Penelope heard was a loud rattling behind her and she turned her head, to behold a brightly coloured vehicle, looking like one of those kiddies' trains that you saw in amusement parks. Some of the small coaches were partly or completely occupied, others were empty, and she saw now that there were other coaches waiting by the pole, a few of those occupied as well. The next thing she came to see was an intricate dance as the train disconnected a few of its coaches and instead some of the waiting ones became attached to it. Daraxan and Penelope boarded one coach with two empty seats in and he paid by entering an oblong and blue-gleaning coin in a slot. At the same time she tried to figure out what was operating this vehicle, it seemed to move by itself. And she was also mesmerized by the couple sitting opposite of her, two women with greenish skin and dark-green hair falling like veils across their faces. Hair adorned with crystals and beads and glossy fragments of fabrics. And as she stared at their leathery skin and knobby libs, she got the distinct impression that they were partly made of wood. And she had just realized that she was staring and decided to face away, when one of the women suddenly leant forward, reached out with a hard, green and long-fingered little hand and pinched Penelope in the cheek, tugging hard.
"Ai!" Penelope jerked back in pain and consternation, and Daraxan reached out sharply with his right hand, almost batting away the hand of the small abo woman, berating her in a smattering lingo. The woman twittered something back and jerked back too and her friend was saying something at the same time.
The next time the vehicle began moving and Penelope reached up and touched her aching cheek, lost for words. But Daraxan didn't need her question to answer.
"Dryads," he said matter of factly. "A bit... how shall I say it, they don't know that your kind are, well soft and fleshy. They think in the hard terms of themselves. Fairly easy if you're part time trees, and the largest part at that."
"Dryads?" Penelope exhaled as she glanced over at the women in the opposite seat as the tram picked up speed, blowing its horn as it went by. "Tree people! I never thought them to be real!"
"Wait and see, most of your 'myths' have a core of truth. Dryads used to live on Earth earlier, before humanity became too imposing and began cutting down their trees. And speaking of your cheek, that woman was not rude really, in their society there's nothing wrong with touching a stranger, they communicate through their limbs as well as well as their spoken language."
"Really," Penelope blinked and again let her eyes slid over to the Dryad. "What did you tell her by the way?"
"That she should be more observant and see that we were from, well, out of town, and she couldn't presume that it was okay to just reach out and tough."
"I hope I didn't offend her in a way," she sighed. She hated cultural collisions like this, it reminded her of when she as a pre-teen had moved from Sweden to Greece and how odd and out of place she had felt the first years.
"Don't you worry about that," Daraxan replied. "She's forgotten it more or less already," then he too glanced in the direction of the Dryads and now Penelope noted that they seemed engaged in some heavy kind of exchange, both in words and touches, pinching, poking and striking touches, their oral language a smattering and clicking cacophony sounding more like birds or insects than people.
The ride lasted a bit longer than a quarter of an hour, and Penelope got to see a bit more of these colourful houses and also a park-like area with greenery and high trees with spiral-shaped leaves and CD-sized blossoms in white and pink which were raining their petals down in the street, like confetti on a celebration. She caught a few of those petals in her hand, they were soft and velvety, reminding her more of animal hide than something vegetable. She also noted that they smelled sweetly of something similar to bananas. She pocketed these petals for further examination.
When the odd tram came a stop the third time, Daraxan took her arm. "We're here." They descended to a sidewalk with a high fence running alongside it. The fence held several gates, open but with turnstiles and more of those flower letters lining their sides, although these were not animated. There were people streaming through those gates, they seemed to be one-way, some letting people out, others admitting them in. Penelope and Daraxan chose one of the latter and Daraxan used another object this time, a golden semi-circle attached to a leather ribbon, to blip a turnstile open, a fare card or a credit card, Penelope guessed. On the other side was a large square of the same kind of hard top as in the Portal area and beyond that she spotted several vehicles resting on the ground. These were just as ornate and brightly coloured as the houses, with large round windows, piping in some copper-like material running helter-skelter, lanterns, gangways and ladders on the outside, but nothing that reminded her of either engines or propellers.
"How do these things fly?" she asked Daraxan. "Magic?"
"Heck no, that would mean manual labour. Which magic as a matter of fact is. No, these runs on fusion."
"Isn't that dangerous?"
"Not in any way. There's no radiation in Kandanaki," Daraxan explained. Then he turned up that semi-circle again, gazed down in it, and she beheld more flower letter appearing on that golden surface. Something like a smartphone, she guessed.
"What is that thing?" She pointed and in return Daraxan turned over and held out the object, the side with the letters facing her.
"It's a dictor," he said and went on explaining. "You can compare it to a combo between a smartphone, a credit card and a ID-card. It's loaded with my transfer information, and yesterday I added yours as well."
"I travel using your ID?"
"Yes, people with my professional status can add guests to our ID's, and take them with us wherever we chose to go. And in this case it's you. The only thing needed to admit you in is that you're with me and that your name and origin is attached, together with a picture of you."
"You shot a picture of me? When?" She felt something creep down her spine as she thought about the little black dress from yesterday.
Seeing her blush, Daraxan laughed. "No worries, dear, I made it today, just before we stepped through the Acropolis portal, as I recalled that I needed a picture of you for travelling through Kandanaki."
"I see. And what was it you said earlier? Your professional status? Is that being a god?"
"Yes, but not in the way as you see it on Earth. Theoi in the United Multiverse don't have temples raised to them or worshippers. That generally happens on worlds by the outskirts where people are more, well superstitious."
"Like mine?" Penelope almost felt insulted.
"Like yours used to be some 2000 years ago," Daraxan corrected her. "These days the notion of the old gods is mostly gone, which I believe you might have noticed. To be true, you can say that my status here is more like a blend between the one of a diplomat, a federal police officer and a scholar."
"I'm not sure I understand that role, but," she shrugged. "Never mind, I'm sure we have a ship to catch."
"Right, we do, however there's no hurry, as it's right here," Daraxan pointed ahead to a large, blue-painted behemoth with red details, "and it's not due for takeoff within another 40 minutes."
"Can we go inside at this moment then?"
"Yes certainly, it's open, do you want that?"
"Of course," again she fanned her hand across her face. "Or have you forgotten that I'm melting away in this place?"
"No, I haven't," he held out his arm for her to take. "Come on then, let's board our ride!"
There weren't any gang plank or stairs, in fact you got on board of these vehicles as easy as boarding a subway coach. And inside, Penelope noted, it looked like the pictures she had seen of the Orient Express, or perhaps the Titanic, with a lot of colourful textiles and what she supposed was wood intermingling with brass polished so well that she could spot her reflection in them. Soft pipe music reminding her of ancient Arabian tunes came from hidden speakers, the air smelled sweetly and Penelope noted that the chairs were not placed in the same directions like with most earthly passenger vehicles, but that most of them were turned so that they faced the large windows. Behind them were seats arranged in small groups closed in by rounded screens and with small tables between them. There weren't many on board at this early hour, but by watching some of the other passengers, Penelope noted that the seating was possible to re-arrange. For a few moments she looked at the behaviour eight blue characters with tentacles for hair and baggy gray clothes, seeing them turn chairs and screens around to create a large enough enclosed area for their group.
"Where are our seats?" she asked Daraxan.
"They can be anywhere," Daraxan said, "there's free seating here." At the same time a slender, grayish being came up to them, doubtlessly of the same race as the blue ones who were moving chairs, although it was impossible to make a guess at the gender. This being's red peaked cap exactly matched the red trousers, the bright blue jacket with its gold braiding and brass buttons was neatly pressed and belted with a wide black patent leather belt that harmonised with the glossy black boots. This being held out its hand and jerked its legs in what obviously passed for a curtsy here and said something to them in a high-pitched yet grating voice and Daraxan answered in the same language, yet it was obvious that he was struggling with some of the syllables. The uniform-dressed said something again and held out a dictor similar to Daraxan's and he brought up his in return, and although the objects never touched, it was obvious that an exchange of information took place. Finally the being took a quick glance at Penelope, unable to hide the curiosity from its round, unblinking and purplish eyes, before it turned to the next persons coming through the door.
"None of these seems to be your mother's people," Penelope finally found words, as they were taking seats facing the large, slightly curving windows.
"No, they are Smistans," Daraxan said. "My mother's people are theoi of the Olympian kind, the watchers and care-takers of this world. The Smistans are amphibians, similar to the naiads that used to inhibit Earth until about a millennium ago."
"Did all of these specimens leave earth?" Penelope asked. "Why?"
"They were ordered to do so when humanity was expanding. For their own safety plus that Earth does belong to you humans."
"Who ordered them? The Olympians?"
"Yes they did," Daraxan shifted in the seat, kicking off his sneakers and pulled up his feet to find a more comfortable position. As Penelope realized that it was acceptable to do so, she mimicked Daraxan's position.
"Hmm... and we couldn't be asked to share."
"You know your kind as well as I do," Daraxan said. "No offence, but you're belligerent and xenophobic most of you. You'd probably exterminated most other sentient species hadn't they left when you began to crowd your world."
"Why am I not surprised," Penelope murmured as she glanced out at the airship port and the colourful city beyond it. "With our history of crusades, colonialism, the nazis and the communists. Not to mention the jihadists." Then she turned to Daraxan again. "But this world is not like this?"
"No, these people, these specimens have a very much of a live and let live attitude. They're very liberal, almost libertarians, they don't give a fraction of a damn about how other people look or what they eat or how they dress or their mating habits and family shapes and whatever. You leave them in peace, they leave you in peace, that's the golden rule. Save for being generally very curious when someone new and unexpected crosses their tracks. But it's a good-natured curiosity."
Daraxan ensued talking about this world, told about the different species, save for the Dryads and the Smistans, there were seven more sentient beings sharing this world, although two species were aquatic, the Kelpies and the Meras and another, the Luutai, lived high up in the mountains where the air was chilly and thin, and they seldom ventured down into the plains, since they could not live without certain survival gear down here. The largest group was a specie called Kerii which looked almost like human although they were taller and more slender with fudge-brown skin and larger eyes. Time flew as he sketched out the planet's history and before Penelope knew it, she heard two large thunks followed by a few smaller ones and there was a sudden jerk and then came a shifting of the floor and after that the vehicle began to noiselessly and gracefully lift. As they took into the air and she watched the city fall away beneath her she tried to take it all in at the same time, also reaching for her cell phone to snap off quite a few pictures, hoping the battery would last until the trip was over as she was certain it would be impossible to charge it anywhere here. And she sure wanted to take pictures of this place, even if she knew that she could never show them to someone else, not to mention posting them on Instagram or Facebook.