Atlas, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,060
Atlas moved swiftly, her long strides gobbling up the distance between her bedroom and the Gatekeeper’s quarters. The hallway stretched on before her, branching off in a hundred directions along the way; the entire city was built this way – interconnected by hallways instead of streets, all part of one giant labyrinthine household. The tiles glowed with a clean luminescence that felt normal to her, but she recognized the impossibility of her surroundings immediately. This was Atlantis before it sank; this was the city her father hand sunk to protect; this was the city she had never seen. An overwhelming homesickness for a place she’d never been filled her, chilling her muscles into a bitter, nervous tension.
Hieroglyphs lined the milk-white walls with their faint, gleaming blue ink. Atlas tried to ignore the familiar comfort of her tattoos lighting up with the warm power of the runes. She choked it down and began to sprint down the hall.
It was the first moment of freedom, the first burst into a jog, that sent her racing madly down the hallway. Like a dam bursting forth, her panic and fear and uncertainty pushed her forward, urging her faster and faster still until her feet barely touched the tiles. The hall was a blur of whites and blues, brief glimpses of the hieroglyphs remained in her vision for a heartbeat before passing on into nothingness. Her hair whipped around behind her like the tail of a speeding comet flickering gloriously as it tore across the sky.
A sense of urgency, the weight and force of which she had never experienced before, overtook her as she ran. It pushed her harder, until it was no longer a matter of breathing, of pacing, of steps before the next, of air and gravity and fear. It became a method to a greater purpose, a pathway in the darkness of crisis, that needed no light or direction – but merely the motion of her body, the will behind her actions, to launch her ever forward down the hallway. For a brief moment, she was not a creature of flesh or bone, but a gust of wind and refracted light particles that barreled ahead without heed for time or space or physics.
Within seconds she was skidding to a halt at the Gatekeeper’s door; she hesitated for a moment, instinctively attempting to catch a breath she hadn’t lost. Her body seemed peaceful, calm, and she glanced back the way she’d come. Perhaps she had begun sprinting closer to the Gatekeeper’s quarters than she had expected, she rationalized, it seemed unlikely she’d made a nearly half-mile trip in under a minute – and without even getting her heart-rate going. She pushed open the door and was blinded by the brilliant light of an open portal. The silhouette of the Gatekeeper stood before her, hands clasped in front of him, his short hair billowing around his face from the portal’s wind.
The guilt of her departure faded as she stepped forward.
Elseron’s firm, quiet voice shattered the world around her and she gasped with the rush of being pulled back to reality. “Princess? Are you all right?”
She lifted her eyes to meet his, unafraid to clash her sunshine gaze with his pale blue, unafraid of the uncertainty that filled her. There had never been a moment of shame or inadequacy with Elseron; he seemed to understand the intricacies of her mind, the passageways of her decisions or reactions, even better than she did. She never felt vulnerable to judgment or disappointment around him. She didn’t shield him from seeing her in any light; and in the entirety of the populace of her city, he was the only one. “Just another lucid dream, Elseron, I’m sorry I didn’t hear you approaching.”
The understanding on his face was a comfort to her. He said, “It is time, Princess.”
She nodded and tugged the loose silk wrap around her shoulders as if she were chilled. She realized she still hadn’t shaken the deep sense of foreign nostalgia and she wondered why. She shifted the weight of her bag to her other hand and opened the bedroom door.
The trip to the Gatekeeper was much shorter than in the dream; the walk there took she and Elseron a matter of moments, and soon, she was waiting in the streets for the old man to open the door. She knew what she would find, she’d been going to the Gatekeeper all of her life, but the anticipation of something else never left her bones. She kept expecting to see the silhouette of her dream Gatekeeper, the brightness of the portal. No wind lifted the strands of her hair when the Gatekeeper answered their knock. He looked up at her from below a brow that shielded his eyes from hers. She leaned down and kissed his cheek in greeting, murmuring, “Good day, Gatekeeper.”
The old man stepped aside and waited for them to enter, the frown on his face seeming to be chiseled into his features. He did not approve of their trip.
“My Queen, with all due respect, I do not think –“
Just when Atlas opened her mouth to speak, to interrupt the old man before he wasted his, or their, time, Elseron’s voice pierced the air in the tiny living room. “The Gatekeeper will keep his opinions to himself in respect to questioning the decisions of the Queen.”
She had never seen the Gatekeeper’s eyes burn with such anger before, but she did not contest Elseron’s decree. Without another word, the Gatekeeper moved to them, stretching himself up to press the palms of his hands on their foreheads. Atlas felt the sharp sting of teleportation, the emptiness of the travel, then the halt of her feet on solid ground once more. Elseron’s hand was on her elbow when she opened her eyes. He only let go when she took a step forward. The two of them were surrounded by a variety of humanoids, the likes of which Atlas had only ever imagined. Her eyes wide with a curious shock, Atlas moved through the crowd. The sounds and smells around her steam-rolled her senses until she was no longer able to distinguish between them and the world crushed her awareness.
The last thing she felt were Elseron’s arms as they caught her when her knees buckled.