Chapter Eighteen
Atlas, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,330 

The stone was a cold fire in her palm and she felt the enchantment of it tingling up to her elbow.  The silence in the room was thick and heavy and heated; there were too many things to be said and neither of them wanted to begin saying them.  It was not going to be an easy conversation, she conceded; feeling worse when she realized that, despite the mountain of things they needed to discuss as it was, there was even more that she had yet to tell him.  She frowned and kept her eyes fixed on the shadows beneath the bed frame.

"I'm sorry I've been asking you to blindly trust in decisions of mine that you cannot understand, Elseron, but I've no other option."  Inwardly, she added, please understand the words I cannot find.

The silence reclaimed its dominance over the room as Elseron chewed on her words.  His body was relaxed as he leaned against the wall, the handle of his axe loosely held in his hand as his wrist swung forward and backward.  His iceberg blue eyes stared out through the single window in the room.  Outside, the sky was a smothering soot-black blanket thrown over the city.

She felt as if she were condemning him, but she didn't know why.  "Elseron, there are things I haven't shared with you yet."  The words were too hard and fat in her throat, like an avocado seed stuck behind her uvula; they ejected themselves from her lips with a force that stunned even her; they were not simply a confession, they were the utter acceptance of guilt and the misery it required.  "I know I am a burden to you," she began, the words tumbling from her mind to her tongue and through her lips before she could stop them.  "I think, perhaps, we should consider expanding.  I already know of one volunteer," she added, attempting to keep all expectation from her voice.  "You should sit and talk with Phaedos Elias, Elseron, you might like him."

His eyes were cold enough to send shivers down her spine.  "We cannot trust anyone here; this world is a treacherous place."  His tone was firm, even; she was speaking to the Commander of the Royal Knights, then, as if she were sitting in her father's throne, disguised as the King.

She frowned in a way she'd never frowned before, "This world is a treacherous place," she agreed, "but allies in this battle are nothing more than the outcasts of their own worlds, are they not?"  It felt strange to her to be asserting her authority over the one man she wanted to hand the reigns over to; but that was the coward hiding behind her own ribs, and to fight her, Atlas added steel to her own voice.

"Your highness preaches wisdom beyond her understanding," Elseron said and his tone was biting.  The words, aligned as they were, were a compliment.  His eyes denied the virtue of the arrangement of such carefully chosen words.

"I want you to gather a team you feel you can trust," she said, the acidic emphasis on his trust lingering in the static tension between them.  "But you will start with Phaedos Elias, and we will begin our search once you find the guards you need."

He stood rigidly; his fingers, once loosely clasped around the handle of his axe, now tense – the knuckles white with the pressure of his grip.  "Anything else, your Majesty?"

She hesitated, but decided to plunge ahead.  She needed to repair the damage of her recent behavior, and the truth was that keeping any further information from him would only make the rest of the mission harder.  She needed her right-hand-man, the same way her father had needed him; perhaps more so.  Probably more so, she thought, but said, "Recently, I have begun to wonder if this world is even safe, Elseron.  I knew it was a dangerous trip, I knew my life would be at risk - and yours," her voice hitched and she cleared her throat, two delicate fingers grazing the dip in her throat as she did so, before continuing, "But I have begun to wonder if the danger is not temporary.  What kind of world am I willing to bring Atlanteans into?"

She sighed and it sounded as if she were expelling all of the air in the atmosphere from her lungs.

She'd expected a fight, an argument - the fury of a man dragged from his home into an undeclared battle ground, and then informed that his plight was for nothing.  That he'd risked everything for a girl who could not even make up her mind.  His voice startled her with its gentle, soothing tone.  "Atlas," he said, though it was more of a murmur than she'd ever heard from him, "you are doing only what you must.  What more could Atlantis ask of you?"

"To save it, as I rightfully should be doing!"  She was hollering at herself, at the coward within her that feared every shadow in this world.  She was on her feet, her motions unnaturally swift, as she flung the communication stone far from her; it sliced through the empty space of the room and embedded itself in the wall across from her.  Her heartbeat raced in her chest.

He was upright when she looked up, his posture tense and ready - for what, she didn't know.  His gaze was on her and she felt a sick wrenching in her stomach.  She thought she would be sick.  There was pity in his eyes.  She wanted to shout at him, to demand an explanation for the unconditional understanding he was practicing.  To demand that he wake her up from this nightmare.  "You will save it, Atlas, or we will die trying."  The promise was solid; it clamped down around them as a pressurized seal, locking them in the domed cover of a doomed mission.

She felt something stirring in her, then, and she recognized the coward in her instantly.

"What is happening, Elseron?  Why am I so inept?"  Her words were trembling, unsure and uncontrolled and wild; her vowels ruptured like small earthquakes in the foundations of her sentences.  "And where the fuck is my inheritance?"

She was positive she had never used such language, let alone in front of someone she respected as much as her own father.  She was crying, then, and she didn't know how to stop herself.  She hated the inadequate feeling that welled up inside of her, but the sobs helped push it out.  She hadn't been expecting Elseron's arms to wrap comfortingly around her, but when they did not, she felt the strangest sense of dissatisfaction.  It wasn't dejection, she thought, pondering - it was familiar but she was certain it had never been elicited in her by Elseron before.

Then she realized it was disappointment, and she knew the instant for what it was: the one and only moment in her entire life when Elseron had not delivered what she felt was needed.

Bitter with herself for feeling something so selfish and trite, she rubbed the tears from her eyes and cheeks and looked up to meet his eyes.  Elseron, however, was not even looking at her.  His eyes were, instead, on the objects that floated in the room as if gravity had been vanquished an instant before.  The pillows hung above the bed as if suspended by strings; lamps, candles, knick knacks, and picture frames hovered a foot above the surfaces they had just been resting upon.  Her eyes found the communication stone across the room, pulled from the wall, as it hung in the empty air.

His expression was bemused and she wondered how he found the situation even somewhat funny.  After a long, bloated moment, he turned his attention to her and smiled.

"I believe you've found what you were seeking, Princess."

Gravity caught up with the room and everything came crashing down.

The End

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