Phaedos, then Atlas, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,333
He was going home empty handed.
Home, he thought again, but brushed it off. Empty handed was more important, he reminded himself; he’d made a promise and he was unable to keep it.
He knew where his brother would be found, didn’t he? If he was being honest, didn’t he?
He shoved his way through the throngs of people in the streets. He needed to make it to the airport but the traffic was too dense and motionless for him to risk taking a cab. He was actually faster on foot.
There was a dreadful desperation that had latched onto his ribcage from the inside; if it had a source, he could not trace it. It came from nowhere, told him nothing, but expected everything; and it grew stronger with every passing moment.
Without even realizing it, he was tearing down the street like a man propelled by an invisible electric current that stung his flesh any time he slowed. His feet hit the ground in hard slaps, milliseconds apart, but he did not feel them. He ran faster, harder, pushing himself to some imagined line of tolerance.
The truth was, he’d never in his life pushed his body beyond it’s limitations. Regardless of the circumstances.
He was distantly aware that he would push his boundaries on this day; that his motivation would call for him to fly when he could not lift his feet from the ground, but he would fling himself over the wide abyss of a cliff-side to see if he sprouted wings.
To get to her, he realized.
It was the first clue to the sensation that swam inside of him that he’d received; and he knew it with a rock-solid certainty. It was her, and he did not know if she was calling to him or if fate itself was making him aware of the gaping distance between them, but he needed to get there. He needed to close that divide.
The need was so primal, so urgent, that his body began to feel as if it were no longer his; an eerie severance from his senses took over and he watched the city speed by him in a blur. He knew his body was pushing him forward, knew his legs were working and stretching, bending and pushing, repeating, but he could not feel it.
He felt every second tick by as an earthquake in his bones.
Atlas was swimming in an ocean the color of a stormy sky; the greys varied and distinct, darkening before her very eyes. Above her, the sky was black. The water was ice cold and it seeped into her flesh, buried itself in her muscles, sank like a weight through her bones, and froze the marrow within.
Above the waves, the wind whipped wildly. She could see no land in any direction; nothing at all except the merciless, ceaseless ash-grey waves.
As she watched, the waves grew solid. Some were many feet taller than she, coming right at her, frozen in place. Soon, the water surrounding her grew firm and she pushed herself up from its depths with the palms of her hands pressed against the grey once-wave.
At first, she was dripping wet with the water that was meant to be ice; but soon, with the wind ravaging her entire body, she was dry and there was no trace of the ocean she’d been in.
The sky stretched above her was still a depthless black; uninterrupted by clusters of stars, uninhabited, it seemed, in all manner of speaking. No light moved across it, no shades of blues or hues of white.
Nothing except inky blackness that unfolded as far as her eyes could see. She began to walk, in no particular direction; following the curves and juts of the waves. When necessary, she climbed, wrapping her fists around the glassy tips of the once-waves.
Seven thousand, four hundred, and sixty-something miles later
He burst through the mansion door without stopping; he felt the splinters and cuts that littered his flesh but he ignored them. They were insignificant.
His steps were somewhat erratic, his muscles sore and strained from the constant movement over the last ten hours. He did not even remember the trip.
He remembered one thing and one thing only:
That she was calling to him, and he needed to answer her.
His movements flung him down the hallway and he shoved passed guards in his journey. No one reached out to stop him; at least, none he noticed.
He pushed passed Dante, who stood guard outside of Atlas’ chambers, and lunged through the curtain.
He stood stock still in the middle of the room, gasping for breath – as a reflex, it seemed, since his lungs did not burn with need.
Elve stood a few feet away from him, her eyes fixed on the mess of a bed that contained a somewhat stripped Elseron and a frighteningly close to death Atlas. Clearly, she was struck by an overpowering sense of confusion and a loss for a solution; her body was rigid with fear and her expression gave her away.
He wanted to scream, to rage against the room and the unanswered questions flitting in and out of his awareness. There were not enough words to describe the desperation, the misery, the agony that seared through him. He was viciously aware of every iota in his body, of every breath that filled his lungs and not Atlas’, of every fraction of health inside of him that he could not tear from his limbs to sacrifice for her.
Helplessness was a foreign feeling to him, but he felt, in that moment, that he was more acquainted with it than he ever wished to be again.
He moved to her, knowing of no other thing he could possibly do. He went to the side of the bed opposite Elseron; who rested upon the mattress haphazardly, his eyelids fluttering with the activity going on in his unconscious mind. Atlas’ body was cold, colder than he thought anyone living should be, as he lifted her against his chest. Tears fell from his chin. He hadn’t realized he was crying, but he did nothing to stop it. He pressed her to him, squeezing her body tightly as if he could warm her up with his arms and chest and heartbeat.
He began to hum, and after a long while passed, he realized what he was humming. His father had called it the creation song, and Phaedos hadn’t thought of it in centuries. He hummed to her for hours, weeping silently and largely unaware, into her hair.
There was no land in sight, no matter how far she walked; the distance that grew before her was infinite. In some places, the waves had been crashing together when they’d solidified; the explosion of white foam billowing up into the black sky, as a spray – held in place, untouched by gravity or time.
Very distantly, practically a whisper on the wind, she heard music. Without conscious thought, her footsteps turned toward the sound, and she followed it. The landscape hardly changed; the jagged peaks of crested waves still littered the expanse stretched out before her in soundless riots of chaos. Eventually, the sound stopped, and so did her steps.
She could feel herself sinking again, her ankles first, and without a thought, she let it happen. The ice water began to fill her once more.
Simultaneously, as if their consciousnesses had been one, Elseron and Atlas gasped for breath. Their eyes snapped open, wide and frightened and alert. Unnoticed by Phaedos, their hands sought each other until palms and fingers found the other; their grip firm and strong, fingers entwined. They did not look at each other, but the connection was enough. Their breathing was ragged with effort, as if they had been frantic with activity wherever they had been, but they glowed with life, and that was all Phaedos had been hoping for.