Pilot + Phaedos, then Atlas, by rhetoric
Word Count: 2,020
Phaedos’ eyes burned with mild anger; Pilot wondered if the man across from him had managed to become more powerful somehow, he couldn’t remember Phaedos’ eyes being that lively the last he’d seen him. “I did not make arrangements to have her stay with us,” he said, and his tone bore a single, distinct threat.
I will leave you at the mercy of my superiors.
Coward, thought Pilot, and shrugged as if he weren’t addressing someone teetering on the edge of losing control. “We will not be staying with you, wherever it is you are staying. I have made arrangements for Eden and I. I will begin training at dusk, and will return to Eden at dawn, when your vampire will be vulnerable and useless.”
“I do not think it is wise for someone to be coming and going frequently -“ Pilot made a note of the lethal shift in Phaedos’ expression upon interruption; Pilot still did not let him finish speaking.
“This is non-negotiable, Phaedos. If you want me to train your pet, you will not argue this.”
A long moment passed in silence. Pilot remained unperturbed; if Phaedos could not accommodate certain conditions, it did not matter. Pilot would get on the first flight home and never think of this day again. Eden watched the two of them interact, feeling as if she were in a new world; a dream-world, perhaps, where the events unfolding before her could happen and simultaneously be surprising and expected.
“I will not ask for any other special clearances for you,” Phaedos said.
Pilot shook his head in a demeaning sort of way, as if Phaedos had missed something that was rather clear to everyone else. “No, Phaedos, you will arrange things as necessary to suit my conditions. You seem to be forgetting that I am here at will, and therefore, I can leave at will. This is a favor, Phaedos; it would do you well not to forget that.”
“Where are you staying? I will take you to drop off your things but we need to return to the mansion. The Queen is waiting.” He gestured at Eden, keeping his eyes carefully away from her, and opened his mouth to insist that she not join them when Pilot interrupted him for the second time.
“I will take Eden to drop off my things, but I will meet you somewhere else. You will not be informed of where we are staying.”
Good, Phaedos thought to himself, and he could practically taste the resentment on his tongue, like raw liver, cold and dense and wrong. The farther away and harder to reach she was from him, the better. He could feel her there, a few yards away, like a cool breeze or the first few drops of rain before a thunderstorm. “Fine,” he growled, “Meet me here in another hour.”
Pilot waited in the airport, his jacket slung over his shoulder by one finger, his eyes scanning a document on his portable view-screen. His thumb moved swiftly, scrolling through page after page. His six-foot-four frame lounged against a glossy wall with one foot propped up, the sole of his boot flat against the paneling. At one time in his life he had been lanky; he had long ago grown out of that stage.
Phaedos came to stand before him, solemn and distant, but Pilot ignored him until he finished the last few pages of his file.
Without a trace of impatience, Phaedos asked, “Are you ready?” Pilot could see the faintest creases around his eyes; he thought, I wonder what he’s hiding? The glint of joy in Phaedos’ eyes was more than a little disconcerting.
“I’m sorry, did you have to wait long? I’ve only been here forty-five minutes.” He glowered at Phaedos openly; it felt better to have the animosity out in the air. He breathed easier.
In silence, they left the airport.
There was something undeniably striking about him, she could not deny that. He stood in such a way that implied he had everything under his complete control; that nothing ever had, and nothing ever would, get out of hand in his presence. His kept his hair shorter than Phaedos, though it was at least three or four inches long and hung around his face as a dark halo. His jaw was shaded by a dense five-o’clock shadow that only sharpened his features.
What struck her the most was the jagged, twisted scar over his left eye. The flesh was contorted but fully healed; and despite the old wound, there was nothing more than a murky layer of mist that shielded the virid green of his iris. She marveled at the brilliant color of his undamaged eye, at the difference from one eye to the other – though so small, it was startlingly mesmerizing. She felt almost as if she were looking through two lenses at the same forest; one lens held the image of the verdant woods, the other of the same woodland, but shrouded in dense fog. She felt the strangest sense of comfort as she met his gaze; she had to ignore the whisper of weakness in her knees.
She gathered herself and smiled at him.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Pilot, I appreciate that you came.” Surprisingly, her voice was even and regal – it showed no trace of the flutter in her nerves.
Pilot smiled warmly at her as if he would let her believe she meant the polite chatter. He said nothing.
Phaedos’ expression, though stoic and detached, was not enough to shield the violent tremors of fear and anger circling in his eyes.
Her heartbeat stuttered and she gestured at everyone to sit down. Lunch had just been brought to her chambers and the simple snack she’d requested seemed to have translated to a feast for at least half of the guard. “I am sure you must be hungry,” she said.
She watched as he warred with himself. He wished to leave, but he had not been raised to be rude. He nodded and took a seat, keeping his mouth shut. She wondered if he would ever speak. She didn’t know why she longed to hear the way he balanced words upon his tongue, the subtle shifts in vowels and consonants, the pauses and inflection in his speech.
Elseron seated himself directly across from Pilot, his glacier blue eyes scathing. He watched each movement with such scrutiny that Atlas worried Pilot would become offended and leave.
She moved along. As she sat, she said, “When can you begin training Melody?”
A hush fell over the already silent table like a blanket of spider-webbing.
Pilot lifted his enchanting emerald eyes to her, and smiled. “At your earliest convenience, your Majesty.”
There was a phrase her father had familiarized her with when she was very young; he had said, of her Guardian’s ability to terrify any who looked upon her in a way he deemed impolite, “If looks could kill, Attie, Elseron would be victorious in every battle.”
She thought, then, that Phaedos was giving Pilot the same look Elseron had given so many others.
“Actually, Mr. Gallo, I’m afraid it will be at my earliest convenience,” Elseron said, the lilt of a smirk ringing in his tone. “While we’re on the topic, are you prepared to pass my examination today or would you like to rest up?”
His tone, his words, and his expression – they were all relaxed, even kind, but there was something beneath them all. A challenge lurked below the surface. Pilot caught the scent of it with ease.
He tossed the Queen a curious glance, half bemusement, half attraction, and turned one side of his mouth up in a sly smile. “I require no rest. Would you like to start the examination now?”
The answer, of course, had been yes.
The Atlantean Guardian led him down the labyrinthine halls until they reached a set of grandiose, ornate, polished oak double doors. Elseron swung them open smoothly with the motions of a practiced action. The room opened wide to him and the sunlight blinded him only for a millisecond.
“Are you familiar with hand to hand combat, Mr. Gallo?”
Pilot attempted to keep his look of mirthless indignance beneath the surface but he wasn’t certain he succeeded. “Quite practiced, Sir.”
Pilot caught the subtle change in breath as Elseron spoke and moved toward him from just outside of Pilot’s peripheral vision. The man’s motions were silent but Pilot turned and shoved his palms forward just as Elseron would have collided with him. Instead, the Guardian was flung backward with such force that his feet lifted from the ground. He crashed into the wall and laughed.
“Quite practiced indeed,” he said, rising to his feet. He gestured with his hand at Pilot’s attire as he removed the enormous axe from his belt and propped it against the same wall he’d just dented. “Take off any clothing you wish to wear again. I will test you, first, on your ability to hold your own in a battle. I offer you no delusions about this job; it is dangerous, you will find yourself in combat whether you seek it or not. Additionally, I will be watching your every move until you are no longer around the Queen. I will know of everything you do, at all times, and your first mistake here would be to doubt that truth.”
Standing in the room with only Elseron, his own heartbeat thudding in his chest with the thrill of a real challenge, Pilot did not doubt the man’s words.
He straightened his posture and reigned in the amusement lighting up his features. Solemnly, he extended his hand out across the six or seven feet of space between them. Elseron stepped forward and clasped a strong, calloused hand around Pilot’s forearm and they shook, once.
The two men understood each other, in that moment, Pilot thought, and broke the gesture. He stepped back and began to unbutton the cuffs of his button-up shirt. He moved with methodical precision; every flick of his fingers to relieve the button from its confines was practiced and intentional. Pilot had always hated men that fumbled with their shirt buttons. He slipped the burgundy shirt from his shoulders but left his grey beater on.
He removed his belt and set it on the floor beside his shoes and socks. Rolling his shoulders, he limbered his muscles up with a few quick movements, and faced Elseron.
They stared at each other for a single instant before Elseron stepped forward and took the first swing. He did not stop there; in fact, the Guardian rained down blow after blow like fist-sized hail upon him, but Pilot dodged him. Three hits, of roughly eight or nine, hit home – one landed on his cheekbone, the second crashed into his ribs, and the third broke his nose. Pilot laughed, upsetting the stream of blood pouring from his nostrils and causing droplets of copper-scented liquid to flyinto the air. As Elseron moved to dodge Pilot’s fist, Pilot swung his leg in a half-circle and knocked Elseron’s feet from beneath him. At first, he thought the Guardian would go down, but at the last instant, Elseron swung his body weight unexpectedly and Pilot barely had enough time to lean back as Elseron’s heel glided past his face by a fraction of an inch.
Before Elseron hit the ground, Pilot’s fingers locked around his ankle and yanked him upward, releasing his grip to send Elseron tumbling through the air. He collided with a small table set up on the opposite side of the room and sealed water bottles went clattering to the floor.
The Guardian was on his feet within a heartbeat, beaming as if he’d just won a competition, a fire behind his eyes that told Pilot he was as appreciative of the challenge they offered each other as Pilot was.
“Weapons, next,” Elseron said; his voice held traces of the rush of excitement.
For five hours, Elseron tested Pilot for limits.
He never found any.
*Author note: Seeing as this is already so long, I figured I would end this chapter here. I was going to have the first training session in it, too, but I think it's a little early for that. Thoughts? I could probably write it up tonight if you guys wanted. Probably.