the creatures among usMature

Chapter Forty-Eight
Atlas, then Pilot, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,601 

Atlas was drowning.

She could feel the last bubbles of air as they attempted to crest through the tight passage of her throat.  The pressure behind them built and grew until her chest felt as if it would simultaneously implode and explode.  There was too much pressure on either side of her flesh; the water was denser than concrete and it crushed her bones from the outside while the last remnants of oxygen stretched her veins and muscles and skin to the point of bursting.

A scream would do her no good, she knew, but it did not stop one from burning in the back of her throat.  She swallowed the scream and opened her eyes, hoping with the last strains of consciousness that she could see sunlight above her, that she was close to the surface.  Close enough to float, close enough to swim, she didn’t care.

Close was all she asked for.

What she saw was something beyond her expectations, beyond her understanding of reality, beyond her ability to fathom.

A woman swam toward her from above; beyond the gleaming form of the stranger, Atlas saw nothing except darkness.  She was too deep in the water; there was no sunlight – so promise of oxygen.  The woman smiled at her in the water, and her skin glowed with a soft, delicate light that reminded Atlas of early morning.  She came closer and closer.

She was too familiar to be a stranger, Atlas thought.  A deep, instinctual knowledge rumbled in the back of her mind but the silence of the ocean smothered it. 

Her eyes were golden, Atlas realized, as the woman reached out dainty hands to grip her shoulders.  Atlas’ eyes burned the longer she kept them open in the saltwater.

The non-stranger was with her now; their bodies against each other as the woman curled her arms beneath Atlas’ and took her weight.  With a quick grace that Atlas recognized, the woman pressed her soft lips against Atlas’ mouth.  It was not a kiss the way Atlas had ever known a kiss to be; and the feeling was so intense that Atlas could not even wonder why the almost- stranger was kissing her.

And then everything changed; Atlas realized it was not a kiss at all.

Even though it had been trapped in the woman’s body, absorbing her heat and her life and her taste, the air that rushed into Atlas’ mouth was fresh and awakening.

Atlas opened her eyes.

*

Pilot glowered at the woman before him.  This, he thought, was what he’d flown cross-country for?  This tiny woman with her blue eyes and rigid morals was the reason he was trapped in this stupid favor?  He sighed and crossed his arms over his chest, never breaking eye contact.

Elseron stood behind him, at the door with his pet bear tall and proud beside him, and Pilot amused himself with the idea that Elseron was thinking the same thing.

This was what they had flown cross-country to solve their problem?  This arrogant vampire with his earthen eyes and psychological trauma was the solution to their situation?

“How long have you been a vampire, Melody?”  It was a simple question to start out with, and one he was reasonably certain he knew the answer to, but the way the woman held herself had made him wonder.  He could smell the venom in her system, could sniff out the last lingering scents of humanity in her muscles.

She paused, but said, “I’d say two, maybe three, months.”

“You’ve been a vampire that long and yet you will not relinquish your humanity,” he said, it was a question but he said it as if it were rhetorical; as if he did not need her to answer it.  “This is foolish, Melody,” his tone had changed, he was speaking at her as if she were making this harder on all of them, “You are not human anymore.  Your humanity will be your weakness.  It will get more than one person in this group killed, and we’ll be lucky if one of those people is you.”

She bristled at his stab, her shoulders tensing and her eyes icing over.  “My humanity is all I have left,” she said, and her voice held venom.  “It’s all that stands between me and killing.”

He laughed then, and it was huge and resounding.  “Why, that is my point precisely, Melody.  You will be of no use to anyone if you’re trying to find peaceful middle ground.  You’re asking a spider not to eat the insects in her web.”

Her expression was indignant, and though it pleased him, he kept his face expressionless.

“You just expect me to be all right with killing people?”  Her words were a huff, but when she continued her voice was stronger, with an accusatory edge to the words, “You might be fine with such an act, but I am not.”

He scowled at her, biting back the defensive remark already slicing into his tongue.  She was practically an infant, he reminded himself, and she had no idea of the world she was now in.  “You’re a kitten trapped in a lion’s body, Melody,” he growled, his tone teetering on the brink of a threat.  He straightened his posture and turned to leave.  Over his shoulder, he added, “I will return when you can no longer deny your hunger.”

He counted the seconds of her hesitation.

Four, five, six.

“Wait!”  She paused again, “I need your help.  I need you to show me how to control it.”

He turned once more to face her, some of the darkness had already gone from his eyes.  He stared at her for a long moment, his forest green gaze peering farther into her than any man rightfully should have without permission.

“What do you want from me, Melody?  You are everything you need to know; you get hungry, you eat.  You are a beast of your own choosing – as is every other creature with the ability to use it’s brain.”

“I’m not a fool,” she said, and he could hear the shout she’d held back.  “I know that much.  I want to know how to drink without draining them.”

Pilot shrugged, the roll of his shoulders easy and casual, and said, “How do you cease breathing?  Simply stop, hold your breath and wait.  If you allow yourself enough practice, you can stop.”  He narrowed his eyes slightly, emphasizing his words as he added, “A dehydrated man will drink until he drowns, Melody.”

*

He wanted to walk home.

The night was crisp against his skin and he reveled in it.  Autumn had always been his favorite season.  He plunged into the inky night, pleased he hadn’t worn a thicker jacket than his sports coat, and made his way through the hidden paths until he reached the road.  When his fingers went numb, he stuffed them into the coat pockets.  He felt pleasant for the first time in hours.  The silence of the evening surrounding him, knowing he was on his way to Eden, having fought a great challenger and come out breathless and sore and energized.  It had been a better night than he’d predicted.

And oh, the things he had to share with Eden.  Things she would not believe.

He had made it into the city in a matter of minutes, even on foot at a leisurely pace, and as he rounded a corner he heard an ear-splitting scream.  It was close by, he deduced, the echoes were clear and he followed the sound until he peered around a brick wall into an alley.

He was not surprised to see a trifecta of lycanthropes circling a small girl.  She looked to be about twelve, but Pilot could smell the years on her.  She was no child.  She cowered beneath the hulking man-wolves, their jeering howls cutting through her scream.

His palms itched for his twin guns but he came around the corner anyway, unarmed and unwelcome.  He kept his hands in his pockets as he set his feet firmly on the ground, a foot and a half apart, the streetlights gleaming behind him so his face was nothing but a shadow.

“Why don’t the three of you stop bullying children and start a real fight with someone your own size?”  He’d chosen his words carefully; all four of them knew the girl was a woman of at least a hundred.  He sneered at the beasts as they spun around to address him.

“Are you suggesting we devote our attention to you, vampire?”  One of the wolves asked, the same jeering laughter echoing in his words.

Pilot rolled his shoulders to limber his back up.  “That’s exactly what I’m saying; how perceptive of you, dog.”

They all three lunged at him, and as they charged across the twenty or thirty foot gap, he met the fire-lit gaze of the woman they were forgetting about.  His eyes said, Run.  He did not have time to see if she did.

Pulling in a large gulp of fresh, night air, Pilot shut his eyes and centered himself.  From the recesses of his bones, the cracks and crevices and corners of his entire body, he pulled at the shadow of his inheritance, drawing it out.  The photic beast that lived within him roared to life, catching fire to his veins and his thoughts and his heart.  He opened his eyes, the once-emerald orbs entirely black with an unholy smoke, and laughed.

The lycanthropes fell to the ground mid-stride.

Pilot breathed in, once, and exhaled a cloud of ash.

*AN: This is totally unedited.  I will edit it when I return from dinner with my sister-in-law. :)  PLEASE tell me what you guys think of it.  PLEASE.

The End

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