Chapter Sixty Four
Pilot, then Atlas, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,491
He had always loved the smells of a city. They lingered in the air like a hundred thousand stories he’d forgotten. Almost predictable, but never quite that reliable. He enjoyed the cool night air against his flesh.
Melody was on his heels as he navigated the city streets in the shadows of late evening. He’d brought her to the city, as he’d done a number of times already, for a new purpose. He could see the difference in her motions; the way she walked, specifically. Her strides were more liquid and graceful; she rolled her step on the ball of her heel, as if each step were being used as practice for balance. The bear had obviously been teaching her things.
Perhaps it was time Pilot did the same.
He couldn’t deny he’d been itching for a fight, and the lure of a city filled to the brim with monsters was just the place to find one. At least, for a blood-sucking dark dweller. All he needed to do was sniff out an opponent. It would not be a troublesome task.
The streetlights flickered with the breeze.
Behind him, Melody spoke for the first time since they had entered the city. “Where are we going?”
He turned to her, letting his gaze linger on the scrapes littering her face. He blinked and shrugged, “You wanted to learn to fight, correct?”
Melody’s expression turned indignant, and he fought back a smirk. He knew danger when he saw it, and what darted behind her eyes was the very first inkling of it he had seen in her since their meeting. Her voice was low, littered with angry vowels, “Yeah, but you didn’t think I was ready.” Her pause was brief before she continued, “Answer my question!”
Oh, a demand, he thought, bemused. He smiled at her then; a pleased smile, one that said everything he really felt about the night and the moment and the prospects of upcoming moments. “I am going to start a fight,” he began, shoving his hands into his pockets, “And you are going to finish it.”
For a long moment, she simply stared at him. He didn’t mind; he was rather used to gawking eyes. Most found the jagged, unattractive scar over his eye to be enough of an eyesore to warrant creating a spectacle of themselves as they ogled him. He waited.
A cruel winter wind howled between them.
There was hesitance to her voice when she spoke, and no small edge of suspicion. “So you're actually giving me the opportunity to prove I'm ready now? Or are you trying to embarrass me and show just how unprepared I am?”
He couldn’t help the snarky grin that tugged at his lips. She was spunky, and it suited her. He liked that she was calling him out on his intentions. She was growing nerve. “Now Melody, I believe you are the one that will decide that.” He rolled his shoulders again, turning his eyes from her to look up at the streetlight above them as the light faded in and out, in and out. “It is not I that will win or lose this fight.”
There was no hesitation, then, when she spoke. “I see. Throwing me in the deep end to see how long I can hold myself above the water.” It was not a question, nor an accusation; she was simply recognizing a pattern. As Dante had pushed her from the nest to see if she would fly, Pilot would strand her in the sea to see if she could swim.
“Precisely,” he said, and without warning swung his body around to slam his fist into the pole of the lamp. The light flickered once more before going out entirely as the pole swayed back and forth. It crashed to the pavement with a thunderous crack, sending shards of glass and splinters in all directions. The street was plunged into a thick, smothering darkness. The nearest streetlight was over thirty yards away and much too faint to lift the shadows near them.
It took no time at all for the monsters to come.
Atlas first noticed the envelope as she changed from her dress into her training attire. She was scheduled to train with Phaedos in less than fifteen minutes, she really did not have time to gently open the wax-sealed mystery letter but she did, anyway.
It was the seal that held her attention the most. The wax was golden, a honey color that Atlas could not help but notice was the same shade as her eyes. The impression was simultaneously familiar and foreign; it appeared to be a cluster of stars – forming a constellation she did not recognize from the mountains of astrology books she had obsessively poured over in Atlantis. She wondered what constellation it was.
The small knife in her hand shook as she slipped it under the seal.
The letter unfolded in her hands and she could not tell if it was by the motions of her fingers or by the will of the parchment itself. The script staring up at her was long and elegant, the smooth and graceful scratchings of a woman. Her eyes scanned the words hungrily, as if she had been starved of contact for years. No, she thought, the hunger was so deep and so riotous it felt like a lifetime of waiting for the words.
You don’t know me, the letter began, at least not in the traditional sense of the word, but I know you. I’ve dreamt of your coming for as long as I can remember. I’ve never told anyone of these dreams, until now.
He had always found the NightWalkers to be fascinating. Vicious, voracious, and utterly instinctual – they showed no sign of higher consciousness yet so few even knew of them. He found it miraculous that they had managed to remain so hidden and undiscovered despite their inability to develop into self-aware beings.
Three were ravenously lunging for Melody’s throat.
Their prey did not need to know of them to be consumed, which Pilot thought interesting since vampires often felt the same way.
He crossed his arms over his chest and watched as the beasts flashed razor teeth in the darkness. NightWalkers were notoriously shapeless; they took form only during attack, choosing to remain as flat expanses of lightless-ness otherwise. They did not even associate with each other. When they began the hunt, they grew immeasurably, the shadows of their bodies deepening and stretching to suit their needs. More often than not, they developed a snout as long as his forearm, with teeth that could cut through the legs of an elephant without pausing to snap the bone. Their limbs were often long, thin, and indistinct; reminiscent of sails or tattered cloaks – but they did not use their limbs except to push themselves through the evening air.
It was all about the snout for NightWalkers.
Melody did not disappoint him.
As if she were following orders, she moved with the deft skill of a practiced warrior. She did not hesitate, she did not blink. Her blows were practical and well executed. She used the momentum of the shifting creatures against them; as if she understood the way they functioned. Her arms went in opposite directions, one up and the other down, palms open and ready, until she had the opportunity to sweep them closed around the snout of the NightWalker. He heard the crunch of teeth crumbling between the force of her hands.
He had always thought it somewhat disappointing that the beasts never made a single noise. He wanted to hear one whimper, or howl, or screech. They never did.
The first of the NightWalkers fell to the concrete and Melody moved on. Twisting her body to bend backward, almost effortlessly, to avoid the graze of razor teeth on her shoulder, she rolled her spine in a low, wide circle until she caught the fluttering tail of her attacker.
Yanking it out of the air, she swung it around with the practiced motions of a batter swinging at a baseball. She continued the motion to a full three-hundred-and-sixty degrees, forcing the second monster to collide – with a thunderous clap – with the third NightWalker.
Never shifting his eyes from her, Pilot fished a cigarette from the front pocket of his jacket. He let it rest between his lips as he pulled a lighter from his jeans pocket.
He flicked it once, lighting the tip of his smoke, and, inhaling, watched as the small amount of light sent the remaining NightWalkers back into the shadows of alleys and the crevices of the sidewalks.
The cigarette smoke rushed from his nostrils in fat, puffy clouds; the reckless, unstable smile that flashed behind the curtain of smoke would have unsettled anyone that valued his or her life.
“Well done, Melody,” he said, and offered her a cigarette.