Chapter Sixty Six
Pilot, + Atlas, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,619
She had let him into her chambers; against the will of her Guardian, he was certain, and this thought was a curiosity to him. He observed her carefully, wondering what the deciding factor had been. He could smell the scent of her skin across the room. For an excruciatingly long moment, he met familiar honey eyes across a gap he could not allow himself to cross. The more he was around her, the thinner that line became. He began to categorize distinct reactions that were exclusive to Atlas; the lilt to her voice, the presupposition of formality in her features, the regal posture of her shoulders that showed she had grown up in the eyes of her people. The way she flinched when her gentle eyes landed on the scar over his eye, every time.
Phaedos’ throat clearing warned them both of a visitor. Pilot faded into the shadows.
She couldn’t believe it. The woman had returned, with a look of violent victory upon her features. Atlas stood stunned for a micro-second before responding to Elve’s unnatural smile with one of her own. “What a surprise,” Atlas said; opening the door Phaedos had installed, a mere six hours before, a little wider to allow Elve entrance. Atlas wondered why she should let the woman in, but reminded herself whose house she was habitating. It was not an easy task.
She felt his eyes on her every moment. Something recondite had grown between them; it lurked behind the virid windows of his eyes, she could see it in the set of his mouth when he looked at her.
“Your Majesty, I’ve come to discuss something of great importance with you.”
Atlas brushed off thoughts of the man in the shadows and titled her head in a polite gesture of almost-interest at Elve. “And what would that be, Lady Oaken?”
“I believe you to be in grave danger.”
Atlas fought, with every ounce of control within her, the urge to roll her eyes. “What gives you reason for such concern?”
Her guest seated herself on the fainting couch; all smooth, dramatic gestures and silken skirts, her eyes fluttering up to the ceiling as if she were fighting back tears. “Your Majesty couldn’t possibly believe me.”
“Then why have you come, Elve?” The surge of boldness was foreign for Atlas, but she liked it; the rush of it filled her bones and she felt calmer, more in control. Without the pleasantries of court, she felt free.
“To warn you, your Majesty!” The breathy edge of desperation was not enough to convince Atlas that anything the woman had to say would be even remotely true. She could practically hear the woman’s thoughts in direct succession to her spoken words. She was having none of the duplicity Elve had to offer.
“Of what?” Her voice snapped at the end, cracking suddenly with the first sign of anger, of impatience.
Elve’s eyes frantically searched Atlas’ face; seeking some small weakness, some chink in the armor for her to exploit. She nibbled at her lower lip once, before catching herself, and stuttering out a few almost-syllables. “Your Majesty, you must understand! I have information you may not have.”
“Divulge, or disappear,” Atlas said, and the growl in her tone was a new beast entirely. She wondered who was speaking from her lips because, certainly, this was not the daughter that her father had raised.
Elve’s eyes went wide for the briefest of moments before she gathered herself and straightened her already rigid posture. “The man you have protecting you is not as capable as you think.”
Atlas did not hold back her laugh. She said, “Excuse me?”
Lady Oaken continued, un-phased; seemingly with a little more enthusiasm, “I’m quite serious, your Majesty. He failed your mother, you know; that’s why she’s dead.”
The words hung in the stale air between the women. Atlas’s heartbeat was thunderous in her chest; pumping molten, inky rage through her veins.
“It’s really your father’s fault,” Elve said, lowering her voice. “He should have known better. He should have hired a better right hand.” She sighed, then, as if the story pained her as much as she imagined it pained Atlas. “But I suppose no one could have predicted the tragic event. Your mother simply fell into a coma; the powers were too great for her and eventually they took her. Though, now,” she lifted her eyes to Atlas, then, and it was as if recognition of reality had finally dawned on her. She realized Atlas’ features were not contorted in misery, but in fury, and she fumbled to continue her diatribe. “We know the dangers of the royal Inheritance. We can protect you properly! Elseron failed to save your mother, we cannot risk him failing to save you!”
Atlas stood stock still, flabbergasted; her mind spun wildly, a venomous edge to the spinning wheels as her brain made desperate attempts to string together the exact arrangement of words she was looking for.
“You feeble minded fool,” she began, that same half-growl roaring to life behind her syllables. She could feel the shadows thickening in the corner.
He was moving.
Keeping her eyes trained on Lady Oaken, pushing all the vile, nasty emotions across the gap between their bodies, she continued her tirade. “I find it rather difficult to believe any one person would make the same mistake twice, as you have.” She reached out, then, yanking Elve up from the fainting couch by her wrist in one sharp, succinct motion and releasing her. The dark pink traces of her grip lingered on the delicate flesh of her guest. “You will not drive a stake between my Guardian and I. This is your final warning, Lady Oaken, and I suggest you take it with the seriousness prescribed to a death sentence.”
“My Queen, you misjudge my intentions!” Her tone was pleading; it was not surprising that the desperation made it all the way to her darkening green eyes, but it was not the same kind of begging she was attempting to portray. There were daggers in those green eyes. She adjusted a stray strand of hair with delicate fingers before speaking once more. “Now hold on for just one moment, here,” she began, the artificial tone of regality seeping into her voice, “we are in my house, I believe it to be in good manners to hear me out, your Majesty.”
“You will leave now, Lady Oaken; and you will watch your tongue in the future,” the voice came from behind Elve, from the depths of the shadows. Atlas wondered when he had moved to the other side of the room; the last she had calculated, he was supposed to be directly behind her. Pilot’s lithe frame stepped into the light of the fireplace, the oranges and yellows crackling against his skin in eerie shifts of light. His long shadow fell to cross the gap between he and Elve.
Lady Oaken opened her mouth to speak, but it ended there. Pilot said, gently, “Shh,” and Atlas watched the veins beneath Elve’s skin darken with an unfamiliar poison. Her veins spider-webbed up her throat and cut off the breath of speech, pushing it from her lungs in a withered, desperate gasp. Panic filled her eyes.
He said, “Go,” and she did. Her feet moved swiftly, dragging her across the room and out of the door within a heartbeat – as if she were certain that once she got out of the room she would be able to breathe. The panting in the hallway indicated she would be fine.
Atlas stared at Pilot openly, adrenalin coursing through her entire body. He met her gaze, unflinching, until Elseron shattered the stillness of the room.
In the hallway, Elseron let out the beast. His eyes were almost white-hot with the fury they contained.
Pilot leaned against the wall, propping his foot up with the sole flat against the floral wallpaper. He crossed his arms. “What is it, this time, Elseron?”
The sound of the Guardian’s voice was that of molten steel, bubbling and popping, “If you endanger the Queen once more, I will personally take the debt in flesh from your wife, Pilot Gallo, and I will only say this once.”
Pilot felt his stoic mask crack just in time to swallow down the war cry of the monster that lurked in the hollows of his bones. He was the Dealer, he did not get spoken to that way – and the audacity was unfathomable to him. Who would be so foolish, so reckless as to directly threaten Eden?
His Eden? What kind of supreme fool –
He stopped himself, meeting Elseron’s unflinching gaze with his own. This was not a foolish man, but he was making a fool’s decision. Pilot almost laughed to himself at the prospect of the old man making his way to Eden.
Of meeting her, face to face. Of the weary Guardian catching a single whiff of Eden’s brilliant existence. The fool would not stand a chance.
That was the mistake most men made when they threatened the life of the one most precious to Pilot. They threatened him first. He had such little tolerance for stupidity that it usually overwhelmed his rational thinking – by the time it returned to him, there was blood on his hands. It hardly mattered, but just once, he thought, perhaps he should let one get through.
Let one fool rush in.
He smiled at Elseron, then, and it was a joyous one.
He shrugged, shoving himself off the wall to stand casually, and said, “Make no mistake, Sir Elseron; there are many species in which the female is much more deadly than the male.”