Chapter Seventy Seven
Atlas, then Phaedos, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,520
She scrambled for the van door, desperate to fling it open and see, with her own eyes, Elseron standing before her. The terror that raged in her veins had not let up since he had slammed the door shut – demanding she keep the child-vampire safe. Certainly a noble task, but with her Guardian out on a battlefield littered with claws and teeth that sometimes were as long as her forearm – she was not prepared for anything except guarding him. She eyed the vampire girl and gave her a meek smile, at first, but soon she was lost in the deeper regions of her mind – oblivious to the noises and needs of those inside the van with her. Phaedos was capable, she had reminded herself, and followed Elseron’s movements in the snap-shot, second-long visions she could glean from his consciousness. That was, until she lost consciousness.
Elseron was stood before her, then; hulking and bloody and damaged and glorious. He was laughing with Dante.
She wanted to scream at him. To demand that he hug her and prove he was all right – that he would live until morning. That they all would. She wanted to pull him away from everyone else and cry on his shoulder – to shed the fear and anxiety and restlessness that still shivered in her bones, leftover from the wait.
Phaedos was faster than she was, however, and his voice cut off the motions of her lips. “Get in the van, we have to go.”
She didn’t speak, then, choosing to succumb to her overwhelming emotions later on, in private. She moved back into the passenger seat, her fingers tapping nervously on the arm of the seat, as Phaedos drove them away from the mansion and out into the great unknown.
He did not take them far; it was best to stop somewhere nearby and follow the news stories – to know what the enemy would know. His secondary thought was that there were injured that needed tending. An emotionally-traumatized Melody was sat in Dante’s lap; even in his human form, the man was hulking. He took up a massive portion of the van. Arisa was settled in close to Elseron, Phaedos didn’t know if it was because he had saved her or because there was very little room. Atlas sat in silence in the passenger seat – her lips a flat line of inner contemplation, her honey eyes dark with the stormy clouds of her silent turmoil. He stretched his hand across the gap between them and entwined their fingers in silence.
No noise came from the back, except for the steady, regimented breathing of his passengers, and none from his companion. He wondered if he should speak, should break the stoic, heavy quiet that had suffocated all of the energy from the vehicle. He chose not to.
Finding an out-of-the-way motel, he parked and went inside to purchase rooms. He shot a glance throughout the van, hoping everyone would understand to stay put until he returned without him having to demand it. Melody and Arisa were the only guarantees – the sun was still shining, after all. The deep oranges of sunset were just as potent as the brighter rays of noon.
He was not the leader, but he was the only one with the ability to enter the motel without suspicion. He hoped that gave him some leverage, some way to claim command for a little while. He, at least, knew what he was doing in this situation. It was not the first time in his life he had been forced to go on the run, to hide in plain sight.
There were very few firsts left for him to have.
He punched the keys in the automated touch-screen monitor gently, careful to keep his rushing adrenalin from impacting his simple gestures. There were people in the lobby, some with eyes on him, and every gesture, every expression, counted. He paid for six rooms and waited for the machine to print out the key cards.
He smiled at the desk girl on his way out.
Returning to the van, he handed Atlas five of the keycards and drove the van around to the back of the building. It would not do for anyone to see the people inside of his vehicle. He did not look at anyone when he climbed out of the van, knowing there were two security cameras positioned in places that would include the window of the vehicle. It was best not to motion at anyone.
He hoped they remained quiet and still, as they had been for hours now.
He entered the hotel casually, never once looking up to the cameras. Casual traveler being casual, he reminded himself.
Once inside, he made his way down a few corridors to keep his image on the monitors. Hiding, or seeming to hide, would only draw attention to him. He pulled the last keycard from his pocket and unlocked the hotel room door. Once inside, free of cameras, he turned on the television and opened the window.
He had chosen a room on the fifteenth floor, just one level below the roof, and he’d made certain it would be the centermost room.
He crawled out of the window and steadied himself on the ledge, his arms twisted back so his fingers could wrap around the ledge of the roof above and behind him. The cameras positioned on the corners of the building faced away from him; he was occupying the isolated blind spot on the entire side of the building. Straining his fingers and arms, he pulled his body up from the bottom, curling his knees in and flipping himself upside down until his boots met roof.
Remaining crouched, he cracked his stiff neck. The camera on the roof was on a timer – it circled around on it’s own at a measured pace. It was halfway through the cycle, halfway to him, and he inwardly applauded himself on his timing. It had been a few years since he’d had to be so careful, but it seemed the act was like riding a bike.
He walked swiftly to stand directly behind the camera. With his pocket knife out, he unscrewed the back panel. His steps followed the camera exactly, never rushing or slowing, never coming into sight of the camera or putting too much pressure on it to cause a stutter in the image being transmitted to the security room.
He sliced the green wire and let go. The camera stopped moving and he made his way to the corners of the roof surface, where the other cameras were positioned.
Methodically, he took out all four, starting with the two on the opposite side of the hotel from the van. Never give them the upper hand, he reminded himself; leave no trace, and no considerable evidence. If he would have cut the cameras facing the van first, the van would have become suspect.
He rolled off the ledge and caught his footing on the window sill once more. He filled the ice bucket for the room and took off his jacket. He flushed the toilet and ran the sink. Then he made his way back to the first floor. Finding the security room had been simple – he had spotted it on his first trip through the paisley patterned halls. His photographic memory was more useful than their cameras. He watched as security rushed passed him to the parking lot. He slipped his keys from his pocket as he and security rounded opposite corners. He found the window for the security room easily; each hotel room had two windows, the room had been the fifth one in from the far door. Ten windows.
He slipped inside soundlessly and was unsurprised to find no one there. They were all scouring the west parking lot.
He made simple work of the system by dumping their two prepared pots of coffee onto the motherboard. Neither the cameras in the hotel, nor any of the video records, would be functional until it was replaced. The records were lost permanently. He left the room through the window and stood on the sidewalk.
He could feel Elseron’s eyes on him and he nodded.
The doors to the van were flung open and the group of them rushed across the parking lot to the door. He let everyone in and they followed him swiftly up the stairs; their bodies close to the wall, their steps silent and precise.
Arisa was being carried by a worn-looking Elseron, but the Guardian made no complaint. His expression never faltered, never flinched. But his blood was still seeping through his shirt, down his sides. Phaedos kept a close eye on him, making sure no blood ever hit the ground.
Reaching the room, Phaedos let everyone in. He’d purchased all of the rooms directly beside each other, like a domino effect. He opened the adjoining door and they went through as a group until they reached the last room.
He looked through the strangely dream-like pathway of open doors, but he was too distracted to ponder the eerie image.