the stillness before the stormMature

Chapter Eighty Eight
Atlas, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,653

Atlas stood in front of her mirror.  She’d politely kicked Melody, Arisa, and Phaedos out of her chambers, and she stood alone and uncertain, gazing at her own reflection.  She’d thought this would be easier; she had hoped it would be like meeting Eden – she could simply look into the honey pools of her own eyes and suddenly everything would be clear; but the eyes of her reflection were a dusty, harvest gold and offered her nothing.

Hanging from her fingertips was the delicately sewn snowy white cowl indicative of the royal servants.  It weighed heavily on her mind, though in her hands it was but a few ounces.  She was the Queen, a part of her raged, what was she doing disguising herself in the manner of a coward?

She ached to be fearless.  It haunted her that she could not stand in the light and proclaim whom and what she really was, and what her intentions were.  She hated hiding in the shadows.

She noticed something strange, then; a violent light that caught behind her eyes – inflaming the dirty gold to a brilliant sunbeam yellow for the briefest moment.  She blinked and it was gone.

She took a steadying breath, filling her lungs to capacity before slowly letting it out, and lifted the fabric in front of her so she could view the entire cowl.  Arisa had done a marvelous job – such a surprise it had been to watch those little hands so swiftly construct so many disguises.  Atlas had been able to catch small moments in which Arisa’s true age was clear, but the vampire had retained much of her childish eccentricities.  It was rather charming.

She unclasped the front and swung it over her shoulders, watching the fabric ripple in the air as it fell over the shoulders of her reflection.

Without warning, Eden walked into the room, an oddly large shopping bag dangling from two of her fingers.  Atlas flinched at the sudden appearance, but Eden didn’t seem to notice.  Atlas watched her in the mirror as she moved with an unconscious grace and took a seat in the recliner facing the dresser.  Eden’s eyes rolled over the cowl and met the eyes of Atlas’ reflection.

She said, “Elseron’s right; though I think you shouldn’t even go.  It’s too dangerous to put the Queen at risk like this.”

Atlas narrowed her eyes but said nothing, allowing the harsh tang of her anger to permeate the air in the room.  She hadn’t yet decided how to take Eden; in some ways, they were terribly, miserably alike.

In other ways they were catastrophically different.

Eden continued, un-phased by the potent temper flickering behind the eyes of her sister, saying, “What Elseron doesn’t want to address, however, is that it should not be him to barter with the King of Encante.”

Atlas’ curiosity was piqued, then, and she tilted her head slightly in question.

As if understanding perfectly, Eden went on, “I should be the one addressing the King.  I, at least, can perhaps trick him into thinking I am you.”

“Then you’re in danger,” Atlas answered, her long fingers lifting the cowl to cover her hair.  There was a profound sadness in her motions, something burdened and weary about the slow gliding of her eyes over her reflection.

Eden laughed, at that, and the sound was honest and pure.  She truly, deep within her very core, did not think she ran a risk at all – thought it laughable, even.  Atlas stared at her, at the calm way her lips moved around the bubbling giggles, at the squint to her eyes.

*

“What is it, Princess?”

“Take off your armor,” she said, dragging a brush through her long curls, her legs crossed as she sat on the edge of her bed.

The left corner of his mouth twisted down, the first sign he was about to argue her.  “Princess, we don’t have time for me to –“

She didn’t let him finish.  “Take off your armor, Elseron.  I have something for you.”

Suspicion clear in his eyes, he obeyed.  Once his armor leaned against the wall beside the fireplace, she set down her hair brush and leaned over the opposite side of the bed for the large paper shopping bag Eden had left with her.

He crossed the room to stand near her, his hands behind his back, as he eyed the gift.

Holding it out to him, Atlas said, “Upon receipt of this gift, you acknowledge that I am your Queen and my word is law.”

It took everything within her to keep her mind blank, her expression empty, her emotions flat and toneless.  She could feel him like a cold wind in her bones, could sense his searching as he struggled to understand the meaning behind her behavior.

There was hesitation in his heart, but his mind and words were steadfast and sure.  “You are my Queen and your word is law, gift or no gift.”  He paused, letting the formality fall aside before continuing, “What is this all about, Princess?”

She shook her hand slightly, the soft crinkle of the paper bag drawing his eyes to the gift again, and said, “Take the bag.”

His fingers brushed hers as his large hand wrapped around the tiny wire handles.  He met her eyes, as if purposefully challenging her to put his loyalty to the test.

“Eden is going to disguise herself as me when we get to Encante.  She will be addressing the King, and you will be in your rightful place as trusted advisor and Guardian of the Queen of Atlantis.”

The bag hit the carpet.  A flash of heat broke through his pale steel blue eyes.  She braced herself.

“You cannot be serious, Princess?  You cannot be in agreement with such a reckless, unreliable plan!  You simply cannot be all right with something so foolish.”

“I agree with the plan, Elseron,” Atlas said, careful to keep her tone low and gentle.  She didn’t want to argue.  She knew, in a way she couldn’t describe, with a certainty she could attribute to very few things in her life, that Eden was right.

This was best, she told herself, even if he couldn’t see that yet.  There was so much they each did not know, yet; so much they could not know – but for the first time since her feet touched the borders of the Outer World, she felt close to the truth.  As if she were reaching out for it, and the very tips of her fingers were grazing the arm of understanding with a feather-light caress.

So close.

“No,” he was saying, his voice cresting the fine line between simple conversation and an argument.  “The King will know.  He will know she is an imposter.”

“He would wonder why I was too busy to meet with him myself if you go,” Atlas reminded him, “He will wonder where I am.”

“Wondering is better than this, Princess,” he said, his eyes pleading with her to just listen, to understand the breadth of the risk.

“My mind is made up, Elseron.”  She shook her head, allowing him to see the sadness his frustration brought her.  She hated going against his advice.  He had to know that, she thought, he had to know her enough to know that.  She gestured at the forgotten paper bag at his feet.  “I know you’re upset, but you’ll enjoy that.  I know you will.”  She offered him a smile and hoped he would accept it as the olive branch she wanted it to be.

He didn’t speak.  For a long moment he just stared at her, and the ghostly trail of his consciousness fluttered around in her bones and she knew he was searching, still.  That he would search forever, until he found the answer he sought.  She did nothing to push him out, but her shield stayed in place.

She had been practicing, when she was alone, until even she could no longer hear her own thoughts.  She hoped it was paying off.  There was so much to her inheritance that she didn’t understand.  Eden had already been a great wealth of information; she’d learned so much in the few short hours they had been together, but it didn’t seem to be enough.  It never seemed to be enough.

Eventually, he reached down and picked up the bag.  The braid Arisa had insisted he wear fell forward and swung, with the regular rhythm of a pendulum, to hide his profile from her sight.

He pulled out the new armor from the bag.  He felt offended, she could feel it like static between them, but she had expected it.  She said, “That’s for under your Atlantean armor.  It’s apparently very fancy.”  Her hesitation hung in the air for a moment; she wasn’t certain if she should wait for a response or continue.  She continued, judging by his stoic expression that he had little to say to her, “It is bullet proof, and water proof.  It’s supposed to hold up against even Lycan claws, and massive pressure.  I know it looks a bit like a wetsuit,” she smiled openly, then, inviting him into the joke, and continued, “but it will make you invisible to security systems of every sort.”

“Where did you get this?”  His voice was loud and hard and unexpected in the small, otherwise still room.

“A young vampire named Judah,” she said, edging on the truth.

“More shadow friends?”  He asked, and the sharpened ring of his tone cut right through her.

“He’s Pilot’s twin brother,” she confessed, knowing the power the words had to change the situation.  Knowing how detrimental that name could be.  She softened the blow by saying, “Please, Els, I’d like you to wear it.  I want you to come out of Encante alive, and if this will help you do that, I want you to wear it.”

 

The End

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