the ties that bindMature

Chapter Ninety Three
Phaedos, Atlas, Eden, by rhetoric
Word count: 1,226 

There were many houses that lined the narrow streets of Encante.  Small, humble homes built into the mountains more often than not.  The street was littered with small pavilions – merchants selling their goods.  The warm scents of bread and meats permeated the air around them.  Phaedos and Dante kept to the shadows, their body suits allowing them to pass unnoticed so long as they did not step into the light.

Too many houses, thought Phaedos, and gestured to Dante.  He was lucky the large man was clever, he picked up Phaedos’ hand signals with ease and soon they parted ways, splitting up to scour the city more efficiently.  They had ear pieces they could use to communicate but speech could be detected – they had to be careful not to talk when prowling the city streets.  Once they split up, Phaedos could hear Dante’s regular breathing, the murmuring background noises of a city, the occasional scrape and grunt as Dante climbed over a house or up part of the mountain.

It did not take him long to find a trace of his brother after he’d made his way to the far east side of the city.  He could smell him, the unearthly scent of demi-god blood always hung in the air.  Once he’d gotten a whiff finding the house was easy.  He pulled the suit mask up and over his head, revealing his face for the first time since they had been transported to the gate, and knocked on the door.

It did not take long for the driftwood door to swing open, and his brother stood silent for a heavy, tense moment.  Sapphire eyes stared back at Phaedos, unbearable memories lurking beneath the crisp blue hues.  Alexiares’ hair was darker, and longer, than Phaedos remembered it – a chestnut brown that challenged the driftwood for depth of color, and his features were more chiseled with age.

“What are you doing here, brother?”

The only encouragement Phaedos could offer himself was the memory of Atlas, weeping in his arms as she shared the desperate fear she couldn’t fight.  He’d been able to offer her nothing, no word, no gesture, to bring her comfort.  He steeled himself against his brother’s baleful scowl with the memory of those tears, and said, choking back pride and self-respect, “I need your help.”

*

Atlas ran, her feet pounding into the sea-stone streets beneath her with a daunting, terrifying rhythm.

There was nothing else to be done.  Their ruse had been discovered and they had no choices left but to flee the city of Encante, seemingly for their very lives.  Inwardly she scolded herself for the small mistakes they’d made; she should have known to dye Eden’s hair – she’d received remarks about the strangely lovely shade of her hair her entire life, she couldn’t believe she’d been so foolish as to overlook such a simple difference between she and Eden.  A small voice in her head said, a fool should not be running an empire.

She felt Eden’s hand on her arm suddenly and, without slowing, she turned to meet her sister’s eyes.  Eden was running effortlessly, her hair blowing behind her and her eyes lit up with something akin to adrenalin.  She smiled at Atlas, but Atlas couldn’t return the gesture – she was too focused on pushing her body forward, gaining momentum and keeping it.

“Give me your cowl,” Eden said, unclasping the Queen’s cloak from around her neck and holding it out to Atlas.

Atlas shook her head, allowing a brief moment for her mental shield to come down so she could communicate with Eden without expending breath she didn’t have.

What for?

He’ll be looking for the woman in the servant cowl, Atlas, you know that.

Let him find me, she thought, then, and a harsh, violent rage inside of her swelled to the point of bursting.

If you do not give me your cowl, it will not be only Elseron and Arisa that get captured, Atlas.  It will be all of us.  Give me the cowl.

What, in the name of the ancestors, are you going on about? She threw a frightened, expectant look over her shoulder – her eyes seeking out the tall silver-haired Stalwart Shield.

There he was, close behind her, running between Pilot and Melody with his axe drawn.  In her peripheral vision, Atlas could see Arisa a few yards behind everyone else, her child-legs struggling to keep up. What do you know, Eden?

Enough to know that you need a distraction to escape so quit arguing and give me the cowl.  You’ll need all the time you can get.

You’re being rather cryptic, Eden thought, but unclasped the cowl from her shoulders and traded with her sister.  She pulled the hood of the Queen’s cloak over her head, burying her long silver curls in the shadows of it.  Beside her, Eden did the same.

Without warning, Eden stopped running.  She waited until the others raced by her, and projected her thoughts to Elseron.

I will distract them.  You’re losing Arisa.

Pilot's steps hesitated but Elseron was quick to react - the Guardian's hand clamped around Pilot's arm and tugged him forward.  Pilot struggled, instinctively, and turned his head far enough to see Eden clearly.  He was slowing down the Guardian, using his own strength to force them to a stop.  "Eden!"

Before anyone could stop to argue, she took off in the opposite direction – heading directly into the city.

*

“I won’t abandon my family for you, Anicetus.  You ask too much.”

“I am not asking you to abandon your family, Alexiares!  I am asking you to save family.”  He knew it was a harsh accusation – to say that, by refusing to help, he would be sending his brother to his death; but Phaedos knew one thing: the Atlanteans did not have the advantage against their circumstances; their city was going to crumble unless a miracle was discovered.  He would not abandon Atlas, even if it meant returning to a city whose walls were about to crack.

Without Alexiares, they would continue to get attacked from every side.  Eventually, the meager defenders Atlas had would wear down; even the mighty Elseron, Stalwart Shield and Defender of the Great City would grow weak with ceaseless battle.  Eventually, Atlas would be exposed – and everything precious in Atlantis would become the wealth of looters like Fenrir, of lesser men and would-be Gods only willing to take what does not belong to them rather than earn it.

The silence held them in place, holding their feet to the sand-stone floor of Alexiares’ home with all the force of gravity and a lifetime of obligation.

“My answer remains the same, Anicetus.  You may stay here in Encante with me, with my family, and I will protect you and those close to you – but I will not leave this sacred mountain, these people.”

He was hearing the words but the longer they went on, the less they mattered.  A growing strain was developing in his spinal column, a pressure and a pull that felt familiar and alien simultaneously; something akin to fingers plucking at his spine, the delicate pressure-snap-release of a harpist’s agile fingers.

Atlas.

He did not answer his brother.  Spinning on his heel, he sprinted for the door, tugging up his suit mask just as he shoved the driftwood door open.

The End

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