Chapter One Hundred and Two
Eden, Pilot, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,563
The battle had begun before they arrived – Dante had carpeted the walkways with bloody rags of once-whole bodies. From the guts of the palace, from the belly of the great machine of royal military, fresh guards climbed the stairs. Pilot could hear the clatter of their steps in their awkward armor, the slap and snap of weapons and bodies shoving into too tight a space. Dante was at Elseron’s side, his back to the palace. Pilot didn’t bother assessing Elseron’s condition – the man was on the ground, a pile of blood and ripped flesh, and would be attending battle no time soon.
This was entirely acceptable to Pilot. He preferred battle on his own, anyway. Let the Guardian and the bear rest, he thought, and lunged himself from the highest point in the city – his feet left the edge of the gateway pier, his body soaring over the stairs, surpassing them, and the running figure of Melody as she used the staircase, with an unnatural ease. His landing cracked the sandstone ground.
With a rush of air, Melody blew passed him.
The shackles around her wrist bit into her flesh as a constant, stabbing reminder of where she was.
Her shoulders were twisting painfully with her full weight hanging from them. She’d lost feeling in her fingers within moments, but the absence of the prickling feeling of sleeping appendages was a small blessing. She’d only allowed herself to open her eyes once she’d mastered her heart rate.
The dungeon was still filled with an almost alien darkness, as if there really were something in the walls that sucked all light away. She could hear dripping from all around her and the soft reverberations of the drops told her the room was small and not very tall. She imagined she was a mere two or three feet from the ground and couldn’t resist the urge to stretch her toes down, just in case.
A light switched on and blinded her; she reminded herself that physical blindness was irrelevant and her anger subsided.
She could hear steps coming from north-west of her, assuming she was facing north, roughly a forty-five degree angle from the point of her nose. She wondered if everyone was able to pinpoint movement so specifically. A gruff voice addressed her and she could tell the man was attempting to disguise his speech.
“Where is the Queen?”
Eden was not stupid, but she answered him, anyway. Pilot’s voice rang in her head, but she dismissed his warnings. A silent man is harder to break than a man whose tongue has already been loosened.
“You’re looking at her, big fella,” she said, adding a snide twist of her lips.
Three more steps and he was within reach. She made no move, simply waited. The back of a hand slapped against her jaw, snapping her head to the side. She could taste blood on her teeth where her lip had been split. The grin on her face widened.
“Open your eyes when you talk to me,” he growled.
“Brush your teeth before you talk at me,” she answered, her eyes remaining shut.
Another backhand to the cheek stunned her skin, but she’d been waiting for it. She didn’t flinch, keeping her grin fixed on her mouth. “’I’m starting to like this game,” she said, “Why don’t you do that again?”
Then it was knuckles. The fist was rougher to smile through, but she didn’t allow herself to weaken. Her nose bled furiously but she ignored it. Her mouth filled with the blood and she simply swallowed it down.
The multitudes of armed soldiers that swarmed out from the palace doors were daunting, but easily dealt with. His eyes black, he wasted little time in hand to hand combat – the few that managed to survive his gaze, or escape it, did not get so lucky when they assailed him with arrows. His speed was their greatest overall weakness, excluding their mortality, and he used it to his advantage by weaving between the arrows and javelins in a way that demonstrated how little of a bother they really were. Dozens of men fell as he gained yards on them; each step deliberate and casual, his movements isolated and liquid, he crossed the narrow bridge-like pathway between the main courtyard and the palace.
Wherever his eyes lingered, soldiers fell over the edge into the bottomless gorge below.
“Tell me where the Queen is or I’m going to have to bring in the implements.”
Implements, she mused, and allowed herself a hearty, full-throated laugh. She’d be beaten for it, she was certain, but she couldn’t help it. The fool that they’d sent in had no idea what he was dealing with.
“Bring in the toys then, soldier,” she quipped.
Another punch struck her from the right, and she wondered if his reach was that wide that he could stand at her left but hit from the right. It seemed so, she thought, as his fist cracked her jawbone. The pain was startlingly intense. She shut her eyes tighter, panting at first, but as she counted her heartbeats her breathing softened until she’d regulated both. The break in her jaw became a distant ache, which eventually vanished into the haze of her awareness. She hadn’t healed it, not entirely – broken bones took longer to heal, but she’d glossed it over in her mind.
He said, “Let me see those pretty eyes,” but his tone was threatening. He sounded like a man who had recently picked up a weapon.
Despite the swelling, she said, “Try again, big fella.”
It was the scrape of metal against metal that got her attention. She refused to open her eyes; it was her eyes that limited her. Even vampire sight was nothing compared to the sight that dwelt within her.
The loudest sounds in the room were her breathing and the gentle whirring of a machine. It was the idea of a machine that concerned her – she could handle a few torture implements, but machines were something else.
Machines ran on, or generated, a power source. Electricity hurt, even vampires. Cooked organs made for a painful death and she’d had higher hopes for her exit from the world. It didn’t matter, she told herself.
She could smell the sizzle and crack of electricity before she could hear it.
He said, “Open your eyes.”
Instead of attempting to be cheeky, she rejuvenated her smirk. She took in a long, steadying breath. She found the tendril of inheritance that had wound itself around her spine, and she tugged on it. A gleaming, radiant burst of power blossomed outward, filling her bones, seeping into her muscles. Like a cool bath, her inheritance awoke every cell in her body.
The man in the room with her was named Naiad. He had a wife and a mother that relied on him; every Sunday he went on a walk with his mother. A year ago, his wife had had a miscarriage. He was fourth in command of the King’s army.
Eden said, “I forgive you, Naiad,” as she felt the first spark against her skin. Then everything held still. Her body absorbed the shock and the stillness shattered; her muscles twitched violently, her heart raced, her eyelids fluttered wildly. The energy coursing through her was so powerful, so raw and unbridled, that her bones shook as if they would fracture instantly.
The waves of poorly fated men continued to come. No matter how many he sent tumbling, more came through the doors. It seemed almost infinite, and he wondered if there was Encantado magic they hadn’t been aware of.
The dispatch of the soldiers was taking too long. He could feel Atlas’ impatience on the edges of his awareness like a too-bright moon in his peripheral vision, blinding and abstract. He knew she was calling him back to the group – the words weren’t there but the tone was, and it was as clear as the lack of concern in his own mind.
The group could leave, he thought, certain she was listening. He would not leave without his wife.
Her lungs refused to take in air. Naiad pulled back the clamps and she felt her body go limp, her lungs take in air, her heart stutter without the pulse and rush of electricity to fuel it. She exhaled and it fluttered, quivering with the last spasms of her muscles.
“You will show me your eyes or I will do that again.”
She felt like a battery that had been forcibly drained; punctured and left to bleed out. She knew her inheritance was still alive, that it didn’t need the energy from the clamps, but her body almost cried for them. In the aftermath of the electrocution, she felt she might die without more. The longer she kept her mouth closed, the steeper the tension in the room became. Let him shock me again, she thought; she could practically taste sulfur in the back of her throat.
He did, and he held the clamps against her ribcage, ensuring her heartbeat went rampant with the new tide of energy that wracked her body. The spasms were worse, and she realized if he’d turned up the wattage. She choked back a scream, keeping her eyelids locked together, her teeth clamped shut against the brutal assault on her body.
* author note: you guys are going to think i'm being ridiculous, but I'm still not done... If someone else wants to post, go ahead. This ends at right about where Atlas decides to leave Pilot behind to find Eden, and send Gabriel back for Pilot and Eden once he's returned the group to the hotel. But yeah, don't bring Pilot or Eden back yet - I've still got that part to write.