Chapter One Hundred and Three
Eden, Pilot, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,382
It wasn’t long before Naiad gave up on the electric shocks. Despite the sheen of perspiration, the constant pulse through her body, the violent spasms of her muscles, Eden never made a sound. Sulfur was no longer a distant taste in her throat; it was full-on, nearly smothering. Her entire body ached with a wrenching agony that had settled between bone and tissue, that lined her organs with a thin layer of fire. She pulled herself from the awareness, locking her consciousness behind a barrier of will and practice and experience; unreachable by the pains of mortality, by the weakness of mere physical existence.
Soon, Naiad had sharpened a fileting knife to a gleaming edge; she could see it’s sheen in her mind’s eye as he admired his handiwork. His gaze shifted, blurring momentarily, until he looked at the woman dangling from the ceiling; a mere three feet from the ground. Eden shut the door to his mind quickly. There was little that bothered her more than seeing herself from someone else’s eyes – she imagined that seeing herself in the state she was in now would only worsen the reality of it.
She could feel the knife slice through her flesh as a distant, ghostly tremor of pain in her consciousness; almost a tingling, prickling sensation. Naiad was slicing the meaty flesh and muscle from between her ribs, alternating sides to develop a gruesome, jagged stripe pattern of crimson blood and pristine, alabaster skin.
Breathing was harder but not impossible. She couldn’t allow this to go on forever, she reminded herself. At some point, she had to end this. Atlas only needed so much time to get everyone out.
Naiad was growing impatient; his anger was noticeable in the rough way he sliced out the last section of tissue and flesh. He threw the hunk of muscle aside and it hit the floor with a wet slap. The tip of the knife pressed into her chest, just below her collarbone. “Tell me where the Queen is,” he growled, and dug the knife in to drive home his threat.
Eden said nothing, and in response, Naiad began messily carving a string of letters into her flesh. Eden focused on not deciphering them, deliberately blocking all recognition from her mind – but the letters were so sharp, so deep, that she couldn’t ignore them.
How accurate, she thought, her nihilistic humor taking great amusement in the accusation scratched into her flesh.
Bothered by her lack of reaction, Naiad set the delicate knife aside and changed his method. “I wish you weren’t being so difficult,” he said, and she almost believed him.
She could hear the slide of flesh against aluminum and braced herself.
The first blow was to her ribs, and it slammed through her ribcage. She felt three crumble beneath the impact, but her mouth never opened. The stubborn twist to her lips didn’t even flutter. She set her jaw, the pressure sending a ripple of pain through her gums, and kept the screams to herself as Naiad pounded her torso and legs with the baseball bat over and over again.
Out of breath and seeming to only exhaust himself, Naiad let the bat fall from his grip, clattering to the ground. “Tell me where the Queen is,” he said; his words clear and unmasked for the first time. He sounded almost panicked.
“I already did,” she said, and she forced her voice through her split lips, steeling it with the wealth of strength within her bones despite the agony of speech.
“You are not the Queen!” He was roaring at her, the heat of his breath against her cheek. She marveled at his height; she was five-foot-eight, and lifted three feet off the ground, yet he was still at face-level with her.
She chortled, flinching only once at the shock of pain, and said, “Shows what you know.” Distantly, she felt a flickering recognition of power. Atlas was back in the Outer World. The countdown could begin, she told herself, and allowed a single instant of gratitude that her sacrifice would soon be over.
Someone new entered the small, dank room, and his presence washed over Eden. “Here,” said Aenarion, “this ought to soften her.”
Eden didn’t need to wonder what the King had delivered to Naiad; she’d already wondered why it hadn’t been used sooner. A dangerous elixir, murky blue and gray, in a syringe with a needle over five inches long – the image was so clear in the minds of her visitors that she had no choice but to see it in her own.
She had no choice, she told herself; she had to make her escape. Once that toxin was in her blood she would have no chance of survival.
For the second time, she pulled at the ribbon of inheritance. It burst forth, exploding into her chest and through her muscles, burying itself in her veins and melting into her bones. She screamed, then, as her bones re-set themselves, as her ribcage expanded and her body grew stronger, and she took pride in it being the first scream of pain of her time in Encante. The agony that scorched through her body was white-hot and glorious. She rolled her shoulders forward, forcing the joints to reconnect, and yanked on the chain above her head with all of her weight. The tattoos on her skin burned hot with the pale blue Atlantean magic of her ancestors.
King Aenarion was yelling something, but with the raging tide of inherited power that pummeled her body from the inside she couldn’t make out what it was. The ceiling above her cracked under the pressure; the crack spider-webbed, growing and widening and deepening as she continued to pull on the chains that bound her.
With a mountain-shaking crash, the hook holding her up came tumbling down. The heavy clank of her chains hitting the ground resounded in the small room.
She opened her eyes and met King Aenarion’s gaze as the ceiling above them began to crumble. She grinned at him, menacing and wicked and arrogant.
“I’ve got you, now,” she said.
He had finally made it inside the palace. He’d felled roughly two hundred and thirty soldiers – not counting the ones he’d crippled by hand. He still faced a plethora of them, and in closer quarters it was harder for his inheritance to target and eliminate his opponents.
The sandstone floor beneath him quivered and he took off running, heading deeper into the enormous castle; he sought the staircase and took the steps in a few strides, his long legs stretching and lunging, carrying him across eight of the narrow Encantado stairs at a time. The pulse of his recognition of her was so strong he could practically hear her in his head. He pulled free his hunting knife and cut down anyone standing in his way with the precise swing of a man that has been killing for too long. Machine-like, methodical; his blows were steady and consistent, unrelenting. No soldier stood for more than one.
He reached the last floor in a matter of moments, his heart pounding in his chest as he frantically searched the muggy dungeon air for her scent. He had to move forward, he couldn’t pause for even an instant. He caught the faintest whiff of flames and took off down the opposite hall, hoping he was going in the right direction. The walls around him were shaking, tremors began breaking apart the floor and ceiling. He ran faster.
Bursting through a driftwood door, heedless of the bar blocking it from opening from the inside, splinters flew outward and he pushed right through the bar. Eden stood in the middle of the room, the King’s back to Pilot, a nameless soldier beside him, her eyes lit with the heat of her inheritance. He reached out his palms, wrapping his fingers around the necks of both Encantado men, and allowed his gift to fill their veins.
Their knees buckled simultaneously and Pilot let go. Her eyes met his across the bodies and, as if her body recognized that she'd been rescued, she crumpled to the ground.
He lifted her against his chest, taking comfort in the soft beat of her heart, and fled the collapsing palace.