Chapter One Hundred Nineteen
Atlas and Pilot, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,148
There was so much tragic regret inside of her that she thought it might choke off her bloodstream. She mostly hoped it would.
Every time she closed her eyes, she saw it all again. Over and over, she watched helplessly as her own hands killed him. She watched the life leave his peculiar crimson eyes again and again, every time she blinked. She couldn’t stop crying; her body rocked with the force of each sob, her heart loud and unforgiving in her chest, every wretched part of her suddenly crushed beneath the full breadth of the damage she’d been receiving. Skeletal fingernails dragged across her flesh, but when she looked, nothing was there.
Phaedos held her tightly against him; his arms offering sanctuary, his words offering compassion, even understanding, but she could accept neither. Guilt pressed down on her like an ocean; encompassing, unstoppable, unrelenting. She was frigid with the chill in her soul.
Phaedos tried to lift her; distantly, his voice broke through the static in her mind. “Atlas,” he said, “Atlas, we have to go.”
“Let me carry you,” he said, his words broken up as she fought against him wildly. “Easy, darling,” he cooed, “It’s just me. I’m getting you out of here.”
She couldn’t leave. Not then.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said, trying to get her up without bruising her, “You can’t give up here. Elseron needs you,” he reminded her, and the name was a punch in the face.
She’d never be able to meet his eyes. She’d never be able to look anyone in the eyes.
“Atlas, come on,” he said, “I promise, we’ll figure this out later. Right now, we have to go.” His grip on her arm tightened.
All she could think was, No! Suddenly, her inheritance crashed into her veins and she felt her white-hot shield go up. Phaedos was flung across the room, his shoulder slamming into the furnace wall. His skin sizzled where it met the scalding metal. He got up and came closer, crouching beside her, mere inches from the blue static shield. He said, “If you won’t go, neither will I.”
Behind him, guards dropped through the hole in the ceiling, one by one.
He was lightning fast, and she wondered, briefly, if he had always been that way. Her inheritance was already weakening, she could feel it flicker around her, and she allowed the shield to fall.
He’d dropped the automatic rifle when she’d thrown her shield up, and it sat beside her knee, untouched. Her eyes followed his movements, thoughtless and disconnected, and her mind eased into a fragile stillness; with every minute she did not use her power, she could feel it strengthening within her.
His voice echoed in her head. Elseron needs you. He hadn’t reminded her that she was Queen, that she didn’t have a right to quit – that she had a responsibility to her people, but it was there. He didn’t have to say it, she already knew. She couldn’t help but think, what good is a Queen like the one I’m becoming?
What kind of Queen would a killer make? The self-deprecating accusation was cold and hurtful; a deliberate reminder of the person she’d become. Of the butcher she’d allowed to take over. A little bad luck and she turned into a monster.
For hours, he kept them all at bay; the scientists, the guards, the commanders, the negotiators, the interrogators. Every single one fell at his feet, until he was covered in blood and standing in a small ocean of it. He showed no sign of weakening, no sign of slowing; she checked his body with her eyes for wounds and found none.
No guards came for a long while.
He opened his eyes suddenly.
The room he was in was bright; unnaturally so – he was facing an entire wall of fluorescent lights and the gleam was burning into his retinas. He was chained to the floor by his ankles, his arms lifted above his head and locked together, held up by another chain. He scowled; irritated at the imbeciles they had attempting to torture him.
He wondered if they actually knew anything about him, at all. Their torture attempts had been child’s play; they’d begun with sunlight, and when that had no effect on him, they moved on to filleting off his skin in a room made of mirrors until he could see only muscle covering his skeleton. Within hours, his skin returned and his hair began to re-grow. They had sent two enormous men in to beat him to within an inch of his life, but they hadn’t succeeded either – no matter how many blows they landed, he never made a sound, he never winced. It didn’t matter how bloody and bruised a man was; if he never acknowledged his suffering, the entire point was lost.
He reminded himself of Lethon, of the anchor and the wedding ring and the bath tub, as his teeth were knocked out and his bones broken.
Even the memories were stronger than the reality he was in. They had been giving him the serum every six hours, like clockwork, and he allowed them to believe it weakened him. He would shut his eyes and pretended to be asleep, concentrating until his heartbeat was slow and regular. They were easily convinced of their illegitimate brilliance.
The lights turned off without warning and he blinked as his eyes healed and his sight slowly returned. Images began to play on the wall and he realized it hadn’t been fluorescents at all, but instead, a television that took up the whole wall. The static at the edges cleared, and he could see a darkened room with one light source shining down on a figure strapped to a chair, her arms held out in front of her, forcing her to bend against a table until the side of her face was flat against it. Her brown hair was nearly black with blood and soot, and hung over her face. She didn’t fight her bindings. Still, the rope around her wrists pulled, digging into her skin.
A man, whose face he could not make out, as he was cleverly hidden behind a wall of shadows, held a cigar cutter over her ring finger on her left hand.
They had made a terrible mistake.
He let the fury out. With a single tug, the chains above his head came crashing down. Plaster and metal rained down in the room. He tore the locks off his ankle clamps with ease.
The blackness covered his eyes before he even turned around to face the room of armed guards and the lone scientist. Black mist over-took the pristine floor, inching up the walls.Murmurs reached his ears, but he paid them no mind. A menacing laugh spilled from his lips as they all hit the ground synchronously.
*author note: sorry if this sucks. it was written while my dough was rising. now back to making finnish pulla for thanksgiving dinner.