Chapter One Hundred and Twenty Four
Pilot, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,365
The corridors wound tightly around the inner rooms, most of them laboratories or quarantine chambers, but there were other narrower rooms that served as buffer for the east side of the corridor. The lights overhead flickered and he could smell Phaedos’ scent as it settled into the walls. It had been hours since Phaedos had been there. Pilot followed the carnage to a room at the end of the hall, the door ajar. There, he could smell Elseron and Dante. He hardly noticed the blood that decorated the room and flooded the floor.
Every now and then he would hear footsteps on the opposite side of the building but they never got close; without a thought or an intention, his inheritance was dropping the guards like flies as they came within a thirty yard radius of him. He observed the hole in the floor curiously, crouching down and peering through the still-sparking wires and bent steel beams.
The small river of blood that had become the room he was in had nothing in comparison to the ocean of it below. Wafting up to him, amid the acrid scent of wet copper, he could distinguish faint traces of Atlas.
But the room below him was empty when he dropped down into it, and he made his way into the new corridors.
There she was. He could feel her like static in the atmosphere around him. He knew that if he went west, he would find Atlas and Phaedos – and the sound of Elseron’s raging bellow vibrated down the hallway to reach his ears.
He went east, following the pulse of her heartbeat.
There were a thousand obstacles in his path to her. It was as if fate were deliberately attempting to distract him, to draw him away from his purpose – but Pilot was a new beast; a creature of singular focus . A quarantine chamber on his right exploded outward into the hallway, a cloud of flame mushrooming out sideways and blossoming until the entire section of hallway was ablaze; Pilot continued walking, heedless to the heat singing his flesh, turning his shirt to ash as it caught fire. The soles of his feet charred, the skin melting and contorting as he stepped on the still-red remains of the wall and door.
A man stepped out of the now-gaping hole where the wall had once been, fully swathed in a fire-suit that seemed to have been stolen from a space facility. The wide viewer in the head mask was eerie and shrouded in the glorious twists and shadows of the sea of flames eating up the hallway, his entire figure silhouetted against the emblazoned backdrop.
He lunged at Pilot without warning but the world was slower than usual – the lunge was relaxed, or delayed – as if Pilot had stumbled upon the “slow forward” option. He was prepared long before the man got close enough to touch, and Pilot simply looped his fingers beneath the seam of the face mask and yanked.
The coughing was instant, but the blackened veins sprouting up from beneath the rest of the suit, the tendrils curling up the man’s throat, were a close second.
Pilot did not wait for the man to hit the burning ground before he continued on down the hallway.
The room they had her in was encased in steel, of course, but it was no matter. With his left fist, he punched his way through the wall, shattering every bone from his fingertips to his shoulder, but the wall crumpled and he stepped into the room, shaking his injured hand as if the pain of the broken bones was a layer of water.
She laughed when she heard the wall give way, and despite the loud smack she received for it, she didn’t cease.
Pilot moved across the gap between them smoothly, his steps unnaturally unresponsive to gravity, and he crouched at her side, one hand gently on her spine. He kissed her head, letting the gesture hold for a few seconds, his eyes closed. His inheritance worked inside of him, pulling the serum from her veins, up through her muscles, to seep from her skin like sweat. The droplets rose in the air and he stepped back, turning his black eyes to the man cowering in the ill-supposed safety of the shadows.
He held a narrow finger in his palm, the bloody end jagged and fleshy, and Eden’s wedding ring lay on the middle of the table, bathed in sanguine fluid. He had been practicing a miraculous level of control over his inheritance until that instant. He’d managed to retain most of his awareness, but as he watched the ropes untie themselves from around his wife’s wrists, watched the blood stains darken the rough twine, as he realized someone had damaged her, his previous control dissipated.
Pilot’s upper lip twitched, two, three, four times before he snarled and leapt over the table.
When the ghostly whisper of her blew through his mind, he pulled his mouth back from the pulsating organ in his hands; it trembled one last time before stopping entirely. He dropped it to the floor. The heartless sack of bones and muscle stopped twitching as it lay on the ground, he filled his lungs with fresh air; the scalding heat from the blood still warmed his throat, traveling down his torso to settle comfortably in his belly.
He turned to her, knowing as he did so that there were guards behind her, and that they were pulling triggers as his eyes met hers. With a sweep of his hand, a cancerous mist rose from his skin and crawled, immeasurably fast, across the room; the men hit the floor as the bullets ripped through him.
The pain was astounding. The bullet wounds themselves had been less painful than the fucking MRI machine Elseron had dragged him inside of. Distantly, Pilot was aware that his extended nails were burying themselves along Elseron’s spine, and he forced them to retract.
His knees buckled beneath him and he let himself lean forward, the palms of his hands holding his weight up, even as his left arm healed the broken bones with a miserably slow knit-stitch-knit-stitch tingle.
Elseron turned the machine off and the bullets floating in the air clattered to the ground noisily. Even with the echo of ringing pain in his ears, he heard each distinct plink.
He wondered how they had stuffed him with forty bullets, but remembered instantaneously that they had been using automatic rifles. Elseron’s arm wrapped beneath Pilot’s arms and the Guardian lifted him to his feet. Breathing in with hole-free lungs, Pilot grimaced. “Good grief,” he snapped, stepping to the side and out of reach. “You stink like grayscale.”
Elseron froze for a millisecond, but it was long enough for Pilot to catch.
Pilot frowned. “How long have you known, you old fool?”
Elseron shot him a biting glare and said, “Hold your tongue, dark dweller.”
It had been a long time since he’d heard that insult, he thought.
Eden burst into the room suddenly, hollering at the both of them – her voice splintered in the air, cracking just as the far door opened. It wasn’t until he saw the sleek black orb tumble into the room that he processed what she said.
Eden was in his arms, then, and he spun them around so his back was to the oncoming explosion, shoving Elseron to duck down behind the MRI machine. He was about to shuffle Eden into the crack when she wriggled from his grasp and stooped beneath his arm.
The grenade went off, and Eden held her footing against the sudden, forceful, displacement of air. Her hands went up as his feet skidded on the linoleum; her palms sought each other, closing in, as he scrambled to cross the gap between them and pull her to reasonable safety.
It was then that he saw it. The fragmented grenade didn’t fully break apart. As he watched, as her hands closed, the miniature bonfire actually shrank back into itself.
The grenade reassembled and rolled out of the room the way it had come in.
He heard it detonate for the second time.