the chess piecesMature

Chapter One Hundred Thirty Eight
Eden and Atlas, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,191

Eden hung quietly on the outskirts of the group, her warm golden eyes absorbing every minute detail of the interactions around her.  So much had changed; it seemed it was the break in reality where players could change sides.  Eden had never understood a need to change sides, but she appreciated that the benefit was in her favor.  Some things were negligible, if one knew the greater picture.  Her primary concern was for her sister, actually, who seemed to be having an internal nervous breakdown as she watched with wide, frightened eyes.

Atlas’ mind was reeling, desperate to keep up with the frenzied pace of the world she’d found herself in.  She clung to Phaedos’ hand like an anchor to the truth, something she feared severance from more than she feared the death she knew waited around every corner.  Noise bombarded her from every direction and the volume of it all pounded at her eardrums with a wicked, deafening rhythm.  She held herself together based on the images being fed into her nervous system.  Barely able to keep up with the shifting sides and changing players, she found herself eager to simply move ahead.  Any step forward had to be better than standing around waiting for more factors to contort before her very eyes.  It didn’t matter that their numbers had just been increased by four; though it certainly would not be a detriment; she could do nothing except wait for the eye of the storm.  The true test had not come to pass, not just yet.

She hadn’t needed Arisa to clarify what her plan was, but for the benefit of the less telepathic, she’d asked; the small vampire woman was practically projecting the schematics to her across the gap between them.  Her thoughts were strong and clear, clearer than anyone’s had been – save Eden; but Atlas did not question it.  Instead, she took the opportunity to move ahead.

Eden was beside her, then, her voice a parallel whisper to the sound of her own thoughts as they ran through her head.  You’ll have to shield Elseron, Eden was thinking, you two won’t be fast enough to get out in time. 

I can shield the three of us, Atlas thought back, not even glancing to her sister.

Phaedos does not need your shields, but that is good news.  Let’s do this.

Eden’s fingertips brushed faintly over Pilot’s shoulder, but his attention was on her instantly and it seemed they needed even fewer words to communicate than Atlas and Eden did.  Not for the first time, Atlas wondered if Eden and Pilot could communicate telepathically, but her curiosity could not be indulged.  They had things to do.

Phaedos released her hand and she nearly panicked; she settled, however, when he returned with Elseron propped up on his shoulder.  Her Guardian, her father, she reminded herself, still looked worn and battered, but the inky blackness in his veins had vanished and some of the light had returned to his eyes.  The world felt better with them both within reach.

Eden was already beginning to herd the others up into the same vent Will had fallen through.  Pilot, the relentless warrior masked by some phantom monster in his eyes, went first, brandishing what few weapons he had left.  As he crouched to lunge himself upward without the use of his hands, Phaedos stopped him.

For an instant, the two simply stared at each other, impatience already bubbling in Pilot’s gaze.  As was usual, Pilot was faster, and he spoke first.  “Was there something you wanted?”

What was surprising about the interaction, for Atlas, was how placid Phaedos’ expression was.  A ripple of surprise moved through the group as Phaedos’ lips turned upward in a genuine smile.  Static buzzed in Atlas’ chest, vaguely reminiscent of anticipation but mingled with too much apprehension.  Phaedos spoke then, and the sound of his voice felt like small landmines going off in her ear canals.  “Yes, he said.  There was.”  He stepped closer and suddenly the grin morphed into something almost manic, dangerous – but there was a strangeness to the image Atlas was seeing, as if it were not her eyes she was looking through, and she realized she was seeing Pilot’s view.  Phaedos lifted his arms and collapsed them around a frantically confused Pilot; an embrace that appeared as foreign to the onlookers as it felt to those participating, but still, Phaedos hugged him.  When he pulled back, he slapped his palm on Pilot’s shoulder twice, in such a masculine gesture that Atlas forgot he’d just been embracing someone.  He said, as if over a great blockage in his throat, “My gratitude to you is beyond words, Gallo.  I know what you must think of me, and I am certain I deserve it all; I’ve come to terms with my role in our interactions, but you should know that I will never forget what you’ve done for me, for the woman I love, or for her kingdom.”

Pilot was silent; he did not move, did not blink, did not seem to even be aware that Phaedos was standing in front of him; until he lifted his eyes and their gazes locked.  He never spoke or made a motion to reach out.  After a moment, he nodded, almost imperceptibly, and sprung upward without warning.  The only sound was a soft thud as his elbows caught his weight and he pulled himself into the air vent.

The pace of time kicked back into gear and Atlas realized their interaction had taken less than a heartbeat; she could feel her lungs half-way full, her heart aching to begin its rhythm.  She blinked and it broke the hold on her senses.

Seemingly unaffected by the time warp, Eden said, “Melody, Dante, up into the shaft.  Now.  Then Will and Eric. ”

Now that she was looking, it seemed no one else had felt the stutter.  Curious, Atlas thought.

Dante said, “No, I will stay and fight.”

From up in the shaft, Pilot’s voice echoed down into the room, “Do what my wife says, Bear.  We have a plan.”

For a brief moment, Dante held firm.  His eyes locked with Melody’s and there was an entire lifetime of communication between their eyes.  He shook his head but said, “Fine, but I’m bringing my pipe.”

Within seconds Phaedos, Elseron and Atlas were alone in the slaughter room with Arisa and an army of lycans about to burst through the walls.  Just as Atlas threw her shield up to cling tightly to the figures standing beside her, Arisa caught fire and the explosion shook the very ground beneath Atlas’ feet.  Flames licked up the oxygen instantly, glowing an effulgent sunbeam yellow and a dusky orange, contorting in on themselves in a sick, scorching dance.  Atlas fought to maintain her control but the only thing that punctured her awareness was the spectral chorus of wails as the lycans burned alive.  Atlas feared she would never forget the sound; feared it would keep her awake at night.  It was a haunting noise that sank into her skeleton and rattled even when the sound had long died off.

The End

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