Chapter 153

Word count: 2624

It felt strange, being back home...after so long being on the upper-world Elseron had thought he would never sleep another minute of his life. But after their small gathering he'd retired to his chambers with a small army outside his door, collapsed onto his bed and slept for nearly eighteen hours. He'd been asleep for so long that an entire rotation had been and gone and Atlantis was once again draped in the pale grey robes of night. It felt so surreal, feeling the touch of his silk bed covers beneath him, the plushness to his pillows, the gentle breeze that whispered through his open windows. After months of sleeping on hard board beds, and more often than not on the floor, it felt odd to be suddenly plunged back into the familiarity of his home. Rolling off the wide bed he planted his feet firmly into the floor, instantly feeling the muscles tense up with burning pain. Spirits that hurts! He muttered to himself, hissing the pain away through his teeth. Every part of him was suddenly on fire, bruises darkened, healing cuts grew tighter and every muscle from the tip of his toes to his silvered scalp screamed with aching.

Despite the pain it caused him Elseron rubbed his hands down his face, rolling the heels of his palms into his eyes to rub away the last remnants of sleep. Groaning without meaning to the Stalwart Shield smiled to himself, That's when you know you're getting old my friend. He said to himself. Unnecessary noises when moving. Opening his eyes wide to clear his vision he stared around his chambers, all was quiet, and dark. Only two candles were left burning by the fireplace, and he bet they would soon by sputtering in their sockets, the thin curtains over his windows rippled with the gentle, cooling breeze. Streaming through the air like the rolling waves of the ocean on a calm day. His armour, usually neatly hung from his wall, was scattered randomly about the floor, uncharacteristically thrown off during his staggered journey to his bed. The pearlescent metal glinting here and there as he spotted his chest plate by the door and a vambrace by his writing desk. It was only when he reached down to scratch and annoying itch on his ankle did he realise that he still wore his greaves. A hot redness to his skin surrounded the armour where it had rubbed against him during his sleep. Letting out a deep breath Elseron place his head in his hands, running his fingers through the somewhat greasy locks of his silver hair.

Before his mind turned to what he needed to think about he decided two things. One, he needed a drink. A damn strong one. And two, he needed fresh air.

The effort of standing was nearly enough to send him sprawling back, unconscious, across his bed yet again. But somehow he fought through the burning pain and took odd, shuffling steps, towards the drinks cabinet. Opening it he took out one bottle without really thinking before shuffling his way out of his bedroom and out onto the balcony. Throwing the wine bottle and glass onto the sandstone table he dropped heavily into the chair. Muscles kissing him thanks as the lactic acid was drained away from his spread eagled body. He took another deep breath and closed his eyes, resting his head back onto the top of the chairs backrest. The night was cold. He liked that. It was kind to skin and soothed his aching muscles and he could feel the ice cold bite of water spray falling across his face. The twin waterfalls that roared downwards from the palace roof ran day and night, and he knew that a hundred feet above him, the right side waterfall originated from Atlas's chambers. It was somewhat comforting, knowing that fact...he wasn't sure why.

Pulling the cork from the onion bottle Elseron unknowingly poured and downed the first glassful in a single gulp. The honey smooth texture and fiery aftertaste creating a pleasant dance display across his tongue. Pouring another when the second glass was full he looked at the label. Revulsion hit him first, then disappointment...but slowly he found how fitting it actually was. This bottle had been a gift from the Great King, Atlas, after Elseron's ascension to Lord High Commander of the Royal Knights. He'd kept it through the centuries, never tasting the finest wine in all of Atlantis, saved only for royalty and those in their favour. Perhaps it was fitting, at the time when Atlas's true daughter first stepped foot into her father's city, that he drank it now. With a small smile he raised his glass to the roiling heavens above his head, 'To you my old friend. I found her, took me longer than I expected, but I found her.' Elseron put the glass to his lips and smiled. 'Well, she found me, but patato~potato.’  Taking a small swig he hissed the burning feeling away. 'I'm sorry,' he spoke to the darkness. 'I...I should have told you that Atlas was my child. I could just never find a way to tell you, but in my defence,' he spluttered pointing a finger upwards. 'You would have had me exiled, or short a head. No, you would never have taken my head...would you?'

Only silence answered him. 'I didn't think so.' resting the cool glass against his temple Elseron looked out over Atlantis, the continent-city still buzzed with a modicum of activity, even this late at night. And in the far, far distance. He could just make out the ghost lights of the shield fighting back the advancing hunger of the ocean. He had to think about it now. He had to, it wasn't going to go away nor was it going to become any easier the longer he left it...

'Atlas has abdicated the throne,' he said aloud. As if saying it would somehow cement the fact into his head...It didn't. 'Eden hasn't stated she even wants to rule, and Atlas...' he paused. 'Atlas...' he couldn't say it. Was it really such a shock?! He had known! Elseron had known her plan for days and weeks and months! So why was it so hard to come to terms with. Why was it so impossible for him to state in the English language?  Taking a large swig of wine he breathed through the pain and finally spat out, 'Atlas wants to take the place of the Nameless Monk.' There!He’d said it. Her final plan. Even now it was hard to contain the tears. The thought of Atlas, sat in that forsaken tower year after year, century after century, powering the shield that guarded her people from the ocean with her psychic might...it was heartbreaking. His daughter, his Little Princess, locked in the highest tower of Atlantis and leashed to her duties in mind, body and soul...Elseron didn't want that for her. He wanted her to marry, to bring children into the world, to rule and to live a long and happy life. Was that so wrong? For a father to wish his daughter a perfect life? All lives were hard; he knew that better than most, but to become the Monk. To lose her name and everything that made her his daughter. He couldn't help but think that the minute she stepped into that tower and whatever infernal mysteries it held...she would be as good as dead. Not in body, or mind. But in the very essence of what made Atlas, that would be lost, sacrificed so that she could keep her people safe.

 Elseron wasn't ashamed to admit that he felt pride for her. Any self respecting parent would, the very notion of his child being so selfless struck a chord deep within him. Maybe because he had felt such selflessness himself, he smiled wondering if they shared that in common. Some paternal link. He was probably deluding himself, giving your life to the Knights and giving up countless centuries to the City were two very different things. Shaking his head with a grunt he downed the last remnants of the wine from his glass and stood. Ignoring the pain he dressed, shoved his axe handle through a loop in his belt, and set off through the palace. Dismissing the dozen guards that had protected his door throughout the warrior’s long slumber. He didn't know where he was going...his feet just thudded through the corridors of the twilit palace. Echoing through the marble corridors as they had done a thousand times before. Movement was good. He couldn't sit and dwell on things anymore, he just couldn't, it would drive him insane. So he just walked. Up, down, left, right. Across the roof and through the dungeons, along the walls and through the courtyards. Passing the kitchens he'd leaned through the door to see several children huddled around an ice box, they were kitchen cleaners, gastronomic apprentices of the lowest tier. Stealing food in a daring midnight raid.

He smiled a true smile when he'd seen them. Atlas had done similar several times when she was a child, always thinking she had fooled her Guardian when in reality he had simply let her slip by him. And many centuries before her, a young Elseron had done the exact same thing with his gang of friends in the garrison barracks. Moving on he walked through the gardens, the training grounds, barracks and finally found himself in the throne room. Staring at the square cut throne of polished white marble, its facades carved with a bewildering array of sea creatures. And hung at a crooked angle across its arm, the Poseidon Diadem. Crown of the Atlantean Queen, bereft of owner...'This place is beautiful,' said a gentle voice through the darkness of the vast hall. 'Not entirely how I remember it though.' Looking back over his shoulder as soft footsteps began approaching him he smiled slightly. The expression never reaching his eyes. Of course he wouldn't be the only on losing sleep.

'It's been many years, are you surprised you remember so little?' he asked, turning back to face the throne.

'I suppose not.' Eden stepped beside Elseron, wearing her traditional dark trousers and leather jacket. She would have to change her fashion if she was ever to be accepted by her people. 'It's so...big.' she breathed, almost awestruck. 'Why isn't there another throne?'

'Ancient Atlantean law. One monarch, one ruler, one law. The title of king or queen is passed to the first born child; their spouses would earn the rank of king or queen in title only. So if Atlas were to marry Phaedos he would not have any rule over Atlantis, not as anything other than a high ranking advisor anyway. But he would still be called king.' it was only after he said it that Elseron realised how casually the comment had flowed. Usually the thought of Atlas marrying Phaedos would send a shiver down his spine, but now...the idea seemed, nice.

'I see.' Eden said, even though Elseron knew she was lying. 'Have you spoken to her yet?' Elseron shook his head. She breathed a heart wrenching sigh. 'You saw it in her Elseron, as much as I did. She isn't going to change her mind.'

'I know.' he whispered.

'Is there, no one else?Anybodyelse that could take her place?' said Eden quickly, almost on the verge of frantically.

He shook his head again. 'The shield requires an almost constant supply of psychic energy; such power is rarely seen naturally. And Atlas is the only one strong enough to keep it standing.' Elseron looked down at his best friend’s daughter. 'Not even you could feed the shield. She's...' he blinked back stinging tears. 'She's the only one.'

Eden laughed dryly. 'So that's it then. I'll just become Queen? Just like that?'

'You are first in line. It is your birth right.'

'Screw my birth right!' she barked. Tweaking an eyebrow at her outburst Elseron watched her carefully. She looked on the edge of a nervous breakdown. 'I want to have a choice in this decision Elseron! I want to feel like it’s actually my decision to sit in that thing.'

'It is your decision.'

'Oh, oh really? Who else will it be apart from me?' she took several steps forward and rounded on him. Honey eyes burning through him with a desperation he had never seen in her before. 

'There are...others.'

'Who?' she fired. His silence was all the proof she needed. Smiling heartlessly she ran a hand through her hair. 'I can't lead them Elseron. You do it.'

'I can't.' he cut back. 'What are you so terrified of Eden?'

'I can't sit, in that god damned thing Elseron!' she shouted, firing a hand backwards, pointing accusingly at the throne.

'Oh? Do you think the throne is cut for the ruler or the other way around?' he asked taking a step towards her.

'I don't care!' she yelled.

'You should. That throne has over a dozen official titles, the Ivory Mantle, the Tidal Sovereignty. Do you know what your father called it? A chair!' pushed Elseron. 'That's all it is Eden. A chair. Nothing more, the only value it has is what other people put on it. Just like everything else in this world.'

'Elseron it's not the throne,' she whispered. Pressing a hand to her forehead she struggled to say the next words that seemed desperate to slide from her tongue.

'It's because you're a vampire.' she looked at him then. Amber eyes quivering and glistening with the embryos of tears. 'Atlantis is no stranger to odd rulers; we once had a king that drank the blood of those he sentenced to execution. I think the people would find it refreshing to have a monarch that actually needed to drink blood.' A small pause was birthed between them, Elseron smiling slightly in hopes that Eden would take the joke well. She did. Dropping her hand from her head she laughed a few times, wiping the tears from her cheeks with her fingers.

'They'll despise me Elseron.' she breathed, locking her eyes back onto him.

'You have no idea how much these people love you Princess. I know people down in that city that still mourn for your loss. Now that you're back they'll never despise you, despite the differences between you.'

'It'll be so, hard.'

'Every reign is hard.' he smiled. Looking to the throne Elseron felt his shoulders drop. 'No one is making you do this Eden. If you and Pilot want to leave then leave, no one will stop you. Others will be found to rule in your place, never fear that. Whatever your choice, rule or not to rule, I will support your decision. And if anyone has problems with your choice they shall answer to Me.' a small part of control seemed to return to Eden's flame coloured eyes and a small smile tugged up at the corner of her lips. 'To me, you'll always be Atlas's sister. And my close friend. No matter your decision.' There was a pregnant silence between them for what felt like days until Eden eventually looked over her shoulder at the throne and asked,

'Why can't you rule?'

Elseron gave a small smile. 'I'm a soldier. My only skill is killing; history has proved time and time again that good soldiers rarely ever make good kings.'

'You're not a killer. You're a Guardian.' said Eden, turning and gracing him with a tiny smile of her own.

'So if not rule. What would you have me do?'

Eden shrugged, walking past him back towards her chambers. 'Guard.'

The End

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