Chapter Seven: allies amidst the targets
Word Count: 1,173
He closed the door to the Visiting room behind him and offered Rory a smile as she stepped from the room opposite his. He could see the tears lining her eyes but dropped his gaze before he could embarrass her.
She cleared her throat as they began the walk down the hallway, and after a long moment, she asked, “How is your family?”
He rolled his shoulders easily, the aching pulse of his wounded pride well hidden beneath the gesture, and said, “All right, I suppose.”
“Your parents don’t have anything to worry about,” she said, smiling up at him as if it were the truth, “you’re going to be fine, Aeon.”
Her words halted his steps and she turned her curious expression to him when she found him missing from her side. He didn’t understand. The notion that he was missing something was almost palpable, but he couldn’t place it. All he could do was wonder, how did she know?
So he asked. “How did you know that my family didn’t visit me? You should have been locked in, just as I was.”
Her shoulders slumped slightly and she sighed, fatigue heavy in her lungs. She said, “Because only Hazel came to see me, and if you’d asked how my family was, I would have said the same thing – for the same reasons.”
He paused, observing her – the way she set her mouth, the steadfast assurance behind her eyes – before he said, “Jadon was the only one to visit me, too.”
He began to walk again, passing her before stretching his hand out to her. He didn’t know what else to do.
They travelled around their floor for a while, acquainting themselves with the layout, and for a little while he almost forgot why he was in the Training Center at all; knowing only that he was there, that he was on the precipice of some great trial in his life, and the taste of adrenalin and adventure hung in the back of his throat like a suppressed laugh. The immensity of their floor, of the entire building, left him feeling insignificant and miniscule. Yet he couldn’t help the gurgle of anticipation in his chest; everything on that floor was at his disposal – he would be making use of every square inch of training ground, of every morsel of information that was given to him, and he would walk out of the Training Center a new man.
There was a small room nestled into a corner of the hall, almost hidden, and when he pushed the doors open, they creaked. He wondered when the room had been used last. Though dust covered everything, the room was beautiful – painted in warm crimson hues, it felt cozier than any of the other rooms, including their bedrooms.
It appeared to be a…
“Is this a living room?” Rory’s voice interrupted his thoughts and he turned to her, his mind memorizing the sound of his thoughts on her tongue.
“I wonder how long it’s been since two Gamers have set foot in this room together.”
“Probably never,” she said, picking up a delicate crystal tumbler from a bar set against the west wall. She turned it over in her fingers, unfettered by the layer of grit and elapsed time that caked it. Her eyes caught his as she said, “This looks like it’s never been used. This whole set, I mean. Not a scratch, not a smudge.” She gestured with her empty hand at the entire counter, adding, “Not even a fingerprint anywhere at all.”
He moved across the room and took the glass from her hand, his fingertips barely brushing against hers, and said, “Why don’t we break it in, then?” He grabbed a, surprisingly, clean towel from the shelf above the bar set and wiped the glass free of dust.
Rory was already in line with his plans; she’d caught sight of a cabinet filled with varying decanters, and she wiggled the handles to get it to open. “It’s locked,” she said, a prickle of disappointment at the end of her words.
It took less than four steps for him to stand beside her again, and even fewer flicks of his wrist to pull his pocket knife from the recesses of his jacket pocket. She whispered, “That’s illegal, Aeon,” but her tone held more awe than accusation.
He picked the lock in a few swift twitches of his fingers and asked, “What would you like?”
The subsequent two hours went better than any other stretch of time in his entire life. Being around Rory was changing him; he could feel himself slipping and shifting, adjusting, re-assembling, and he liked it. She made him feel refreshed; as if he’d stepped from beneath a waterfall and into a new life, a new body, a new mind, a new soul. Clean, maybe, he thought, and smiled as he sipped his gin and watched her peek beyond the curtains covering the windows.
He had imagined moments like this between them – little insignificant seconds that the average person missed; but having it before him, knowing that if he spoke she would turn to listen, was nothing at all like he’d expected. It felt easy, as if there were no dooming events on the horizon, as if they were going to get off scot-free, only he couldn’t remember what they’d escaped.
Seres opened the door and stepped inside quietly; her presence, however, was an intrusion on their intimacy and they both turned to face her immediately. She smiled at them, graciously, and said, “I must say, I enjoy the sight of this room being used.” She didn’t wait for them to respond, instead, she gestured with her hand, her motions quick and bird-like, and continued, “Radek wanted me to make sure you two were prepared for Gaia, but you seem prepared to me.”
She nodded discretely at the clock, never mentioning that the hour hand was inching closer to lights-out, and departed as swiftly as she’d arrived.
Rory spoke, then, while he still faced the door, her voice soft and faint, like a stuttering breeze in the valley of District 3, “I heard about a pair of Gamers years ago that challenged the Games by forming an alliance between them.”
Curious, he shifted so he could see her again, quirking a brow, “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” she said, and he could tell by the way her eyes studied him that the pair had failed. That they were no more than dead bodies, then, nothing but tattered skeletons, if that. “My mother told me about them; they were quite the controversy in her time.” She shrugged, as if she wasn’t certain why she’d brought it up to begin with, but added, “Futile as it was, I’ve always thought it was beautiful.”
His heart was beating, he was sure of it, but it was slow and inaudible. His body froze, waiting for the moment to shatter and reality to break through. Before he lost his nerve, he said, “Maybe we could improve upon their idea.”