October 22, 2010

Artwork by Denver Robbins & Lauren T. Hart

Pain encompassed every part of her being. She caught the fresh taste of blood in her mouth as all of eternity spread before her and she caught glimpses of the life of the immortal born Argus Panoptes. The flashes did not appear to be in chronological order; they seemed to come in levels of importance or intensity of thought.

She saw Ancient cities, lush green hillsides, arid deserts, snow capped mountains, vast oceans and weather of every kind. A woman with long red hair, home and family, the day they met, their first kiss, her anxious face as she sat on the couch in his small house, her mind full of both love and hate for him.

She saw another woman from other times, his wife and their son, loyal friends over the years most she didn't recognize. The Elite who had introduced himself as Kale was the most constant but she also saw the faces of Dain, Jonas and Camille as time swirled before her.

War was ever present amidst the scenes. The location and the costumes changed but it was always there. Mortals and immortals alike lost their lives to him, some in the name of war, others in the name of justice, others to keep the peace. Some came with a great sense of satisfaction, but none of them brought him joy.

Among the enemies and combatants she saw herself fighting in the courtyard, slapping him then shooting him in the elevator and the disdainful glare of a young girl under his watch, and the hate-filled defiance of a son who ran away from home.

Loss infiltrated nearly as much as war; loyal friends, enemies, combatants, wife, son, home and family; each one bringing with it, a sense of detachment, and isolation. He was an oddity, accepted by few, understood by even less. He simply didn't belong; a disposition that according to some made him ideal to lead.

In the end, he accepted the calling as king simply because she, the woman with long red hair, Juno, had asked.

It was then that his identity truly began to change - to fracture - as he hid his true self away, using decoys and doubles, living under the guise of humanity.

She saw the immortal holocaust, a war of imbalance, fought on behalf of humanity, holding to an ancient ideal that immortals are guardians of humanity, not rulers.

"Come back to me Anna," Argus called.

Slowly she pulled herself away from the dreamlike state of being enrapt in thousands of years of another life and found her way back into her own life, her own reality. She tensed as she woke to find herself underwater. Strong arms, his arms, pulled her to the surface. She took a sharp breath in as she reached the surface, grasping for him she caught hold of his neck and pulled him close.

She couldn't stop the tears, or explain them any more than she could explain that somehow she knew, for a moment, she had become him. She could still taste him on her lips. His strength of mind and will, his passion, the risk he was taking with her, and the love that had blinded him to it.

He held her close, secure in his arms until she found her strength and her balance. Her vision blurred as she fought to find focus. A soft pink lily floated into view, as she focused on it somehow she saw it from every angle all at once, its colors shifting and changing as it turned. Her vision had changed. She had changed.

"What have I become?" she whispered. The sound of her voice echoed softly off the tiled walls.

"Divine," he whispered softly back to her.

Each sensation was amplified in her senses; the soft lush of the water, the rugged scratch of wet fabric, the firm confidence of his touch, and the iridescent flecks of blue she'd never seen before in his deep blue eyes. She turned to see her reflection in the mirror across from them. Her eyes reflected with soft iridescence. "You put too much trust in me," she said turning back to meet his eyes.

He held her gaze for a long moment neither arguing nor concurring. "I'm in love with you," he reasoned.

 

Chapter 43 - The Echelon

Vulnerable doesn't even begin to describe what being a mortal among a crowd of immortals is like. It's not like being on the menu, as one might think, it's more akin to being the only naked person at the party - or attending a formal affair in sweatpants and a grubby T-shirt. Not that immortals are a conceited bunch... but they kind of are.

I didn't sleep well that night. Ashe didn't sleep at all. I know because I insisted he stay with me.

We were separated the next morning when I decided it was safe to use the bathroom alone. Ashe wasn't in the room when I returned, but Camille was, along with a flock of wild cosmetologists and fashionistas.

Honestly, I didn't know my hair could feel that soft.

They presented me with a gorgeous on a supermodel outfit which consisted of a pair of skin tight black pants, black stiletto pumps and a satin backless top, that I was one hundred percent sure I didn't have the body nor the disposition for. I was convinced that one wrong move in that top would literally make me the naked person at the party.

The party was the largest gathering of immortals in more than three hundred years. However, unlike the last time they had assembled Elite, non-Elite and familiars alike were to be present at this gathering.

Camille tacked a sword with a blue stone disguised as a letter opener, disguised as a brooch on the left side of the little satin number that was pretending to be a shirt and dumped me into a room full of strangers. Along with the half-ton amulet dangling around my neck I felt over jeweled.

"Hello Eden," came a voice I recognized but could place until I caught sight of him. It was the guy who had attacked me in my apartment. He was sporting a sizable bruise on the left side of his forehead. "You're looking well," he smirked. "We were never properly introduced. Vaughn Moreland," he said, extending his hand to me. 

"I don't think so," I glared at his hand.

"This whole thing was merely a misunderstanding," Vaughn said.

"Like that time I stabbed you with that letter opener sword everybody thought was a brooch?" I glared.

He chuckled then nodded. "Fair enough," he said.

An older guy, I would have guessed sixties, with salt a pepper hair and another man, a younger version of the older guy, who I'd have guessed late thirties, approached. "Dr. David Parker," the older man introduced himself, with just the slightest British accent. "This is my son, Lewis."

"Pleasure," Vaughn offered them his hand.

"Are you Anna's David Parker?" I asked.

David smiled. "I am."

"I'm Eden Finley," I said.

"Ashe's Eden?" Lewis interjected.

"Iona's Eden." David said.

"Old friends. How nice." Vaughn forced a smile.

Ashe's Eden? Iona's Eden? I smiled, I hoped not too awkwardly, in return.

"From the family DelaCrosse," David added, pointing to amulet and then to the not insignificant brooch weighing down my blouse.

"Yeah, I guess so," I shrugged.

"Family?" Vaughn scoffed. "Is family the new word for house or the old word?"

"Maybe it depends on the Familiar," Lewis offered.

A door at the far end of the room opened and we were all escorted down a long corridor. "Is anyone else getting that lamb to its slaughter vibe?" I groused.

Vaughn chuckled.

"Everything will be fine my dear," David reassured, offering me his arm, which I took.

We were filed into and even larger room filled with long concentric arched tables that stepped down toward the center of the room.

"And to think I was worried," Ashe said, coming to meet us as we entered. He was wearing a pale grey suit and a green tie.

Lewis and David gripped Ashe in turn as they exchanged pleasantries. "Have you seen Anna?" Ashe asked hopefully, as he slipped his hand into mine.

David shook his head.

"Wait, is that her?" I asked, nodding towards what could have been Anna's double except for the purple streaks in her hair. "What's with her hair?"

"No," Ashe said not turning to look. "That's not her."

"Oh." I understood then; it was Meline.

"If you would all be seated," Camille's voice drifted through the loud speakers.

"We have much to discuss," Ashe said to David as he revealed the locket that hung around his neck, hidden behind his tie.

This noticeably upset David.

"It's more complicated than that," Ashe said.

David nodded. "It always is."
 

 

No sign remained of their altercation in the elevator. Anna was grateful for this, but no less ashamed of her earlier actions.

She ran her hand across the bodice of the green silk dress Argus had presented her with. Its color was reminiscent of the one she'd worn to the fall social so many years before. She traced her fingers across her collarbone, a motion that previously yielded a silver locket in her hand. She tapped her empty grip against her chest and turned to face him. "Did you know how this would all turn out?"

"No," he said. He looked as if he were going to elaborate then shook his head.

"What?" Anna pressed.

"I am not without my oracles." He offered, hesitantly.

"So, you did know."

He shook his head. "They predicted..." He looked unsettled as he met her eyes. "That you would betray me."

"The question remains," she said.

"What is life without risk? Without adventure?" he replied.

"Boring," she smiled.

"After you," he said as the elevator doors slid open.

Two women and four men, all immortals, stood in the foyer just outside of the Elevator.

"They're late," Argus huffed quietly.

A couple of the men looked a little miffed to see them. "It's like a bad joke," said one to the men, shaking his head as he stepped towards them. "I saw you last night," he announced, looking directly at her. "With one of the Elite."

Anna answered him with a lifted brow and a slight twist of her head.

"But I've never seen you before," he sneered. "So who are you? Tell me you're not the one we're here to escort."

Anna glanced at Argus who was scowling at the elevator.

"Knock it off Matson," one of the other men said. "You know if the kiss-ass is here, an Elite isn't too far off."

"So what exactly are we in store for today, do you know?" Matson asked. "And what was going on with the freaked out mortal last night? No. Let me guess. She was the sacrificial virgin, and you were the kinky after party." he laughed. "Tell me I haven't missed the party."

"You're very brazen to be making such comments to a total stranger," Anna responded.

"Not really," he looked past her. "You're with Sugar. So tell me Fenton, which one of the Elite's boots are you licking these days?"

"You're treading on thin ice, Matson," Argus said.

Matson shook his head and smirked as he laughed.

The elevator door began to open. Anna stepped forward, put her hand on Matson's chest and slammed him against the wall. "It's thinner than you know," she sneered as she gripped him by the throat and pinned him with her body.

The onlookers first stepped forward as if to assist Matson, then stopped as they saw Dain and Jonas stepping off the elevator.

Matson shot them both a panicked look.

Dain and Jonas took neutral stances on either side of Argus, curious indifference upon their faces.

Matson pawed at her hand around his neck, to no avail. "Would you let her kill me, my Lords?" Matson choked.

"Unless she would prefer we do it for her," Dain offered.

"Lest she mar her dress or tousle her hair," Jonas added.

Anna turned to look at Argus. "You betray yourself far more than I ever could," she sighed. She let go of Matson and stepped away from him. "I concede to the will of my Lord and King," she bowed to Argus. 

As soon as they realized, the other immortals dropped to one knee and bowed their heads to him.

Argus stepped toward her looking cross and then he smiled. "It would appear all that was needed here was a little perspective," Argus said. "Wyatt, Evans," Argus said. "If you would be so kind as to escort Mr. Matson to the Seventh floor."

"Please forgive me," Matson begged.

"You're forgiven," Argus said simply as he took hold of Matson's head and snapped his neck.

Two of the men stood, keeping their heads down, they retrieved Matson from the floor and carried him away.

"As you were," Dain ordered the others, "We're running late as it is."

"What's on the seventh floor?" Anna asked, leaning close to Jonas.

"It's a place to get some perspective," Dain offered, "For the next hundred years or so." His breath caught as he glanced in her direction and caught sight of her eyes for the first time that day.

It was then that Anna noticed small brown and amber flecks of iridescence in Dain's eyes. The flecks that until Argus's bite she had been unable to see.

"Have you always?" she reached to touch his face.

"No," his expression was pained as he caught her by the wrist. He glared at Argus.

"Why is everything a punishment to you?" Argus replied to his glare.

"Would anyone care to enlighten me as to the conversation we're not having?" Jonas interjected.

"He's made her a Sovereign," Dain informed, bringing her hand to his face and gently kissing her palm.

Jonas eyed them both, shaking his head. "But you couldn't know that unless..."

"So this is how it's going to be then," Argus sighed. He turned toward the four immortals all staring at their shoes. "Welcome to the upper echelons," he grumbled. "Let's walk, shall we? Jonas if you would," he motioned toward Anna.

The two women took the lead. Jonas offered Anna his hand, which she took and they followed. Dain and Argus fell in step behind them and the other two men took up the rear.

"I know what you want to ask," Argus said in hushed tones to Dain. "I'm afraid I cannot give you the answers you're looking for. Whether you realize it or even care, you're one of my dearest friends, and I never want to cause you pain but you must stop lamenting the past. She would have left you anyway."
 

 

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart