December 3, 2010

Artwork by Lauren T. Hart

The soft burn of the afternoon sun warmed the tall table at the far end of the workroom where Anna, Eden and Taylor were gathered comparing data from the latest series of tests. Eden was humming softly as she input the latest numbers into the computer. Anna took it as a good sign that Vaughn had this effect on her. She knew the heartache it caused Ashe, but they both knew it was best for the both of them that Eden was with a mortal.

Presentiment silenced the room, bringing with it an undercurrent of estrangement and hostility. The inconspicuous and unassuming man who wouldn't have garnered a second glance on most days commanded the whole room as he stepped through the doorway. He wore a warm grey knit shirt and casual slacks. The soft knit clung to his form, exposing his strong physique that was often lost under his everyday attire. The hilt of two blades, strapped to his back in a custom made shoulder sheath, rose just above his shoulders. His face was stern and disappointed and his demeanor carried doom and foreboding. He stepped silently into the center of the room, his eyes set firmly on Anna.

"Leave us," Anna said to the room, her eyes never leaving his.

He stood silently across from her as the room emptied. There was little in the tenor of the man before her that gave her comfort. She had never seen him armed before. His foreboding demeanor cast him, as she had in the past believed the Immortal King Argus to be. But she had been down this road before and she would not let her childhood of the immortal king keep her from the man she loved.

"I have missed you," Anna said.

He looked away from her, cold and unresponsive.

She knew his thoughts swam in doubt, betrayal, disappointment and heartache. But there was something more, a sinking unsettling feeling that traced down her spine. He had come to correct a mistake.

"Will you not speak to me?" she asked.

He took a slow deep breath and met her eyes. "There is much in my head and my heart I wish to share at the moment," he cleared his throat. "Words lack the ability to adequately convey them."

A wave of nausea washed over her as uncertainty and anxiety expanded outward from the pit of her stomach. "Oh Love," she breathed quietly, closing her eyes to help her concentrate. "Please do not be upset."

"Your anxiety is... unfounded." Argus's brow furrowed. "One can hardly hold ill-will toward fire because they got too close to the flame," he force a smile. "I learn quickly, and I will not make the same mistake again."

"My anxiety?" Anna met his eyes.

"You are a mystery Anna, but you are not completely hidden from me."

This made her smile.

"You've come to start a war," he said.

"No," Anna countered.

"But your actions will lead us to war, despite your intentions, I'm afraid."

"You can't know that," Anna shook her head.

"I do know that," he said firmly. He took a solid step toward her. "You know, I've always hated Oracles," he sighed. "I believe the thing I hate most about them is that they're never wrong." Pain hinted in his voice and his brow furrowed.

Anna sighed. "Did they happen to mention who would win?" She knew the answer was no, Oracles always avoided giving outcomes.

"I was rash to grant you Sovereignty."

She couldn't argue this. It was happenstance that they had fallen in love. Foolishness that he trusted her, and sheer madness that he had made her an equal.

"As you are a Sovereign," He continued. "I hold no authority to command you and you are free to do as you will. As ruler of the immortals, I can only ask and hope that you will respect my authority. As you do not, I am left with few options."

"As was I," Anna said. "Sovereign or no, I would have gone against your word."

"Hmm," he agreed, his jaw tense. "You've always preferred to live dangerously."

"It's never been my preference," Anna countered. "Merely my circumstance."

Argus took another step toward her. "Sovereign or no," he mocked, "you have blatantly challenged my directive on this matter and I have come to answer that challenge."

"With blades," Anna said.

"If it comes to that," Argus replied. "But it is not my wish to do you harm Anna," he took another step toward her. "I would gratefully accept your surrender."

"Surrender?" Anna eyed him. "And then what?

"And then we can discuss it."

Anna pushed her chair back and stood.

Argus's stance stiffened.

"I am in no position to engage in combat," Anna sighed. "Nor am I willing to secede from my mission. So it would seem we are at an impasse," she said as she rounded the table exposing her rounded midsection.

He stood frozen, unbelieving and uncertain. She crossed to him and took hold of his hand and held it gently against her rounded belly where a tiny figure thumped against its confines.

"Your note," he said. "But how? The last two pregnancies were... accidents."

"Volition," Anna said. "It was very easy for me to want to have your child. I didn't expect you to be as eager."

"This is your weapon," Argus looked upset.

Emotion flooded her and filled her eyes with tears. "I thought that I was doing something noble, something right. Then as I began to feel this life grow and become within me..." her voice trailed. "Will you ever forgive me?"

He wiped the tears from her cheeks and kissed her. "Anna, its so dangerous what you're doing. When your father was infected he almost didn't recover. It was only Sovereignty that saved him."

"Ingestion makes the symptoms far more acute," Anna explained. "Coma and fever are common as is death in high enough quantities. Subdermal delivery in smaller doses is ideal. The symptoms are trembling, exhaustion, low grade fever, prolonged healing time and then... mortality."

"You've been testing this?" he looked uneasy.

"Mmm," she nodded, opting not to tell him about their successful utilization on their first night there. "We saw no harm in an immortal rabbit or two," she shrugged. "We've been able to develop both potentially lethal as well as non-lethal methods of delivery, though the latter creates a larger threat of loss, as the delivery method - projectors - is slower."

Argus walked to the table and scanned the scatter of papers spread across it. "You've not been able to synthesize a stable compound," he surmised.

"Nor an indirect delivery system as dilution neutralizes it," Anna sighed.

Argus crossed to Lewis's computer and quickly scanned through the data. "DNP?" he asked.

"Degenerative Necrotic Poison," Anna explained. "That's what they've termed it."

"Is this two strains?" he asked.

"Yes. David began studying it on his first encounter with an infected immortal. His name was Milo."

"Milo Melchior," Argus provided. "I thought he'd died in the fire with Wade Monson."

Anna eyed him. "You knew about them," she realized.

"I also knew you could handle yourself."

Anna scoffed and shook her head, deciding to return to the subject at hand. "That strain has been identified as DNPa. It's a safer strain to be infected with if you enjoy your immortality. He calls the current strain DNPi. It's irreversible. It's truly remarkable if not completely devastating. He's just begun testing to see if the antigen produced in the event might be used as a vaccination."

"A vaccination for immortality," Argus surmised.

"A further divide of Gods and Mortals," Anna said. "But for our current purposes it's ideal,"

"The divide of Gods and Mortals," Argus eyed her. "It's been more than two thousand years since I've heard that term, since our kind was deified. And we are no less divided than when the subjugation of mortals ended."

"I know why you refuse to fight," she said softly as she traced her fingers across his shoulder. "You see so much... Why must you be so stubborn and refuse to see that this is the right thing to do?"

He slid his hand around her back and pulled her close. "To what end?" he said softly. "That I may stake claim to another massacre?"

"It's time to put an end to the fear and bitterness of our people; to end the divide between king and country. Rogue exposure endangers us all and we condone their behavior by allowing them to continue their acts of intimidation, brutality and murder. We cannot leave this war to be fought by mortals. It's too dangerous. For them as well as us. The rogues fight to usurp the immortal king and enslave mortals. I fight to protect immortals and mortals alike from the barbarians who would bring us all to ruin with their ignorance and greed."

Argus took hold of her hand and kissed her wrist. "Oh, that I might see the world through your eyes," he sighed. "I am happy that you are contented in my arms. Tell me why do you keep your thoughts from me?"

Anna shook her head. "I'm not," she smiled. "Gus, your ability to see into the hearts and minds of others makes your faith in them unquestionable... and deprives you of hope. My current state casts me as an illusion in the minds of others, including yours. And while I am happy to be in your arms, the contentedness you sense belongs to your child, not me." Anna ran a hand over her belly. "My thoughts are much more complex I'm afraid, but until I deliver, you're just going to have to trust me the way everyone else does."

He considered for a moment then picked up a sheet of paper and began writing and sketching. When he finished there was a knock at the door.

"Enter," he said.

It was Lewis, Wendy, Taylor and Jonas.

"You called," Jonas said then gasped when he caught sight of Anna. "My eyes deceive me."

Argus handed Lewis the paper, which he opened and read while Anna hugged Jonas and let him feel the tiny life kicking at her side.

Lewis hurried to his computer and entered in the data Argus had given him. After a few minutes he turned back to the group. "It's a stable synthesis," he announced. "But how did you know what it needed?"

"You are not the only one who had been studying this."

"DNPo," Lewis said.

Argus turned to Anna, "You have found a way to eliminate the rogues. We move on your command."

"We fight the rogues?" Jonas sounded surprised. "After the oracles predicted that the withering dead will blanket the earth, blood will soak the ground and a country side will burn?" Jonas shook his head.

"It's no longer about cutting down a bad crop," Argus explained. "It's about restoring the balance. With this new weapon, we will return the rogues to mortality and let them remember what it means to die.”


Chapter 49 - Presentiment

While Anna's team would synthesize and weaponize the DNPi, Argus would make ready his army of Elite and their most loyal for the upcoming strike.

On the stroke of midnight on the next full moon in a garden at the edge of an orchard of pear trees filled with the white blooms of lilies, narcissus, asphodels, myrtle, and manna ash, friends and family gathered to witness the wedding of Argus and Anna. He presented her with two rings. The first was the diamond solitaire from his first proposal of marriage. The second was a band encrusted with five diamonds, one for each decade they had been apart.

A month later, on an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon, Anna gave birth to a son. He had dark brown hair and soft green eyes like his mother. They named him Elias Ambrose de'Santueil.

"I want to tell you something," Argus said to her one day as she sat nursing their young son. "Something that I've kept secret for far too long I fear."

"You keep secrets from me?" Anna eyed him.

"Many, I'm afraid. Does it change your love for me?"

"No," she replied. "Though I can't help but wonder at the devastation your secrets may hold."

Argus kissed her then the top of his son's head. "I have a mole in the rogue camp, one of my Elite. She's been with them for more than sixty years." His brow furrowed.

"You have doubts?" Anna asked.

"No," Argus traced the tiny digits of his son's fist wrapped tightly around his mother's finger. "It was a... punishment that sent her there, but she serves for redemption and is very loyal."

"She could prove useful to us. Particularly if she is in a trusted position," Anna said.

"Yes," Argus nodded absently, staring at his son. "It has been because of the information that she has provided me that I have left the rogues to their devices. Their skirmishes are meant as a provocation. They are prepared to go to war, and they are waiting for us to strike first."

Anna freed her finger from Elias's grip, trading it for his fathers, and placed her hand on Argus's cheek. "What are you still not telling me?" she asked.

"It's my spy on the inside. She goes by the name Elizabeth Belatisse. You know her."

"Not by name," Anna shook her head.

"She is your mother."


(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart