Atlas [ Chapter 1 ]

“I’ve never seen a man broken quite like you are.” The stranger on the rock said.

He sat there smoking a long, wooden pipe, carved and painted like a slender reptile, looking down on Atlas. The young man could think of no reply, so the stranger went on: “I have seen men make the ground quake with their fists and lay armies low with but their sword, but never have I seen a man cut a mountain in two like that old-timer back from whence you came, boy.”

Atlas raised a brow, “Seen? That just happened and it was close to the horizon from here. Who could see that far? Are you hiding a… Star-look… tube… under your cloak", he slowed down, his brow furling and twisting, as the word for telescope escaped him. Everything inside him was in a mess.

The stranger laughed at that: “It was not beyond the horizon though, was it? Personally, I would not concern myself with such trivial things if I were you. The old man froze the vanguard in a great pillar of ice - no doubt did he cut off the top half of that mountain to create enough even ground for it. But those men he froze are no men as I have ever seen, and they seem to live even inside the ice, soon to break free, and further behind them the main force is well underway. Ten men and women in total, by my count, and all of them on the hunt for you by the look of it.” The stranger seemed amused as he recited these things he apparently had born witness to, despite the seeming impossibility of it, things that would astonish normal men and send cold shivers down their spines.

“Ten you say? The number sounds familiar, but I do not remember…” A bead of sweat rolled down Atlas’s brow as his face strained under his increasing concentration, but the memories in his mind were like fleeting sheets of haze, unraveling at the slightest touch, so he dropped the matter and instead continued to speak. “The old man said his goodbyes and threw me of that mountain; he said I should go for the last stronghold and give this letter to the Greenhorns,” and, long past caution, shakily pulled a letter from his torn cloak.

The stranger laughed again, but made no move to suggest he had any mind for the sealed envelope. “You mean to travel to the end of the world, do you? I have started great adventures on lesser ambitions; why, once I started a war, because a friendly inn-keeper asked me to procure a jug of milk.” He jumped down from the rock he had sat on, his crimson hair flying behind him and as he gallantly landed on his feet. When he did the ground seemed to shake lightly and the thud that came with his landing was far too loud for a man of his stature, almost as if he were three times as heavy or more. “You amuse me boy,” he noted with a smirk, straightening his wide cloak, white but for the creeping dirt at its hem, “and there was something I saw on that mountaintop I have yet to understand, something more disturbing than your ten hounds and the old man who could cut the nose off the world’s face.” He said this as much to himself as to Atlas, almost as if he was trying to convince himself of something. Thoughtfully he took his hands of the cloak and now tucked at the folds of his garb, black and simple, made from sturdy cotton, almost hard enough to use for sailing.

“And what would that be.” Atlas inquired curiously after it seemed like the stranger had forgotten to continue, having slipped into thought.

“Myself.” The man said. He was right in front of Atlas now and laid his very heavy hand on his shoulder. “It seems I have been dragged into your story, boy. I will take you to the last stronghold – might as well, my legs could use some stretching. Perhaps I can groom you a little for the times ahead, wars are a’ coming, and you reek of it.”

Atlas looked at the man for a long time. “Kill me instead.” His eyes were pleading with the man, filled with pain and sorrow.

“Truly,” the stranger said, “I’ve never seen a man broken quite like you are.” Repeating the words he had uttered first.

Suddenly, within the blink of an eye, he had moved - his hand now besides Atlas’s temple, hardened by practiced tension, frozen after an unsuccessful diagonal chop. But he had not stopped of his own accord, for between the bone of Atlas’s skull and the side of the stranger’s hand there was the sword. Of course it was. Atlas could not recall drawing it, could not recall moving at all; but nonetheless he felt the wrapped handle in his grasp and the stranger’s hand against the blade. A thin trickle of blood ran down the sharp edge, and a pall of snowflakes had licked for the fingers from around the thick spine of the slightly curved, long blade.

The stranger withdrew his hand without concern and gave the barely visible cut a brief, mildly curious glance. The force of the impact had shook Atlas before, and how that hand had not been cleft in two was beyond his imagination. Without ever adding more than an artistic pause, the stranger continued unperturbed: “And yet you cannot die, not by your hand, not by mine – well, perhaps mine, but I have no mind to put that much back into it, you understand – No… You shall live and play your role, whatever it is. I am old, and coming all this way to collect you makes me stubbornly want to go right on ahead. It never feels like there is enough time at my age, so I do hate to waste any of it.” He looked over his shoulder, apparently seeing something in the distance. “Soon our means of transportation will arrive - and just in time to escape your hounds. What is your name, boy?”

Atlas eyed him for a while. Even in his dazed and disheveled state, it did not escape his notice that this was not a chance encounter. But, then again, he felt he would have to relearn a great many things, before he could have any kind of hope towards reading the hidden intentions of people, so he answered as well as he could: “For want of a better name I can only speak the one that was given to what I was: Atlas.”

The stranger grinned. “Then our names are of the same lexicon, I am Plâton. Plâton Rai’enjoh. Follow me, we must go west before we can head south.” He said. Atlas’s glance shifted to his side. “What about him, can he come too?” Plâton looked at the other young man he had not paid any heed to before. “Sure, why not. He was kind enough to carry you this far, was he not…”

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