Atlas [ Chapter 2b ]
The stew was the best thing Atlas had ever eaten. Though since he had been reborn, he’d only had some oatmeal which the old man from the monastery had given him before sending him on his way; and at the time ‘his way’ had meant a free fall of over one thousand feet - not quite an experience Atlas cared to repeat.
For now he focused on his food and his drink of warm beer while Ayveron had turned into an unyielding waterfall, talking and talking and talking some more with the man that Plâton had called old Tim. The two of them spoke about everything and nothing. About the city, Miyako Fluxum, and about Altonar as well, and Ayveron told about his studies and his work and inquired many a thing about the research done in Miyako Fluxum.
Old man Tim was most patient and even seemed delighted to have the young man to talk to. The conversation that Lynis, Archibald, and Plâton held was of a more down-to-earth nature which Atlas could better grasp. They talked about wars and droughts here and there, about the path that Miyako Fluxum had travelled, and much was said about Midas Creek as well. It was a medium sized town in the center of the Golden Sands, one of Aqualon’s two great deserts. Plâton had been some sort of general there, or still was - that much Atlas could gather.
“Since you took the trouble to call in dinner with us I am surprised you arrived here with those two boys instead of Aria,” Lynis noted, “are the two yours?”
Plâton’s jolly face grew grief-stricken. “No, not yet anyways,” he said to sweep the notion away, “and Aria… She has left this world three years back. An illness took her by storm and there was no time to find a healer.
They say the gears of destiny are cold to the touch, but you don’t know the cold until it cuts you deep.”
Suddenly Atlas could see the ages in Plâton’s features. He had seemed to be of those many decades of youth that were granted to most every man during which one could not tell what age another truly was until they asked. But now Atlas seemed to glimpse that Plâton was at the end of that time, soon to grow old. Or perhaps he already was far older and had by some force retained his young, vital appearance; such things were not unheard of.
“I am sorry,” Lynis said with a soft voice and reached out for Plâton’s hand.
Archibald seemed troubled by these news as well. “It grieves me to hear that, old friend,” he said; and it was the first time since they met that he addressed Plâton in such a familiar manner. Perhaps he had only seemed so distant because he was so incensed by the unreasonable summoning of his city.
Finally Plâton found his laughter again, for its brief absence had subliminally weighed on the room like a looming shadow. “Thank you. My, it is good to have friends in all five corners of the world I say. And it is good to see you again in particular. It has been too many years since last we met. I only wish times were brighter and would permit me to stay longer.” And by that he seemed genuinely saddened.
Atlas slurped his stew spoon by spoon and listened to the conversation while he observed the five of them, never speaking up himself. The chatter of Ayveron and old Tim had grown to a distant din in his ears, for learning more about this man who had taken him under his cloak without so much as asking seemed of paramount importance to him.
“Oh?” Archibald said quizzically, “what makes these times so dark? There is always some war somewhere, such is the way of men, but the lands are fruitful and they keep right on living - on the whole.”
Plâton sighed to that. “True enough. But this time it is not man we should be looking to. A dark cancer is growing in the Middle Lands and the Great Clockwork is crying out as a yellow glimmer eats through its gears.”
When Plâton mentioned the yellow glimmer Atlas winced and his left hand darted up to grab his right shoulder where a strange metal ornament with a big, black pearl in its center had been strapped on, though little of it was visible through his torn garb.
“Is everything alright, dear?” Lynis inquired worriedly.
Atlas nodded slowly and let his hand sink again.
“You have been as silent as a sleeping stone now that I think about it.” Her worried look did not dissipate, but her voice was kindly when she continued. “Your friend over there doesn’t seem shy to talk, what’s with you, boy?” Her eye hung on the slightly bulging garb with strips of metal showing through tears in the fabric where his hand had been. “And what is that contraption on your shoulder?”
Atlas sighed in sorrowful resignation. “Borrowed life I would assume,” he said, “mine own had to leave me behind quite rudely when I should have died.”
Plâton put one of his arms around Atlas’s shoulders, it was heavy; really heavy. It must have weighed almost as much as a human child, and maybe more! “Now this one is special,” he said. “He reeks of war, didn’t I say that earlier, Ayveron? And of power!” Lifting his mug, he took a swig of beer and then went on: “And you should have seen the old man that saved him. Cut a mountains tip clear off and not just a few feet of it neither, more like the top half. I’d say this one is a good bet to take care of that yellow glimmer. That is the reason you aren’t dead, isn’t that right, Atlas Muundir?”
Atlas swallowed another spoonful of stew, noticing in the corner of his eye the sudden shock in the eyes of the others. “That is not my name. I am just Atlas. And barely even that,” he noted in a most neutral tone. This man definitely knew much more than he should by any rights, that much Atlas could gather from the few times that he had spoken clearly. “Though as far as the glimmer is concerned, I do not see how I will find my final rest, as long as it remains,” he admitted, and then added: “Not that I shall stop looking into that…”
The dark space, the gate, the ice-covered mountain top, the hall of five; he had not forgotten what the true Atlas had done to him, nor would he ever. There was no place in this world for him, not here, not now, and yet here he was, and there was this slow, dragging urge that told him to do what he was meant to do, that little voice, that shred of power the real Atlas had left behind to make sure he would do his duty. Had the real Atlas always been so cruel? Then again, men seemed to grow all the crueler the higher the stakes were raised it seemed to Atlas. <And they also like to lie to themselves when the truth is too bitter to swallow,> he said to himself in his mind, <weakling.>
“Don’t be so glum, boy!” Lynis said impishly. “Borrowed or not, life is life! You should be glad you have it and thank whoever gave it to you. And make something of it too! If old Plâton says you have power, then you can probably move the heavens and the earth with your bare hands.” She seemed to jest with him, but even if Atlas felt that there was some truth in what she had said about life, he felt far too bitter to really believe it.
He had never asked for it, all he had wanted was to accompany the real Atlas through his life, to be the watcher and the well of power, and to take part of him back to the Great Clockwork when they went. But what was meant to be, had not come to pass as the real Atlas had left him behind. As his sorrow peaked, a deep roaring sound shook the room and made all lose objects clatter slightly, resonating through everyone’s diaphragm, as though a whale was drawing out a sad note, and the temperature dropped slightly. All but Plâton looked around in alarm at the unfamiliar noise, but Atlas just reached behind himself and jammed the sword back into the scabbard from which it had mysteriously loosened itself. “As you say,” he replied simply as the sound ceased.
Plâton took the arm off of his shoulder to eat again. The man had an appetite that put even Atlas to shame, who had been starving as far as he could tell. He believed the bowl before Plâton to be his seventh serving of stew and the man did not skimp out on bread either. Hungry like a wolf he dunked it in the stew, chewed through it and then put the bowl to his mouth to drink the rest.
“I can see you haven’t lost your famous appetite,” Archibald said with a faint grin after the room had echoed with nothing but Plâton’s slurps and the low hum of the artificial sun for a while. “I will never understand how you can keep all that food down and not have the belly of a walrus.”
Plâton shrugged to that. “I am no ordinary man - you could say I am bigger on the inside than on the outside. I need food and drink; else I would starve much faster than you. In return I have my strength.” In the brief pause of that sentiment the low humming of the great ray of light that softly permeated the living room of Archibald’s home began to grow to a shrill buzzing and the intermittent crackling of lightning became a permanent sound that grew louder by the minute.
“It seems we are about to jump,” Lynis noted and put to words what Atlas had already suspected.
Even Ayveron and old Tim had grown quiet to listen to the clamor the city had begun to produce. “Where will we go?” Ayveron inquired.
The old man tapped his fingers on the table. “Only fate knows that, young man. A guided jump requires more energy than we have at our disposal at the moment, so it will be a random jump this time. It is best this way if we mean to shake pursuers.”
Plâton nodded. “Indeed.”
And Archibald repeated after him as if to underline the gravity of what had been said: “Yes, indeed.”