“That was a bit unnecessary, don’t you think?” Drift asks, her voice echoes through the now empty room.
“Perhaps, but it was fun,” I say. We both walk through the ballroom to an iron spiral staircase that descends through a hole in the fresco-ed floor. I can’t help but laugh as she clings a little too tight to the railing because of those ridiculous heels, even though I’m well aware that she would use them to put me right back in the infirmary if I dared to challenge her.
We enter my own room, a large penthouse situated at the topmost floor of the tower (what we call the Aureolin, named for the weird yellow spike at its head that points towards the center of the Earth).
The view is stunning. Open windows encircle half the space; they hold the entirety of the skyline within their sights. The back is a chrome kitchen that sits clean yet empty and neglected. At one end of the room are tall shelves of various weapons that I never use, on the other is a great bookshelf full of dusty volumes that I never read...can’t read I should say.
The bottom two rows are slammed with rows upon rows of vinyl and a small record player sits on the floor with several uncovered discs surrounding it. The greatest prize my underground city ever left for me; I’ll forever be thankful to the old humans for considering music important enough to preserve.
A grand piano sits by the windows with a volume of Chopin on its stand. I almost ruined my friendship with Thief once because I forced her to play his music for me so many times. As often as I tried to understand the craft through her lessons I could never comprehend the black symbols on the page.
In the center of my ware-house sized bedroom is the mat where I sleep in front of the windows, a large Japanese style futon laden with pillows and fluffy white sheets. My favorite part is the floor it sits on. Pharaoh himself painted a map of my underground city in all its glory over the chilly concrete; it brings a sort of vibrancy, warmth and life to the drab gray room.
Drift takes off her shoes and sits cross legged on my bed as she waits for me to get something from the kitchen. I grab some of the only items in it; a bottle of red wine tucked underneath the counter along with several other of my favorite spirits. I take that and pour her a glass, then empty a sharp smelling bottle of absinthe into a coffee mug for myself (simply because the rest of the glasses are up high in the cabinets and I don’t feel like asking Drift to get them down for me). I bring them over and set it all down next to the mat, then crawl over the edge of bed and push her delicately into the pillows.
“I thought you were angry with me,” she says through the side of her lips as I press mine to hers, feeling her body curl with excitement underneath my own. Her fingers trace my spine and I hold back a small shiver as she follows the lines of my scars through the loose flannel. “I was so afraid...”
I reach my hands up through her sweet smelling hair and pull her away. “You don’t have to be afraid of me,” I say once more, a line that’s quickly becoming my catchphrase.
She laughs and her pretty jawline catches the glowing lights of the great cavern. “No matter how many times you tell me that,” she says as she tenderly brushes my own hair from my face. “I will always be intimidated by you. That’s why I love you.”
“That’s nice,” I say and I begin to unzip the front of her training suit. I get half way done taking off her shirt, then I stop and just...leave.
“Wh-where are you going?” She asks.
“I caught a whiff of myself just then,” I say with a smile. “I’m surprised even you could stand it. Just, hit the pause button and I’ll be back.”
“King, are you serious?”
“I’ll just be a second!” I shout as I spring lightly over to the shower, undressing as I go.
“Can I come?” She yells, her voice echoes around the room.
“Why?” She persists, but I don’t answer. I leave her there alone--like the asshole I am--for forty-five minutes as I scrub an entire month’s worth of grime from my body until my obsidian skin shines for the first time in weeks. I start to shave my head but I get bored half way through. I finish up one side and then let the rest do whatever; it actually looks pretty damn cool. I painfully smash pieces of gold through half-open holes all along the outside of my right ear, and smooth back the long raven-like pieces of my hair. I want Fix to see me as I used to be, back when I was truly on the throne instead of wandering around fighting someone else’s battles.
I emerge a much thinner version of what I was, fully dressed in my battle armor. I wear a skin tight black suit, a weighted bullet proof vest and a belt. I’m armored only with one knife strapped to my leg and heavy steel boots that lace up to the bottoms of my calves. I throw my ragged old clothes in the garbage and walk back to the kitchen where I take out a needle and the vial I collected from the lake.
“What’s with the getup?” She asks, her elegant body draped over the front of the mat as she sips my absinthe. “I thought we were catching up.”
“We are, I had nothing else to put on.”
“Liar,” she says. “That doesn’t even matter anyways!”
“I’m cold,” I say, and that sort of works. While the world above us melts into the humidity of the forest, it’s freezing in comparison down here to say the least, and I have a reputation for always being cold.
“You just got out of the shower you can’t be cold. King, what are you planning?”
“Nothing,” I say as I fill the syringe with the putrid lake water, strange blobs swim inside of it and my stomach churns a little. I hastily throw the empty vial away as she comes to peek at what I’m doing.
“Ah, so that’s what you’re up to. Is that what you brought for me?” She asks. “You leave for three years and all you bring me is something that we already have in abundance, and probably better quality.”
I nod as I take out a band and lead her back to the bed. We sit facing each other cross-legged as I flick the veins in her arm then jab the edge of the silver coated syringe into her arm.
“Gentle!” She says. “Christ, it’s a wonder anyone trusts you to do this.”
“No one should trust me to do this,” I say, these sorts of drugs being another thing I gave up for Eli. “I don’t remember how to do this, I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
“Very comforting, King. Don’t give me too much,” she says as I slowly push in the plunger. “I have a lot to do tomorrow. If anyone’s going to fuck me over it’s you.”
“Too late,” I say. I rip the needle out and undo the strap on her heavily muscled arm. I toss the old syringe out the window and watch her sink back into the pillows, pupils dilated and perfect mouth slightly open and relaxed. The virus begins with a hell of a high before symptoms kick in; this makes it even easier for me to deceive her.
We do “catch up” and I kick myself for putting my clothes on just to take them off again...I’m not so great at planning those details. I can tell that the virus is taking effect because she slips into a sweaty slumber about an hour into it. I leave her naked body partly shrouded in the covers as small yellow boils begin to climb up her back. I put my combat uniform back on and leave her alone to wrestle one last time with her nightmares.
As I make my way back to the throne room I turn away all those who wish to speak to me. Once I get there I sit alone and watch the sun rays dance across the marble floor, deep in thought about the journey I have to take and how I plan to go about it. At some point I begin to doze off myself, the space beside me feels so cold without Eli. He would rest there on the rare days that we took off from training. I would play with his curly walnut hair while I spent hours answering stupid questions from equally stupid people.
I sink into the cold metal and allow myself to be completely absorbed in the red rays. I feel the empty space beside me and realize that it lives inside of me too, and for the first time in my life I put my head down and shed real tears.