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by mik
Rated: E · Other · Drama · #2040301
It's his destiny to restore Atlantis. Does he dare square off against evil Bellator?
Little Atlantis

Chapter 5

Fear, Flight and Rescue

         Fear can make you take flight, blinding you to the rescue at hand.

                                       

    I was ecstatic, knowing she sensed Hal and Lila.  At last…two arms rose from the water pulling her from Bellator’s grasp.

    The air thickened as I struggled to my knees. 

A bruised and battered Penny stood before me, dripping mud everywhere, but alive.

      My relief quickly turned to anger, growling at Hal.  “Where the hell were you?” 

      He simply raised an eyebrow at my outburst.

    “She was nearly killed!”  I exclaimed.

    “Not even close.”  He said with derision.

    “Em, guys, not really the time.”  Lila said pointing to Penny.

      My gaze followed Lila’s pointing finger, finding green eyes encased in the most exquisite bone structure I’d ever seen, all surrounded by dark mud dripping auburn curls.  She stood ram-rod straight, making her seem taller than she was, and showcasing her amazing curves.  The only indication of her unease, were the hands deeply thrust into her pockets.

    Slowly my gaze shifted back to her terrified eyes and with a start, I realized, she was looking at us, like we’d orchestrated her nightmare. 

    “Who are you and how did I get here?”  She demanded in a surprisingly strong voice.  Maybe she wasn’t as frightened as I thought.

      I continued to stare, heart in my throat, unable to utter a single word.

      Lila smirked at my obvious enchantment.  “I’m Lila and this is my man Hal.  The guy staring is Steve.”

      “How did I get here?”  She repeated.

      “I blinked you.” 

      “Blinked?  Am I supposed to know what that means?”  She asked backing away.

      Lila smirked.  “To move at the speed of light, it’s one of my powers.”

      Penny shook her head, backing up even farther.  “You expect me to believe that?”  She balked.

      “Need proof,” Lila’s low throaty voice oozed and she blinked to the other side of the room.

      Penny’s eyes grew round staring at the air where Lila had stood.

      “Hello.  Over here.”  She cooed enjoying the game.

      Penny’s gaze tracked her sultry voice, disbelief and distrust etching her face.  “Neat trick,” she drawled cocking her hips, clearly not impressed. 

      “What do you want from me?”  She demanded, and suddenly our minds were linked again.  I knew she was desperately trying to hide her fear.

      Hal started to step forward, but thought better of it, trying to inject some calm, he said.  “We rescued you from Bellator.  You’re one of us.”

      Penny gazed at him, “One of us!”  She repeated.  “Exactly what does that mean?”

      “You have special powers.”  He said giving one of his most charming beach boy smiles.

      Penny took another step back.  “Did I drink something?”  She asked.  “Because somehow I’ve landed in Wonderland, I don’t remember dinking anything.  It must have been the muddy water.”  She answered herself backing into the glass wall with a glance over her shoulder. 

      “What the hell?”  She exclaimed jumping back into the center of the room, before taking one tentative step toward the glass.  “Is this some kind of aquarium?”  She questioned shaking her head.  Plants swayed just beyond the glass.  “How do you make the water curve like that?”  She croaked.

      “I control the water.”  Hal assured her.  “You’re safe.”

      She gave Hal a scathing look.  “Yeah, right buddy.  Tell me another one, because I’m sooo believing this crap.”

        Lila flipped her long silver hair, pointing a finger at Penny.  “Look sweetie.”  She purred patience at an end.  “Steve had a vision of your danger.  So we saved you.  Not that you seem grateful.  It’s as simple as that.”

      Penny’s face screwed up in irritation.  “There’s nothing simple about what you just said.”

      Sensing the end of Lila’s patients, as well as Penny’s, I finally found my voice.  “You’re right.”  I said stepping toward her.  “This isn’t simple.”  Penny turned her bright green eyes on me and I was overwhelmed by the haunted depths.  All my carefully organized words disappeared and I blurted.  “We wouldn’t have interfered until after, but Bellator was about to kill you.”

        “Until after what,” She asked.

        Only then did I realize my blunder, shaking my head, I sighed.  I’d have to tell her eventually anyway, “Until after you jump into your full powers, at twenty.”

        “Full powers, do you have any idea how crazy you sound?” 

        Walking to the viewing pool, I let my fingertip touch the water beckoning her to follow, as much through the mind-link as with my words.  “If you’ll step over here I can replay the vision.”

        Keeping her distance she circled around the table.  I began the vision watching, and feeling her reactions through the mind-link. 

        She gasped, shock spreading across her face.  Stepping back, she shook her head mumbling.  “It’s not possible.”

        Lila threw up her hands in exasperation.  “She insists me blinking around the room and Hal controlling the ocean, is a trick?  But seeing a vision, wins her over.” 

        Her gaze shot to Lila.  “Nobody said I was won over.”  She ground out. 

        I sat down.  “Okay.  You felt something-” I paused searching for the right word- “Sinister from Bellator, right?”

        She nodded her head.  I could tell she’d only just realized the other voice in her head was mine, and I had a feeling the idea scared her more than Bellator had.

      “Do you feel the same sinister presence from us?”  I asked.

      “No.”  She said hesitantly.  “But that doesn’t mean I’m safe.”

      “I’m afraid you’re right.  You may never be safe again.  But you’re in no danger from us.”

      She nodded again, acknowledging we weren’t a threat.

      Lila gestured.  “We need to clean up.  We’re dripping muddy water all over the floor.  You boys can bore her with scrolls and books on heritage later.”

        Glancing down for the first time, Penny sees her muddy tracks on the beautiful marble floors.  “I’m sorry.”

        “Don’t worry about it.”  Lila said leading her out of the dining hall and thru the sanctuary.  Penny glanced around awed by the beauty of marble, glass, and plush furniture accented with dark wood, gracing every room she passed. 

          Trying to hide her reactions and maintain an air of distrust she asked.  “Who puts a swimming pool in the living room, although I’m not sure if technically it can be called a living room with a swimming pool?” 

          Lila smiled.  “We like swimming.  And we call it the grand hall.”

          Scanning pass the pool her gaze landed on the grandfather of all grandfather clocks noticing the time, “two in the morning.  Oh crap!  My parents are going to flip.  Can you flash me back home?  I can clean up there.”

          “Sorry, can’t.”  Lila said never pausing to see her reaction.  “Bellator and his minions are out there.  They want you dead.”

          Penny stops dead in her tracks, “But what about my family?”  She demands.

          Lila stops shrugging.  “They’re safe, as long as you stay away.”

        “Are you telling me I can’t go home, like ever?”

        Lila nods.  “Look.  Bellator’s a rogue Guardian.  That means power unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”

        Turning on her heels Penny yells, “Steve.”                    

                   

Chapter 6

    Friends, Family and Love

         When looking for love, and friendship, one need look no farther than family.



      I send a questioning glance at Lila, as I trudged down the passageway,

    She shrugged, looking insolent.

    “I don’t know what kind of crazy house you’re running here, but count me out.”  Penny demanded.

    “What’s wrong?”  I inquire.

    “Smirks a lot told me I can’t go home.  Is it true?”  She questioned, “Because that’s not going to work.” 

    “Did you just call me smirks a lot?”  Lila growled.

      Penny ignored her staring at me.  “Is it true?  …Well is it?”  She demanded. 

    Careful not to touch her, I held out my hand motioning toward the glass wall.  “Why don’t I show you a vision of home?”  I said, “Before you decide.”  I’m sure fear, regret, and sympathy, showed on my face because I felt them deep in my soul?  Placing my fingers on the wall, a life-sized version of her home materialized before our eyes.  I sent metaphorical fingers through my mind searching for the link with hers but couldn’t find it.

    Penny gasped, horrified by the sight.  The broken and discarded bodies of her family littered the back yard.  “Oh Lord!”  She exclaimed.  “I have to get back there, now.”

    Turning sad eyes on her, I Point to the bushes next to the fishpond.  “You are there.  This is what happens if you go home.” 

She leans closer gazing at her bloodless body in the bushes.  She stiffens as her gaze shifts to a body, still oozing blood, her mother’s lifeless stare, tearing at my heart, along with hers.

    “Your being there is what brought the rogues.”  I say softly, waving my hand to make the vision disappear.

    “How do you know?”  She stubbornly insisted.  “How do you know the same thing won’t happen, whether I’m there or not?” 

      Expecting this I touch my hand to the glass again.  A new vision appears.  Tonia sits with Penny’s family in the living room.  “Why is she there?”  She wondered aloud?  “And why do they all look so sad.” 

      Her father paced.  “Father only pace’s like that when Ricky’s late coming home; but he’s on the couch between Caroline and Della.  What’s wrong?”  She demands.  “Ricky never gets near Della.”

      I didn’t answer, watching the vision unfold.  Her mother squeezes Tonia’s hand, her voice pleading.  “Where can she be?”  Tonia gazed at shiny eyes heavy with tears, before glancing around the room in panic, not sure how to reply.

      “Nobody knows, honey.”  Her dad tells Lois patting her shoulder.  “She’s disappeared.” 

      I watched as her father shrank before my eyes.  As if the very thought of Penny’s disappearance was more than he could bear.  The anguish of the situation was almost more than I could bear.

      I placed my hand over hers making her jump; partly from surprise but mostly from the zing.  “You have a choice.”  I say with a heavy heart.  “You can go home and hope my visions are wrong.  Or you can stay, keeping you and your family safe from Bellator.  He will kill your family to get to you.  And trust me; it’s not something you want to see.”

    “Why?”  She cried in desolation.

    “Bellator was created to protect the earth, a Guardian.  Only he fell.  Now he stalks humans, drinking their blood, for an emotional high.”

    “This is about a high?”  She cried in disbelief.

    “Well.  Yes and no.  He stalks us because of our powers.  We’re the only thing standing between him and humans.  Each of us is gifted with one power, while he has a little of them all, making him stronger, and faster.  But if enough of us band together we might be able to stop him.” 

      Penny didn’t say a word.  What could she say?  In the space of a few seconds her entire world crashed around her ears.  The people she cared about most we’re held in some weird reverse hostage siege, that wasn’t really a siege at all.  She headed back to the grand hall.  Lila caught up walking at her side.

    “Why don’t you tell me about your family?”  She asks.  “You don’t know how lucky you are.”

      Penny stopped, staring at her like she’d gone mad.  “Lucky!”  She repeated.

      Lila nodded.  “Most of us are orphaned at birth.  Or worse, lose our families the moment our powers begin to show.” 

Penny gazed at her with disbelief.  “Like I’m losing mine right now?”  She asked with sarcasm.

      Lila gave what I thought was a laugh, but I couldn’t be sure.  “No.  Not the same at all.”  She said bitterly.  “Just tell me about them.  It will help.  Trust me.”

      I could tell Penny was verily holding herself together.

She sighed with acceptance.  “I realized I’d never be like the rest of my family when I was 12.”  She said. 

      “I was always on the shed in our back yard, stargazing.  Momma says I spend too much time staring at the stars and daydreaming.  Seeking fairy tales, she calls it.”

    “What’s she like, your mother.”  Lila asked.

    “She’s a worrier.  The things she could worry about would blow your mind.”

    “Does she work, or stay at home?” 

    “She works in the school cafeteria.”  Penny answered.

    “What about your dad.  What’s he like?”  Lila asked with enthusiasm.

    “He’s what most people call a quite person.  He never feels the need to fill the silence.  He’s mostly, in his workshop or puttering around in the jungle he calls a back yard.”

      Lila nodded toward the stairs.  “I noticed all the plants and trees in the vision.

      Tell me about your brother and sisters.  I’ve never had any siblings.  What’s it like?”

      “Noisy.”  Penny replied, “Especially if Susan’s practicing her vocals.  She’s the oldest.  Walking to close while she’s singing isn’t safe.  The Sunday school teacher’s fond of saying, that child surely doesn’t need a microphone.”

      “Is she good?”  Lila questioned.

      “Gifted,” Penny replied.

      “Carol’s second to the oldest.  She thinks getting an A minus on her schoolwork is the end of the world.  She studies until two in the morning most days.  Everyone agrees she’s brilliant.”

      “What do you think?”  Lila asked. 

      “Me, I don’t get the point.  I’m a solid “C” student, and they pass me just like her.”

      Lila laughed.  “That’s one way of seeing it.” 

      “Carol’s preoccupation with grades has a point.”  I admitted.  “She’s focused on stuff.  I think some people are just born looking at stuff, not me though.  I’m always trying to read people, figure them out.”

      Lila stumbled slightly, at that.  Driving the conversation on, she asked. 

      “What do you mean by stuff?” 

      “Oh you know.  New cars, fancy clothes…stuff.  For her, people get lost in the background.  It’s like that old saying.  You can’t see the forest for the trees.  The forest being people and the trees being all the stuff they have.  Like when she wanted us to ride around in 98-degree temperatures.  Pretending our car had air conditioning.  Like the sweat running off our brows didn’t give us away.  How was that smart?”

      “So you don’t think she’s smart?”  Lila wondered.

      “It’s not really that black and white.”  I said.  “They call her smart because she aces her class work and quizzes, which is not my definition of smart.  Using knowledge to your advantage is what makes you smart.”

      “So, do you think she’s smart?”  Lila questioned in confusion.

      “Smart enough to use education to her advantage.  Carol wants stuff and everything she does is calculated to get what she wants, so yes.  She’s smart, gifted even.” 

      “Tell me about the rest of your family.  They sound like an interesting mix of personalities.”

      “Tammy’s the middle child and most days she’s bossier than mom.  She’s always sketching something, and yelling about someone blocking her light.” 

      “I’ll bet she’s good.”  Lila gushed.

      “Gifted, several of her paintings hang in city hall.”  I confirmed.   

      “Ricky the only boy is two years older than me.  But Mom and dad act like it’s ten.  He’s constantly coming home late.”

      “Do your parents get mad?”

      “Not really.  Worried is more accurate.  Whenever he comes home later than midnight, mom starts nagging dad.  Her imagination always ends up on the same street.  He could be lying in a ditch somewhere dying.  Or he could be in jail.  Or even, he might be in a hospital unconscious, my personal favorite though, he could have run away.”

      “Your home sounds too good to run away from.”  Lila said sounding a little melancholy. 

      “Yeah, he defiantly has it too good to run away.  No chores.  Not that the rest of us don’t have plenty…but he’s a boy.  Boys don’t do housework.  Hah!”

        “You sound jealous.”  Lila said laughing. 

        “Well yeah.  No one ever bugs him about where he’s going, or what time he’ll be home.  Oh no he’s the prodigal son.  The only male child, he can’t be hampered with things like housework or curfews.  Not to mention he’s the memorizing king.  Once again everyone thinks he’s brilliant because he can memorize entire books.”

      “Really,” Lila asked an entire book?”

      “Yeah, gifted like the others.”  Penny confirmed.

      “Still if he came in too late, mom would’ve nagged dad so much that he’d start yelling.  Stupid stuff like, it’s about time you came dragging home young man.  I was about to come looking for you.  Like that would ever happen.”

        Lila laughed again, it was contagious.

      “The best part I said surprised to find myself laughing.  He’d say your mother and I are tired of you acting like a hooligan.  I don’t know what a hooligan is, but apparently they’re out after midnight.”

        Lila pointed me down a long passageway, “Your room is this way.”

      “Della’s just a year older than me.  She’s the family drama queen.  “She has to have everything new.  No hand me downs for her.  But I get her cast offs.  And lord watch out if she didn’t get her way about something.  You’ve never seen a fit until you see Della throw one, defiantly mom and dad’s favorite, of us girls.”  I said.

        “Or maybe,” Lila said.  “She’s the loudest.  The squeaky wheel always gets the grease.”

        “Maybe,” I allowed.  She and Ricky are mortal enemies; don’t ask me why, it’s been that way for as long as I can remember.”

      “I imagine she’s jealous.”  Lila said.  “Based on what you told me, she doesn’t sound like the type to accept his preferred status or suffer in silence.”

      “You got that right.”  I said.  To my amazement I realized I did feel better.

      “That just leaves me.  I’m the baby.  No special gifts.  I don’t sing.  Well I do but no one wants to hear.  Academics and I don’t go together.  I love art.  But have no talent.  And of course I’m defiantly not male or able to memorize entire books.  I don’t have the time or energy to be a drama queen…so favored child I’m not!”

        Lila gazed off deep in thought.

      “Starting to get the picture?”  Penny asked.  “Let me tell you being the baby only work’s to your advantage while you’re a baby.  I’m the under achiever, in a house full of high flyers.”  She said.

        Lila nodded toward a door.  “This is your room.  Feel free to decorate anyway you want, and for the record, you’re not un-gifted.  Your gifts just haven’t fully materialized yet, but they will.  I have a feeling when they do, you’ll outshine all the gifted people everywhere.”

      “The room is huge.”  Lila said playing tour guide.  “Like every room in this castle.  She pointed to the wall opposite the door.  You have a great view of the coral from your bed. 

        Penny glanced out at the small reef alive with activity. 

Speaking of the bed, she said.  “It’s large, I know.  But you should get used to it in no time.  It’s really comfortable.”  The door to the left of the dresser and vanity is the bathroom.”  She added heading out. 

      “Steve’s room is across the hall.  In case you need anything, Hal and I are down at the other end.”  Stopping at the door, she caught Penny’s gaze,   

        “Everything’s gonna work out.”  She said leaving Penny to clean up. 

        I watched her empty her pockets on the dresser.  I thought I saw a glimpse of something glowing but she started the shower, so I quickly stopped the vision.  My emotions fluctuated all over the place, part of me thrilled she was here, while another part, the nobler side I guess, was miserable she’d lost so much.  After watching the vision three times without a glimpse of weakness from Bellator, I slid from the desk and headed to my room.


                                       *****

      I’d just changed, when a knock drew my attention.  Certain it was Hal, I continued to gaze out the glass, not bothering with my robe, “come in,” I called wearing only my pajama bottoms.

      After a while I noticed he hadn’t spoken, adjusting my gaze to focus on the glass reflection, I saw Penny, wearing only a towel. 

      I sucked in a shocked breath, desire making my pulse quicken. 

      I don’t know how much time passed before she spoke.  It seemed like forever and yet not nearly long enough. 

    “Please forgive me.”  She said red sufficing her face.  “I didn’t mean to interrupt.” 

      Shaking out of my trance, I started at her voice, snatching my robe.  “I was expecting Hal.”  I said.  “He usually reports the sanctuary secure for the night.” 

      She stared at my exposed chest, and I couldn’t help my joy, at her stunned expression.  I guess seven and a half years of working out benefited me in more ways than one.  I met her gaze with amusement.     

    “I don’t mean to…uh…stare.  She stammered. 

    Sliding on the robe and grasping the ties, I asked.  “Can I help you?”

    Her face went blank and she gaped at me, for a moment.  I swear, the reason she’d come to my room completely escaped her. 

    Shaking her head as if to clear it, she said, “Em…I need-.”  Her gaze traveled from the belt, I’d just tied, to land on a spot of exposed chest, “-Your shirt.” 

    My eyebrows rose.  “Really,” I said verily holding back a laugh.

    Mortified color surged into her face again, as her gaze dropped to the floor.    “What I mean is…  I was wondering if you had a shirt I could…em sleep in?  Mine is wet.”  It seemed her incoherence was directly connected to the sight of me, interesting.

    I chuckled, waving a hand toward her.  “That explains the towel.” 

    “The towel,” She asked in confusion.  Her face lit with color again.  She’d obviously forgotten she wore nothing but a towel.

      I turned to the dresser, pulling the top drawer open.  “You had me wondering for a moment?”  I said humor still in my voice.

      “Wondering, what exactly?”  She asked embarrassment making her voice sharp.

      “Did you think I’d come for a late night romance?”  She demanded.

      I turned back with shirt in hand, embarrassed mortification on my face now.  “No…I didn’t mean…I wasn’t trying to imply.”  I cleared my throat.  “I thought maybe you’d imagined a spider.  I was ready to assure you, no spider could possible find its way down here.”

      She issued a bitter laugh, “A spider, really?  Is that how you see females?  Helpless frightened creatures needing rescue, sorry to disappoint.  I don’t need, rescued by a big strong man tonight.”  She spat with sarcasm to cover her embarrassment.

      “Good.”  I said.  “I mean.  Good there’s no spider and you don’t need rescuing.  I’m afraid I leave all the rescuing to Lila and Hal.”  I said putting the emphasis on Lila’s name. 

      She dropped her gaze taking a deep breath.  “Okay, point taken.  I’m sorry.  I guess…  I’m a little emotional right now.”

    “Don’t worry about it.”  I said feeling compassion for her plight.  “So I take it your room is okay then?”  I said trying to change the subject.

      She glanced up and smiled.  “Let’s see.  It’s spacious, spectacular view with an awesome shower.  Yep it’ll do.”

    I nodded, handing her a pajama top, unaware it matched the bottoms I wore. 

    Trying to explain her outburst Penny said, “I keep seeing -” her voice broke “-the vision.”

      I reached to comfort her automatically.  And somehow she ended up in my arms.  The tears she’d been holding back becoming a torrential flow. 

All coherent thought flew from my mind, so completely was I lost in the smell and feel of her.

      Slowly I became aware she sat on my lap.  I don’t remember how she got there, only that her tears were drying and my pulse was racing. 

She snuggled closer, hand stroking my arm, I’m guessing it was absent minded.  But my mind was anything but absent. 

      I juggled her on my lap, afraid my body would give me away.

She tilted her head; gazing up at me, desire smoldering in her eyes. 

      I was mesmerized as if in a dream, devouring her gaze, wanting to stay this way forever, slowly I lower my face to hers.

      Awe engulfed me, in spite of all she’d dealt with today, here she was, in my room staring at me with desire, and I wanted her bad. 

      Without warning, I realized…I was the worst kind of lecherous bum.  She’d just gone through the most traumatic day of her life.  The last thing she was capable of was…making rational decisions.  I wouldn’t add to her day of regrets.  No!  If she chose me, it would be when she was capable of rational thought.  I shifted, setting her on her own two feet and away from me.  She dissolved into tears again. 

      I hesitated for only a moment before gathering her back.  Anguish and indecision weighing on me, I caressed the tears from her face, drawn forward as if by a magnet, surrendering to desire; gently pressing my lips to hers. 

    She melted against me; turning my chaste kiss into an all-consuming expression of passion, momentarily making me forget my will, forget her pain, aware only of my pounding heart and the soft jaggedness of heavy breathing. 

    Pulling away I whispered, “Penny I can’t.”   

    Her cry of dismay, felt like a slap across the face. 

    She was gone before I could explain, leaving my arms to collapse around the emptiness of her retreat.  The devastating silence of her withdraw was lonelier than all my years alone put together. 

    I watched her disappear, wondering if I’d ever be the same, not sure I even wanted to be.



Chapter 7

Shopping, Surprise and Desire

              Shopping for desire leads to buyer’s remorse, only true love makes the heart bloom!



      My first thought upon waking was Penny, so coming face to face with her in the hall was frightening.  My mind seized, I couldn’t move, think, or talk.

She stared for a few minutes, obviously waiting for me to say something, unaware my mouth was glued shut with insecurity.  I gaped like an idiot.

    “So we’re going to pretend like last night didn’t happen?”  She grumbled.

    I swallowed and forced my mouth to work.  “I think it’s for the best.”  I said unconsciously reaching to brush a stray curl from her face.  “We should…”

“The best for who,” She interrupted, anger clouding her face as she stalked away. 

      I stared at my hand stunned.  Could I have actually thought to touch her hair, let alone ask to start over?  Spotting Lila by the stairs, I wondered how long she’d been there. 

    “I need you to take Penny shopping today.”  I requested.  “She had nothing to sleep in last night.”

    Lila questioned the credit card I held.  “Why are you giving me your card?” 

    “To get Penny whatever she wants.”  I replied with unease.

    “I get that.”  She answered.  “But...”

    “She’s my responsibility.”  I interrupted.

    Lila shook her head smirking at me.  “What difference does it make?  It’s all your money anyway.”

    I’d set up a household account long ago, being a visionary really paid off when it came to the stock market.

    “Just take the card.”  I said shoving it in her hand.

    I settled at the table next to Hal, listening as Lila took a seat by Penny.   

    “Steve tells me we’re going shopping today.”

      Penny looked surprised.  “Oh?”

      Lila lifted a fork full of scrambled eggs to her mouth, “Can’t leave you without clothes.  By the way Steve said to get anything you want.  Don’t worry about cost.  He’s loaded.”  I could feel Lila’s stare and knew she’d be wearing a smirk, daring me to respond.

      I felt the weight of another stare join hers, this one probed like she was studying me.  “Really,” Penny said.  “Anything I want, huh.”

    “Yeah,” Lila smirked.  From the corner of my eye I saw her eyebrows raise in question.  “Wonder what that’s about?”

      Drawn by a force greater than me, my gaze strayed to Penny.  She stared with unanswered questions in her eyes.  I quickly looked away, but not before Lila saw.

      She snickered, enjoying the tension.

    “Whenever you’re ready,” Lila said, holding out her hand.

Penny gazed at the offered hand and groaned.  “We’re blinking?”

    “Unless you can think of a better way to get from the bottom of the ocean,” She said snickering again.

    “It’s safe?  I mean you’ve never lost anyone, have you?”  She asked staring at the offered hand like it was a snake. 

    Lila laughed, grabbing her hand.



                                       *****

      I pulled Hal’s new invention onto my lap.  Two pieces of glass housed a little water between them, making the perfect vision board.  Glancing around to make sure Hal wasn’t lurking behind me.

      I searched for the mind-link.  The idea of Lila questioning her and what she might say had me holding my breath. 

    Penny gazed at the men’s section.  “Maybe I should get Steve some clothes while we’re here?”  She suggested nonchalantly. 

      Lila laughed, not fooled by the act.  “Don’t care for his fashion sense huh?”

      Penny shrugged her shoulders noncommittally.

      “I’ve already tried, won’t do any good.  He’ll still wear the clothes he’s got on.”  Lila admitted.

      “How long have you known Steve?”  Penny blurted a few minutes later.

Lila smirked.  “You’re not dragging me into this.”

    “Into what,” She questioned innocently.

    “Whatever’s going on between you two?  It’s none of my business.  The jeans are over there.”  She said pointing.

      Penny stiffened.  “Nothing’s going on between nerd boy and me.”  She insisted picking up a pair of jeans and checking the size.

      My heart sunk.  I guess that settles things, she’s not interested in a nerd like me.

      Lila pushed her hands aside, throwing several pairs in the cart, laughing, “Right.  Em…let me see.  Last I remember you only wanted to go home.  Now this morning, you’re fine with staying.  Not to mention, the two of you can’t look each other in the eye.  Yep, sounds like nothing to me.”

    Gritting her teeth Penny said.  “I’m glad you agree.”

    Smirking again Lila said.  “You sound glad.  Be careful you don’t break a tooth.”

    Could Lila be right?  She did do a 380 on staying here.

    “Ohhh, you’re as impossible as Steve.”

      Holding up a neon green shirt for Penny’s inspection Lila mocked, “Steve impossible, sweet affable Steve?”

      Penny shook her head no, to the shirt.  “There’s nothing affable about Steve.”

    “Ahhh, mystery solved,” Lila joked.  Picking up another shirt and throwing it in the cart.  She scrutinized Penny’s expression.  “Who kissed who?”

      I stiffened in my chair.  Dreading to hear what Penny would say next, but unable to stop the vision.

      Penny’s face flamed red.  “What makes you think there was kissing?”

      “It was you?  Wasn’t it?”  Lila exclaimed.  “You kissed Steve, wow!  Imagine that.  You kissed…oh what was it you called him, oh yeah nerd boy.”

      I cringed at the nickname.  Never had it bothered me, when people called me a nerd.  But I couldn’t stand the idea of Penny thinking of me like that.

“I refuse to talk about this.”  Penny grumbled.

      “He pushed you away.  Didn’t he?”  Lila asked.  “What am I asking?”  She said shaking her head.  “Of course he did.”

      Grabbing Penny’s arm Lila stared at her.  “Look he was just being a gentleman.  Yesterday was emotional for you.  Try to see this objectively.”

      Penny blanched.  “Do you think that’s why he pushed me away?”

      Lila smirked.  “Obviously, you aren’t ready.  It’s a good thing Steve had the strength to send you to your own bed.”

    “I wasn’t trying to get into his bed.”  Penny said turning bright red.

Lila laughed out loud.  “No.  I don’t imagine you were.  It probably never occurred to you, kissing a guy in his bedroom might just land you there.”

Penny stopped dead in her tracks.  “How do you know we kissed in his bedroom?”

    “Steve mentioned you needed something to sleep in.  I put two and two together.”  Lila informed her reading her expressions.

      "Steve’s not some high school or even college boy, with midterms, parties and make-out sessions on his mind.  He’s carrying the responsibility of the world on his shoulders.  He takes too much responsibility, if you ask me.  But you can blame his mother for that.”  Lila sighed in exasperation.

      “His mother,” Penny questioned.

    “Yeah, I guess it’s not really her fault.  I mean what mother wouldn’t die for their child?”  Lila wondered aloud.

      “What?  Steve’s mother is dead?”

      Sighing again Lila put her arm around Penny.  “Bellator was coming for them; his mother couldn’t see a way for both to escape.  But she did see a safe road for him…but only if she died.”

    “Oh.”  Penny’s eyes widened.

      “It gets worse.  His entire life, she told him, it was his destiny to stop Bellator, and thirteen-year-old Steve, helplessly watched as he murdered his mother.”

        Penny’s hand flew to her chest.  “That’s horrible.  He said I didn’t want to see my family die for me.  I didn’t know he was talking from experience.”

         “Yeah, Lila grimaced.  Steve stayed in hiding for years…believing it was his responsibility to stop Bellator and save the world…alone, at least until he found Hal and me six months ago.  Can you imagine?”

      “What’s going on at the shopping mall?”  Hal asked.

         I nearly jumped out of my skin.  I had no idea he was leaning over my shoulder.  “How long have you been there?”  I asked.

         “Long enough,” Hal said with a smile.  “You got your grove on last night, huh?”  He asked with laughter.

         “No.”  I exclaimed.  “It was a mistake.  She hates me.”

         Hal looked confused.  “It didn’t sound like that to me.”

         “Trust me.”  I groaned.  “She thinks I’m a nerd.”

         “Did she slap you?”  Hal asked.

         “What?”  I questioned.

        “When you kissed?  Did she slap you?”

        “No.”  I replied, remembering how her cry had felt like a slap, and wondering if that counted.

         “Then you’re okay.”

         “How do you figure?” 

         “Girls always slap.  If you kissed and didn’t get slapped, she likes you.”

          If only it was that easy, I thought.
         



                                                 *****

      Lila’s voice boomed through the sanctuary, “Steve.” 

    “In the library,” I called. 

      She barreled in.  “Penny, tell Steve what you told me.”

      I blanched remembering all the things Penny had said.

    “I felt the presence of a rogue in the mall.”  She blurted.

    I was overwhelmed with relief, until I focused on what she said.

    “What?”  I thundered.

      “We gotta get these creeps.”  Lila grouched.

      “It wasn’t Bellator.”  Penny added.  “I think his name was Caecus, but he was defiantly there for us.”

      “Ah hell,” I groaned jumping from my seat.  Glancing at Hal I nodded toward Penny, “This is bad.”

      “Okay.  Everybody calm down.”  Hal instructed. 

      “Let’s start at the beginning.”  Hal said.  “Tell us how you know it was Caecus and not Bellator?”

    “I could hear his thoughts…inside my head.”  Penny said with a shiver.  “Just like Bellator.” 

    “You heard Bellator’s thoughts?”  Hal slowly questioned.  “You never told us you heard thoughts.”

    “Yeah, well.  You never asked.”  Penny said belligerently.  “And I don’t hear thoughts, at least no one else’s.”  She said giving me an uncertain glance.

      Hal pierced her with a stare.

      I grabbed his arm.  “Hal glaring at her isn’t helping.” 

      “Look.”  Penny placated.  “Things were a little crazy at the time.  I didn’t know who you were, or what was going on.”

      “It’s fine.”  I interjected.  “But we need to discuss this.”

She nodded. 

      “Let’s start with why you think it was Caecus the invisible.”  Hal asked.

“The invisible,” Penny questioned.

      “Yes.  All the rogues have Latin names, given to them by the first Atlantian’s.  Caecus means invisible in Latin.”  He explained.

      “Exactly how many rogues are there?”  Penny asked.

      “Five left, at least that’s all we know of.”  Hal replied settling into the chair beside her.  “Guardians were created for protection, weapons to do battle if necessary.  They can’t be reasoned with; they feel no pity or remorse, they have no emotions.  They’re only purpose; to protect earth and its inhabitants.” 

    “Then how can Bellator hurt and kill?”

      “He fell, there was an accident.  No one really knows what happened, but Bellator got human blood in his system, and for the first time he felt emotion.”

    “But I don’t understand.”

    “He wasn’t created for emotion, he doesn’t process it the way we do.  What he feels.  Well it’s more a burst of emotions, not his own.  A rogue on blood is like an addict on heroin, a myriad of emotions burn for a short time.  Then he needs another fix.”

      Penny started to shake.  “So there’s no hope?”  She whispered.

    “There’s always hope.”  Hal said.  “Let’s get back to your shopping trip and the rogue.”

    “Wait.  How do you stop an addict with super powers?  I mean human addicts are known to get super strength while high.  Add that to someone already jacked with power and without compassion, sympathy, or even remorse.  You get an unstoppable monster.  How can we defeat that?”



Chapter 8

Feelings, Dreams and Conquest

        Love is not a conquest of dreams, but rather emotions realized!



    Hal glanced at me, grabbing the water-board.  “I think you need to show her the vision.”

    I took the water-board and sat next to Penny.  “This is the first vision I got after finding Hal and Lila.”  I said playing the vision.

    Five minutes later, Penny stared around the room.  “I’m the key?  How can I be the key?  I know nothing about rogues.”

    Hal patted her shoulder.  “We need to trust the vision, like Brenda said.”

  “Tell me about the others.”  Penny said.  “You say there are five.”

  “Yes.”  Hal replied.  “Besides Caecus, you know Bellator the warrior.  There’s also Vide the Seer, Praesidio the protector and Domini the leader, or Bruturm the animal.”  He’s known by both names. 

  “Vide is stronger at seeing visions, and Caecus is stronger at moving and becoming invisible, like Lila.  They’re names represent those strengths.”

    “Okay.  How about Bellator and Praesidio, what powers do warrior and protector represent?”

    “Strength and fighting skills,” Lila answered.  Domini the leader has equal measure of all these powers, and one that none of the others have, the ability to shape shift into an animal, making him the strongest.”

  “And the most arrogant,” Hal pointed out.  “He wouldn’t be the first to allow pride to destroy him.  Now tell us about hearing Bellator’s thoughts.  I’ve never heard of a reader who could do that.”  He said.  “And she doesn’t even have her full powers yet.” 

  Penny shrunk down in her chair, a shiver coursing down her spine.  “It was like our minds were one.  I could hear his every thought.  It was the same with Caecus.  Only his thoughts were jumbled, like he was deliberately replaying memories to keep me from knowing his true thoughts.”

    I stopped pacing.  “This changes everything.”

    Lila exchanged a glance with Hal.  I could tell she was wondering if he was aware of last night’s interlude. 

  Hal’s eyebrows lifted, his gaze watching me.  I frowned, fretting even more with the knowledge he knew.

  “Steve,” He said calmly.  “Nothing’s really changed.  We knew the rogues we’re after Penny.”

    I stopped pacing and stared at him, “Bellator yes, but all of them?”

  “Yes, all of them,” Lila repeated.

    “I didn’t know?”  I whispered, fear stealing my voice.  “All the rogues,” I reiterated trying to get a handle on the situation.  “Well.  You simply can’t leave the sanctuary again.”  I said to Penny.

  “Woe, woe, woe.”  Hal said.  “Let’s not be hasty dude.” 

Lila nodded at Hal indicating the rings. 

  He clapped his hand on my back, “Dude why don’t we take a walk?”

Turning to Penny, Lila said.  “You should go put away your clothes, while Hal and I talk with Steve.”

    I followed Lila and Hal into the outer most ring of little Atlantis. 

    I stopped walking leaning one hand against the glass.  “Why Penny,” I moaned in anguish.

  “Why don’t we talk about what happened last night?”  Lila said.  “I gather from her…there was a moment between you?”

    I sighed staring at the fish beyond the glass, not seeing they’re bright colors, knowing this talk was inevitable.  “She came to my room for something to sleep in.”

    “And,” Hal prompted.

    My face twisted with regret, gazing at Hal.  “You know I kissed her.”  I moaned turning my gaze away in shame.  “I shouldn’t have, but I did.”

    Hal smiled rolling his eyes at Lila.  “That’s all?”

    My gaze ricocheted back to his.  “Yes.  Of course, that’s all.”

  “Dude, relax.  This is rad.”

    I was shocked by his reaction, “Rad!  My taking advantage of her emotional state is rad?”  I demanded.

    Hal put on a sour face.  “…Right, I almost forgot how self effacing you are.”

    I slammed my hand against the glass, then jabbed it through my hair.  “I’m not self effacing.”

  “Help me out here.  I fail to see a problem.”  Hal replied. 

    I hung my head in abject misery.  “She’d been thru a very emotional day.  She just needed someone to comfort and reassure her.  Not some loner nerd, overcome by her beauty.”

    Hal’s best efforts to remain impassive were foiled by his mouth quirking up.

    “I’m glad you can find amusement at a time like this.”  I grated out.

He fell back against the glass laughing.  “I’m sorry.”  He said between chuckles, “But this is too funny.”

    I glared at him.

    “Oh come on.”  He said.  “I’m sure she would’ve stopped you, if she didn’t want your kiss.”

    I groaned.  “That’s the whole point.  She was too emotional to know what she wanted.  I took advantage.”

  “Steve we know you were in hiding for years.  Lila interrupted giving Hal a hard look.  Before that you were what, thirteen.  I’m guessing you didn’t meet any… girls.  She asked hesitantly.

  “Oh good lord no!”  I exclaimed in embarrassment.  “I don’t want to discuss this with you Lila.”  I could feel my face turning red. 

  “You think I want to discuss your love life?”  She declared.  “I’m trying to be sensitive here, not my area.”  She declared flushing, “But Hal it seems has forgotten how first love messes with your head.”  She accused, shooting a frown at him.

  “My point is.  You don’t have to feel bad about what happened.  Penny needed you.”

    Hal nodded.  “Dude, you’re making this more complicated than it is.  The girl likes you.  Like I said, this is rad.”

    Flinging away from the glass, I cried.  “Please don’t make light of this.  I need to stay focused.  The girl is a distraction.” 

    “Ahhh, now we get to the heart of the matter.”  Hal said.  “She kissed you back, and it’s messing with your head?” 

    I turned incredible eyes on Hal.  “What?”

    “She kissed you back and all you can think about is repeating that kiss.  So she’s a distraction.”  When I didn’t reply, he continued.  “You should go for it.”

  “What?”  I exclaimed.

    “You know, make her yours.”  He clarified.  “Then she’ll no longer be a distraction.  I can tell she wants you too.”

    “This conversation is over.”  I said shaking my head. 

    “Okay.”  Lila agreed.  “But you need to talk to her.  If you two don’t get past this awkward avoiding each other phase, we’re all in danger.”

    I jerked my gaze from the fish swimming beyond the glass, staring at Lila and realizing she was right.  “Okay.”  I said nodding, “Can we get back to the real problem, the rogues?  It doesn’t make sense.  Why watch the two of you shop?

    Lila leaned against the glass next to me.  “Penny said it was like he was doing surveillance.”

    I kicked at the ground.  “Rogues don’t do surveillance.  Why would they? 

They’re powers far exceed ours.”

    Shrugging her shoulders Lila said.  “It might not mean anything but Penny said she sensed fear under the memories in his mind.  Like he was trying so hard not to think about his fear, that’s all he could think about.”

I turned doubtful eyes on Lila.  “Fear, what the hell, rogues don’t fear.”

“Dude, you’re looking at this all wrong.”  Hal said.  “Bellator told you, you’re mother was the greatest visionary of her time.”

    “Yeah,” I nodded.

    “Dude,” he exclaimed with excitement.  “Her vision of you pulling together a group, capable of stopping Bellator scared them.”

    “No way,” I said in disbelief.  Rogues don’t have emotions, remember.

    “Okay the fear only affects them, while high, but the memory is still there after the high is gone,” Hal exclaimed. 

    “If your mother saw Bellator’s demise, and Vide’s powers are even greater than hers, he would’ve seen the same vision.”  Think about it,” he said staring at us.  “Your mother said Penny was the key.”  He waited for us to put it together.  When we just gave him blank stares, he continued.

“Dude, if you knew the only thing needed to stop you, was a key; wouldn’t you be afraid of that key?”

    I nodded in excitement.  “They’re doing surveillance to see if we’ve discovered how she’s the key?”

  “Which we haven’t thought about yet,” Lila said bringing our excitement to a screeching halt.



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