Author's note: Hey! Good surprise for you all, guys! ^^ For once I'm not going to apologize for the delay! (It is an exception to the rule). I was eager to share that chapter with you, and hope you will like it! As always, please excuse the remaining typos and/or mistakes.
And as for musical suggestions, here is what I (strongly) recommend, in the following order:
The Village OST: The Gravel Road (James Newton Howard)
The Two Towers (Lord of the Rings) OST: The White Rider (Howard Shore)
The Return of the King (Lord of the Rings) OST: The Black Gate Opens (Howard Shore) = this one's a must!
Océans OST: Le Nouveau Monde (Bruno Coulais)
Alexander OST : Roxane Vell (Vangelis)
The Two Towers (Lord of the Rings) OST : Evenstar (Howard Shore)
Everything was black, and everything was cold. But everything was not silent. It was the strange noise, repetitive and incessant, that reverberated on the inner walls of the place – wherever that might be- where Milo lay motionless that woke the young man up. When his eyelids opened lazily, Milo did not wonder where he was, why he was there, and not even how he ended up there. The one and only thing he was focused on was the extraordinary feeling of well-being that filled him from head to toe. He did not remember ever feeling this at peace with his conscience. His body was completely relaxed, liberated from any pain, and although the cold contact between the rock and his bare chest made him shiver, it did not bring the slightest displeasure. Milo closed his eyes again for he was too busy savouring the tranquillity in which he was happily drowning.
However, he knew this could not last, that it was not meant to last. The noise that had woken hip up from his peaceful slumber – assuming he had been asleep – rang out once more; it was quick, successive and regular, like the tempo of some particularly dynamic score. Milo pulled himself off the ground with a groan. Running his hand through his hair, he blinked a couple of times and then looked around him, trying to take into his surroundings.
Where is this place?
All of a sudden, a torrent of memories flooded his mind, and while his brain tried to register all the information that surfaced from this violent stream of consciousness, everything eventually seemed to make sense.
The Heart of Atlantis! The Kings' Tribunal!
Milo jumped to his feet. If he remembered correctly, he was now in the Past. Trying in vain to apprehend the sheer concept of it, he could not even begin to accept the fact that he could be at the 'same' time, in two completely different places at two completely different moments. It was unnatural, irrational and absolutely unimaginable. And yet, it was even more unimaginable to think that the Kings' Tribunal had only been a simple dream. Milo spun round several times on himself. He was standing on the shore of an underground lake. The scholar peered at it with careful eyes, noticing how the lake's waters glowed softly and the numerous sparkling points that he could only assume were pieces of crystal. This had to be the Crystal Lake King Lokprakash had spoken about. The very place where the Heart of Atlantis had first fallen into. A lake whose waters held almost as powerful healing properties as the Great Crystal itself. For a moment, Milo could not help but remember how weak he had felt ever since Rourke had stabbed him. The young man had no idea how much time he had spent within the Heart, but it sure proved to have been marvellously beneficial. The terrible fatigue that had been viciously wolfing him down seemed to have vanished in thin air.
When Milo heard the strange noise for the third time, even though it seemed to come from far away, he paid more attention to it. It was a harsh sound, and although continual, brief and precise. He had heard that noise before.
Milo knew instantly what was happening. What he was hearing in the distance was nothing but the terrible promise of the fierce battle between the Atlantean Armada and Commander Lyle Rourke's mercenaries. Bullets kept ricocheting off when they did not reach their targets. Canons roared with hatred at the heart of the still-sleeping volcano. Milo suddenly caught a glimpse of a powerful explosion whose intense blue brilliance cut its path through a fault in the rock, about five hundred feet away from where he was standing. The scholar knew –how, he could not explain- this was where he was meant to play his part in the battle he was actually already leading. The wild, curious desire he felt to observe himself drove him away from the Crystal Lake at a swift pace. The closer he came to the rocky interstice, the more distinct and familiar the noises became. And when he was finally close enough to witness what was happening, he was left speechless and could only watch as he heard himself – his other self- shouting orders to Vinny, preparing the diversion that would ultimately lead to the scholar's final leap of faith from his Aktirak onto the scarlet balloon. Thousands feet above him, he spotted the unmistakable flash of Mrs. Packard's camera. Milo shook his head in amusement and turned his attention to Mole, Audrey and Sweet who were busy trying to saw the chains that held the balloon's extra load.
"Go on, Milo, jump already…", he heard himself whisper, and then mentally slapped himself.
What the hell am I doing? This is not some kind of entertainment show!
The fault in the rock was large enough for two adults to get through. Milo stepped hesitantly forward, watching carefully where he put his feet, for some instinct told him he should not be seen, otherwise the space-time continuum would suffer excruciatingly damaging consequences. Lost in his thoughts, Milo wiped away the bead of sweat that covered his forehead…when a beam of deadly blue energy, spat by the gaping mouth of a Martag, almost scared the life out of him as it passed only millimetres away from his face. The scholar instinctively felt the need to cry out to whoever had fired that he obviously needed to learn how to aim, but, remembering his quite unusual situation, refrained himself from doing so and resumed gazing up at the ever-ascending balloon. Up there, he could make out the two figures of Rourke and Helga while they were fighting furiously. Knowing what was about to happen, Milo inwardly winced and braced himself. And indeed, for the second time, he stood helpless, half hidden in the shade of the rock, as the Commander mercilessly through his right-hand man -woman- overboard. As her body cleaved through the air, Lieutenant Helga Sinclair's cry echoed in Milo's ears as he suddenly remembered King Lokprakash's words. "If you succeed, more than one person will be redeemed." The King's meaning had finally come to him, and Milo bounced forward without hesitation.
Helga ignored the searing pain that shot through her broken body. She was a soldier, and a good one at that. A soldier doesn't give a damn about pain. She knew she was more than probably living the last moments of her existence, but that didn't mean she would die having done nothing against the bastard who had betrayed her. Fury and hatred giving her painful wings and feeding her with boiling energy, she gathered what little strength she had left to take her personal gun and aim at the balloon.
"Nothing…personal.", she growled.
An insane feeling of satisfaction filled her as she succeeded in setting her target on fire and thus prevented Rourke from making it to the surface. The son of a bitch would pay for what he had done to her, and for what he had done to all the Atlanteans. A growing part of her now wished that Rourke would suffer the bitterest defeat of his whole life; and if she had to pay with her own life to obtain that ultimate satisfaction, then so be it. Helga knew her wounds were too severe to be able to make it. Each movement was a torture, each contracting muscle a reason to pray for Death to come quickly. She had the impression her body was being constantly pierced by a range of sharpened spears. In the heartbeat of time, when everything seemed to be simpler and clearer, Helga noticed the way her senses were gradually loosing their acuteness. It was only a matter of time before Death claimed her life, and she gazed up once again at the balloon that went rapidly closer to the ground. It would crash, she knew, and then she would die instantly. Blinking to stay focused, she thought she could make out movement aboard the balloon. She peered at it, ignoring the way her vision was becoming blurrier by the second, and let out a raw gasp when she realized Thatch was actually fighting Rourke. The idiot. How could he even imagine he would keep up the distance? He was no match for the Commander. And Rourke, she knew, would not stop until he could expose the scholar's corpse for the whole world to see. The bastard was going to break Thatch like a bloody twig! It was as simple as that. He was doomed, like the Atlanteans. Like her.
Her eyes decided to close on their own accord. The world was fading around her, and her consciousness progressively did the same. Helga was dying, and the only thing she now wanted to do was laugh at life. What a joke it was! However, as everything went black, she remembered something her father had told her when she was only a child. He had said: "Don't hold anything against life, and leave it without grudge. Life is the only thing we have, and we have only one." Truthfully, she had never known, until now, how right her father had been.
Scheiße! Thatch, Ich wünsche, dass ich Dihr helfen könnte. Ich nehme an, dass ich Dich in einem anderen Leben wieder sehen will. Mutter, Vater, Christopher, bitte verzeihen Sie mir. Bitte verzeihen Sie mir…[Shit! Thatch, I wish I could help you. I guess I'll see you in another lifetime. Mother, Father, Christopher, please forgive me. Please forgive me…]
Milo ran as fast as he could. The balloon would soon crash, and then the volcano would not be long to eject its 'pyroclastic fury', as Mole would put it. If Milo was to save Helga, he'd better do it quickly. The fissure he had passed through was not that far, but he would have to climb up the rock to reach it again. And the Lieutenant would slow the both of them down. 'Fortunately', Milo thought, she had fallen on the side opposite to where Vinny and the others were. At least he didn't have to worry about being seen anymore. The scholar eventually spotted the motionless body he was looking for, and hurried to the blonde woman's side. Dropping to his knees, he quickly checked for a pulse and was slightly relieved: her heart was still beating, but for how much longer, he did not know. Every second was infinitely precious. Deciding that it would help a bit if Helga was at least conscious, he put his hands on her shoulders and shook her as gently as he could, calling her name. She stirred, obviously in pain.
"Helga! Come on, wake up, wake up, wake up!" Milo cried urgently. Looking up for a second, he saw that Rourke had begun trying to kill him - his other him - with the balloon's emergency axe. Time was running short. The scholar's attention was shattered when he heard a groan behind him. Whirling round, he watched as the Lieutenant struggled to move. She did not seem to have noticed his presence.
She stopped moving, as if struck by lighting. Then her eyes met his, and their gazes held for what seemed like an eternity. She looked at him as if he were a ghost.
She looked up to see Rourke seize Milo by his neck and lift him at arms' length, ready to behead the poor scholar. How could he be in front of her as well, his face illuminated by a piece of crystal that glowed around his neck, bare-chested and wearing a blue Atlantean kilt? He gently put his hand on her shoulder, and she jerked it away, instantly regretting it because of the pain that shot through her.
"Helga, please, listen to me, we've gotta-
"You-You're up there!"
"I know! Long, complicated story. Don't ask, there's no time! The volcano's gonna erupt, and we'd better get out of here!"
He smiled, and then added: "Sometime today would be nice."
"In case you haven't noticed, Einstein, I can't move!"
"Thanks for the compliment. I know you can't. That's why I'm here to carry you. You ready?"
The blast of the explosion drowned everything else while they instinctively braced themselves. Helga looked hesitantly at Milo, who had shielded her body with his and was still waiting for her answer, and then nodded. He didn't wait any longer and helped her as best as he could to get on his back. Gritting her teeth, resolved that there was no way she'd show him the pain she was experiencing, Helga encircled her arms around Milo's neck, and allowed him to pass his hands under knees to support her weight in a piggy back ride fashion. She was way too exhausted to actually protest, and much less to wonder why he was willing to save her. He began to walk as fast as he could to get the both of them as far away as possible from the balloon's point of impact. The base of the volcano started to shatter, spitting fountains of moulting lava all around them. The last thing Helga noticed was Milo stopping for a millisecond and bending over to pick up what looked like a broken piece of dark-blue crystal. By the time he reached the fissure that would lead them to safety, she had lost consciousness again.
Milo kneeled so he could put Helga down as gently as possible on the shore of the Crystal Lake and spare her any unnecessary pain. He straightened himself, hands on his hips, and arched his back to soothe the aching muscles that were not accustomed to put in such an intense and extended effort. He actually found himself yearning for Doctor Sweet's skilled hands. However, one look at Helga was enough to remind him that his cramps, aches and bruises were nothing in comparison to her wounds. Carefully, Milo removed the gloves that hid Helga's hands and checked for her pulse once again. Satisfied but still worried, he put her arm alongside her flank and brought his head to her forehead. It was hot, feverish. The scholar stole a glance at what remained from the upper-part of his clothes and tore it in a fluid motion. Folding it methodically, Milo went to the Crystal Lake and plunged his hand into it until the piece of fabric was sufficiently saturated with water. Returning to the Lieutenant's side, he put the improvised compress on her face and gently dabbed her neck, cheeks and forehead. The only reaction he got from her was an almost imperceptible sigh that sounded like a 'thank you' to him. Milo was no doctor, but he knew what he had to do, no matter how hesitant he was to do it. Heck, simply thinking about it made him shrink and set his cheeks on fire!
The scholar shook his head vigorously, removed the Kings' Crystal from his neck and sank into the lake until he stood waist-deep in water. He did not actually know what he was doing, not even what he was supposed to do, but he supposed the Heart of Atlantis did. He had come this far, after all. So, Milo brought his pendant to his lips, closed his eyes in prayer and concentrated all his thoughts on the words he spoke with a fervour he himself was not aware of.
"I am destined to rule over Atlantis. The city is in danger. I need this woman's help to protect it, and I am ready to pay any price in return of her healing. Great Spirits, I appeal to your benevolence. Heal her. Heal she who has been broken."
The Kings' Crystal instantly diffused a dazzling light all around it, and Milo quickly plunged it into the Crystal Lake, glancing every now and then above his shoulder to take a look at the motionless form of Helga. And then, as discreetly as a firefly on a summer night, a single shimmering spot appeared at the heart of the lake. Then a second. Then a third, and so on until Milo was literally bathing in crystalline water whose thousand bluish sparkles painted a liquid constellation. Around the scholar's body, the water undulated peacefully, its lapping whispering the soft promise of a wish yet to be granted. Milo replaced the Kings' Crystal around his neck and, half soaked, resumed his place at Helga's side. Taking her hand into his, he was horrified to find out how cold her skin was. There was no more time to lose. Milo closed his eyes for a second, gulped and took a deep breath to calm himself.
"Okay, Milo, don't panic, all you have to do is…Geez, I can't believe I'm going to do that! All you have to do is undress her. There's nothing wrong with that. It's to heal her. It's for her own sake. For her own sake…"
With trembling fingers, he brushed the straps of Helga's shirt and immediately yanked his hands away as if he had burned himself.
"She's gonna kill me", he cried, "She is so going to kill me! And Kida too…Okay, let's try this again…"
With all the precautions in the world, Milo removed the white shirt from the Lieutenant's body, put it on the ground and purely refused to let his gaze come to rest more intrudingly than necessary on her exposed curves. He was thankful he had gone to swim with Kida several times before, for it slightly helped him to bear the idea he was about to undress Helga until she'd wear nothing but her undergarments. He was almost done when he noticed the small knife that was tightly secured around one of her ankles. Milo hesitated for a second, wondering whether he should take it away from her or not, and finally decided that it was probably for the better, for:
A knife could always come in handy, and God only knew when he might actually need one to defend himself. Just in case…
Compared to the rest of Helga's clothes, removing a knife from her ankle truly was a piece of cake.
The Crystal Lake – or whatever power resided in its depths – might consider it offending to tread in its waters with a weapon.
Helga would probably be much more resentful for the rest!
Once Milo was finished, he carefully lifted Helga's body, cradling her against his chest and trying to avoid any misplaced behaviour, and took her with him into the Crystal Lake. Half-submerged , he let go of her, watching anxiously as her pale body floated peacefully and ready to catch her if anything went wrong. The glittering spots in the water intensified, and the lake soon glowed with the Crystal's power. Milo took a step back, sensing Helga had to be on her own for the healing to be complete. Churning waters surrounded the wounded body for what felt like a lifetime, and then withdrew again. Soon, Milo's pendant was once more the only source of light in the dark cave the both of them were. Milo stepped closer to Helga, and nodded in appreciation at the absence of any wounds on the woman's body. Even the limbs he feared had been broken at the end of her free fall from the balloon seemed to be perfectly fine. Only then did he realize the contact of water had made the only clothes she was still wearing become transparent. Refusing to look, he carried her out of the Crystal Lake, praying with every fibre of his being she would not regain consciousness before he had had the time to be out of her reach. Unfortunately, Milo had learned first hand that luck and bad luck were a balance; have one of them, and you could be sure the other would be waiting for you around the next corner! And given the fact he had just been lucky enough to make the Crystal heal Helga…
And sure enough, as soon as he had put her on the ground, Helga's eyes shot open, staring intently at him. Unable to move, he could only watch as her blue eyes widened in shock as she realized she was almost naked under him. Glaring at the young man who was bent over her, she contracted her muscles…
"Hey, hey, hey! Look, I- I know this might look like what you seem to th-think it looks like but-
But it was already too late. The next thing Milo knew, he was sprawled out on the ground a couple of feet away from her, his hands coiled around his own neck, coughing and struggling to breathe. It took him a moment to realize she had just delivered him a punch to the windpipe. He had heard how painful that was, but it was a totally different thing to actually feel it! If powerful enough, such hits could make a man suffocate and die easily. Gasping as he finally managed to get some fresh air into his lungs, Milo shook his head, brain managing to shake back into place. Pushing himself off the rocky floor, he had trouble to simply swallow his own saliva. Only then did he hear her indignant cry. He still didn't look at her.
"How did you dare, Thatch?!?"
"Nice way to say 'thanks'…", he grumbled, "…for saving you."
"Rourke. Remember Rourke? The balloon."
Milo did not see it, but Helga's face went as pale as death.
"You fell. I saved you. I found a way to heal you. But I had to get you into that lake over there to do this. Your wounds needed to be visible, and I also figured out you'd be happy to have some dry clothes to put on afterwards. That's…", he breathed deeply, "…the only reason I undressed you. Now believe or not, but I'd appreciate it if you could actually get dressed again and stop hitting me without knowing what is going on."
"Then, while I do this, maybe you could explain what actually happened?"
"So, you're basically saying Rourke's soul has somehow survived, corrupted Atlanteans, and the damn Crystal sent you back in time in order to save me from the volcano's eruption so I could provide you with information about Rourke, right?"
"I don't buy it."
"As a matter of fact, I have trouble buying it myself."
"Fair enough. What makes you think I can actually give you the information you're looking for?"
"Look, I may be a bookworm and a nerd, but I'm not stupid. Don't think I haven't noticed about you and Rourke."
"I've no idea what you're talking about."
"Yeah, right. And the both of you just happened not be there each and every time the crew gathered during the journey to Atlantis. Especially during the meals, I may add."
Helga frowned, wondering whether she should hit the man in front of her or not. He looked different. Not only physically; his attitude had deeply changed. This was no longer the man she had almost scared to death in his own rundown apartment. He looked like he had found his place in the world. But that did not mean she had to be on his side, much less like him.
"And just why should I help you?"
"Well, because you owe me your life, for instance."
"I'd say that makes up for the time I saved your skin from that bloody Leviathan, Einstein. We're even."
"You tried to steal the Crystal from Atlantis, and the Crystal healed you. Surely that counts for something?"
"I'm afraid it doesn't."
"You know it does."
She was surprised to hear him speak German at first, but reminded herself he probably knew more languages than she could even imagine.
"Helga, I know you're not as bad as Rourke. Don't try to prove the contrary."
"You are wrong, Thatch. I'm just like him. You're just too foolish to see it. I don't give a damn about your precious Atlanteans and whatever fate awaits them and their Princess."
"Kida's Queen now. Her father died of internal bleeding."
"Oh." She looked down for a second. "Well, that doesn't change the rest of my sentence. I was willing to destroy an entire civilization for my own personal enrichment, remember?"
"Then why do you think I'd possibly help you now?"
"That is not riches, which may be lost; virtue is our true good and the true reward of its possessor. That cannot be lost; that never deserts us, but when life leaves us. As to property and external riches, hold them with trembling; they often leave their possessor in contempt, and mocked at for having lost them."
"Who on earth said that?"
"One of the greatest men in recorded history."
"Let me guess; your old friend Plato?"
"Oh? Now that would be a first! Who, then?"
"Leonardo Da Vinci. Look, I am not going to harass you, but think about it for a moment! Rourke betrayed you, remember? He threw you overboard without a second's hesitation! I can give you the revenge I know you are yearning for. That, and a chance to clear your name. Help me, Helga. Please help me save my people and the woman I love."
She turned away, refusing to look at him.
"You're talking as if you were their King."
"Well…In a way, I am."
She whirled round, shock written on her face as she faced him once more.
"I…asked Kida to marry me."
"Don't tell me she agreed."
He chose to ignore her comment.
"Well? Will you help me?"
"I'm sorry Milo, but this is none of my business. All I want to do is get out of here."
"The choice is yours to make."
"I've already chosen."
He sighed in defeat, and she watched as he plunged his hand into his waist belt. Apparently he had been using it as a pocket. He took a tiny piece of paper from it, and unfolded it carefully before handing it to her. She lifted her eyes to look at him, her question visible on her face.
"Atlantean hunters know these caves perfectly. It's a map I've made, based upon what they have told me. Nothing exceptional, but you'll be able to make it to the surface thanks to it."
"…I…don't know what to say."
"Then say nothing. Good luck, Helga Sinclair. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a city to save from a crazy mercenary, and I'm running out of time. May the Spirits of Atlantis watch over you."
Milo smiled one last time to her, and she could only watch as he ran away from her. She stared at his fading back for a moment; she turned round to cast a glance at the Crystal Lake she now knew had saved her, and then sighed in frustration.
"I can't believe I'm going to do this."
Helga put the map into one of her pockets, and sprinted away, hurrying to catch up with the linguist who had actually been able to accomplish a miracle once and defeat Rourke. Why not twice?
"Thatch! Wait a second!"
He stopped as soon as he heard her call his name. She could not see it, but he savoured the triumphant smile that came over his lips. He patiently waited for her to be in front of him and lifted one eyebrow in an unspoken question. She gave him a wicked smile.
"I can't read your handwriting, so I think I'll stick around for a while."
He grinned. Things were definitely getting better.