XI - Strange Men

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I jolt awake. With sudden, impatient violence, I kick the linen coverings off of my legs. The rush of cool air chills my feverish skin and I start to shiver. Looking around I have no sense of time or place, but that doesn't seem to matter as exhaustion pushes me back into oblivion — an invisible weight I cannot fight or move.

Minutes? Hours? Days? Later. Much later. 

I wake up and see that I have been tucked back in, covers and blankets entrap me against a soft, cradling mattress. I've been placed in one of the private bedchambers in the temple. Pale sunlight filters through blushing pink silks that hang over the opening of the rock wall. They offer a fuzzy view which overlooks the unnaturally green desert valley running between twin mountain peaks. A cheerfully rushing river roars up from the depths below, the sun sparkles off its surface, creating muted, dancing rainbows on the granite walls.

My mind is foggy but I remember enough to feel properly embarrassed. Having such an episode in front of so many mortals is unpardonable. Though, now that I've been bathed, dressed, and swaddled comfortably in bed it's hard to care as much as I should. No one is in my room keeping watch, I haven't been chained or gagged. Another wave of drowsiness crashes against me, and my eyes shut with delectable heaviness.

The next time I wake up it is because the right side of my body is overheating. I can feel the clamminess of sweat beading on my skin. And I feel pushed too far to one side of the bed. Annoyed, I open my eyes, utterly stupefied to find Hades sitting beside me.

He looks bored, yet concerned. Gone are his fine suits, tattoos, and cigarettes. He wears a short, loose Doric-style chiton that is popular amongst the Aunduns. It's such a shock to see him — especially dressed like that — that I nearly faint.

"Don't you dare fall asleep again," he warns with a smile, the skin around his eyes crinkling.

"Are you really here or am I dreaming?"

"You called me, didn't you?" Hades holds his hand up in a strange claw, mindlessly pushing it to and from his lips. He lets out a controlled exhale that seems indulgent and misplaced.

Groggily, my brain puts together that his muscles are acting out their familiar movements. He's smoking, even if he's not actually smoking.

I squint at him, confused, "I did....but I thought no Olympian could find or travel to this place."

"I guess special permissions can be given in times of emotional distress." He shrugs.

Something swims up from the back of my mind to the forefront; a murky thought, thick like cooling gravy. My mother's voice from a millennia ago, I am only allowed here because you will it.

"Also, it is very nice to see you again. After all this time, you really could have sent a card." Hades deadpans.

A smile splits my face and I sit up quickly, collecting him in an enthusiastic hug, "Aahhh!" I scream like a drunk girl at happy hour. "I can't believe you're here!"

My mind is a tumbling mess of excitement and emotion. Weakness and pain lingering from the theft of War make me breathless; joy and rapture at seeing my friend make my heart pound.

"Me either, honestly." Hades shakes out his arms, disengaging from the embrace, "It seems I have no powers here. It is very, very, strange."

I watch as he flexes his fingers, and pops his knuckles, looking for the familiar tingle of ability. "Is this how mortals feel? This is terrible!"

Only then do I notice the sharp lack of his familiar, golden embrace. The soft, feathered scent of vanilla and pineapple and smoke. It constricts my heart with a pang of sadness. I pout as I scan the air for his lost trail, searching for someone right in front of me. I can feel death and dreams, they snake inside my stomach with smooth, practiced ease.

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