XV - Human Sensations

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I stomp out of the room and march through the temple, away from that room of perfume and haze, hoping to put as much distance between myself and that...that woman as I can.

Is she a woman or witch or priestess or god? I can't tell, I don't want to know. 

The hour spent with her, answering circular arguments and being beguiled by her strange presence was an hour too long. A chill of something cold and unnatural runs down my spine and I shiver, trying to ignore the lingering taste of her on my tongue. 

How her flavor is in my mouth is a mystery that is as equally disturbing as the entire encounter. She didn't even touch me until the end when she pressed her forehead against mine. It was as if my head became too small, its contents growing and pressing against my skull with a sharp, sudden pressure. Colors bloomed more rich and vivid than I had ever seen them, sounds existed where before there had been silence. Sensation and scent and feeling exploded throughout my body. And, yes, I could taste her.

Even if I demanded that every palace chef listens to my description of that aroma they would never be able to reproduce it. A heady and frothy burnt sugar bitterness, aromatic vanilla, dark and stormy salt; a black, peppery caramelized steak, simmering coffee. I smack my tongue against the roof of my mouth trying to dissipate the taste — or savor it. I can't tell.

My body feels like it's crawling with fireflies. Alive and jittery in a way that I have never experienced. It tingles and burns, dances to a relentless rhythm that seems to magnify or fade, an inconsistent tide. It seemed to magnify in the presence of the woman, frolicking in my gut with every glance, every word.

I'm pulled out of my thoughts when I trip over a small golden tray bedecked with ropes of jasmine and lit with a collection of small oil lamps. I've walked straight through an altar.

Cruel sound explodes behind me and, despite demanding myself not to, I turn around; looking over my shoulder. I behold her. That creature with unnatural eyes and an overwrought pomposity. She's laughing at me.

She — Athanasia — holds herself awkwardly, arms wrapped around her torso, her head tottering back and forth on a long, elegant neck. The sound breaks out of her with short, confused, bursts. As if she doesn't know what she's doing, doesn't understand the reaction her body is having. Despite mirth and humor on her face, there is a wariness behind her squinted eyes, like amusement is foreign or forbidden.

Annoyed, I turn on my heel and exit the temple, walking through the spilled oil. The glistening liquid splashes onto my boots and the delicate flowers grind into pulp under my tread. I race down the temples front steps and walk to where my traveling companion, Xanthos, waits with my horse.

With a peaked hairline and hawkish nose and his black tunic, he stands like the reaper in the dust and sand. He grips the reins of my horse so tightly that his knuckles have turned white.

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