XXVII - Afterglow

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My head pounds as I walk circles around the camp. Though the still-continuing celebrations are loud, their external nose can't compete with the screeching, wailing agony of my inner thoughts.

Idiot! Fool!

Unrepentant and unrelenting, anger at myself whips against my hope, my intelligence. I am a monster. An imbecile. I've thrown away my life's mission on the very eve of its birth. My mouth goes dry and my bones feel as if they are made of ash. Every sensation feels brittle and hollow. Crumbling and caustic.

Still, I can't get the sight, the sound, the feel, the taste of Eris out of my body. Those feelings are alive and welcoming. Comforting; a blushing, burning, freshness.

What in the world have we just done?

Nothing, arguably. Not really. But when I think of what I might have compromised...

I don't know if I'm supposed to feel guilt or pleasure. I'm unsure, wary. How do I absorb the barrage of knowledge acquired within the last hour?

The way the firelight illuminated the soft curves of her face, making her cheeks and the side of her forehead stand out with the stark relief of midnight umbrae. Sharpening edges that are normally invisible. The tinkle of her bangles as she clapped along to the music or moved around on the blanket. The shared smiles and laughter as we watched our people revel and dance. The sudden and terrifying emptiness that took her place beside me when she went to sleep. The heat, the perfume of the tent — the intoxicating and essential smell of her. That burnt sugar density, the earthy coffee froth, the lingering, tangy saltiness. The homecoming of entering our tent, a haven as familiar and as soothing as the palace in which I grew up. The way my soul clanged, knowing I would soon be near her again. The strangeness of watching her sleep, yearning for her calculating looks and wary, gloomy eyes. The strange, horrid void of Eris at rest. The softness of her body, squishy and pliant against my own. The lingering taste of wine and figs on her tongue. The orchestra of million heartbeats as those ringing, reverberating bangles surrounded me and rattled down into the core of my body, dancing through my ears as she wrapped herself around me.

From the second we touched I lost the sense and sensation of the strange, supernatural, heightened way I have grown accustomed to feeling in her presence. I seemed terrifyingly normal. Somehow ordinary again. Less than I had been just moments before. There was no whisper of pink fog or the showering of sparks in the same, bluish color of thinned milk. It was just skin, fabric, hair, heat. For once, War sat dead inside of me. Quiet. Gone.

The lack of violence when I touched her — for once, neither of us recoiled. No cowering in fear of the coming shock. It was as if both of our powers faltered. Shying away and surrendering to a more supreme and frightful master than we could create in our own mortal obscurity. It wasn't the goddess, it was something more elemental, more foundational. Not made impure by religion or worship.

I think I'm in —

I trip over a rug that's buried in the sand, catching myself before I faceplant. I shake the rug free from its sandy grave and roll it out, protecting myself from the spectral frostiness of desert dunes at night. I'm far from the center of camp. The firelight can't illuminate me, its heat can't comfort me. I stare up at the sky and wonder what we will do now. What I will do now. What will become of us?

Eris had seemed happy, pleased. At first. The speed with which she went from glowing joy to contorted in agony had been terrifying. Drained of all color, she went limp and motionless in my arms.

But something had changed between us, right? Some integral transformation? I groan, between the wine and...and...everything that had transpired in the tent, my head was spinning.

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