3.3 Worshipped

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Alex awoke under a velvet blanket that covered his whole body, atop a soft bed that was unbelievably huge. He could spread his arms and legs without reaching the edges.

For a fleeting second, he wondered if he'd reverted to childhood. Books and toys would fit comfortably in his hands, the way they should. Were his mom and dad alive? Maybe he was in his familiar blue-and-silver bedroom, rather than a cave.

He opened his eyes to a ceiling of hammered gold, which reflected the flicker of many candles.

Then he remembered Chaniyelem insisting that he sleep as a guest in her palace. She'd given him this ornate, immense bedchamber. His parents were dead—because of him—and Margo might be on the brink of losing her legs for the same reason.

If Alex abandoned Margo, then she would surely never sleep nestled in the crook of his arm again, the way she had on the streamship. She'd probably just ignore him, as Cherise ignored Thomas. He would lose the one and only person who could reminisce about Earth with him; the only person who really understood where he came from. Margo had visited his lonely mansion and met his mother. And she had forgiven him for whatever shortcomings that background left him with.

Alex sat up. Water cascaded down one of the black marble walls in a soothing stream. Flames danced in soapstone sconces, illuminating baskets on marble shelves. Golden filigree accented stone surfaces.

"Aonswa?" An ivory-white woman knelt, bending her graceful neck in a pose of supplication. She offered up an earthenware bowl of steaming oatmeal or porridge. Her laced robe was so transparent, Alex needed to look away.

Another albino woman stood nearby. Her laced-up outfit did not hide much, either. At least she'd folded her delicate hands in front of herself.

On Earth, their frilly chains and ruby diadems would have implied wealth. But such adornments seemed run-of-the-mill among the Alashani, and these women had the downcast eyes of maidservants or slaves.

"Thanks." Alex accepted the breakfast bowl. The meal included an ivory spoon inlaid with black designs.

He was famished, as if his body had already forgotten the feast. That was an effect of Yeresunsa healing. Alex had seen the people he'd healed eat ridiculous amounts afterwards, and he guessed it had something to do with energy replenishment.

As he spooned up the porridge, which tasted like mushrooms, he wondered if his powers had recovered.

Bad idea, he thought, remembering Orla's scolding.

Yet he needed to know. Without powers, he was just a grotesque freak, helpless and burdensome. Margo wouldn't want him around. No one would. He needed Yeresunsa powers if he was going to do anything at all worthwhile.

Very cautious, very tentative, Alex let go of his sense of bodily limitation. He let his awareness seep into the air that enveloped him.

No pain.

Encouraged, he began to spread himself further, into solids such as the bed and the stone floor. Air was nebulous and slippery for him. Solids offered enough resistance to help him go slow.

"Ahem."

A feminine throat-clearing startled Alex, and he snapped fully back into his body. 

The tall, arabesque double-doors were open, and Jinishta stood there, with an ummin in an immaculate outfit by her side. Jinishta said something brusque in the slave tongue.

"Good morning, Alex," the well-dressed ummin said.

"Kessa?" Alex stared, disbelieving, at the lacework tunic and embroidered head cover she wore. Tiny jeweled fringes framed her face and hems. Such a superficial change shouldn't transform a person so much. Kessa still had her wrinkles, and the scar around her neck ... but somehow, she looked like a new ummin.

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