XXXIII - Aftershock

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The next day, I awake to find Adras pressed against my side — any lingering grievances are forgotten in the twilight unconsciousness of deep, peaceful sleep. It gives me a rush of bright, fleeting happiness. A brief injection of peace and hope before the absolute mess of the world comes crashing down around me.

We're fucked.

But not really?

We're fucked.

My family has no powers. Here.

Still, we're fucked. While Adras and I played a childhood game of utopic worldbuilding, Hades, Aphrodite, and Ares had been hard at work, too. Amassing an army that would squash our unprotected, untrained caravan of religious hopefuls without hesitation. 

My family's loyalty to Zeus was confirmed when they raided and ravaged Larkhenya. Their armies' power was demonstrated by the ruthlessness and decisiveness with which the people there had been slaughtered.

It had been so...systematic. So brutal. Thousands of years had passed since I last saw the destructive savageness and mince-meat reality of ancient warfare. The sacking of Larkehenya had the crystalline exactness of Ares single-mindedly at his most awful, most angry, most vulnerable. It was Ares at his best. 

There was some thoughtlessness to the attack, though. Why would the Parnathans destroy their own people? Why would they allow their government to be waylayed by foreign powers? There has to be a whisper of confusion. There has to be some resentment we can exploit in the name of peace. Surely, somewhere across Yehparnath there is a corner of wallpaper gently peeling away from the wall of civil obedience that I can grasp onto and rip down, a way to earn entree into their better graces.

My body goes rigid and immobile as I remember the graffiti on the walls — those messages daubed onto pales stone in vibrant, wretched blood.

They followed the goddess. 

A warning. A threat.

Perhaps the citizens of Larkhenya heard of Adras' campaign from the messengers and missionaries that ride days and weeks ahead of the caravan, preparing towns, and cities to receive us. Perhaps the city disliked the current rulers and had been sympathetic to Adras' claim all along. 

Our religion. Our mission. 

We will never know. True or not, Larkhenya's death sentence was their belief in me. The cold, evil realization turns my stomach sour. I roll out of Adras' arms and try to stop the dry heaves that contort my body. If there is enough of the same ire directed towards the caravan, then the army can exact the same sentence on us

It would take longer, as our numbers larger. It would be a bloodbath. No army under Ares' direction would care that we were unarmed and untrained; he would meet us in open combat with a smile on his face. Or, we'd be lured to our graves under the pretense of some sick game; a trap, a hunt. He'd enjoy systematically picking us off one by one.

Any benefits earned from a deep, hard sleep instantly evaporate as thoughts race through my mind — every "what if" and "but we could" morphing into images and situations more gruesome than the last. I'm no more than a cistern speckled in cracks. Floods of icy dread course through my gaps.

Quietly, so I do not wake up Adras, I crawl out of the tangle of blankets and pillows. He grunts and turns, wiggling into the in-between realm of half-awake. He very nearly wakes up. I stop breathing, dreading the moment his eyes open and I see the hatred slide back into place when he looks at me. Eventually, he snuggles back into sleep  — claiming my just-abandoned pillow tightly in his arms. I watch him, assessing his true state. After a few seconds, his breathing slows and the cheerful, flickering flame I associate with his consciousness gutters out.

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