XLIV - Intermission

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I train him. Hard. We spend hours and hours reviewing the basics: how to command the powers of War with a simple snap of his fingers or the twitch of an eye. Over and over I drill Adras until he can call upon his tangerine-scented terror as effortlessly as breathing. While we practice, a windstorm gathers around us and makes our clothes fly and snaps wind into our eyes — nature's rejection of the violence an insignificant man wields.  Over and over I yell across the zephyr, again! Again! Again! I make him practice until it becomes his second nature. Until it feels like home.

Unlike the limitations of my powers on Olympus, Adras has control over some of my powers, too. He makes it rain, makes it thunder. He can sprout delicate, dewdrop-speckled bluebells in his palm; he makes the night skies giggle with the bawdy jokes of newborn stars.

It's unusual, unnatural. So much of this world's rules for power is different than Earth's. I force myself to ignore his blending, overlapping abilities. I try not to mull and worry over his strength. He's so strong. It's exciting to behold and terrifying to witness. He's mightier than I imagined but also fearless, intuitive. It's all too easy for him to become a god.

After a few days, he can toss a rope made of purple and seafoam bubbles across the room and lasso me around the waist. He can heat and cool the bathwater to the perfect temperature; set my skin on fire and chill it again with a look, a caress, a word. 

Though, perhaps the latter has nothing to do with strength and is more indicative of mutual weakness. 

Despite his prowess, I continue to drill and train and coach — making sure to ignore the dull tingle in my fingers and toes, the creeping sensation of pins and needles up and down my limbs and over my stomach. I kick rapidly-falling bangles out of the way and over the ledge of the balcony, under a table, into dark corners. There isn't time for that, whatever it is. There is only time to make sure that there isn't a second of hesitation living in Adras' reflexes. 

***

A sharp stab wakes me from the depths of sleep. When I open my eyes, I see that it is the middle of the night. A lavish, fat moon swims across the sky. Adras breathes slowly and deeply from somewhere under the covers. I feel the warmth of his body nearby. I gasp as the pain comes again, bright and hot and urgent. It digs into my ribs and hollows out my bones, burrowing into me, settling roots into my marrow. 

I press on the spot, tender and bruised from my frequent pushing — just below my breast, on the left side of my chest. I wonder if I push hard enough will the bone break and the pain go away?

My body flickers between feverish chills and oppressive sweating. I kick the covers off of me only to reach down a moment later and drag them up over my body. I'm am barely stitched together at the seams, a fraying, moldering monster held together with stardust and the oily, hazy luminosity of a Rembrandt portrait. My eyes are open, my tongue rests like concrete against my bottom teeth. 

I lie still, hoping to keep resting mortals as they are, lost to the glory of dreamland and sleep. Though I do nothing, I am assaulted by an overload of sensations: I feel too big in my body and in this bed, taking up an excess of space. The covers and pillows and mattress corral around me accusingly, pressing in against the sides and dips and divots of my body. Close — all of it too close. 

A nerve behind my right eye blares and flashes and tells me everything — everything! — is wrong! WRONG! The proportions of my limbs, the heaviness of my head, the strange crick in my neck. I overrun the barries of the room while being scrunched up and confined in a tiny cubby hole of my own torture, shoved into a back corner and hidden by a musty curtain. Every sight and every sound overrides me — Adras' breathing, the light of the moon, the quiet, idle chatter of the guards outside our door,  the bubbling fountain in the courtyard below. Sounds run like skittering insects over my goosefleshed, bare skin. Up into my ears and down my throat. 

Tears come next. Heavy. Weighty. They fall from my eyes with the solemn ring of funeral bells — though they do so reluctantly. Apologetically. Drops full of remorse, promise, belief, exhaustion. A final tether to the control I feel slipping out from beneath my fingertips. The tears collect in my hair and on the statin weave of the pillow. They leave damp footprints that chill quickly in the night air, bequeathing only a tight saltiness that betrays their visit. They're sticky on my cheeks. They dry with screeching yowls into the strands of my hair. The pillowcase wrinkles and ripples from their moisture, mimicking the crinkle and vice-tightness of my shut eyes. 

Whispering, hushed by their surroundings and circumstance, large handfuls of my bangles fall from my arms and legs. They lightly tap against the sheets, full of morbid curiosity for a world beyond the confines of my wrists and ankles. With the only molecule of control I possess at this moment, I hide the evidence and burn them into an ashless, scorchless nothing that leaves no trace. Only the faint, pale strips of my skin speak to where they once were. 

I know now where they go. 

I know now why they fall. 

I feel the complex simplicity of their magic: flowers, butterflies, soil, color, glass, fog, sleet, scent, taste. All the small and wonderful and enchanting things of this world flow into Adras, mixing and mingling with his happy, flickering fire. 

It is some kind of exchange, some kind of siphon that happens — has been happening — since the first time we lay together. The first time we trusted one another completely. Adras is no longer confined to just the blessings of War. A rainbow of mixed metals and organic fibers weave in and out of his soul. Bolstering him, adding power where it didn't exist before. They temper the natural, bloodthirstiness of violence and action that War brews. 

Consequently, my powers aren't what they were. There's a dullness that dwells inside my body now. An emptiness. I tell myself it's a good thing. I try to believe it's a good thing. The loss of my powers breaks my heart. It confuses me. It flies in the face of my assumed status as all-powerful. 

It gives me an idea.

I press my hand into my ribs, pulverizing anew the pang that awoke me. It vibrates under my skin. That diamond-strong thread that lies between Adras and me hardens and becomes less elastic. It grows more dependant. More demanding.

Breathless from agony, terrorized by fear, my hand skitters across the sheets, searching the tangled fabric for the open palm I find stretched out in my direction. I dance my heart along the connection that binds us. His tether, my strand of thread. I pull on it, tuck it up under our chins and delicately pluck it — it hums like a harp. 

"I love you, Adras," I whisper my confession into the waiting, gossiping ears of midnight's wind. "I claim this bond between us. I will use it to save you."

The belligerent, relentless pain becomes a slow, simmering tickle. Comfort melts across my chest and into my belly as if a hot water bottle had been administered. My spinning, crooked axis is set right, the hurricane of torture abates from my body. I feel calm, cozy. Utterly at peace.

"Fuck. It's real." 

A whip-poor-will laughs at my realization, tweeting and hooting in the starlight night.  

I don't fall asleep again. I hold Adras' hand and I breathe. I inhale and exhale myself through the delight, the worry, the wonder, the feeling. The all-consuming amazement at what it is to have his hand in my own and a direct line to his heart beating between us. It's bright and lovely and alive. It clouds my vision with pink-scented mist and casts everything in a drowsy, dawn-painted luster. Other colors — if there are any others that still exist — distort and turn green through its rosy lens.

Eventually, sunlight inches up over the horizon, sneaking its way across the floor. It creeps up the bejeweled walls, climbing hand over fist up the emerald vines of the botanical mosaics.

The day of the trial dawns.

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