XLIX - Adras

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I love you. I'll be back.

The words howl on the wind, they crackle in the fire that roars around me and within me. I may be the one about to burn but Eris blazes with the light of a thousand suns. It incinerates vision. It cauterizes the silence. The crowd betrays their protesting stillness to gasp, to marvel. 

I love you. I'll be back. 

Through the hubbub, through the explosion, I hear her speak to me. In my mind, to my soul. An empty promise. A misplaced platitude. 

Pandemonium erupts, the crowd shouts and screams. There is a deep rumbling as they stand up, shuffle as many steps closer as they can manage. Their sandals pounding against stone and wood and sand. I can barely see through the smoke that surrounds me, the intensifying heat that makes me sweat and blurs my vision with stinging tears. A cool, lilac-scented wind causes the clouds to clear and I can see. I watch. I don't look away — how can I? But there is nothing to see.

Just a post.

Just a vertical log with slack ropes looped around its base and an arrow lodged into its neck. 

No body. No Eris. Nothing. 

I am not sure what is worse, not seeing her body or having to look at her lifeless and slumped over, just a corpse. A slippery, cooling, comforting gold made from molten lava and fresh-baked bread settles in my stomach. It cools my blood to the point that I am shivering despite the growing flames around me. The relief is short-lived. 

A dark and merciless sensation stabs sharply between my ribs. It digs around inside of me with clumsy fingers; searching, rooting through muscle and bone and blood. Then, with a blinding-white flash of incredible pain, the hand grasps the tether anchored there and rips it from my body. It breaks my rib and rends a gash through my side that I swear is real. When I look down, my tunic is untouched, no tear or blood mars it. The wound is quickly filled in with slow-blooming, pitch-black despair.

It comes back to me then. The reality of what I saw. Her perfect, otherworldly face. A single tear rolling down her cheek and catching in the sun-drenched morning light. A pained, stupefied smile. The steady, thick trickle of bright red blood marring her all-white robes. A stain that grew larger and longer, gluing the fabric to the contours of her skin, the slope of her waist.  The way her eyes turned from dark night to a swirling, undulating sea of reds, pink, blues, greens, yellow, and silver. Something I had only seen once before. Long, long ago. The way they went out, color by color turning gray and void. The slow drop of her eyelids to cover their nakedness. 

I sob openly, then. Forgetting shame and humiliation. Disregarding my own fate as sticks and tender grow bold and spark newborn flames on top of branches and logs. The heat grows. The panic rises. 

The fabric on my pant leg catches fire. It's excruciating. I feel as every hair catches, feel as my skin melts inch by inch. My mouth opens, desperate for a release from my biting clench. A scream pierces through the air. A sound I've never heard — human or animal — the sound of my own final, terrorized moment of life. 

A million miles away and yet right beside me, I hear three dense thuds in quick succession. 

The gods. All deity now wiped from this world. 

My scream mingles with the gathering upset of the crowd. They chant and boo, their fury masks my cries. The fire climbs up both of my legs. My voice gives out, I choke on the smoke. I lose my scream, I keep my mind. My life. 

Then, surprisingly, the pain stops. Maybe it's shock. Maybe it's the bright — can night be bright? — screeching cloud of darkness and wrath that surrounds me, runs down my throat with a cool slip of water, fills me with the smell of spring and the hope of rain. It sings to me, beautiful songs and the loveliest dreams. It fills and soothes the body that begins to disappear. To fade. The gentle slip of my mind into what lies beyond

Obscurity takes over. But it's not frightening, it is familiar. It is safe. The darkest night. There is no horizon, nothing surrounds you but a dome of black glass above and an undulating, inky sea below that lulls you into a perfect sleep. One by one, bright stars illuminate the glass dome. The abyss populates itself with hulking globes of blue, pink, and red worlds. A blue one dotted with green lands and protected by a fine film of purple encapsulation is the biggest and most beautiful. Somehow, I know this is Ceris. I don't know where I am but it is homey. It laughs and teases me with dry, long-suffering humor. It used to be a bad place, a scary place, an immensely sad place. Now it's warm, full of warmth and tenderness and tickling smiles. 

With what can only be described as a flash, I feel pulled from behind my navel and condensed into boiling hot crucible made from freezing, cracking ceramic. My limbs are scattered across the universe —  what is a universe?

Not yet. I promised. A familiar voice comes to me on an autumnal wind, spiced with apples and whispering with the cold comfort of sparkling snow. It smells like burnt sugar and perfect coffee, pepper, glazed steak.

I slam down into an impenetrable firmament.

My throat is dry with ash, my eyes crusted over with soot. A cloud of silken, soft dust covers my skin and brushes against me with dirty-feeling fingers of gritty pressure. When I cough, desperate for a way to breathe, the incessant, buzzing, blur of sound that surrounds me stops. I cough again, sucking in more soot by accident. 

The world around me goes still. Silent. A leaf falls off a tree in a distant territory and I feel it's fluttering breeze as a whisper across my grimy cheek.

Why am I laying at such a strange angle? I push myself up and feel waves of soot roll off of my shoulders. 

There is a sharp sound, the intake of a million surprising breaths. A scream. 

Slowly, I find my legs and hoist myself up onto them. I feel weak, I feel tired. Broken. Still, my legs support me. I dust myself off, trying to swat away the tight, densely packed ash that seals my eyes closed. I manage well enough that I'm able to squint through the haze. 

The light is blinding. The colors are dizzying. Everything is just a smudge that slowly comes back into focus; first a shoe, then a skeleton of charred wood. When I look up, the first person I see falls to the ground, their eyes roll back into their head.

The second person, in what looks like more of a controlled movement, falls to his knees. He presses his face into the ground. 

Bow. A bow. My brain is slow to provide the answer for what I am seeing. 

I look up and around, noticing that there are hundreds of thousands of people looking at me with wide eyes, raised eyebrows, hands pressed over their gaping mouths. They climb upwards around me, supported by terraced bleachers. They gasp and cry, they sob. All of them fall to their knees and press their bodies into the dirt. The sound of their worship rumbles around the arena with the intensity of thunder. It reverberates through my bones and sends shockwaves through my ears, electrifying my head, making my brain buzz with electricity — what is electricity?

There's a hazy outline of a woman standing a few paces in front of me. She hovers near the fainted man; my brother, I realize. She's beautiful, wide eyes made from molten rainbows and skin that is pearly and dimensional like polished opal. Her hair falls like nighttime confessions and a lover's laugh that comes mid-passion. I feel a flush across my chest and up my neck looking at her, remembering her.

Live. She somehow says without opening her mouth. Without being here.

Eris. Her name crashes into me with the force of bull. An intoxicating swirl of emotion stirs within me as she fades into the air. 

I look down, taking in my torso, the feet that support me. I look at my hands, flexing my fingers. I look up at the calm blue sky, the spread of wispy, puffy clouds above. The blinding, triumphant sun.

I'm not dead.

I'm supposed to be dead.

I died

She's dead.

I am alive.

I love you. I'll be back.

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