LII - Goodbye

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I breathe in a deep, long breath and close my eyes. Centering myself, preparing myself. Applying a bandaid over my splintering soul. 

I'm not ready.

I'll never be ready.

I have to be ready.

Fuck.

Shaking my shoulders, I huff out my held breath with a tense sense of determination. I walk forward. In through the gauzy curtains, past the generations that waited and looked for me like true disciples. I nod to the guards and healers that go silent at my approach, they too are astonished by my appearance. Their itch to gossip and spread the rumor of what they see  — the goddess returned!  — twinkles on the air with toffee-sweet impatience. I push through the heavily beaded curtains that hang between the open area and the room where Adras' bed lies. 

Thankfully, there are heavy, wide doors behind the curtain. Keeping my back to him, I busy myself with rolling and bolting them into place; ensuring our privacy and buying myself a few extra seconds to shake out my nerves. Courage fails me, and I study the intricate design of gemstones and glass set into the oak. It's a familiar, curling botanical motif of bright jade green and deep, amethyst flowers. It looks exactly like the one that used to crawl across the ceiling of Adras' rooms. 

Back then. Before.

"They are the same. I had the panels ripped out of the ceiling and brought here." Adras' voice, still warm with candlelight and humming with the glow and redolence of an orange grove at high noon, skitters over the air and into my ear like an answered prayer  — the very voice and word of god. 

I inhale him, breathe him in. Closing my eyes I lick my lips, remembering him. 

He's real

"I've always been real, Eris." There's a tickle of laughter, a flicker of hot breath through the flame as it sways with amusement. 

I'm not ready to turn around. I'm not ready to pull myself apart again and see him. If I do, if I make any movement, this experience becomes authentic. It will set into motion a domino spinout that I cannot correct, cannot save with oaths and bonds and clever trickery. When I turn to see him, it will be for the last time. 

I grip the handles of the door, my knuckles turning bright white. I find a distorted reflection of my face in the facet of a gem and take in the funhouse mirror bend of my features. 

"Eris, what are you doing?" 

Finally, I turn. 

Adras is propped up against a mountain of pillows, not fully upright, not entirely laying down. He smiles broadly, a wash of peach-perfect happiness radiating out from him. He glows with its brightness and it gives him the appearance of robust health. His eyes crinkle around the edges more than they used to, his full lips have lost some of their plump, pertinent pout. Heavy eyebrows and untamed hair that used to be black as obsidian are now a shock of white. Round cheeks have fallen into his jaw, creating a sunken, hollow sharpness. Strong hands are now gnarled and speckled with age spots. Once proud shoulders are thin and stooped. 

"I knew you'd come back," he says softly. Honey-golden relief that I've decided to face him suspends in thick curtains through the air. It refracts the noon sunlight and casts a reassuring gloam around us.

I gulp, fighting back the tears that escape my eyes and cling to the summit of my cheeks. They fall, losing their hold. "I said I would," I whisper, falling in love with him all over again.

"Isliay," he breathes, using my real, godly name. Offering it up like a charm. 

In a blink I'm at his bedside, sitting next to him, holding his hands in my own. "Adras."

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