I was submerged under tons of a heavy material. It was weighing me down, pressing onto my chest, crushing me, choking me.
“Can you hear me?”
I gasped, but the air seemed to escape me. It was too tough, too thick. I couldn’t draw it into my lungs.
Two people spoke together in a strange language. They seemed far away, too distant for me to comprehend their words. Then I drifted away again.
When I came to, the Sun was shining into my face, its warmth taking away the chill in the air. A cold wind blew around me, moving trees and making their branches hit a staccato rhythm against each other.
“So you are awake,” someone said above me. I tried to look at the origin of the voice, but he was out of my sight.
I grunted softly, a grunt that sounded more like a groan. I didn’t have the energy to respond. Everything in my chest hurt; it was like someone had taken out my heart and lungs, and had replaced them with steel.
“You will be fine,” the stranger assured me, “it will just take some time.”
Yes, I thought. In like a week. Or maybe a year.
A pair of feet ran past me and their owner spoke to my saviour in a hushed tone. My saviour chuckled and his shirt swished slightly, as if he had shrugged, or waved a hand.
“Ferlen g’lin,” he said non-commitally. I didn’t know what it meant, but apparently the fast-runner knew. He spun a hundred and eighty degrees, and ran back passed me again, as if I didn’t exist. Or maybe he had far more important things to do.
“I have to go,” my saviour said, “but I will give you something to soothe your pain.”
I inhaled to ask him what it was, but the breath I took burned all the way down my throat. It was like I was inhaling the most polluted air on earth. I coughed violently, the spasms sending more shoots of pain through me.
My saviour walked over. I looked at him through my teary, blurry vision. Gentle green eyes looked into mine, comforting, soothing.
He touched me on the shoulder, and comforting warmth engulfed me. I relaxed, basking in the healing touch. “Thank you,” I said, my voice very soft, but much firmer and healthier than I had expected.
“It is fine,” he said, then removed his hand.
Even though his hand was not touching me, the warmth remained. A disconnected part of my brain was whaling like a burglar alarm, trying to send me warning signals. But I was too exhausted to care. He smiled at me, and I drifted away again, dreaming of the flames burning their way through me, and a fragment of something I had heard somewhere drifted through my disturbed dreams: “Kira taught you well.”
I don’t know how long I lay there, unmoving, passing in and out of consciousness, like a corpse floating on water. But when I opened my eyes and felt alert enough to look around, stars sparkled above me. Looking at them the way I was, they seemed different. As if I was looking at them the wrong way. My brain, however, was too tired and even the small amount of processing I was doing seemed like solving calculus equations. The night was so peaceful and quiet that I slept again. Somewhere in that state between being asleep and awake, I realised that I had felt lornath. Once in my dream, and once in reality. And I knew that no one would feel that web surround them and live another day. Yet I had.
I was alive.
Well, if I wasn’t in heaven and these people weren’t some awfully-like-human looking angels, I was alive.
I woke again, to another night – or maybe it was the same night. Those green eyes were watching me, caring but a little suspicious. They seemed very familiar. It seemed as though caring was embedded deep into this man’s core; even though he didn’t know me and he seemed suspicious, he didn’t stop caring for me.
But this curiosity was killing me.
“Who …?” I managed to croak, but then my voice gave out.
“Who am I?” The man completed for me with a smile, leaning in toward me. Under the light of the full moon, his features were sharp and distinct: sharp cheekbones, green eyes, silvery hair. If I was a girl, I would be begging him to kiss me under the rain, under a shared umbrella that the water just failed to pass through. However, I wasn’t. And I knew him.
“My name is Aldrin. What about you?” He asked. His good nature unnerved me. His name unnerved me. And if I had the energy to do so, I would get up and run like my life depended on it. But I was usually like a leaf in the wind; I’d go where life took me and never complain.
“Oi!” A voice called from a distance and approached. I didn’t have the energy to look. My mind was filled with the images of my death. I had seen the future. And I would die in it.
“Oi!” My to-be murderer replied cheerfully, bowing his head in greeting toward the arriving man.
“May the bear guide you on your path,” the man said, clapping his right hand against Aldrin’s in what I took to be a greeting.
“May the hawk watch over you,” Aldrin said, smiling warmly at him.
I tried to chuckle at hawks and bears, but the only thing that escaped my mouth was a soft exhalation of air, and my chest burned again. I held my breath for a few seconds, waiting for it to pass.
“How fair you, Aldrin?” The unknown man asked, unclasping his hand from Aldrin’s.
“Not bad,” the Hawk replied, and I thought I could see him smile. “What about you?”
“Not bad,” the Bear said, his Armour clinking as he shifted under the moonlight. “Have you heard the news?”
“The news?” My host said, and I could imagine his slender eyebrow lifting.
“Of course. There is going to be a gathering at the centre of the village tomorrow morning. Lady Kira is coming back.”
I forgot about hawks and bears as I gasped involuntarily and absorbed this new piece of information about the name I had heard twice–or thrice–during the last day. As I considered the possibilities of what this meant, my naked skin broke out in goosebumps.
“What is it?” My host said, turning to me. His suspicious gaze looked me up and down from head to toe, and I could see him take in my surprised expression, the goosebumps on my skin, and the way I quickly looked down as if caught red-handed.
I knew right then that this was how it started.
And I knew how it ended.
Unbidden, the image rose in my head:Aldrin, laughing, mirthlessly, victoriously, while his figure was lit from behind by an Erie, unearthly light. Aldrin, the Hawk. The Truthbringer with a blade of white fire.
“N–nothing,” I said quickly, perhaps too quickly. “The name is just very familiar. I had a dream about it,” I began, but knowing how that dream ended, stopped. Somehow, I felt i should protect the contents of that dream with my life, or I’d lose it.
“A dream? about Lady Kira?” He said, leaning down now with genuine interest. “What was the dream about?”
“Well, that’s the thing,”I said, attempting to gain more information by showing my confusion, “she wasn’t Lady Kira. I just dreamt of a woman named Kira, but that is not a common name, so I wondered if I had dreamt of the same woman that you were talking about.”
My excuse sounded lame even to my own ears, but I held my tongue, hoping against hope that they’d trust me.
“Of course it was,” the other man–Bear–said, scoffing at my ignorance, “there is only one Kira in the Northlands, and that is her.”
Northlands? Where the heck was Northlands?
“Northlands?” I asked, coughing as my chest started to itch again.
“Where does this man come from?” The man asked my host, his tone carrying a hint of disdain as he turned to him.
“I don’t know,” my host said, straightening. “We found him unconscious and burned out by the side of the road.”
At that moment, I noticed how much like a hawk he held himself: he was handsome, and his manners were just noble. If he was a leader in the Northlands, he was a good leader. Either that, or I had landed in the middle of a very well staged play.
The man let out a soft hmph and turned around. “Strange, these men,” he said, chuckling. “He probably ran away from the Southlands. Ignorant bastards.” As he started walking away, I could still hear him muttering under his breath, while his footsteps faded into the darkness.
“Where do you come from?” Aldrin asked, his back turned to me. I slowly slid my eyes closed and pretended to be asleep, because I didn’t know where this was. And I didn’t know the answer that would save me. Save me from Aldrin. From Lornath.
“No matter. You will tell me,” Aldrin said gently, and the certainty in his voice made me shudder inside. “One way or another.”
Without turning, he walked away, leaving me alone with my thoughts of doom.