Prologue: Whither lies the consciousness
Excerpt: Anna wakes up in an unfamiliar place without any memory of how she got there and begins to explore.
The unflinching beam of sunlight was prodding her slumbering eyelids and her lips quivered, mumbling inaudible syllables and she whisked herself under the thin sheets. She dreamed of flying over an inexhaustible sea of clouds, stretching beyond field of vision. The wind whipped her face, convulsing it into numbness. A vaguely projected shape underneath kept fixed pace with her and when it begin to sharpen, she recognized it as her shadow. The shape went on shrinking as the clouds pulled closer and in a few moments, she dove into them. Cool drops of mist coalesced, brushing her cheeks and the rousing aroma of rain satiated her senses. The experience was brief and she emerged at the opposing end, leaving the luminescent softness behind. Her perspective was altered by a dark gradient canvas arching around the clear blue boundary. As the color lightened with the horizon shifting upwards, she realized that she was plunging down but it awoke no reaction. A lucid tranquility had corralled her emotions and she incessantly observed the gradient revamped itself into a translucent sea-blue, decorated with upsurging tides. Then her body smashed into it.
She opened her eyes to the picture of a flushed ceiling casting sunlight. Coursing to the source, her eyes settled on a window at the furthest wall that was lit up with the unmistakable luster of a sunny day. Dazed by the luminescence pouring in, it was a while before she could see. Going by the shadow’s length, she guessed the time as late-afternoon. Looking back inside the parameter, the vastness was overwhelming at first. She found herself on top of the centerpiece of the semi circular dwelling; a grandly mahogany bed set in the middle of everything. Other pieces of furniture were scattered beside the circumference, each just as grandiose as this. Underneath, the floor was white marble, polished with cosmetic crevices that ran past the visible area, asserting to the dwelling’s age. Feeling stiff as a fallen trunk, slowly, she climbed out of the bed. The freezing touch of the marble floor under her bare feet made her cringe but clenching her fists, she climbed down and tiptoed to the window; drawn, in part by the outside view and in part by the desire to know her whereabouts.
She was rewarded for her effort by the view of a clear azureous sky and the edge of a large terrace that hung over a lush mountainous valley. The fortified walls protecting the terrace seemed extraneous since she could trace no direct approach from below. They resembled fortifications designed to ward off medieval skirmishes that had outlived their intended purpose. The attempt to look further almost made her feel sick as the rich scenery supplemented by the afternoon sun was staggering. With a palm slanted over her eyes to only allow herself a narrow peek, she looked around and came upon a strip of clearing amidst the greenery. It felt deceptively close though she doubted her ability to measure distance from this height. Still, she was able to grasp a few details. The occasional shimmering from in between the thicket made her speculate that there was a stream underneath. Resuming, she searched but couldn’t find any road or sign of habitation other than her own. The valley appeared isolated from all sides by high ledges with no sign of access route. On the right side of the windowsill, an elevation shot upwards and appeared unnervingly close. Upon catching a distant noise from that direction, driven by impulse, she heaved herself up to the sill and extended her neck out. She realized that it was a waterfall but she could see nothing and after a few vain attempts, she had to give up. Just as she was about to pull back, a bristled movement caught her attention. She squinted her eyes and saw a wild goat on the hill, carefree gnawing on the meadow ‘tween trees. Watching the goat feed, made her aware of lingering hunger in her own stomach.
She was pondering her options when spooked by something, the goat nimbly bounced and disappeared into the bushes below. Only then she woke up to the growing sound of reaching footsteps behind her and immediately swung. The room behind her still seemed empty but as she focused closer, a human head made itself appear above the level floor. Later, she would be grateful that the sudden shock prevented her from screaming and also that the figure, absorbed in their own thoughts, had not noticed her in that embarrassing state. The shoulders carrying the head arose out of the staircase; something that she had failed to notice earlier, and she could breath again.
Excerpt: Anna talks to the mysterious stranger, trying to square things out.
The stranger was distracted and his body stiffened when he spotted her. However, before a moment has passed, his eyes brightened with signs of recognition with his body relaxing.
“Hello!” He began with a boyish vigor, pausing briefly to regard her. “You are up.”
With numbed anxiety, she started by pondering on the manner’s meaning and moved on to regard him with scrutiny. First glance didn’t make him appear muscular or bulky but there was a dim aura of strength about him and the exterior did make him look a prizefighter with the evidence being a thin scar on his left jawline. She found the condor charming but that alone wasn’t enough to ease her nerves.
she nodded with a tight smile and the silence resumed with both regarding each other. She kept an alerted gaze but was steadfast in keeping quiet unless necessary; however, he didn’t even suggest an awareness of the situation’s awkwardness.
“I am sorry…” With a wavering smile, he spoke earnestly, causing tremors in her resolution. “I should realize that you don’t know me and given the situation, this ought to be fixed.” Before she could react, he briskly strode forward in measured steps, stopping a few steps away and extended his hand.
“Jonas Cebestian, at your service.” He said, with a slight head bow.
She couldn’t help but return the gesture.
“Ummm…” Still somewhat hesitant, she took his hand and shook it. “Nice to meet you.” Upon hearing the hoarse voice, she momentarily had trouble accepting it as her own.
“The pleasure is all mine. But may I be so bold as to ask how to address such a charming lass as you?”
It was a few seconds before she untangled the words, noticed the inquiring manner and figured the question that was asked. She started “Uhh I am….” but the next was a sinking realization that she had no clue what to say. There was a whirling vacuum in her mind and she stumbled futilely to recall her identity, feeling her earlobes growing hot. There was a period before she lifted her eyelashes and with a helpless expression, she met his eyes and found him looking back with a concerned frown as if he was aware of her inner struggle.
“I don’t know.” She murmured. “Why don’t I know my own name?” At the end, her voice had grown shrill.
He didn’t respond right away and eyeing him, she found him lost in some private thought. When he spoke, the voice was steady and unperturbed. “It’s alright. Don’t worry. The memory will come back.”
The words gave her no relief and with a slackening mouth, she stammered. “Do you know what is wrong with me?”
“Amnesia… can be the most likely cause. Whatever it is, it is temporary.”
“Amnesia?” Her tremulous voice was growing louder.
“That’s all you have to say?”
“You need to relax.” He said tonelessly and just as she was deciding between whether to scream or to punch his smug face, he stepped towards the window, veering out.
“Who the heck are you anyway?” She wanted to say but a lump had formed at the back of her throat and all she could do was to glared at him with protruding eyes. She stood there with varying shade of anger but eventually, calmed down and began to rationalize. Everything aside, he was the sole person she knew for now and he seemed to understand an awful lot about her state; it would be tactless to quarrel someone with such position as this; at least until her memory fully recovers.
Pressing her lips together in a slight grimace, she walked up a step from the windowpane to stand beside him. To find something to strike a conversation, she traced his gaze and came upon a gathering of clouds progressing it’s way across the valley.
“What is this place?” She said in a low voice.
“Fort Qihlar. We… call it home.” The reply was instantaneous as if he felt no need to hide anything from her.
Encouraged, but not enough to verbalized the thought ‘How does one get an entire valley and fort as home’ so instead she heard herself asking. “We?”
“My apologies again, for forgetting your unfamiliarity. And to answer that, there are a handful of my companions that reside here.”
“And… you own this?”
“Me? no, of course not.”
“Then one of your… companions… owns it?”
He scratched his chin with a thoughtful expression. “You could say that..”
“Where is everyone?” The answer she got was still ambiguous, but further probing in this direction seemed vain, so she changed the topic.
“You mean the people you haven’t met? They are probably running errands.” and in response to her raised eyebrows, he chuckled. “You will meet them soon enough.”
He seemed so unmoved by the unusual that she still felt curious to know who he was.
“So… who are you?” She has kept her voice level but that didn’t stop him to look with an amused smile.
“I’m your benefactor. For now, until you recover.”
“For some reason, I don’t feel reassured.” If he was going to be like this, than why should she hold back.
He paused before replying with a somber expression switching place with the amused one he had. “Fair enough.” Inhaling, he finally spoke. “This will be a complicated and long explanation and I’m dubious if you have the energy.”
“I do.” She said firmly.
“All right. If you are up to it. Where do you want me to start?”
“At the beginning… please start there…”
“Fine. What is the last thing you remember?”
“Nothing. I remember nothing.” She started in an increasingly chocked voice; then finished by raising her eyebrows with an inquiring hopefulness. “But aren’t you suppose to explain that?”
“Because I don’t know.”
“Can you just start from what you do know?” She took a moment to restrain herself from swearing.
“Of course.” Twisting his lips, he blurted. “I found you, injured, brought you in and you have been lying here since then.”
“How did you find me?”
“I didn’t. Not in particular.”
“So you were just passing through?”
“No. I was there for work.”
“Were you the one… “
“So you didn’t shoot…”
“Definitely not. Beside, why would I bring you in?”
“So what kind of work were you there for?”
He passed her a glance, then sighed.
“What do you think?” He asked in a serious tone.
The crack was unexpected and he had to chuckle. Still, the somber manner remained. “That can be one way to describe it.”
“What would you call it?”
“I am a harvester.”
“Soooo… you gather fruits and vegetable?”
He laughed on some inner thought. “Only the rotten ones.”
“You need not worry. It’s not something that should worry you.”
She only nodded, keeping as unworried a disposition as possible. Mentally, she felt exhausted and restless. She needed a distraction so she looked back out.
“It’s very pretty.” She commented.
“Yes. Quite a sight, is it not?” He sounded glad to forgo the discussion.
“Ummhmmm” She mumbled.
A few seconds passed and she asked “Is it always this clear that you could see till the end?”
“Mostly, it is. Honestly though, I am embarrassed to admit that it’s been a while since I had the luxury for this…”
She gandered sideways inquiringly and he added “…to stand here idle and just enjoy the scenery.”
“How can you not have time for this?” Narrowing her eyes, she asked and then added. “If I had a view like this, I would just sit here with a nice cup of tea and a good book.”
He was amused. “I think it is easier to take something like this for granted when there is no hurry. And then, after a while, one forgets.”
“Huh.” She shrugged, concluding the exchange by shifting her focus back towards the scene.
Apparently he had more to say. Scratching his head he continued thoughtfully “I believe that this is the highest point in the valley” He paused for a moment “But being trapped here does tend to restrict the full view.”
“Is there another…” With a sudden glimmer in her eyes, she interrupted him without realizing it and then grew abashed.
“Of course. It used to be a castle after all. There is a terrace towards the north end with open view all-around. I used to love it.” Then glimpsing her open attentiveness, he laughed. “Later, I’ll take you there if you are still that excited.”
Then he scratched his chin, adding “I wouldn’t even mind a full recourse of the place. It’s been a while since even I visited all the forgotten nooks and crannies.”
“Can we go there now? To the terrace which you like?” She leaned in with an inexcusably wide grin and he looked amused but shook his head. “No. I hate to curb your eagerness but I’d be worried if you kept standing a few more minutes longer; taking you on an idle stroll through here is simply foolish.” Then observing her abating smile, he laughed. “I assure you, the building has been here for a while and will not go anywhere soon. You, on the other hand, need all the rest you could get. In fact, you should be resting right now; right after you had a…”
“Is this normal?” Interrupting him, she hurriedly pointed out the window at the narrow stretch that she had earlier guesstimated a stream.
“What? Where?” Jonas’ sounded a bit unhinged but then her adamant gesture prompted him to look at the pointed direction.
The location had been brightly lit a while ago and still was, being under the mid-afternoon sun. Still, it showed signs of disturbance in form of blue arcs of lightening and scattering yellow sparks.
“No.” Narrowing his eyes, he began, finishing the statement as his spun and dashed towards the exit. “Not normal at all.” He was halfway down the stairs when noticing a trailing shadow, he turned and spotted her. He raised his eyebrows inquiringly.
Before he could utter a word, she asked. “What is that thing?” Meeting his eyes directly.
“I’m not sure. Definitely trouble. You better rest while I take care of it.” He strode out the door connecting to an equally large hall. Though depressingly enough, it had no windows. She pursued him and he turned back again on his way towards another door.
“I’m coming with you.”
“What? No. It is not safe; besides, what for?”
“The only thing I remember about my past is that I like tea and I don’t even know my name.” She spoke in a steady low pitch. “Still, one thing I’m sure about; that is to not sit and wait if I intend to gain any coherence. Point being, I am coming with you whether you like it or not.”