Hope Estheim sat under the shadow of a castle wall, without leaning his back against it. Any moment now, it was going to start moving around again--there! He watched as a turret vanished on the central keep, leaving a view into an endless dark sky. Hope got to his feet as the wall behind him blinked out of existence. It was a good thing he'd never found a way in. He hated to think what would happen if he was inside when the castle began taking itself apart.
The missing architecture left a view into the endless blue sky. Stars surrounded odd windows that framed deserts, forests, a beach... Hope had seen the huge warriors who prowled this land leap out over the bottomless expanse and vanish into those windows. He couldn't make himself do it. He'd wandered in here by mistake, looking for a place to hide from them, and now he couldn't wander out again. Sooner or later they'd catch him... he had an airwing, which wasn't really a weapon, and a sense of something else too frightening to contemplate. And he especially didn't want to get close to the other ones, the ones that looked human and sparkled like crystal. Hope didn't remember where the sick sense of horror had come from, either, and he didn't want to.
The new layout of the castle finally settled into place. Hope breathed a sigh of relief and turned away from the eye-watering abyss of blue when the air flashed a brilliant green. He yelped, windmilled to save himself from backing off the edge, and ran to find a new hiding place. He'd been spotted at last! He fumbled for the airwing at his belt, wondering how he was going to take on one of those armored giants with an old-fashioned weapon that was properly relegated to after-school "sports" for kids who didn't like running. He tried to breathe slowly, in and out, through a tense sixty seconds. But instead of an unsheathed sword or a blast of fire, all he heard was the rustle of cloth and a sigh.
He risked a peek around the corner and slumped with relief at the entirely nonthreatening figure: a girl with a curling blonde ponytail, wearing a pink leotard and for some reason a cape, looking around curiously. As he watched, she got to her feet, cupped her hands around her mouth, and called, "Hello?"
"No--!" Hope shut his mouth as she spun in his direction. "Don't shout like that!" he tried to whisper across thirty feet.
The girl giggled and leaned forward, putting a hand to the side of her mouth in imitation. "Should I talk like this?"
"No!" He groaned, feeling ridiculous, and stepped into the open. "This place is full of dangerous people. Anyone could hear you."
"You don't look dangerous."
That stung, even if it wasn't meant as an insult. "Neither do you. But everyone else is. You'll know when you see them. And where did you come from, anyway?"
"I..." She put her fingers to her temple. "I don't know."
"Oh." Stupid question. "Well... that's normal, I think. The amnesia. I've got it too."
"I saw an old man...." The cheerful look had fallen away. "But he's not here, is he."
Hope shook his head. "I haven't seen anyone like that. Just people in armor, and... things."
Oddly enough, that seemed to steady her. She looked around again. "There's a path through this place." It wasn't a question. "But I can't remember that, either. Do you know the way?"
"It's not a path, really. The castle just--changes. I've got the pattern worked out."
"Well, we won't find out from down here." She approached one of the walls. She put her hand on it--then she set her foot flat against the stonework and ran straight up to the top.
"What are you doing?!"
She poked her head over, grinning. "Getting a look around! Come on up, the view's great."
"No! How do you expect me to run up a wall!"
"The same way I did!"
Hope stared ahead stubbornly. "No! Normal people can't do crazy things like that!"
He heard her sigh heavily. "We're both here, we both have amnesia... that means you can do it too."
"That's a huge leap in logic!"
"Bigger or smaller than the leap up here?"
"Bigger!" He grabbed his head in his hands. She wasn't just making jokes, she was making corny jokes. She had to be the same age as him, and she wasn't afraid at all! Even after appearing right out of the blue--and--actually, looking at it that way--was he the one being ridiculous? Hope had felt kind of odd when he got too close to the walls. Maybe it was because he could do it. He'd feel pretty dumb if he tried now and it turned out he could have been doing that all this time... but he'd feel dumb from a really good vantage point. And just as he made up his mind to follow, the wall flickered.
"Look out!" Hope realized two things: he'd have to catch her, and there was no way he could do it from that high. She'd hit the ground and he'd break his arms--but he held them out anyway, shifting from one foot to the other, not knowing what else he could possibly do.
And the girl... didn't plummet. It was barely even a fall. She simply descended, quickly but steadily, until her boots touched the grass. Hope lowered his arms, mouth agape, as she smiled at him. "That was fun! You should try it."
Hope turned away and hopped. It took him well over a foot in the air. "I... didn't know we could do that." Fun. What was fun about discovering you had unnatural powers? He remembered that dream he had before waking up. It wasn't about anything fun, that was for sure. The girl was peering down, trying to make eye contact, but he didn't. He stared at the ground instead, trying to pick apart the sick dread in the pit of his stomach. Eventually she sighed and turned away--and went rigid.
It was the first time she'd sounded at all afraid. Hope looked up to see her staring at the cosmic abyss that lay at their feet. "I dunno. I've seen people walk on it. It's probably an illusion or something."
"I don't think so..." She stepped back with a shudder and looked at the sky. "We should leave. Let's try one of those portals."
"What. You think we can fly, too? And you don't know what's out there! It might just be a mirage for all we know."
"We're here for a reason!" She looked as surprised as Hope to hear her own raised voice. "I don't know what, but we won't find out if we just stay in this rift."
Hope looked from the portal to her determined brown eyes. He did remember the woman who had spoken to him before he had awoken, a vision he'd wanted to deny because he didn't feel capable of 'restoring harmony' as she had implored him to. But this girl had only been here for fifteen minutes and she was ready to set off, to fight against all the terrifyingly unknown forces this place might throw at her. "Okay..." Hope made himself square his shoulders. "Okay."
"Great!" She walked to the edge and stopped. "Oh! I'm Krile. What's your name?"
"Hope." He joined her at the edge, tapping his fingers together uncertainly. "It's Hope."
"Hope..." That smile appeared again, full of optimism and friendship. "I like it. Let's go!"