A figure stood in a room. A figure of blue energy that flickered, dipped, fizzled like living TV static. The shape was vaguely human, though it hurt the eye to look at it for too long, and the radio waves of the body were thrumming. Instead of eyes, the figure only had two black spots through which the electric blue jumped and rattled, in and out of the twin black depths. It was almost like there was a skeleton made of the same black thread that an abyss was, empty negative space that the energy looped around like living skin cells.
The figure was still, though their voltaic skin was not. The frequencies that the energy jumped at were indecipherable, no different from any other spike of energy, but there was a feeling that accompanied each uptick. A feeling that felt…unsettled and confused. The figure didn’t know. Didn’t know how it came to be here, didn’t understand the place it waited in. Didn’t know who it was beneath the yin chakra that wrapped it. Unknowing and lost, anxious and muddled, the figure stood and watched, observed.
The room was like a black burn mark – so dark, dark, dark in the middle but graying and browning at the edges. There was something undefined about the room; the walls were washed away by the gradient, which left only an unending span of gray that reached as far as the eye could see. The room was indefinite; a large echo chamber where the echo never died. Continued on and on and on and on.
A single wall stayed standing, the only end in the endless void. The wall was layered brick, with marks that looked like bruises on gray stone. A single door, so definite and final, was embedded into that wall.
The door scared the figure more than the infinite stretch of nothing surrounding it like a peninsula. It felt ominous and wrong, like it shouldn’t be the way it was – like the door defied everything the figure had ever known. That confused the figure the most, because it knew nothing. It didn’t change how unsettled the figure felt, how tainted everything seemed.
The buzzing silhouette stared at the small wooden door, daring the door to continue its wretched existence. It’s gaping yawns of space for eyes driving holes into the scuffed light wood with peeling green paint. And when swirling blue fingers twisted the cool brass of the handle, the door stared back.
A sinister yellow eye filled the black space behind the door. Dark shadows rolled like mist from the unknown abyss, shrouding the blue specter’s feet. A chilling, damp sensation spread from the misty tendrils and a tightness constricted the silhouette’s chest. Murky fog began to dilute the bright, swarming zaps of blue – filling, corrupting the figure. The yellow eye burned and scorched, visible intensity radiating in hues of purple like the hair of Medusa turning everything to stone.
Then the door slammed shut, and the shadows melted.
She bolted up with a gasp, purging the water from her lungs all over her soggy clothes. Her lips trembled with each desperate inhale of air, frantic to fill her drowned chest. Everything was in motion, the colors surrounding her blending in greens and browns – she felt so dizzy, so nauseous. Shaking hands clawed at the long grass underneath her in a vain attempt to stop the world’s rotation.
It hurt to look anywhere else, the constant spin of images causing a headache to bloom. She stared at the bruised and cut skin of her knees instead, focusing on the deep tan color underneath the dark brown and purple spots. A part of her expected the skin to burst with blue, the energy that encased her body in the dream splitting her apart and covering her like a shield. Thinking about it caused her fingers to tingle and the blades of grass to quiver in her fist.
Her body was trembling uncontrollably, weighed down by soaked clothes. A deep chill stayed with her, burrowing under her skin and sinking into her bones – even when hot, calloused hands pressed against her shoulders. There were voices, she noticed belatedly; she couldn’t make the words out, muffled by water-clogged ears and a cotton-stuffed brain.
Those yellow eyes…
The hands, so hot against her skin, began to shake her frame, tossing her back and forth like a ragdoll. There was no energy left in her to resist – no energy to keep herself up; she let go of her body, trusting the pair of hands to hold her up. A blurry navy silhouette was behind the hands, yelling at her and beating nonsensical words into her until threads of reality started piecing her mind back together again.
“Are you alright?”
Like a mosaic, squares slotted into their spots and fitted clumsily into a fuzzy collage. If she just concentrated harder, focused more, the cracks would fuse into a beautiful picture. It hurt to think, to try. She could solve this puzzle, but she didn’t want to – by god, she didn’t want to. The navy man outside her glass block vision could coax her, shake her, yell at her; but she’d rather listen to the dull hum vibrating in her skull and let the invisible hand drag her eyelids close.
There were so many questions throbbing in her mind, pushing against her forehead and resting on her eyes in the form of a migraine.
Where is she?
Who was she?
“–alm dow– hypervent– eathe.”
The navy man’s hands braced against her shoulder blades, squeezing comfortingly. The slight pressure felt like a crushing boulder on her battered body. Her heart hurt so bad and she didn’t know why. She couldn’t breathe – she couldn’t breathe.
The new rough voice, from a blur of purple and tan, accompanied the darkness that shuttered across her awareness like blinds shutting the world out with a snap of string.
It may have been the loud yelling and scuffling that woke her up, but it was the smell of food that enticed her to open her eyes. When she blinked them open, a paranoid urge caused her to subtly shift and observe her surroundings before she let on that she was awake. Without moving too much, she could easily tell she was in the forest as trees towered over her like skyscrapers. Pine needles prodded the soft flesh of her cheek with every movement, a cause of great irritation to her as she tried to gather her intel on the place.
Behind her she could hear voices – a rough guttural bark of laughter, one; a soft sigh of exasperation, two; and an aggravated whine like a puppy, three. Unfortunately, she couldn’t call her hearing absolute and accurate; there could be a silent brooder among them. The crackling of fire meant they had set up camp for the night – that saved her the risky move of wriggling to gauge the time by the sky. After a rather large pop from the firepit, she began to feel wary of sparks landing on her skin. Even though she deduced that she was too far from the fire, given the lack of warmth, every subtle change of air made her think hot flakes were touching her skin.
Everything was confusing. She didn’t know where she was. On top of that, she didn’t know who she was. A swell of panic rose in her chest, gripping her heart and squeezing it to the beat of the crackling fire behind her. Self-consciously, she lifted a hand and twisted it in her shirt, begging her heart to stop and her lungs to work. Shhhh, they might hear.
“Looks like the brat is awake from her cute little nap.” It was that rough voice, dripping with a sickly-sweetness that felt borderline threatening.
She sits up in a slow, unhurried manner to delay the inevitable confrontation. A pine needle pricks her in the hand when she presses into the dirt to push herself up. It stings, but it feels like background noise. Everything feels like background noise, except for the breaths of her possible captors. She draws her knees to her chest when she finally positions herself towards them, wrapping her arms around herself to stop the shivers.
Four faces peer at her from the flickering light of the fire, a haunted shadow framing their faces like locks of hair. She had been wrong, there were four and not three – one of them was a silent brooder. Without examining them, she could pinpoint who the rough voice came from. Not because she was the only woman amongst the men, but because of the aggressive way she pressed her elbows into her knees to level her gaze. The woman and girl stared at each other, only a blazing pit in between them. The woman, an alpha daring the other to submit herself, and the girl, a scared omega with chilled skin and shaking knees.
Still, the omega didn’t break eye contact with the alpha, a silent defiance gleaming in her eyes.
The woman’s lips crack in a huge grin, something sharp and feral with the way she barks out a laugh.
“Don’t mind her, she was dropped on the head a bit,” says a man dressed in navy with a forest green vest on, his voice an indolent drawl. “What’s your name, kid?”
She didn’t have a name to give them, she didn’t know who she was. Her lack of knowledge felt too personal to share to them. If they knew she was clueless, would they take advantage of her? Trick her because they could, because she is too naïve to know the difference? Instead, she stayed silent.
The two who had yet to talk shifted uncomfortably behind the fire. One had hair like a blue-black fan palm frond, all long spikes that wept over his headband. The other’s more brownish hair was straighter and styled into his face, kept in place with a bandana. When her sharp gaze evaluated them, they jolted in their lounging spot.
“What a pretty name.” The navy man said drily, fiddling with the thin metal blade in his mouth. “The name’s Genma, those two are Kotetsu and Izumo, and that there is Anko.”
The woman, Anko, gave another unsettling bark of laughter. The girl was a bit confused as to what she was laughing at. At the strange glint in Anko’s eyes, she was struck with the thought that maybe Anko was laughing at her. There wasn’t anything that she was doing that was laugh-worthy, surely? She rubbed her biceps with the palms of her sweaty hands, hoping she was covering her insecurity with her idleness.
“You ain’t gonna share your name, girly?” Anko demanded more than asked. As she did so, she picked up a skewered grilled fish from the fire pit and bit viciously through the head. “Shame, I wanted to know the name of the cutie-pie we fished from the water.”
Still, she remained silent. This time it wasn’t because she had no answer. The girl’s eyes tunnel-visioned onto the fish and her stomach yawned hungrily.
At the sound of her stomach growling, the frond-haired man named Kotetsu hesitantly reached into the fire and handed a skewer to her. He jittered a bit as he lent from his seat to give it to her without fully standing and a look passed over his face. It wasn’t fear, but it was like it – apprehension, she thinks. She didn’t know what for; she was glad he was as cautious of her as she was of him, though.
Just as hesitantly, she accepted the skewer. She was so hungry, it could have been hours or days since she last ate. Hell, she could be starving for all she knew, and wasn’t that a scary thought? She could be dying – dehydration, starvation, or maybe a disease – and she wouldn’t know it. To bury such dumb philosophical thoughts, she chewed her way through the fish’s stomach to its spine.
If only she knew what happened.
When she finally talked, after swallowing the last bit of burnt fish, her voice came out broken and raspy. “What d’you mean you fished me out the water?”
Talking hurt, as if she overused her vocal chords recently.
Kotetsu startled at the sound of her voice, toppling backwards and his skewered fish smacking the bark of the tree behind him. After a beat of silence, Izumo fell to the ground alongside him whilst holding his sides and letting out giant bellows of laughter. Anko just looked amused.
“You were floating in the river.” Genma’s nonchalant voice brought her attention back to him.
“We thought you were…” Izumo added on, twiddling his thumbs with sweat beading his forehead, “dead.”
Her hands shook at the sound of that word. Clenching her eyes shut, she tried her hardest to remember what happened – she squeezed her eyes shut so hard, tears beaded the corners from the pressure. There was a wisp of something, but she couldn’t remember.
Before she knew what she was doing, she had shot up and was halfway across the makeshift camp. The only thought on her mind was that she needed to know what happened, who she was. She toed the tree line when Anko’s hand gripped her wrist and brought her back from the looming darkness of the surrounding forest.
“The night’s not safe for a little girlie like you.” Anko said, removing her hand and immediately replacing it with an arm around her shoulders to steer her back to the campfire. The others watched and said nothing. “Sleep here for tonight and then you can be on your cute little way by morning.”
Though Anko’s voice sounded like a suggestion, the steely hold around the girl’s frame implied it was an order. She knew, that even if she wanted to defy the order, she wasn’t in the position to do so. Her body felt so frail compared to the firm muscles snaking around her back and so small she had to stretch her neck back to see the loose, feral expression on Anko’s face.
When she burrowed into a borrowed sleeping cot that night, the girl sensed something odd settle over her. Even if a blade was held to her throat, she still wouldn’t be able to explain it. It was the same feeling of a word being on the tip of your tongue, or when leaving the house and knowing you forgot something, but not knowing what that something was. It was something she should know, something hidden deep inside her, but she just could not dig it out no matter how hard she tried.
Sleep came in fitful bursts. There were nightmares – of yellow eyes, of an all-consuming presence, of an overturned wagon which blood pooled under. When the girl woke, it was with a single-minded determination to uncover what she lost.
The others had awoken before her, rummaging around their campsite and packing things up. Anko gave her an inscrutable stare when she sat up on the springy cot, her pursed lips and narrowed eyes a far-cry from the rambunctious and off-centering sweetness of the night before. After a moment, the woman grinned and turned to finish packing.
The girl gratefully took the food and a waterskin that Genma offered her, telling her to use it wisely on the road. Kotetsu and Izumo lurked around the camp quietly and tensely, each shooting her quick glances. She ignored it in favor of listening to Genma giving her directions to a nearby town, should she need it. It was only when she moved towards the way of the river that Izumo spoke up, his face pinched like he swallowed something sour.
“Are we really going to leave her like this? She’s just a kid!” The worry in his voice was shallow; the worry for the child she was, rather than for her herself. It was a bit insulting, she would like to think she was capable enough to take care of herself.
Genma sighed, as if this was an argument that had already taken place that she hadn’t been privy to. The darkness that settled onto Kotetsu’s face made her think that it surely had been a repeated argument.
“That’s enough,” Anko barked, her body stiff, “we have a mission to finish.”
The girl didn’t bother questioning the so-called mission the four-manned team was undertaking. Instead, she put on her bravest face and gave Izumo the most reassuring nod she could muster. The last thing she wanted was to be dragged along with them, anyways. She needed to find things out for herself, and she certainly could not let them know she had severe memory loss. Before the team could change their mind, the girl turned on her foot and set off towards the river. The only way she would find anything was to follow in her past footsteps.
The woods before her looked a lot like the end, and a little like new beginnings.