Chapter One: Miri

“The toxin will be even stronger than what those bastards have been using on us,” I heard someone say.

I thrashed. The shadows in the blackness shifted. My body exploded with pain. Against my cheek was something sharp, maybe even spiky, but not at all durable. A crunching noise penetrated that awful ringing. An earthy smell invaded my senses.

The ringing sound began to dull, but it was replaced by an equally awful rushing in my ears. Something brushed against my cheek. My face twitched. Even that ached. My eyelids fluttered painfully.

I realized I wasn’t in a sea of blackness at all. My eyes were closed to protect themselves from the blinding white light that surrounded me. At least I could trust my body to look after itself when I clearly couldn’t.

Slowly, I opened my eyes. It was a slow and painful process.

Why did I hurt so much?

The white light was blinding at first, but as my eyes adjusted, I began to see distinct shapes within the blaze. Pale greens and yellows. A few scratching blinks revealed those shapes to be leaves and branches. I was in the forest.

What was I doing in the forest?

I tried to think back to what happened before I woke up here. Panic seized me when I searched for memories but found nothing but emptiness. It was as if I hadn’t existed before this very moment.

I sucked a shuddering, dirt filled breath into my lungs. The air burned my throat. Coughs rattled my body so hard I feared my ribs would break.

Water. I needed water.

I gasped softly. I remembered what water was. That was something. Not much, but it was a sign that my mind wasn’t completely blank.

As I lay there, I took inventory of the things I knew for certain. I was in a forest. There was dirt and dead leaves beneath me. Branches and verdant leaves above me. I assumed there were rocks and roots as well.

I needed to see more, see what else I remembered. I sucked in another breath and willed my body to work. I pushed myself up. Sharp, brittle leaves dug into my palms as I pushed myself up. Every joint and muscle cried out in protest.

Nausea rolled through me. The hollowness in my stomach told me there was nothing to retch up even if I’d wanted to.

My arms trembled under the weight of my upper body. I still couldn’t get my legs to move.

I told myself my situation wasn’t as dire as it had been a moment ago. I could see, I could breathe. My movement was limited, but I could move.

It occurred to me that I might have a broken bone somewhere. Ah, I could add bones to my list. And blood.

I breathed a small sigh of relief. Things were coming back to me. I just had to think about them for a moment. With great effort, I rolled myself onto my back and supported my upper body with my forearms. They ached and trembled but I now had a better vantage point of the world around me.

I looked at my legs. I was wearing pants, a thick, durable fabric with a choppy pattern that looked like it was modeled after the forest floor. There was an insignia on one of the side pockets, but I didn’t recognize it.

Covering my torso was a different fabric, still durable but lighter in weight. It was deep blue. Another insignia was sewn into the sleeve. I didn’t recognize that one either. The boots on my feet were scuffed from use and worn in certain spots.

Looking at the articles of clothing I wore, I didn’t think they belonged to me. Just by looking at them, I could tell they didn’t fit right.

The pants were too big. The shirt was tight around my shoulders. The boots looked big to me, but I wouldn’t be able to tell for certain until I got up and moved around. Who knew when that would be?

Not I.

I slowly rotated one foot, testing for pain. There was muscle soreness but nothing unbearable. I rotated the other foot with the same results.

Ankle, muscle, sprain. I knew what those words meant.

I bent my legs at the knee and tried to push my weight onto my heels, but my body wasn’t ready to cooperate. It was worn out. I looked around for a good place to rest. I didn’t fancy laying back down on the forest floor.

Nearby was a thick tree trunk covered in soft looking moss that looked ideal. Relying on my arms more than anything, I pulled myself over to the tree trunk. I sat with my back against the moss. It wasn’t as soft as it looked but it stopped the jagged tree bark from cutting into my sore back.

“Okay,” I sighed and sharply drew in a breath. My own voice caught me off guard. I forgot I could speak. My throat was dry and scratchy, but I tried to speak again. “Let’s try to think about this.”

All around me was the forest. It would’ve been too lucky if there was some kind of sign nearby. But if there had been a sign, would I have been able to read it? Would I recognize the name?

My mouth dropped open in horror as I came to a realization. Could I remember my own name?

No.

What was I going to do if I didn’t know my own name? No one would be able to help me if I couldn’t tell them who I was.

I closed my eyes. Shutting out the world around me might help me think.

I pictured my own face, an initially difficult task. I knew my hair was dark. I had the strange sense that it was long, but when I touched my hair, I found it cropped at the chin. I moved on to the shape of my face. My cheeks felt gaunt. My lips were dry but full in shape. My nose was straight and unremarkable.

I couldn’t remember what color my eyes were.

A sea of faces that might’ve had my features swam through my mind. I flipped through them like an old picture book. A memory slipped in between the fabricated faces. A reflection in a cracked mirror. It was me. I looked scared. The rest of the memory fragments clicked into place. I’d just broken the mirror by accident. The mirror was important for some reason. Perhaps it was very old. My mother was going to be furious when she found out.

“Miri!” The voice in the memory shouted just before the memory faded away completely.

Miri.

That was my name.

Probably.

“Miri.” I tested the syllables as if that would give me some kind of confirmation.

What now?

I remembered the forest as a vast and dangerous place. I assumed the odds of someone stumbling across me here were slim. I stood a better chance if I somehow figured out where I was and going from there.

I closed my eyes again, hoping to call up another useful half-memory. I saw flashes of a city street. For a split second, I smelled fried corn cakes from a street vendor. I squeezed my eyes shut tighter in an attempt to bring the memory into clearer focus.

I saw the wrinkled face of the street vendor. He smiled and thrust a corncake into my unexpecting hands. I tried to give him money, but he refused.

The corn cake was sweeter than I expected. The vendor must’ve glazed it with honey.

This memory was pleasant, but not helpful. It faded away like smoke before I could think of anything useful. Surely, I knew the name of that city. I clearly knew the street vendor.

A name struggled to take form on my lips.

Kluster. No, that wasn’t right. Kanter. No.

Kaster.

The name clicked into place with the memory. That street vendor was from Kaster. Was I from Kaster?

I tried to dig up another memory, but nothing came up. All I knew for sure was that at some point, I’d made friends with a street vendor in Kaster. But where was Kaster?

I squeezed my eyes shut and concentrated until pressure throbbed between my eyes. Looking for my locked memories felt like trying to empty an ocean with a cracked bucket.

Another name surfaced after some time.

Duvest. I was pretty sure it was another city. Was it near Kaster? More importantly, was I near either of those places? Even if my memory was perfectly intact, figuring out where I was would be a challenge. Nothing in my surroundings gave me a clue.

With a long, tired sigh I let my head rest against the tree trunk. I decided I wasn’t going to worry about where I was right now. Until I started to remember more, there wasn’t much I could do. Besides, my body was exhausted. Whatever had happened to me took a serious toll.

Perhaps, I simply needed some sleep. My eyelids were already drooping.

Yes, just a few moments of sleep and I would wake up feeling much better.

Right?

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