Welcome Back

Author’s Note: This is an author’s note. Pretend it’s witty or informative, whichever you prefer. If you’ve found your way here without reading the preceding bits, you can read ’em all here and I think they might even show up in the right order now sometimes! So, that’s kinda neat.

After hanging lines on which to allow her pants, blouses, and dresses to dry, Dani glanced toward the sky. The sun still hung nearer the mountains than the forest, so there was more than enough time to gather necessities from the market before the vendors and shops shuttered for the evening. She slung a handful of coins from her lockbox into her satchel and took a quick stock of the kitchen.

Building a list in her mind of meals that could be prepared using what was already onhand, she made her way up the road towards the crowd. It was busy today, the din of conversation filling the air. She was soon simply another part of it, all of them moving independently yet as one. The sound of coins exchanging hands rang out from all sides, and the cries of the sellers announcing their wares became a unified chorus amid the steady scraps of gossip, haggling, and the occasional squeal of children or livestock; it could be hard to tell those two apart, Dani felt.

Pursuing her short list of herbs, meat, tea leaves, and a few last-minute impulses, she floated through the market. A faint smile played across her face as she went from stall to stall. Ingredients for food, some more twine for drying or repairing her wardrobe, a handful of obscure oils and fungus for use in preparing alchemic solutions.

Dani had never considered herself an especially gifted potion-maker. She had a firm grasp on the basics, and her determination made up for much of the deficit. It wasn’t the stuff of legends, but it was no novice’s brew to be sure. It had begun as an inquisitive notion of youth, but as she grew in both age and skill, it easily became a reliable way to earn her keep.

And so she continued on her way until her satchel was both lighter from spending and filled to bursting. Maybe it wasn’t all necessities, but her mood had Dani spreading her meager wealth more loosely, and she’d finally allowed herself the luxury of one of Esther’s richly-scented bath soaps. She’d been working hard and felt a need to indulge, no matter how small it might really be.

She returned home, sorting the day’s purchases in the kitchen. Once things were in their place, she tied a handkerchief to keep her hair from her eyes while she gathered the ripened bounty of her garden. There wasn’t much, as usual; she was dutiful about this task, and very cautious about when to pick each plant. This was her secret. The world-renowned masters may boast a unique talent with the process of brewing, or make use of enchanted tools, but few — at least, few that Dani had heard tales of — knew their plants as keenly as she did hers. From the tiniest seed to the broadest leaf, she felt of them as her own gift to the world, and treated them with utmost care.

That done, Dani turned her attention to the meat and vegetables and herbs that were to be the night’s meal. Sometimes she’d put more care into this, but a simple stew seemed the right way to avoid spoiling the day with too much labor. Again, a tune emerged as she hummed to herself, merrily chopping and slicing her meal-to-be. She scooped a ladle of boiling water into a cup of cloth-bound tea leaves and herbs before placing the stew pot over a low fire.

Supper was set, but Dani had only just begun her work in the kitchen. Now, it was time to prepare her reagents. Pulling a worn, well-aged mortar and pestle from the cabinet, she began the process of chopping, grinding, and mixing. Herbs, flowers, mushrooms, scales; all of these required their own approach to ensure their readiness. This, too, was something she counted herself as good at, though it was still a long and tedious process.

Tucked in a small lean-to behind her home, Dani’s laboratory was nothing to be proud of. Her glass instruments were singed from age and use. The collection of odd-colored stains and singed walls betrayed her wilder experiments, but she was adept at keeping things in working order. Sometimes that meant replacing the parts that had been too well-used, but this was as much a part of an alchemist’s life as anything.

The light melody she hummed echoed through the house as Dani spent the afternoon preparing her wares. The bulk of what she made was based on established needs for specific clients, but she tried to keep a supply of more commonly-requested stock on hand. Flasks of liquid to wash away the ill effects of yesterday’s ale, creams to aid in the closing of wounds, powders that would aid in a restful sleep — needs and desires were as varied as the people who had them, but some things never seemed to change.

She was thinking about these constants when the room was cut in half by a familiar blinding light, the furious cacophany that accomanied it drowning out her scream as the black silence engulfed her.

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Author’s Note: Are you tired of these yet? Honestly, I’m kind of tired of them. I knew I said I’d keep doing them, so I probably will, even if only out of a sense of duty. There are five parts that lead up to this one, and you can check the whole set out by clicking right here (I can’t get WordPress to agree to show them in order, so you’ll want to start from the bottom, probably).

Inside her home was just as she remembered it; but, she wasn’t sure she remembered anything at all. A gnawing doubt settled into the back of her thoughts, though everything still seemed so right. The interior was plainly decorated aside from a heavy cloth rug in circles of many colors. Reds gave way to oranges and then into all shades of blue surrounding a deep purple center interwoven with threads that shone like silver.

Minding the fact that she’d recently run through water, walked a muddy bank, and fallen into the dirt, Dani stepped past the rug rather than over it. She peered an eye into her bedroom, everything just as she’d left it — whenever that had been. She stepped through the narrow hall that led to the washbasin, wanting to take the moment to clean herself before setting about the day’s work, wondering if there was work that needed done.

Freshened up by a quick rinsing off and some clean clothing from the bedroom, Dani noticed that her dirty clothes had formed a small hill. That was work settled, then. A small wooden box in hand, she set to piling the mess together to take back down towards the stream. As her fingers touched the first thread, a flash of light split her vision for a moment, and she felt a rush of indescribable feelings and thoughts. It lasted only a few moments before silence returned, but Dani felt different. Her memories were returning; not memories of dark, confined spaces, but memories of this world. Of her world.

It was small pieces at first. She remembered seeing a blue bird splashing in the water the last time she’d washed her garments. She remembered a candle, flickering in the dark after a noise had drawn her out. She did not remember finding its source, or any names to go with the faces and places that swarmed her senses. It was like living a lifetime in the blink of an eye.

She breathed deeply. The moment passed, and it was like it had never been; all confusion and mystery was simply replaced by comfort. She wondered if she’d hit her head when she fell, but the dull ache soon subsided as she made her way outside, strolling past the shops and homes of her village to complete the task at hand.

Following the familiar path down past the road and to the banks of the stream, she knelt beside the water and began carefully scrbubing each of her garments. She knew that it was a silly thing to take joy in, but something in the lightness of the spring air and the cold current tracing through the waves from distant mountains brought a sense of peace. No, of sincere happiness, of taking pride in one’s life and work, of knowing that you are where you belong, and that all is well. It was bliss. She allowed her thoughts to wander where they would, daydreaming of nothing as her hands worked to wash away the dirt of yesterday’s toil.

Dani found herself absently humming a tune, and nearly felt to burst into song. Why she would feel this in the middle of a mundane chore was a curiosity, but she paid it no mind. After all, things had been going well, a few bumps and bruises aside, but what would life be without small challenges? They were the things that kept the world interesting, the small unexpected things. Sometimes they hurt, but that only made the times that didn’t all the sweeter.

At this moment, at the edge of the water with her laundry, Dani was perfect and content.

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Author’s Note: Yup, still looking for feedback. If you’re the “reading things in order” kind of person, then before you read this you should make sure you’ve seen “A Test“, “Exploration“, “A Home” and “Awake“. Anyway, here’s part 5.

She laughed. First, she laughed because she was back on the ground; not the unforgiving metal floors, but soft, foot-worn dirt. She laughed next at the absurdity of it all, of planting herself face-first into the dust. She laughed at the sound of her own laughter, filling the air with a curiously new sound. Had it been that long since she’d laughed? Had she simply forgotten what it was like?

She sat up, brushing dirt from the legs of her pants. She noticed that they were blue, wondering if they’d always been that way. Somehow, all the way back to the fields, and to time before that, she couldn’t remember getting dressed. She strained to recall how she’d ended up here, giggling in the road over her own ineptitudes. She was so lost in trying to retrace her steps that she missed the sound of steps growing to her left.

As the shadow fell over her, she regained her senses and turned too quickly, scrambling to regain her balance as she looked upward. A young man, not more than three years her elder, stood above her. She recoiled as he lunged toward her suddenly, his fingers wrapped around — nothing? She blinked.

“Help you up, miss?” he said. There was a genuine compassion in his voice. A welcoming warmth. She reached up, using his arm to hoist herself to her feet. Letting go, she nervously brushed at the dirt that covered her.

“You alright?”

“I’m- I’m fine. I’m okay.”

He was small in stature, but hearty. She was used to standing taller than those around her, so it was nothing new. He was dressed in simple-looking brown clothing; full-length pants, a thigh-length tunic with sleeves that just covered his elbows, and a wide-brimmed hat of lighter material. Tufts of black hair jutted out around the base of his headwear, and a patchy stubble covered his chin.

“Grant,” he said, looking at her as though with a question.

“Dani,” she replied. Her voice, like her laugh earlier, caught her off guard; she smiled to hear the lilt to it. It seemed in harmony with the scent on the breeze, the warmth of the sun’s light, the comical scene she must have presented when falling over herself moments ago. For a moment, she wondered if she’d been expected to say something esle. A palpable silence came between them, and then was gone as he smiled again.

“If you’re sure you’re alright, then.” He let his words trail off, inviting her to ask him to stay. She nodded.

“I’m sure. Thanks, anyway.”

As he turned to leave, he chuckled lightly to himself. She watched him for a moment, then turned and began walking with the long strides of one traveling with purpose. Of course, she still hadn’t puzzled out where she was headed, but for now she’d settled on looking confident. There was some reason, she felt, that it was important to maintain composure even after the scene she’d made.

She followed the worn footpath as it wove between the huts and hovels making up the small village, allowing her legs to guide her where they would. Outside some of the structures, signs depicting the trade or craft of their inhabitants hung; others were adorned with small flowers of purple and blue, while some seemed starkly plain, as though there was no spark of life inside of them at all.

At last, her feet led her to a simple-looking fenced-in garden splayed out in the front of one of these. She reached absently into her satchel — wait, had she had that before? Removing the key from it seemed so natural a motion that she didn’t stop to consider it further. She stepped lightly to the door and unlocked it, stepping through the smallish frame and into her home.

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Author’s Note: Yes, I’m still putting a request for feedback at the top of all of these. No, I don’t intend on stopping that anytime soon. This is part 4 of (?). You should probably make sure you’ve read the first three, “A Test“, “Exploration“, and “A Home” first, otherwise this might make sense.

The blackness faded into a cacophany of sounds and smells and feelings. It was bright, but with a cold harshness that was entirely unlike the welcoming sun. Lingering memories of the forest, the fields, the stream — all of them blended together in a hazy retrospect. The whine of machinery and medical equipment seemed oppressive, despite their familiar din. Having spent so much of a short life tied to the wires and tubes of the infirmary bred a certain distaste on its own; contrasted against the freedom of sprinting through the grass, it was downright sickening.

There wasn’t anyone else in the room, mercifully. Waking up to the probing and prodding of the medical staff was, perhaps, the worst part of an already dreadful life. The endless battery of tests, the constant adjustments to the stiff metallic gear, the cold, detached sympathy that hid behind the eyes of caretakers — these were as much a part of existence as breathing or eating. Waking up here, alone and with a moment of peace, was a rare and wonderful commodity.

The peace, naturally, could not last. The rattle of an opening door announced the end of it as the broad-shouldered nurse stepped into the room. “Oh, you’re awake! Fantastic,” he said with a grin. “I was beginning to worry. You’ve been here almost my whole shift, you know.”

It wasn’t worth a reply. Just more stock phrases, platitudes meant to help patients feel human. Hold still. Let them draw the blood, measure the heartbeats, shine the harsh light into barely-open eyes. The same routine, every time, no matter how long it had been since they’d performed this ritual examination. The nurse didn’t bother with any other words as he went about his work. He knew.

“Well, Daniel,”  he finally said as he scribbled onto the chart, “everything looks alright.”

“I told you to call me Dani,” came the reply, perhaps a bit sharper than intended.

“Look, Daniel — Dani. Whatever,” a thinly veiled weariness hung on the words. “The point is, you’ll be able to go home soon.”

Dani almost allowed a smile at that. Home. As if anywhere in the depths of this place would ever compare to — wait, where had it been? Dani was suddenly very aware that there was no name for it, no word to ascribe to it. That would have to change, but first, there was a lot of work to do that wasn’t going to get done laying about under the doctor’s microscope.

“If we’re done here, I’d like to go now,” Dani said bitterly.

“I said soon, kid. Waiting on a couple more things. I’m not sure what it is that keeps bringing you here lately, but the doc seems pretty worked up.”

Dani could feel a nearly concerned, caring tone under the man’s usual detached voice. What did he mean, ‘bringing back’? Dani had no recent memory of anything more than the usual, and doctor Simmons surely wouldn’t be in a fuss about the standard concerns. Still, if they were worried, there wasn’t anything to do but wait here in bed, dreaming of finding home waiting upon release.

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A Home

Author’s Note: Part 3 of my ongoing experiment in writing fiction; if you missed them, catch up with Part 1: A Test and Part 2: Exploration. As before, I welcome any feedback — positive or negative. I’m trying to learn the ropes here!

The water filtered through her fingers, a cool yet inviting sensation that sent a chill up her arm. She’d just been here, yet now the sunlight filled the sky again. Under its warm light, the landscape here was a stark contrast to the quiet mysteries of night. She remembered something like a painful jolt, and a flurry of activity that seemed to flash by in an instant. Where had the moons gone, and the shimmering blanket of stars?

Rising, she stretched her limbs; they felt like they’d stiffened in the lapse between the last moment and this one. Now exposed to the light of day, she could more easily find a way through this foreign expanse. She still wished for something with which to scratch out a map for future use, but maybe she hadn’t yet scoured enough of this place for it to be needed yet. Another time, she thought. Another opportunity would come.

She ran her eyes across the horizon; the looming mountains in the distance were a deep purple hue, and the forest spread out behind her in its resplendent deep greens and browns. As she made her way up the banks of the small stream, she allowed her mind to wander as well. Somewhere here, she knew, she’d find a place that could be called her own. Not the claustrophobic chambers she’d grown accustomed to, but a real home.

Beneath the rippling water, small fish unlike any she’d known darted back and forth, their silvery skin hidden by the reflecting light that played across the surface. She traced their movements through the gentle waves with a sense of serenity and curious imagination. There was something dreamlike about the way that they flitted among the small rocks lining the bed.

Lost in her observations and wanderings, she nearly overlooked the jutting structures that dotted an area on the other side of the water. As they came into view, she felt the tinge of recollection; it was as if she was not discovering this place, but rediscovering somewhere she’d long since forgotten. She looked for a narrower bend in the stream’s path, and strode across it, the chill current nipping at her toes as she splashed through to the opposing bank.

Her strides lengthened and her pace increased as she drew nearer the crude wood-built curiosities before her. This was more than the wilderness; it was a sign of life, and the memory of a life she was meant to live. Somewhere amid these odd creations was something she knew, somewhere she belonged. She knew now, even more than when the feeling had first swept over her in the woods.

As she stepped onto the worn dirt that marked a pathway towards the collection of — what were they, huts? Houses? — she felt something beneath the growing sense of peace. Despite the welcoming aura of this place, there was something amiss. Some deeply unsettling thing, like a puzzle with a piece out of place or a soldier out of step with his regiment; her legs buckled and became useless beneath her. She collapsed, watching the trampled dirt race towards her as she fell, and her vision darkened as she threw her hands before her to brace for the impact.

They moved too slowly, and the cold, unforgiving steel floor rang out a sharp note as consciousness slipped away.

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