1: Waking

The first thing he noticed was the silence, the second was the searing pain in his chest. It felt like someone had taken a torch and held it over his heart. It burned and took his breath away. A pathetic whimper reached his ears and his cheeks burned when he recognized his own voice.

Rolling onto his side, he curled up around the wound only for his head to pound viciously. His stomach rebelled and he threw up, coughing when the spasm stung his chest making it difficult to breathe.

When he opened his eyes again, it was brighter and the pain in his chest had subsided somewhat. However, his head throbbed to the beat of his pulse and his cool vomit was disgustingly close to his face. If he kept smelling it, he might just throw up again.

Carefully, he eased himself up to his hands and knees, pausing when his vision tunneled. When the dizziness receded as much as he suspected it was going to, he pushed himself to his feet. Almost immediately, he lost his balance and flailed out with his arms. His hands crashed against something solid and sturdy, a wall he realized. He was inside a building. But what building? Where?

Taking a deep breath, he stumbled towards the light and sighed in relief. Sunlight. This was sunlight. He couldn't stop the heavy sigh of relief. His head tilted up and his back slumped against the wall so he could bathe in the warm, living light.

This... He needed this. Sunlight.

In that moment, sunlight was all he could ever want, all he could ever need. He could already feel his wobbly legs regain some of their steadiness. Unfortunately, the pain in his chest and the throbbing in his head refused to go away. His vision was still blurred and his balance was entirely untrustworthy. If the wall pressed against his back twitched even the slightest bit, he knew he would hit the ground again. He would have preferred if the sheath holding his dao didn't press against his spine like that, though.

He didn't know how long he stood there on shaking legs basking in sunlight, but something soft and insistent nudged him back to reality. Stunned, he blinked and was greeted by the large, black feathered face of an ostrich-horse.

Instinctively, he reached out and clumsily took hold of the dangling reins. With a deep, steadying breath, he pushed himself away from the wall and into the soft feathers. The ostrich-horse made a cooing sound and tucked her -her?- head against his back, nudging him towards her flank.

It took more effort to take two steps forward than he was willing to admit even with the hen's gentle encouragement. His chest burned when he struggled to mount the ostrich-horse. It took three tries and a helpful nudge from the hen's beak to make sure he made it onto the ostrich-horse's back and stayed there.

He needed to leave. This place wasn't safe. He had to leave. He had to get out.

But where should he go? How would he get there? He didn't know where he was so he even if he did have a destination in mind, he wouldn't know how to get there from here. Wherever here is.

So tired.

His knuckles tightened on the reins when the ostrich-horse lurched forward with a squawk. Where was she going? Did it even matter? So long as it was away from here, he was fine with it.


He groaned when the motion disagreed with his abused body. Leaning down, he rested his forehead against the back of the hen's feathered neck and focused on breathing. In, hold, out. In, hold, out.

The sunlight bared down on his back, seeping into his skin and depleted chi through his clothes. It was soothing and a lullaby to his exhausted mind.

So tired.

Abruptly, he sat up, and promptly leaned over the side and threw up again. Wrong. This was so wrong. He couldn't sleep. He just... Something told him that if he closed his eyes, he wouldn't open them again.

So he forced himself to stay awake and breathe. In, hold, out. In, hold, out.

He really should do something about the wound on his chest. Clean it or something so it didn't get infected. In, hold, out. It was really hard to keep his thoughts straight. In, hold, out. He winced when his mount shifted causing something to dig into his hip. Clumsy fingers worked the offending object out of his belt and held it up so he could see it. In, hold, out. A knife. Simple but familiar. In, hold, out. Curious, he pulled the blade out of its sheath and tried to make out the blurry words etched on it.

Made in Earth Kingdom.

Well that was informative. Utterly useless.

In, hold, out. Tucking the sheathed blade back into his belt, he held onto the ostrich-horse's reins and breathed. The creature knew what it wanted. She'd get there one way or another. He just had to keep breathing to be sure he was alive when she got there.

The sun movedslowly. He could feel it dropping lower and lower in the sky. His own body followed the sun's example, slumping so the barest hints of feathers tickled his face.

In, hold, out.

Sound, muddled and unclear, pulled him back from his daze. He wasn't moving. When did he stop moving?

"..on... -er me? Son. Son!"

He grunted when his body jerked, upsetting his wound. Confused, he lifted his head and blinked dumbly at the hand gripping his arm. Whose...?

"Son, can you hear me?"

In, hold, out.

His eyes followed the arm to a face he didn't recognize. He should answer that.

"What happened to you?" the stranger murmured.

He really should answer. But he didn't know what to say. What happened. What-

"I...I don't know," he said.

"Come on down from there," the stranger said, gently tugging his arm. "You look like you'll keel over dead. What's your name, son?"

He shook his head slowly. "I...I don't know," he whispered. When his mind caught up to what he'd said, he felt his eyes widen in dawning horror. "I don't know," he whimpered. "Oh Agni."