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by Quest

Running. That's the first thing I remember. Running as though my life depended on it. Over stumps, under overhanging branches, through ferns and streams and thickets, I ran till my feet were raw and bleeding. (God only knows why I wasn't wearing any shoes . . .)

I never stopped to look for what was behind me. It never occurred to me to ask. I just knew that I had to run, that I could never hide. My breath, hot in my throat, harsh in my ears, drowned out any sound I might have heard. Any noise that might've told me who I was, who I was running from. All I knew was running.

And then, sudden as the sunrise, I was hanging midair, suspended in a void of crystal spray and rainbows. I could see everything in that instant. The lake, the waterfall, the tiny figures in the water . . . It was like some bright mosaic, fragmented, yet making sense taken as a whole. Then the blackness, and cold, and utter silence.

My memory deserted me again there, until I woke once more from the darkness. Wrapped in soft warmth, I opened my eyes, traveling from oblivion to life in the span of a single breath. The light of a fire glittered against a night sky, and the furs I was wrapped up in cushioned me against the hard ground. I stirred, I guess, or gave some clue, because suddenly *she* was there. Bending over me like a vision of the goddess, sky blue eyes clouded with genuine concern. "Lie still until I can prop up your head. We don't know how much damage that fall might have done to your spine." So saying, she gently lifted my head, putting another pile of furs under it. "Does that hurt?"

I shook my head. The only pain I felt was a lingering soreness that encompassed my whole body, and the throb of my lacerated feet. "All right then. Here," she held a cup to my lips. "Drink this. It'll help you sleep."

And so I drank, the bitter herb broth harsh on my tongue but warm in my stomach; and sleep came quickly: stealing upon me like a dark predator. This time, though, I traveled not to oblivion, but to strange dreams of running and falling, and seeing a goddess by moonlight, near water . . .

Morning came quickly, overtaking the night with it's brilliance. Into the clear light I woke, and the only darkness left was the wall over my past, my life. There she was again, sitting over a campfire, stirring the coals. Her hair was braided back, intertwining in complicated textures, catching the light in it's dark folds and corners. I was so absorbed in her movements, I almost didn't notice the other one. But she noticed me, and interposed herself between the warrior and I, obscuring my vision.

"Hey, you're awake! Are you feeling all right?" I nodded, wincing at the stiffness in my muscles.

"Here, let me get you some breakfast. You must be starving." I was, though I had not known it. My stomach growled, letting its opinion on the matter be heard.

The food was simple, but filling. I could not remember having tasted better. Tangy sharp cheese, redolent with images of green hillsides and frolicking goats. Rough bread, heavy with nuts and grain, full of all the life of the spreading plain and waving grass. Fruit, dribbling juice down my chin, the sweetness pouring out like slow honey.

It was not until I had eaten my fill that they finally asked me a question that I had to answer. The one who had fed me; the smaller of the two, bright and inquisitive. I could see that she burned to ask me. Filled with the thirst for knowledge, it radiated from her, white heat.

"So why did you jump off the cliff? Was someone chasing you? Did you know there was water there? Who *ARE* you?"

I did not know. Who I was, where I was, or why. . . My mouth, so full of words and confusion: I opened it, intending to let them spill out over dark earth and willing ears. But no sound emerged. As though my voice echoed in a vacuum, I spoke but did not hear. Shocked I looked at my benefactors, and they read the surprise in my eyes. Though I tried and tried to speak, my efforts led to nothing. Finally the warrior laid a gentle hand on my mouth. Her touch was electric.

"Enough. You've lost your voice. Maybe it's the shock, or chill of the water. Let it rest. I'm sure it will come back." She didn't look sure. But what else to do?

And when the silence grew too heavy, pressing us under it's weight, the fair one fidgeted, and then lit with an idea.

"Can you write? I have a pen and paper here . . ." She fumbled through her things, and returned to me with a pointed feather and a sheaf of parchment. I took the parchment in my hand, and caressed the quill. So soft, like clouds, like mist . . . I dipped it in the ink, and set it to the surface of the paper. But the swirls of ink, translucent and iridescent, faded to flat black sooner than I had hoped. Even *I* could not read what I had written. The nonsense lines trailed off in quiet desperation, and I set the pen down gently.

I tried to stand suddenly, forgetting the bandages on my feet for a moment. The lancing pain dropped me to my knees, and I sobbed in the dirt, silently. Gentle hands feathered my hair, and strong arms lifted me back to the pallet. Encompassed by warmth and sympathy, I clung to the rock they offered, buffeted by the storm of my soul.

They stayed by the lake with me, seemingly unconcerned for the passing time, with no pressing duties. The days fell softly into a routine, them fishing and bathing, caring for their horse; while I sat on the shore and watched them play. I laughed silently at the antics of the lighter one, marveled at the skill with which she whirled her staff around. Like a dervish she spun, the very air singing for her.

And the warrior with time on her hands, she mended clothing, small, delicate stitches closing wounds in the fabric like they had never been. She had amazing hands. She polished armor, sharpened blades, and at last: put them into play. If the air had sung before, now it wept. And so did I, though I was careful not to let them see. Such beauty breathed pain for me, though I could not understand why.

And at night the fire burned, and stories of their adventures cast a light all their own. When we slept, they lay close, but not too close . . . and I wondered.

I do not know how long we stayed by the lake, idyllic, safe, free . . . But one day after the bandages on my feet had been changed, they suggested that I try to walk. I wondered what would happen if I could. How things would change. This, the only existence I knew, seemed so fragile. I feared to break it. But I stood, and I walked, because I couldn't tell them why I didn't want to. And the pain was less. Soon I was walking normally, but they did not leave me.

However, they did start leaving me alone at camp. The warrior would go off to hunt, her companion to gather firewood. They told me to hide if anyone came, they were gone for an eon, and I wondered. I don't know when I began to consider it. It just seemed so natural, that they should be lovers. I wondered if they were. It sat in my mind, with all the other questions, gathering dust in corners and on flat planes.

And then, one day, everything changed. They got up, and started packing the camp. I had been walking normally for some time, helping with camp chores, swimming in the lake. No closer to knowledge, I had at least known peace. Now it shattered, and my mind was loosed, running. But they let me follow along when they went, not telling me to be elsewhere. And where else could I be? They talked of healing temples, or villages, but couldn't seem to decide where I belonged. They had grown used to my silence, I think, and forgotten that I could hear. At any rate, they spoke freely of my fate, as though I had no say. But then, what say could I have, with no way to communicate? Only by actions could I speak, and that was limited indeed, for the complexity of my thoughts.

Is love possible for one with no past, and no concept of what form the future will wear? Can thanks be expressed without word, without conceptual gymnastics? Perhaps. I did not know, but I resolved to try. And that evening, as they went of to hunt, and gather wood, my mind would linger on nothing but what they might *actually* be doing. With no word, no sound, my voice trailed along the song of scented pine boughs and soft sighs. The fragile butterfly caress and alabaster plane of a muscled arm flexing.

They finally returned, with wood and catch, and a musky scent which could have been exertion alone, but most definitely was not. And my thoughts were crystal wind chimes, clamoring for attention. This then, this revelation, was my first answer. I felt, somehow, that it deserved celebration as such.

Standing, I helped the bard settle the wood in a pile. My hand brushed hers in passing, and she started, surprised at the thin fire that trailed from my skin to hers. In streamers it hung, clinging, burning long after the contact was broken. Short of breath, I backed away, turning to my tasks before dinner.

All through the evening my heart fluttered like a caged bird, straining against this new awareness, this smokey tang that rang like a bell. I could not meet their eyes, now. Hope burned in my throat, and I could not bear the thought that it should fade and die. So I could not see if they knew, if the demon of doubt might peer at me from over their shoulder, behind their eyes.

Finally, as I lay out my bedding, a feather light touch stopped me, frozen. The touch came again, gentle breeze through my hair, breath on my neck. I trembled, a leaf about to fall. Closing my eyes, still too full of fear to see, I turned - seeking.

Warm lips, molten skin melting away from caged lightning, I gasped as my eyes flew open. She stood, tall in the moonlight, a goddess once more . . . and I whispered a prayer of worship. Both of them, standing there, struck a ringing chord: as though I had seen them, knew them from some other mirrored fragment of shattered thought. But when, where . . . it swirled out of reach . . . lost on the flood.

They looked into my eyes, searching for my reaction. I gave them the pile of questions that sat in the hollow of my throat, wrapped in dark silence. And slowly, carefully, they set about to answer each one. Wrapped in a warm circle of arms, I thought the caged bird of my heart would break free, tearing from it's moorings to race across the sky. But it did not.

Instead it flew in the arcing caverns of night, pulling me along. Time quickly lost all meaning for me, swept away in the flow of hands and mouths, fire and fog, and the shroud of breathless sensation.

In that final moment before their attentions pushed me over the brink of the waiting cliff, they paused, teasing, holding me there . . . and in that moment, I whispered one word: Please . . .

It wasn't until they gasped aloud that I realized I had spoken aloud, that they had heard. Then, the world broke apart into shinning daggers of light, piercing me, leaving empty spaces behind in their wake. As I convulsed with sensation, the whirling reality tore me away, and I was running.

Over stumps and under overhanging branches, though ferns and streams and thickets, I ran as though my life depended on it. Born anew, already my memory was fading to gossamer threads and spider silk. But I knew that I must run, that I could never stop. There was somewhere I was running to, and I could not rest until I got there . . . .


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