Where am I?
As soon as the question had formed itself in my mind, the world around me began to speak to me. You're alive, said the earth as it supported me. You are where you belong, said the wind as it carried the fragrance of trees and herbs to me. You're here, whispered the grass. You're alive, said every insect scurrying about, as it was looking for food and seeking to escape its predators one more time.
This is silly, I thought.
And then I thought, this world is beautiful. It's good and it's mine, even if part of it has been taken away from me.
I opened my eyes and sat up.
"Glad you're awake." I didn't recognise the voice, and I wondered whether the soldiers had decided to talk to me after all. Then I began to wonder. What if they weren't soldiers at all? What if the men who had left with us this morning weren't the men we'd arrived with the night before? What did I know about them? The sound of their horses' hooves on the path, that was all these men had been to me.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I'm not sure what happened. I must have fainted, I haven't been feeling well."
"Freaky weather," the guard said.
"Lightning struck, just like that. We never saw it coming. The other guy got the worst of it, though."
"Who, Jared? The one with the scars?"
"No, it's the other one, the physician. Jared's with him now." He hesitated. "He doesn't seem to be taking it well."
"What do you mean?"
He didn't answer.
"Please," I said as I got up on my hands and knees, "take me to them. I can't see, and I need to know what's going on."
He took my arm and helped me up, and then he began to lead me forward.
"Are the rest of you alright?" I asked him.
"Yes, none of us were hurt. The horses are fine, too. The lightning frightened them, but we managed to keep them from bolting."
"Is this where they are?"
No reply. In stead, he let go of my arm and I could hear him move away.
I steadied myself and took a deep breath. "Rodan, Jared, are you there?"
I felt myself stretching out my hands to explore the air around me, even though I knew it was useless. Breathe, I told myself. Think. Concentrate. Feel yourself, feel the earth under your feet. You've done this before, and you can do it again.
I could feel the soldiers hovering behind me, their minds anxious and distrustful. The men were holding the horses by the reins. Jared, you need to come back, I thought. These men need someone to take charge.
Rodan was lying at my feet, a solid shape in the darkness that surrounded me. I knelt down and laid my hand on his chest. His breath was light but even, and though he was unconscious he didn't seem to be in any immediate danger. Take it easy, my friend, I silently told him. We'll get you out of here.
I looked up and found Jared kneeling at Rodan's side, facing me, his mind impossible to fathom. I reached out and laid my hand on his arm. No response.
"Hey," I said, "are you alright?"
Still no reaction.
"Jared, talk to me. Rodan needs your help."
There was no reply. I sat there and waited, my hand still on his arm.
"I can't," he said, and I felt sorry for him. He sounded like he was in a place that I knew only too well.
"I've failed you."
"No, you haven't. Not yet, anyway. My guess is that these men are still willing to follow you, but that might change any moment. You need to come back."
"I'm weak. You saw what happened."
I began to lose my patience. "I haven't got a clue what happened but we got out, didn't we? Now, stop feeling sorry for yourself."
"You don't understand."
"Believe me, I want to understand, but we haven't got time. Come on, let's get Rodan to safety."
After a while I heard him get up, and then he reached out and helped me up.
"We're leaving," he told the soldiers. "Help me with him, will you?"
For a moment there was no reaction, and I wondered whether we had lost the men already. Then I could hear one of them move to our side, leading one of the horses along.
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