Awake (Not What She Expected XVI)

23 Apr 2022  C. chou  6 mins read.

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Sylin blinked his eyes open, and immediately pressed a hand against his temple. The sharp stings in his skull, not unlike needle piercings, were stronger and more frequent than he would’ve expected given the time since he’d last released light. He put a hand over his forehead, a makeshift visor to shield his face from the light that wasn’t helping with the pain at all.

Wait… Light? He turned his attention upward, squinting as his eyes met the sun. Last he remembered, it was dark. He’d been sustaining himself Xiyana’s firelight. They were deep enough in the forest that they couldn’t have found a clearing so easily.

Xiyana… She wasn’t anywhere in sight. A quick tug on the ward that he’d placed on her, moments before passing out, told him all he needed to know. Even if not here, she was safe. Her heart was beating steadily from wherever she was. Knowing her, if she wasn’t nearby, then she probably left to seek help.

Palming his forehead, he rested his head back against the tree. Just how long had he been out? If he remembered correctly, his intuition told him that they had still been at least a few weeks of travel away from the nearest pond. At least a few weeks from the only place within their radius where there was less obscuring the sky. At least a few weeks away from the closest clearing.

Shaking his head, his fingers massaged his temple in a futile attempt to calm the pain. This headache… It was really affecting his ability to think. Worse, combined with the light source as a distraction, he couldn’t concentrate hard enough to intuitively confirm anything. The light suggested that they were already at a clearing, but that couldn’t be right. There was no way that he could survive on light alone for such a long time interval.

He wasn’t a cactus, after all. As drought-tolerant as his kind could be, surviving without water for so long wasn’t just unlikely, but impossible. He forced his eyes open. Even if he had somehow survived without water, the environment did nothing to prove his theory. There wasn’t a single drop of water in sight. There wasn’t even a dry waterbed. As far as he could tell, this couldn’t be the same pond.

His hands flew to his skull, as another shockwave tore through it. Reluctantly tearing a hand away and using it to shield his eyes, he looked back at the sky. There was so much light. His intuition couldn’t have been that far off. It’d never been. At least, it’d never been about anything regarding light, not to mention a place with so much light. Unless…this clearing hadn’t been here at all…

Clutching his head, he turned toward the tree behind him and grabbed hold of a jutting piece of bark from the trunk’s uneven surface. Ignoring his headache, he pulled himself up, before staggering from the unexpected pain that ripped through his chest. Catching himself against the tree, he winced as he looked around.

He was still in the forest. There was no doubt about that. There couldn’t have been so many trees otherwise. However, now that he was earnestly looking, he had to admit that the place looked terrible. Far from the natural clearing that he’d assumed soon after waking, the place was a mess. The ground was littered with leaves and twigs, as if a twister of some sort tore through the area. But he doubted it.

Tornadoes were hardly common in the area. Squinting up at the opening in the foliage, he was certain the patterns in the tree baldness looked far from coincidental. It was as if someone specifically targeted that group of leaves, deliberately producing a clearing. His thoughts weren’t making any sense. Without magical warding, petrification worms were fatal. Under normal conditions, neither animals nor people would have any motivation of moving into the area, nor would they try to cut open a clearing.

His eyes widened in realization. Xiyana! She hadn’t left? He supposed that made sense. He never told her about the ward, nor did he tell her how she could take advantage of the link it placed between the two of them. It’d be harder for her to leave him behind if she hadn’t kept track of the route they took up to this point. Squinting at the light, he scanned treetop to treetop, trying to locate her.

It was better this way. The forest was far too dangerous for her to let down her guard. Even with the ward, there was still the risk of her walking into a nest of petrification worms. At that point, whether they could detect her or not, she would find herself in quite a bit of trouble. At least this way, she’d be more careful. He couldn’t imagine what would happen if she traveled the place banking on the ward to protect her.

Even with several trees rendered bare, there were still too many trees to pick out her exact location. At that moment, as if answering his unspoken thoughts, a thin branch fell to his feet, coming from somewhere directly above. Looking up, he met her eyes.

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C. Chou
C. Chou

A writer that loves cabbages and bamboo, but also enjoys writing and sharing fiction (particularly the fantasy genre). Find me on Medium at: