When she opened her eyes, she saw nothing but darkness. No sound reached her ears other than her own deep, even breathing. Her body felt weighted. Lifeless.
At first, her mind was as dark as her vision. She gazed unseeingly into the unknown, no memory of who or where she was. Her world centered around the sound of the air as it entered and exited her lungs. But memories slowly resurfaced with each breath. It wasn’t long before the most important memory fired in her brain.
She was Ma’jah KyrVawn, the Ascendant of Alametria.
The rest resurfaced more quickly. Sensation returned as well, sending pulsing aches through her body. She was glad for that. It was so much better than the numbness.
Her neck and throat hurt the worst. She felt as though she’d been in a car accident and suffered whiplash. That shouldn’t be, though. She was no longer on Earth, and Alametria didn’t have cars.
Lifting a hand, she reached up to rub her neck. Her fingertips grazed something soft and unfamiliar at the base of her throat. After more exploration, she discovered that her face was covered in fine fabric. Was that why she couldn’t see? Was this what was dampening her ability to hear or sense anything around her?
She tugged at the fabric, expecting it to easily give way. It didn’t. Her hand slipped, jerking upwards. A soft thud resulted as she encountered something solid only inches above her body.
Panic hit her then. Bringing both hands up, she pushed against the hard, flat surface above her. Nothing happened. She couldn’t bend her elbows enough to get any momentum behind the push because the surface was too close. Attempting to move her arms sideways yielded no better results. She was surrounded. Lifting her knees, she discovered that the surface above her ran the entire length of her body. A terrified scream built in her throat.
Calm yourself, Kyr.
The quiet thought came to her in her own voice. It reminded her that she had resources outside of just the physical. She was the Ascendant, for the love of Yen-Ki. She wasn’t helpless.
Taking in a deep breath, she thought, Ty.
She knew immediately that the thought hadn’t reached him. Much like the sound of her breathing, Ty’s name was contained in a place reserved only for her.
Fear and confusion once again overwhelmed her. Where was she? Why was she in a dark, contained space? Why couldn’t she mentally connect with the man she loved?
As each question ran through her mind, her strength amplified. She shoved against the surface above her until her muscles protested. The sound of creaking prompted her to push even harder. It didn’t matter what awaited her outside of wherever she was. She’d greet it with open arms.
It took several minutes of heaving with her enhanced strength, but eventually, the surface gave way. She tossed aside the entire length of whatever was containing her, giving her freedom to sit up. As she did, a wave of dizziness almost made her fall back down. Terror kept her upright, clinging to the sides of her rectangular prison for support.
She looked around and saw she was in a dimly lit room. She also realized that she was sitting in a death box.
Another scream built in her throat. In an instant, she was standing beside the death box rather than inside of it. She had no memory of climbing out, nor did she know how long she stood beside it, staring at it as though it could offer her answers to the long stream of questions running through her barely functioning mind.
The sound of a door handle turning sent her skittering back into the shadows. She clung to a tall column in the middle of the room and tried not to make a sound. She wished she had thought to cover the death box, but knew there was nothing she could do about it now. Hushed whispers reached her ears as the door opened and closed. Unable to resist, she eased her head around the column to see who had entered the room.
Zasha, the Wrym who had seen to Kyr’s comforts since her return to Alametria, stepped into the dim light of a wall sconce. Her hair was covered by a red scarf. She wore a simple red dress, as well, reminding Kyr that the Alametrian color of mourning was red…the color of blood and pain. The flowers Zasha carried, however, were purple. Kyr’s favorite color.
Behind Zasha walked a male that Kyr didn’t recognize until he stepped into the light: LeoVawn. The pair walked all the way into the center of the room, stopping short when their eyes adjusted enough for them to see that the death box was now open and unoccupied. The container of flowers dropped from Zasha’s hands with a jarring thud.
Kyr couldn’t stop herself from stepping out of the shadows. She had to get some answers, and the only thoughts she received from the male and female in the room were shock and confusion. Those emotions heightened when Leo and Zasha saw her and recognized her. Their eyes went wide. Their complexions turned the color of wax.
And one single thought got through: But she’s dead.
Their reactions told Kyr why she had been in the death box. “Zasha,” she said, finding her voice at last. “Where’s Ty?”
The Wrym female stood rooted in place as Kyr approached her and took her by the upper arms. Leo watched with a slack jaw, but made no move to intervene.
Kyr tried again. “Please, Zasha. Please tell me where Ty is. Where is Dem-Shyr TaeDane?”
“Ma’jah,” Leo said in a hoarse voice. “This cannot be.”
Frustration made Kyr want to shout, but she knew anyone could be outside the doors and listening. Drawing on her growing abilities, she centered herself and sent calming thoughts to Zasha and Leo. She needed their help.
“I’m fine, Leo. You can see that. Please tell me where I can find the Dem-Shyr.”
Leo swallowed audibly before he replied, “I’m sorry to say that he’s been banished to the Dark Lands, Ma’jah.”
Kyr sifted through her still-muddy memories of her home planet. “The Dark Lands?” she repeated. “But I thought only murderers are sent there. It’s the punishment of eternal exile.”
“Yes, Ma’jah,” Leo whispered.
Emotion rose within Kyr. Disbelief. Horror. Anguish. Her gaze moved between Leo and Zasha, reading only truth in their thoughts and expressions.
“But…who did he kill?” she asked at last.
“You, Ma’jah,” Zasha answered with tears in her eyes. “He killed you.”