Chapter Image by Violet@TDA
1st November 2023
Her first waking notion was that she was in a small room.
Her second was that it was dark – how could she know that she was in a small room?
Her third was where the hell was she?
“I think she’s waking up.”
There was some conspicuous shuffling that stood out in the noticeably quiet room. The only other sounds were the regular breaths of her company. Two… no three people. That’s how she’d known it was a small room, she realised, the fact that she could hear the three of them breathing.
She slowly became aware of a dull ache in her side from the cramped position in which she was lying, curled up on a hard mattress. She stretched out her stiff legs, relishing in the familiar pain of cramp leaving her muscles.
“James.” The same voice spoke up a little more urgently.
She didn’t properly register that she should be alarmed. She was in a small room, the location of which she didn’t know, with three strangers.
“He’s asleep.” Another voice answered when ‘James’ didn’t. It was gruffer than the first voice, and a little bitter.
“Then wake him up! She’s –”
She stretched her shoulders this time, moving them slowly and deliberately to release the stiffness. She flinched at a sharp, tearing pain in her upper arm. It was covered. Bandaged. She had no idea how it had happened.
“Cassie?” The second voice said immediately, sounding softer when it said her name. There was more shuffling and a grunt of complaint as, she suspected, the first person was shunted out of the way. “Cooper. Can you hear me?”
The fear began to register. The last traces of sleep were gone and she become conscious of the danger she could be in.
The darkness became suffocating. She wished she could see.
“Cassie?” The first voice echoed the second.
Her name. Should she respond?
She didn’t move from the uncomfortable position she’d frozen in when he – they sounded like males – had first said her name. Her upper arm throbbed. She didn't know if it was from the wound or from the tightly bound bandage.
“Wake him up.” The first voice said. When the second didn’t answer he added, “Al, come on. He needs to know she’s coming round.”
There was another short pause, so silent and tense that she held her own breath.
“Ok.” The second voice answered shortly. There was some more movement as ‘Al’ apparently woke up ‘James’.
As she strained to hear the murmured words Cassie became aware that the first person was holding her hand.
She instinctively jerked it out of his grip and regretted it in an instant.
“Cassie?” He spoke up at once and reached for her hand again. Before he’d even made contact she automatically sat bolt up right and scrambled the back away from him, as far as she could get on the small bunk. Her back touched canvas – it was a tent, not a room – and she pulled in her arms and legs, away from this stranger.
“It’s ok, Cass. It’s me. It’s Ryan.” The voice was comforting. That was odd. Why should the voice of a stranger elicit that response in her? She didn’t move from her defensive position.
However, her abrupt movement had caught the attention of James and Al. She could hear them approaching.
“What did you do?” A new voice, James, asked. It didn’t sound as though he’d been sleeping, his tone was alert and brusque.
“Nothing… I… I didn’t do anything. I just holding her hand…” The first voice, Ryan, said, uncertainly. “Is she… do you think she’s ok? I didn't know what to –”
“Hang on.” Al interrupted with the sound of clattering before a warm light flickered and flooded the small tent. A lantern. It made Cassie squint and try to shrink further into the canvas walls. Brown. They were a faded tan colour. She slowly turned her gaze away from the walls to the three occupants of the tent.
Three pairs of eyes were observing her warily. One vivid cobalt, one emerald green and one grey blue. Cassie searched the eyes and the faces for something familiar but there was nothing. The panic swelled up inside her like a wave waiting to crash.
“Did you see that?” James’ voice came from the owner of the deep blue eyes. His face was tanned and rugged, it seemed as if he had spent a lot of time outdoors.
“What’s wrong with her?” Ryan’s voice, the voice that gave Cassie that unnerving feeling of reassurance, came from the face with silvery blue eyes. He looked younger than the other two, though his skin was a similar deep tan to James’. Of the three he looked the most openly anxious, not sharing the guarded look on the other two faces.
“She doesn’t recognise us.” Al’s voice sounded odd, strangely calm but Cassie could read in his vivid green eyes that he was worried. His entire face, paler than the other two, was cagey and uneasy.
Why should he be worried?
Why did they seem so sure that she should recognise them? She’d never set eyes on these people in her life.
“Hurts doesn’t it, little brother?” James’ voice was terse but with a mocking edge.
Al appeared to ignore the jibe but his eyes flashed. “Cassie. You know us. Remember us.” He sounded almost pleading.
“Don’t be stupid. Of course she remembers us.” Ryan said, calmly. “You know us, don’t you Cass? You wouldn’t forget us –”
“I wasn't making it up.” James said, dryly.
“You can’t.” Ryan no longer sounded calm. His eyes searched Cassie’s face for some sign of recognition. His distressed expression made Cassie want to agree, want to tell him of course she remembered, just to make it go away. Just to make things ok.
That was irrational. It confused her. How did this strange young boy make her feel this way? There was no reason behind it, it unnerved her even more than being trapped here – wherever ‘here’ was – with three strangers who seemed intent that she should know them.
“You do remember, Cass. Right? You remember me?” She closed her eyes so that she didn’t have to see his fretful face. She squeezed her eyes tight, trying to find an answer.
But she didn’t know the question.
Where was she?
Where had she come from?
Who were these people?
What should she remember?
Why should she remember?
The sheer amount that she didn’t know was overwhelming, it hurt her head and a tear slipped out from her screwed up eyes.
She opened her mouth for the first time to verbalize the forefront question. “Who are you?” She croaked. Apparently she hadn’t used her voice in a long time.
Although they’d had their suspicions, the confirmation that she didn’t recognise them evidently came as a blow. James took in a large breath. Al closed his eyes, his forehead furrowed. Ryan gripped his dirty blond hair against his head.
Cassie lifted a shaking hand to wipe away the stray tear, her hand coming away slightly grimy from her face. She became aware of how grubby she was. She was clad in a pair of torn up jeans and a filthy t-shirt that may have once been white, but now resembled the beige walls of the tent. It made her head hurt to try and remember how she’d gotten herself into this state.
“Shit.” James said when no one else spoke for a drawn-out period.
Cassie met his gaze but he looked away first.
“You really don’t know us? Any of us?” He asked, meeting the eyes of the other two boys. "I suppose I should be happy that I was right."
Cassie wordlessly shook her head.
“Shit.” He repeated, “Do I have to explain?” He asked the other two, irritated.
Neither of them answered.
“Excellent. Well this…” He gestured to Ryan and appeared to search for the right way to say it. He shrugged and gave up the attempt to be tactful. “This is your brother, Cassie. This is Ryan.”
The words initiated a flurry of feelings in her head. It made sense; it would explain her irrational response to his voice, his face. But…
“No.” She shook her head. “No.”
She couldn’t look at Ryan’s face. Her brother’s face…
“Oh… ok.” James said slowly. “Well, I’m not lying. You know, it would be nice if people would just trust me.” He looked pointedly at Al, who ignored him.
“No.” She repeated in a whisper. “I don’t… I would remember a brother. I don’t have a brother.” She said more loudly. “You… you’re…. This is some sort of a trick, a trap…” This made sense to her. It had to be a trap. She’d been caught.
But by whom? And why did she have to fear being caught? What was she hiding from?
Ryan’s jaw set, his lips a thin line in his face. It made him look a lot older than he should and, for whatever strange reason, that hurt her. But it wasn’t because he was her brother. It couldn’t be.
“I’m not lying.” James repeated, carefully. “He’s your brother. Your younger brother – he’s fifteen –”
“I’m sixteen.” Ryan corrected automatically, with the air that he had to do so often.
James’ eyes didn’t leave Cassie’s. “I know.” He said quietly. “I was seeing if… never mind.”
Cassie stared at the boy. Her brother? She took in the messy, sandy-blond hair that was in good need of a cut, the tan complexion, the pained pale eyes. They were lying. They had to be. She didn’t know this boy…
“And you?” She asked, averting her eyes from the boy to the other two. Her voice sounded stronger now.
“Us?” James asked, looking to Al quickly. “We’re –”
“We’re your friends.” Al interrupted, not meeting James’ eyes.
James raised an eyebrow and one corner of his lip twitched, but just as a hint of amusement lit up his face it disappeared. “Yeah. That.” He said, steadily.
Cassie eyed them both disbelievingly. Not only were they so obviously lying, they were hiding something.
“What’s going on?” She asked sharply. In finding her voice she’d also found her confidence. She ignored the fact that she most definitely didn’t have her wand on her person and they had at least one between the three of them. She wanted answers and she wanted them now. “Where am I? Why did you bring me here?”
The three of them shared an odd look – almost hopeful.
“There she is.” James commented, with a crooked half-smile. A ghost of an identical smile passed briefly over Al’s face and Ryan lost his tortured expression for just a moment.
“What’s going on?” Cassie demanded again.
“What’s going on is that we just saved your life.” James informed her. “And we were kind of hoping you were going to answer some questions of our own, but it seems like that plan’s gone down the crapper with your memory loss. Now, if everyone had just believed me in the first place –”
“James.” Al warned.
“So what’s going on now?” James carried on. “Well I’m out of ideas.”
“So?” Cassie asked.
“So we’re going to have to find someone who has a clue.” Al said. “It’s time to meet the rest of the gang.”
"Again." James added.
"Again?" Cassie shrank back.
"Again." Al offered her a hand with a grim look.
A.N. Hi! Ok, so this all seems very confusing and you have no idea what's going on, yeah? Maybe you have a few ideas from this? Well it will all be revealed (bit by bit probably, this is me after all!) in the next chapters. I don't really want to say much and ruin it but I'd love to hear what you think! About the characters, the idea, what you think's happening... anything really!
By the way, the next chapter goes back a year and we find out events leading up to the prologue... believe me, you need it!
Thanks for reading!
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