Pounding. In her head. Cold metal dragging across her skin when she rubbed her hand over her forehead. A ring on her finger that she didn’t remember putting there drew her out of the pool of pain her headache was drowning her in. And opening her eyes would exacerbate everything but she needed to know what was going on, why she had a golden wedding band on her left hand and why she couldn’t even remember her own name, not to mention what she was doing in bed with a stranger.
She couldn’t have gotten drunk and impulsively married the first guy she’d ran into. (Though, she had to admit he was beautiful with his hair falling haphazardly on the pillow and framing the soft expression he wore as he slept, leaving him so open and tempting her to run a finger over his face.) It just didn’t sound like her. (Whoever the hell she was.) She needed to stay calm and think logically. (At least her brain still seemed to work apart from the memory problems.)
She knew what she was like, just not who she was. She knew what her thought process was like, just not what had made her like that. She knew how she usually operated, just not how she’d gotten into her current situation. She knew she was married to the man next to her–he had a matching golden band on his hand–just not who he was.
She rubbed her hands over her face again. She’d known the headache would get worse if she opened her eyes. And the uncanny knowledge that something was missing that the action triggered wasn’t helping. Perhaps she’d had glasses but she couldn’t even tell about that. She didn’t seem to have a problem with her eyesight but with her mind. And a dreadful sense of alarm was rising in her with every second she wasted lying in bed next to her handsome stranger. (Husband.) But she had no other options, for she had no idea what to do.
“You’re thinking loud enough to pull me out of my dreams,” the voice of the man startled her, causing her head to snap in his direction only for her to be met with soft ice blue eyes. The corners of his mouth were pulled up in a hint of a smile that nearly had her fall out of bed when she tried to escape from the question it put in her head.
She’d assumed there must have been a mistake and that she couldn’t be married but was that really the case? The last thing she could remember was waking up in his–their?–bed. She had no idea who she was, what had happened to her, and he was looking at her like he could read her mind. She’d never thought she’d get married but maybe then she’d met him. She could certainly see herself calling the warmth that oozed from him home. Maybe they were married. Maybe the only bad thing about the situation was that she couldn’t remember the happiness she was lying in bed with. Maybe the darkness in her head was buried in the past and she’d moved on to a better present that she just needed to remember. (How she hoped so. Even if it felt like she was asking for pain.)
“I’m just trying to put some order in my head,” she said, dismissing the idea to go for a smile. It would be as fake as they came and obviously so at that. She’d never been good at smiles anyway. Unlike... there was no name, no face her brain could provide her with, but there was a trace left in her heart of a... friend (perhaps?) who’d had a bright smile that had always helped her relax even when the world had seemed so hostile. She could use that now but she had no idea who to look for or even if that person was still there for her.
“Trying to figure out who you are and how you got stuck here with me?” he asked, erasing all illusions of a happy married life from her mind. She had no one. She was alone against the whole world and as much as she didn’t like it, deep down she knew that fit. It was a familiar feeling, making itself at home in her heart no matter what she wanted. “I have no answers either,” the man spoke, drawing her attention to him when he became somewhat close to her again (now she was just grasping at straws because she didn’t want to be on her own), “but we can work together and find our way out of this mess.” He offered her his hand. “After all, we’re married,” he said, gifting her with a smirk full of the self-confidence she was looking for herself.
She hesitated for a moment, her distrustful nature awakening at the sight of the band on his hand. It was supposed to represent the purest of unions but it shouldn’t have been there so it was just a beautiful deception. She could use a partner, though–especially when she didn’t have every part of herself–so she took his hand, the heat of his skin startling but not in an unpleasant way. It did, however, bring out a yearning she’d buried deep within, for it demanded something she couldn't give, it demanded that she trust someone else with herself.
A screech from outside cut through her mind, shaking her to her core as she thought it might have come from inside her heart. It was more of a threat, though, rather than a cry for help. It sounded like a battle scream instead of a desperate shout of loneliness. Although it did scare in the same way, threatening to leave her with herself only, and she didn’t even know who he was but she couldn’t lose him when he was all she had.
A shadow fell over them for a moment even if all they could see from the window was gray skies and discouraging bleakness. The gloomy clouds blocked out the sunlight, leaving everything cold and dark, and the only warmth she had was coming from his skin on hers, the weight of his hand in hers, the matching bands on their fingers.
She pulled her hand out of his, feeling his questioning look on her while she tugged at the ring to get it off. It resisted at first as if it was meant to stay on her finger and didn’t want to come off but she was nothing if not persistent and managed to take it off, even if it left her feeling like she’d lost a part of herself. It was well worth it, though, for she found what she was looking for on the inside. A delicate inscription in the gold of six letters that sounded oddly familiar to her even if she couldn't remember hearing or seeing them before.
“Valtor,” she spoke, tasting the name when she pronounced it. Her lips knew how to form it and her heart certainly recognized it.
He seemed to do so too, for his gaze changed. It was knowing now as she could tell he was seeing his memories. His name must have unlocked them just like it was tugging on something inside her. She had a theory about what it was but she’d need him to confirm. She’d need him to tell her if they were in fact magic users trapped in the net of someone else’s game. If what she could feel inside was her magic that was begging to be let out so that it could reach for him. She didn’t need a confirmation that they knew each other. She could feel that.
“I need to go out there,” he said, no traces of his previous warmth. His features were sharp just like the determination made his voice sound to her vulnerable ears. And it hurt to see him jump out of bed, rushing towards certain death without even sparing a glance at her when she’d just figured out how to bring his memories back and what he was to her.
“Wait!” She leaped out of bed, too, and blocked his way, grasping at his shoulders to stop his impetus. The action was second nature. No wonder considering her stubbornness and his temper. “What about my name?” she asked as she locked eyes with him. He had the answers she needed. Or at least the key to them. And he couldn’t leave her hanging when he’d asked her to be his partner. Especially now that he had to know they’d been partners before. Unless her theory was wrong. But she was never wrong.
The gentleness of his grip on her when he caught her arms was proof enough. “Trust me when I tell you that’s not the way out,” he said, holding her gaze and the previous softness was in it again along with the burning alarm of urgency. It was painful to look at him like that and she reached to stroke his face but cut herself short, wary of the implications that gesture would carry. “I’m not a liar,” he added when he saw her hesitation.
She chuckled when she recognized the phrase. “That’s what a liar would say,” she teased, even though in her heart she’d known she’d believe him even before he’d done his best to convince her.
He opened his mouth but stopped himself. Probably on the cusp of saying her name. “I’m doing this for us,” he said instead, distinct worry all over his face. It was strange to know he knew her better than she knew herself at the moment and to still see him anxious about her reactions. Perhaps that was exactly the reason. She wasn’t herself and he had no way of telling whether she’d believe him. He was just a stranger to her and even though that obviously pained him, he’d chosen to keep the truth from her. For a reason.
“I trust you,” she said as she let go of him and left things in his hands, left him to protect her from whatever was out there that he didn’t want to tell her about.
It seemed to take away some of the frantic panic in his mind as he raised a hand to cup her cheek and she gladly accepted the tenderness. It made him even more familiar to her and closer to her heart. (Was that even possible? He was so close already.) “I’ll see you,” he said, the promise anchoring her in her place and keeping her from following him outdoors.
She was overwhelmed with the need to dash after him when she heard the door close–it wasn’t just the house that was emptier, it was her soul, too, when she couldn’t feel her connection to him–but she had to stay put. He’d asked only that of her, even if he hadn’t said a word about it.
She couldn’t help but take the window hostage, looking out of it for any trace of him, anything that could chase away the feeling of dread in her stomach and the thoughts in her head. She tried to reach for her magic instead but she couldn’t feel anything. It wasn’t surprising, really, since she didn’t even know if she was a light or dark magic user. (Dark. She could be nothing else.) She didn’t know herself. How could she get in touch with her emotions in order to power her magic? (It was sealed away. She had plenty of fear and rage that could feed it if that weren’t the case.) That wasn’t the case with Valtor, though. He’d gotten his memories so he had to have his powers back as well. (She hoped so. There was something out there. Some monster that had done this to them.)
Another screech–though, this one sounded more like a cackle–drew her back to the view outside just in time for her to see Valtor being swallowed by a formless creature of darkness that was there one second and was gone the next, leaving just the cold of Valtor’s absence in her veins.
She woke with a start. Back in his bed. And his arms were around her, embracing her in the warmth of his love. Lysslis’ illusion had spat her back out into reality where she knew who she was and what he meant to her but that still couldn’t chase away the freezing terror of what she’d just seen.
“It’s over,” Valtor whispered in her hair in that voice that he never used with anyone else, proving the truth of what he’d said, for she could finally remember all the little details about him and about herself, about them.
“Where...” she swallowed, “Where is she?” she looked around the room but couldn’t see the ancient witch anywhere. Maybe it was for the better, for she wasn’t sure what her reaction would be if she had to face her. She was torn between cowering away and tearing her to shreds.
“She’s gone,” Valtor said, moving away a strand of hair that had fallen in her face and was obstructing her view. “Griffin, I’m here now,” he said as he cupped her cheek and turned her to face him, her name leaving his lips not really helping even though it should have. “I’m here now.” He touched his forehead to hers and she grabbed at his collar, pulling him closer to chase the remaining chills away.
She knew he’d had to leave her behind to pass his mother’s test but she was still shaken that they had to keep their love under the Ancestral Witches’ radar if they wanted to save it. He’d made the right call not to tell her her name but it still ate away at her. Had they awoken from the illusion together, she wouldn’t have had to worry about the headache that Lysslis’ magic had left behind for the witch would've pulled her mind apart.