Prologue I 「Slow Awakening」
“You did not deserve this…”
That was the first thing he heard within a stillness he found himself in. He knew neither when he entered this state, nor how long he had been wallowing in it, but his instincts knew that it was drawing to a close.
Because as soon as those words entered his consciousness, an assortment of sensations followed as well. Some of them felt familiar while others felt foreign. It was as if he received a wake-up call to his senses that had remained dormant up until now.
It started with a feeling of stiffness throughout his body. His joints ached as he tried to test his limbs — like rusty cogs attempting to turn at the cost of potentially crumbling altogether. He felt a heaviness in his chest. At first, he thought that something was weighing him down; but as soon as he started to comprehend his bearings, he realized that he was lying face down somewhere. The ground seemed uneven and coarse, but its discomfort was somewhat dullened by the gentle caress of grass tickling his face.
I’m somewhere outside.
He held his breath. He didn’t recall the last time he heard his inner voice. Moreover, he didn’t even remember the last time he was aware of his breathing.
What is this feeling? It’s as if… I’m slowly being revitalized.
There was no other way he could phrase it. His mind was too busy with questions to the point that his instincts struggled to fill in the gaps.
Where… am I? What happened to me?
When can I move?
True to his assumption that his energy was coming back to him, the best he could do was to twitch his fingers a bit. The soil under him felt soft, warm, and a bit moist. He imagined himself to be in a grassy meadow, basking in nature’s bliss.
He resumed his breathing — albeit slowly, and his brain picked up the grass’s scent for the first time. A gust of wind accompanied his exhale, enveloping his body and rustling the grass around him.
First the touch, then the smell… Now… the sounds…
He had begun to become aware of his surroundings. The chirping of birds in the distance and the gushing of water nearby were all it took for him to deduce that he was in a grassy terrain. All he had to do next was to see it.
This was met with some hesitation. He had grown so accustomed to the darkness and silence, to the point that he felt anxious leaving it. He didn’t understand why though; that place had nothing to offer.
As was his existence in it.
Eyes firmly closed, he wondered what was in store for him. Will what I open my eyes to be better or worse than this… dormant… state? This thought was oblivious to the added concern that something — or someone — was guiding all of this.
However, before he could even decide on any of his choices, he slowly opened his eyes, and light seeped into his vision, wiping any and all traces of the darkness he was imprisoned in.
His eyes adjusted to the blinding orange glow of the evening sun as the hazy scenery slowly transitioned from a blur to the grass that danced in front of him. His head was sideways — his right cheek practically cemented in the dirt, and he tried not to breathe too hard to avoid any of it from assaulting his nostrils.
He let out a barely-audible groan as he moved his fingers again. Once he was certain of their mobility, he struggled to push himself from being on his belly to being on a side. Then using his hand as a crutch, he raised himself up to a sitting position — just barely enough to gain a better scope of his surroundings.
His body still ached, yet he could only wince in pain as he still lacked the energy to do anything else aside from looking forward.
It was a beautiful sight, decorated with dark green grass shining under the evening glow. He realized that it must have rained recently, as most of the grass was adorned with dewdrops.
That explains the damp ground, he thought as he looked at the massive trunk of a lone tree right next to him. But still… where am—
“So you’re finally awake,” a voice interrupted his thoughts.
His eyes widened in surprise. Immediately reacting to the voice, he glanced up at the tree branches.
Atop one of the branches, a cat stared irritably back at him.
“Hmph…,” it muttered loudly. “About time.”
He kept staring at the cat, being more than certain that it had talked.
Without saying a word, he turned back to the ground and slowly withdrew himself back into the position he was just moments prior.
Yep. This is all just a weird dream, he thought in a mindset that was more exhausted than baffled. Or maybe I’m just delirious.
He hardly had the moment to react to the cat’s shout, as he felt a sudden pain in his shoulder right after. Startled by both, he shot himself back up to a sitting position before rubbing his injured spot. At the same time, he realized what had happened as he spotted what looked like a strange fruit — somewhat resembling a small orange — near him.
He looked back at the cat, which was now standing on its hind legs while holding another fruit in its paw.
“Alright, now explain yourself before I resort to giving you a concussion,” it said, tossing the fruit in the air and successfully catching it to get the point across. “What’s an Emissary doing in my territory?”
He had trouble putting a description on the cat, as it was somewhat far away to determine its physical appearance. All he knew was that he was definitely staring at a talking feline, one that had a ridiculously good throwing arm.
He took a deep breath to regain his composure, lowering his arm once the pain subsided from his shoulder.
Wait… what did it just call me?
He opened his mouth to ask, “What is an Emissary?” However, his words came out as weak and incoherent croaks.
Stopping almost immediately, he clutched his throat, finally realizing how dry it felt.
“What’s the matter?” the cat demanded. “Can’t speak?”
He nodded slowly, his gaze fixed on the cat.
“Dry… Need… water,” he managed to eke out his words, doubting if the cat even heard him at all.
The cat hesitated a bit before letting out an audible sigh. “There’s a river just up ahead. The water’s clean,” it said, proving that its ears were sharp enough to comprehend his feeble words. “Just don’t fall into it.”
He nodded again in full compliance and turned towards the sound of running water. Scrambling up his feet like a fawn that just learned how to walk, he shuffled slowly towards where the cat pointed out. A faint, lingering pain still pulsated through his body, yet his mind was more preoccupied with his parched throat.
About two minutes of walking later, he came across the river that separated the grassy terrain from a small forest just up ahead. There was a noticeable dirt trail along the forest’s edge, perhaps made for people to go around it — instead of through it. The river was wide enough to take another full minute or so to wade through, and it was pretty long, stretching as far as the eye can see from both directions.
He noticed that somewhere along the dirt trail to his left, there was a wooden bridge. Hmm… so people travel around here, he thought. Maybe I can find someone to talk to instead of bothering that cat.
Approaching the riverside, he kneeled and observed the water. He couldn’t tell how deep it was, as the sun’s reflection illuminated the water so much that he might go blind just by staring for too long.
Distracting himself using the sight around him, he withdrew as much water as he could with cupped hands. It felt cold to the touch despite the river being exposed to the sun for this long. Without hesitation, he took in a huge gulp of water, feeling overwhelmingly refreshed from a thirst well-quenched. He went for a second round, wanting to savor as much as he could, with fears that he may not be able to enjoy it another time. A third sip later, he finally calmed down.
I should at least go back and thank the little guy, he thought. And maybe toss in an apology as well.
He leaned back a bit and looked down at the river, just as it started to lose its gleam. The sun was slowly setting, with the orange sky turning — slowly but surely — into a mesmerizing yet ominous crimson.
He looked at his hands and arms before examining his clothing. A puzzled and wary expression remained plastered on his face as he tried to make heads or tails of anything that was happening to him.
I remember these clothes, he mapped out his predicament in his mind. I still have a grasp of some general knowledge of what’s going on around here. But I don’t remember my name, or who I am… for that matter.
He rubbed his chin. I’m sure I never met a talking cat before… and judging by this place… Am I in some other world? Did I end up losing my memory by being magically transported here?
And more importantly, why am I feeling excited about all of this?
To his frustration, every scenario or possibility he could come up with was coming up blank. He shook his head in an attempt to clear out the abundance of worries his mind kept conjuring.
First things first, he asserted himself. Go back there. Thank the cat… apologize… and then head to civilization before nightfall. I’m bound to run into someone, right?
With steeled resolve and a confident exhale, he leaned forward to climb up on his feet.
However, before he could stand, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the water. He noticed something odd about it.
Curiously, he inched closer to the river, being careful not to slip and fall into it. Amidst the rushing current, he was able to see his face clearly. He recognized it almost immediately, but…
“What happened to my eyes?!” he gasped in horror.
He withdrew from his reflection, hoping that it was an optical illusion of some sort. With a bated breath, he looked back at it again, only to be greeted once again with eyes that didn’t exactly qualify him as a human.
It was as if their color palette was completely swapped, with the sclerae — the whites of his eyes — being pitch-black, and his irises being ghastly-white. Only his pupils retained their original color, just that it looked no different than a dot on a white sheet.
Feeling shocked and speechless, he pulled himself back and fell on his rear. More questions started flooding his mind, but he was too dumbfounded to even comprehend any of them. Amidst the barrage of thoughts swirling around him, he recalled the word “Emissary”. And with that, all other thoughts vanished almost instantly.
“Emissary,” he repeated. “Is that what I am?”
Am I… even a human?