It was the light that woke me.
It hit me right in the face, piercing the murky darkness behind my eyelids. I groaned, trying to close my eyes tighter, hoping against hope that it would go away.
“Ayla?” a voice whispered,
crooning the words sweetly, like one would a child’s lullaby.
There was a pause, and I didn’t move. I hardly breathed. As lovely as the voice was, I didn’t recognise it. Fear began to squirm its way through my veins when whomever it belonged to moved closer, too close to be comfortable. I could feel their cold breath on the back of my neck.
“Are you awake, Ayla?”
The voice- I decided it was a woman’s- laughed, and I felt the soft surface under me creak. Warm, firm heat pressed against my back, and gentle fingers threaded through my hair.
“Ayla, dearest,” she cooed, gently massaging my scalp, “It’s time to wake up!”
I buried myself deeper into the pillows, subtly trying to get away from her. Panic began to flutter in my chest, agitated butterflies desperately vying to escape. Who was this woman?
Hadn’t I fallen asleep in a forest?
Heavy panting fills the cold night air, clouds of breath spiralling away into the blackness above. My bare feet, torn and bloody, sprint through the forest, heedless of the stones and twigs underfoot. Branches whip at my face, scratching, and snagging my filthy, matted hair. Wrenching it free, I run on, ignoring the pain.
I have to get away.
My legs are screaming at me, begging me to stop. My lungs are on fire, my head spinning.
I can’t stop.
I HAVE TO GET AWAY!
My eyes snapped open, and a small hiss escaped me.
My head throbbed, and I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. I was lying in a massive bedroom, half-blind from the sunlight streaming through the large bay windows in front of me. There were large tapestries on the walls, vibrant colours giving life to the whitewashed walls, and thick golden rugs on the floor. There was a wooden table at the far end of the room, a high-backed chair tucked neatly underneath.
“Ayla, dearest,” the woman purred, voice sharper and colder than earlier, “I know you’re awake.”
Suddenly, the pitch black forest spins around me, and there’s a sharp tug on my ankle. I fall to the ground heavily, and a sickening snap echoes around the forest. My guttural screams shatters the frenzied, deafening silence, before I clap a hand to my mouth, vainly trying to supress my agony. Fighting back the waves of pain, I looked around, snatching at the thick, prickly bushes for a handhold. Thorns bite into my palms and my legs tremble as I clamber to my feet. I hobble onwards, deeper into the black forest, trying to ignore the way my injured foot trails uselessly behind me. I don’t have time for this! Not when I was running from…
I froze, feeling her fingers tighten their grip on my hair.
“It’s time to wake up now, sweetheart,” she continued, the words sounding more like a threat than encouragements, “The day has already begun!”
Slowly, feigning lethargy, I rolled over, and began to sit up. The woman moved away slightly, hands leaving my head to support my back. Irritation washed through me at the gesture. I wasn’t weak. I settled back against the pillows, and rubbed my temples. The movement- no matter how slow or careful it may have been- hurt my head, and I groaned, eyes slipping shut against the still-harsh daylight.
“Ayla?” she frowned, concerned, “Are you alright?”
Again with that name! I didn’t know who that was!
I gritted my teeth, trying to ignore the way her voice stabbed at my head.
She moved a little closer.
“Would you stop saying that?” I snapped, temper getting the better of me, “I don’t know who that is!”
Long fingers seized my chin, and I came face to face with a dark-haired stranger, whose ice-blue eyes seemed to pierce my very soul.
“What do you mean you don’t know who that is?” she demanded, unease creeping into her lovely voice, “What are you talking about?”
I tore away from her grasp, darting away from her and backing towards the wall. She followed my every movement, growing more and more distressed with every step I took away from her.
“I should be asking you that!” I shouted, clenching my fingers into fists, “Who are you? And where am I?"
She got off the bed and began walking towards me with soft, graceful steps. My back hit the wall, and I tried to press further into it, wishing I could somehow pass through and escape. The whole place seemed…off, and I found myself fervently praying to some unknown Deity for rescue. My temples were throbbing uncontrollably, the room starting to spin before my barely-focused eyes.
Oh no no no no no.
What was I running from?
“Ayla? What do you mean?” the woman-why was she still talking? - cried, ignoring the groan of pain that escaped my too-dry lips, “You couldn’t have--”
“I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE!” I shrieked, doubling over as the pain flared sickeningly. I felt hands on my shoulders, and I pushed them away, stumbling as I tried to get to the door. Her hands latched onto me again, tighter, and I struggled blindly, twisting and squirming in a vain attempt to get away from her.
I have to get away!
“Ayla!” she shouted, ensnaring my flailing limbs in a tight, uncomfortable hug, “This is your home!”
“Of course it is!” I snarled, trying to wriggle out of her grasp, “Don’t you think I’d remember that?”
With each word, I swung my head back, swallowing any cries of pain the movement brought on. One hit her solidly in the chest, and with a hiss of pain, her hold loosened, and I broke out, making a desperate dash for the door.
She didn’t like that.
With an angry growl, she snapped her fingers, and every joint in my body locked together. I was rooted to the spot, unable to even blink. The pain in my head only grew, nausea beginning to bubble in my stomach. The only sound I heard was my too-quick heart beating itself against my ribcage.
She began walking towards me, silk dress swishing in the suffocating silence. She seized my chin, forcing me to face her.
“You’re being a little too rebellious today, Ayla,” she growled, fingers sliding from my chin to cup my throat, “Mother doesn’t like that.”
My eyes widened in horror.
She pressed her fingers hard into the base of my throat, and those vivid blue eyes started to glow. The world became fuzzy, and the pain in my head flared sickeningly. Blackness began to creep into my vision, and before I knew what was happening, I was falling. Strong arms caught me, and the woman- Mother- leaned in.
“We’ll discuss this again when you’re feeling better, precious Ayla.”
The darkness welcomed me with open arms.