Aria slowly opened her eyes. The room looked fuzzy, but she could still make out the outline of a man standing over her. "Ari?" he said.
As she struggled to focus her vision she remembered that only one person called her by that nickname. "Nathan?" she asked, while struggling to sit up.
She instantly felt so light-headed that she collapsed again. The concern in his grey-green eyes instantly doubled. "Just don't, ok? You banged your head pretty hard."
Aria gasped as daggers of pain shot through her forehead. Nathan brushed the hair out of her eyes, like he had when they were younger, back in Zordain.
Then she was back in the village, 5 years ago. A much younger Nathan was with her. The emerald green grass had an aroma of mint and the sun shone gently overhead. A slight breeze blew back her hair and made the grass brush against her bare feet. Crickets chirped softly in the trees and birdsong filled the air. A slight taste of, perhaps, the essence of spring, rested on the tip of her tongue as she changed to a more comfortable throwing stance. She slowly drew her wrist back then flicked it forward, releasing the knife. It went spinning through the air towards the target, but she had over-judged the distance and could only watch as it shot past and into the sparkling, crystal-clear waters of the river.
"You're too tense, Ari," Nathan said. "You need to relax more, like this."
He flicked his knife, lightning fast, and it thudded into the target, dead centre as always. "Try again." She concentrated and threw. The knife hit, right next to Nathan's.
"I did it!" she yelled throwing her arms around his neck.
He lifted her into the air as he hugged her. "Well done," he whispered in her ear, and those two words of praise, from the older cousin that she idolised, were the best recognition she could ever want.
Her mind flicked forward nineteen months, to the time when one of the branches in the old apple tree had snapped. She had fallen two metres and her ankle had snapped. Her sounds of pain had filled the air as the usual sounds of winter stopped. She lay in the snow, waiting for someone to come, struggling to stay awake against the biting, numbing cold. She cried out again and again, but no one came. Finally she slipped into unconsciousness, knowing that even as she did so, that she would never wake again and hoping that when the end came, it would be fast.
Aria's eyes flickered open. Wherever she was was filled with an intense, blinding light. She felt warm and safe. She realised that she must have died. Then, as she tried to stand a sharp pain burned at her ankle. She screamed against the pain and collapsed, on the floor, curled up in a little ball, rocking softly. Someone lifted her up, back onto the bed, helped her lie down and gently stroked back her hair. Gradually she stopped screaming and cried softly. Through her tears she could see Nathan. A deep pain filled his eyes. He looked at her then walked out of the room. As he left she could hear him muttering, "might never walk again." She inwardly collapsed, terrified of the prospect.
A while later, she wasn't sure how long, she felt slightly better. The pain had mostly subsided. A small blond girl, of 3 summers, ran into the room. Kari.
A sudden stab of pain inside her heart brought Aria back to the present. She was too numb to do anything but cry. "Kari's dead," she said in response to Nathan's questioning gaze. He drew back, shocked. Kari was his older sister, Raachel's, only child. "How?" he inquired. "Catmorphs."