The desert sky swirled in a mass of cobalt liquid and fuzzy stars as he opened his eyes. Sleep dreared through his muddled thoughts as he tried to remember where he was. A biting southern breeze suddenly reminded him, in the middle of nowhere. With her.
Shifting to one shoulder, he attempted to let the sleep slip from his mind, but it held tight like a vice-grip. Sighing sleepily, he reached for her. He wasn't sure how she would receive him, but also didn't much care. Not at this point. His hand fell flat on the pile of neatly folded blankets beside him.
Surprise lanced through him as he shot upright, sleepiness forgotten. He squinted against the pressing darkness but could only make out the faint shapes of the brush surrounding the clearing. Panic started to rise in his chest as he called for her, softly at first, as if afraid to attract nefarious attention. He listened. The bite of the southern breeze met his ears.
Turning in a slow circle, he searched the azure sky--for what, he wasn't sure. But then he saw it, a hazy shape on the horizon, floating lazily into the lightening sky. There was a whisper of irritation in the back of his mind as he started climbing the steep ridge that separated them. He couldn't be sure why she would go off alone--in a place like this.
In the short time, he'd been awake the world had shifted from a gloomy mash of shapes to a swarm of sun-scorched land, touched by just the faintest hint of the rising sun. He peered eastward to see it simmering a deep crimson on the horizon, like a fresh wound cut across the periwinkle sky.
He crested the ridge to see a fire, burned to its last embers, smoldering silently at the bottom of the hillside. A small, indiscernible shape accompanied it. He approached cautiously, nervous of how his presence would be accepted.
She was crouched beside the fire, facing homeward, with her head nestled in her crossed arms, hair spilling over her back like a cascade of molten gold. She didn't move as he settled gently beside her, daring not to disturb the resonant peace of the early morning.
The scent of fire and smoke filled his nose, an earthy and wholesome smell that sent a shaky sense of reassurance through him. He carefully brushed a lock of hair from her shoulder. His hand came back covered in soot.
He opened his mouth to question her as his eyes swept over her. They traced the slope of her shoulders, the curve of her back and he realized, with a start, that she wore nothing but the thinnest layer of ash.
Before he could speak, she lifted her head, and he spotted trails of silver tears spilling down ashen cheeks. He blinked.
Part II to follow next week!