“What genre something something?”
Nan blinked, bringing the face above her into a blurry focus.
“What genre are you something?”
She stared at the expression, no less confused as her brain fought with two puzzles. The face and the words. Both were making no sense. She didn’t recognize this person nor did she think they were speaking English, not entirely. But the original puzzle was he or she? But he was indeed a he judging by the naked torso that extended below his face. A face that held the striking beauty of a woman, which he was not. His baby carrot colored hair hung in soft waves to his nearly glowing white shoulders. Thick, muscular shoulders. And his milk chocolate eyes were soft and … God, she was really hungry, she realized.
“Where is your story? What genre province are you from?” He helped her sit up and her brain sputtered a little as she took in the lovely flowers around her. A field of them, all different colors, shapes and sizes. Wait, genre province? She jerked to the man who wore a slight smile aimed right at her.
Something was amusing. “Genre province?” She knew that term. But from where?
“Yes, genre province?” he repeated, his eyes lowering over her. “I would wager from one of the newer Independent provinces,” he mused before fixing his concerned gaze back on her face.
It hit her suddenly. She was naked! She gave a shriek and scurried backward into the dense ground covering, laying prone. “Look away! Look away!” she cried now several feet away with a wall of flowers between them. She pressed the front of her body to the ground, only peeking up with her eyes, confused at the look on the man’s perturbed and beautiful face.
“Are you ill?” he asked, much like a probing doctor.
Ill. That was it. She was ill. Very ill. Ill or hallucinating. “Where am I?” she whispered.
She cleared her throat and asked again, louder when it looked like he’d come closer. “Stay there, stay put. Where are my clothes? Where am I, why am in the middle of this field?”
“I don’t know where your clothes are and you’re … in the Valley of Love.”
“Valley of love?” That rang no bell. She eyed him. “Where is that? Who are you?”
“Who am I?” he repeated, his eyes lighting up with another curious smile. “Where is the valley of Love?”
She nodded, holding her breath. The weight of suspense, of what was coming with his answer pressed against her chest until she couldn’t breathe even if she wanted to.
His smile slowly widened, more secretive now. “You must certainly be a type of Miskriat. Second class, I’d wager. I’ve never actually met one before.” He angled his head, his curiosity making the caramel glow in his eyes until she felt it scorching over her nakedness even though he didn’t seek to peer in private places. “Fascinating,” he whispered as though something just registered. “You must feel lost? How much story do you have? Who is your Scribbler? Do you even know? Do you have a name yet?”
Dizziness swooped in on her. She closed her eyes and opened them, trying to clear her mind or reclaim it. She’d lost it somehow and was trapped inside it. Was she in a hospital? She tried to remember details before this.
“Do you remember when you woke up here?”
She looked at the man who now sat cross-legged across from her like he was ready to have a therapy session. Therapy. Was he actually her therapist? Maybe he was … “Are you … hypnotizing me?”
He considered her question and smiled, like it were funny that she’d thought it. “No. I’m not using any powers on you at all.”
He said it like that was one of the fascinating things happening. Wait. “You have powers?”
“I do. You don’t know who I am, clearly,” he mused, another point of awe and wonder.
He didn’t seem offended that she didn’t know but it would seem she should have. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember much of anything.”
“Do you have a name?”
She struggled to recall even that. “I’m sure I do. Do you?”
He smiled and it made her want to hide deeper in the flowers. “I do.”
When he didn’t offer it, she asked, “Do you know it?”
His laughter rang out, like she’d told the best joke ever. She’d meant it genuinely. But maybe people here didn’t remember their names, she wasn’t sure. “I do know it, yes,” he said, confusing her. Why wasn’t he telling her? “Because I like you not knowing.”
She paused, staring at him.
“Sorry,” he admitted. “I used my powers.”
“You … ”
“Can read your mind.”
“Oh dear,” she whispered to his sudden grinning.
“I won’t do it again,” he assured, like it was spoiling some game.
“Good,” she said. Seemed like the right thing to say. She considered all he’d said now. If it was true then … She pointed her gaze at him, afraid to ask. Now would be a good time for him to read her mind, now when she was afraid to speak.
“Do you want me to?”
“Read your mind?” He held up both hands. “Your face implies it, so I’m just asking.”
She must’ve nodded because suddenly she felt it. A warmth in the left side of her head, right above her eye.
No he whispered in her head without speaking. You’re not crazy. I’m not sure how exactly you got here or why you’re here in my valley. Yes, I will help you. Yes you’re on Octava. She watched his smile go soft as he answered the questions before she even knew she was asking them. Can I not tell you my name just yet?
“Why?” she heard herself ask.
“I don’t want it to make everything … awkward.”
“Why would it be awkward?”
“Usually it is,” he assured with light certainty. “Trust me on that. Please.”
Trust him. Odd that he suggested it like she had an option. If she did have another option, she didn’t know what is was. “Help me,” was all she managed to say. “I need clothes,” was the next obvious and most pressing thing.
His brows drew together just barely. “It’s fascinating,” he said.
She tried to press herself further into the ground. “What is?”
“That you would know that with such an intimacy.”
“That you’re naked.”