Lightning flashed across the sky, forking in all directions. Thunder rumbled after it, audible over the pounding sound of rain as it slammed the ground. The sky was thick with black clouds, the full moon hidden far behind them.
Ak-tu stumbled to his feet in a daze, his vision blurry and his ears rattling. The moment he stood, he staggered back a few steps, a small wave of nausea passing over him. He held his arms out on either side of him, but still felt off-balance. His legs gave out beneath him, and he fell back to the stony ground.
He did not know if he could go on. His whole body was aching, his chest felt as if it was being stabbed with each breath he took. How could he ever get to his feet again if he couldn’t even breathe properly? Breathing was the life force, the one thing he could not go days without. If he couldn’t breathe, if breathing was a pain…how was he ever going to make it?
The wind whipped his indigo hair around, first behind him and then flicking about his face. It was the annoyance of his hair dancing across his closed eyes that made him come to his senses.
I’m not done yet, he thought fiercely.
Ak-tu’s purple eyes opened and he got to his feet, almost without hesitation this time. He brushed his hair out of his face, so only the ends of his thick unibrow tickled his forehead. He then went against the wailing wind and lashing rain, his hair and mustache blowing behind him.
He couldn’t quite remember what had happened to him. The storm had arrived out of nowhere, surrounding the little island he was upon. But he hadn’t been alone…
“Chaocat!” he breathed, and his steps quickened despite his chest still aching.
He had come to the island to meet with Chaocat. The two had to be on the island for a specific purpose…hadn’t they been meeting for something—someone, perhaps? But then the storm had struck, sending the two in opposite directions, preventing them from achieving their goal.
Ak-tu remembered the searing pain of his head being slammed against the ground. This couldn’t be just any storm—it was a magical one, perhaps even a spiritual one.
I have to find Chaocat, he thought numbly. We have to get out of here at once! If there are spirits around…
He did not finish that thought, and pressed onwards. The thunder and lightning continued to cause chaos in the clouds, the rain hitting harder by the minute. After what seemed like ages, he finally made it to the center of the island, the highest point. He glanced on each side of him, his eyes flicking over ancient trees scattered about, waves smashing against the black-sanded shores, and a river that now threatened to consume a good chunk of the island.
Chaocat, where are you? Ak-tu’s eyes flicked to and fro more desperately, his breathing becoming shallow and sharp once more. He didn’t see any spirits yet, but that didn’t mean they weren’t already here…
“Chaocat!” he shouted pointlessly in the ruckus. “CHAOCAT!”
But no matter how much he looked around, he could see nothing beyond the forces of the storm. Chaocat wasn’t there.
It’s not a tiny island, said a small but doubtful voice in Ak-tu’s head. They’ve got to be around here somewhere.
But what about the river? Another voice replied to the first, full of raw emotion. If they landed in that…well, I don’t think it’s possible to survive that…
Ak-tu’s knees collapsed beneath him, and he covered his face with his hands, trembling. He could not have lost Chaocat…they had to be alive!
“I will find you,” he promised quietly, removing his hands from his face and looking around once more. “No matter how long it takes, I will find you, Chaocat…”
Ak-tu sat in a more comfortable lotus position on the ground and closed his eyes. He took several deep breaths, ignoring the sharp pain that came with them. He reached his energy outwards, searching for any sign of life, any sign of magic.
He opened his eyes and clambered to his feet once more. He had felt something, near the ancient trees. He wasn’t alone!
Ak-tu went as quickly as his aching feet could carry him. He stumbled down the small slope towards the leafless trees. They weren’t faring too well in the storm. Though they had clearly been a part of the island for a very long time, they had never been part of a magical storm before. Lots of branches broke off, while other trees snapped in half completely.
Ak-tu scrambled over the fallen trees, reaching out with his energy once again. For a moment, he did not feel anything but the cold wind slapping his tattered robe around his ankles. Then, he detected the other energy, merely feet away. Ak-tu opened his eyes and headed towards a hollowed-out stump several meters from him.
“Chaocat?” Ak-tu called loudly, hoping his voice could be heard now that he was nearby.
But he received no response—or maybe he did, and he just couldn’t hear it.
Hoping it was Chaocat, Ak-tu knelt beside the stump and looked through the hole towards the bottom. What he saw was definitely not Chaocat.
A baby was lying under the wood, their eyes closed as they slept. Ak-tu had no idea how any infant was able to sleep during a raging storm. He looked away from the stump, then glanced back, but the baby was still there. He wasn’t hallucinating then—at least, as far as he knew.
He had no idea where the child had come from, as the island lay uninhabited. Even animals did not live upon it; only some animals remained for a few days before moving on. But as Ak-tu continued to stare, he felt a familiarity that he knew this newborn. He didn’t know how he could; he didn’t remember any babies on his travels. But there was something…familiar…about this infant.
He reached out for the baby, and as soon as his hands closed around them, they started to cry. Their cries were lost in the storm, but Ak-tu could detect their turmoil nonetheless. It somehow hurt more than his sharp breaths.
“It’ll be okay,” he soothed quietly as he wrapped the child in his robe. “I’ll protect you.”
At the low murmuring of his voice, or perhaps because of being lifted, the baby opened their eyes. Ak-tu could sense some sort of bond between them. The baby closed their eyes again and cried, so Ak-tu pulled them even closer.
He frowned, his foggy mind starting to clear. How could he have forgotten what had happened—what had caused the storm, the big blast, the baby?
Ak-tu shook his head. It didn’t matter now. All that matters is I find a way off of this island and protect this baby.
Ak-tu held the infant closer to his aching chest as he clambered to the center of the island again, the pain in his body leaving bit by bit. The lightning was no longer flashing, the thunder had stopped, and the rain was ebbing. The storm was at its end.
“Well, little one, you’re going to need a name,” Ak-tu murmured. “How do you like Arashi? It’s quite fitting, given the circumstances of your birth in a storm.”
The baby opened their eyes and stared up at him.
“Yes, we need something more,” Ak-tu said softly, sitting down in a lotus position. “Oh—how about Ren, or Lotus?”
The child let out a soft cry, whether of delight or fear, he did not know.
“Ren Arashi Caihong it is, then,” Ak-tu whispered. “I promise to protect you with my life, little one…” He looked up and stared at the vast ocean around them, which had finally calmed down. “I better see if I can contact Jabali to get us out of here somehow…”
The baby made another small noise and reached out a hand towards him. Ak-tu grasped the tiny hand with his fingers, and could again feel that bond. But this time, he knew why he felt a connection. This time, he had a recollection of what had happened.
And he knew contacting his friend was the least of their worries…