I guess you never really know how important your memory is until you no longer have it. Although I suppose that is true about all things, isn't it? I had been unable to remember my own name, lost in a sea of nothingness as I tried to recall details of my life, as if my eyes had been bound and my ears sealed throughout all the years of my own existence.
Yet there I was, blind to exactly who I was whilst seated on a bed of steel with little more than a quilt to act as a mattress. I sat, staring at the cold and unforgiving metal that made up the walls of my room aboard the Valkyria, almost praying that some sort of glimmer of myself would appear in the reflection I saw before me. It never did.
Instead, there came a deafening and rhythmic banging on the door that broke my concentration and pulled me out of my mind and back into reality. Although I must say that reality was no better than the loneliness of my mind at that time. The consistent murmur of the Valkyria's engines, as well as the never-ending echo of footsteps marching around the airships corridors found their way to my ears once again. The room itself hummed as it vibrated ever so slightly, likely caused by the fact that it was so close to the ship's engines.
"Come in," I said, and the circular handle on the door began to turn. The high pitched squeal it made with every rotation sounded like a mouse's death cry, piercing my skull and sending shivers down my spine. As the door creaked open, the man who claimed to be my older brother stepped into the room.
He had told me a great deal about our past lives in a small farming village, and I found that I believed his stories. After all, the amount of detail in his tales was far too great to the quick fire works of an overactive imagination. They were just too real. So I accepted that he was, indeed, my brother. Yet every time I looked at him back then, I felt no connection to the unknown man before me.
"Alexia," he said. "Can I come in?"
I had also been forced to accept that my name was Alexia, which did have a nice sound to it. I looked over at the clock on the wall, the cogs within it churning away, ever pulling the seconds from my hands. It was a quarter past six, and the daylight was beginning to fade from the tiny porthole window to my left.
My brother, Einar, stood with his hands around his waist, panting heavily. His overalls were stained with oil and grease, and his face blanketed with a layer of dirt and dust that looked thick enough to stop a bullet.
"I assume your shift has just ended," I said.
"It has," he replied. "How could you tell?"
"There are street dogs that look cleaner than you."
He laughed. At the time, his laugh was one of the few aspects of happiness that I saw. Life on the Valkyria was harsh. The average crew member's day consisted of dangling from the side of the airship mid-flight to inspect that air canisters, oiling and greasing the steam valves and cleaning out the pipelines. On top of that, pilots had to tend to their own ships and gunners had to carry out their own maintenance as well.
"So," Einar said. "Do you want to try again?"
Every day after his shift, Einar would come and try to help me get my memories back. It was a kind act. We would sit, sometimes for hours, and he would just talk about our lives and the things that happened to us. But it never seemed to help. Rather, it only proved to increase the amount of uncertainties within my mind. Yet how could I tell that to this man who was trying so hard to help me?
In truth, though, I had remembered one thing from the stories he had told me; the cloaked man. Somehow, deep inside, I knew he was the cause of my predicament, yet I did not know how he had sealed away the very memories that made me.
"I'm sorry," I said.
I had to. For months we had tried these talks, countless hours whittled away with no gain and no progress. It would have been unfair and selfish of me to allow the charade of progress to continue.
"It's really no use," I continued. "Nothing has worked. Simply listening to our lives does not help."
Einar walked across the room and sat down on the small wooden chair that had been placed in front of an ornately carved writing desk. He glanced down at the various sheets of paper I had left strewn across the desk, each with a different image of the same cloaked man on it.
"Well," he said. "You definitely remembered something."
"Yes, although only him," I replied.
"And you still haven't been able to remember anything more about him?"
I shook my head. This was a man who had taken everything from me, in the most literal sense. Not only had he taken away my being, my very self, but according to Einar he had taken away the safety and security of my home. He had defiled the very place a person is supposed to feel safe, and had snatched me in my sleep from my own bed. He was the most vile wretch of a man that I had ever been in the company of, and yet I could do nothing but picture his cloak and weathered skin.
I remembered that he moved like a man of youth, with speed and power, but his body looked frail and broken. His skin sagged, folding like leather worn from the rain. Despite this, though, I remember he commanded great respect from the Inquisition.
"We need to find him," I said.
Something compelled me to say it; a strange, niggling feeling in the back of my head. It was as if some small, timid voice was trying to scream at me, to command me to find this one man out of the whole population of the known lands.
"Well then," said Einar. "We need to have some idea of who we are looking for."
He was right, of course. Who in their right mind would search for one man in a world of men when you cannot ever recall his identity. So I tried to remember. I pushed myself back into my mind, staring once again at the reflection in the mirror. I allowed myself to enter that darkness in my mind, that black hole that had consumed everything. I allowed myself to drift into the empty recesses of my memory, in the hope that somewhere, a small spark would set of an ignition of recollection and I would know my enemy.
Instead, my head began to throb. It felt as if I was being torn apart, wrenched into ten different direction by jagged teeth and claws. I keeled over, falling from the bed to my knees, the icy flaw catching me. It was no use.
"I can't," I said, barely managing to get the words out of my mouth.
"Don't worry," said Einar as he took my hand and helped me to my feet. "We will find him."