A to Z 2017: INNER SANCTUM

He awoke to the soft lapping of waves and a cool, gentle breeze washing over him. His eyes felt rested, but he didn't want to open them yet. Instead he gave in to the desire to just relax and take in the peaceful sounds and refreshing scents, allowing his body to go limp. It seemed like an eternity since he last felt so at ease. The tension removed from his body, the worries constantly swirling his mind expunged. Just stillness.

He thought he heard a beep, prompting him to open his eyes. It was faint, somewhere far away. Somewhere across the water.

He noticed his vision was a bit off, there was a golden-white tint surrounding his peripherals. Then the sky caught his attention, leading him to remove his plastered face from the wet sand to get a better vantage point. As he shifted to his knees and pushed himself up into a standing position, he became aware that no imprint was left behind in the sand. It remained smooth and appeared untouched. His bare feet, however, were sunken into the ground. He wiggled his toes, feeling the granular texture wedging and sticking to them.

Remembering the glimpsed spectacle above him, his eyes sought it out again. The heavens were ablaze with color. A constantly shifting rainbow of beauty, shimmering between every hue of color he could imagine. The phenomenon stretched across the entire sky, as far as he could see. It reminded him of Aurora Borealis, except more brilliant, more alive. The clear sparkling water twinkled and reflected the light show casting over it.

Another faint beep. His hand seemed to have an instinctual reaction to reach up to his waist as though it was seeking something out. But there was nothing there. Then realization crept in and his heart sunk. The peaceful sensations encompassing him slowly subsided, making way for panic. Confused, he ripped his eyes away from the enigmatic scenery and stared down as his feet. The two feet he was standing on. Unassisted.

"Oh shit, I'm dead."

"No, you are not dead, Tony." The thick accented voice startled him and he spun around. "Yet."

Standing in front of him was a bald Asian man. Smooth-faced with two dark, beady eyes staring out from underneath a pair of bushy eyebrows. The man was wearing a bright red, orange-trimmed robe. Along the edging of the robe and encircling the deep cuffs were foreign scriptures written in what appeared to be elegant calligraphy. The silky robe had a swaying shimmer that matched the sky, but never deviating from palettes of deep red.

"My name is Patrick. Who are you?"

"Your name is Tony, Mr. Carver."

"Mr...?" He looked past the man and his words drifted. Behind the stranger was the same ocean of water and pulsing sky. He spun back around to his original view to verify, except the robed man was still in front of him, slightly obscuring the incredible panoramic setting. "What the hell is going on?" Tony asked while looking over his shoulder and then back again. A mirror image.

He was greeted with a smirk. "I think you should come with me, Tony. I can help you find the answers you seek."

"I told you my name is Patrick."

"What if I told you your name was also Running Wolf On Waters Edge Like Wind Stirring In Open Field?"

Tony gave an incredulous expression, uncertain how to answer. "Uh, I'd say that sounded a lot more Native American than Eastern..."

The stranger stood motionless, face expressionless. "Are you finished with your games? I have no time for games. Time is short."

"Time for what?"

"Answers."

"How about we start with who you are and what the hell is going on, how's that sound? Where the hell am I?"

"Do you always ask such stupid questions?" Tony's memory tugged. "I am The Dragon."

The man pointed past him, forcing his attention over his shoulder again. His eyes widened in shock. Not at the stranger who was now suddenly walking away from him, leaving no footprints in the sand behind him, but at the expansive display of towering mountains in the distance, covering the landscape. Sweeping forests, winding rivers, and cutting valleys decorating their mass. The treeline ended just a few hundred yards ahead of the newly formed odd couple.

The man shouted as he began crossing a wooden bridge spanning over a small pond. "And this is the most sacred of places." A path revealed itself as The Dragon continued, twisting slightly up a hill dotted with stairs, which lead to the mouth of an expansive garden aglow with multicolored foliage. "If you want answers, Tony, then we will find them for you here." Towering above the gardens was a temple, modest yet featuring multiple levels of swooping roofs and encapsulating a fashion he had only bore witness to in the movies.

The Dragon paused momentarily, "Ah, don't worry about your legs, Tony. They work just fine here." He thought he heard a chuckle as the man resumed his departure.

It was all the convincing Tony needed to spring into action.

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