Heroes of the Habitarium: Part Four
"I found something!" yelled Colston. Kendra and Brett peered over their stacks of books and paper, then scrambled over to Colston, who was holding up a small, worn book triumphantly.
He opened to the first page and read the hand-written words out loud.
"Journal property of Rose and Rahm." Kendra and Brett leaned in closer, surprised at their luck.
"Give it to me," said Kendra, "I can read faster than the two of you. And keep looking. There might be more information somewhere else amongst this mess." She waved towards the unread stacks on paper and books around her. Colston and Brett nodded and went back to their work with a renewed fervor.
Kendra delved into the book, skimming over the couple's early entries and reading over the training methods scribbled next to neat lists of pupils. After a few minutes of searching, she came across an entry that jumped out at her. The page was dotted with teardrops that had smeared the ink and morphed the yellowed paper. The writing was neat and loopy, and from what Kendra had gathered from the rest of the journal, belonged to Rahm's wife, Rose. Her eyes skimmed over the page until she came to a promising passage. After taking in a nervous breath, she started to read aloud.
"Rahm has disappeared. The elders have informed me that he is gone—that he was killed in the attack. But I know. I know that it is not the truth. There was no Blue Light. He is gone, but he is not dead. I do not know where he has been taken, and in the state I am in, I cannot search for him. When my broken leg and arm heal, I will find him, but, until then, I can do nothing.
"I feel helpless. I feel more than helpless.
"If it weren't for Rahm's pupils, I wouldn't know what I would do. They come every day to help me to heal, and they bring me books and news, anything that will give me some clue as to where Rahm has gone. They tell me stories about him, and I share mine with them.
"Sometimes it is painful, though.
"Just remembering what I saw that day makes my heart ache, but I can't help but replay the images in my head. Rahm was fighting three of the Beasts by himself. Another snuck up behind him. I tried to yell out to warn him, but it was too late, and in my panic, I hadn't noticed a fifth beast barreling towards me. I moved out of its path in time, but I couldn't escape the falling rubble of our house that the Beast had so easily knocked over. I screamed out in pain and surprise as I was crushed.
"Pinned down, I could only watch as Rahm looked over, distracted by me. In that instant, the Beasts charged him. He was buried beneath the three of them for a moment, then somehow managed to escape from their clutches.
"He spear had been knocked away, so he pulled out a dagger and started backing away, trying to lure them towards the outskirts of the village. But he only got a few yards away before it started. The humming. And in that moment, Rahm struck at the nearest beast and latched himself onto its shoulder.
"The Beast, vibrating and humming, tried to throw him but it couldn't. Rahm held firm and quickly gained the upper hand. The Blue Beast was about to go down, when, without warning, the humming stopped altogether, and not a second later, they disappeared.
"Not just the Beasts, but Rahm as well. He had vanished without a trace. There was no Great Light, no gems left behind, no evidence at all. Nothing to tell me or the other villagers where he might have gone.
"It has been almost two months since that day. I am still confined to bed because of my injuries, but I have been told that I will be able to walk on my own again soon. Once I am able to move around again, I will find Rahm, but when I tell this to others, I can tell that they worry about me. I know they think that I am crazy to think that Rahm is still alive.
"I was the sole witness, I was injured, and I was half-mad with worry that my husband was going to die. Only his most devoted pupils trust my judgment enough to know that something out of the ordinary happened. Everyone else discounts my claims as the rantings of a heartbroken widow.
"But, even I am starting to wonder if what I really saw was true. Starting to wonder if my mind just playing tricks on me. If I was desperately grasping for a reason to believe that my beloved Rahm could still be alive..."
Kendra looked up at Colston and Brett. Silence stretched as Rose's words sunk in.
"Is there more?" Colston asked. "Do you think she found out what happened to him and where he went?"
"I don't know," said Kendra thoughtfully, "I'll keep looking through this journal. You two need to see if you can find something else. Search near where this book was. There may be another one or there may be something else that can help us."
Colston and Brett nodded then split up, each taking an aisle of books to look through while Kendra continued to scan through the Rose and Rahm's Journal. She flipped through page after page of Rose voicing her concerns, of Rose's records of her injuries to her legs healing, of stories that Rahm's pupils had inscribed.
And then, on the very last page...
Kendra read it over once, her eyes hungrily scanning over the words. "Guys," she said. Her voice was low and serious. "I think I found something."
The two boys rushed over and looked over Kendra's shoulder, vying to see what was written on the paper in front of her.
"Last week, Rahm came home, but the Rahm that is sleeping here beside me is not the petpetpet I once knew. He recognizes me, but he won't speak. He stares off into the distance though he can hardly see anymore. And there seems to be no consoling him. By me or anyone else. He is a broken shell of his former self. But I still love him.
"I don't know what to do. He just stares out the window without actually seeing what is beyond the pane. He mutters gibberish when he is awake and trembles and whimpers in his sleep. Every now and then, I can make out words like 'darkness', 'tunnels', 'escape', 'Blue Beasts', and 'help'. Sometimes he even says my name, but in a way that makes me think that he believes that we are still separated from each other.
"I don't know where he was for the months that he was gone. He won't say. But today, when I asked him to show me on my map of the Habitarium, he took it from my hands and started scribbling on it.
"He is drawing as I write this. Every time I try to peek over his shoulder, he stops and covers the paper, so I decided to busy myself with writing in this Journal until he is through. I don't know if what he is drawing will make any more sense than anything else that has happened since the day of the attack, but I am hopeful that it will.
"All I can do is hope. Hope that—"
Kendra looked up at Brett and Colston. "It ends there," she told them, "But see at the bottom of the page? It says 'continued ' in tiny letters in the corner. That means that there could be another Journal around here somewhere. Keep looking."
Kendra stashed the Journal in her bag then started searching through the shelves and piles of papers and books that surrounded her. Brett and Colston fanned out and did the same, searching with even more determination than before.
Hasty seconds of searching turned to minutes and then hours. Though the three petpetpets couldn't see the sky from inside the underground room, they knew that night had fallen. Their backs and necks had long grown stiff from hunching over, and their eyes had grow tired from squinting at words in the dim lighting.
But calling it a night didn't even cross any of their minds. They were all grimly determined to find something—anything—that could lead them to Kei. They did not want what allegedly happened to Rahm to happen to their friend as well.
In the depths of the Colony, Kei drifted in and out of an uncomfortable sleep. Talia had not returned with fresh food or water, and his stomach was gurgling and growling with impatience. His eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness, but they did him little good in the small, cramped space. At least when he couldn't see the edges of his prison, there was still a possibility that there was something else out there. There had still been a chance that the walls and ceiling were more than a few mere feet away from him, slick with moisture, mold, and fungi. But now, he could see them clearly.
And with his initial panic gone, he started to notice other things that had previously eluded him. The thick, damp, air smelled faintly of earth and mildew and the ground and the wall behind him was cold to the touch beneath his skin and clothing.
The attack on his village earlier in the day seemed a lifetime away. Waking up that morning, he never would have imagined the situation he would be in at the end of the day. He never would have even thought that he would be fighting the Blue Beasts, let alone be captured by one, be speaking to one.
He was having trouble wrapping his head around it. He was having trouble comprehending any of it. How was he supposed to?
Kei had been thrust into battle, into an adventure, but it was far from how he imagined it would be. He hadn't been prepared for any of it; he was still just a kid. And now, he was separated from everyone and everything he knew. He was in a whole different world.
And he was terrified. He was so scared that his mind had gone as numb as his limbs, which were still fastened to the wall and to the floor.
He had never felt so helpless in his life, and he had never felt so alone.
If he weren't so tired and he weren't so thirsty, he knew that he would be crying. He was enough of a soldier to own up to that fact. But he hardly had enough energy to keep himself awake and alert, let alone wallow in fear and self-pity and who-knew-what other emotions that were being suppressed by him at that very moment.
Sighing, he tried to reposition his body for the hundredth time to make himself at least a bit less uncomfortable, but it didn't help. He focused his eyes on the worn wooden door, willing it to open, willing Talia to walk through it and unchain him from the wall.
And, then, with a groan, the door started to swing inward. But when it opened, it did not reveal the kind, nervous Talia, but a very gruff looking blue petpetpet dressed partially in what appeared to be his armor.
He looked quite alert the moment he came through; no doubt ready to face the monstrous Lightwalker that was trapped inside, but once his eyes met Kei's, his warrior grimace turned down into a frown.
"You're the one everyone is afraid to come see?" he said doubtfully. He looked Kei over again. "I guess Talia was right. You do look harmless and you look like much of a threat at all."
Kei didn't know whether to glare at the petpetpet or look up at him, wide-eyed and feigning complete helplessness.
"Talia also said that you are able to speak and think like us. Is that true?" He stepped a bit closer to Kei, scrutinizing him.
A slow, quiet, "Yes," passed through Kei's lips and the man's eyes widened in surprise.
"So, you can talk," he said curiously. He stepped forward again, right up to Kei, and knelt down in front of him.
"We've been treating you pretty bad, huh?" he said sadly. "I'm really, truly very sorry about all this. And I will get you out of here as soon as I can."
Kei brightened at his words.
"And, let me unchain you from the wall. As long as your feet and hands are bound and the door is locked, you won't be able to escape anyway. And if you do, you wouldn't get very far without collapsing." His voice was filled with pity and something else Kei couldn't quite recognize. Regret? Sympathy?
The Blue Beast reached over and plucked the chain off the wall from above Kei's head and Kei's hands fell to the floor with a thud. He grimaced as he heard the sound but his hands and arms were so numb that he didn't feel any pain.
"I'll get you out of here soon. I promise," he told Kei.
Kei managed a slight nod.
And then, without another word, the petpetpet rose to his feet and walked out the door, shutting it tightly and locking it behind him.
Kei stared after him for a moment. He wanted so badly to trust the man, to believe his words, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. He couldn't let himself get his hopes up, not when the situation he was in was so obviously... well, grim.
No, he had to figure out how to help himself. He had a find a way to escape. He couldn't rely on the creatures that had imprisoned him in the first place to help him.
But what was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to escape from his prison? How was he supposed to get home when he couldn't even stand up without falling over?
He slumped back against the wall and tried moving his fingers. It was painful, but as the feeling returned to them and then to his arms, he felt better and better. After a few long minutes, he pushed himself onto his knees and then unsteadily rose to his feet. With his ankles chained to each other and to the ground, he could only walk a step or two in each direction, but it was far better than being stuck on the ground with his hands pinned uncomfortably above his head.
He paced around in small circles for a while and stretched his arms. Then, he bent down and inspected the chain that was attached to the floor. Unlike the one that had held his arms up, the one beneath his feet was secured with a lock. Kei looked around for something to smash or pick it, but there wasn't anything in the room but mold, dirt, and, of course, himself. He noticed for the first time that his spear had been taking away from it. He was surprised he hadn't noticed it before. A soldier and his spear were supposed to be inseparable. He felt empty, awkward, almost naked without it.
As Kei was contemplating his next move, he heard the bolt slide open on the door. And, seconds later, the same man from before walked inside, followed closely by Talia. She was carrying a tray of food and water. Kei zeroed in on it, mouth watering, and his stomach let out a long, loud grumble.
Talia peered around the man and handed him the tray, which he then handed to Kei. He sat down on the ground, placed the tray at his feet, and started shoveling the cornmeal into his mouth and gulping down water. The other blue petpetpet raised an eyebrow in disbelief as he did so, but said nothing until Kei had cleared the entire tray.
"Still hungry?" he asked. Kei looked up at him and nodded.
"We can get him some more food once we leave, Harrow," Talia said, tugging at the man's elbow.
Kei rose to his feet. "Leave?" he repeated slowly.
"Yes," Talia replied, "Leave. Tell him what you told me, Harrow."
The petpetpet let out a long sigh. "You will be moving in with me. You won't have freedom to leave whenever you want, you'll still be under lock and key, but it is better than here, right?"
Talia elbowed him again, this times more forcefully.
"And—I'm sorry," he said.
"For what?" Kei asked. He hadn't done anything wrong as far as Kei knew. In fact, he had been quite kind to him. He had released his hands from the walls, he had brought Talia with him with food and water, and now he was helping him to leave his damp, dark prison.
As far as Kei knew, the man had nothing to apologize for.
"I'm sorry," he repeated. He took a deep breath. "I'm the one who brought you here."
To be continued...