It took me awhile to open my heavy eyelids but more time still to focus through the fog clouding my senses. The sky was still overcast with thick dark clouds which threatened to extinguish all light from around me, but I could vaguely make out the maple leaves scattered on the floor next to my immobile body. Maple leaves… maple leaves? Wait… Where was I?
Was I dead?
As if on cue and to my absolute horror, the hunter descended directly above my powerless figure while I pointlessly willed my paralysed body to move, to run, to hide! The stifling pressure was enough to suppress any further movements from my body, and the next moment I was screaming in pain and anguish as my captor raised his right foot and slammed it down on my chest like a piston, crushing my ribs and forcing my ruptured vessels to spew blood out of my mouth.
Coughing and wheezing, I could do little more than to concentrate on my breathing. If I wasn’t already dead I was surely dying this time but something was amiss, something wasn’t right in this whole scene. As my body continued to cough out blood and what little life force it was left with, my mind had decided that the anomalies I had discovered were more worthy of my attention than my broken and soon to be lifeless body: Luton and Moria’s corpses were no longer present; the maple archway which I had blown up had miraculously reappeared; and my captor did not have a face!
The last observation was chilling enough to make my dying body tremble with a fresh wave of fear. I couldn’t describe it even if I wanted to, the face that looked down on me was hauntingly featureless!
Just when the whole encounter couldn’t get any more bizarre, the hunter’s face suddenly materialized and the familiar piercing eyes were tearing through my consciousness once again. He was saying something but I couldn’t understand him. Then he started to lean towards me and while I tried to recoil in terror, I could only lie helplessly in front of him.
“raal… Kraal… Kral wake up!”
The freezing water snapped me back to my senses and I jolted out of my partially soaked quilt, furiously attempting to steady my croaking breath. The relief, or confusion, of still being alive was soon amplified by the sight of Moria’s concerned face. I must have looked like a possessed capasa because Luton unleashed another torrent of water from his glass only to be met by more croaking.
“Skar! Damn you Luton!” I shouted at my retreating comrade who had plastered an unruly grin on his otherwise well-groomed face. Strange that, his clean attire. A thin white thobe had replaced his ragged tunic and there was no sign of the former scrawling subtle on his gleaming clean-shaven face. The once tangled cobwebs on his head had also miraculously transformed themselves into a set of pristine braids.
Before I had a chance to inquire further, Moria dashed towards my bedside and hugged me so tightly it almost felt like an assassination, even if a remarkably sweet one! She smelt good, a whiff of Jasomyne if I wasn’t mistaken.
“Thank God you’re fin’ ‘wake! Thank God Kr I’m s’ happy! We mis’ you s’ much and by Bl’gard there’s s’ much t’ tell, s’ ma’ th’ t’ ‘cuss, I don’ no ‘re t’ start’,” my humble speech recognition abilities struggled to decipher the 150 mph Moria outburst and desperately tried to join up the i’s and o’s, of course, to little success.
“How about, you start by giving him some space to breathe capasi,” Luton chirped gleefully, naturally attracting a heart-piercing glare from Moria. “Umm.. Your Majesty,” he quickly added, performing a less than graceful mock bow. Moria turned her attention back towards my dazed form, and the familiar look of concern was back on her face. Here we go.
“How are you feeling now Kral?” she asked me in a concerned voice as her right hand stroked my wet hair. Her attire was similar to Luton’s: A light blue thobe covered her in entirety, hiding her curves and revealing her sandalled feet where white jewels danced on the dyed blue leather. A soft clicking sound escaped as she shifted her manicured feet on the marble-tiled floor. “You’re not burning up any more, but you’re still so pale,” she added before I had a chance to respond.
“I’m, I uh… What’s going on here Moria? Where are we, and the hunter?” I had a million plus one questions, but I still felt light-headed and unusually weak, and it was hard to concentrate on any particular individual task. The sun shone brightly through the partially open glass panel which formed the far wall while revealing a pleasant maze of glistening structures, peculiar airporters and an expanse of greenery. How high up were we, I began to wonder.
Still dazed, I noticed that my current abode was no less peculiar than the outer surroundings either. The white tiled walls were surprisingly bare except for a mechanical shelf protruding from the wall beside my bed and what looked like a set of sliding-panel compartments fitted to the far wall on my right, housing the only door to the room, itself transparent and formed of some sort of glass no doubt. In brief, the room looked delicate and luxurious, and I almost expected something to jump out of the wall at any moment. If I wasn’t so freaked out by my surroundings and the strangeness of my comrades, I probably would have let the sun rays bathe me in their warmth and taken comfort from the serene environment.
Whatever this was, one thing was sure: I was no longer in Rumess.
“Kral my brother, we have much to tell you but you still look dazed bro, so let’s leave the details until later eh? Actually, I’m not sure I still know the details fully myself to be honest,” and at this, Luton gave a slight whiff of the hand, as he usually did when he was at a loss for words. “But for now, just know that we are safe and that capasa earlier wasn’t a hunter, it was one of the good guys.” Placing the drained glass on the protruding shelf and walking towards me, he hesitantly added: “I think.” A set of faint but luminescent blue lines criss-crossed across the length of the shelf, forming a perimeter around the glass and then disappearing just as mysteriously as they had appeared.
Before I could say anything, Moria added her support behind Luton: “He’s right Kral, we are in this place called the Academy and it’s fascinating t’ b’ ‘onest..,” sensing the danger from Moria’s regaining of momentum once again and feeling pity for my faltering ability to comprehend anything that was mentioned or experienced so far, I quickly interrupted: “But… you’re talking like you’ve been here for… How long have I been out?” I suddenly felt so clueless. What was going on? If it wasn’t a hunter who captured us then who? And what in Bloodgard is this Academy? Where exactly were we? I had so many questions, and nothing was making sense.
My head was starting to pound and a sudden wave of dizziness nearly forced me to black out. Moria was quick to intercept my swaying form and held me tight until I signalled that I was OK. The feel of her soft velvety hands on my goose-bumped bare arms was no less comforting than the padded foam underneath me.
“You’ve been out for a couple of days Kral,” Moria responded quietly as she continued stroking my arm and gently massaging my rusty shoulder from behind. “5 days, to be precise,” added in Luton, albeit a bit too enthusiastically.
“5… days?” I looked inquisitively at Moria as my voice started to quiver. “And what about you two? I saw you two, you were dead,” I struggled furiously to maintain my composure. “I mean, none of this makes any sense… How come I’ve been out for 5 days and there’s not a scratch on either one of you!” I pushed Moria’s hand off my face as the confusion started to be replaced with a hint of irritation, possibly anger. I didn’t have a clue about our current situation and every new piece of information confused me even further. Luton’s mischievous remarks weren’t helping either!
“Look, mate, there’s a lot going on here and even more that we don’t even know ourselves yet. But regarding that incident, we didn’t die, of course,” and at this, Luton smirked, forming an arch above his head with his two cleaver-sized hands. “See, no halo!” He beamed in pretence.
Sensing my frustration and the clenching of my fists around the soaked quilt, Moria glared at Luton: “Give it a rest Luton!” Then she turned towards me and placed her hand around my perspiring fists, her thumb rubbing back and forth at the hem of my wrists. “I know it’s a lot to take in Kral, but we will fill you in slowly. The nurse said you’re still recovering and you’re swaying already so you need to rest.” Before I could mount a protest or attempt to rescind my state of weakness, a faint hissing sound escaped from the transparent door as another set of luminescent lines criss-crossed across the length of the door before it disappeared altogether, and a white-clad capasi walked in.
“Oh, I see you’re awake dear,” she remarked happily, before noticing the slightly wet floor and the partially filled glass of water on the far shelf. “Even if unconventionally,” she added in a more solemn voice, staring at Luton and Moria, both of whom had retreated under her stern gaze. “I trust that you know your way out?” She looked from Luton to Moria as she walked towards me, my comrades hastily walking out of the room without so much as a backwards glance. Charming.
“Hello dear. Let’s see now, Kral is it? Kral Fenley? My name is Kelia, Kelia Etorm. I’m.. your.. nurse.” She squeezed my hand as she emphasised the last few words as if I was hard of hearing.
“Um… yes it’s Kral. Where…,”
“No no no, no questions yet Kral dear, you need to rest and recover your energy,” she quickly interrupted before I had a chance to finish my sentence. “It will be a few days still before you can get back on your feet, you’re still pretty weak.” After taking my wet quilt, she pressed a few buttons on the glass panel at the lower end of my bed and a comforting warmth spread across the foam beneath me. “There, we’ll have you dried in no time.”
“But, I’m n…,”
“There’ll be lots of time for questions later.” She smiled as she cut me off once again, punching another set of commands to stop the heating system while placing a new quilt over my spent body. “You’re not missing out on anything dear, term starts in a week and you should be out by then hopefully, fingers crossed.”
“There, good as new! Now rest dear, and I will check up on you in a while to record your vitals,” and she was out of the room as swiftly as she had come in, leaving me even more confused and perplexed. What in Bloodgard was going on? I was in some place called an Academy but how did I get here? And what did she mean by “term time”? But before my crumbling mind had a chance to dwell on the matter further, my body became overwhelmed with fatigue and I drifted back into the deep catacombs of my subconsciousness.