Torip was reading a book at my bedside when I woke up. He glanced at me as I sat up and stood, handing me a glass of liquid that I refused.
“No sleep now, just drink.”
“Why would I trust you on something like this?” I huffed, pushing the drink away, and Torip shook their head, putting the drink to his own lips before holding it back out.
“Safe. Drink, stand, walk, ask questions.” When I continued to refuse the liquid Torip grumbled and set the glass on a table that was against the far wall. “Fine, no drink, but stand to walk. Check on legs, make sure legs work. Okay?”
“How about no, it’s not okay. I still don’t know completely where I am, I don’t know what’s going on, who you are, you still have my walking stick, I got knocked out, interrogated, knocked out again and now you want me to trust you? No, I’m not doing anything until I learn more about my situation.” Torip studied me before nodding, going back to the chair next to the bed I occupied.
“Bad communication but will try. No guarantee.”
“What about that other guy? The pretentious one that knows English?”
Torip shook his head, looking slightly amused. “Lesson one, Kereanda Eska is busy. Next leader and not to be bothered by those who are no threat. Presence early was surprise but expected. Kereanda Eska found you wander halls and very upset. Why you in halls?”
“I was trying to follow the person who brought me here. I don’t know, all the words make no sense but he didn’t seem to understand me and he had blue hair.”
Torip nodded and tilted his chair back. “Probably Itrianda, Kereanda Eska younger. Makes trouble likes strangers. To be sure what they like?”
“You mean how did he act? I mean he was friendly and all, saved my life even, but that’s a different story I guess.” I rubbed the back of my neck and thought. “He really seemed to like his lizard things, the ones that pulled his cart, and the guards all seemed to know him and accept that he just showed up with me. Come to think of it, not a single person questioned me when he was around. You know if this Itrianda person is a younger sibling to Eska then the stranger might have just been him. He was friendly like I said, but he had the same high and mighty attitude that the prince has. Is there any chance I could see him again? It would be nice to thank him and ask why he saved me.”
Torip nodded. “Itrianda less busy than Kereanda Eska. Ask for him once we done.”
“Why did Eska knock me out?” Torip looked confused and I shook my head. “He stabbed me with something and I fell asleep before waking up here, so why?”
“Were panicked and was worried. Fear deadly and was feral, scared of everything. Thought it best while we found out more and what to do. My apology, but none from Kereanda Eska. Wanted safe and calm when questioned so there was learning. Wanted know where we are?” I nodded and Torip gave a single nod in return. “Start small, then big until understand okay?” I nodded. “We are Eskyae castle in Wuhn, one of Xetrye.”
“Xetrye is one I understand. Ma and Pa, the ones who found me and took care of me mentioned it, but they never gave the areas inside of it names. So there’s Wuhn and what else?”
“Wuhn and Gneov’eahr, just two.”
“Alright since I don’t know names, do you know coordination’s?” Torip shook his head and I nodded. “Alright, then maybe I can go off of landmarks. Our original plan was to land in between a mountain range and a forest, but we crash-landed on the other side of the mountains in this like, sandy grassland.”
“Forest and mountains is large. Juplua, Lonliku, Angora all forest and mountain. Mountain and waste Gneov’eahr only. Where in forest land?”
Well we were originally aiming closer to this giant tree since the clearing around it was huge but our equipment started going haywire so we went for further south in a clearing completely surrounded by trees.”
Torip looked at first annoyed, and then a bit relieved. “Big tree Veti in Juplua, much important, but clearing Lonliku.”
“What’s so important about, what did you call it, Veti? What makes it such a big deal?”
“Veti tree life tree. All start there all end there. Truth otherwise but belief there and much important.”
“Alright I’ll keep that in mind. In regards to everywhere else, where are we now?”
“Forest and water by waste.”
I thought for a moment, thinking of the rough map I still remembered and nodded. “Ya I think I remember where that it. It’s pretty far off from the mountains but not the farthest land mass. So why won’t Eska help me?”
Torip shrugged, standing up. “No more talk. Come, walk and see Itrianda.” I started to ask about my walking stick when Torip leaned down, grabbing it off the floor. He beckoned me onward and I rolled my eyes, swinging my legs off the side of the bed, hand outstretched for the stick, which Torip handed me.
We walked out the room and down the connecting hallway, but only got a little way off before my nerves kicked in and I started shaking. I tried to push through but it didn’t take long for Torip to notice and stop, turning and holding a hand out for me.
“Okay?” I shook my head and leaned against the wall, breath coming in gasps as I struggled to get my bearing in the endless hallway. The walls seemed to close in on me and I closed my eyes, tapping my walking stick against the wall. I felt a tap back and I stopped, tapping again when the other tapping stopped. There was a response again and I opened my eyes, looking around.
“Do you hear that?” I asked, and Torip nodded. “That’s,” I paused, tapping one more time, more deliberately and planned this time, and once again I was met with another bout of tapping, an answer to my question. “That’s Morse code. Someone else is nearby and they know it, which, I can’t say I’m surprised. When the ships were too far away to communicate verbally they would send out codes in order to stay in contact. I mean, that’s almost exclusively how we kept in contact with Wayside.” Torip nodded and went to continue on, but I grabbed his shoulder, quickly letting go when he turned on me in surprise. “Uh, sorry it’s just, the halls seem so endless and it’s all the same texture,” I trailed off and Torip studied me before nodding taking a step back to grab my hand and lead me on.
The contact did little to fully stop my nerves, but it helped ground me when my mind started wandering and I felt like curling up and disappearing. My fears of the hallway never truly stopping refused to dissipate and I found myself tapping against the wall whenever I got the chance, the promise of someone hearing my distress oddly reassuring. Eventually a part of the wall slid open and a short, green haired person in a close fitting black suit stepped out and looked around. After spotting us, they came up to Torip, discussing with them in their native tongue. More than once the new arrival sent pointed looks my way and I shifted uncertainly, letting go of Torip to lean against the wall, watching their animate conversation with no hope of understanding a single word with how fast the two were talking. I found myself tapping on the wall again and the green haired person looked over at me and nodded, leaving Torip to stand in front of me. She started talking and I looked at Torip, who seemed to struggle to translate what she was saying. I nodded at him and tapped again, this time being more specific in the words I picked. The green haired girl paused and listened before moving to lean against the wall next to me. She tapped back, asking if I was one of the aliens she had heard about and I thought before nodding, telling her that technically, from her standing I was.
We stood there for a few minutes talking as I explained the situation and she explained whom she was. I asked her why the hall never seemed to end and she told me that the main hall was set up sort of like a spiral, most of the halls being behind doors. She asked where we were heading and I asked Torip in turn, who explained that we were headed to the kitchens since we had the greatest chance of meeting Itrianda there. At the mention of food my stomach growled and both the green haired person, who’s name turned out to be Imsoe, and Torip chuckled, pointing out that it was another good reason to go to the kitchens. Imsoe said she’s go with us and stood to my left as we walked, gently bumping into me any time I felt the panic growing stronger.
I couldn’t explain why the endless hallways had the affect they did on me, why my reaction to not knowing where we were was to panic, or why Imsoe’s simple presence seemed to help. Torip spent the walk talking to her in their native language, and I resigned myself to simply letting the conversation act as background noise as we walked. Not once did they bother to direct the conversation my way, though Imsoe regularly sent questioning looks my way, looks that I avoided as much as possible, her curious gaze filling me with panic every time our eyes met.
Eternities could have passed before we entered the kitchens that Itrianda and I had entered the palace through. Torip went off into one of the connected rooms and Imsoe nudged me, gesturing at a bowl of steaming meats set on a small side table nearby. Her eyes were eager and she gingerly took a step towards them, keeping her eyes on the doorway Torip went through, though she did glance at me. I must have looked confused because she gestured towards the bowl again, moving closer still, taking a visibly deep breath. She had just reached the table, about to grab one of the meats, when a shout came from behind us, and I jumped, whipping around and stopping unsteadily. A quick glanced showed a frozen Imsoe, hand centimeters above the bowl. I looked to see who had caught her, bristling at the sight of Eska.
“What are you two doing?” he snarled, the question obviously directed at me, and I shrugged, pointing at Imsoe.
“Ask her, not me. I’m just waiting for Torip to do what he’s doing.”
“Not her, Imsoe, and what would Torip be doing with your kind here?” Eska shot a quick glance at Imsoe, who had stepped away from the bowl, hands behind her back.
“We’re looking for Itrianda. I was hoping he could answer more questions since I still have no idea why he brought me here.”
Eska’s glare sharpened and he snarled. “Itrianda is not to be around you. You are unwelcome and should have stayed in your room.” He looked past my shoulder and held his head a bit higher. “Torip was wrong to take you here. Imsoe,” he changed his gaze to Imsoe, who stood straighter at being acknowledged. “Inik emina iibe.” Imsoe bowed her head at that, muttering a quick something before quickly leaving.
“What gives you the right?” I grumbled, and Eska turned back on me.
“Excuse me? Would you repeat that?” His words were sharp and I almost gave, but something about his tone made me bristle and straighten.
“What gives you the right to be such a prick to those who are helping me? They’re doing more to fix this situation than you have. Torip is trying to get me answers you have been both unable, and unwilling, to provide, and Imsoe joined to keep me calm because your castle is endless and mind-numbingly confusing. It’s why I got lost in the first place! This is exactly why we’re looking for Itrianda since, surprise, he is the one that got me into this particular mess, and also saved my life.”
Eska scowled and crossed his arms. “Stop that. Him, her, his,” he huffed, rolling his eyes. “Those are useless words. What do they mean?”
I stared at him for a minute before leaning more against my cane. “He, him and his all refer to the male sex. She, her and hers all refer to the female sex. I,” I huffed, using my free arm to gesture at myself, “am male. If my crew was still here, I would,” my voice caught and I cleared it, taking a deep breath. “I could explain it then, but I can’t. My assumptions are based majorly on your behavior. Sorry if I’m wrong but no one is really helping me out with this.”
Eska shook his head. “Does not apply to Agrodlese. I will ignore your disrespect, but only this time. If you think the castle is endless then it does its job. No,” he held up his hand as I opened my mouth to ask what he meant. “You do not get to know what that means.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder and I jumped, turning my head to see Torip standing there looking grim. He muttered something to Eska in their language and Eska relaxed, nodding once at him. There was silence for a few moments before Eska responded in their language, before turning and leaving, Torip sighing once he was definitely gone. “Come,” Torip demanded, heading for the door, and I hobbled after him.
“What about Itrianda? What happened to getting answers?”
“Not now,” Torip hissed, quickly looking around before turning to face me. “Kereanda Eska displeased, no more search. Other direction, Itrianda visit you. Cook know, we go.” Torip headed off again and I followed as we headed back to my room.