The air lay stagnant between the trees. In a forest of few sounds, one would wonder whether there was any life here at all. But if one did traverse this land whether by foot or through the canopy, the answer would be clear to ‘trained eyes’. A dissonance would set in within them causing unease, a feeling which only increased the deeper one went within the sea of trees…
I stood at the edge of a cliff. Blood and gore dyed the area in red with the remains of the what had attacked me. While my left shoulder was only slightly injured from where the hit some pain remain. But I was mostly unharmed.
After some the pain quickly retreated…
It was unusual. began to feel unease.
The beast was frenzied…
It was a threat I couldn’t take lightly while under this environment. Therefore it had taken a few minutes to dispatch.
I had not felt its presence until the very last moment which was very strange even for this place.
Further still, it was far from its normal dwelling spot.
“Can ‘they’ be related?”
I thought back to that night…
Whatever it was, it was like the ‘land’ itself was angry.
My heart skipped a beat.
The weird feeling I had then, was it pointing to this?
“It can’t be…!”
I thought back to the man who I failed to save. Looking below convinced me that he shouldn’t have died. But if he remains in the water for too long, not even that can save him if he gets swept to sea.
There was no point in continuing on this line of thought.
“But I can’t delay any longer”
I descended along a rocky path down the cliff…
As I fell, my wailing mercilessly pounded my own ears. Then together with a loud splash, I felt a pain which momentarily caused a black out. But then the water which entered my windpipe force me awake and drove frantic motions of a man clawing at the intangible water. The current was strong, too strong. My head repeatedly oscillated at the river surface.
My attempts to remain afloat were largely in vain as the river had dragged me underneath several times. My vision began to lapse. The current was strong and my body felt weak after trying to fight the current.After one such lapse, I found myself clutching onto something buoyant.
At some point in time, the sky bright blue was now dim and a red was present. The current had slow significantly and my mind was on the verge of failing. My body now shivered, too long had I been immersed in the cool water.
For some reason, the current seemed to slow. I awoke from my languidness and anxiously eyed everywhere I could put my eyes on. Now within a deep meander, the water along the inner edge of the river had significantly slowed. The next thing I could remember was that I had beached myself onto the shore, suffering with tiredness unlike I had ever felt before. I forced myself from the shore and leaned onto a tree trunk. My body sagged down to the ground, and I lay slumped face towards the ground.
Panting heavily, I struggled to keep conscious and fought against the loaming darkness. But before I could make sense of my location, the last bits of light had faded.
It couldn’t tell whether the darkness was around me or between my eyes and the world.
My eyes were greeted with an unusual looking celling. I stared at the surface, unable to make out its fine features due to its distance and the lack of sufficient light. Dimly lit, the room in which I was had also a faint musty smell. I felt I was on something firm.
My exhaustion had lessened, but I in no could say that I was in all wellness.
In its steed were strong pangs of hunger.
I dragged my hand over my face and softy breathed a sigh of relief.
But where was I and How did I get here? And for what reason was I bought here? I sat up while pondering these questions only to focus on a bookshelf close by which was filled with strange eight inch by six inch ‘books’.
The ‘bookshelf’ could just barely be called as such; It was of crude construction. The shelves made of irregular planks of wood in a manner which suggested that the owner only cared for practicality.
Ignoring my hunger, I walked towards the books after getting up from my resting spot with slight difficulty.
But where was this place? the last thing I could remember was dragging myself ashore. Anything else is a ‘No Go.’
I reached out to grab one of the books.
The bookshelf was filled with them.
My thoughts were that maybe these books could give me some clues to where this place was. Well, with the condition I could read them. But there was another reason…
To be honest I was scared. This place was almost the textbook definition of a prison as describe in any novel. With no windows and only a dim light source to keep the darkness at bay of a mere six or so feet, It was only missing iron bars and a lazy guard to be complete.
I needed to occupy myself a bit.
I looked at the cover of the book. There was no title except the words, HL vol 1.
I opened the cover but was surprised. The entire paper was cover with neat scribbles. It was a book after all… I stared at the them in disbelief.
I could read them!
“…there no point in questioning how.”
“…I might as well use it.”
While the first page appeared to be a table of contents, many of the terms were foreign to me and thus I was lost ever before I began. I tried to read what I could:
The purpose of this book
The Black Zones
These immediately stood out for some reason.
“The most pressing issue now is to find out where I am.”
I thought back to the events earlier.
My pulse rose and my breath quickened. Suppressing my fear somewhat, I silently cursed the people who had tried to kill me.
This crazy place…
But now what I needed were bearings and directional sense. The current page of the book showed a map. As to what exactly it meant, I had no idea…
Was this the shape of the world or just some small part of it?
As the time pass slowly my thoughts drifted from the map I could hardly understand to how these book came to be.
But as I turned the page, something moved in the darkness!
I dropped the book in haste and raised my fists for whatever they were worth. And from what I had seen, it was not much…
“Who are you?!”
I heard my voice raspier than I had imagined it.
A voice left the darkness.
“So the stranger has an interest in this old ones musings…”
I was startled at the sudden appearance of the gruff voice, which made my hand freeze in mid-air. I rigidly turned to the source but saw no one yet.
Upon reflex I had turned toward the bookshelf.
“Hmm… You are interesting, young man”
As I turned back towards the darkness, the appearance of an old man slowly materialized.
He casually walked toward me while I remained unable to move. He only stopped when a few feet from me. while his facial features were not too clear in this lighting, the deep wrinkles on it was obvious. He wore a white robe which was on the verge of turning into rags. However, apart from this was nothing too different form a regular old man.
He being a full head shorted than I was looked up to my face, in which I could sense the casualness in his demeanour and a general lack of fear. His air thus was unnerving.
“I wouldn’t have guessed that anyone would take interest in these old records…”
He wrote this?
“Sorry about reading them without consent.”
The old man had stopped a meter or so away.
Seriously, who is he?
“I placed you here because this area was the safest place for you to recover.”
And he surprisingly read my mind…
I tensed up.
Clear and articulate, his words were easily to understand though he appeared to drag his words for whatever reason. But for some reason I felt that maybe he would hear me out.
What was this?
It was so sudden that I had just now noticed…
‘Why I can understand him now ?!’
Since communication is a two way street, maybe-
“Hey old man, where is this?”
His displeasure was clear. Even I was surprised by how rude my own words sounded.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know why, but for some reason I talk like this… I really can’t help it…”
While I did not like the fact that he appeared unmoved, there was little else I could do but continue.
“I sorry, but I don’t know how I should to call you…”
The man’s face seemed to going into on of thought. His tension appeared to drop at my explanation.
But I’m thankful for being able to communicate. What was it that changed between now and then?
My thoughts were broken by the next word of the old man.
“…I see. That is indeed the case. Still, rude one …”
I could tell that he had a kin eye on my face on which I wore an apologetic face.
“No… I’ll ignore it.”
“Call me Narr Flow.”
I looked directly at the man as he spoke with a bit of haughtiness.
Trying to envision him as if he were a superior at work had allow me to reign in my nervousness somewhat. But it surly was placed on a shaky foundation.
Was he the one who took me from the river bank? I could see no reason as to why he may have done so.
Then again so did that man…
I nearly died twice in one day…
Just how dangerous was this place?
Even with the questions I already had, this world seemed to be thrusting more toward me. There was even the question of why I could now understand this man’s words.
But I couldn’t complain now. Even if I could, who would I complain to? When I thought about this, I felt as if I had forgotten something important.
Anyway, it wasn’t time for such thoughts…
If he wanted to kill me I would never have awaken. In addition, he even came out to greet me. Despite this, kindness was not free. I had to pay up sooner or later.
I may have tossed out the idea that this was a dream but I could not deny that its shadow still remained in my minds recesses.
The old man smiled and for a moment I worried whether if he could see past my façade. The thought made me cringe silently. But then he did not say anything else then but only turned to look at the bookshelf. I unwarily followed his eyes and searched through the few book to the ones he had his eyes on. In a swift but causal motion, he reached up, taking them off the shelf and into a pile that grew with each volume. But he removed the first of the book retrieved and to my surprise tossed it toward me.
After a short while, He had removed three books in total, including the one that I currently held. Looking down at the book, I quickly knew that it was the one that I originally tried to take before I was interrupted by his entrance. He glanced upward, taking a passing glance at my face before uttering the words “Come…”
After he spoke, he body seemed to move with awkwardness that some of his age may have. However, this could have been a play on my eyes, seeing this that may not have existed or that were meant to be seen. Whatever the reason, the man strolled into the darkness and I followed him while showing a slight bit of hesitation on my face.
Surprisingly, beyond the darkness were eventually a table with a few chairs. However, surrounding these were vast set of books lined on numerous shelf of around my height. The lighting here was greater than that of the earlier room, such that it was enough to see without issue. Curious to its source, I looked upward to the ceiling to find luminous objects transparent like that of crystal attached. I unwittingly gasped at the unexpectedness of the entire scene; the tranquility of the surrounding made this place appear to be an ideal reading space.
Before I realised I had muttered out these words. The old man remained silent, but now wore a slight grin together with a faint glint in his once sleepy eyes.
‘I guess no matter where, people want the things they like to be praised…’
Seeing the lack of windows and the crystal like lights made me wonder whether this place was underground. Strangely, while the air was still cool as before, it no longer held the dampness from earlier…
With the combination of the two reminding me of air conditioning…
I might as well shoot for it.
“Am I still in the forest?! Why is such a place here?”
As I spoke, the old man turned to me.
“So you understand…”
Given such a place, why would he bring me here?
“Well it’s not that it matters. Anyway, sit. ”
His words contained a mild fervour, and for some reason it felt familiar to me. It reminded me of when one would feign disinterest as to hide interest. But such an action would have been illogical based on his on introduction. Or maybe it was that my earlier comment pleased him more than I initially believed it would.
‘Maybe he is more interested in me than me lets on…’
Soon, I found myself at a rectangular table with rounded edges on a seat that felt firm but pleasant. While the two books Flow held was placed on his right, I took the book given to me that I had yet to open into my hand.
It had no title and the binding appeared to be made of a substance reminiscent of crystal. The cup from before flashed through my mind. But as interesting as it was, my attention couldn’t stray away from the old man who sat only a few feet away. I returned the book to the table on my right when I saw that the old man appeared ready to speak.
“First, I must warn you that trying to deceive me will result in me immediately osting”
“Not even the strong ones dare to venture the forest at night using the paths.”
“In this forest, for the weak such as you, you will not last a few minutes there…”
These words were met with a silence which underscored his seriousness. He had already grasped that I was a foreigner to these parts from the little time that I knew him.
Looking at his pose, I already understood that he thought little of the threat.
I recalled that howl…
It was super effective.
But I questioned whether it was more dangerous for me to produce the truth. I scratched my scalp.
I wonder if he would believe me if I told him the truth.
If the situation was reversed, I would think I was crazy.
that was common sense-!
I had no idea of the ‘common sense of this world’ so I couldn’t asses it with any confidence.
What should I say?
The silence was broken as the old man leisurely continued.
“Now I’ll ask…”
He paused with his arm, no his elbow firmly on the table and his cheek on his fist; his face held eyes that now carried a tranquil look as if mocking the severity of my situation.
Like a sort of malevolence against my future, his eyes were cold and gazed in my general direction. They were the sort that a person who had seen much ‘things’ in his life, maybe too many things. But the man also spotted a slight smirk as if interested in my future response. The feeling of dissonance was surely real now.
I placed my hands to the table and slow rubbed my chin as I look at the smooth surface of the table. I had cast my eyes away, unable to bare that look any longer. He could see throught me is what my instinct told me and I had no intention of becoming some strange beast’s meal.
I inhaled softly then spoke while exhaling with equal force.
Sensing the change I me, Flow glaze lessen and he returned to a more neutral state as if to allow me to speak.
“It’s not that I want to lie but I am fearful that it would be the truth that may be a problem.”
I raised my head. I looked at Flow. I wondered if this was wise choice. My tongue felt somewhat heavy from my hesitation and my mind drifted to the beads of sweat that crept down my brows.
“I don’t think I’m from anywhere around here”
“You don’t think? Are you taking me for a fool?”
As if sarcastically showing that I was stating the obvious, he raised his brow while still maintaining eye contact.
But apart for this, he sat with general disinterest. Or what I saw might have been something else. Was it instead disappointment? I couldn’t tell from his demeanour, but something change then. But he had remained silent. I took that as a sign to continue.
“I don’t know how I came here…”
“I… When I thought at least I had found some temporary safe haven”
“We got attacked by only god what and got separated!”
“After that, I fell, and then nearly drowned in a river but then I find myself here!”
“such a crazy place…”
“From almost being killed by whacko godknowwhat and saved by some half naked guy that looks like some thug.”
“I was just heading back to my office and then I…”
Somehow I felt it would be best not to mention what I found in the alley.
“next thing I know I was somehow caught between a fight”
“… and I still don’t know where I am!”
My inner face contorted due to my lack of control of my speech. But it felt immensely good to vent of stress even if it may not have been at an appropriate time. And it was this fact that made my heart beat in a rhythm sounded by a mixing of fear and passion.
I placed my hand on my face.
‘At the very least, I need to make the best of what I have.’
However, as I looked at the old man face, I was stunned. He hadn’t changed his facial expression even through that little outburst of mine. No, there was a slight change in his eyes. The old man eyes, which was first lazy then force had returned to its original lazy look. However mixed in was a sharpness that I could somewhat recognize.
But this explanation would exclude the strange aura that I felt in my surrounding. Feeling such a strange sensation, I instinctively responded and jerked upward due to my surprise. It felt a bit disgusting for whatever reason.
Confused at the old man comment, and I had no doubt that this fact was visible to him as it was likely clearly shown to him through my facial expression. He sounded genuinely interested in my story. But I had expected him to be of the more impatient folk. Or was it something else?
‘Thinking back he did call me that before…’
I took him to be of the more straight forward type and thought that if maybe if there was some sort of mind reading skill he would have used it already. Maybe he did.
‘Or was he enjoying my displeasure?’
It didn’t add up. I was getting more unsettled. A cold feeling began to setting at the nape of my neck.
‘Did I read wrongly? Well whatever, I might as well push forward ’
“I didn’t know people move at such insane speed or cut through rock with swords”
“Seriously what sort of…”
“You have yet introduced yourself…”
I stopped momentary and scratched my check, embarrassed about such an oversight.
“My name is Li, Li Byr”
“… I see”
There was a period were nothing was said by either of us. Under the gentle light from the crystal which illuminated us, this surreal space felt even more empty and spacious than it was. For this quiescence, I became lost in the quietness, even if it was a strangely inappropriate time to do so.
However ,my mouth had move to break this stillness, even without my knowledge…
“I only remember me leaving work to go drop off data to one of our partners at an office and then got lead around…”
Then for some reason a white piece of, ‘paper?’ floats out of an alley”
What am I saying?
At that moment I experienced a crippling headache.
But my memory which were vaugue before seemed to have cleared up significantly.
But I needed to pause to make sense of the new information.
Back then what I saw was a metal slab and a big white dog…
No, it was more like a wolf.
A white wolf…
my face changed as I tried to remember more.
“There were some flashing strange ‘lights’, but when I came too I was smack in the middle of a fight.”
“There is nothing else I can say that you would want to know”
It may not be able to lie but I now thought that it was probably not a good decision to divulge everything.
For the first time, Flow stroked his chin…