Chapter 3: An Unexpected Rescue
Annabelle had begun to note several things about the strange place she and her sister had found themselves in. Her mood had become sluggish, and it was a great effort to continue forwards. She thought it must through be some power external to herself.
The second thing was—
“There is no light,” said Grace, unwittingly echoing her sister’s thoughts. “And yet how strange that we can still somehow make our way through this awful house.”
Staying silent, Annabelle wondered if this trick of the light was a mechanism of the new world in which they found themselves, or if they had been altered in some way in the crossing. The man did seem to have an affinity for shadows, though something in Annabelle thought that was too convenient an explanation for whatever phenomena she was observing.
These foreboding thoughts and more kept a constant beat upon Annabelle as the sisters walked down the stairs and into the gloom.
“Do you still hear it?” said Grace once they had paused for a brief moment upon descending onto a landing and into a narrow corridor. Several paths led this way and that, and Annabelle stood still to listen for the plaintive cry.
“I think so,” said Annabelle. “It’s much closer now. Whoever he is, he sounds like he’s in pain.”
Grace nodded and started forward, taking the lead from her older sister. Annabelle was only grateful that despite her sister’s initial reservations, there was now no question that they would do this thing together.
Letting the sound of the voice lead them on, they soon came upon a door with variations of the same symbol carved into it. Annabelle traced a hand over the lines, while Grace tried the door, which opened rather easily.
Annabelle blinked. “I’m surprised it wasn’t locked.”
Grace pushed the door open. There lying on the ground was a boy who must have been several years older than them. His dark skin was pale even in the darkness, and he looked up weakly as the door opened.
The boy spoke in a weak voice, his words were unintelligible to Annabelle and Grace.
Grace rushed over to kneel over the boy. “Hello,” she said kindly. “We heard you and came looking. My name is Grace, and this is Annabelle, my sister.”
The boy gave little to no acknowledgement that he heard, only repeating what words he had already spoken. His eyes bored into theirs, his grip almost like a vise, though a gentle prod shook him loose.
“He needs a warm compress, or perhaps some hot tea—” Annabelle wringed her hands, trying to think what could help from her father’s medical text.
“We don’t have any of that,” Grace said, cutting her sister off. “He can’t stay here though.”
“But where will we take him?” Annabelle looked out the door, feeling certain that someone must be coming to look for them. “There’s nowhere to go!” She stopped herself from saying the obvious. How were they even going to get home?
Grace pursed her lips together. “Well, I suppose we can give him some food at least and a drink of water from the dining hall. He looks very weak, like he hasn’t eaten anything.”
Annabelle only nodded, though she didn’t point out that they hadn’t really eaten anything either for several hours, and that she didn’t want to eat the food at this dreadful place. There was also that feeling of walking back towards their doom. But what choice did they have?
Annabelle walked to the other side of the boy, took one of the arms around her shoulder, and tried to lift him up with her sister’s help.
“Oof, he’s much taller than us,” said Grace. “This is going to be rough work.”
“Let’s just be about it,” said Annabelle.
The sisters barely made it back to the stairs when they had to take a break. The burden had left their limbs shaking and their breath short.
“I wonder what he was saying,” Grace said after a moment to catch her breath. “He had a look about him. Even though his body is weak, his eyes looked strong. It made me shiver.”
Annabelle hadn’t recognized the words herself, though she could guess their meaning. Defiance and strength of purpose mixed with acceptance of his fate.
“Who do you think he is?” Grace picked a piece of the boy’s brocaded robes. They were of a fine material, with many patterns and design across the sleeve. “Someone important, do you think?”
“I don’t know.” Annabelle shook her head. “But I think he must be like us, a prisoner here against his will.”
Grace was silent for a moment before she looked up at her sister. “Do you think we’ll ever go back home?”
“I…” Annabelle didn’t know, but looking into her sister’s face, she suddenly didn’t want to say aloud what they both must be thinking. “I’m sure we will. I’ll get us both home, safe and sound.”
Grace nodded, then her face turned into a wicked, teasing grin. “I don’t know, I think I’d have a better chance at that. Everyone says I’m the strong one after all.”
Annabelle rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say. Come on, let’s try to go up the stairs.”
Onwards they went, each carrying one half of the burden between them. For his part, the boy helped where he could, but the sisters still felt the full weight of him upon their small shoulders.
There came a great clamor ahead, and Annabelle and Grace stopped and looked at one another.
“What do you think that was?” Grace whispered.
The doors burst open, and the girls shrieked in fright. A strange young boy slammed the doors shut behind him and quickly set about barring the way.
Annabelle felt her heart in her throat and took deep breaths to calm herself. The boy finished his task and turned around.
“Cid!” he cried. He rushed over to Annabelle and Grace, or rather to the boy they had been carrying.
Annabelle gathered that they must know each other. “He’s not well,” she began.
“I think he needs some food,” said Grace.
The boy replied in terse, short sentences, but as with his friend, neither Annabelle nor Grace knew what he was saying. Annabelle thought he might be thinking a completely different language from the other boy, but Annabelle couldn’t be sure.
“I’m sorry,” said Annabelle. She looked helplessly at her sister before looking back at the boy. “We don’t understand.”
The boy examined his fallen friend, pressing his fingers to his temples, throat, and wrist. Pursing his lips, he whispered and muttered under his breath. He looked to one sister, then another, then focused his attention back to his friend.
“Is he going to be alright?” asked Grace, though Annabelle quickly hushed her, though not without receiving an ugly look in reply.
The boy picked up his friend and slung him across his shoulder in a single easy motion. Then, he beckoned to the sisters. Follow me, he seemed to say, if not with actual words, then with his demeanor and kind but grim face. The sisters exchanged another one of those rare moments of shared understanding.
Taking each other’s hand, the sisters followed him.