Chapter 43: Strange Situation

Kason awoke to a tingling sensation under his nose. Still groggy, he sneezed himself awake and took a deep breath, taking in a rich earthy smell. Then the ache hit him. Creasing his brow in discomfort, he rolled onto his back and reached up to rub his forehead on which he found a large swelling. He sat up and quickly placed his hands down to prevent himself from falling again during the spell of dizziness that followed.

He closed his eyes momentarily and then looked around at his surroundings, taking them in for the first time. His mouth fell open as he examined the enormous tree trunk that rose into the sky a short distance away. More trees rose behind it and their leaves, mostly a ruddy bronze, rustled in a gentle breeze that set the lush emerald carpet of grass beneath him swaying gently. A huge gnarled root stuck out of the earth near his feet and he assumed that was what he had tripped over earlier on.

Bemusedly, he got to his feet and made his way over to the root and stared at it. There had been no trees in the arena, let alone what looked like a whole forest of them. What was going on? He walked around the tree, wondering vaguely whether this might help him find some sense in the situation. It did not. He stood on the opposite side of the tree and gazed at the scene that had been behind him. The little forest that he stood at the edge of seemed to be situated at the top of a small hill, allowing Kason a good view of a landscape consisting of rolling hills of verdant green. Above all this, fluffy, milk-white clouds scudded across a blue sky, tinged with the colours of an early evening.

Was this all due to the mist that had come from the stone? Kason didn’t know but that seemed like the only solution that fit. So the stone was gone and it had somehow brought Kason to this place, wherever it was. He went and layed back down in the place where he had awoken and shut his eyes. In the darkness behind his eyelids, he silently prayed that when he opened them he would end up back in the arena.

A few moments later, he opened his eyes again and took in, once again, the leaves on the tree overhead. Nothing had happened. He lay there staring at the trees, trying not to think about anything too hard. If he did, he worried that panic might start to set in and that wouldn’t be any good for anyone.

Then, as he lay there, the touch came again. He shuddered as he felt it brush against his thoughts and sat bolt upright. It was weaker now, almost indistinct, but Kason recognised it. That meant the stone was nearby, perhaps it was the key to getting back!

Kason scrabbled around on his knees, looking for any sign of the stone nearby. He was getting awful grass stains on his uniform, but he didn’t really mind, the stone was more important. Following the vague sense of direction he got from the touch, he crawled slowly forward, raking every patch of ground he could see with his eyes.

A few minutes later, he found it lying behind a root at the base of the tree which he had originally tripped over. He crouched over it and, with shaking hands, reached down towards the small black mass sitting in a small indented patch of grass. He froze. This wasn’t the stone! It had the same inky black colour, but wasn’t the perfect sphere that the stone had been. Instead, it was like a ring, although one whose width varied wildly along its length. It went from being rather thick to gradually slimmed down before joining back with the beginning.

That and it was much larger. The stone had been only a couple of centimetres wide but this ring was closer to five in width and looked as though it would only just fit in Kason’s palm. After a moment’s pause, Kason picked up this curious object, and promptly had to keep himself from dropping it. The thing was warm! Not so hot as to burn him, but a steady comfortable warmth that Kason might’ve felt from a person. And as for the surface, Kason could now feel that despite how smooth it looked, the surface was actually riddled with slight, irregular indents that resembled scales.

Yes, this was most definitely not the stone. Kason was just contemplating where he should leave this… thing, when the touch came again. After it passed he looked down at the ring with a grimace. This ring was most definitely where the touch had come from, and it was hungry. How could a ring be hungry? But then again, how could a ring do whatever it was doing to initiate the touch? No, this thing was alive; definitely not just a ring.

As Kason thought, he began to haphazardly pat himself down, looking for something edible that might be on his person. He found nothing. He began looking around to see if there was anything that might be edible growing nearby but froze when he heard muffled voices. They were shouting something, though Kason could not make out what.

Rising slowly to his feet, Kason walked as cautiously as he could towards the voices. He took the black ring (for lack of a better term) with him as he crept around the edge of the trees. After a few moments, he caught a flash of colour past a trunk and immediately flattened himself to it so that he wouldn’t be seen. As he stood there, wondering whether he dared take a peek at the people nearby, he finally caught a snippet of what they were saying.

“…n’t even know where we are! We can’t just wander about, even if Kason might be out there somewhere.”

“Yeah, but if Kason’s about, we need to find him! Who knows wha-”

Kason’s heart lept into his mouth and he froze against the tree at the mention of his name. It took a few moments for him to calm down enough to realise that the voices sounded familiar, that voice might have been Alford and the other, Lexia?

Heart still hammering in his chest, Kason stepped cautiously around the tree. He knew that this would be pretty stupid if the people weren’t his friends, but who else would know his name and sound exactly the same as them?

He slipped the black ring creature into his pocket and made his way cautiously around the tree. With heart still thumping in his throat, he walked, first cautiously, then quickly and lastly at a run towards the voices. A few moments later, he erupted out of the forest and saw four faces looking at him.

It was them!

Kason gave a strangled cry and ran towards Harper, Alford, Lexia and Kayla, just as they did the same. The two groups met somewhere in the middle in a complete mess. They then spent the next minute extracting themselves from one another before settling down to talk. Still caught with Harper’s arm over his shoulder, Kason looked into his friends’ excited faces.

“Do any of you know where we are?” he asked hopefully. They all shook their heads.

“One minute we were in that mist, then next we wandered out into this little clearing here.” Harper said with a sigh.

“Do you think that it could have been that person who, uhh, showed up at the end?” Kayla said to the group.

“Oh, it could have been Professor Kinora! I’ve heard of magic that teachers are taught to use in case of emergencies to send students to safety,” Lexia said.

Of course, these were all just speculations, Kason knew, but it was comforting in a way to know that they might see a familiar face sometime soon. He listened to them discuss other possibilities for a few minutes until there was a lull in the conversation. It was then that another pang of hunger was transmitted through the touch.

“Umm, do any of you have anything edible on you?” he asked, feeling rather awkward doing so.

Everyone looked around at him, their gazes carrying their unspoken questions, and began to check their pockets. In the end, Alford produced a scrap of bacon, which he sheepishly handed to Kason. Kason took it, wanting to ask why that had been in Alford’s pocket, but instead, reached into the pocket where he had slipped the ring creature and lifted it up into the open on his palm.

There were gasps from Kayla and Lexia as they saw the creature and Harper said, “Where did you find that?”

“It was just on the grass near where I woke up,” Kason said, placing the bacon on his palm near the ring creature, “I think it might have come from that stone I had put in my locket…”

“What is it?” said Lexia, sounding excited.

“And how did you work out that it came from your locket?” Alford asked.

“I don’t know, and-” Kason began, but at that moment the thick bit of the ring where it joined with the thin part, seemed to split in two. The two halves opened up to reveal a pink coloured inside with rows of barely visible teeth and the creature slowly unwound, removing what Kason now realised was the end of its tail from inside its mouth.

The creature’s head moved blindly as if it smelled the food but did not know where it was, its mouth still open. Across the touch, Kason felt another cry for food and he hastily picked up the scrap of bacon and placed it inside the open mouth. The little jaws closed on the piece of meat and a sense of satisfaction floated over to Kason. He smiled and let out the breath he had been subconsciously holding. He heard similar releases from the others. There was another silence among them as they all watched the little creature finish its meal and then promptly curl up again, sticking its tail back in its mouth. Then Harper coughed.

“That was, uhh, something…” he said vaguely as if he couldn’t find the right words to say.

Kason understood how he felt. A strange feeling had welled up within him as he watched the little creature feed which he couldn’t put a name on, let alone articulate. He watched it for a little while longer as a light breeze tousled his hair, waiting to see if it would do anything else but it just sat there with its tail in its mouth, unmoving. Kason wondered whether the thing had gone to sleep. Eventually, he got fed up waiting for it to do something and so he placed it gently back into his pocket, before looking back to the others, wanting to discuss what was going on.

“Stay where you are! Move your hands away from your sides and keep your fingers splayed, I want no sudden moves from anyone!” A voice commanded from somewhere nearby. It spoke with an odd accent and some words did not sound quite right, but Kason could understand it loud and clear.

Kason remained frozen, his mouth open to speak a question that never came. The others, he could see, were also similarly immobile, expressions of shock and fear on their faces.

“Hurry up now, if you are not in the position within the next ten seconds, I will take that as a declaration of hostility!”

Kason slowly raised his trembling arms from his sides until they were about level with his shoulders and kept his fingers splayed wide, just as the voice had asked. Glancing at the others, he saw that they were shaking. He couldn’t fault them, after all, so was he.

“Now turn around, slowly still. Turn to my voice,” This time the voice seemed less aggressive, though still just as stern.

As one, the group turned stiffly to face the direction from which the voice had issued. Kason peered into the trees, trying to see who had caught them. Then, a man appeared from within the shadows. He was tall and bald, with a rugged, weather-worn face, and was wearing a mottled brown and green robe that clung tightly to his well-muscled frame. He walked towards the children, heavy boots making rhythmic thumps on the earth as he walked, and stopped several paces in front of them.

“Who are you? Identify yourselves please,” he said.

There was a short silence and then Alford spoke, “I- I’m Alford Herson. I am thirteen years old.” Although his voice was shaking the man did not seem displeased with the response. The others soon followed suit and introduced themselves in the same fashion. Once they were finished, the man regarded them with what looked like suspicion.

“What are five children doing alone out here then? I don’t know of any registered journeys in this area today. Where is your chaperone?”

The children stayed quiet and exchanged nervous glances. It seemed, at least to Kason’s mind, that none of them knew why they were here.

“Well!” the man snapped.

“We- we don’t know how or why we’re here,” Alford bravely began, “We were just in the coliseum with Professor Kinora and then…” Alford’s voice faded into silence under the man’s disbelieving gaze.

“A coliseum? I don’t know of any around here!” he snorted aggressively, “And who is this Professor Kinora? A teacher?” They all nodded. “Don’t talk nonsense, the nearest school is miles away! Why are you here?”

They stayed silent for a moment and then Alford, in a trembling voice, told the same story again. The man shouted a word which Kason didn’t know at them and rolled his eyes before saying, “I already said that is not possible! Why. Are. You. Here!”

It was at this point that Kayla burst into tears. Kason knew that his cheeks were also slightly wet and the others looked similarly terrified. The man’s expression softened slightly. “At least they’re not morphlings…” Kason heard him mutter.

“Well,” the man began again, and Kason was shocked at how much friendlier he sounded, “you may have your own reasons for keeping your journey a secret, but you will not be able to hide them forever. Come with me.”

He turned and lifted his hand into the air, making several gestures with his figures. Immediately, more figures materialised from the trees and moved to encircle the children. They were all in the same cut as the first man, with the same tight-fitting mottled robes and shaved heads. Then, once they were effectively surrounded, the men began to march away from the forest and the children had no choice but to follow.

They walked for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, Kason couldn’t tell, until they came around the base of a hill and up to a large tent. The whole party entered and inside saw two men and women, standing around a table and discussing something in hushed voices. When their group entered, the conversation came to a halt and the woman closest to them turned and addressed their captor.

“Jerret, what is it? The patrols aren’t due back for another hour, what happened?” She then spotted the children following behind him, “And who are these children?”

“Ma’am!” Jerret began, going into a salute with his left hand pressed firmly across the base of his neck, “I found these children just at the edge of the copse we found to the north-east. I questioned them on their intent, but they could not give a satisfactory answer.” There was then silence for a moment, in which some other information seemed to be exchanged between the two and then the woman nodded thoughtfully.

“Very good Jerret, return to patrol. I shall take them from here.”

Jerret gave a low bow and retreated from the tent, taking his men with them and leaving Kason and his friends facing the four people around the table. All four turned to examine the children and after scanning each of them with a piercing gaze, the woman who had spoken to Jerret asked them the same questions Jerret had. They, in turn, gave the same answers and after that, the four adults engaged in what looked to be a heated discussion but was somehow made silent to the ears of the children.

After a short while, the main woman slammed a hand down on the table and said audibly, “We should just take them to Lord Constantine and get his judgement!”

Here’s the next one! I’ve also messed around with the colour scheme, so if you have any thoughts on it feel free to let me know.



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