The World of Stories and Fables Chapter 13

Katy Abby, Columnist

The room I found myself in was faint, and dark. The edges were blurry and the floor seemed tilted. I took a cautious step forward, feeling a bit dizzy as I walked across the tile, navigating through rows of desks and chairs.

“Diane!” A voice called excitedly. I glanced up towards the doorway, where two figures stood with light shining from behind them, causing shadows to obscure their features. “Come on! We need to hurry or they’ll close! Do you want froyo or not?!” a male voice exclaimed from the taller figure.

“Yeah! Hurry Diane!” A female voice called, her words soft and silky like honey.

“I’m coming!” I returned, surprised at how the words tumbled from my mouth. The figures smiled and waved, running away from the door and off to wherever they wanted me to go. I followed curiously, sprinting from the fuzzy room and into the hallway. There was a shout behind me, and I whirled around. The girl was writhing on the floor, screaming helplessly as a shadow loomed over her.

“Lani!” Someone screeched and as I started for the girl, I wondered if it was me. A pair of hands wrapped themselves around my arm and pulled me back.

“Wait!” The male voice whispered behind me as the girl disappeared and the shadow turned toward us.

“Diane, we need to go.” The voice urged. “We need to go now.”

“No! She needs me!” I yelled, fighting against his grip. I tore away from him and sprinted down the hall as the shadow flew towards me. There was a sharp pain in my heart, like claws were tearing into my chest. I opened my mouth to scream, but the sound never escaped my lips.

“DIANE!” The male voice cracked. “No! Artemis! Get away!”

“Lani!” I grimaced as a fire raged through my chest. Feelings of failure and pain overwhelmed me and I gasped as the world began to blacken.

“Artemis!” Darkness enveloped me and my limbs felt numb. I couldn’t even feel my heart race in my chest.

“Artemis, wake up.”

“Artemis?” My eyes flew open and I leaped into the air.

“Lan-!” I gasped out, scanning the world of green and brown around as my heart caught in my throat.

“Artemis? What happened?” Arthur’s warm voice washed over me. I turned swiftly, meeting his tender blue eyes. His calm ocean like irises were almost hypnotic, a never ending pair of rings. I could almost hear the tranquil waves rolling against the shore. My pulse steadied and I took in a shaking breath.

“No-nothing, I just- had a dream.” I exhaled.

“It seemed more like a nightmare.” He frowned, tilting his head a little.

“I-I guess.” I muttered, thinking back to the boy and girl. The girl was Lani… and the boy…? I wasn’t sure what his name was, or what he looked like, but I supposed it didn’t matter. It was all just a dream.

“Do you need to talk about it?” Arthur prompted gently, holding my gaze and leaning in.

“No, I’ll- I’ll be okay.” I forced a smile, trying to forget the feeling of claws gripping my heart. It all seemed so real, too real…

“It was just a dream.” I muttered, more to myself than to Arthur. “I’m fine.” Arthur gave me an unconvinced look and raised his good arm slightly. He paused, holding his hand out as if he wanted to give me a side hug, but he pulled back, thinking better of whatever he was planning to do.

“Alright, if you’re ready to get going, we should get out of here before the wolves return.” He took a step towards the path, looking back at me expectantly.

“Right, the wolves.” My gaze flickered to his bandaged arm. Dark red blood was visible through the gaze. I winced. “How’s your arm feeling?”

“Sore,” Arthur glanced down at it wearily. “And a bit itchy. I’ll have to get a healer to check it out at the next town.”

“Next town?” my eyes widened.

“Yes,” Arthur started down the dirt path. I hurried after him as he continued. “The town on the other side of the forest is Chorathaymaton. I’ve never been there, but they’re agriculturally based.”

“You mean we’re going to fight Gilgamesh!” My heart pounded in my chest excitedly as I recalled the names of the village on the way to the mountains.

“You were going to whether I let you or not.” Arthur commented dryly. “I might as well tag along and make sure you don’t get yourself killed.”

“What about Chase?” I asked curiously, unable to stop smiling as we walked. “Will he be okay?”

“About him.” Arthur sent me a glare. “You caused a lot of trouble you know. I could tell he was hiding where you were and when I forced the information out of him, he couldn’t stop bawling, saying how he failed you as a knight.”

“Oh no!” I frowned, giving Arthur an apologetic look.

“I got him to calm down though, promising him that I wouldn’t stop you from going on this ‘quest.’ I left him with Zander, who should meet us at Yama, the village closest to Gilgamesh’s cave.”

“Zander’s coming?” I tilted my head, smiling.

“Yes,” Arthur raised his eyebrows. “You know we aren’t just going to let you fight him by yourself. Once we get to Yama, hopefully Zander will have found a way to defeat him.”

“Alright,” I skipped further down the path. “Let’s go then! There’s no way we can’t do this!”

“You’re far too optimistic.” Arthur sighed as he quickened his pace. “Just try not to get yourself killed, there’s only so much I can do to help you.”

“I can say the same to you.” I commented. He only smirked in response as we continued down the road.

With Arthur by my side, I found that the forest was a lot less intimidating. The shadows weren’t as large and gloomy, and the gentle sounds of the passing animals didn’t cause my heart to pound.

Arthur kept up the conversation well. He told me about his childhood and how he had met Zander. He told me about his parents and how his mother taught him how to cook and bake. He told me about a turtle he found as a kid and how he tried to bring it home but his mother wasn’t thrilled. It was nice, listening to his deep voice that rumbled a bit in his chest. I liked hearing him talk about things that didn’t involve work or duty or being a knight.

Occasionally we would take a few breaks to stop and rest. Though Arthur tried to hide it, I knew the wolf bite was bothering him. He would wince every once in a while, and he was careful to avoid bumping it into anything. I asked him constantly if he was doing alright, but he never gave me more than a curt “I’m fine.” I let the topic drop, and instead tried to take his mind off the pain. I asked him more questions about his childhood and how he became a knight. He seemed grateful for the small talk, and I was glad that he didn’t grimace as much.

Once we neared the end of the forest, Arthur suddenly put his arm out in front of me. I looked up at him curiously, but his blue eyes were already scanning the shadows. I opened my mouth to comment, but he brought his hand to his lips, instructing me to be quiet. I pressed my lips together, and instead followed his gaze, scanning the vertical lines of bark for anything out of the ordinary. There was a sharp crack of a twig and both Arthur and I whipped our heads around, but nothing was there.

“Arthur?” I whispered quietly, glancing around curiously.

“Shh.” He brought his finger to his lip, looking up at the branches above us. I followed his gaze and scanned the tree tops. The leaves rustled softly and a shadow flashed across a branch.

“Run.” Arthur instructed, giving me a push towards the path. I stumbled forward and looked back as Arthur followed me. Satisfied that he was planning to run too, I sprinted down the path. I didn’t get far though, as after a few steps, something caught my foot and I fell towards the leaf covered ground with a yelp. Arthur cried out next to me, and we both tumbled into a pile of leaves. I expected the leaves to cushion my fall, but instead of landing onto a dirt road and pile of dry, crunchy leaves, we fell into something soft and squishy.

“Ahh!” I yelled as there was a snapping voice and we flew into the air. I slammed into Arthur and yelped as he nailed my nose with his elbow. He called for me to hold still but it was rather hard with my balance completely jeopardized.

As our movement slowed, I began to make sense of the situation. Arthur and I were stuck in a web of coarse rope, swinging from a tree branch. Arthur let out a grunt as he tried to reposition himself, but only succeeded in causing me to tumble into him.

“Artemis!” He growled, pushing me away into the scratchy rope.

“Arthur!” I snapped back as my head spun and nose throbbed. Looking down, I realized we weren’t so high up, but it was a bit disorienting with the rope obscuring a clear view.

Rumbling laughter rang out from below and Arthur and I glanced towards the path, where a group of men were ambling toward us.

“That was great Loyd.”

“We’ll be sure to get something good from these lovebirds.”

“Look at ‘em all up nesten’ togetha’!”

“Jason! Hurry up, son, you gonna miss this!” The four men chattered as they eyed us hungrily from below. Arthur sworn under his breath and gave me a shove.  I fell into the rope and whined as my nose slammed into the hard rope.

“Let us go! We don’t have anything valuable!” Arthur yelled down as I shifted myself to see better.

“‘At’s wot they all say, right Gobber?” One man with a weird stocking cap the color of baby vomit turned to a younger man with a chiseled chin.

“Righto, Howie,” Gobber grinned a shark tooth smile.

“Hey, where’s Jaybird? He should ‘ave been be’ind us.” The man with a pot belly looked back towards the path.”

“You know Jason, he likes to enter dramatically.” The one with greasy blond hair cackled, showing off his rotten purple and yellow teeth.

“That’s right boys,” A young and playful voice came from above. Arthur and I whirled our heads, barely making out a figure perched on the branch our trap was tied to. The figure leaped off the branch backward, flipping in the air before grabbing the webbing of rope and swinging to the ground. Arthur and I bumped into each other and groaned as our heads knocked together. The men laughed as we regained our bearings.

“You’ve done well, men.” The young man, Jason, said as he looked up at us. Once my head had stopped pounding, I glanced down and met his dark grey eyes that glimmered darkly. He held my gaze for a moment, and his eyes widened.

“Cut them down.” He waved his hand towards Gobber, not taking his eyes off of me.

“Wot-” the man with the pot belly began to object.

“Do it!” Jason growled, glaring back at the group. Gobber shrugged, and slinked over to the tree. He took out a dirty looking dagger and cleanly sliced at the rope.

“No! Wait!” Arthur cried out all too late. Without a moment of warning the cut rope flew into the air and we plummeted into the ground. In the split second before we reached the ground, Arthur wrapped his arms around me and pulled me into him as we slammed into the dirt.

“Owwww.” we both groaned as we lay in a heap with rope covering us. I looked up just as Jason pulled the rope away and held out his hand.

“Diane, oh, god, you’re bleeding.” Jason muttered as he gave me a strange look.

“Diane?” I muttered, feeling a bit dizzy and wondering why I couldn’t feel my nose. Jason took my hand, his skin rough and hard, and pulled me up. I stumbled a bit, but he waited until I had firm footing before he helped Arthur to his feet.

“Artemis!” Arthur made his way to me, bending down and inspecting my face. “Your nose-”

“Hurts.” I winced as he tenderly ran his thumb against the skin above my upper lip. He pulled his thumb back and held it where I could see it. It was covered in sticky crimson blood.

“Here,” Jason called. I turned just as he tossed a white handkerchief to me. I barely caught it and held it up to my nose, feeling the warm blood soak through the thin cloth within seconds.

“Alright, guys,” Jason turned towards the bewildered group of men. “Go set more traps and patrol. We’ll find another target.” He instructed. The men groaned, but didn’t comment as they paired off and shuffled back towards the trees. As they dispersed, Jason made his way to Arthur and me.

“Diane, I can’t believe it.” He smiled brightly, running his hand through his black hair. I tilted my head.

“I think you have me confused with someone else.” I frowned. Blood began to dribble down my fingertips, but before I could react, Arthur took my hand and shifted it so that the blood was seeping into a fresher part of the cloth. I offered him a smile before turning back to Jason.

“No, no Diane, it’s me, Jason.” He came closer, his smile faltering.

“I don’t know who you are…” I shook my head. I glanced towards Arthur, who was watching quietly.

“Diane- what are you saying, we’ve been friends since kindergarten- we were reading buddies, teammates in soccer, what are you-” He took a step closer and I edged away.

“I don’t remember.” I insisted, scanning him carefully.

I really didn’t remember anything about him. The name was foreign to me, as well as his cold grey eyes and his fluffy looking hair. I couldn’t remember any of the things he mentioned, but, then again, I couldn’t remember anything before Chase and the dragon. It was all blank, a black void of nothing.

“Diane-” Jason pleaded, his grey eyes stormy. When I didn’t respond with more than an apologetic look, he turned to Arthur questioningly.

“Artemis has lost her memory.” Arthur explained. “Due to interesting circumstances, she has forgotten everything.”

“Ah, I guess that weird guy really did a number on you.” Jason gave me a sad smirk.

“Weird guy?” Arthur repeated, his voice taking on a serious tone. I glanced his way curiously before turning back to Jason.

“Yeah, weird guy.” Jason shrugged, meeting my gaze. “I was hanging out with you and Lani when this creep comes into the hallway and started waving a weird staff around. Lani got hurt and disappeared, you ran over to her and disappeared too. He hit me with the staff and I found myself in this really jacked up town.” He paused, glancing to the left. “It’s really messed up, I don’t trust anyone there.”

“He must have been with you when Gilgamesh attacked,” Arthur whispered while Jason was distracted and lost in thought. “Remember? In the memory, the guy and girl.”

“Yes.” I nodded with a shrug. I had no way to confirm that Jason was in fact the guy in the memory Zander had presented, but it did all match up in a way.

“It seems your name is Diane.” Arthur continued. “Should I use Diane to address you instead?”

“No,” I shook my head, holding the handkerchief to my nose carefully. “I prefer Artemis…” I wasn’t sure why I did, but I wanted him to keep using it. Artemis had a more interesting sound rather than Diane.

“Well, we should get going,” Jason started, returning his attention to me. “We still need to figure out how to get home.”

“Home?” I asked, bemused.

“Yep, come on,” Jason gestured for us to follow. “I know where we can chat more. I’ve got a stall in Akonito, it’s a bit far, a few days walk, but it’s safe.”

“Wait.” I objected as Arthur started to follow Jason. They both turned and I frowned. “What about Gilgamesh? Arthur, we need to get to Yama.”

“Akonito is on the way.” Arthur explained gently, giving me a warm smile. Jason nodded and started down the path again, and Arthur cast a weary glance towards him. I run up to Arthur and asked him what was wrong.

“Nothing, let’s just follow Jason for a little and hear him out. He knows about you, right? Your past, did you want to hear it?” Arthur gave me a curious look. I paused, thinking about my answer for a second.

Did I care? I guess it would be nice to know more about myself, but I wanted to learn about myself on my own, not for some stranger to tell me who I was. I wanted to decide for myself.

When I took a while to answer, Arthur gave me a comforting nudge.

“It’s fine if you don’t want to.” He promised, his sky blue eyes bright and calm. “But let’s follow him and see what happens.”

“Alright.” I smiled, feeling a bit better. Arthur smirked and shook his head, turning away and heading down the path. As he rubbed his wounded arm, I trailed behind him, thankful that he was with me.