Unknown Date 2479 A.R.T
I had awoken to see a masked face looking down at me. I had felt disorientated and achy and I had looked around at my surroundings in confusion. I had found that I lay upon a stone plinth at the center of a large dimly lit chamber. Despite my bed of stone, I had felt quite warm and I’d noted that I could smell smoke in the air. It was not the same pungent sulfurous smoke I’d smelled upon awaking in the ruins but rather the homely aroma of burning wood. There had been a hole in the stone ceiling above me and the Night Watchman’s Eye was gazing through it from the murky blue of the dusky heavens. Remembering my horrific stubbing injury, I had looked down towards my feet to find that they were wrapped in some sort of burlap sacking, a sight which had filled me with panicked fear. I had searched frantically for my slate, desperate to ask if I still possessed my left foot or if it had been completely obliterated by the collision with the rock. Unfortunately, my slate had been nowhere to be found and what was worse, my spoon had also been missing, vacant from its holster at my waist. The masked face that had been watching over me had slid out of sight and I had been gently helped to sit upright. There had been four other Orderlies in the cavern, all of them staring intently at me. It had taken me a moment, but I had identified my four sentinels as Phlegm, Cloud, Smoke and Pitterpat.
A bonfire had blazed at the center of the cavernous chamber, illuminating its farthest recesses with flickering light. Smoke had stood in dangerous proximity to the flames, his hands outstretched to warm them. He had been so close to the blaze that smoke was rising from his feet and fingertips and embers had glittered on his suit. The hole in the ceiling had been acting as a chimney and mounds of wood had been stacked nearby, fodder for the flames.
You’re awake! Cloud had written on his slate. He had rushed forwards and forcibly hugged me. I was worried you’d never wake up, just like my butterfly. He had wiped his slate clean and had written, He’s awake! Holding it aloft for everyone to see.
So, Sunrise has risen. Pitterpat had written. You best skedaddle Cloud. Go get Butter up here pronto.
Cloud had nodded enthusiastically. He’d collected a flaming torch from Smoke and had quickly exited the cavern, heading down a murky side corridor.
Phlegm had stepped forwards, holding his slate as if it were a clipboard full of important documents. He had turned it toward me. Good to see my patient is awake, it had read. You gave us quite a scare. Phlegm had pressed his hand to my forehead, apparently checking my temperature. Now say ‘ahhhh,’ he’d written on his slate.
I had merely shrugged, lacking the necessary vocal cords to fulfil his request.
Oh, I am sorry, he’d written. I forgot to give you this. He had procured my sheet of slate and my spoon from the base of the plinth and had handed them to me. I had clutched my spoon to my chest, relieved that it was safe and calmed by its presence.
Now say ahhhh, Phlegm had again written.
Again, I had shrugged. Ahhhh, I’d written.
Phlegm had nodded his approval. Very well that will have to do, he’d written. At least we know you can still write.
In the background Smoke had thrown another armful of wood onto his fire, shuffling closer still to the flames. He had given me a thumbs-up and held up his slate which had simply read, FIRE!
I had pointed towards Smoke, concerned for his safety. Is he ok? I’d written.
Phlegm had nodded. Yes, he’s fine, he’d replied. He seems quite flame-retardant. Don’t worry about him it’s you I’m concerned about.
What happened? I’d written in a very shaky hand. I’d looked down at my burlap covered feet. Were you able to save my foot?
Phlegm had seemed taken aback. Oh yes, he’d written. Your foot is completely intact, pinky toe and all. You suffered a fairly severe sprain to the interphalangeal joints of the smallest toe on your left foot, probably between its proximal and middle phalanx. I did not attempt to open your suit to give a closer examination as I do not yet fully understand our physiology and I am concerned that our suits may be acting as our epidermis. I am not sure if they are capable of healing themselves.
Again, I had shrugged musing how his clinical explanation of my injury lacked to convey the agony it had caused. Hell had visited my sock, bringing with it a pain only fathomable to those who have endured it.
What I am trying to say, Phlegm had continued, is that I am a doctor not a tailor. If I cut open your suit, I do not know what I will find within it and I am not sure if I’d be able to stitch you back together again. I would’ve put some ice on your foot or numbed the pain with a deadening spine, but we seem to have a deplorable lack of both.
You’re a doctor? I’d written in surprise. This was the first time one of my brethren had spoken of him or herself having a vocation.
Phlegm had nodded. Yes, he’d written. Or at least I was a doctor. Long before this.
You remember? I’d asked. You remember who you were. You remember your prior life?
Snippets of it, Phlegm had written. I remember that I had dreams. I was going to make my family proud and become a witch doctor. I’d studied for four years at the Satinstar College of Nursing and then I’d done a further four years at the Phoenixhelm Royal University of Medical Magic where I’d studied the physiology of the sentient races and learnt how to treat a variety of ailments both medically and magically. I’d later found employment on the surgical ward of the Great Infirmary. I loved my job. Helping people. I was useful. Respected. I had purpose.
But what happened? I’d asked. How did you end up in Hush Prairie?
Phlegm had looked downcast and I’d instantly regretted my prying. The world changed for me, he’d written, seating himself on the end of my plinth. My mind had become sick and everything darkened. It had showed me things, disturbing, terrible things. There were demons at my door night and day. People stripped their own flesh off in the street. Birds were eaten whole, straight from their nest. Fingernails, eyes, teeth and scalps rained from the sky and all I could do was scream at the horror as the world curdled in my mind’s eye.
Just then, someone had fallen into the room and Butter had scrambled across the floor towards me. Skull had followed behind her, picking up her sunhat which had once again fallen from her head. His arms had been folded across his chest and an air of frustration had hung around him like smoke.
Butter had dragged herself to her knees at the side of my plinth and had grabbed my arm, gesticulating wildly. She had turned back towards Skull and had held out her hand, wiggling her fingers with impatience.
Skull had paced forwards and had held out their shared writing slate. Though I could not see his eyes beneath his goggles I’d imagined that he was rolling them. Before Butter could take the slate, Skull had snatched it back and had written, Do NOT break it, before handing it to her.
Sunrise I’m so sorry! Butter had written, thrusting the slate into my face. I was only trying to help but my feet are so uncoordinated and uncooperative, and I fell. She’d flopped backwards to sit on the floor, tears trickling from the rim of her goggles.
Despite his apparent frustration with her, Skull had stepped forwards and had placed a calming hand on her shoulder.
I thought I’d killed you, Butter had written. Squashed you like a bug or damaged you irreparably inside. I’ve been so worried all week!
Don’t worry Butter I’m fine, I’d written, trying to placate her. Dr. Phlegm thinks I’ll even be able to walk again.
Phlegm had stood a little straighter and had visibly puffed out his chest, enjoying my use of his former title.
I’d done a double take at Butter’s board. Wait! What? I’d written. You’ve been worried all week! How long have I been unconscious?
This is your sixth day, Phlegm had informed me. I was beginning to worry that you’d slipped into a coma.
I had been concerned that the bunnies had gone another week without food and I had been very insistent that someone fill me in on the events of the past six days. Pitterpat had obliged me and had informed me that shortly after my stubbing Smoke had made a breakthrough with his fire lighting after he’d explored the caves and discovered a chamber full of what he’d believed to be dry wood and cloth. It had been around this time that Pitterpat had begun to look uncomfortable and he had attempted to change the subject, telling me how, following my mishap, Skull had scratched the words Caution- Malevolent Rock, onto the offending chunk of toe-stubbing stone before he’d launched it off the mountainside.
I had pressed the subject of Smoke’s kindling and Pitterpat had coyly informed me that after Smoke had used the wood and cloth to start his fire, they had lit some torches to help them better explore the system of caverns. Upon reentering the chamber where Smoke had found the wood and cloth, they had realized it to be a tomb of some sort. The tomb had contained three stone plinths similar to the one I’d lay upon, two of which had been topped with mummified remains. The third plinth however had been empty and to their horror they had realized that Smoke’s cloth and wood had in-fact been bandages and bone. Upon examining his torch Pitterpat had found it to be an ancient femur belonging to a coomobra.
I had looked over at Smoke in horror as he had pilled more wood onto the fire and, fearing his answer, I had asked Pitterpat if he was fueling the flames with the other two mummies.
Pitterpat had shook his head and had informed me that why mummies did seem to be exceedingly flammable, Smoke had found a better source of fuel in the old crumbling ladders which we had climbed to escape the flood waters.
I had been shocked that they had decided to burn the ladders, and I had questioned Pitterpat on what he proposed we did if we needed to climb up through the caverns again. He had told me that there was no need to worry as one of our brethren, an individual named Sawdust, had promised that he would be able to craft some new, safer ladders if he had some long, stout tree branches.
But there are no trees? I had reasoned. How do we get branches without trees?
Pitterpat had then told me that the mysterious Eastern forest had made a reappearance and that they had been waiting for me to regain consciousness before they dared approach it. Pitterpat had told me that the forest had disappeared and reappeared several times in the last six days. It was there one day and gone the next and if it continued to follow the same pattern it would be gone again by morning and reappear around midday the following day.
I had been most excited by the news and, remembering the plight of the bunnies I had proposed that we relaunch our mission to the forest as soon as possible. In my excitement I had forgotten about our tomb desecration and my injured toe and I had attempted to stand only to have Phlegm gently push me back down. He had advised that if I planned to hike all the way to the forest then I should stay off my injured foot for as long as possible and he had suggested that I spent another day lying on my stone slab. Remembering Horizon’s use of the word footslog, I had conformed to Phlegm’s orders and had lay myself back down, the warmth and atmosphere created by Smoke’s fire causing me to doze and eventually fall into a fitful slumber.
At some point in the late 2580’s Mount Bedlam had played host to a team of archeologists who were keen to examine the Coomobra artifacts which we had uncovered whilst exploring the caverns of Mount Bedlam. I had personally catered to their needs and had shown them the two remaining Coomobra mummies. They had carefully unwrapped the mummies and had identified them as Queen Chamaerops Humilis and Prince Trachycarpus Fortunei, who were the last members of the Conkobile royal family before their species had become extinct. The archeologists had been very confused by the cave paintings and hieroglyphs in the tomb which they had deciphered as saying ’Here Rests King Kukui, Queen Chamaerops and their son Prince Trachy.’ They had surmised that the King’s missing remains had probably been lost to grave robbers or vandals, a theory which I’m ashamed to say I did nothing to discourage. I had insisted that there had only been two mummies in the tomb when we had discovered it, a lie which has been gnawing at me ever since. So, to clear my conscience I would like to make my confession here. It was us, the Orderlies, who desecrated the tomb of the Conkobile Royal family. We mistook King Kukui’s remains for a convenient pile of kindling and we burnt him (in the most respectful way possible under the circumstances.) I am sorry to those archeologists whose misguided theories I only served to perpetuate and I know that to the archeology community the loss of King Kukui’s remains is a great one but if it is any consolation at all I heard that he provided my brethren with a most cozy and much needed fire which lasted them well into the evening.
I would like to make it clear that we are not in the habit of fueling our fires with priceless archaeological finds. The incident with King Kukui was an isolated accident and to my knowledge we have not burnt any members of any monarchy since.