【 Chapter Eight 】
The calm familiarity of Ruey’s bungalow eased Amber’s nerves almost instantly, except for the excitement that what was happening to her life now was real, it was really happening, and the wait might finally be over. The strange, unnatural girl called Cressela was standing hesitantly in the hall, her silver gaze searching the main room and the fluffy white cat curled up on top of the fireplace like a storybook picture. Ruey’s eyes were wide in amazement as Amber came into the room and stood beside the couch, not knowing what to do with herself. Cressela eyed the older man in front of her cautiously, glancing at Amber.
“He’s my grandad,” Amber explained, smiling briefly. “Um, Ruey Obscura. He’s not a threat - he’s going to help us. Help you.”
Cressela’s stare flicked back to Ruey, her thick, raven locks contrasting with her pale skin and argent eyes.
“Well, I’ve heard a lot about you,” Ruey told her gently, intrigued as he admired her features and the blemishes that made her seem ethereal even so; bloodstains that used to seep from her eyes dried and leaving faded trails down her cheeks and chest, a frayed black string necklace Amber hadn’t noticed before around her neck, ending in an odd shape that looked a bit like a star, and either grease or some kind of mascara mixed with the blood under her eyes.
“Absolutely phenomenal... the most peculiar and awe-inspiring creation I’ve seen in all my years... really, you are...”
Cressela’s lips twitched into a slight smile, and she relaxed a bit more under his gaze.
“You can get me to the others?” Cressela asked him tentatively, to which he nodded, motioning for her to come in properly.
“I’ll do all in my power to reunite you, you have my word,” Ruey promised. “But first, I need to know where that is. Now, I’ve got a map here,” he continued, going over to his desk and pulling out a large, folded up map which he set out on the coffee table.
Amber sat down on the couch, glancing at it before looking back up at Ruey. Cressela sat on the edge of the seat beside her, studying the map silently.
“Do you think you can tell me whereabouts it was that you were taken by him? We’re here,” he told her, pointing at a red dot on a green part of the map, “and we’re in a big place called Europe. Did he ever tell you or suggest where you were?”
“An island,” Cressela answered slowly, asking her head. “Not on the map. He named it Insani Insula. It’s... he said it’s uninhabitable for outsiders apart from him and us.”
“An island that was maybe part of a nuclear explosion?” Amber suggested. “Or somewhere really small and remote that you can’t really live on, because it’s unstable.”
Ruey nodded in agreement, sitting opposite them. “Insani Insula... that’s Insane Island, in Latin.”
Cressela suddenly pointed at a random spot in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, and Amber leaned closer, frowning at the plain blue, with no noted sign of an island or place for quite a while, unless you went west for ages to get to Brazil.
Ruey grabbed a pen from his desk and made a mark where Cressela had indicated, then sat back with a light sigh.
“That’s where you’re headed then. Tomorrow morning.”
“Tom- really?” Amber asked in surprise.
“Well, yes. There’s no time for weeks worth of preparation. And, in your words, you’ve been preparing for this your whole life. We can’t wait any longer. I know an old mate with a private jet who can get you where you need to go, not too many awkward questions asked. I’ll ring them now.”
“What do we do?” Amber asked.
“Sleep, if you can,” Ruey responded. “You’ll need at least some rest. Leave everything else to me. Amber, love,” he added, grabbing both of her hands, “please, no matter what you do or where you’re taken... be careful.”
Amber nodded, hugging him tightly before he patted her on the back and set off to call his friend. Cressela watched somewhat wistfully, and Amber smiled at her.
“Come on. I’ve got a room here in the back.”
Amber lead her past the living room and kitchen to the second carpeted hallway, with one door to the bathroom, one to Ruey’s room and one to her own, which doubled as a library when she was gone. Cressela examined the hundreds of books on the left and right walls, and the walls to each side of the door, tracing her fingers over the covers, each with distinct material and dark colours, the titles engraved in gold and silver capital fonts.
“How did you manage to escape, Cressela?” Amber asked her in curiosity as she set up the spare bed next to hers. “It can’t have been easy. Did he just let you go?”
“It wasn’t easy,” Cressela confirmed. “We had help from our friends there. Somehow we managed it. We had each other. We didn’t know what to do when we were out and running away, swimming for ages and ages. We just stopped here after a long while and tried to decide what to do. How to get them all out too, find something useful. But Delusion took over before we could.”
Amber smiled sympathetically, nodding. “How old are you all?”
Cressela frowned at that, turning to her. “How old?”
“Yeah,” Amber replied doubtfully. “I’m sixteen. Seventeen in about six months. It’s how many years you’ve lived for. The amount of time?”
“Wait,” Cressela said, brows furrowed as she helped Amber set up the bed from the other side. “You believe in... time?”
Amber frowned too, baffled. “Um, don’t you?”
“Of course not,” Cressela responded, as if it was obvious. “There’s no such thing. The universe has always been here, for eternity. You know what eternity is? No beginning, never an end. The only thing that makes what you call days is the period of light and darkness. It’s all just a neverending cycle. I don’t see how you could count that, but...”
Amber’s mouth was agape as she listened, her words making sense in an odd kind of way. “Oh. Well, yeah, it’s what people on this planet do. But that does sound right. Sort of, once you get your head around it.”
“We have stages,” Cressela clarified as they finished the bed, and sat on the edge of it together. “Five of them. The first stage is when you’re just born - a baby, as you call it. The second is an infant who’s learning words and crawling. The third is a child, fourth is the middle, like us. Teenagers, I suppose. I’m probably like you. We’re at the same stage. And the fifth is fully grown. But not like your grandad. Younger than that. Just past a teenager. We don’t, um, age after that.”
Amber nodded, eyes wide in disbelief. “Wow. Okay... wow.”
Cressela smiled a little, glancing at the door as Ruey spoke to his friend, his muffled voice talking about favours. “He’s not your dad?”
“No. My grandad, so my father was his son. My mum and dad are both dead now though.”
Cressela looked at her immediately after Amber spoke, grey eyes round. “Dead? How?”
Amber shrugged, not that familiar with the story. Ruey was upset by the whole thing and didn’t tell her too much, apart from the fact that there was a war in her birthland and the two of them didn’t make it.
“I’m not sure. There was a war - conflict in the land, and it killed them. Me and my grandad had to leave to go here, where it’s safer. I was looked after by another couple, but it was never really home, and I didn’t like it there that much. So I ran off one night... right into you.”
Cressela scoffed lightly at that, a hint of a smirk appearing on her face. “Idiot.”
“Hey!” Amber exclaimed, snorting with laughter as Cressela’s smirk grew. “You were the one who hit me from behind. Three times.”
“In my defence,” Cressela justified. “I was taught that any human other than Insanis was a threat, and our target when the time was right.”
“Do you know when that is?”
Cressela shook her head. “He never said. He was preparing.”
“Oh,” Amber said quickly, remembering the room and the letters on the floor. “Um, so in the room you kept me in, who did it belong to?”
“No one,” Cressela answered. “We built the house with wood and secured it with our energy and power. The room was a spare. Me and Zanya played there sometimes.”
“But there was ‘SSH’ on the floorboards,” Amber said in confusion. “Was that advice to be quiet when you caught a human around the place, to give them a chance to leave quietly?”
“No, of course not,” Cressela responded, shaking her head with a small frown. “Sanistri Scourges Humans. That’s what he called it, his plan. It would be a quiet defeat with humans against us. That’s all we knew. We wrote it down in case we forgot. I guess that’s what you meant by Sanistri. He and Insanis are the same person, right?”
“Yeah,” Amber breathed. “The same evil, evil person. And we have to stop him. Does he have any weak spots or anything?”
Cressela shook her head, almost shivering at the thought of him. “No. He might not be powerful enough to take us all down, but we’d never be able to take him all down anyway. He knows how to get to us, break us inside out. I can’t imagine him dead, Amber. I just can’t. Not Insanis. He might just be a human, but he is our biggest fear.”
Amber sighed, running her fingers through her hair. “It’ll work. I’m sure, even though I think I can’t be.”
“Because I’m not alone in this anymore. And neither are you. We’ve got each other.”
Cressela considered her words, smirk reappearing a little. “Lucky me.”
Amber rolled her eyes and smiled. “Let’s hope so.”