Cressela - Twisted

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【 Chapter Ten 】

The journey to Insani Insula, or the Insane Island - which Amber thought was a fitting name - was a fairly quiet and lengthy one. It took Brian quite a while to actually find the remote place, and so the trip took the better part of the day, Amber getting out snacks from a small compartment between the seats they were on beside each other and offering them to Cressela, who took dainty nibbles and compared it to naturally-grown fruits and foods she used to have and remembered distinctly. She even took out the book at one point and showed Amber what each symbol meant in English writing, reading a few sentences about how the mother wanted their children safe and happy, and she was desperately searching for an answer. Cressela smiled fondly and sadly before shutting the book again and putting it away in Amber’s pocket.

“Wait, so those chips at the back - um, identity implants,” Amber started in understanding, “were the letters after each name about the origin?”

Cressela stared at her for a short moment, impressed. “That’s right. My mother was Dark, Zanya was Light. I guess I was in between. I should know more, it’s confusing. Like most of my memories are out of reach, locked away, because... because of him." Cressela looked Amber straight in the eye then, her gaze motivated and resentful. “I want him dead, Amber.”

Amber nodded slowly. “I think I do too.”

Cressela nodded in affirmation, her eyes lingering as they studied the thin, light red scar on Amber’s cheek, and guilt made her drop her eyes to her lap. “I can try healing that,” she told her quietly. “It was defence. I wasn’t sure then...”

“It’s alright,” Amber assured her, smiling lightly. “I want to keep it. Like a souvenir from the beginning of this life-changing adventure.”

Cressela gave her a faint half-smile, looking out the window to the seemingly endless sea. “You’re as strange as I am. Almost.”

Amber grinned. “I’ve been called worse.”

Suddenly, the jet faltered in the air and yellow land appeared beneath them, causing Amber’s heart to jump and Cressela’s silver stare to intensify. Brian called out to them about finding a stable place to land, and “thank the livin’ lord for that, huh?” as the girls prepared themselves to land, unease and a twinge of fear entering Amber’s thoughts.

“You’re not alone,” Cressela told her, distracting Amber from her thoughts swiftly. “You said so yourself. You’re stuck with me now.”

Amber smiled at that, remembering Cressela’s words from the night before. “Lucky me.”

Cressela scoffed lightly and smirked, and the jet finally landed, the feeling of the soft, foreign ground beneath them a minor relief and major thrill. Amber thought of Insanis waiting for them somewhere, hidden and out of sight, and she shivered.

“It’s underground,” Cressela told her, as they took off their seatbelts. “But they need to leave first. Don’t worry about escaping. I’ve got an idea for that.”

Amber nodded in agreement and the two stepped out of the jet and onto the island, sand crunching underneath their feet as Brain looked around the deserted place, squinting and holding his hand up over them to block out the late afternoon’s sun. Cressela tensed as he did, glancing at the ground and then back to him.

“You supposed to meet with a tour group here or something? Your man Ruey didn’t give much information, but I assumed. I need to know you’re being looked after - can’t let you go wandering into trouble, stranded in god knows where...”

Cressela’s jaw clenched and stare hardened, but Amber grabbed her arm gently, turning her away from Brian’s prying eyes.

“Can you influence him or something?” Amber asked her in a murmur. “Like, make him think it’s all fine and just forget about it?”

Cressela hesitated but shrugged after a moment’s thinking, going over to Brain as the other pilot waited patiently in the jet. She whispered some words Amber couldn’t make out, her expression calm but focused, silver-grey gaze boring into his dazed one. Then he nodded and smiled distractedly, getting back into the jet and sliding the door closed.

“How?” Amber breathed in wonder, as the jet lifted from the ground, the girls standing back as it took off back into the air.

“What he wanted to hear,” she responded simply. “That everything’s fine. Projecting my thoughts onto his. Not easy, but I can do it. Unlimited origins can be helpful in times like these.”

Amber nodded slowly, looking around the isolated area and properly taking in the scarce view. Murky brown and golden sand coating the rough ground, the uneven edges creating an odd shape for the outskirts of the place, before the waters met the and darkened their colour, dragging handfuls of the sand into its cool clutches before discarding half of it back where it originally was, the process never faltering. The air was tainted and tickled her nose, smelling faintly of chemicals and smoke. A bleak and dismal place, forgotten and out of use to the rest of the world, and opening up an entirely new and dangerous, mystic world beneath their feet.

Cressela crouched down and felt the floor, pushing her palms deep into the sand and spreading the grains in multiple different places, making Amber’s breath catch in her throat in familiar awe of the power, before she crouched down too and rubbed at the surface. Then she frowned as her hand glided over a rough, cold surface, firm and metallic.

“Cressela? I think I found something.”

Cressela looked up and went over to Amber, instantly wiping clean the sand from the dark silver exterior in an instant and letting out a short breath as they stared at it.

“That’s the way in,” Cressela told her. “And the only way out, I think. This lair goes deep down into the sea. It’ll be hard to swim back up if we do find an emergency exit at the seventh level.”

“There are seven levels?” Amber repeated, her eyes widening at the statement as she sighed. “Okay…”

“The seventh level is… it’s Insanis’,” Cressela informed her. “If things are the same as they were when we ran away. They all helped and risked themselves by getting us out. So there will most likely be mixed reactions.”

Then Cressela grabbed an edge of the square surface and pulled it to the left, the lid sliding with ease to reveal a rectangular space that Cressela slipped into, tall enough to fit a few small people in, and twice their height. Amber did likewise, cautiously entering the space and glancing up at the mixed hues of the blue and orange evening sky, before the lid suddenly closed again, sealing the entrance. Then the box moved down at a steady pace, growing light speed as it went, the area around them unclear and coated in thick darkness. The underground lair of levels seemed to disconnect with the rest of the world – and in a sense, it did.

Then the darkness lifted, and Amber gasped with round eyes as she stared in fascination at the scene in front of her. It looked surreal, like a set for a winter play, or a 3D painting. But it was, indeed, a massive and quite real forest, even bigger than Silva, with snow dusting the khaki green leaves and branches of the long, long trees, carpeting the ground, small flakes and balls of it drifting from the deep navy sky above them. Even the sky looked real, not at all like a high-up ceiling. Like a world between walls, land underneath another, going on seven times. It was better than any storybook illustration, or any landscape Amber’s imagination could conjure up. And a mile or so away from the peculiar elevator Amber and Cressela were inside, one side opening swiftly and introducing a cool breeze to brush against their skin and tangle in their hair, two other things stood out amongst the rest. On opposite sides to each other, some of the trees dipped down and curved about each other in a messy arch to create what looked like caves, almost like mini grottos.

“This is Winter Wonderland. Level One. To go down a level, you have to collect something from whoever guards the current level,” Cressela explained as they stepped out of the elevator and onto the snow, Amber nodding as she marvelled over the sight, feeling the snow against her hand which felt just as it ought to. “It won’t be easy. It’s not supposed to.”

Amber frowned slightly then, turning to her. “What do you mean?”

“Insanis created this as his haven, a twisted paradise for us to stay in temporarily. But he said that just in case someone managed to find him, they’d have to play his game to reach him. If they didn’t make it, they weren’t worth his time. We all guard the floor beneath the ones we’re on. But they’ll listen to me,” she added, noticing Amber’s worried expression, “and possibly you too. You’re a good convincer. And they need the reassurance of freedom. We all do.”

“So... how does this work?”

“There’s an item that one of them have on each level,” Cressela continued. “You’ll need it to keep going and unlock the next entryway. If they aren’t convinced, they’ll try to kill you. So be careful. It will get harder the lower we go. The lower we go, the more faithful they are to Insanis.”

“How long have you been here for?” Amber asked in shock. Cressela shook her head, shrugging as she started walking towards the grottos.

“Since I was a third stager, nearly fourth.”

“It must have been years.”

“Because there’s... time here,” Cressela said, enunciating the word as if it was cursed, “it’s confusing to keep track. We don’t age as fast as you do, but things are different in this world. So it might have been ten or fifteen years for you, but it goes faster for us. So it doesn’t feel like long, and it doesn’t look long - but it’s not short either. Does that make any sense?”

Amber nodded slowly. “Yeah. I guess it does.”

“I’m going to this one,” Cressela told her, nodding at the grotto on the right. “You go to the other.”

Amber dithered, uncertain. “Is splitting up a good idea?”

“It’ll make things quicker,” Cressela said. “There aren’t always more than one of us on a level. but it’s like that on some. Just be careful. Don’t get distracted. Okay?”

Amber nodded, smiling briefly. “Okay.”

Then Cressela disappeared inside the grotto, and Amber advanced to the other, ducking her head as she entered and looking around in wonder. The snow was like a white blanket on the ground, the trees’ branches and thick twigs outstretched, shielding the place from the outside forest. Amber noticed a couple of stone skulls beside each other on the ground next to the way in, the bare eyeholes almost as empty as the milky-white stare Cressela had when she first saw her, and a young angel torso on the other side, hands cupping its cold, lifeless cheeks, grey stone eyes staring into nothing in a trance.

A rustle from the entryway caught Amber’s attention, and her eyes landed on black spots staining the snow like paint boldening clean water in prominent colours that curled in it like smoke, and a sudden smooth, feminine voice made her jump in surprise as she whipped around, coming face to face with the second one of Cressela’s kind, protector of the second floor. A seemingly harmless girl of around seventeen sat before her in the snow, her black dress and its ruffled skirts spread around her as if she’d settled there long before Amber had come. A red apple was in her lap, reminding Amber a little of Snow White, but with a darker, more complicated turn. A black mask with calligraphic swirls and patterns around the eyeholes was in her pale grip, and black hung down past her shoulders, a jet black colour but with a contrast at the front sides, which were as white as the snow around her. Her eyes were a delicate, alluring blue, her lips crimson, and what seemed to be a simple shooting star outline was marked in some kind of dark ink on her neck, like a symbolic tattoo.

“Do you know why you’re here?”

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