The ride to Dr Insanis’ island passed quite quickly for Amber and Cressela since they talked amongst themselves about their family pasts and personalities. After a few hours though, the pilot announced that their destination was reached, and landing would be starting soon. Amber’s stomach had butterflies as she thought of what awaited her - half excitement, and half of pure terror. But the terror faded away quickly as Cressela smiled at her with renewed energy, ready to free her friends and face her creator.
“Alright, kiddos! I’mma drop you off here, right? Rue said that you know where you’re going.” Brain said as he shook their hands heartily, Cressela flinching as he did so and standing behind Amber.
“Thanks, Brian.” Then she nudged Cressela, indicating that they needed to forget them and where they’d been.
“Um, I forgot something,” Cressela said quickly, and she and Brian went back to the plane, her approaching the pilot and him from the inside. Amber watched outside as the aeroplane darkened a little, electricity running through the space that it was on. Then Cressela exited and the plane’s engine started up again, Brian and the driver unaware of the girls that were watching them leave, the plane rising once again and getting lost into the skies and clouds that hung softly in the air. They then looked around where they were - a deserted, quiet island, with an eerie, dark atmosphere, the temperature muggy and uncomfortable. There were patches of green at some points, but no sign of any inventions or machines, nor any big buildings and labs.
“It’s underground,” Cressela informed Amber, noticing her confusion. “Come, let’s go. I’ll show you. There are a lot of levels before getting to his, at the very bottom.”
“...Seven, I think?”
Amber nodded, inhaling and breathing out deeply, following her.
“Will he know that we’re here?”
“Maybe. But he won’t leave his factory. He makes it like a game for trespassers that come - you have to get past my kind, on the levels. Then you will get to him, at the end.”
Amber nodded slowly, getting her head around the facts. “Okay - so they won’t attack if I’m with you, right?”
Cressela nodded. “Come, this way.”
Cressela and Amber ran down the hard, sandy grounds of the small deserted island of Lotarke Brook. When they reached the centre, Cressela waved her hand above ground and the sand swept off the area, revealing something a small, empty cuboid-shaped entryway. Cressela and Amber jumped down onto the granite flooring and gazed at the tight space they’d lowered themselves into. The roof suddenly slid shut, and Amber jumped, the room going dark as they felt it glid downwards.
“An open-roofed elevator,” Amber murmured, “okay... peculiar...”
Suddenly, the lift juddered and halted, one side slipping open and revealing a dark corridor.
“This way,” Cressela whispered, and the two girls walked out, Amber stepping carefully.
The corridor led to a large forest - a cool, wintery place, trees’ branches thick with white, icy snow, the ground carpeted by it and skulls lying around on the floor. Amber noticed two stone arches several feet away, opposite each other, the only seeming clue of moving ahead from the snowy place. There appeared to be no way out, as if they were stuck in a creepy virtual room. Which, quite possibly, they were.
“Winter Wonderland,” Cressela told her, heading towards an arch. “I’ll go here, you go to the other one. Things have changed since the last time I was here.”
Amber looked around, noticing another small brick arch leading into a dark, frosty room. She advanced cautiously towards it, going inside and seeing nothing - just the trees leaning inwardly, dusted with snow, angel heads and skulls outlining them.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
Amber jumped, turning around and noticing a girl around Cressela’s age sitting behind her. She frowned - Amber hadn’t seen her there a second ago - but there she was, blinking up at her with hypnotic, glowing blue eyes, dressed in a black ruffle dress with a fancy mask on one side of her and an apple between her pale hands. Her hair was jet-black too, except for the front sides, which were streaked white like the snow that surrounded them.
“Who... who are you?”
“Ash Black,” she responded, her voice quiet, smooth and calm.
“Do you know why you’re here?” Ash repeated patiently, stroking the glistening red apple with her thumb, her cold, icy gaze never leaving Amber’s. She gestured for her to sit opposite her, and after hesitating a little Amber did, inches away from the dark material of the dress.
“I’m here for a reason,” Amber responded, pulling her confidence back together as much as she could, “me and-”
“No,” Ash interrupted, leaning in a little closer, “do you know why you are here? Why you? Why now?”
Amber shook her head slowly, frowning a little in interest and slight confusion.
“Thought not. You don’t have the attitude of your species. And your species... they all want the same things. But you? I don’t think that fits. You are a lost girl, with dead father and mother.” Ash paused for a moment then, staring up at her in curiosity.
“Your name? Do you have one?”
“Amber, Amber Obscura,” she replied, feeling a little dizzy but completely enticed towards her as Ash Black’s eyes darkened, and she held out her hands for Amber to place hers on top of.
“Let me show you,” Ash whispered, her quiet, tempting voice surrounding the room and echoing in the snowy cave, “I have all your answers. Here, let me reveal your story... your destiny...”
Amber placed her hands upon Ash’s pale, cold ones and her eyes began to spark and glow a vivid electric blue, whirring around her black pupils. Then they stopped at a dangerous red, and Amber gasped and struggled in Ash’s tightened grip as she suddenly attacked, her freezing skin squeezing against Amber’s soft flesh. Amber fought as hard as she could against her firm hold, pushing her down into the fluffy frost, her knuckles bleeding a little. Small, bloody red droplets stained the snow as Amber gathered as much strength as she could, breathed in deeply and pushed her off of her back, grabbing her purple tub from Ruey and throwing a Majanelah Missile at Ash. It hit her arm, and striking purples, blues and pink shades of smoke clouded about her, travelling around her body and suspending her stance. Ash glared at Amber furiously, her eyes a comparable colour to Amber’s blood, and Amber held back a shiver of fright as she looked back into Ash’s threatening scowl.
“We could really use your help,” Amber said, rubbing at her hands and trying to control her rapid breathing, “we’re here to help, to get you out of here so you can be free in a safer place. I just need to know how to get to the second level. Please.”
Ash paused, the red luminosity ignited in her eyes dimming and the blue starting to appear around the corners.
“We? Who are ‘we’?”
“Cressela,” Amber replied, kneeling in front of her, but still a little warily, “do you know her? She’s one of you, you’re kind, isn’t she? She’s with me, to help get you all out.”
“I know,” Ash replied, “I remember. From a long time ago.” Ash stopped again, looking up at Amber with a spark of hope in her expression, as her eyes began to fade back into her normal, wintery blue.
“You can free us? Really?”
Amber nodded, smiling. “All of you. I promise.”
Ash broke eye contact and glanced at the snowy carpeted ground in thought.
“I have an older sister. Cherri Black. But I have not seen her in ages. I will help,” Ash said, looking back up at Amber determinedly, “if you promise to reunite us. Bring us with you.”
Amber nodded, and Ash flinched as Amber laid her hand on top of her arm.
“I promise. You and your sister will never be split up ever again. I’ll bring you two back together as soon as I can.” Amber paused, frowning a little as she put her box of missiles away.
“Where is she?”
“Level 6,” Ash said, her confidence wavering a little. “It is not easy. You think you managed to defeat me? She is much, much stronger than this. She will hate you, as she hates all human beings. But try, do try...”
Amber nodded as the gas’ effect wore off on Ash. Ash sat up, brushing the snow off of her dress and sighing lightly.
“So, how can I get to Level 2?”
Ash picked up the mask that previously rested on her skirts, handing it to Amber. Amber took it from her grasp, studying its detailed and eccentric patterns and design.
“Take and wear it when you go to Luna Moon.”
Ash nodded, standing up and shaking her locks back from her face.
“The Moon Maiden. Only she can unlock the second level, on the other side of the forest. Angelita will lead you. Cressela has probably found her.”
Amber nodded thankfully, and Ash showed a slight hint of a smile.
“Good luck, Amber Obscura.”
And as soon as she’d finished speaking, the snow that Ash was standing on darkened to a grey-black colour and a black mist grew around and enveloped her, consuming the twisted temptress as if she’d never been there, fading away into the cool, wintery air and leaving Amber alone once more.