Cressela’s breath hitched as Valerie uttered the last few words, and Amber frowned in confusion and unease, glancing at Cressela and noticing her shocked, worried expression as if Valerie had said cursed her very existence. Valerie herself took a couple of steps back, out of Amber’s face, and stood arms folded watching them both defiantly, her butterflies surrounding her.
“A Delusional,” Amber repeated, looking over at Valerie in uncertainty, and she nodded. “What’s that? Is it bad?”
Valerie scoffed, rolling her electric indigo tinted eyes.
"Bad? It the one of very few things that can kill us. When you are away from your coetus for long time, you go to the delusional state. You can't think or act normal, and you go crazy. Your eyes discolour and you bleed more, kill everything until you end up killing yourself. That what Delusional is, and it's very hard to come out of."
Amber listened, her body frozen in shock as what she said started to make perfect sense. Cressela's family were killed and so she must have gone through the faze too until Amber arrived. That must have been why she was acting so strange and rabid as soon as she saw Amber. But if she was, why didn't she kill her when she had the chance?
"And if you are Delusional, can you choose not to kill?" Amber asked Valerie, who shrugged.
"Depends how long you been Delusional. Usually, no. And you are not thinking straight at all, which is why I liken you to it."
"But Cressela," Amber continued, looking at her and back to Valerie, "she was in that state too when I found her, but she didn't kill me."
"Yes," Cressela said, and Amber turned to her, "but you remind me of them, and of here. Before, probably, you might have been killed. But..." Cressela struggled to find the words, "I don't know, you just seemed different to normal humans. A feeling, just a feeling when you were there."
"What did you expect," Valerie snapped suddenly, scowling, "to kill Master Insanis and get us all out to be hunted by humans? You are human! What makes you so different?"
Amber shook her head, trying to find the best convincing way to explain to her. She breathed in deeply through her nose, biting the inside of her lip before answering.
"I know I'm a human. But sometimes I don't feel normal, like everyone else around me does. I've always wanted adventure and fantasy, ever since I could crawl, and when I stumbled across Cressela... well, she helped me find it. I don't know who I am, not really. Both of my parents were killed when I was a baby. And I've always been different and wanted different things. When I saw that bridge and saw Cressela - I should have run, like any other human would if they were me. But I didn't, and I won't run away from this either. Your Master, Dr Insanis - he can't be treating you well. He did invent you, of course, but you're still living beings with feelings and a mind. If we do this, this could be your only chance to get out of here, with your friends and family, and all the rest of your species to safety, until we can find somewhere that you can stay forever. I'm not asking you to tell me everything and respect me... I'm asking you to trust me - because this could be the only chance."
Valerie paused, startled by her response as she took in her words in interest and thought. Her gaze dropped for a moment, then raised back up at her, sadness clear in her expression.
"I have three girls," she said quietly after a few long, intense moments, "Mia, Tia and Lia. Last time I did something wrong, Master Insanis banned me from seeing them for long time, and Brennan, my partner. If I let you through... he will do worse. He will."
Amber's eyes widened in surprise, and Cressela looked up from her spot.
"You've got children and a husband?"
Valerie shrugged and nodded.
"Sort of. A partner is like husband for life - husband as you call it. And my children, they are all young teenagers. Insanis only let us together because he needs more of us. I have not seen Brennan, not for a long while."
"But we can change that," Amber insisted confidently, "if you let us pass, or take us to the next level. I promise you, you will see Brennan and your girls again, and nothing will part you this time. We just need to get to him. Please."
Cressela nodded, and Valerie thought about it for several moments, a slightly worried but relieved look on her face. Then she looked back up at Cressela and Amber and nodded.
"Okay. For Level Three you need to get to Mia, Tia and Lia. They are on the far opposite side and have the Moonstone to put in its place to unlock it. Here," she told them, waving her hands as a large group of her butterflies came together in a group, and headed to the entrance by her command, "they will lead you to them. Tell them... tell them I sent you."
Amber nodded, smiling reassuringly, and Cressela and Valerie nodded to each other in more of a friendly manner.
"Thank you," Amber said gratefully as they started following Valerie's butterflies back out of her tree.
"Some advice," Valerie called after them suddenly, and Amber looked back around, "at the start of Level Three... keep your hand at level of your eyes."
Amber nodded slowly, smiling slightly and then backing out, trying to push away the worried thoughts of what may lie ahead.
"Come," Cressela said to Amber, as they followed the butterflies once more, "let's go find them."
The journey to the other side of the dark and quiet forest wasn't too long, and soon they could see a type of a long, large open stone balcony, the gentle moonlight shining inside of it and illuminating the figures sitting at the entrance. Every so often the tall thin branches of the trees that covered most of the forests' ground waved and shook in the nighttime wind, causing the moon's light to be covered slightly, it's flashing light landing on them and giving and giving off an eerie lightning-like setting. The butterflies stayed in place for a few moments, facing the scene before scattering, heading back to Valerie.
"Thank you," Amber whispered to them uncertainly, but a few butterflies danced round her head and torso before flying off and joining their swarm. Then she turned to Cressela, still a little puzzled.
"I don't understand how Valerie has three teenage girls - she doesn't look any older than you."
"That's normal," Cressela told her, as they cautiously approached the balcony, "we don't age after we are, in humans years, about twenty to twenty-five."
Amber nodded in interest as they walked together, and as they neared the girls they became more clear. Each of them looked very similar - triplets, Amber presumed - but their hair was tied up in ponytails, with white flowers on either side. One was ginger, one brown and one blonde - the only significant detail of their difference to each other. All three girls looked up in sync as they noticed their presence, their eyes very similar to their mothers. Lightning streaks and sparks travelled up the tall, sturdy poles and a few of Valerie's butterflies hovered around them. Their dresses were all identical too, except for the colour - the ginger girls' dress green, the blonde's dress blue and the brown's a peachy pink.
The blonde girl, who was sitting in the middle, had a dark scar running down one eye, and she looked up at them in curiosity, nudging her sisters. Amber approached them at a steady pace, a slight smile on her face with Cressela following close behind.
"Hi, I'm Amber," Amber started, a little unnerved by the triplet's intense stares, their blinking totally in sync with one another, "I was sent here by your mum, Valerie Verana."
Their eyes widened in surprise at the mention of the mother's name, and they all whispered to each other discreetly. The ginger girl looked up, nodding at Amber.
The blonde did the same.
"Tia. She's Lia."
The brown-haired girl nodded at them, looking slightly confused.
"You met our mother?"
Amber and Cressela nodded.
"We did, and she sent us to you because we need the Moonstone to get to Level Three. And if you give it to us, we can help you see your parents again - and you won't be parted this time either."
Small bursts and sparks of lightning appeared around them and the stone poles, illuminating their faces. Then all three of them turned around and turned back to them with a large, pure white stone in their hands that was glowing softly. They glanced at it, then back up at Amber and Cressela, handing it to them carefully altogether, one hand each passing it to Amber. Amber took it, the rock warm with energy against her hands, and she smiled at the triplets thankfully.
They nodded and smiled lightly, stepping back once in sync as Amber and Cressela exchanged glances and walked back out, making their way to the large, grey stone wall at the very end of the forest, with a deep sunken gap its centre.
"Push it in," Cressela said, and Amber nodded, fitting it in the hole perfectly. Then she took her hand off it, and it slowly moved backwards, deeper into the wall as the gap closed around it. Then, the wall parted in it's middle, a small space, but enough for Amber and Cressela to get through. Then it closed back up abruptly, and they found themselves - still - in a forest. But again, it was different from the previous ones. The skies were lighter and bird calls could be heard from near distances. And as Amber squinted, she noticed what looked like a grey-white stone staircase that lead upwards, possibly to the fourth level.
"Come," Cressela said, and the two girls walked onwards. Ravens swooped near them, their black-feathered bodies lurking near them as they watched, discreetly alerting the other dozens of ravens. Amber frowned, staring at them all and nudging Cressela.
"Why do you think there are so many ravens?"
Cressela shook her head, shrugging.
"Maybe. Follow them. I think I know where they go to."