Chapter 2:

Status Quo

To the Dire Ends: Bloodstained kNight

Before these trying times this clinic had rarely ever seen use. Save for the occasional mishap that ordinarily happens, with how safe Ziodha had always been, it was hardly ever needed. But it was created with an old statement in mind: “Better safe than sorry.” Because of this, few of the present staff had any hands on experience themselves. Most were untested and simply book smart. But all of that had changed when Remedy had entered the land with her fellow visitors. And regrettably, this clinic had finally seen its share of blood and medical emergencies as a dark chapter of its history had begun.

As I walk down the simple halls and into the waiting area, I’m met with a group of familiar faces. As I enter, each and every one of them looks to me. Looks ranging from surprise to relief play about the quartet’s features.

“That’s another scare you’ve given us.” Zenith steps up and welcomes me back to the world of the waking. Gripping tightly onto my hand, he brings me in for a quick embrace of solidarity.

I glance to the others and see not only Rozyuka and Valorith, but a woman with long, indigo blue hair and deeper blue eyes looking to me shyly. Beyond the anxiety she displays with her body language, a fragile and cute smile gives off a serene warmth. The white turtleneck sweater around her body covers her up to her jaw and her pleated skirt and stockings leave her entirely covered save for her hands.

Nicinon Mazin. The third knight in Ziodha’s original, humble “knighthood” composed of myself, herself and Zenith.

“Hakan. I’m so happy you’re okay. When I’d heard what had happened, I was ready for the worst.” Her demure, timid voice is pleasant to my ears. “I wish I could have been there. Maybe you wouldn’t have been hurt then.”

“It’s all done with now and it’s fine. Besides; you’d helped me incredibly staying behind to look after Ziodha while we were gone. I appreciate that more than you could know.”

“I… understand. As long as you’re okay… I…” She quickly concedes and shrinks into herself while a flush of pink rushes across her face.

“In case any of you are worried; I’m feeling just fine. There’s really no residuals or anything like that. That’s why I’m standing before you right now.” I speak as I turn my attention to my friends as a whole.

“Even if that’s so, I still think it’d be wise if you’d at least take a day to get rested.” Valorith raises her concerns as she sits at Roze’s side. Her customary place.

“I don’t plan on returning to the dungeon today, of course. That can wait until later. But I’m not interested in sitting around either. I’ll be doing what I’m able to today and tomorrow I’ll pick up a bit more. We all know that we’re no strangers to situations like this so I’ll just jump to the conclusion that you’re all wondering about. I’m not going to waste a day away but I’ll be taking it easy for the time being. The first opportunity arises and I’ll gather knights to return to the dungeon.”

A light sigh falls from Valorith’s lips. She’s a touch dissatisfied but obviously willing to go along with my decision. The three left give their thoughts on the matter before we begin on the next matter at hand.

“Given how our previous journey had ended, I know that I have some things that I’ll need to be caught up to speed. After I’d fallen unconscious, what had happened? Where had we placed the beacon that had brought us back to Ziodha?”

“I’m guessing Remedy had filled you in on what become of you.” Valorith inquires of me.

“Yes. I’d heard that I’d become pale and had begun to speak nonsense. We’d left the hall behind and from there the beacon had been placed. But we’d been traveling through that dungeon for quite some time so I’m wondering where it would have lead us.”

“About that…” My answer began from Zenith’s lips. “When we’d gotten out of that place, I was only able to take a quick look at our surroundings given the circumstances. Our focus was more on tending to you than anything else. Valorith and I had carried you while Rozyuka lead the way. But,” he takes a breath and gives into a little spell of focus, “there was this large gateway and hedges all about. I think it was a maze. There was a lot of grass to boot. I remember seeing a castle off in the distance beyond that gate. It was big enough that I just able to have seen a bit of it over the hedges on the other side.”

“A castle beyond a hedge maze? That’s… peculiar.” I muse to myself.

“Well, we aren’t exactly in the business of the usual, are we?” There was a hint of irony in Valorith’s words. “We’ve been through a tower, a maze made from glass and even a giant, changing mechanism so I think that a hedge maze is a bit more relaxed than anything we’ve experienced before.”

“Even if it seems like a nice place, please don’t lower your guard. Those creature are always finding their way around everywhere.” Nicinon pitches into the conversation with a yelp of concern.

“You’re right. Chances are that it could even be more dangerous than anything we’ve seen before. We’ve come a long way and it always seems like those monsters only become more stubborn with each location.”

“The last thing I can say for sure is that that castle looked really gaudy. There were symbols all over it. Hearts and diamonds, the works. It felt really off putting for some reason. That’s what I think at least.” Zenith fills in for the last details as he runs his fingers through his straight and smooth hair.

“Then when we return, we’ll be leaving off before that gateway. It seems we have our work cut out for us. I’m grateful we’d managed to have found the dungeon after all before we’d been forced to leave. If I hadn’t taken that hit then we could have explored a bit further.” I respond. “But perhaps it’s a good thing after all we’d left off where we had. Knowing what we do now, we can converse on strategies before we enter. But it’s strange…”

Incited by the details I’d heard, I begin to sift through whatever memories I can glean, but I come up empty handed. Another mystery has reared its head into our investigations.

I don’t remember anything about a castle with a hedge maze.” I think to myself, puzzled.

“I think that’s a fine enough discussion on the matter for the time being. We can resume it at a later time.”

“So where do we go from here?”

“I’m intending to go about our usual patrolling duties in a bit more than an hour from now. Just because I’d been injured yesterday doesn’t mean I’m going to take the day off. So if yourself and Nicinon are willing, I’d be grateful for the help.” I answer Zenith.

“I’m okay with that. I’d wanted to check on everyone today so I’ll help.” Nicinon is the first to say yay.

“Someone has to do it. I’ll pick up as much as I can and I hope that you’ll go the easy route just for today. You can relax up a bit, I have you covered.” Then comes Zenith’s.

“I’m grateful for the both of you. The people of Ziodha need us. Not until this battle is over can we relax but even then we’ll all continue to give our best like we always have.”

“But Hakan,” my attention is grabbed by Valorith’s pleading voice, the look in her sky blue eyes is that of concern, “maybe one of the other knights can volunteer their time. I really think it’s best for you to rest yourself up for today.”

“I’m sorry, but I won’t do that. It’s important that I’d be there among every other citizen. I’m responsible for many and I’m their help. It was I that had brought everyone together, after all. I understand that my presence matters very much for even morale alone. I’d rather not go a day without checking on at least a few of those I visit.”

“You really are dutiful and loyal to your work.” The way she says her piece gives off a clear, second meaning that she admits to my stubborn nature. “Just… when you get a moment either today or tomorrow, at least send me a message.”

“I’ll make sure that I won’t forget it. You can trust me with going about my duties.” I assure her. “The last thing I’ll say for the time being is that at the very least I’ll be arranging for a strategy meeting within 2 days time. I plan to be back in the dungeon by the third day.”

“Sounds reasonable enough to me. I’ll be looking for the message on it.” My brunette haired friend says with a grin from my side.

With unanimous decision, Valorith, Rozyuka and Nicinon begin on their way about their own matters. Yet as I see Rozyuka taking up the tail of their group, I think to myself how oddly silent she had been during our entire meeting. I nearly call out to her but withhold myself and take to watching her as she leaves on her way. The click of her steps is a bit more languid than usual.

Yet from the group, Zenith remains behind.

“So what happened back there anyways?” He asks me with a characteristic friendly curiosity.

“Back in the clinic with Remedy?”

“Not back there there. Back when you’d fallen unconscious. You were saying these strange things about rabbits, clocks and all sorts of things. I’d imagine you were seeing things that we weren’t.”

“So that’s what you’d meant to ask.” I take a quick breath as I organize my thoughts. “My will was likely slipping and I must have gotten really delirious for a moment. I didn’t even know I’d began to collapse. I’d seen this rabbit hopping on its way and then the hall became this long descent. I’d began to fall and while I was falling, I was passing so many strange things.”

“That sounds trippy.” He snickers to himself. “Well, I can’t say it wasn’t bad but if it was stairs, it would have been a lot more messy. Having a slip of the mind is probably a bizarre enough experience, slamming every step down would have just made it even more traumatic.”

As he does, Zenith manages to get a small smirk out of me. The image he’d filled my head with is more comical than horrific.

“I’d guess I should consider myself blessed.”

“I remember there were a lot of rabbits around here before those things showed up. If anything, maybe that influenced your daydream a little bit. But daydream is a bit too kind of a word for that sort of thing.”

“That’s a good guess. I miss those times when there were so many rabbits milling around outside of the city. Back then everything was perfect, just like I’d wanted it to be for everyone. Even if this mess continues, I hope someday they’ll all return.”

“You remember how Alyssa used to play with them? That girl really was one with nature. I’d never imagined someone could be so loved by animals until she came along. She’d always reminded me of those princesses you’d see in cartoon musicals.”

Alyssa. Her name alone inspires the memories to rise. Her long, glittering white hair. The most innocent smile you could imagine; one that could nearly power the stars with its radiance. All of the times spent with her, my beloved younger sister.

“Oh, sorry. Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up anything sour for you. It’s just hard not to think of her when bunnies come into a conversation.” There’s a jolt of panic that rocks him as he speaks, his mannerisms becoming erratic like his quick tongue.

“No. Don’t worry about it. You’re right that it’s only natural that we’d all think of her with something like that. It was a cute rabbit, I’m sure she’d have loved to have been there to see it. If it wasn’t a dungeon and all.”

“If she could have seen what you’d seen, she would have been delighted.”

“Right. That would be another impasse to having it meet her.”

The conversation falls silent for a moment as I begin to ponder to myself idly. Yet as I look back into the clinic, I remember what I’d like to do for myself before I’d begin on my patrols. I’d intended to let the others go while I’d stay behind for a little bit of time.

“Hey, Zenith. Go on ahead and make your day before we get started on our duties. I have something that I’d like to do before I make myself busy.”

“I understand. I suppose you’d like to meet her. I know she’d be happy to spend some more time with you so take care of yourself, alright?” Try as he might to smother it, his worry can’t be beat. Its clear on him.

“Thank you. I will.”

Waving, he carries on his way and out the door. A few citizens wander by and as they see him, they smile and immediately begin to converse. Two women that have always been taken by his splendid charm. Though my spirits had taken a small hit thinking of Alyssa, witnessing that amusing sight gives me a little bit more pep.

I turn towards the entry doors to the clinic and as I do, the morning light drifting in from the windows suddenly ceases. Left behind, dim in the failing illumination of the inconsistent overhead lighting is an unfamiliar sight. An image completely opposed to the state of the clinic that I myself have always known.

Rotten wood warped with age and the damp, derelict state of their abandonment. The floor tiles underfoot are stained with filth now caked into the cracks that have formed. Their grout is now a discolored mess. The glass which once peered outside is now smeared with dirt and webbing while open gashes are taken from their glass. Everywhere is a disgusting mess where even the walls are now tagged with graffiti and carvings gashed into what is left of its chipped surface.

I stand and view the scene. Left in wonder, left in thought. I can smell the damp and musty scent of mold and dust teeming about the place. I look down to my shoes and sweep one lightly across the floor to watch as the disgust under my boot slides about.

Taking another deep breath of the gross odor of the building, I begin forward.