Companions- Episode 3: New Friends
rating: +5+x

They entered Level 3. It was a lot like Level 2 - dark, cramped, moist, but also much more cluttered. Infinity immediately stepped on something and tripped. Ara managed to catch her, but this did not do much, as it only led to them both hitting the ground hard.

"Ouch, shit! Ara, what was that?" Infinity said, picking herself up.

Ara got up and grabbed it. "A fire-starter."

"You mean a lighter?" Infinity responded, chuckling.

"Why are they called that where you come from?"

"They're used to light cigarettes." Infinity answered, taking it from her.

"Oh, clever. I could have a short smoke break if we had some cigarettes." Her eyes lit up with excitement.

"No, we will need this for more important things down the line. I imagine a bunch of these Entities are not fireproof, and I'm ashamed I know people with a habit of smoking." Infinity said as she brushed herself off.

"There's got to be more than enough lighter fuel in that thing for both uses. You have to admit a smoke would let off stress."

Infinity huffed before staring knives into Ara. "I put up with parents who smoke. They treat me and my brother like pets to vlog."

"That's not my problem. Besides, it's not like I'm making myself sick by smoking. It makes me smell good too." Ara breathed in and out, smiling at the memory of the smell.

"You are making yourself sick or mark my words you will at some point, and how can you even like that smell?" Infinity said, grimacing at the thought.

"Well, I've been doing it for centuries with few health issues, and its grown on me." Ara replied nonchalantly.

"And that makes it okay?"

"No, but why let that stop me?" Ara said while wiggling one of her yellow teeth.

"Forget it then. How do we get out of this level and to the next one?"

"Well, that's easy. We gotta get in one of those elevators." Ara walked over to one situated to the left of a nasty-looking pipe. It looked like something you'd have seen in a school - rust, grime, and graffiti art. Ara pressed a button on the elevator and after a few minutes, it whirred and opened. It was clean beyond expectation for an elevator cab in this area.

"Get in." Ara said before practically hacking up a lung into her elbow and wiping her face. Infinity grimaced and rolled her eyes but went inside the elevator. Ara pressed the only button in the elevator and it closed with a "ding!". For a while, things were silent as Infinity was deep in thought.

For a long time, she had grown used to school. So used to it that the idea of never going there again seemed like a foreign concept. A dream of many children was to not go to school and just stay home instead to fool around, play video games, watch YouTube, or just TV if their parents were especially prohibitive, but that would only be fun for a few days or so.

Soon, you'd get tired of all that, and nobody seemed to visit each other anymore.

The hysteria of stranger danger was ever-present, so going by yourself when you were 8 was unreasonable to adults. Even her 12-year-old brother had to have her accompany him if he were to go to a friend's house two houses down the street.

When she was young, she watched a show about a mouse that wanted to be a ballet dancer, set in what seemed to be in the "grand olden days" of 1910 in England. The mouse had friends who she would often walk up to a few miles to meet at a time when buses were relatively new. They also went to ballet class, their replacement for school as the practice would have required training from a young age.

Growing up watching that, only to see the world today was far grayer and more tired than in those shows, left a desperate conflict in her heart. When she was 6, she wanted to one day be able to run so free just like that mouse. Learning that was not how things worked this century was just crushing.

She then backtracked to why she wasn't home - now, she was here in a world unto itself - one that seemed to hold hope and despair in simultaneous limbo with a new, vast array of possibilities. Her concentration was broken by Ara coughing hellishly. Infinity looked at her and asked her, "How did you find these level entrances so close to each other?"

"They're usually further apart. The distances tend to change over time, but it's not enough to get you off the trail." Ara explained, holding one hand on her chest and resting against the wall.

"Convenient, but how do you know which door is which?" Infinity pressed, ignoring her actions.

"It's a gut feeling." Ara replied as she caught her breath.

"Which one?"

The elevator opened and Ara chased Infinity out, brandishing her new knife.

"WHOA, WHOA, CALM DOWN! I WAS JOKING!"

"Yeah, let's see you laugh about chest pain when I bash your skull in!"

"You can try!" Infinity said. Panicking, she turned to face Ara, pulled out the lighter, and ignited it.

Ara stopped dead in her tracks and took a step back. "Okay, okay, you win. Just p-put it out.”

Infinity was skeptical. "How do I know you won't just attack me when I do?"

"I'll sit down a safe distance away, just please stop messing with it!" Ara pleaded.

Infinity smiled and extinguished the lighter, laughing at Ara. "You're sad."

"You're ruthless."

"That's a bummer." Infinity replied sarcastically. "You know, it was going to be summer break for me, but now, I'm stuck here… In this place… next to a talking astrology book. …Now, we're going to stay here until you calm down. I'm not feeling like going on right now."

"…I suppose. We've got a few spare hours; I could really use a nap right now. Wake me up when it's been two hours." Ara curled up against the wall and slowly went to sleep.

Infinity checked her phone and scrolled down to her significant other's profile - they still weren't active. She sighed and almost put her phone down when she got a notification from a news app. It was about someone named Taylor Wright dying in a car accident… her significant other's name….

Reading the article detailed the specifics of the event. It showed a picture of Taylor. The one she was hoping they didn't mean. She had died in a head-on collision with a drunk driver named George Dredd. The mug shot looked exactly as you'd expect. Some balding idiot with a red haired goatee and ugly tattoos. The type of trash you see hanging around downtown Edmonton.

She dropped the phone and broke down sobbing. The only person she felt any real connection to was gone. She now had no possible chance of ever seeing them again even if she could escape this hellhole.

After a long while, she calmed down, looked in her backpack, and pulled out her charger. She looked for an outlet and found one. Upon plugging in her phone, it began charging fast. She found this a welcome surprise and went back to sitting quietly. She began to drift off until she heard three voices that were singing and getting closer.

"With all his might, and all his strength, hurrah, hurrah.
He thought he could beat us again, hurrah, hurrah!
But little did he know, we're not as dumb as he thinks we are, we are!
And so he gave us a fight so good,
another man would die, they would." One of the voices sang. They were youthful and proud with a strong British accent.

"But let it be known that we are not just common men,
Nor are we the sort to fear the monsters that lurk in here,
They're not that bad, we know that for sure, you merry men.
So scout out for a new enemy, and have no fear, for we, the merry men, are here,
and that's good enough, quite good enough for us!!" The other two voices sang as loud, but with more subtle accents.

They almost started singing more when they entered the room with Ara and Infinity in it. Seeing them, they were a quartet with similar heights. 110 centimeters tall, give or take a decimeter. The first was an English broadsword, the second a rapier, the third a Japanese broadsword, and the fourth was a gladius. All were wearing a sheath and belt, with the swords of all but the third raised in song.

"Halt, company! A Daughter of Man!" The English broadsword said, causing the other three to stop. "This was unforeseen, we apologize for the noise." They bowed and smiled.

"It's fine… Who are you guys?" Infinity responded.

"Why, we are the Blades! Or that's what we prefer people to call us. I'm Ronald, the leader of the company! This week, that is…" He reached out and she shook his hand. Infinity was quite spooked by their strange behavior, but happy that they were not as rude as Ara. Ronald stepped aside after releasing her hand.

"I am named Jean." The rapier said and shook her hand as well.

The Japanese broadsword then nudged him aside and shook it as well - with the grip of a person standing on your hand. "I am Koharu."

"Nice to meet you too." She was then approached by the gladius. With an incredibly low and booming voice, he introduced himself.

"I am Tiberius! Pleased to meet you.”

Infinity giggled at hearing his voice. "My name is Infinity. Where are you four headed?"

"We are going to Rosewood. However, we got lost… because as brave as Ronald is, he’s also stupid.” Tiberius said.

"Indeed. I kept telling him this path was a bad idea, but he dragged us into it." Jean hissed.

"Where is this Rosewood, exactly?" Infinity asked Koharu.

"It's hard to say, but it's a ways off from the Crimson Field. There's a way there through the Dark Suburbs, but Ronald thought there was a shortcut there through the Terrible Hotel, then through whatever Flat 40 is."

“It’s not my fault an entry to that glorified hotel hellhole refuses to show up. The Great Office is very tedious sometimes.” //Ronald said.

Hearing Koharu snap her fingers at him, he turned to see her pointing at Ara with impatience. “How didn’t any of you notice her?” Koharu said.

“Miss, are you acquainted with her? And… are they all right?” Ronald asked, turning back to Infinity.

“That’s Ara Relia, she’s been helping me get to "Flat 11", if that's how you call it. She's just taking a nap.” Infinity said, shrugging.

“Ah. We must wake her up, then.” Ronald walked over to Ara quietly, and once he was standing right next to her, he clapped his hands right in her face. “Wake up!”

Ara jolted awake, screaming, causing Jean to nearly do the same. Ronald and Infinity howled with laughter; Tiberius and Koharu shaking their heads.

Ronald's antics were the most fun she'd had in days. His playful and polite demeanor was a step up from Ara's arrogant and nasty attitude. She decided she should stay around these four.

Ara calmed down and looked around, realizing the situation. “Why did you wake me up?”

“You were asleep.” Ronald replied.

Infinity’s laughter faded and she looked at Ara. “I'm sorry, it's just so funny.”

“Right. Sure you are.”

Ronald laughed. “I'm sorry about that. I'm Ronald- this is Jean, Koharu, and Tiberius.”

"You all look like you're trying to impersonate Robin Hood and his Merry Men." Ara stated, looking at Ronald with a frown.

"We prefer to be seen as knights, not bandits." Ronald corrected cheerfully.

"Knights?" Ara questioned.

"Yes. You've probably heard of them."

"And I know actual knights would laugh at you calling yourselves 'knights'." Ara said, crossing her arms with a harrumph.

"We mean the knights of myth and legend, not of the world. The ones that inspire, that's who we seek to be like. If you're not looking up to something, you'll be too busy looking down at everything to live a real life." Ronald said putting an arm around her and waving his other hand outward to the left as if he were someone in a cartoon pitching an idea to their boss.

"That's garbage served hot."

Ronald let go of her and looked at her with confusion and concern. "What's with the attitude?"

"The myths you're emulating are bad."

"Stories are like fire. They can have any effect on you you want, and they can only change your worldview if you let them. There's a soul in your head too, you know."

"And your individualism is extremely annoying."

"Seriously, could you two stop?" Infinity asked. "…Please?"

"Fine."

"Hmph."

Infinity sighed. She looked over at Tiberius.

"Do you have anything interesting to talk about, Tiberius?"

"I don't know. I don't know much of anything outside of the Legions and my home." Tiberius said. Thinking about it, he'd always felt himself to be more muscle than the mind, and the only thing he felt any need to give mind to was his duties and keeping his prowess sharp.

"Well, what can you tell me about your home, then?"

"Well, what about it? It's culture, history, society, and government. What about it are you so interested in learning about?"

"Probably… the society. I never really got to go outside North America, so I'm not aware of what to expect, and I'd generally like to know how people like to live there."

"Well, most of us speak English. You can understand it if you pay attention. Our society is very religious and dependent on heavy labor, so the farmlands of the Wheat Fields is where the society gets most of its economic growth."

"Sounds like a very tough society."

"It is, but its honest work, and there's even a movement to make it the new homeland."

"Do you think it's going to work out?"

"Not entirely. Level 10 has issues, and we're hoping for an alternative."

"There's got to be an infinite forest level somewhere in this mess so you could build with wood, bring some seeds, and just carve out some land for farming there."

"That's what my friends and I are hoping to convince The Commonwealth of. The Commonwealth is unwilling to undertake the prioritization of setting up a new settlement near Rosewood until me and my comrades here get home with the knowledge of just how harsh the journey to Rosewood and back is."

"All right. You never actually said what Rosewood is like to live in." Infinity replied.

"Beautiful idyllic village. It's hard to find, but I know the way there. Right now, we're hoping to find a really old stairwell that will take us to a place that will have an easy shortcut to the Dark Suburbs. We plan for a village to be built near Rosewood in the coming decades.”

"All right. That's-Whoa!" Infinity tripped, but grabbed onto wooden railing at the last second.

"The wooden staircase!" Ronald shouted jubilantly. He ran down and everyone followed after, onward to the next leg of their journey, in Level 5, Terror Hotel.
TO BE CONTINUED…

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License