5 – Darkest
“Welcome, Prince Gemini,” a shadow-shape welcomed. “We found you.” Neither Gemini nor Phan knew what to say in response. The shadow-shape continued speaking. “My name is Dark-Far,row. I am here to escort you to our king. He has been expecting you.” Gemini wanted to speak but wasn’t sure how to respond. “He is?” was his best response at the moment. “Yes.” Dark-Far,row approached Gemini and grabbed Captivated’s bridle on the side. “Come. I shall lead you to him.” Captivated seemed startled at first but quickly followed Dark-Far,row further into the shadow-shape land after Gemini cued him on with his heel. Gemini wanted to turn back and leave the shadow-shapes. If he did, however, the shadow-shapes would more than likely become upset and attack him. He had no choice now but to follow through the shadow-shape lands to wherever Dark-Far,row was taking him. “Is your king far from here?” Gemini asked. “Not far!” Dark-Far,row answered. “He resides in in our City of Flying Fire in the distance.” He pointed to a gap in between two of the largest volcanoes. “That direction.” Dark-Far,row led them in the direction of the city until they came upon a stream of lava. There was no bridge across the stream and no boats were to be seen. The closest method for a crossing was a group of rocks and boulders to the right of the spot everyone was standing. Even those appeared unsuitable for a safe crossing. “How will we cross the stream?” Gemini questioned. “That stream is filled with lava, am I correct?” “Yes, you are correct.” Dark-Far,row sighed. “I am also not sure on how I will bring you across to the city.” Phan was quiet and let Gemini handle the situation. Gemini, on the other hand, was tired of treating the shadow-shapes with his patience. He had none left for Dark-Far,row now. “Find some way for me to cross THIS INSTANT! Otherwise, I will turn around and go back to the Shadow Realm.” Dark-Far,row shot back at him a glare which could make a dragon cry out in fear. “If you wish, you may cross on those rocks downstream.” Dark-far,row gestured to the rocks and boulders they had seen a few moments ago. “Could you cross here?” “I suppose I could,” Gemini agreed. “However, Captivated isn’t going to be able to cross. What am I going to do now?” This time Phan was the first to think of an answer. “Gemini, you should cross the rocks to see the shadow-shape king. I will stay behind with Captivated.” Gemini stopped all other thoughts to ponder this new idea. “Alright,” he agreed. “The idea doesn’t appeal to me, but there seems to be no other way to solve this situation.” He slid off of the saddle and handed Captivated’s reins up to Phan. “I shall see you later.” Dark-Far,row started to glide across the lava stream. Gemini stepped up to the rocks and also started his crossing. The rocks were jagged and provided minimal footing. Keeping balance was difficult. A few rocks were unstable and felt as if they could slip at any moment. As Gemini hopped from rock to rock his anger towards the shadow-shape king increased. If the king wanted to see him he should have sent for a reliable mode of transportation. He planned to complain to the king as soon as an appropriate time came up. Fortunately, despite these lethal setbacks, Gemini was successful at his crossing. In almost no time he made the final leap from the last rock to the shore where Dark-Far,row was waiting for him. He completed the stream crossing without getting burned by the lava. “Are you ready?” Dark-Far,row asked. “Yes.” Before following beside Dark-Far,row to the king he turned back to see Phan and Captivated still standing where Phan had said they would be. Two loyal friends he could trust and count on for anything.
Back on the opposite shore, Phan and Captivated stood with the crowd of shadow-shapes watching Gemini and Dark-Far,row walk to the City of Flying Fire. Phan wasn’t happy with the idea of splitting up with Gemini. If something were to happen to his friend he wouldn’t be there to help. Yet, there was no other alternative available. A flaming fireball shot like an arrow across the sky. The City of Flaming Fire was certainly living up to its name.
As Gemini stepped into the City of Flaming Fire his hatred towards the shadow-shapes was instantly set aside for a few brief moments. He was instead impressed with the triangular-shaped architecture. He had to admit the city was designed in a very unique and creative way. The shadow-shapes, despite being horrible beings, were actually fairly advanced architects. During his walk through the city, various shadow-shapes stopped to stare at the passing prince. Apparently they knew of Prince Gemini somehow, or were merely startled seeing a strange human strolling down their main street. After a few seconds, however, they continued going about their business. Gemini tried to not pay attention to any of the bystanders. Soon he and Dark-Far,row were standing before the great steps leading to the shadow-shape castle. Gemini was unsure of his ultimate opinion on the shadow-shape castle. It was very different than the Shadow Realm’s castle, this was for sure. Dark-Far,row ascended the steps and Gemini followed behind. As they were climbing to the top several shadow-shapes with torches emerged from the castle entrance. These shadow-shapes began to light the lamps standing beside the steps. As they hurried from lamp to lamp the steps were illuminated by the lights. “They are lighting the castle for nightfall,” Dark-Far,row explained. When Gemini and Dark-Far,row reached the top of the castle the shadow-shape guards gave a nod for Dark-Far,row and Gemini to enter. “Welcome, Prince Gemini,” the guard on the right greeted. Dark-Far,row led Gemini inside the castle. The interior was richly decorated with many red and gold colors. As they passed through more halls and rooms Gemini thought of what he was going to say to the shadow-shape king. He must be careful of what he planned to say, otherwise he may offend the king. If this happened, the shadow-shapes would take no mercy on him. After walking through a small hallway Dark-Far,row and Gemini halted before passing a large, gold-trimmed door. “In here sits our king,” he explained to Gemini. “Wait here.” Gemini stood silently by the door as Dark-Far,row stepped away into the room. “The Prince of the Shadow Realm is ready to see you,” he stated. “Excellent,” said a voice from somewhere within the room. “Please, do not keep him waiting! Send him in!” “Yes, your majesty.” Dark-Farrow turned and left the room, obeying his king’s orders. “He is ready to see you,” he told Gemini. Gemini straightened the silver crown which still sat on his head. He was ready to face this king, no matter how cruel or terrifying he may turn out to be. Prince Gemini then stepped into the grand throne room of the shadow-shape king. He showed no fear as he stood in the center of the room, looking up to the king. “Welcome, Prince Gemini! My name is King-Oink,ooh of the shadow-shapes. It is a pleasure to be speaking to you at this moment.” Gemini found the tall, dark, powerful shadow-shape’s name to be quite amusing. He tried not to let his amusement show, however, to avoid angering the king. “It is an honor to be speaking to you, too,” he responded. “I believe you have something in which you would like to discuss with me?” King Oink-ooh’s piercing red eyes seemed to burn themselves into Gemini. “I believe you have something to discuss with ME,” he stated. “Why have you come and why do you want to speak with me?” Gemini lost his patience once more. “I came to your desolate land because you captured the people from the Shadow Realm. It was your failure of a servant who had me cross a stream on rocks and brought me to you saying that YOU wanted to speak with ME! Is this some kind of joke!? Do you see this is ENTERTAINING!? I will tell you right now, I am NOT pleased with you. I will refuse to negotiate with you unless you show some respect and concern on this situation. I believe I have made myself clear on this.” Immediately after the words left his mouth, Gemini regretted his comeback to King-Oink,ooh. He stood waiting for the king to unleash his anger on him. Instead, King-Oink,ooh sat silently for about a minute at most. His next actions would surprise Gemini like a bolt of lightning on a sunny day. Rather than fighting back King-Oink,ooh calmly replied to his impatient guest. “This seems to be a bit too much of a topic for now. Perhaps we could come to a conclusion if this matter was discussed later at dinner? You will be staying for dinner, of course, am I right?” Gemini was lucky this time but after this he wasn’t expecting to get away with anything else. He needed to be very careful at this point. “That would be wonderful. Thank you. Dinner will be served in about two hours in our dining hall.” King-Oink,ooh seemed pleased with his response. “Feel free to explore my land. Be careful, however, for night is coming and I wouldn’t want for you to get lost anyplace.” “Thank you,” Gemini thanked again before turning around and exiting the throne room. As he turned into the hallway he found that Dark-Far,row was no longer around. He must have gone to complete other tasks. Gemini had two hours before dinner. The shadow-shapes must eat very late if it truly was nighttime. He wanted to spend those hours searching for any possible clue pointing to the whereabouts of Jenesis and everyone else taken from the Shadow Realm. If he wanted to make success in his search he would have to start now. The possibilities of getting lost were great and he still needed time to locate the dining hall. Gemini decided to start in the castle dungeons. The dungeons seemed like an obvious place to keep prisoners. The dungeons were probably located on the lowest level of the castle. If he searched for staircases and kept heading down them his chances of finding one leading down the dungeons were decent enough. He couldn’t ask a shadow-shape, otherwise suspicion would be aroused. A potential staircase would most likely be on a lower floor, then off to the side like back at the Shadow Realm castle. This way it would be easily accessible to servants, yet out of the way of busy castle life. Another alternative would be to exit the castle, descend the stairs, and search for a dungeon entrance outside of the castle. One outside of the main entrance must exist for transporting prisoners from the outside world into the dungeons without bringing them into the main castle. This was probably a better idea than wandering around the castle unassisted. Fortunately, he remembered the way back through the castle to the main door. As he turned the hallway into the first room of the castle he stopped. Many shadow-shapes dressed in elegant clothing of all shapes and sizes were entering the castle. Gemini quietly passed around them to the side to avoid being noticed as much as possible. Silently he slipped around he edge of the door to the outside of the castle. The guards were too occupied with escorting the shadow-shapes to the castle to notice Gemini as he stepped to the place where the guards were previously standing. From this position he could see the castle and the area surrounding it. He could clearly notice the carriage tracks leading to the castle and then turning to the side. The next step to the search was the same as the first; follow the tracks. Gemini slipped to the side of the steps and quickly ran down as best as he could without creating excessive noise. His black hair and clothing would help him fit into the darkness of the night, but the shining silver in his hair would only attract him as a target. Once he was safely off the steps and onto the ground he darted away from the illumination of the torches and over to the carriage tracks. Gemini wasn’t accustomed to eating this late at night and he started to feel hunger. The food he brought to the shadow-shape lands was back with Phan and Captivated. He put this aside and continued following the tracks while keeping alert for any shadow-shapes. At last the tracks led to a large iron door situated in between two slabs of rock. The door was no doubt the entrance to the dungeons. Gemini approached the door with caution. He found it strange there were no guards posted. Nevertheless, he was determined to enter. He pushed on the door, but it would not open. It was more than likely the door was locked. Peering down into the lock, he tried to see if it could be broken. Sadly, the lock appeared to be secure and inaccessible. “Great!” he told himself. “You came this far only to fail at the simplest of setbacks!” Filled with anger, he draw his sword and stabbed it at the lock. He struck the lock four more times before withdrawing his sword. Gemini had given a decent attempt but sadly this was not enough to break the lock. He had weakened it significantly, however. Bits of the metal were dented and chipped. Hungry and tired he turned around and started his walk back to the inside of the castle. He still had a good amount of time left. It was possible he could find another entrance somehow. During his disappointing walk back, an odd event occurred. Gemini felt a sharp pain in the back of his head as if a dense object had struck him with great force. Instantly he turned to see the cause of the pain. He couldn’t see anyone who could have caused the event. Gemini looked up to the castle but nobody appeared to be above him, either. When he looked down at the ground, however, he saw the answer to his problems. On the ground beside his foot lay a piece of the lock. Cautiously he picked up the piece and examined it. It was, indeed, the piece to the lock. He happily hurried to the door. The lock was bent and broken, yet he did not see or hear anyone who could of caused the damage. Once more he stared down to the ground at yet another clue. Lying beside various broken rock pieces was an amulet, similar to his own. This amulet was about the same size and was also composed of rubies. Different, however, were the shape and style. Gemini’s amulet was merely one single ruby, whereas this one was composed of many, smaller rubies positioned together to form a design. The shape was different, also. The recently found amulet was in a teardrop shape with a hole in the middle. Beside the amulet was its chain, similar to Gemini’s. He reached down to pick it up. After carefully observing his finds he placed them inside his pocket. Before he prepared himself to enter the dungeon he took a glance at the lock. The lock was bent and mangled from the inside, probably forced by some sort of tool. Perhaps the top tip of the amulet? The top was narrow enough to fit inside the lock. It was also sturdy enough so it would not break. The hole in the tip could also work well for catching bits of metal and nails. Plus, if the user was caught, nobody would probably suspect a simple necklace would be the tool. As he started to push on the door he suddenly realized he needed to hurry back for dinner. His dilemma with the lock had cost him more time than planned, plus the time needed to return to the castle. On top of that he needed to find his way to the dining hall. Perhaps coming at a later time would be best after all. For all he knew someone could have easily set a trap for him. Quickly he turned and hurried back to the entrance of the castle. He wouldn’t want to be late for his meeting with King-Oink,ooh.