Chapter Forty-Six: In Which Jack Decides What To Do
“So, why are you here?” The nice woman named Violet looked at Jack. “It doesn’t seem like you’re from here.”
Jack was sitting on a stump in a log cabin in a village in the forest, very much a fish out of water. And he had so much to say, so much questions. He wanted to tell Spruce and Violet everything that had been happening to him, but he wasn’t sure how the news would be treated. Would they be scared? Shocked? Happy? Surprised? Would they help him?
“I’ve lived my whole life in caves underground. Then I found this secret passageway and then I ended up in the forest,” he explained. He was leaving out a huge chunk of the story, but he decided it wasn’t necessary to tell them yet.
Violet nodded. “You’re lucky Spruce found you. It is quite dangerous for you to be out in the woods alone, you know. Especially with all the things that have been happening now.”
“Everybody thinks the kingdoms will be on the brink of war,” Spruce said. “All the chiefs are so stirred up about the kidnappings, and everyone is angry at everyone. There’s been riots and protests and all.”
Jack, being fairly new to the thought of kingdoms and wars and such, said, “That… that sounds awful. Not to mention a bit pointless. Why is everyone so angry anyways? What happened?”
Violet and Spruce looked at each other. “Didn’t I already say? The kidnappings. No one likes to talk about it,” Spruce explained quietly. “Haven’t you heard? It’s all over the news.” He paused. “Oh, sorry. I forgot you weren’t from here. Maybe we shouldn’t talk about that.”
“But who got kidnapped?”
Spruce frowned. “I’m not sure of the names. The news messengers don’t come to this side of the forest. I just heard it from my older brother.”
“Maybe we should take you to meet Alder,” Violet said quickly. “He’s the village leader, and he’ll love to meet you.”
“Um… okay,” Jack said uncertainly.
Violet guided him out of the cabin and to the far side of the village, to a big, nice brick house on the edge of the clearing. She knocked on the door.
The man who opened it looked normal enough, with brown hair and a small beard and nice looking robes. He looked really surprised when he saw Jack. “Colden? Is that-”
“Alder, this is Jack,” Violet said quickly. “He- well, he lived underground, and then he found his way up here, in the forest, and… um…”
“Of course!” The man, Alder, beckoned them to come inside. “Come in, come in. I trust that you’ve been enjoying the village so far?”
Jack went in and sat in one of the comfy chairs in the living room. Alder’s house was really nice, with nice smells wafting from the kitchen, and a fireplace warming the room. He began to feel at ease.
“Yeah, I like the village,” Jack replied. “And the forest is really nice.”
Alder nodded understandingly. “Yes. It is quite a beautiful place, always lively and colorful.”
Jack nodded. They sat in uncomfortable silence for a few seconds until Alder spoke again.
“Now, what brings you here, to the village, if you don’t mind me asking?” Alder said.
Jack looked at the ground. How much should he reveal? Alder seemed nice enough. “Well, I lived underground in caves, with my dad, but I didn’t like it there, so I explored, and then I discovered a passageway that led up here.”
“In caves? How was it like?” Alder asked.
“There wasn’t much change in weather, though it sometimes got more chillier. And there would be lots of leaks during rainy days,” Jack said. “There were lots of caves, but I didn’t really think of them as caves, more like rooms, but some rooms looked a lot like caves. There wasn’t too much to do, but there was a game room with lots of games, and I also sometimes played with my cat.”
“I see. And you escaped just now?”
“Well, I wouldn’t call it escaping, but yes,” Jack said.
“Do you want to live here?” Alder offered suddenly.
Jack was caught off guard. “What?”
“Do you want to live in the village? It’ll be great, I promise. Everyone is very nice, and we do need a new worker after that other girl ran off.”
“That other girl?”
Alder waved his hand vaguely. “Not important. The thing is, we can help you orient yourself to your new surroundings. Others might not be so helpful.”
Jack squirmed in his seat. As much as he liked this place, he didn’t want to stay. This wasn’t his home. But how could he go back now? Might as well explore this new world.
“Well, I don’t really want to stay in one place, I want to explore. But thanks for the offer,” he said. Alder frowned and leaned back in his chair, studying him.
“Jack,” he said slowly. “Have you heard about the kidnappings that have happened recently?”
“Um, Spruce did tell me a bit, but I don’t know a lot about-”
“Are you sure?” Alder said, standing up and facing Jack with an intense gaze. “Are you sure you don’t know anything?”
Jack quailed under his gaze, feeling a bit creeped out now. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I don’t know anything…” he whispered. How could he? He’d just got dropped off in this brand new world, how would he know anything about this?
Alder pursed his lips, pacing around the room as if thinking hard about something, though Jack couldn’t imagine what he could possibly have to think about. “How about you stay with Spruce for a bit, and then we can sort things out with you.” Alder said it with a calm, commanding tone, not really giving him a choice.
Ten minutes later…
“See, here we are, in the Fearsome Forest.” Spruce pointed to the cabbage on the table. “The Coral Kingdom is over here, the Breeze Kingdom is on top of the Coral Kingdom, the Flame Kingdom is over here, and the Snake Kingdom is over here.” He pointed to each of their respective places on the map. “You can go anywhere, but I recommend going to Coral Kingdom because it is closest and the most calm right now. The other kingdoms are rather roused up.”
“But… isn’t the Coral Kingdom underwater?”
Spruce laughed. “If there wasn’t another way, how would anyone go there? There are these little pearl bubbles, and when you put them in the water they grow, and you can step in them. Then you can go underwater. Their a bit hard to navigate, though.”
Jack looked at him blankly. “Right…”
“If you want to go there, there are some famous landmarks you might want to visit. For example, there’s the Chief Aqua Memorial, it’s quite nice to look at. You might to go to the Submarine Botanical Garden if you like that sort of stuff. If I were you, I’d go to the Waterball Hall of Fame, but that might not be too interesting for you, since you never watched the games,” Spruce rambled, naming several other places. Jack wanted to go to all, but at the same time, he felt really weirded out by going there like any ordinary tourist. And he didn’t have any money! His dad told him enough about the outside world to know how currency worked. Didn’t you need money to travel there, to pay for admission to those places, and pay for hotels?
He voiced these concerns to Spruce, who shrugged. “In the village, we don’t use currency, so I wouldn’t know. I’m pretty sure most of those places don’t cost money, and going there definitely doesn’t. And I might have a bubble pearl in the basement, if you’re worried about that…” He grinned. “But who cares about those things? You have all the time in the world, you can figure it out at some point.”
All the time in the world. Did he have that? He felt like he didn’t, that he was bound to go back to the caves at some point, but did he really? Of course you do, Jack thought. Remember Snow and Flint and Windy trapped in the caves, victims in whatever schemes Dad has? You’re here to get help for them, not to view tourist attractions.
“It’s the chiefs that rule over everything, right?” Jack asked, briefly remembering some of what Snow had told him. “Who rules over the forest?”
“The Council of the Tree, of course,” Spruce said. “But they aren’t exactly the best listeners, and they argue a lot, so if you want to ask them questions, you should ask them to Chief Ripple.” Looking at Jack’s blank expression, he added, “Chief of Coral Kingdom.”
“Will… he be able to help me with a problem I have? Like, it’s not about me, but about something… else…”
“Well, chiefs are busy these days, and you’d probably not be able to get an appointment. And if you do, it’s best not to talk about random stuff or personal stuff, but important stuff. But if you want to try and meet him, I suppose you can,” Spruce replied. “So do you want to go? To Coral Kingdom, I mean?”
Jack looked at the ground. Was one of the caves sitting under him right now? The laboratory? The game room? His own bedroom, maybe? He began to feel a bit nostalgic. “I’ll go,” he said quietly, “but right after, I’m going back home.”