Chapter Forty-Four: In Which A Book Turns Out To Be More Than A Book And A Room More Than A Room
Jack wasn’t sure why he was heading to the game room. It was like he was trying to act like nothing happened, like everything was going to be okay, when it obviously wasn’t. But what could he do? Rush back to save Snow and Flint and Windy? To what end? They were still stuck in the caves. Maybe he should try to find a way out? But if there was one, how would he have not been able to find it all this time?
In the game room, he slumped in one of the bean bag chairs. The television was flickering black and white, and other than the static coming from it, everything was eerily quiet, like it was before all this happened. He didn’t like the silence. It made it all too easy to hear his own heartbeat.
In all the excitement, Jack didn’t realize he was holding something in his hands? It was a leathery old book- the one Windy showed him? He was overcome with excitement. Maybe- maybe this book could tell him everything he needed to know! Jack opened to the first page and began to read.
The beginning of the book was full of recipes with weird sounding ingredients. The book pages had odd looking stains and smelled really musty. The writing was cramped and hard to see. Then he encountered something helpful: a map. It was a map that was ripped out of another book and glued on this one. Jack was certain he never saw the map before, but it was quite interesting.
To the north there were mountains, labeled Snake Kingdom. To the east there was a lake labeled Coral Kingdom and a bunch of clouds labeled Breeze Kingdom. In the center there was a forest labeled the Fearsome Forest, and to the west there were a bunch of jagged rocks (he wasn’t sure what that stood for) labeled Flame Kingdom. It looked like a map that should be on the front of a adventure book, but Jack knew that wasn’t the case. Snow had told him about it, how this was her world, though he had no idea why there was a map of it in this book.
There were more recipes, some messily scrawled notes he didn’t understand, and complicated algebraic equations he understood even less. Nothing that proved Dad wasn’t a scientist like he said he was, except for the weird, not-scientific sounding ingredients in the recipes.
He skimmed through more and more pages full of equations and recipes. In between two of the pages was a folded piece of paper. Jack took out the paper and unfolded it, revealing a huge map. Yes! Another map! But Jack wasn’t sure what this was a map of. There were boxes, which Jack took to represent rooms, of different sizes. Some were labeled: Collapsed. Some were labeled: Empty. Most were simply Rm. 1 and Rm. 2 and Rm. 3 and so on.
Wait! Could this possibly be a map of… the caves? Jack was dumbfounded. He couldn’t believe it. This would be so helpful!
He located the laboratory, a big rectangle labeled Lab. His bedroom was nearly across the map from it. Along with rooms, there were also paths through the hallways in blue, red, and other colors. A lot of paths led to the bedrooms and the laboratory. Even more connected to Rm. 28, though why, he wasn’t sure.
Maybe there’s something important there, he reasoned. It couldn’t hurt to check it out.
Following the map, he navigated the hallways until he reached Rm, 28. It looked normal enough, painted white with a plaque that said Rm. 28. Jack tried to open the door, but it was locked. Of course it was. At least he brought his set of keys with him.
The door swung open easily with one of his old brass keys. He stepped inside. It was dark, musty, and completely empty of anything but dust and a few spiders. The ceiling and walls were made out of tightly packed dirt, and the floor was made out of old creaky wood. Nothing about the place seemed particularly important.
“So, I guess there’s nothing here, then,” he decided, inspecting the room. Jack leaned on the dirt wall and sighed. He opened the book and scanned through a few more pages.
Click. His elbow pressed against some sort of button on the wall. Then, before he had time to say anything, the whole floor started caving under and Jack fell.
Chapter Forty-Five: In Which Jack Ventures Through The Unknown
It was dark. Pitch black. Everything smelled like dirt, the ground underneath him was dirt, and there was nothing else. Jack couldn’t even see where he fell from.
There were lights in the distance, small flickering lights, but they seemed so far away. He didn’t want to risk going there. Anything could happen in the dark.
But he had to go somewhere. He couldn’t just stay in the darkness and rot. So he got up and started walking aimlessly to the lights, keeping him arms in front of him in case he encountered a wall.
His heart was pounding like crazy as he reached the lights. The lights were torches, lighting up a dirt passageway. Jack couldn’t see the end. Where did this lead to? Some secret hideout? And how would he get back?
He moved forward through the dimly lit passageway. It opened up to a big room, with two different paths, only one lit with torches. The walls were made out of stone, and had cave paintings on them, words in some language Jack didn’t know.
“Well, this is strange,” he whispered. His voice echoed back at him. This is strange… strange… strange. He shuddered and went down the path with the torches.
Later down the path, it forked into two separate passageways, both lit with torches. Which one should I go? Right or left? Did it matter? Jack looked down each way, and could see nothing of interest. Just choose one and hurry up. He started down the left lane.
Stairs. Down the passage, there were stairs, made of stone. Jack had never been so glad to see stairs before. He looked up as to see where the stairs led to, but saw nothing but darkness. He looked around. There was no other path. He could either try and find his way back, go to another passageway, or go up the stairs and see what happened. Jack chose the stairs. He was going to stumble on something important, he was sure of it.
He walked up the stairs, higher and higher. They seemed to go on forever, or maybe it was just Jack being tired. Then it just stopped. The stairs just ended, right when Jack barely brush the ceiling. He tiptoed and felt around, trying to find some sort of secret trapdoor that could be opened. Finally, his fingers grasped a latch and tugged it open.
Jack was bombarded by light and nearly fell back onto the stairs.
He blinked once or twice, his head poking out of the ground. There was so much light, it took so long for his eyes to get adjusted. Jack pulled himself out of the trapdoor and landed on the dirt. Where was he? It looked like he was in… a forest. He’d seen forests in pictures, but up-close, it seemed so amazing. And the animals! Was that a bird on the branch? A salamander climbing up the trunk?
Where was he?
He looked at the hole he had just came out of. It was really dark and pitch-black. For some reason, he didn’t feel much like going back in there. After all, he’d just get lost. So what now? Wander around?
“Hello! Who are you?” someone called. Jack spun around and nearly fell backwards. A young boy with a bunch of plants in his hand was staring at him. He was… a human. Of course he was! Did he think there weren’t any people in this place? Jack supposed he just didn’t think he’d encounter anyone else, especially so soon.
The boy looked at him closely. “Wait, Colden, is that you? You came back! Did you find your sister?”
Jack blinked. “What?”
“Oh. Never mind. Colden was a bit taller, I think. And more tan. You, by the way, look extremely pale. What brings you here? Do you need help finding your way?”
“Um…” Jack wasn’t sure what to say, feeling very disoriented and out of place. “Who are you?”
“I’m Spruce,” the boy said. “Who are you? Where did you come from?”
“I’m Jack. I came from…” Jack thought about how to say it. Where did he come from? “...the caves. Underground. I think I’m a bit lost. Where are we?”
“Lost? Well, Jack, I don’t know where you’re supposed to be going, but I suppose you can come to the village for a while,” Spruce said. “You're in the Fearsome Forest, by the way, and there really aren't too much options. By the way, when you get to the village, you’ll probably have to clarify to everyone that you aren’t Colden. You look a lot like him, and not everyone is as perceptive as I am.”
“A boy we found unconscious in the woods. He was looking for his missing sister. We took him in for a while, then sent him on his way.”
“He- he had a missing sister? Did he mention anyone named Snow?”
Spruce thought for a moment. “Possibly. I don’t know. He was going a delirious at that time, so he was saying a lot of random stuff. Why? Do you know him?”
“No,” Jack sighed. “I was thinking about someone else.”