"This corridor is too long...I don't like it," Felix muttered under his breath. I still heard him. His constant rambling was going to drive me crazy. Not unless, of course, the Shadow pushed me over the edge first.
Speaking of the Shadow, red goo squeezed through cracks in the walls after it roared in fury. It was the creature's way of telling me to hurry. I had to fulfill my promises to Felix before I could carry on with my original mission. The Shadow knew Felix was here in the castle. It wasn't just pure luck and bursts of weak brain power that kept Felix alive - the Shadow was helping him. The Swede had no idea, but I knew. He wouldn't be able to survive down here on his own. Felix had no business in this castle. That's why the Shadow allowed me to help him escape.
At the same time, I knew that Alexander was making plans. He used his servants to drive the two of us together. Felix was a pawn in a complex game of chess, and so was I. I just wondered what he was planning on doing with Felix. Though I can't say I was particularly fond of him, I still felt obligated to find Felix's safety. He didn't need to die here...I did.
Another scream sliced through the air, distracting me from my thoughts. Felix cringed and grabbed my elbow. Stephano was running out of precious time. I broke into a run, dragging Felix along behind me. The damp cobblestone hallway only seemed to grow longer. There appeared to be no end. The trail of golden liquid thickened with each stride. The torches were less and less capable of lighting our path; I eventually was forced to turn on the lantern. It bobbed and swung wildly in front us like a beacon.
We finally reached a stone staircase. Felix was about to rush down the steps when I skidded to a stop. He jerked forward, still holding onto my arm. I had to pull him back to prevent him from falling and breaking his neck.
"What now?" he asked after regaining his balance.
"We don't know what's down there yet. Be careful," I cautioned.
Felix growled, "I don't care." He proceeded to head on downstairs. I stood there like an idiot until he disappeared from view.
Half of me simply wanted to say, alright, but it's his funeral, and return to my tasks. Unfortunately, my heart speaks louder than my brain. I followed him into the darkness below. The Swede waited for me to catch up once he realized I wielded the only source of light.
He led the way this time with me on his heels. As we walked, my thoughts traveled again. Felix had been perfectly prepared to go off on his lonesome. Where did that courage come from? Or was it something greater? I fell into an even deeper level of thought. Perhaps it wasn't courage, but loyalty that gave this man a drive. Stephano was his friend, after all. Judging by the information I had collected about the two, they must have been very close friends. I certainly hoped Stephano was the brains of the duo, because if he was, I wouldn't have to escort him and Felix to an exit.
"What monster took your friend?" I abruptly questioned.
Felix replied, "The bro."
"Yeah. The one with the claws."
It was way beyond me why Felix would call that thing a 'bro,' but it didn't really matter. The monster he identified was the Grunt, better known as Flappy Face - at least by me. The Grunts served Alexander, which meant that the Baron had ordered Stephano's capture. Stephano would be locked in a cell with higher security, and iron padlock, perhaps. There was only a tiny chance of running into patrolling monsters, mostly because Alexander wanted us to rescue Stephano. For what, I didn't yet know.
Speaking of jail cells, a few began to appear just up ahead. These were the small, insignificant ones, so I told Felix we didn't have to check them. The Swede returned the lantern to me promptly, timidly stating he didn't want to lead anymore. A glimmer of fear was present in his eyes.
I tugged Felix along by his arm and queried curiously, "Have you been down here before?"
"This is where I started."
That's why he was afraid. I didn't dwell on it, though, because I needed to focus on finding the right cell. But I did allow myself to wonder: how did he start inside a prison?
The path soon came to a fork. I glanced left and right, unsure of what we should do. Felix muttered to himself in Swedish. His eyes flickered between the two passages. The passages looked exactly alike. The golden trail had ended at our feet. There was no way of knowing which direction to take. My mind spun in hopeless confusion. What to do?
"I think we should go that way," Felix announced confidently, his eyes squinted and finger pointed towards the left.
I raised a brow, wondering what made him think that was the right way. "Oh?"
He nodded and explained, "Yeah. Look at the ground. There's no gold, but it looks like someone was walking here."
I knelt to examine the flooring. Felix was right. A thin layer of pebbles rested atop the cobblestone. In the center of the hall, there were depressions in the layer of tiny rocks that took the form of footprints, each one slightly larger than my own. I also found a piece of cloth in one of the footprints - a bloody bandage. The Grunt had passed through here. I glanced up at Felix. His face was set in determination. How had he noticed the clues when I hadn't? Was there something wrong with me, or did Felix actually have a brain hiding from the world inside that head of his?
Instead of searching for a potential answer, I focused on the task at hand. Felix had begun to walk ahead of me, so I took larger strides with my long legs to catch up. He stayed quiet during our entire trip down the left passage - he didn't mumble in Swedish, blame barrels for our troubles, or even curse. Not once. His jaw was clenched in such a way that reminded me of my cousin playing hardcore video games. Believe me, that was some serious determination.
"Marisa, can I ask you a personal question?" Felix queried out of the blue.
I eyed him suspiciously. Carefully, I replied, "...Okay, but only one."
"You seem so mature for your age."
"Yes, but what's the question?"
I thought about how I could explain without revealing too much. Then I tore my gaze away from his steady blue eyes in preparation for my response. "I just...grew up too fast."
Felix stopped walking. I continued on, anticipating that he wanted to ask me something else. I really didn't want to turn this into an actual conversation. The Swede could only watch as the distance between us grew wider. His hurried footsteps echoed in the hall until he caught up. Out of breath, he asked, "What happened?"
"Enough. You were only allowed one question. Let's move on, alright?"
Felix fell silent, probably hurt by my curtness. I couldn't be bothered to care. No one would ever be able to understand me. That's why I pushed people away. That was my flaw.
The awkward silence didn't last long, however. We soon wandered into an open chamber. I shut off the lantern and lit some of the torches on the walls. In the room was a large cell door decorated with a strange locking mechanism, a control panel lined with levers, and a pipe system on the ceiling that may or may not have been the control of the lock.
I examined the door. It seemed heavy and didn't have a padlock. The locking mechanism appeared to be a series of thin pipes with buttons on either end. Pushing one of the buttons led me to hear a faint click coming from within the door.
"Come here. I think this is a puzzle."
I walked over to the control panel at the far wall where Felix was checking out the levers. None of the levers were missing, thank goodness. This was definitely a puzzle. A tricky one, at that. I would probably be able to solve it without too much of a problem. The levers controlled circuits that ran into the pipes in the ceiling, which ultimately changed the pattern on the door. The right buttons on the door needed to be pressed against each other. The only issue was figuring out the correct combination.
I strolled around the small chamber to make sure there weren't any loopholes to this puzzle. Everything seemed to be in order: no secret buttons or levers. There was nothing out of the ordinary hiding in the chamber.
I suddenly heard a series of clicking and grinding. "Shit. Did I just fuck this up?" came Felix's voice.
"Felix!" I hissed from across the room, "Don't touch anything!"
He threw his hands up in surrender and backed away from the controls. I took his place immediately, wanting to open the cell door with the least amount of mistakes as possible. Honestly, from what I had seen so far, Felix wasn't exactly the best person to have around in a situation like this. He didn't possess the talent to think with logic like I did. It was nothing personal, I just thought that we needed to rescue Stephano as quickly as we could.
I underwent the process of puzzle-solving once Felix was out of the way. My mind blocked out everything but the puzzle. I examined the levers. They were all labeled with Roman numerals one to ten. A sign above the controls read, "Trimurti. Life. Death. Preservation." I recognized Trimurti as the Hindu Trinity. The lever must have been number three. The only suspicious thing was the fact that there was a reference to the Hindu gods in a castle of England - a castle in which everything was written in Latin.
I pulled the lever marked "III" anyway. The pipes shook over our heads, and I heard a series of clicking along with a metal grinding. My gaze landed on Felix, who was slowly reaching for the door. He pulled it open cautiously. The only sound to be heard was the squeaking hinges as the door swung open.
"Stephano?" Felix called weakly. He peeked inside the cell. Then the Swede waved me over. We both slinked into the cell. I looked around. The one-room cell was empty except for a pool of golden liquid, a bottle, a note, and a small golden statue of a man wielding a scimitar. A red light flashed before me while Felix picked up the statue and proceeded to say, "Stephano, what happened to you? Come on, talk to me."
"Is this some kind of joke?" I demanded in outrage. Felix gawked at me, obviously confused. "You wasted my time, and for what? A little statue?"
The Swede realized what I was going on about not a moment too soon. He yammered, "No, no! This is Stephano. He talks, listen!"
The lantern rattled in my hands as my entire body quivered with rage. I jammed my fist into my bag and pulled out a bottle of sanity potion. Felix shot me a questioning look. I sighed in an attempt to calm my anger. "Felix, drink this, please. You've been in this castle for too long. It's time to leave."
"No!" he snapped at me. The sharp tone of his voice alone was enough to make me blink in surprise. "I'm not crazy. Something is wrong here…"
"Fine. I'll wait for you outside, then."
I left the cell after that, wondering if I should just leave Felix to fend for himself. It was amazing how long he had survived in the castle on his own. He must have been one lucky man. Even I wouldn't be able to make it without the Shadow on my side. In a place like this, one needed an ally - all the more reason to stay with him. Perhaps Felix imagined the statue could talk and named him Stephano so that he wouldn't be alone. Either that, or he was just completely mental.
In the middle of my train of thought, I felt a hand on my shoulder. At first I assumed it was Felix, so I spun on my heel, fully prepared to eat him alive for sending us both on a wild goose chase. What I actually saw wasn't Felix, but a huge shock. Instead of meeting a pair of gentle blue yes, my gaze fell on a pair of piercing green eyes. A thin man wearing an Arabian tunic surveyed my face with a glint of amusement in his eyes. Everything about him - except for his eyes - was golden. Everything. His hair, his scimitar, his tunic, and even his skin were all gold.
Felix emerged from the cell in the background, a wild smile playing on his lips. The golden man held up the very note and bottle that had been resting on the floor inside the jail cell for me to behold.
"You have to be smarter than my friend for being able to track me down. But why didn't you read the instructions? Isn't that what smart people are supposed to do?" the golden man chuckled in a rough voice. He had a thick French accent.
I gaped at him and struggled to make my voice heard, "Yes, but...we can be arrogant, too."
The man gave me a lop-sided grin. He said, "You seem to be in denial that I am standing right in front of you. That I exist."
It couldn't be.
"Allow me to introduce myself."
There was just no way.
"'Ellos. I am Stephano."