The dungeon is dark, cold, and dripping with moisture, but it's not the dungeon itself that makes Elliott shake from head to toe, but rather the fear of what is to come. When he first found the tunnel from his dreams and saw the Lady, he was so eager to begin this journey and learn what it was that she had to teach him. Now here he is in this cold, dank cell with no possibility of escape, and little hope. There is nothing left for him to do except wait for whatever horrors the king has in store for them.
He's just a backward kid from a small town. Less than a month ago he sat alone in his bedroom hating his step-father, Barry, for leaving his mother, and reminding himself of the fact that his own father left after learning of his conception. He use to blame himself for his father's leaving when he was younger, but he's old enough now to know that that probably wasn't the case. However, after seeing her hurting again the old thoughts have come back and he cannot help but to feel a bit guilty. Would his father have stayed if he only had his brother Ron to care for? Would his parents still be happy and in love? Would his family have worked out if he hadn't been born? He shakes the thoughts away. He knows better.
“Why did you make us come here?”
Elliott looks up from his thoughts. Danny is sitting in the back corner of the cell, one knee tucked up into his chest as he gives Elliott an evil glare. The two of them are alone in the cell, as Chance and Riley in the next.
“You made us come here. You talked like it was all important and now we're stuck.”
“I didn't make anyone come here,” Elliott says in a disgusted tone.
“You think any of us wanted to come? None of us did, but we listened to you and now look at us. We're gonna die here.”
Elliott's face flushes but no words come to mind. He tries to think back to when they first entered the forest, when they were still with Mack. Did he encourage them to enter? Was it his fault? Danny's disgusted expression on top of the tone in his voice reminds Elliott of the way he is at school, and though he's typically non-confrontational, a fire begins to build in his stomach.
“You made the choice to come here,” he says sternly. “Don't blame me for your decisions.”
Danny sits up, his eyes wide and angry.
“What? It's all your fault! You told me we should go. I don't know why I was so stupid but I actually wanted to follow you!”
“You said it yourself then. You're stupid. An idiot. You're a freakin' moron who can't handle his own failures and has to take it out on everyone else. It's people like you who make teenagers look as bad as we do.”
Danny quickly stands to his feet and rushes toward Elliott. Elliott stiffens and tries to steady himself but Danny catches him unprepared and pushes him against the bars.
“I ain't stupid!” he shouts as he throws Elliott to the ground and begins to kick him repeatedly. “Don't call me stupid!”
Elliott is afraid, but the fire is still strong in his stomach. Between kicks he manages to grab Danny's foot and with all the strength he can muster he twists it. Danny cries out for a moment before falling over, having lost his balance. He tries to stand back up, but without thinking, Elliott charges him and puts all his weight into Danny's chest, throwing him hard against the brick wall that separates their cell from Chance and Riley's. He continues shoving Danny into the wall and even manages to throw a full punch, connecting with Danny's cheek, pushing the back of his head into the brick. Finally, Elliott steps back and allows Danny to slide down the wall to the ground.
“Leave me alone!” Elliott yells firmly, breathing hard and shaking. “And don't you ever touch me again... stupid!”
He added the last bit just to get under Danny's skin, though elementary it may have sounded. Danny's been bullying him for years and it feels good to give some back in return. Danny slowly moves away from the wall and retreats to his corner, cursing beneath his breath. Elliott retreats to the front left corner of the cell, opposite Danny's corner. What had just transpired begins to sink in and for some reason he finds himself fighting back tears. He's slightly afraid, but also proud of himself. He's dreamed of that moment for years and for a second it feels really good. But then oddly, he somehow finds guilt even in this. He's using their final hours to fight with Danny, to hurt him. Not to make amends. Not to find a way to escape. To fight. A petty stupid fight.
Elliott's thoughts are then interrupted by the sound of crying. He looks back at Danny, and though his back is heaving slightly, the sound isn't coming from him. He then realizes that it is coming from the next cell. Someone is sitting in the corner adjacent to him.
Riley's sniffles quiet for a moment before she answers.
“Are you guys okay?” she asks.
“Yeah, we're fine.”
Her voice strikes Elliott as odd. Perhaps it's just because of her crying, but she sounds even younger than she appeared in the tree branches between worlds. He remembers his promise to protect her and once more, the guilt kicks in.
“I'm sorry about this,” he says softly. “I shouldn't have asked you guys to come.”
She doesn't answer at first and he wonders if she is condemning him like Danny had done.
“It's alright,” she says finally. “We'll find a way out.”
The words strike Elliott as odd, and yet comforting.
“You think so?”
“We have to.”
“What?” Elliott asks. “How can he be asleep at a time like this?”
“One of the guards threw him against the wall when they put us in. Kicked him pretty hard.”
“You mean they knocked him out?”
He can hear Riley's sniffles again.
“Is he alright?”
Elliott leans his head back against the wall. Another thing on his conscious. If Chance hadn't follow his lead into Caldsworth Forest then he would never have been rendered unconscious. Elliott's always been one to blame himself for things and he's had more than enough to take blame for as of late; the fear of them being in this dungeon, his fight with Danny, his argument with Riley, his father and step-father's leaving.
“I wanted to say I'm sorry. About our argument this morning.”
“Don't worry about it,” she says softly. “It was a stupid argument anyway. We're just a little stressed.”
The two fall silent for a moment, leading Elliott to believe that their conversation had come to an end, but Riley continues a moment later.
“And maybe I should have paid more attention to you in school.”
Elliott can't help but to smile slightly.
“Maybe we'll try it again when we get home.”
“Well this is quite the tale,” suddenly comes a strange, unfamiliar voice.
Elliott jumps to his feet and hears Riley doing the same. The voice had come from the cell directly opposite his own. The darkness of the dungeon makes it near impossible to see inside, but he now notes a faint outline and can tell that someone is sitting on the ground toward the back of the cell.
“We have adventure,” the voice says again happily. “We have conflict and resolution. We may even have a potential love story in the making I see.”
“Who's there?” Elliott says.
“Ah, but I am such a small role in your tale thus far. Merely an observer. Are you certain it is time for my introduction?”
For such a dim and dreary atmosphere, the stranger's voice sticks out like a candle in the darkness. It is excited and happy and sounds as if it has been aching to break free for a very long time.
“You are humans, yes?”
“Er,” Elliott says, confused by this question. “Yes.”
“Ah, then I will keep my appearance from you for now. But I will at least share with you my name. Artorio Bel'ademus III is what I am called, and right proud of the title I am. I was named after my father and his father before him, both of which were noble... er... men of high esteem, both of whom I am but a pale comparison to. And so I sit here awaiting the quest that will allow me to prove my worth in their eyes, that will allow me to join them in their halls.”
Elliott stumbles in his thoughts, not sure how to respond.
He waits for Artorio to say something else but nothing comes and so he looks around, feeling a bit uncomfortable. Before now he hadn't considered other prisoners. He notes several other cells around his, though the darkness keeps him from seeing inside them. He hears Riley moving away from the bars and so he decides to do the same. He slides down the wall until he is seated, and in doing so he closes his eyes and quickly realizes how tired he is. He isn't certain how long they've been here in Birkenshaw, but it feels like at least half a day. Of course, with it always being night, it's hard to say.
“Did you see her?”
The voice jolts Elliott awake. He isn't certain how long he's been asleep, but it was long enough for a series of odd dreams to make him feel restless still. He looks around and sees that Danny sits quietly in his corner with his head resting on his knees. It wasn't the bully's voice.
“So, did you?”
He now realizes that the voice comes from Artorio's cell once more. Clearing the sleep from his throat, Elliott stirs and moves toward the bars once more.
“Did I see who?”
Artorio laughs slightly.
“The most beautiful woman in all the land.”
“Well. I only saw the queen and I wouldn't' exactly call her beautiful.”
“Oh!” he replies in an angry voice. “That wicked woman is but a pale comparison to the lady whom has claimed my heart. Though it is from her loins the lady comes.”
“From the queen? You mean she has a daughter? A princess?”
“A most splendid woman. A princess in every sense of the word and one far greater than the kingdom that she's been born into. It's been so long since last she visited me. How I miss her eyes and her mane.”
“Her hair I mean.”
Elliott isn't sure what to say and so, if for no other reason than to keep himself awake, he decides to continue the conversation.
“How did you first meet her?”
He can imagine Artorio's smile as he reminiscences.
“She was a beacon shining forth, kneeling at the feet of her father. I loved her the moment our eyes met.”
“So you met her when you were imprisoned?”
“Oh, no. I had been imprisoned long before that, when King Aarom's father was still king. We met shortly after Aarom himself had taken the throne and she was at his side when I was brought before him. He was reminded upon his ascension that I was still in the prisons. I learned then that it had been nearly ten years since I had been given anything to eat or drink, and though I was very parched and hungry, I yet lived and felt fit.
“How is that possible? How long have you been here?”
“I am not certain, but I was imprisoned shortly after his father took the throne. How old does King Aarom look?”
Elliott tries to think back.
“Maybe in his fifties? I'm not very good at guessing ages.”
“Then I would assume that I've been here somewhere around sixty or seventy years.”
“Exactly how old are you then?”
“Let's say I've been here sixty-five years... that'd put me somewhere around two hundred and five years, give or take a decade or two. It's all run together since I fell through the water.”
Elliott falls silent, unsure of what to say. The man is insane! No man can live that long. Well, Mack maybe. And how can someone possibly live ten years without food? Surely the man's lost his mind since coming here, unless it's been gone all along.
“Yes,” Artorio continues. “When I died in the water, that's when I found this magical land. And when I found this place, and my lady, I knew my quest was only just beginning. My greatest adventure lies before me. Through it, I shall honor the Bel'ademus name and finally earn my way into the halls of my fathers.”
“Alright,” Elliott says hesitantly. “Then what kind of person were you before you... fell through the water? ”
“Oh, I'd rather not talk about my past life. Why would I discuss the land of the living when we are all dead?”
“So you think you're dead?”
“Well, yes. Isn't it obvious?”
“You're in denial I see.”
Elliott decides to stop talking. He walks away from the bars to leave the crazy man to his horrendous ideas. He begins to slide down the wall once more when the sound of screeching metal tells him that the dungeon door is opening. He walks toward the bars and is surprised to find Danny with him.
“Which cell are they going in?” a guard asks.
“This one'll work. They're gonna be part of Prince Jared's next hunt, so they won't be here long.” The second guard then raises his voice so that everyone can hear him. “I hear a few of you might be in the game as well. Maybe even you Antonio.”
“The name is Artorio, my friend. My father's name.”
The guards laugh as a cage opens and shuts. They then depart and the dungeon goes dark once more. All falls silent. Elliott has no idea who has joined them. He shouldn't worry, however, as Artorio is all too eager to introduce himself.
“Hello,” he says in a deep, slightly comical tone.
A silence follows, soon interrupted by a high pitched reply that Elliott immediately recognizes as one of the little people from the graveyard.
Artorio laughs slightly.
“Yes. What is your name my child?”
“I's Hollis. Brother's name's Chuck. What you doin' in the dungeon?”
“Hollish!” comes Chuck's annoyed voice. “God not in the dungeon. You bein' shtupid! He'sh jusht a shtupid prishoner.”
Artorio laughs heartily.
“And don't you sound like a mighty intelligent one my little friend. Chuck was it?”
“Yes, Sir,” Hollis corrects him. “You's talkin' ta' God here.”
“He'sh not God!”
Elliott can't help but to smile as the sound of a small scuffle breaks out, just as they had done in the graveyard.
“Boys, boys,” Artorio says calmly. “No need to fight. We're all friends here.”
Chuck and Hollis stop fighting and Elliott hears them arguing just a bit before calming completely.
“Now, it seems introductions are in order. As Chuck so elegantly pointed out, God isn't actually in this dungeon.”
“You's in my head, then?”
“No, no. I am not God. I was just having a bit of fun. My name is Artorio Bel'ademus III. It is a name I am proud of, as it was my father's name, and his father's name before him.”
Artorio was to continue his introduction as he had given it to Elliott, but he is cut short by Chuck's voice, “Hah! Told you it wash'nt God.” Which is followed but a sudden dull thud and the sound of someone hitting the floor.
“Chuck?” Artorio asks.
“He's sleepin',” Hollis answers in an almost proud voice.
“Quite loving little ones aren't you?”
“Bah,” Hollis says almost playfully. “He's my little brother, and I's hates him. He's a doofus.”
“Oh,” Artorio says in what sounds to be a playful voice. “Surely you don't mean that?”
“Sure I's do. Well, maybe. No. Not really. Chuck just annoys me lots.”
“I thought so. And what of your family?”
Elliott is surprised to find Hollis' response slow and sorrowful.
“Father died fightin'. Mother too. I's promised her I'd protect Chuck. I's older see. He's my responsibility.”
Artorio falls silent for a moment before responding.
“It's a noble thing to care for your siblings when elders cannot. Why... If I were a king I'd have you knighted.”
These words pull at Elliott's heart strings as thoughts of Ian come to mind.
“Now,” Artorio continues. “Exactly what were your parents fighting for? Was it a war against King Aarom? For him?”
“Oh no,” Hollis answers. “This not home. We's live in somewhere else, but the Gem Lady brought us here for the king. She trusts us ta' make her proud.”
“Gem Lady?” Elliott asks quite alarmingly, thinking back to Caldsworth Forest. “You mean Periphne?”
“Yes,” Hollis answers quickly. “Some's call Gem Lady that. Not very nice lady, but she's our master and we's do our best.”
“Periphne?” Artorio says thoughtfully. “I think I remember the princess mentioning her. Or perhaps it was a different name?”
Again, Elliott thinks back. The king and queen had an argument over someone whose name sounded a lot like Periphne's. What was it?
“Porefray,” Danny says quietly from the back of the cell. “They called her Porefray.”
Elliott looks back but finds that the bully doesn't return his stare. He remains tucked away in his corner, his head only slightly above his knees.