His lungs burned as he fought to stay conscious. His heart raced as he beat against the thing wrapped tightly around his legs. His body was weakening. He desperately needed air but the surface was nowhere to be seen. The mixture of fear, pain, and fatigue began to take its lethal toll. Kobi, he thought as he faded into peaceful darkness.
Raili’s eyes slid open, only letting a little light touch his pupils as he lay still, looking around the room. He was in a room with white, rounded walls that looked almost like a cave in the dim lighting of the globes. He was lying on a thick pallet on the floor and his clothing had been removed. A cup and water pitcher rested on a tray next to him, along with a wet hand towel and some clean bandages.
Raili still wasn’t sure if he was dead or alive. He had felt his lungs fill with water. Felt himself surrender to the fatigue and pain that plagued his body. How could he be alive? Kobi was missing too. This must be the world people go when they die.
Raili sat up, grimaced and lay back down. His wounds had been dressed but were still fresh. Could people feel pain after death? Raili didn’t think so. Somehow he was still alive. But alive where? Wincing, he examined his bandages. They were neatly wrapped with white cloth, soiled from within by Raili’s blood. He could smell a sweet scent coming from them, like an ointment.
Suddenly, Raili heard footsteps and his heart began to race like he was about to be caught doing something wrong. But when a young girl walked through the door, Raili relaxed again.
“Oh, you’re awake,” she said when she saw him. She put a tray on the table by the entrance. “Umm, wait here, I’ll get Master.”
“Hey, wait!” said Raili as the girl disappeared through the doorway again. He was about to follow her but sat back down from the pain and his lack of clothing. He looked around. His clothes were gone and no other pair took their place. Irritated, Raili sat with his back against the wall, covering only his legs and hips with his blanket, and waited for the girl and her master to return.
Soon, Raili heard footsteps again and again his heart raced as he became guarded. The girl had returned and brought another woman with her. The girl was very pretty and around the same age as Raili. She wore a green and yellow blouse coupled with a long yellow skirt that flowed as she walked. The woman, too, was very beautiful and wore a yellow dress that also flowed. Both women wore white cloths around their waists. Their skin was a pale tan color and they had eyes of light grey. Their hair was dark red, or maroon, and was pulled up into tight buns behind their heads.
“So you are awake,” said the woman, her smile making her ageless face even more beautiful. Raili said nothing as they sat their trays on the floor around him. “Take heed, however, Krawth’s poison spread deep into your bloodstream. Even with our advanced antidotes, we were nearly unable to save you.”
“A Krawth?” said Raili, curiosity getting the better of him.
“A horrible monster with spiked tentacles and more rows of sharp teeth than a shark,” said the girl, setting down a tray of fresh bandages and a vial that gave off that familiar, sweet aroma.
“Surely you must remember it from your ordeal?” said the woman, setting down another tray of herbs, a small packet with some type of powder inside, and a steaming kettle.
Raili remembered. It had grabbed him and dragged him through the puddle. “I thought I was dead,” he said, his voice low.
“We thought you were too,” said the woman. “But, thanks to Sub Leader Balin, you were saved in time.” She mixed the powder and herbs into a cup, slowly pouring in the hot water. “This won’t taste very pleasant, but it will make certain the poison is out of your system before you can be allowed to move.”
“Ummm, okay. Whoa, wait! What are you doing?” said Raili as the girl tried to lift his blanket.
“Your wounds must be redressed or they could get infected,” she said, her voice never rising. Then she grinned slyly. “You can keep yourself covered if you wish. But it’s not like I haven’t already seen you.”
Raili turned almost the same color as the girl’s hair. He pulled the blanket up to the very top of his legs, keeping the rest of himself covered. “There,” he said, looking away from her. “That’s all you get to see.”
The girl giggled and got to work slowly and carefully removing the old, dirty bandages. Raili’s wounds were deep. He looked away and bit his lip in order to not yell out as she unwound the bandages touching his skin.
“Here, drink this,” said the woman, passing Raili a steaming cup of herbal medicine. “It will also ease some of the pain from your wounds.”
Raili took it, finding its smell somehow very familiar. He took a sip and almost spit it out.
“UHG!” spat Raili. “This stuff is horrible! Ouch!”
“Oh, you big baby,” said the girl, smiling as she spread ointment on his wounds. “Just relax and it’ll be over soon.”
“Well it hurts,” said Raili watching the amused smile on her face. “And I think you’re enjoying this.”
“A little,” the girl smirked.
“Now, now, children,” said the woman. “Let’s all try to get along, okay? Forgive me. We haven’t been properly introduced have we?” Raili shook his head, taking another sip from the cup and forcing himself to swallow it. Focusing on the tea’s disgusting taste was actually helping to take his mind off the pain. “My name is Marya. I am Head of Healers here in Cella’s Healing Chamber, and this is my lovely apprentice, Kyra.”
“Lovely?” asked Raili, not meaning to say it out loud, and stabbing pain shot up his right leg. “Ouch! Okay! I’m sorry!”
“Kyra,” said Marya sharply. “You must not forget he is a patient. Although he may have upset you, it is your duty, above all things, to touch him with a gentle hand. A healer’s duty is held above all. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Master,” said Kyra lowing her eyes to Raili’s wounded leg. “I’m sorry, Raili.”
“It’s okay, I deserved it, I guess,” said Raili then stopped. “Wait, I didn’t tell you my name yet.”
“Sub Leader Balin told us your name,” said Marya. “He seems to know a lot about you. Do you know him?”
“I have no clue who he is. How does he know me?” said Raili questioningly. “Does he know my brother too?”
“It’s possible,” said Marya. “Was he with you?”
“I don’t know,” said Raili. “The last time I saw him, he was trying to pull me away from that Krawth thing. Knowing him, he probably jumped in after me. But, if he’s not here then…where?”
“Well, Zire is-“
“Kyra, never allow your tongue to think before your mind,” said Marya, actually sounding upset now.
“Yes, Master,” said Kyra. She had finished spreading the ointment on Raili’s right leg and was very gently wrapping it up again.
“Could I talk to Sub Leader Balin?” asked Raili, taking one last gulp from the teacup and making a face. “I want to know how he knows me and maybe see if he would help me find Kobi and send us back home.”
“Fortunately, he wants to see you as well, once your wounds are fully healed, of course,” said Marya putting Raili’s, now, empty cup back on the tray.
“How long is that going to take?” Raili said impatiently. “I can’t just sit here while my brother could be in trouble.”
“Your wounds should heal in two or three days if you rest and make sure not to reopen them,” said Kyra. “This ointment will speed up your cell regeneration.”
“So it looks like I’m in for a pretty itching few days then, huh?” Raili sighed.
“Yes,” said Kyra, looking surprised. “Your muscles and skin tissue will be growing at an unnatural rate, so the next few days will be tough. Your knowledge surprising me.”
“I like science,” said Raili, shrugging his shoulders. “So that helps a bit I guess.”
“Then you know you can’t scratch it no matter how much it itches, right?” said Kyra, a sly grin returning to her face.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” said Raili. “But I still think you enjoy seeing me suffer.”
“Not at all,” said Kyra. The look on her face told another story. “I’ll make you feel better in no time.”
“Well, children,” said Marya standing up. “I have other patients to attend to now. Kyra, I’ll leave him in your tender care.”
“Yes, Master. Not to worry,” said Kyra changing her devilish grin to an innocent smile. “He’s in good hands.”
“Oh Wise,” sighed Raili under his breath, earning a glare from Kyra.
“See that he is,” said Marya, “and bring him something to eat, he must be starving.”
“What about clothes?” asked Raili.
“Those will come once you have healed,” said Marya.
“We wouldn’t want you to be tempted to wander off, now would we?” said Kyra, smiling sweetly.
“You must rest or your wounds will never heal properly,” said Marya and she walked out.
Raili sighed again, irritated. He didn’t like being naked in a room with a girl touching his body. “So, what is this place?” asked Raili when Marya’s footsteps had faded away. “You said this guy, Sub Leader Balin, brought me here?”
“Yes,” said Kyra sounding serious now. “You’re in the Healing Chamber of Cella. The Leader’s son, Sub Leader Balin, just showed up with you, blood everywhere, and we started working immediately to remove the poison from your body and the water from your lungs,” Kyra paused, gently rubbing ointment on Raili’s left leg. “For a moment, I really thought you were going to die. It would have been the first death I had seen since coming here to study under Master Marya. It scared me.”
“Umm, well, thanks for saving my life,” said Raili, not knowing what else to say.
“It was Master Marya who did it,” said Kyra. “She was brilliant. That’s why I’m studying under her. So I can become just like her.”
“A good goal to have,” said Raili. “Maybe you’ll even surpass her one day.” Kyra smiled bashfully but said nothing. “I’m really worried about Kobi. We have never been apart for this long.”
“Hopefully, the Sub Leader can help you find him,” said Kyra, sounding hopeful.
“Yeah. I just wish my wounds would heal faster,” said Raili, focusing hard to stay patient. Kobi could be anywhere. He could’ve also been attacked-no doubt there was more than one of those monsters-or he could’ve-. No, thought Raili. Kobi is alive. Somewhere.
Kyra finished putting the last of the bandages on Raili’s legs and moved to his back, chest, and arms. The wounds there weren’t nearly as bad as the ones on Raili’s legs, but they too stung as she unwrapped them.
“What is Zire?” Raili asked after a long silence.
“You really don’t know?” she asked, looking shocked and a bit uncertain.
“No,” said Raili. “Should I?”
“Well, I mean, everyone knows about Zire but we just aren’t allowed to talk about it here in Cella.”
“Why Not?” asked Raili.
“Well, Cella and Zire don’t really see eye to eye, if you know what I mean. So our citizens aren’t even allowed to speak of it,” she said, taking great interest in Raili’s wounds.
“But you mentioned it when we were talking about Kobi,” pressed Raili. “Maybe you know something that could help me find him.”
“But I can’t,” said Kyra. “You saw how my master reacted. I would get into so much trouble if my master found out.”
“No, Raili,” said Kyra accidently pressing too hard again, causing Raili to grimace and grab her hand. “Oh no, I’m sorry. You okay?”
Raili let go of her hand. He was afraid he would yell at her if he spoke, so he stayed quiet. Kyra knew something that could help him reunite with Kobi, maybe even rescue him, and she wasn’t telling him for fear of a tongue-lashing? No, he had nothing to say.
“You’re mad at me now, aren’t you?” asked Kyra. Raili said nothing. “Don’t be mad. I’m supposed to take care of you and I can’t if you hate me. Well, I can but it would be very unpleasant.”
Raili still said nothing. Kyra sighed and got up. She went to the doorway and looked out, checking both ways. She took away the weight keeping the stone door open then came back to Raili.
“Whatever I tell you does not leave this room,” she said, her voice low. “Even if they ask you, you don’t know anything about Zire. If anyone tells you anything about Zire, you are to act as if it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it. Understand?”
“Yes,” said Raili, his voice just as low. “You have my word, I won’t say anything.”
Kyra sighed, taking one last glance at the door. “From what I know, Zire is our sister country. We thrived together under one name, unchallenged by any nation. But the name was long forgotten when the country split a long time ago. According to my father, since then, the countries continued to disagree and battle each other until the truce thirteen years ago. But he doesn’t believe it’ll last much longer.”
“Zire is a city in the ocean, right?” asked Raili, still finding all of this hard to believe. Kyra nodded. “And it’s close to here?” She nodded again. “Okay, that’s all I needed to know.”
“What are you planning?” Kyra asked, looking at him suspiciously. “I didn’t tell you this so you could go off and get yourself killed you know. You have no gills and you have no clue if he’s really there. How do you plan to find it, alone? Do you even know of the secret entranceways? Leader, Topian, himself, can’t even find them.”
“Will you relax? I’m not going anywhere right this second,” said Raili tensing as he positioned himself for Kyra to treat his back. “I still have to heal and talk to Sub Leader Balin first. If he can’t help me, I’ll just have to find a way to get to that other city and maybe they can.”
“You said you wouldn’t tell,” said Kyra. “Besides, it’s too dangerous over there; they’d kill you if they knew you came from here.
“They don’t have to know,” said Raili simply. “And I promised I wouldn’t say anything, so stop worrying so much.”
“You are way too stubborn, do you know that?” said Kyra spreading the last of the ointment onto Raili’s back.
“That’s what Kobi tells me when he loses an argument,” said Raili. It was his turn to have an evil grin. “Anyway, what did you mean ‘having gills’?”
Kyra looked shocked again. “You really don’t know anything about anything do you?”
“No, I don’t,” said Raili, impatiently. “You going to fill me in or not?”
“Well you don’t have to get grumpy,” Kyra snapped. “It’s just weird.”
“So are you going to tell me?” asked Raili, ignoring her last comment.
Kyra sighed. “At the start of an Airian’s fourteenth year, they grow gills as well as obtain special abilities specific to them. Once you have gills, you can swim freely without having to request permission from the Leader or Sub Leader to get a breathing bracelet.”
“A what?” said Raili, looking confused.
“You don’t know what that is either?” said Kyra. Raili wondered when she was going to stop doing that. “You’re hopeless.”
“Look, I grew up on land,” said Raili. “So excuse me for not knowing anything about this crazy place.”
“Wow really?” said Kyra, looking up, from cutting a long strip of white cloth. “I’ve never been to land. I bet it’s beautiful.”
“In some places,” said Raili. But he was still curious. “Do you have gills yet?”
“No,” said Kyra, her face turning a little redder. “I’m not fourteen yet. I will be in a year though. But even if I had them, I couldn’t show you.”
“Why not?” asked Raili.
“Because they only surface when you’re submerged and grow here,” said Kyra, gently rubbing a finger down Raili’s sides and giggling at his reaction.
“Will you stop doing stuff like that?” He said, turning maroon again and sliding away from her.
“I’m only kidding,” said Kyra still laughing. “You’re just so funny when you redden. It makes me laugh.”
“Well, I’m not laughing so stop,” said Raili, irritably.
“Okay, I’m sorry,” said Kyra, putting the finishing touches on Raili’s bandages. “All done. I’ll have to do this tomorrow and every day after until you heal fully. But for now, I’ll bring you something to eat.”
“Are you sure I can’t have some boxers or something so I’m not sitting here completely naked,” asked Raili. “This is really awkward, especially if you are going to do this everyday.”
“Boxers?” asked Kyra, genuinely confused.
“Like underclothes to cover up with instead of this,” said Raili indicating the blanket.
“Oh right, I’ll bring you one when I come to change your bandages tomorrow,” said Kyra. The mischievous grin had returned as she winked and left the room. “Be right back with your dinner.”
“Hey, get back here!” yelled Raili. “Why not now? I’m not going anywhere!”
“Master’s orders!” Kyra’s called back.
Raili glared at the door. She really is enjoying this, isn’t she? He thought. A smile touched his lips, even if it was only for a moment.