The land of sleep should have been peaceful. It was a place where Haru could retreat when he grew too overwhelmed with emotion. There he could dream, and in his dreams he would see Kai. His friend would stare at him with wide, trusting eyes. He would take Kai's hand in his own and lead him back to the orphanage, the place where everything was more pleasant. There were no hard decisions to make, no people to agonize over, no pain to rip into his heart.
But that dream did not come this time. A steady beat was in Haru's head, one loud enough to sound like a drummer trapped in his skull. He was dimly aware of his difficulty in breathing. A metallic scent became a veil around him, making his aching head be accompanied by a revolting sensation in his stomach. The pressure continued to increase, building up to a point of no return...
The blood-soaked figure, dripping sword in hand, looked up at him.
Haru's eyes flew open, accompanied by a startled gasp. For once, he was glad to be awake, to be free of the nightmarish realm he had been trapped in. It was only once his breathing became steadier that he realized he had only escaped one such location. He had jumped right from one terror into another, as his flooding memories tell him. He had been walking back to see Master, the lantern and oil he had bought for the trip stored safely in his backpack. He had arrived at the meeting place with the expectation that Master would be waiting there for him. He had found Master's corpse instead. And standing above it, staring at him with piercing red eyes...
The sound of clashing metal cut through Haru's thoughts. He stopped moving, suddenly aware that he had sat up. His intention had been to spring to his feet and look for Kai. But he quickly learned that would not be possible. Around Haru's wrists and ankles were shackles. Each one was attached to the stone wall behind him. His quick movements had nearly caused him to trip over the chains linking him to the wall. He barely caught himself in time to roll back onto the soft surface beneath him.
That made him pause. He looked below to find that, of all the places he could have been, he had been lying on a bed. A bed with nice sheets, a comfortable mattress, and two fluffy pillows. The contradiction between the shackles and the place he was sleeping on jarred him. The remnants of his headache flared back from the brief moments of excitement he had taken part in. Haru placed a hand to his forehead gingerly before examining the rest of the room.
His confusion increased at seeing the rest of the location. The walls and floor were all made of stone, except for the wall across from where he was chained. Metal vertical bars made up that side. There were also bars covering a window above the bed. It was far enough that stretching to his maximum length would only let his fingertips touch the bottom of the window. Even if he managed to somehow wrench the bars off, the hole was too small for him to get through. The only way out was a similarly barred door that had a large lock on the outside. All he could spot beyond the bars was a stone hallway that went out of sight. From those factors, it seemed more like a prison cell than a room.
The only reason Haru did not instantly call it a cell was because of what was inside it. Aside from the bed, there was a fine wooden nightstand that had a stack of books on it. A small table with plates and silverware was within the chain's reach, meaning he could sit at one of the two chairs if he wished. Clothing was neatly stacked in one corner on a stool. His backpack sat at the foot of the bed within easy reach, though there was no traces of his rapier or padded armor.
It's like I'm in a guest room.
The uneasiness in Haru's mind continued to rise as he looked from the shackles to the homely furniture. A guest room contained in a jail cell. Kai, what are you thinking?
His old friend's name brought back the image from his memory. Master's corpse, and Kai standing over it, the murder weapon in hand, his clothes dyed red.
What happened to you?
Haru put his head into his cupped hands to block out his surroundings. In the self-imposed darkness, he thought of Master. My first reaction was to focus on Kai. Master is dead. How have I not shed any tears for him? Why have I felt no pain?
The questions were ones that he already knew the answers to, even if he did not want to admit it. Haru had lost any true love for Master years ago. The act of taking Haru and leaving Kai to the fate of the assassins had destroyed any chance of a meaningful relationship between them. Haru had not wished for him to die, and in some small corner of his mind, there was a bit of sorrow. He had spent several years learning from Master, so it would have been odd to feel nothing at all for his passing. But the agony of losing a loved one did not exist. There was only that small amount of sadness that they had no way to connect before his death.
There's no sense in thinking about it. I can't do anything for Master. He's gone.
Haru lifted his head to stare at the bars blocking him from the hallway. But Kai isn't. Something's wrong with Kai. I have to help him. But how?
With no answer forthcoming, Haru gave the room another examination. The stack of books made him curious. He shifted over on the bed to take a closer look. Having read many books as a child, he wondered if any of them were stories he would recognize.
A jolt went through him at seeing the top book. It was a title he knew from years ago as one of the last books he and Kai had been reading together before leaving the orphanage. He knew Kai must have deliberately chosen that novel. Kai had not forgotten what they had done as friends, even though they had been apart for five years.
Is he testing me, trying to see if I remember as well? Or is it something else?
Another glance around the room revealed more traces of Kai's memories. The way the silverware was set varied from what he remembered. Kai had always made a mistake of putting the spoon to the right of the plate alongside the fork. This time, the setting was properly done, mimicking how Haru had always done it. The clothing in the corner was made up of outfits identical to what Haru had worn for their training sessions with Master. It matched what he wore now, everything down to his favorite shade of green. Even the bed he laid on held traces of the past. Haru had a tendency to fold back the top blanket a few inches near the pillow to reveal the sheets underneath. Kai had never done such a thing. Yet the carefully made bed underneath him had that same fold.
He wants me... to feel at home? To go back to how things once were?
It would have made some sense. He might have believed it if not for the heavy metal bands around his limbs. He traced a finger over one of the shackles while thinking, Then why imprison me? I don't understand.
Remembering how Kai had looked at him, a shiver passed through Haru. The innocent eyes that Kai had once looked at him with were now replaced by ones of a stranger. They had a frigid look in them, a gleam that hinted at a dangerous individual underneath. A killer.
The thought comes unbidden and is hard to dispel, as much as Haru wished he could.
I have to get out of here. Kai... I have to find Kai.
Being imprisoned made that a problem. Haru had never tried to pick a lock in his life, and he was unsure of where to even start. Breaking the shackles was out of the question. His physical strength had never been worth mentioning. Without a weapon, he doubted he could even scratch the metal. Trying to slip out seemed impossible as well, for they were tight against his skin.
But there has to be a way. I just need to figure out how.
With more care than before, Haru scanned the cell and hallway. His eye caught sight of something he had not seen before. His rapier and armor lay in a corner in the hall. It was out of reach to him at the moment. That did not mean it was impossible to get.
Though it would be if he hadn't left my other items with me.
Haru dug through his backpack until he produced a coil of silk rope. With fifty feet to it, it certainly could reach the rapier. The question was whether he could successfully lasso it. He had attempted such maneuvers in training before, but it was a technique that was not useful often. To actually need it now was surprising to Haru.
Haru's Duel of Wills
Kai's Duel of Wills
Kai's round two