Many days earlier...
Matt Knight didn’t know how long they kept him in suspended animation. He knew that days had passed because the room’s light had changed from bright to dark several times and he knew that too many figures entered and left the room like watching security footage on 50x speed.
In his room, the walls were made of stone, there were windows high up, barely within his vision. They let in light but didn’t show anything he’d call sky. Three other humans stood in front of him frozen. Underneath each kid was some kind of sigil with a glowing green crystal atop it.
When the light faded once more time returned to normal. His body still refused to move.
A sickly but well-dressed creature with green pointed ears and a bald head waddled into the room on two twisted legs. Its intelligent black eyes scanned each of them.
A shiver ran down Matt’s back when its gaze landed on his. His vision blurred with wetness.
Was this where Megan went? If it was he needed to find her. They needed to work together and find a way out!
The creature began walking around and paused in front of each kid. Each time it stared into their eyes they nodded. Afterward, each one sucked in a deep breath and walked away.
The girl stretched, the boy leaned against the corner and the teenager scanned the room, face stoic.
The first kid, the only girl, was around his age. She’d tied her curly hair in 2 cute poof balls.
The second kid was short and chubby. He muttered in accented English.
The third was a teenager with bleached platinum hair. He had sharp eyes and was around Kelly’s age.
The creature stepped up to Matt and straightened its gold-trimmed crimson coat. He stared into its eyes and its voice spoke in his head.
:I’m Virtanen. You are now a student in the Garden of 1000 Kindnesses. Unless another child defeats Prince Nenvari, there is no returning to your realm. Nod if you understand.:
He didn’t nod. How could he when he was already planning to escape with his friend?
:So, Megan? Megan Goldberg? She’s an excellent student. Perhaps you’d like to hear from her?:
His arms and torso felt like they were in an invisible clamp. He thought :yes,: and his gut twisted.
The creature left, closing the wooden door. He heard a lock click into place. It returned a few minutes later with a familiar girl behind him. She had black hair and stepped carefully as if not wanting to make any loud noises. Relief flooded Matt’s small body.
Virtanen stared at the girl and she peered back, somehow unafraid.
She nodded and smiled at Matt who gulped.
“Don’t worry. It’s not bad here.”
He tried to speak but words wouldn’t come out.
“They don’t have me brainwashed or anything but, Matt, it’s a magic school! We don’t have to learn anything else, just magic!”
He shook his head wanting to ask about their family and wanting to return to see them.
“Look, somebody is going to defeat that boss eventually so we may as well enjoy ourselves while we can.”
He shook with disagreement and started breathing heavily. Matt had faced Nenvari already. He was impossible to defeat. Their only way out was to escape.
The creature looked into Megan’s eyes again. She nodded.
“There is no escape in the Garden. Only fun and magic. But, don’t worry. You’ll see that soon enough. And then we can have so much fun together! All you have to do is nod.”
Perhaps they could escape if he was free? He bit his tongue and nodded.
His body was released from the invisible clamps.
Suddenly, the creature jerked and the sound of a knife entering flesh repeatedly filled the room. Virtanen dropped and Matt saw the bleach-haired kid hold up a folding knife drenched in blue-black blood.
For a brief moment, Matt froze in place, unable to move to save himself.
“Come on! Let’s get out of here,” the kid said.
Relief that he wasn’t about to be murdered overwhelmed him.
“You just killed that thing!” The first girl screeched.
The chubby kid started muttering in Spanish. Matt picked up the word “loco.”
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Orin Son. You?”
“Matt and this is Megan.”
“You shouldn’t have done that,” she said.
“Nice to meet you, but we have to get out of here before more of these things arrive,” Orin said.
“There’s no point to this,” Megan said. “There’s no escape.”
Everyone filed out of the room, ignoring her and into an enclosed hallway. It looked like it continued forever to either side.
“To the right!” The girl with the poof-ball hair said.
Not having any better ideas they jogged in that direction.
After five minutes the girl whispered, “Something’s not right about this.”
“I agree. What’s your name?” Orin said.
Orin tapped the chubby kid’s shoulder who jumped away and held up both hands. “Don’t, man. This is not a good place.”
He held up his hands “Fine. What’s your name?”
Matt grabbed Megan’s hand. “Start looking around. We need to find an exit.”
“There is no exit,” Megan said.
After twenty minutes of running, they still hadn’t come to a good stopping point.
“Let’s try one of these doors at least,” He said and pushed open a door.
“Wait!” Megan yelled, but it was too late. Behind the door stood Vertinan.
He stared into their eyes and smiled with red sharp teeth. :Now that you’re done playing such fun games please follow me. You have orientation soon with the others.:
Orin stepped forward, knife in hand. With a gesture from the creature the steel crumpled into a ball and landed at his feet.
“It’s useless to fight the teachers here,” Megan said.
:Was that what you call fighting? It looked more like gentle joking around to me. Now, follow. We only have a little time left.:
Without looking back, it turned and walked into another doorway.
Matt started forward along with Megan and surprisingly Orin. Samuel grabbed Matt’s shoulder.
“Yo, kid,” he said with a slight accent. “Are you seriously going to follow that thing? It’s creepy, man.”
Matt peered after it, his stomach twisting. “We don’t know anything about this place. So, yeah, I am.”