The metal sticks--crutches, they were called--weren’t like anything I’d seen before. Just like the wheelchair, it was relatively simple--even the Arden Kingdom could produce something like this--but the innovative thinking behind it was impressive.
Originally, the height adjustment was very awkward to actually do. The actual changing of height was fine; there were metal pins in the crutch, both on the metal pointing straight downwards and the bent metal at the top, where there was a handgrip, which made adjusting the height as easily as pushing a button in, moving the part up or down, and having the button release in another hole.
The pertinent issue, however, was actually knowing just how tall they should be. Thankfully, my mother already knew about how to adjust the height somehow so at least we didn’t fumble around in complete darkness.
We did fumble around, though.
With a really strange and overly complicated looking--but immensely comfortable--shoe on my leg, she had me balance using her and stand up straight. Whether it was because I was unused to balancing on only one leg or because this body was so weak, I found even that simple task difficult to do.
Fortunately, my mother did everything involving the crutch. She lined the forearm piece with my arm until it was about three fingers below my elbow and changed the height so my elbow was slightly bent while leaning on the crutch when standing.
Apparently satisfied with that, she copied the same adjustments over to the other crutch, creating a complementary pair.
Actually walking using the crutches was strange but, if I took it slowly, I could move consistently; I had to make a conscious effort to think about the placements of both my foot and the crutches and their relative positions from one another, totally unlike unconscious walking.
Hopefully, I’d get better over time.
The distance from my room to where we needed to go, however, was decently long so I, fortunately, could get in a lot of practice before exiting into the (presumably) big, wide world.
Even though my walking speed wasn’t that fast and must’ve been annoying, contrary to my expectations, my mother didn’t seem to be bothered, a smile on her face whenever she looked at me and asked me how I was doing.
The last room we entered, where I could see the days leading to the outside--blinding white light shining through, making the outside hard to distinguish--was by far the largest room I had experienced ever since my initial. It was lined with many rows of seats--similar seats to the chairs in my room; plush and comfy--with many people of varying ages and looks.
Compared to the Arden Kingdom, where the majority of people had either had bronzed skin from working all day out under the skin or a natural brown hue, many people here had glaringly white skin, like me. Sure, there were people who looked like those from the Arden Kingdom but they did not constitute the majority. There were even people who were like nothing I had ever seen before. Sure, I had heard of people from the Uxlor Union--South of the Temorial Confederacy--with skin as dark as night, but we had little contact with them and I had never seen one in person.
How did this place have so many types of people from so many different places? Was it like the Uxlor Union but just a lot larger in scale?
What surprised me, even more, was the lack of stares I was getting. Whenever I left the palace, I had a retinue with me and any stares were taken with at least a modicum of suspicion. I could only imagine the frenzy of queried stares and questioning glances if I had publically appeared without a leg.
But here? Only a handful of people looked and even then, it was clearly out of curiosity and their gaze quickly wandered off.
It’s quite nice, not gaining attention all the time.
Quickly enough, my mother had finished her conversation and, with a small stack of papers she had stuffed into her bag, said that we can finally go home.
The journey to the door was short, shorter than simply the journey to the front desk from my room, but it felt so much longer; like I was slogging through water.
It had only been a handful of days here but my vast majority of the time was spent in the same, featureless room. Even when I left, I was controlled--wheeled around like cargo--and the sights were similar; white walls with a white floor and a white ceiling. Only from one intersection did I manage to catch what seemed to be animals painted on the wall but we never went there.
My new life, from when it began, was bland and repetitive but inside that was comfort and security. I knew where I’d go to sleep and when I woke up, just like in the palace.
But now, that will be changed. The experience of moving homes, changing scenery permanently, was a foreign and unfamiliar one. The only instance was arguably with my death but even then, I never actually experience the transition; it was instantaneous for me.
So this migration… It was actually a daunting prospect. For once, I was glad that I was walking slowly; I could stay in familiarity for longer, stay wrapped in a sense of security you couldn’t get when every new sight, sound, and smell was unique and different to you. The trepidation I was feeling at that moment reminded me of the few times I had left the Kingdom. The same hesitancy to board the caravan could be felt here.
My mother stayed neither in front of me nor behind me, walking adjacent to me. It was probably to reassure me in some way, showing that she’s close by if I need her, but in actuality, it only made me more nervous. With her being on the periphery of my vision, simply focusing forwards made me feel all alone.
The doors were another example of System Specialisation but, by this point, with my rapidly thumping heart, my mind was too bothered to notice.
Eventually, we were outside. And I just stopped.
Everything--what I saw, what I felt, what I thought--was indescribable. It was unprecedented for me, the sights. The scale was unlike anything I knew, the composition of buildings and bustling life impossible from what I knew.
If a nation like this existed, it would surely rule the world.
I don’t know how long I stood there, balancing on one leg and two crutches, my eyes glazed over and just watching life pass by right before my eyes. My mother must’ve seen me in that trance, hypnotised by what I was experiencing, and said nothing. She must’ve had her reasons for not intervening. I don’t know if I was grateful for that.
But nothing lasts forever.
My body had needs and they would be heard. If I could stay like that, completely immersed in the world in front of me, I would have.
“Why don’t we get some breakfast?” My mother suggested, hearing the indications from my body. I weakly nodded my head but inside, I was salivating over the thought of simply eating more food.
“There’s a shop that I’m sure you’ll love that opened up a few months ago,” she explained, describing where it was located. I’m sure, if I had lived here, I would know where she was talking about but it was nonsense to my mind currently.
The walk there was probably short but it took a substantial amount of time. The hospital--as I learnt it was called--that I stayed at was located in what appeared to me to be the main city; there were many houses lined side-by-side, with long houses joined but marks delineating between separate homes.
Frankly, the infrastructure of the capital of the Arden Kingdom--the pride of the Kingdom with the most highly developed walls, roads, and buildings--looked shabby in comparison. Rather than neatly cobbled streets--a hefty investment only the most lively and profitable city could afford--the streets were covered in a smooth, ink-black material.
Curiosity overwhelmed me and, wanting to know if this material was solid like it looked or a liquid like it reminded me of, I hobbled on over and, nervously lowering my foot down from the walkway to the road, touched it.
It was solid.
Unfortunately, I was only able to make do with a short, preliminary investigation as my mother quickly called out:
“Avery?” When I had disappeared from her side, she looked over towards me. Her facial expression was hard to read from looking at her mouth but she sounded worried. The guilty feeling beginning to build up inside me prevented me from continuing with my investigation and, thus, I returned to her side, walking to the shop she had described earlier.
All around us were people walking to and fro dressed in all kinds of different attire. Honestly, at this point, I was numbed to all the drastic fashion. It was strange, unusual, and I didn’t understand it. What I did understand, however, was not that many people were wearing dresses.
Most women and girls that I could see (mostly adults) were wearing trousers with only a minority wearing skirts but, even then, my dress didn’t really draw any attention. I don’t know why but walking around like this, acting like it was normal and being treated like it was normal, was… Liberating, in a way. But also weird.
Just thinking about it turned my thoughts to a weird place and the peaceful, happy ambience of my mind was overturned by thoughts of the nervous, scrutable, and distressing kind.
It was better to just empty my mind.
And so, I did. I walked the rest of the way just vacantly taking in the sights. Gradually, the city streets widened, the houses and buildings gained another story or two, and what I thought was busy streets paled in comparison to the stream of people I was wandering amongst now.
But finally, after passing through wide and narrow streets, barren and populated walkways, we had reached our destination.
The building was large. It had a fenced area in front with seats and tables dotted around. Inside, I could see there was a terrifyingly large number of people either sitting, talking, or eating. Even from outside, I could hear the faint hum of the people inside.
The sight sent my mind on the fritz, thoughts racing through my head and countless questions appearing and disappearing instantly, barely with any time for me to even pay them a modicum of attention.
But, feeling a hand gently placed on my back, I took a deep breath in, and exhaled. Calm down. Calm down.
They’re just people; there’s nothing scary about that.