Traveling as prisoners of the Korelians was miserable. By day, the horses walked, and Joshua and Celeste slogged behind, their wrists bound. At night, each was forced to sit in front of a tree and tied to it. Their bonds were only loosened when they were given a small piece of stale bread and a sip of water to sustain them. Leaning back on the rough bark of the tree, they had to learn to sleep sitting up. Hot in the day and cold at night, neither was provided with different or additional clothing, and in no time their shirts and pants were splattered with dirt and sweat-soaked. By the third day their wrists were bloody and raw, their backs ached, and they were sore, dirty, and exhausted from walking all day through the trees. The only time the two could relax was at night while the Korelians ate and drank, mostly leaving their prisoners alone.
On the second day, they had crossed the border into Korelia. By the end of the day, the cool air had quickly changed to that of the hot and muggy jungle air. The trees were changing from oaks and pines to cypresses. Pretty soon the group would be in the thick of the tropical jungle. As many times as Joshua traveled into this country, he would never stop being amazed at how abruptly the world seemed to turn upside down. He always felt as if he had passed through some kind of portal to another planet. Bird calls, chirps, screeches, and growls he couldn’t identify filled the air. Vines fell from the trees like a snake’s coils and swamps were the landmarks one traveled by. Mosquitoes, already fat on blood, floated amongst the group, frequently choosing a new target. By the quantity of them, one would think the mosquitoes had smelled fresh blood from all the corners of Korelia and come swarming.
As morning wore to afternoon, sweat soiled their clothes, and the clammy, stifling air wouldn’t let it evaporate. Occasionally it would rain lightly for a few minutes, but the rain wouldn’t be as refreshing one would expect. Rather, it was warm and soaked them without cooling them, only adding to the miserable humidity, and making their arms and legs chafe red and their clothes heavy with water to slow them down.
By the fourth day, nobody would be able to even tell the party had come from Forellia. The Korelian jungle surrounded them. Snakes were everywhere, and Joshua warned Celeste to watch where she placed her boots lest there be a cottonmouth there sleeping or sunning and prepared to fight. Celeste found herself dividing her attention between walking and searching for the sources of the terrifying sounds of that horrible place. There was never a moment of silence, and Celeste was constantly looking into the trees to see if the croak or growl or squawk she had just heard was some kind of man-eating creature ready to leap at them from the trees. Fortunately, she rarely spotted the owner of the fear-inducing cries; however, that wasn’t always the case. Once, as the group walked near a murky swamp, Celeste heard a kind of guttural roar and looked up in terror to see an enormous scaly lizard on the other side of the swamp. She had read in books of this creature—she believed it was called an alligator— but Celeste hadn’t thought the creature would be so massive. The dinosaur-like monster spread its toothy maw and sat in stillness as if waiting for some unsuspecting prey to wander by. “Don’t worry,” Joshua said as he also noticed the beast. “Once they open their jaws, they hardly ever move until something comes close enough. On this side of the swamp, we’re safe.” Celeste appreciated his trying to reassure her, but she didn’t stop shaking until they were miles away.
On the sixth night, as usual, Celeste and Joshua were seated in front of and tied to two trees. Celeste moaned as she leaned back. It actually felt good to sit on the hard dirt after the constant walking of the past six days. Both she and Joshua were covered in filth from trudging over the muddy, swampy ground, and their wrists, which were tied to the tree behind them, sent daggers of pain up their arms anytime they shifted their weight. Celeste’s entire body ached, and as the twilight turned to night and the air cooled, she would begin to shiver uncontrollably as her rain and sweat drenched clothes kept her from keeping warm. She was aware of this, but she was so mind-numbingly weary that she thought she may actually sleep well for the first time since they had been taken prisoner.
“Look at the bright side,” Joshua said as the Korelians built a large fire to keep the jungle beasts at bay. Joshua paused, trying to think of a bright side, “Nope, sorry, I can’t think of one.” Celeste turned the faintest of smiles towards him. Joshua had been the only comfort in this horror. He somehow managed to retain his ridiculous optimism as he encouraged her in the day and distracted her from her woe at night.
“I get to see another country for the first time,” Celeste provided.
“Ah-ha, yes, see? There is a bright side. Now you can tell all your friends that you’ve been to Korelia. I bet none of them have been here.”
“Yes, and I hope they never have to come here. Although I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to tell them anyway. Once we get to the king, you’re probably dead, and if you’re dead, I certainly won’t be able to survive whatever they subject me to.”
“Hey, now where’s that fighting spirit you had back in Juroosh? You’re the girl who can do anything she puts her mind to. You’re the girl who’s going to save the world, remember?”
Celeste raised her eyebrows at him. “Save the world, eh? I would kill all of these monsters if I had that kind of power, but I’m afraid I don’t even have enough to even save myself.”
The Korelians began to unpack their seemingly unlimited supply of alcohol to drink, as they did every night.
“Well,” Joshua replied, “how about I save you, and then you save the rest of the world… Just as soon as I figure out how to complete that first step, we’ll be on the road to victory.”
“It’s a deal, Joshua. If we miraculously escape from this alive, I’ll try my best to save the world.”
“At least we have our goals then.”
The two of them sank into silence as they watched their captors grow drunk. It seemed the Korelians had forgotten to feed their prisoners that night, but Celeste was numb and beyond hunger. She was very thirsty, but fresh water wasn’t easily found here. Usually it had to be purified before it could be consumed, which was why, Celeste assumed, the Korelians drank so much liquor instead. She didn’t like it when they become very intoxicated, though, for when they did, they would come over to Celeste and leer at her and talk of taking her into the woods to have a little “fun.” Kailak had thus far not allowed too much of this talk, but Celeste was terrified the men may at some point grow so drunk and brazen that they would ignore him or wait ‘til he was asleep in his tent to come after her.
As the night wore on and Celeste fell into semi-consciousness at her tree, Joshua grimly watched as the men drank yet more. He worried they may taunt Celeste again, and he was completely helpless to protect her. If just he had something with which he could cut through his binds, he could wait for the Korelians to fall into a drunken stupor. Then he could kill them all.
Joshua didn’t like killing, and he had only done it a few times before when absolutely necessary, such as when he had broken into the Korelian king’s treasury to steal the Prophecy Stone. Someone had spotted him, and Joshua had shot him before he could call an alarm. Joshua had grimly walked past the bleeding corpse and escaped with his life. That was necessary. Killing his captors now if he had the chance may not be necessary, but if he did have the chance, he would take it to get vengeance for the suffering they had inflicted upon Celeste and himself. Most Korelians were cruel and lacked normal human compassion, but these especially seemed to lack common decency. Joshua didn’t think the world would miss them if they did not reach old age.
The men laughed and roared into the night, under the weary but dogged eye of Joshua. After another hour or so, and to Joshua’s relief, they began to fall into a drunken sleep. After the last Korelian began to snore, Joshua slowly relaxed his tense muscles. When he knew she was safe, Joshua looked at Celeste. By the light of the fire, he could just make her out. Her head was tilted forward slightly in her sleep, her long blond hair was falling about her face, and her eyes were closed. She appeared thus peaceful only when she managed to sleep, and Joshua took comfort in watching her at night after the others fell into dreams. The bone aching weariness from their six days of travel, however, would not let him remain awake for long. Joshua had let Celeste’s peaceful face lull him to sleep each night since they had been taken prisoner. His eyes drifting closed, his head nodding, Joshua sank into a cold and uncomfortable slumber.