Castle of the Lost

Chapter I: Lost in a Deciduous Forest

“I think we’re lost.”

Aria turned to Lizzie when she heard her speak. Lizzie was standing in the middle of the forest clearing, hands on the map, with a facial expression that looked like she ate something bad. Aria sighed, went down from the knoll, and rushed to her best friend’s side.

“Well, of course, we are,” Aria replied, taking the map from Lizzie’s hand. “Ever since we decided to go off the trail, we are already heading to nowhere.”

Aria surveyed the environment around her. Everywhere she looked, there were only deciduous trees, shrubbery, and foliage. There were even no animals or insects around. Most of the trees had already shed their leaves to the ground, while the others that still had some were now brown and orange.

She looked up and saw the tree branches blocking her view of the sky. It looked like bony fingers, stretching to the heavens as if it was seeking help.

A gentle breeze blew past her. She observed how some of the withered leaves scattered to the wind. That’s when she heard a crow cawing. She looked up and saw it flying overhead. Somehow, even if it was a not-so-friendly animal, seeing another thing alive in that place brought her some relief. She felt strange. She wasn’t scared of the forest at all, but there was something about it that made her feel weird.

 “But I was sure the castle is here!” Lizzie replied, exasperated. She looked around the woods. “Well, supposed to be here.”

Aria sighed again and gave Lizzie the map back. “Liz. There’s no castle here, except for the abandoned one we saw in the distance earlier. Maybe that’s the one we’re looking for?”

“No. I’m sure that’s not the one,” said Lizzie. She took the map again from Aria’s hands and perused it once more. She pointed to a castle drawn at the center of the paper. “See? It’s supposed to be where we are.”

“Yet we seem to be standing on it, aren’t we?” said Aria. “Or at least it should be nearby. See? There’s the river here, the big willow tree, the giant rock—everything seems to be correct, except for the castle one. It may be gone a long time ago. Or it may never have existed.”

“How could it be? I’ve taken this map from a history book,” said Lizzie. Aria wants to laugh at the seriousness of her friend’s face. She even looked as if she was waiting for something to come out of the paper. Lizzie turned to her. “What?”

“You stole that page from a book in the library, didn’t you?” said Aria.

“Not stealing. Borrowing it,” said Lizzie, folding the paper gingerly and putting it into her pocket. “Besides, this page was already torn when I got it. I just figured I should bring this for our trip and find this mysterious castle while we’re here.”

“Why do you want to find the castle anyway?” Aria smiled and teased Lizzie. “Looking for a prince to marry?”

Lizzie jokingly slams Aria’s arm, causing her to wince. “That’s not it!” she said. Then she pursed her lips and shrugged. “Well, if there’s a prince here free for the taking, I’d probably take him. And hey! Didn’t you agree to come with me here because you said we might find a buried treasure somewhere in the castle?”

“Yes and no,” said Aria. “Liz, I don’t want to leave Frankfurt alone. You easily get lost, so I had to accompany you, you know.”

“That’s mean!”

“Seriously, Liz. The other day, you said you could find us the candy shop where the kind old lady on the plane got her chocolates from. We didn’t find ourselves in the candy shop, did we? Instead, we found ourselves in a red light district. And were nearly harassed.”

“Don’t remind me of that.”

“I was just saying maybe we should stop searching for the castle. We should head back now,” said Aria. She waved her hand to the direction of the hills, where the last glowing embers of the sun give the sky an orange hue. “It’s nearly sundown.”

Lizzie heaved a big sigh. “I guess you’re right. So I think I won’t be able to find a prince for myself now.”

Aria patted her friend’s back. “Don’t worry. I wasn’t also able to find my gold, so we’re even.”

For the first time in hours, Lizzie laughed and then jerked her head to the side. “Let’s go.”

Lizzie had been Aria’s friend for years. Exploring places was their favorite hobby. When they were younger, they would always wander around the city, discovering new places and going to areas where none of them had ever set foot before.

They frequently encounter trouble, though. One time they were taken to the police because they sneaked inside a private property. Lizzie suggested the place might be abandoned, and no one had been there for years. Aria picked the lock so they could get inside. How would they know there was a roving guard that evening? Just as they entered the door, the night guard shone its flashlight on the door at the right time and discovered them. To the police station, they went and spent the night while they were waiting for their parents to pick them up.

Of course, their parents have numerously reprimanded them for going to places that might be dangerous. They were grounded several times, too; the longest was when they were arrested. But they couldn’t stop their daughters with their favorite hobby. Well, Aria and Lizzie promised they would never get into the same or even bigger trouble next time.

Until now.

Aria and Lizzie walked in that forest, the soles of their shoes crushing the dried leaves beneath it. The map was in Aria’s hands now as she asked for it from Lizzie to amuse herself. She looked at it intensely and then suddenly stopped.

“What’s wrong?” Lizzie asked her best friend.

“I mentioned earlier that we’re probably standing on the supposed location of the castle, right?” said Aria. “What if I’m correct?”

Lizzie stopped, too, as the dried leaves and withered twigs beneath her foot made a crunching sound. She looked around the woods. “What do you mean?”

Aria inhaled loudly. “What if the castle was here, before, but now it’s gone?”

She walked to a shrub nearby and parted the foliage for Lizzie to see. Lizzie’s eyes widened when she saw what looked like to be the ruins of the walls. Her best friend ran to where she was standing and gingerly touched the limestone. Although it was covered in moss, it was surely man-made. She gasped.

“So, the castle is—“ Lizzie began.

“We’re walking on it right now,” said Aria, smiling. But then she heaved a sigh. “But of course, all we can probably see now are the ruins. And the ruins aren’t much. So far, this is the only one we found.”

Lizzie was quiet for a moment. Aria wondered if she could be thinking of something. And she was right. She fished another yellowed piece of paper from her pocket, which surprised Aria.

“Don’t tell me you took that from the book, too?” said Aria, in a reprimanding tone.

Borrowed,” Lizzie insisted. “I’ll return it once we get back to school. Alright?”

“Fine. I assume it’s already torn when you got it, too?” said Aria, and Lizzie nodded. Aria shook her head. She walked closer to Lizzie and peeked at the paper her friend was holding. “I hope the librarian won’t know it. What’s that?”

“This is the description of the castle. It’s said here the castle had a dungeon, and it was way bigger than the ordinary ones. It spanned a whole town,” Lizzie said, reading the paper. When she was done, she neatly folded it again and tucked it into her pocket. “You know what that means.”

Aria didn’t answer for a while. But when she realized what she means, she slowly shook her head with an incredulous smile and backed off. “No, no. You can’t be serious. It’s nearly dark. We can’t stay here even for an hour.”

Lizzie walked to an area where soft grass grew. She removed her backpack and put it down. “Exactly. That’s why it’s dangerous for us to walk now that night is coming. Remember how dangerous the trail is?”

“We’ll be sleeping in the dungeon?” gasped Aria.

Lizzie laughed heartily at what she said. “No, I was going to suggest we camp out here. But sleeping in an ancient and abandoned dungeon wouldn’t be so bad too if that’s what you want.”

“Liz. This is madness,” Aria said.

“But it would be madder—not to say, foolish—to go wandering in the dark, right? So it’s best for us to camp out here,” said Lizzie. Before Aria could say something, Lizzie started to unpack her tent and set it up on the grassy area. Lizzie looked back at her. “Care to help me out?”

“Tell me at least we’re exploring the dungeon tomorrow, and not tonight,” said Aria.

“Of course. Else, why should we stay here?” said Lizzie. “Now come on. We don’t have much time. I’ll treat when we get back, alright?”

“Fine. I’ll be telling your mum when we get back,” Aria said and helped her with the tent. “Your mum. Not my mum. Hear that? I’ll be telling her how you dragged me everywhere and made me do everything at your whim. She’ll flog you for doing this to your dear little best friend.”

When they finished setting up the tent, Lizzie did really prepare food. She roasted the pack of hotdogs they brought with them and cooked half of it. They were going to eat the rest of it for breakfast the next day. Lizzie prepared bread and heat water, too. Aria gave her the instant chocolate drink, and they happily chatted while they ate their dinner.

They slept well that night. They were in a lonely, unfamiliar, and faraway place, but they weren’t bothered a bit. Strangely, they didn’t feel any fear of ghosts, any other scary creatures, or even wolves that may attack them while sleeping in that forsaken place. It was a peaceful night, but only till then.

When Aria woke up the next morning, Lizzie was gone. The tent was also gone. Instead, she had been lying in the dungeon, along with other prisoners who were about her age. They were all looking at her as if she barged into their place uninvited.

Aria looked at her surroundings, bewildered. The sun was already high outside, and the dungeon was bright. Light streamed merrily from the tiny window near the roof into the bleak room. She looked at the confused faces with an even more confused expression.

A brown-haired boy nodded in her direction. His hands were tapping the prison bars. He gave her a dead stare. “Hey, newbie. Got a good night’s sleep, didn’t you?”

Chapter II: The Land of Those Who Never Ages

“What?” was the first word that Aria uttered.

The boy looked at her with a cocked eyebrow. “I was just saying you slept so well you never noticed it’s already noon.”

Aria blinked. “No, that’s not what I meant,” she said. “Where’s Lizzie?”

The children looked at each other and the boy, who seemed to be the eldest of the lot, just smirked. “There was no ‘Lizzie’ when you came in.”

“’When I came in?’” Aria repeated. “I don’t understand. Why am I here? Where is this? What happened to Lizzie?”

The children all started laughing, even the boy. Aria estimated he was the same age as hers, his black hair spiky all over. She sat down and looked at the children, annoyed.

“Don’t you remember? The guards bought you here because they found you falling asleep in the gardens while working,” said the boy.

“What?” Aria said again.

“It’s no use talking to her, Levi,” said another boy. She looked at him and the first thing he noticed was the seemingly permanent scowl on his freckled face. “Seems she’s out of herself.”

Aria took a deep breath, not wanting to argue. I might be dreaming, she said to herself and slapped her face lightly with her two hands. As she did, the children started laughing again and some even called her ‘nuts’.

“You’re right,” the first boy who spoke, Levi, said to the freckled boy and they both nodded.

“Will you stop it? I’m not ‘nuts’, ‘crackpot’, or ‘loony’, or what is the word did you said—?” she asked one of the youngest children there, a toddler who looked at her with wide eyes. Seeing that Aria was fuming, the toddler instantly backed down and snuggled close to Levi. The boy patted him on the head, as if he’s to say she’s not going to harm her while he’s there.

Levi sighed and nodded at the toddler. The younger boy crawled back to the other children and they started whispering, all their eyes glued at Aria. She felt like a freak.

“You know what, Miss–?”


“Miss Aria, you don’t need to be mad at the kids like that,” said Levi. Aria glared at her when he said the word ‘kid’ as if he’s not one himself. “They don’t know who you are or what cell you came from. We’re going to the fields later, so you should probably head back to your original cell and find that ‘Lizzie’ you’re looking for because, obviously, she ain’t here.”

Aria’s head feels like it’s about to explode. She doesn’t understand what’s happening or what the boy is saying. Before she could retort a reply, a guard opened the doors and peeked inside.

“Get up, you slackers. To the courtyard you go. Hurry!” he said. As if his thunderous voice was not enough, he slammed the door which shocked all of the children. Aria felt pity at them, even those ones who called her a lunatic earlier.

In the next moments, Aria found herself walking in line with the other children. She feels as if she was still in trance. I’m still dreaming, aren’t I? she said to herself, but the scorching cement under her foot proved that everything is real. Then where am I? What happened to Lizzie? What happened to me?

Aria looked at the sack she was wearing. It was a dress, but in her time and place they could call it a sack. All of the children wore the same thing: coarse, brown sackcloth that seemed to be taken from a sack of wheat. Of course, she had been wearing her pants, shirt, and sweater when she woke up. But Levi handed her the clothes, saying she should wear it or else the guard would whip her. Glancing at one of the guards who looked her way, she hastily grabbed it from Levi’s hand and wore it.

That guy, she seethed, throwing a nasty look at Levi who was walking beside her, nodding and listening to the freckled boy as the latter seemed to be telling him a story. When he laughed at what the freckled boy said, Aria just wanted to punch him. Why wouldn’t she? The unscrupulous idiot waited for her to get dressed before going out of the cell himself. Yes, he turned his back on her, but still! Aria’s face went red as she remembered the scene while she had to strip off with a boy within the same room.

Before she could ask him why she did that, he only said that the guards are suspicious of her and he needs to watch over her because she might get into trouble. Any child who gets into trouble, the children of the whole cell will be punished accordingly.

“What is it to you?” she asked him earlier. “Are you trying so hard to act a big brother to these children, huh?”

Levi scowled at her. “As the eldest one in this cell, I’ll be the one to receive the heaviest punishment should you get your toe out of the line. I wouldn’t even bother looking after you. You aren’t older than me, aren’t you?”

“I’m fourteen. And don’t talk to me like I’m one of the kids.”

“And I’m fifteen. Older, means you have to follow me,” said Levi. “If you still want to live, that is.”

He left it hanging there. Aria wasn’t able to know what he meant by that. So, now, she has no choice but to follow the rest of the children wherever in God’s name they are going. The guards are behind them, in front of them, and are even walking beside them.

Speaking of the guards, Aria eyed them, they are wearing armor but she doesn’t see anyone inside it. They seemed to be just walking pieces of armor. This is also one of the reasons why she still wants to believe she is still dreaming, but her senses were all against the idea. Everything feels so real.

Aria decides she has no choice but to go along with it for a while as she figures out a way to escape and find Lizzie.

Weren’t they just sleeping in the camp the night before? Why was she here? Was she transported here? Aria looked around. They are walking in the courtyard of the castle and seemed to be going out of the gates soon enough. She heard from Levi earlier that they will have to go to the fields later to work. Work? These children here work? For whom do they work? What is this place, anyway?

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