The boat is somehow still intact. I retrieved the chest from it. Didn’t think I’d be adding any more entries but here we are.
Haven’t seen Atsushi
I don’t know what to do.
What should I do?
What can I do?
I’m going into the cave.
The sun shone bright in the clear blue sky. All traces of stormy weather have dissipated. The sea was calm again, waves lazily lapping the shore as the water sparkled under the dazzling sunlight. As Imai stood on the walkway outside the house, the fresh, gentle sea breeze carried the salty scent of the sea to him, ruffling his hair.
Despite the pleasant weather, Imai was feeling none of it. Sleep has eluded him over the past few days but if he was tired, he couldn’t feel it either. He looked down at the cloth bag at his hip, something he previously found in one of the other houses, and wondered if he was bringing too many things with him.
Candles, flint, the dagger, his journal, writing materials, earplugs fashioned out of corks, a flask of water, a few eggs, a box with some of the dried fish and seaweed he prepared, a bottle of rum, and the compass. Was there anything he forgot?
Imai glanced at the chicken in the house. He thought of bringing it with him but there probably wouldn’t be anything for it to eat in the cave. Imai doubted that there would anything for it at the other end of the cave either. But… Atsushi did like interacting with the chicken……
Sighing, Imai went back into the house, trying to look for something to transport the chicken in. He eventually found a small crate with a leather shoulder strap in a corner of the house. Lining it with fabric from a threadbare set of robes that was left lying around, Imai tried to make the box a little more comfortable before he put the chicken in. Gently lowering the bird into the box, Imai was glad to find that it fit just right and the chicken nestled in, clucking happily.
That done, Imai slung the strap of the chicken crate across his body, setting it on his other hip. With two loads on either side of his body now, Imai really did feel like he was bringing too much with him as he walked out of the house. He didn’t even consider bringing half of what he did when attempting to sail away, he thought, scoffing at himself.
The trek across the shore was easy enough. Maybe just slightly uncomfortable because of the sand that somehow got into Imai’s boots, but it was fine. Since he was going ‘spelunking’, he traded his usual sandals for his old, worn out boots, lest his sandals tripped him up or made him slip in the cave. He had no idea what the terrain inside was like, after all.
Despite carrying more things with him this time around, Imai found it easier to pick his way past the cave’s rocky entrance compared to his first two attempts. He took it as proof that wearing boots was a wise idea. He did, however, find that carrying the chicken was a bit of a hindrance with slightly narrower passages. A few adjustments got them through those hurdles though, and Imai arrived at the clearing.
Removing the chicken crate from his person, Imai put it down on the sandy floor and gave it a long look. He should probably leave it here and scout out the route first before coming back for it later. If those… things only dwelled in darkness, the chicken would be safer out here as well, where light did hit.
With that settled, Imai adjusted his bag strap and tugged at the opening of his robes in his front. He wrinkled his nose in displeasure. The humidity was starting to stick to his skin and that was souring his mood. Not that he was feeling chirpy to begin with.
As Imai nonchalantly swept his eyes across the damp space, something on the table-like structure caught his eye. It was a hand lamp.
Imai frowned. That was new. He didn’t remember seeing it the last time he came in here. It was… convenient, though. He was just wondering about how he was supposed to hold the candle without burning himself too.
Taking a candle out from his bag, Imai walked over and put it into the lamp. He tore a strip of paper out from a page of his journal and laid it on the table. Next, he unsheathed the dagger and took out the flint. Silently hoping that the dagger was made out of steel, Imai struck it with the flint over the strip of paper. Sure enough, sparks flew and after a couple more tries, the sparks finally lit a small flame on one end of the paper.
Hissing quietly in triumph, Imai carefully moved the flame to the wick of the candle, guarding it from stray breezes as he did. Holding still for a moment, Imai hovered the flame near the wick, waiting patiently even as the fire steadily ate up the paper. Just before the flame licked Imai’s fingers, it finally caught onto the wick and glowed a warm, steady light. Waving the burnt paper vigorously, Imai put out the fire and snapped the lid of the lamp shut.
Imai dug into the bag again, rummaging around until he found what he was looking for. Two corks from the empty bottles of rum that he had shaped into earplugs that fit his ears. Right after he made the decision to enter the cave, Atsushi’s instructions for navigating it kept running through Imai’s mind as he made his preparations.
Keep going north, make sure he can’t hear anything, and stay away from all sources of water in the cave.
Although Imai now understood the rationale for avoiding water, he still could not figure out why he had to block out all sound from his ears. Atsushi has always had good reasons for his warnings though, regardless of whether he was willing to explain them or not. Imai was better off following them accordingly.
Pushing the ear plugs in, they fit snugly into his ears, as they should. He made sure of it, after all. The distant sound of the waves hitting the rocks and of the wind blowing through the cave faded away, leaving Imai with the steady beating of his heart breaking the silence that he created. Swallowing, Imai moved his jaw, trying to see if the ear plugs would be easily dislodged. They stayed put.
Satisfied, Imai adjusted the bag strap on his shoulder again and picked up the lamp in one hand while he held the compass in the other. With one last backward glance at the chicken, which stayed cushy in its crate, Imai trudged down the knoll and into the darkness.
Descending the path, the light from the lamp illuminated Imai’s way, helping him navigate through the narrowing passageway. The air grew heavy with moisture, making it difficult to breath, exactly like what Imai experienced the last time. However, with light leading his way, Imai found it easier to stay calm, preventing himself from panicking again.
As Imai continued on, the path eventually widened into a cavern. The orange glow from the lamp was enough to light up the whole place, casting shadows with the stalagmites and stalactites that jutted out from the cave floor and ceiling. There were a number of tunnels that led away from this cavern, giving Imai the first set of choices he had to pick from.
Bringing the compass into the light, Imai watched the needle carefully, taking small steps as he turned towards the north. Finding his direction, Imai looked up and straight ahead was the gaping darkness of the rightmost tunnel.
Before he started towards it, Imai looked around, trying to see if there was any way for him to mark where he came from. His eyes fixed on the slim stalagmite closest to him, on his right. Setting the compass and the lamp down at his feet, Imai took the dagger out from his bag and brought the hilt down on the rock a few times until he finally broke a chunk the length of his palm off the tip. That should do it. Placing the dagger and the stalagmite fragment into the bag, Imai picked the lamp and compass back up and continued on his way.
Imai forged forward, single mindedly making his way through the cave system, marking his way as he went. He occasionally broke more stalagmites on the way, but most times, he opted to scratch markings on the walls using the fragment he carried with him instead.
Travelling deeper, Imai noticed that his journey did not have many ascents and descents, a good sign, considering how he should neither be headed towards higher ground nor underground. What did concern him though was the increasing number of puddles and pools he noticed along his way.
All Imai could hear in his self-induced silence was Atsushi’s warning regarding the water as he passed them, keeping a wary eye on them. Some were perfectly still, looking almost like glass surfaces, some had ripples that came out of nowhere, while others contained those blinking lights he saw in the sea all those nights ago.
Imai grew increasingly unnerved and it did not help that the candle was beginning to burn low. He would have to change it soon. Otherwise he would find himself in complete darkness and who knows what will happen then.
Quickly scratching a cross on the wall, Imai checked the compass again to confirm that he was going in the right direction before he crossed this latest cavern, the smallest so far, towards the north-most path. Cautiously picking his way past the puddles of water, Imai came to the opening of the path and paused. He felt a faint breeze on his skin, sticky with perspiration, a respite from the stale air he has been moving around in. He must be near the exit.
As his heartbeat sped up with delight at the thought of finally reaching the end of his journey, Imai’s footsteps quickened as well, making his way up the slightly inclined path with large strides. The stone floor slowly transitioned to sandier ground and at last, the light at the end of the tunnel was in sight. Elated, Imai almost ran up the rest of the way, finally exiting the cave to emerge at the bank on the other side of the island.
Imai’s joy was however slightly dampened by the sight of the setting sun. Has he really been in there for such an extended period of time? Even with the route marked out now, it might take too long for him to go back for the chicken now. A small frown appeared on his face, uncomfortable at the thought of leaving it to its own defences overnight.
Clicking his tongue, Imai looked down at the lamp and noticed that it was still lit, though not for long from the look of it. Intending to make use of the flame before it goes out, Imai moved quickly, putting his bag and lamp down as he withdrew the dagger again.
Stuffing the sheathed dagger down the side of his boot, Imai strode briskly to the wrecked boats that he previously saw on the beach. The weather has worn the wood down and dried it out, making it easy for Imai to pry at and break off a few planks with the dagger.
Once Imai has gathered a pile of broken boat parts, he headed back to his lamp, bringing it with him to the pile. Using his body to block the wind, Imai carefully removed the short candle from the lamp, mindful of the likelihood of burning himself. Putting the candle in the center of the pile, under all the wood, Imai fed the flame smaller shards of wood, making it grow. It didn’t take long for the rest of the wood to catch fire, and soon, Imai had a sizeable bonfire going.
With the fading light of day, Imai took in his first proper look at his new surroundings.
There was not much on this of the island aside from the sandy bank, the barely-boats, and the lagoon. Atsushi was right about how barren this place is. Looking skyward, Imai’s eyes followed the ceiling above him that stretched a fair distance over the water, or perhaps it was just high tide that made it look like it provided shelter to sea. Like the knoll at the other end of the cave, there was a hole in the ceiling, fixing a patch of blue sky in the middle of all that grey rock.
Bringing his bag with him back towards the fire, Imai unceremoniously dropped down on the sand, pulled his boots off, and lay down, upset. He had hoped to find Atsushi here, or maybe even somewhere along the way, but no. Not even the slightest hint of where he is could be found.
Imai’s stomach growled but he did not want to move. He couldn't be bothered to get the food out of his bag. His body felt too heavy too move. Perhaps the sheer disappointment had finally drained all his remaining energy away. Or perhaps it was exhaustion finally catching up to him.
Imai had thought that he would’ve fallen asleep with the weariness that plagued him but he lay awake, watching the sky grow darker. The sea beyond the rocks that separated the lagoon from open water was soon plunged into darkness. The stars gradually appeared, dotting the sky with an infinite number of lights as they accompanied the waxing moon in the night sky.
Noticing the firewood burning out, Imai finally moved, albeit reluctantly, to get more kindling for the fire. As he bashed at the boat, Imai had the sudden thought to look into the water. Wasn’t Atsushi some kind of aquatic creature? He might be dwelling in there… right?
Cold wetness on his bare feet snapped Imai out of his thoughts as he glanced down in surprise. When did he walk into the water? Turning back to the derelict boats in confusion, Imai saw that he had abandoned the wood and his dagger in the sand.
Imai looked towards the dark sea again as he felt another incoming wave gently wash over his toes. Carefully, he took one step forward, then another, and another, and another until he found himself waist deep in water. Stopping, Imai grimaced at himself. What was he even going to do? Swim? Try and drown?
Groaning, Imai turned on his heels and returned to shore soaked to the bone. He retrieved his dagger and the wood, bringing them back to the campfire before lying back down in the sand again, even more anguished than before with his inability to do much. With the way he subconsciously walked into the water, it was clear that he was incapable of thinking straight now.
Imai turned away from the fire, lying curled up on his side as he let the chill that he felt and the hunger in his stomach add to his misery. Loneliness gnawed at his chest as he stared blankly at the wall of the cave, mumbling to himself, “Atsushi, where are you?”