Undisguised Devotion: Part Two
Also by ch0c0lat3kik0
"Adrian! Adrian, come back!!" Kaylee screamed into the fading light. She had followed her brother into the woods but always kept an anxious eye on the house. She finally stopped when all she could see of her home was a tiny speck of light from her living room window. Kaylee stared at her brother’s tracks in the snow before glancing back to the house. She had to go after Adrian. He couldn’t stay outside all night! But, if she went by herself and something happened... what then? Slowly, reluctantly, Kaylee turned to head for home. Erin would help her, and they would find him.
Kaylee blew through the back door and into the living room without so much as stomping off her boots. Erin heard the door slam and turned around from her seat on the couch.
"Hey Kay," Erin greeted her. "How are you -- hey," she added sharply, eyeing Kaylee's boots and the snow she had tracked into the house, "why didn't you take off your boots? I've told you a million times not to --"
"Adrian's run away," Kaylee interrupted. Erin's eyes widened in shock.
"Run -- run away?" she stammered. "He can't have. He can't have!" Her voice rose to a hysterical shout.
"Well, he has," said Kaylee shortly. "Are you going to come help me find him, or what?" Erin hesitated before nodding. She walked dazedly to the closet and took out her coat and boots. She pulled them on slowly but deliberately, and by the time Erin stepped outside her expression was hardened and decisive.
"Let's go," she said to Kaylee, leading the Shadow Ruki out of the door and shutting it firmly behind her.
Snowflakes drifted down from the sky and thickened the white blanket already in place. Lights flickered in the windows of neohomes, and Adrian assumed that the occupants of the neohomes were lighting a fire. He tried to imagine the fire's warmth, and pictured a happy scene where he, Kaylee, and Erin were all chatting next to each other by the fireplace. He could almost smell the smoke and see the firelight -- almost.
Adrian shivered, rubbing his palms together to create some warmth. He shot a glance at Snowball, who was sauntering happily by his side, checking to see that he wasn't too cold. He wasn't. The Snicklebeast seemed to be having the time of his life. Adrian's mouth twitched in a weak smile. "Glad to see you're pleased," he croaked, shivering more violently. Cold pierced every part of his body, and under his mittens his yellow paws were turning blue.
‘We have to find somewhere to stay,’ the Kyrii thought, gazing through the treetops to the wide-open sky beyond. He and Snowball were slowly ascending the mountain, and warm, inviting neohomes were becoming sparse. Stories of stranded hikers surviving in ice caves flashed briefly through Adrian’s mind, but he quickly shoved those thoughts aside. There was no way he and Snowball could spend a night in weather like this, but by staying at someone’s home they ran the risk of being found. Adrian wasn’t even too sure why he was running away. He desperately wanted to keep Snowball, but at the cost of never seeing Erin or Kaylee again? Adrian slowly turned toward the bottom of the mountain and caught glimpses of those cozy neohomes once more. Just then a sharp gust sliced through the Kyrii’s fur and threatened to drive the pair off the mountain. Adrian stumbled forward and gasped as the pain from his numbed feet shot through his legs.
“We can’t do this. C’mon, Snowball...” Adrian looked around, but the Snicklebeast was nowhere to be seen. The wind had picked up considerably, and the Kyrii squinted through the darkness for any sign of Snowball. Adrian’s heart leapt into his throat when he heard a small whimper over the roaring wind, and he dragged himself toward a thin crevice in the packed snow.
"Snowball!" Adrian cried, spotting the little Snicklebeast stuck in the crevice. He stared down at Snowball, who was whimpering in despair and raking his claws along the icy walls. Tears trickled down the Kyrii's face as he looked at Snowball, whose bright orbs met his own. Adrian clenched his fists, which was difficult with how numb his paws were.
"I'll save you, Snowball!" he declared. Adrian stretched as far as he could, but he couldn’t even reach the petpet’s scratches in the walls. Believing in no other option, the Kyrii took a deep breath before squeezing himself down into the crevice. Snowball squealed happily and rushed over to him. He leapt into Adrian's arms and settled himself there, sighing contently. Adrian, on the other hand, was so cold that he could barely move. Snow fluttered all around him, covering Adrian's body in a white blanket. He cried softly, "Help, please," before blackness overwhelmed him.
Floating. Adrian was floating, drifting in a sea of unconscious thought. He felt nothing: no fear, no pain, no guilt. The Kyrii was convinced he could happily drift in that ocean for the rest of time. The world seemed a dim memory to him. Adrian tried to remember what it had been like. A hazy image appeared before his eyes, a girl with long auburn hair. Adrian wondered if he had some sort of connection with this girl; he wasn’t entirely sure. A second figure materialized near the first: a shadow Ruki. This image was sharper than the first, and the Kyrii knew that this was his sister, Kaylee. Kay. Adrian felt the slightest twinge of remorse stir beneath his chest; to stay adrift in his ocean would mean to never see these people, who he believed to be his family, again. As he considered this still a third image appeared: Snowball. The little Snicklebeast was terrified. Suddenly, Adrian’s memories came flooding back. He knew that he and Snowball were still in that ice crevice, and he knew they were in serious trouble. He knew if he never woke up his family would never know he was sorry for running away, and at the moment Adrian was in great danger of never waking up.
He began to struggle against the current, attempting to return to the conscious world. Fighting seemed to make the flow stronger, but Adrian wasn’t about to give in. Slowly, pieces of the world he had left returned. He heard the wind racing over the mouth of the crevice, and the soft whimpering of his friend. He could feel Snowball clinging to his chest. Adrian fought all the harder. The current’s ferocity continued to increase, joined by swells that crashed down upon him and further hindered his progress.
‘Help. Please, help,’ Adrian thought. He was losing his struggle, and the little feeling in his body was nearly gone. Adrian strained his ears for any sign that someone was nearby. At first there was only the howling wind, but he soon heard a distant cry that it carried. The Kyrii began flailing desperately against the current. Another voice added its call to the first; his family was looking for him. Adrian screamed inside his mind; there was no way to contact his family. Suddenly a third voice rose above the wind: Snowball’s. The petpet’s calls brought the voices closer, and soon Adrian was positive that he would be found. The question that worried him, though, was if he would be found breathing or not. The ocean of his mind had formed a violent maelstrom that threatened to swallow him whole. Adrian threw the last of his strength against the current. He heard frantic voices above and imagined Erin and Kaylee peering down at his motionless form. The torrent of his mind gradually died down to a peaceful sea once more, and Adrian suddenly felt as though rising. He shuddered at the thought of his ghost flying out of a lifeless body, but thankfully his frame responded to the pull as well. The Kyrii felt himself laid upon the snowy ground while being wrapped in a heavy blanket. He caught one clear phrase before the darkness snatched his senses away.
Adrian groaned. He thought he heard Kaylee calling for him to wake up, but he didn't want to wake up yet. He rolled over and released a small moan; his body was like lead, and he ached all over. It felt like Terror Mountain was sitting on his chest. Giving in to Kaylee's prompt at last, Adrian opened his eyes. He discovered that he really did have a mountain planted on top of him, if only a mountain of blankets. At its peak the conquering mountaineer dozed, curled up in a bundle of thick white fur. Adrian let out a pent-up sigh. At least Snowball was okay.
"Adrian?" a voice whispered.
"Kaylee," the word parted his lips before he even realized it. Adrian tried to sit up, but the blankets made it impossible when he was so weak.
"Are you alright?" Kaylee asked in a worried voice. She noticed that he was shivering slightly, even with the blankets covering him. "Hold on, I'll be right back," she promised. Her voice couldn't have been gentler.
Adrian nodded. In an instant, or so it seemed to him, Kaylee returned to his side.
“Here, this’ll warm you up,” the Ruki said with just a hint of a smile. She plunked a steaming mug down onto the nightstand, and when Adrian had craned his neck so far that he was sure he must have turned into an Ogrin, he realized he was staring into a mug of hot chocolate. His face immediately broke into that lopsided grin that his sister was so fond of. She knelt next to the Kyrii’s bed and flashed a shaky smile of her own.
“Remember when you were a little kid?” Kaylee thought back to the incident that they both found so amusing. “You wanted to open your own coffee shop that only sold hot chocolate, which didn’t really make sense in the first place.” Kaylee was babbling, and she knew it. But, talking calmed her nerves a bit, and she continued. “Erin had just bought a can of that special hot chocolate mix she was saving for a special day, and you drank it all ‘testing’ drinks for the menu.” Talking about the good times kept her mind off of the events of the past couple days, and she liked it that way. Kaylee played with the frayed corner of one of Adrian’s quilts. A slight chuckle escaped her as she looked into her brother’s face. “Do you remember...” Kaylee’s sentence died in her throat.
The entire time that she had been rambling on like an idiot, Adrian had been struggling to sit up. He hadn’t made it far, and he slouched against the headboard, panting. His movements woke little Snowball, who bounced about excitedly when he saw his friend awake. Kaylee snatched up the petpet and plopped him onto a nearby pillow sitting on the floor. She then leapt to her feet and gently lifted her brother into a sitting position. She picked up the mug and pressed it into his open paws. The surface rippled as a few renegade tears plunged into the drink. Kaylee rubbed her eyes sniffed a bit. When she finally brought herself to look at her brother again, her face told him a thousand things that could never be said. He told her what she needed to know with a look of his own. I’m not mad at you. I’m sorry. It wasn’t your fault. I’ll be okay. This last meant more to Kaylee than he would ever know.
Slowly, the two seemed to awake as if from a dream. They could hear the dying wind pass through the forest. It was only a soft murmur now; the snow had stopped some time ago. The sun peaked through a break in the clouds and found its way through Adrian’s window. The Kyrii threw his sister a grateful smile as he brought the long-forgotten mug to his lips. He took a small sip and felt the warm liquid trickle down his throat. Adrian had finished half of the drink before he brought it down to rest in his lap. He stared into it.
“Last week,” he murmured. Kaylee looked questioningly into his face. “It was last week,” he said, more firmly this time. “I wanted to open the hot chocolate shop last week, not when I was ‘a little kid.’ And I’d like to mention that you were right there with me during Research and Development.” Kaylee just sat and stared at her brother, but a smile soon spread across her face and she began to laugh. She laughed long and loud, and for the first time she truly believed that everything would be okay.