New World: Part Four
I stopped to peek in the doors of the others to check if they were up yet. They all were, except Runner, who was snoring on his floor wrapped up in a blanket. I wondered vaguely what time it was, and how old my new family was.
“Sixteen,” Oathkeeper answered when I asked. He was sitting at the table with an ice pack on a bruise that swelled up overnight.
“Fourteen, and Runner’s twelve,” Looker said, not looking up from the stove where he was making pancakes.
“Kris is out at Happy Valley getting a newspaper, but she won’t tell you her age if you ask,” Oathkeeper said with a smirk.
“How old are you, Lari?” Looker asked, flipping a pancake with a flourish.
“Seventeen summers,” I said, glowing with triumph. I was the oldest!
“How long are your seasons?” Looker asked suspiciously, and he briefly explained the Neopian system of time.
My smile fell and I revised my last statement to match the Neopian time scale. “Fifteen years.”
The others laughed at my sobriety and I half smiled awkwardly. The door banged open and Kris sauntered in with a newspaper tucked under her arm. “Morning, munchkins,” she said, plopping a kiss on Looker’s head and pushing him gently out of the way to finish making breakfast. “How’s everyone feeling?”
“Sore,” Runner answered upon swinging the trap door shut. The red lines on his forehead faded, but now they were replaced with a livid purple bruise.
“Why are you still wearing your practice clothes?” Kris asked incredulously, her eyebrows shooting up to her hair line.
“Um, they’re more comfortable than my regular clothes?” Runner answered awkwardly, maneuvering his four legs into a chair.
“Errp! Wrong answer!” Looker teased. “You never changed out of them last night after dinner!”
“Ew, gross!” Oathkeeper shoved him playfully out of his chair and onto the floor.
“Hey!” Runner launched himself onto Oathkeeper and started a scuffle.
“Hey! HEY! Cut it out, boys! You’ve been way too rowdy lately!” Kris grabbed the table in an attempt to keep it from being knocked over by Runner’s flailing legs.
Oathkeeper pulled away with a snort, and picked his ice pack off the tile floor.
“He started it,” Runner muttered, still sitting on the ground.
“And I ended it. Now sit down at the table like normal civilized beings and eat breakfast!”
I sat at the table meekly and finally figured out the way Kris felt about her pet’s continuous fighting.
She didn’t mind it usually; she was far too used to it to care. She knew they knew enough restraint not to harm each other seriously, but when the playing became fighting, she stepped in to stop it.
Breakfast went slowly; we forced ourselves to make polite conversation for Kris, though I could tell the others wanted to continue the wrestling match.
Runner did the dishes afterwards, and Oathkeeper and Kris departed for their jobs. That left Looker, Runner, and me alone until noon when Oathkeeper would return from his part time job, and then Kris would return around four o’ clock.
Looker retreated to his room to read and Runner was stuck between trying to decide if he should be polite and stay with me or go back downstairs to sleep. I wanted more sleep myself.
“I’m going back to bed,” I announced loudly and went down the trapdoor to my room. Runner happily followed me until he made it to his door, and disappeared inside.
My cloak lay on the floor where I left it last night when I went to sleep. I bent down to pick it up and I heard the curtain swish behind me. The lights were still out, so when I turned around I saw no one. I stood up straight and called out, “Looker? Runner?” No one. I shrugged and didn’t bother to turn my lamp back on to investigate further.
I almost made it to my bed when something gripped my ankle and I fell flat on my face. Something dark, something cold, something like... the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I flipped over on my back. There gripping my ankle was a cursed shadow in the form of a Draik like creature. How did it get here? Did it follow me through the portal? Were there more?
The thing’s claws dug into my ankle and then released. It jumped back and hissed at me. I quickly stood and slipped my shield down from my shoulder onto my arm, just managing to block a barrage of deadly claws. I shivered at the screeching noise and hoped that Looker was too engrossed in his books to notice, and Runner too deep asleep, so they wouldn’t come running and see me attacked by a shadow.
It succeeded in gripping the edge of my shield and yanking it off my arm painfully. It tackled me and held me down, but didn’t make a move to hurt me further. I remembered my words last night on how the shadows were mindless; probably doing only what was told to them. What are this one’s orders if not to kill me?
I could call for help, but the people that were here didn’t need to know of my burden of a secret and the fact that they could be attacked at any moment by living shadows.
So I lay there while the beast held me down, tense but not attacking. The cold that radiated from its body chilled me. It also gave off all kinds of bad vibes and despair that messed with my thoughts. I tried to push them away and focus on breathing.
I lay there and didn’t call out. I didn’t shudder at the pain in my leg. I didn’t attack, for I had no weapon. I didn’t gasp from lack of air. The world I could see past the swirling black of the shadow grew darker.
“Lari! Get up!” My head snapped back to the door to see Oathkeeper standing with the curtain held back and a stunned expression in his face. I unlocked my gritted teeth and asked with my remaining breath, “Why are you back early?” I locked my jaw again to keep from groaning.
“What are you doing letting your opponent hold you down like that?” he retaliated.
I managed to get enough breath to hiss out, “I could use some help.”
Oathkeeper carefully pulled his sword out of its scabbard, so as to not create any noise to alert the others. The mindless shadow did not notice Oathkeeper thus far and had a single minded intensity of squeezing the air out of my lungs and pinning me down for whatever reason.
Oathkeeper swung the sword deftly, and kept it from hitting my body beneath the shadow. The shadow turned at the last minute and saw the silver glistening, then it dissipated into a black fog with a small clicking noise that was all too familiar to me. I covered the noise with a cough.
The weight was finally free from my chest and with it went the feelings of dread and despair. I weakly pushed myself up against the wall and pulled my wounded leg towards me.
“Why didn’t you fight back?” Oathkeeper asked, storing his sword as silently as before. It was still clean, but he shivered as the cold metal made contact with his back. I suspected the cold would linger for a while.
“The living shadows do strange things to you physically and mentally when they touch you. I could hardly breathe; you wanted me to attack?”
Oathkeeper accepted that answer but still had more questions. “Why was it here in the first place? Why didn’t you call for one of the others?”
“And have to tell them about the shadows that stalk me?” I snorted. “Those thing are probably trying to stop the prophecy by killing me. I’m not going to let them!” I very nearly shouted.
I finally made the realization that, even though at first I was so against being chosen to save my people, I wanted to do it now. I wanted to see these creatures gone forever. I wanted to see my world free again. I wanted to do it! I wanted to be sure that the shadows would never again disturb anyone’s peace ever again!
“Calm down!” Oathkeeper shushed me. ”I’m going to get a bandage for your leg just stay still, and call if another one comes.”
I hadn’t noticed that my leg was in worse shape than I originally thought, and now that I did think about it, it hurt quite badly.
I shuddered as my thoughts took a different direction. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the shadows would come back again and attempt to kill me. If I stayed here, my adopted family would be in danger as well. I couldn’t stay here. Even if the Orb was somewhere here, I had to go. Even though the prophecy finally moved a notch or two up my priority list, my family was still number one.
I grabbed a roll of bandages and a towel from the bathroom cabinet and shut it with a snap.
Shadows that were living, shadows that could restrain and kill you. I thought of the grotesque shape it had, like a mutant Draik but pitch black with stubby little wings. No, no, I don’t like them. I don’t like them at all. But why are they here? Did they follow Lari here like he said they might have?
And what was up with that resigned look on his face, it was like he didn’t even care that he might die! What would happen to his world if he died? Why doesn’t he understand how important he is; the fate of his world rests on his shoulders and he wants to shrug it off!
I had to get these questions answered.
I tucked the roll under my arm and peeked cautiously by my brothers’ rooms. Runner was sleeping again. Apparently he changed after Kris’ rebuke; he now only wore the emerald cloak. I had to admit, though; they were much more comfortable than regular clothes.
I walked into Lari’s room and wrinkled my nose at the smell of blood. Lari was slowly sliding down the wall he had been leaning against. His eyes were half open and he looked several shades of green lighter than usual. Blood loss, or after effects of being touched by a shadow? There was so much I needed to know!
I hurried with the wrapping, but made sure it was neat. Lari seemed sort of vacant, staring past my shoulder with a vacant look on his face.
“What’s wrong? Did you have an epiphany while I was gone?” I asked after I toweled up the mess.
“I can’t stay here... not with these shadows following me... It would be putting your family in unnecessary danger. I have to go!” Lari said, swinging his head back and forth in distress.
“Calm down, you’ve lost a lot of blood. Just stay still.”
Lari took a deep breath and said again (his voice less panicked), ”I have to go. I can’t stay anymore. You know Kris never legally adopted me; nothing holds me here.
Lari was willing to leave, even if it meant he would leave his best shot of saving his people behind as well. So he didn’t care about the prophecy. I knew it! I had to make him see what he had to do!
“I’ll come with you.”