Visions: Journey to Shenkuu - Part Three
There was no time left. The Wocky pulled back the string, sure of his aim. Nil had to act without flaw or hesitation or else the Lupe would die. She pulled the compass from her small bag of supplies and ran up to the Wocky, hoping to hit his head to throw him off or catch his bow, but the string released. “No!” Nil shouted, throwing the compass quickly. It met the arrow in mid-air, and they both hit the ground below, only a foot away from the Lupe.
The Wocky turned on her, a mad rage in his eyes. He was only stopped by a sudden cry from the crowd.
“Up there! On the rooftop!”
“Get the killer! Get him!”
“Guards, go up there, now!”
Nil immediately turned and fled, acting purely on instinct. Someone cried out, “Get the Kyrii! She’s the killer!” but this didn’t affect her pace in the slightest way.
She ran to the closest roof and jumped off onto it, feeling arrows fly through the air as the guards tried to shoot her down. Once her feet hit solid ground, she kept on running, bounding over rooftop after rooftop, trying not to look behind her.
They’re big, bulky guards, she consoled herself. They have weapons and armor to haul about. I only have myself and a few supplies to carry.
Suddenly, she came to a halt. There were no more rooftops that she could use and the one she had just left already had guards on it, some aiming their bows at her. Then, one of them caught her eye.
It was a red Xweetok, dressed in a brown cloak and clothes. He seemed too young to be a guard, and certainly too rough. Plus, he didn’t take a position among the ranks, but rather ran towards the edge of the roof, as if he was going to jump. The guards were trying to stop him, too.
Who is he, then? she wondered, backing up to the edge of her roof.
“Run!” the Xweetok yelled, wildly waving his arm towards the side of the roof. “There’s a ladder you can use. Run!”
Without another thought, Nil ran to the side, stumbling slightly over something she didn’t see, thanks to her blind eye. She quickly recovered and reached the other side, peering over. It took a moment, but she found the ladder the Xweetok had talked about.
Nil looked up and spotted the Xweetok. He was already on her roof and halfway to her. Still, she took hold of the latter and quickly descended, just as an arrow flew overhead.
She reached the bottom quickly, and took off running, the Xweetok following behind.
“Stop following me!” she called back.
“Just until we lose the guards,” he replied, and that ended further discussion.
The two ran madly through the streets, ducking through crowds and alleyways and sometimes even houses. Eventually, they slipped away beneath an abandoned fruit stand, leaving the remaining guards who had managed to tail them wandering about the market, hopelessly lost and confused.
“That was fun,” the Xweetok said, smiling at her.
Nil just glared and peeked over the stall. “Thank you, you can go now.”
The Xweetok shook his head. “I’m not going. Not yet, at least. I want to know why the guards were after you, first.”
“They... they thought I was trying to kill some Lupe,” she replied, crouching behind the stall once more.
Nil just glared at him. “I don’t know who. He was standing in the middle of a crowd, talking. Everyone was listening it seemed.”
“Was he wearing armor?”
“Yes. Do you know who he is?”
“Of course I do! How does anyone not know who King Altador is, especially someone who lives in Altador?”
“The city is named after the King?” Nil asked, dumbfounded.
“Yes, you didn’t know that? It’s common knowledge.”
Nil looked over the edge of the stall again. “Well, forgive me for living under a rock. I don’t know much about the world.”
The Xweetok smiled again, irking Nil further. “Still, you live in Altador...”
“No, I don’t, and I don’t plan on staying. So if you’ll excuse me, the guards are gone.” She stood fully and began to climb over the stall, but the Xweetok pulled her down.
“They’re not gone. Not yet. It’s too soon to come out.”
Nil sat on the ground again, turning away from the Xweetok. “And how do you know so much about the guards?”
He smiled once more. “I’m running from them all the time. The name’s Karan, by the way. I’m a thief. Who are you?”
“Nil, now leave me alone.”
Karan rolled his eyes at her. “Come on. At least tell me your name. You’d be dead or in the dungeons without my help.”
“I’m not kidding. My name is literally Nil. Can I leave now?”
The Xweetok took a glance over the edge, and then nodded. “If you want. I can help you, though.”
“No thanks, I’ll be fine on my own,” Nil replied, climbing over the stand and ducking into a nearby alley. She quickly realized that Karan had followed her and stopped to glare at him.
“I’ve lived here for longer than you,” he explained. “I know the guards’ routines and the layout of the city. You know neither.”
“I won’t be staying for long, so it doesn’t matter,” she replied, striding away once more. “Leave me alone.”
“Yes, you can.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Why can’t you, then?” Nil snapped. “Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
Karan’s expression changed as he began to realize the kind of Neopet he was dealing with. “Well, I’d rather not use this reason, but you owe me for helping you out, so I want to stick with you until you pay me back somehow.”
Nil took a deep breath, resisting the urge to hit him and run. Why’s he so determined to get in the way? she wondered, looking the Xweetok up and down. It doesn’t make sense, and he isn’t the kind of Neopet who cares about being paid back for something like that. He seems to want to cause as little trouble as possible.
“What is the real reason?” she asked finally. “Why are you bothering me so much?”
Karan was about to say something, but then shut his mouth. “It’s personal. Still, let me help you until you leave.”
“Fine,” Nil replied. “I’ll be leaving as soon as possible for Shenkuu, though.”
Nil almost froze in fear. I let that slip out? How could I? Why would I? She nodded. “Yeah, is that a problem?”
“No, it’s just, aren’t you going to get more supplies?” he asked, beginning to lead her along the street. “It’s a two day journey by boat, probably four or five by foot. There’s no way you can fit five days’ worth of food in that satchel.”
Drat! I didn’t think it’d be that long, she thought, cursing herself for not getting more supplies before leaving.
“I didn’t know how long it’d be, okay?” Nil finally said, adjusting the satchel as she spoke. “I’ve never even been outside Faerieland.” She winced when she realized what she had said.
“Wait, you made it across to Altador from Faerieland with only that thing holding your food?” Karan asked, staring wide-eyed at the satchel.
“Uh, where are we going?” she asked, trying to shift topics.
They had entered a dockland from what she gathered from the boats and fishing supplies. Crates and ropes were stacked up along the docks as crew members hurried to load or unload them. Some looked rather nasty, and others were new to the trade and still acted friendly. There was a salty smell in the air, and it stirred something within her, but she wasn’t sure what.
“My house,” Karan replied, casually striding through the crowds. “It’ll be dark soon, so I’d thought we’d spend the night there. Is that alright?”
“So you’re a thief with a house,” she surmised, glancing at the different homes stacked along the edges of the harbor. Many already were lit by candles, and a few were even darkened with the curtains drawn.
“Yeah, I got it when my father was lost at sea,” he explained. “He went out fishing and didn’t come back. My mother had left us years before, so the household fell to me. There weren’t any debts, since our family was with King Altador when he began building Altador, so I’m the one and only owner.”
“Why don’t you sell it instead of stealing?” she asked as they walked towards a two-story house that really did look as ancient as the city.
“Well, part of it’s because of the fact that I don’t understand house prices, but most of it comes from the history behind it. I just can’t give it up.” He approached the door and opened it. “After you,” he said, stepping aside with the door wide open.
Nil reluctantly went in, keeping her senses alert just in case the Xweetok tried something on her. However, nothing happened and she looked about the room as Karan locked the door behind him.
It was a gathering room, from what she could tell. Most of it was empty, aside from a couple of chairs. There were two doorways off in the corner, one leading to the kitchen and the other holding a stairway. Along the walls were a few candle holds, most of them burnt down to the bottom, though a few still had some wax remaining.
“Rooms are upstairs,” Karan reported, pointing to the stairway. “I’ll sleep in my dad’s room and you can have mine.”
“Thanks, but I’d rather sleep by the door,” Nil replied coldly, setting her satchel on one of the chairs.
“Suit yourself,” he replied, and then walked off to the kitchen.
Nil’s stomach growled and she realized just how hungry she was. The Faerie Pastry she'd managed to snag before she left for the tower hadn’t been very filling and all the running she did used up most of her energy.
“You want something to eat?” Karan asked, putting his head through the doorway. “I have a couple of loaves of bread and some fruit.”
“Yes, please,” she replied, going into the kitchen with him.
It was empty aside from a crate and a small fireplace with a tea pot that sat on a couple of sticks. Karan pulled a couple of loaves of Altadorian bread from the crate and a handful of dried dates.
“Here,” he said, handing her half of the food. “It’s not much, but it’s all I have. I didn’t get much thieving in tonight running around with you.”
“Thanks,” she said, actually sincere. “So, I guess I’m stuck with you for awhile. Can you tell me exactly how the city works? I don’t want to get into any more trouble than I’m already in.”
“Sure,” Karan replied, and explained the different thief groups’ territories. He also told her about different ways to sneak in on an unsuspecting vendor and steal some food or money. It seemed fairly straightforward, and Nil was surprised at how easy it was compared to Faerieland. When prodded, she told him of the hard thefts she had to do on a regular basis to stay alive, trying to hold back some so as not to become friendly or even attached to the Xweetok.
As the two thieves talked, they ate their food, eating it slowly so that they savored each bite. Eventually, it was Karan who suggested they rest, and Nil almost wanted to join him upstairs, but then she recalled that he was still a stranger, and a thief. She forced herself to sleep by the door, but still, a part of her longed to take the offer to sleep on a bed.
How long has it been since I slept in one? she wondered as she lay under the door, curled into a ball with her cloak over her. It must have been months, maybe even a year, since she had even just a pillow. The last time she had slept in a bed was the night before...
Yes, before it happened, she thought bitterly, tightening the ball she was in. This was the way she slept that first night out on the streets, scared and alone, and she always returned to this position whenever she remembered the tragedy that had occurred.
Her paw touched the earring and a single tear rolled down her cheek from the sad memories. It’s in the past now, she reminded herself, trying to close out the painful feelings. It’s not important anymore.
A voice within her, though, quietly asked, Then why can’t you just forget it?
She whispered to herself, “I don’t know,” and silently cried herself to sleep.
To be continued...