Ruined Library: Part Four
Night darkened the sky, yet Shady still flew. Laerya admired the Gallion's persistence and stamina; he was much like her in that way.
The air was cool and crisp, the scent of nature reaching Lae's nose even from up here – it was a special kind of smell, earthy yet fresh, the one that came with the night after a warm day. Not a single breeze blew, save for the gusts generated from the occasional flap of Shady's wings. The stars shone as brightly as ever, even clearer in the sky than usual with no buildings or trees to block them. The full moon glowed as it always did, yet now at this height it was at its most magnificent.
In short, Lae's group was flying through idyllic night scenery.
Normally the Cybunny would not stop to admire nature's beauty, but everything had some kind of charm when on the back of a flying black Gallion. Fields stretched out far down below them, as though they were passing through another area of the Endless Plains far away from the ones Lae traversed when hunting down Vacerus.
Akorri was wide awake, refreshed from his nap from earlier, but his attitude did not reflect that. "This has to be the most boring thing I've ever done," he muttered.
"You know, even the real grumpy Akorri wasn't this whiny," Laerya replied with a sigh, having prepared herself for the Xweetok's scorn to return. "At least he had the decency to keep quiet about his feelings."
"You were the one who told 'the real Akorri' to share his feelings, weren't you, Lae?" Akorri countered. "I'm only doing what you asked of him."
Laerya wanted to protest, biting her tongue to stop herself. She couldn't deny what Akorri said was true. She had always wanted him to be more open and honest... and now it looked as though her efforts were coming back to bite her. "You still there, real Akorri?" she asked instead. "If so, tell this fake Akorri to put a lid on his feelings. You know how to do that best."
"Real Akorri can't hear you, he's asleep," the Xweetok replied with a sneer. "So he can't babysit me now. But don't worry, soon I'll relieve him of his babysitting duties."
The metaphor Akorri used chilled Lae more than she would like. The entire idea of Akorri's personality twisting into something else was eerie – the exact kind of thing Lorelei would do, Lae mused bitterly. "So, fake Akorri, tell me something..." She tried to keep her voice level even though this Akorri was beginning to put her on edge – not with anger, but fear. It was as though she was talking to a different person. "Do you get your kicks from making us miserable?"
"Kind of, yeah," Akorri replied. "But you're more fun to mess with than one-eye over there. Every time I say something she just clams up. More than usual."
Jinny, or 'one-eye' as Akorri called her, stiffened. She sat as far away from him as she could on the saddle, keeping her gaze averted to the sky.
"What do you gain from it?" Lae persisted.
"It's hilarious, riling you up. And it feeds me."
Lae blinked. It hadn't occurred to her that she could prevent the magic manifesting faster if she just ignored Akorri and let him starve, so to speak. "Thanks for telling me that. Now you won't get any supper tonight."
"Oh, I'll get it, one way or another. You're easy to manipulate."
A chill ran down Laerya's spine at those words. That's right... Akorri knows me. She had to turn away from the Xweetok now, her slightly disturbed feeling slowly growing into fear. That means this Akorri knows me too. She calmed herself with the fact that he wouldn't harm her. Or at least, not yet. He couldn't, because the real Akorri was still in there and would take control if he had to. Wouldn't he? Could he?
"W-we need to stop for the night," Jinny interjected nervously. "Shady's getting tired."
"Oh, the big Petpet needs to sleep? Sleep is for the weak," Akorri hissed, crossing his arms.
Laerya just shook her head, peering out, looking for the best area to land. Fields continued to stretch on for ages, mountainous areas surrounding the patches of grass further away. "Nothing for it but to sleep out in the open," she said.
Jinny nodded and took the controller's seat – or that's what Lae called the part of the saddle at the base of Shady's neck, anyway. "Shady, let's land," the Kyrii commanded firmly (quite unlike her, Lae noted). The Gallion grunted in response and slowly let himself drop down.
The ground edged closer and soon the patches of grass became one large patch. When they got close enough, Laerya jumped off Shady and landed harmlessly on the ground. "Phew! It's nice to feel the solid ground beneath my feet."
Only when Shady fully touched the ground with all four paws did Jinny and Akorri hop off. "I'm hungry," Akorri muttered.
"I don't know where we'll be able to find food," Lae sighed. "Grass just stretches on for miles. It's worse than the Endless Plains."
Akorri narrowed his eyes. "You better figure something out."
Lae wanted to protest – somehow she felt responsible for the group being without food (or water, for that matter) – but held her tongue. "I will," she replied evenly. "For now, we'll sleep."
Shady splayed his legs out and rested his head on his paws. Jinny sat down beside him and leaned against his side, just out of reach of his wing.
Seeing as there was no tree to sleep under, Laerya had to resort to sleeping near the big Gallion. She sat down next to Jinny but did not close her eyes until she saw Akorri curl up into a ball on his own in the grass, satisfied that he was going to fall asleep.
She hoped they would reach the island soon. Not by tomorrow, definitely, but... soon. They had to. Even if obstacles got in their way.
Those were Laerya's last thoughts before she fell into a peaceful slumber.
The Cybunny awoke with a start as something cold dropped onto her nose. Her eyes flew open and she closed them almost immediately as water fell on them.
"It's raining," Jinny observed, wincing as a raindrop hit her ear. The damp smell of rain was already in the air.
The shower was mercilessly light for now, but Laerya knew they had to get moving to escape the oncoming downpour. "Can Shady fly in the rain?" she asked Jinny.
"Yes. He isn't bothered by it."
Laerya sprang up onto her legs, stretching her muscles out to wake herself up. "Akorri!" she snapped at the ball of fur. "Wake up, we're going!"
He uncurled slowly, apparently unaffected by the rain. "Afraid of a bit of water?" he sneered.
Jinny woke up the Gallion and climbed on board with Laerya in tow. They had to wait for Akorri to yawn, stretch and rub his eyes before he would board. As soon as his feet touched the saddle Shady took off into the air, flapping his wings to ward off the rain.
"What's your plan now?" Akorri asked Lae. "There's no shelter for miles. We're gonna be soaking wet and it's all because of you."
Laerya rolled her eyes, biting her lip as the rain beat down on her. "Because of me? Since when do I control the weather?"
"No, no, this is all a poor case of leadership on your part." Akorri waved his hand dismissively.
Don't fall for it, don't fall for it, just... make him shut up... Lae's focus was slipping. She couldn't think straight, having just woken up, and the rain really did not help.
Unfortunately another complication was going to add to her ever-growing portion of trouble.
"Shady, duck!" Jinny gasped. Lae's stomach lurched as the Gallion dropped himself for a moment, narrowly avoiding a blast of ice shards that flew right above them so quickly that Lae heard the sharp, high noise whistle past them.
"What on Neopia was that?!" she yelled, looking around wildly for the attacker.
An ice Korbat flew through the air behind them, holding more ice shards in her hands. Her short black hair seemed barely touched by the rain. Her clothing was also black and sleek, probably to keep her streamlined for flying. "So you're Laerya," she said, her voice deep and confident, yet still darkly feminine. "Of all the ways to travel, I didn't think you'd opt for a big Gallion."
Shady flew his body around to face the Korbat. "Who are you?" Lae asked, confused. "How do you know who I am? And why are you attacking us?"
"You ask too many questions," the Korbat replied. "It's a shame you won't hang around long enough for the answers!" With that she hurled more shards at the group with terrifying speed and precision.
Shady reacted first, opening his mouth and spitting out flames that melted the shards before they reached him, even with the rain's downpour strengthened.
Laerya had no idea who this girl was, but she was right – she would not hang around for the answers. With only brief hesitation she whipped out her blaster and aimed it at the Korbat. "Who are you?"
The Korbat reacted by flying out of Shady's reach and firing more shards. This time Jinny deflected them by sending up a gust of air with her magic.
"I'll try again," Lae persisted, keeping her blaster fixed on the Korbat. "Who are you?!"
"There's no reason to tell you," the girl replied, darting away from Lae's blaster. She was fast – too fast. "Now stop defending yourself and make this easy for me." She continued firing the ice shards, getting bigger with each throw.
"Shady, fly!" Jinny ordered. The Gallion roared and lunged at the Korbat, who dodged in turn. Shady tried again, getting higher into the air and biting at the girl; she flew neatly out of the way, getting a good kick at Shady's snout in the process.
Jinny growled with restrained anger and conjured a ball of dark magic from the air, tossing it at the Korbat.
She did not manage to dodge this attack and reeled back from the hit, but charged straight towards Jinny with fire in her eyes.
Laerya could see no other option. She didn't want to use her blaster, she hated using it. But Fericeus was right, and as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. "Leave us alone!" she yelled, firing her blaster at the Korbat.
She screeched as she was struck squarely in the chest, knocking her off her charge. "How dare you hit me!" She formed a large ice shard in the shape of a spear and flung it at Lae.
Shady zipped away before the ice could strike Lae, but it managed to graze her ear as it flew past. Wincing at the pain, she tried to blast the Korbat again.
The ice Neopet swerved out of the way. She was done playing around now; Lae could tell by the serious expression on her face. She flew up into the air, forming another ice spear, except this time it was thicker, but its point still horribly sharp. With a scream she swooped down, straight for Lae's group, she and her spear coming down on them like a rocket.
"No!" Lae snarled, trying to slow the Korbat down by firing her blaster, but the laser that shot forth only bounced off the ice.
There was only a few more precious seconds to react. With a heavy whip of his wings Shady flew out of the spear's way, thumping the Korbat away with his tail as she rushed past. She snarled with fury and dropped the spear, barely stopping her plummeting descent by spreading her wings and catching the air, flying back up to Laerya with menace written all over her face.
Throughout it all Akorri just sat there, taking cover when needed. Laerya felt such great disdain for him at that moment that she wanted to scold him, but getting away from the Korbat was her top priority.
"What do you want with us?" Lae tried again to play nice, even though she knew it was futile.
"Did you really think it would be that easy for you to make it to the library without running into any trouble?" the Korbat sneered, flapping her wings to avoid another strike from Shady's tail.
Lae's heart froze. How did the Korbat know about their mission? Oh... oh, no. Lae figured it out immediately. Lorelei knows what we're doing. This girl must be working for her! "We can't stop to fight," she said urgently to Jinny. "We have to get away now!"
The white Kyrii nodded. "Shady, let's go!"
The Gallion roared again and flew away as fast as he could from the Korbat – which, Lae was pleased to notice, was very fast indeed. Yet the ice girl was persistent and soared after them with almost the same speed.
Laerya had to find a way to slow her down. She swallowed nervously, waiting for the Korbat to fly close enough to be within range of her blaster. Just as the Korbat was getting ready to launch another volley of shards, Laerya whisked out her blaster and fired.
She struck true. The ice Korbat screeched as her wing was hit and she lost her balance, plummeting to the ground.
"That should hold her for a while," Laerya said, though not without regret. She hadn't wanted to resort to that – she didn't like inflicting pain on anyone – but sacrifices needed to be made to protect the others.
Jinny nodded, but kept Shady flying at the same speed just in case. "Keep it up," she said to the Gallion, who flapped his wings to cleanse them of the pouring rain.
To be continued...