Ruined Library: Part Seven
Within a day's passing Lae had enough time to decipher her thoughts on Fericeus. She found she did not quite like him at the moment. Not at all.
He had willingly sent her and Akorri off into danger for his own ends. It didn't matter that they were safe; what mattered was that Fericeus had been ready to risk their lives for himself. She paled, remembering any act of kindness Feri had offered her, and saw them only as hollow courteousness now. They were meant to equals; they were meant to be family. It wasn't in her destiny to be his servant.
She shared her thoughts with the group as they sailed through the morning sky on Shady, fully aware that Kiyake was listening and would try to defend her friend.
"I told you, he's doing it all for a good reason," she insisted, her high voice unusually sombre. "You just gotta trust him."
"I don't know if I can." Laerya licked her dry lips, remembering that they needed to find supplies quickly. At least they would be heading towards a town soon; she could see buildings in the distance.
"You can't trust anyone," Akorri muttered.
"I think you're the one with the trust issues, boy," Lae protested as flatly as she could. No need to get riled up, she thought.
"Why can't you just admit to yourself that you don't like Fericeus? Or is hating someone a crime to you?"
"I don't hate Fericeus."
"Bet you hate me, though." Akorri smiled darkly, his head lowered so his eyes looked up at Lae in a kind of malicious glare.
She could barely stop herself from wincing. "You've given me no reason to hate you." Every day, Akorri seemed to dig deeper into her thoughts. Every day, he was able to point out exactly what she was thinking. It was extremely unnerving by this point.
"Bet you hate me for pushing the old Akorri down so far he'll never be able to crawl back up," he sneered.
"Enough, Mr. Grumpy!" Kiyake interjected before Lae could reply.
Akorri stared at Kiyake for a good few moments, contemplating something, before looking away and shrugging. Even the bright faerie Xweetok shivered as his gaze left her.
They flew on in silence. Kiyake did not speak, save for a few noncommittal murmurs. Lae spoke even less, and surprisingly the one who shared the most words was Jinny, but that was only to command Shady to fly higher or lower. Silence had never been more unsettling.
It continued this way until the town they saw from the sky was finally close enough to get a few details in; it was an island, for starters, and there weren't many buildings, most of them modest in their size and colouration, indicating that they were approaching a quiet civilisation. Not that Lae minded – she didn't much miss the bustling city of Neopia Central, and preferred quaint villages to metropolises.
They landed on the dock, and Lae noticed there were no ships resting. She didn't know what to think about that.
As she slid off Shady, she looked around and noticed the town was not active with many Neopets. A few walked by here and there, but for the most part it appeared empty.
"Where is everybody?" Kiyake asked, flying down to stand beside Lae. "And what kind of island is this if there are no ships?" She frowned in thought. "It kinda looks like Krawk Island. But less pirate-y."
She was right. From what Lae could see, some of the buildings did remind her of Krawk Island – the large old building some distance away looked vaguely like The Golden Dubloon – but that might as well have been where the resemblance ended.
"I don't recognise this place," Kiyake went on, "doesn't even look like a place Feri's been to either."
"Maybe it's like Greenglade?" Laerya suggested. "It exists, but Neopian maps don't take notice of it."
"That might be why there doesn't seem to be many Neopets about," Jinny remarked from beside Laerya.
"But they gotta buy food and drink from some place, right?" said Kiyake. "So I'll bet there's some market somewhere round here where we can buy our supplies. Yep?"
"Yep," Lae agreed with a decisive nod. "Let's go into the town."
They moved on, leaving Shady waiting at the dock, where he was content to swim in the sea for a while. As they went into the town, more signs of life appeared: some groups of Neopets walked past, paying Laerya's group no heed as they chatted to each other about nothing in particular. It reminded Lae of Neopia Central and she smiled, heartened by the familiarity.
They could tell by increasing noise that they were approaching the market, and the scent of fish wafted towards them. Lae wrinkled her nose in disgust, as did everyone else except for Kiyake, who opened her mouth and started salivating, her tail wagging like a Warf's.
"We should definitely get some fish," she said. "Ooh, I hope they have fish pops! Especially blueberry fish pops, I love those!"
"You would," Lae sighed, not at all surprised by Kiyake's strange taste, but she grinned at Jinny's shocked expression.
"Blueberry fish pops? Neopia has those?" the Kyrii croaked.
"I guess they taste just like blueberry rather than blueberry and fish," said Laerya. "Or at least, I hope."
The group headed for the market, and all at once were surrounded by many different stalls, with the biggest being for fruits and vegetables and, surprisingly, the type of gross foods one would find in the Haunted Woods. Laerya steered clear away from that stall, and had to pull Kiyake away so she would not buy a grubwich. She did however allow the Xweetok to buy a blueberry fish pop, much to Kiyake's delight, and they finished their shopping with a hearty amount of fruit and even some omelettes to take away. Drinks came even easier, and they bought a few large bottles of water to keep them hydrated.
All in all, a successful trip. With stocks replenished, Laerya felt a little more at ease now. That was until Akorri halted just in front of a building, bending over and shuddering as purple sparks passed through his body.
Lae hadn't even noticed he wasn't with them until she heard sounds of him retching; he'd been quiet up until that point. She whipped around, gasping in fear as she saw him doubled over on the street, body convulsing as the purple sparks continued to charge through him. Luckily no one was around to see him and cause a commotion, so she rushed up to him and put a hand on his back to try and steady him.
Jinny and Kiyake watched in shock, and then, forgetting herself, Jinny planted her body in front of Akorri and put her hands on his shoulders. He took her outstretched arms and pulled himself up with them, and she didn't even flinch as his weight tried to pull her down.
The sparks passed through Akorri, but did not reach Jinny even as the two of them connected, and he stayed like that, shaking on her arms for a good few minutes.
"What's happening?" Laerya asked worriedly, "Akorri, are you okay?"
"Akorri, hey, speak up!" Kiyake ran circles around them frantically. "Come on, be okay, please!"
The red Xweetok gritted his teeth as he tried to reply. "Bad... bad attack... it hurts..."
"What do you mean?" Lae pressed. She hated seeing Akorri like this, looking so weak and pitiful, and, for the first time in a while, more like his old self.
"I can actually feel the magic in me," Akorri explained painfully. "Kind of like a stomach ache... but... like a fever too..."
Jinny, with the same stone cold face as always, held on to Akorri determinedly. She didn't seem fazed by his shuddering.
"You're feeling like yourself, though, right?" asked Lae.
Akorri whipped around to stare at her incredulously in spite of himself. "As much as I can feel like myself with all this magic coursing through me."
"Fericeus said we're supposed to encourage you when you show signs of your former self, but how can we do that if you're in pain?" Laerya was practically whining, and she never whined. The purple Cybunny pulled at her ears in frustration, detesting the way the magic sparks trailed through Akorri's arms, legs and tail.
"Oh, oh, I know! Talk to him about a fond memory or something," Kiyake suggested, "that might distract him from the pain."
Akorri groaned as he held tight to Jinny. The Kyrii allowed a hint of worry to show in her face before it was gone.
Laerya thought hard for a fond memory of Akorri's. Did she know any? Certainly none of them were when she was with him; the two argued too many times to have any 'fond memories'. "What's a fond memory you have?" she asked.
Akorri wheezed as he replied, "I don't know!"
"Just think of something good!" Kiyake pressed. "Anything that makes you happy!"
He appeared to have done as she suggested, because his tense muscles slowly unwound and he stopped shuddering, though the sparks still flowed through him. Akorri still held on to Jinny for support, and did not meet her eye, instead staring at the ground in a daze. His shallow, rapid breathing slowed, and he exhaled deeply before closing his eyes and shaking his head.
Slowly, the attack passed. Akorri stayed in that position until he felt confident enough to be able to stand on his own. He let go of Jinny, stood up straight and rubbed his eyes. But, instead of them being the same red eyes that Laerya was familiar with, they were tinged ever so slightly with purple. The subtlety would have been missed by anyone who did not know Akorri well, but Laerya saw it, and she didn't know what to make of it – but it terrified her.
"Mr. Grumpy's back," Kiyake announced. She noticed the change in Akorri as well.
Akorri merely glared at everyone in turn before marching off towards Shady. Somehow Laerya found his silence more unsettling than when he insulted her. At least then she knew exactly what was on his mind. Wincing, she went after him, for once feeling like the follower rather than the leader. It was a strange thing, submitting to his anger, for she never did so; her pride didn't allow it. But this time she'd lost herself under his scrutinising gaze and it was all she could do to keep her thoughts her own. Her mind had gone blank.
They followed listlessly, even Kiyake. She must have sensed that now was not the appropriate time for talking, so she zipped her lip. Laerya was grateful until she realised the silence left her alone to her thoughts. She shook her head, trying to push them away. She never liked her thoughts; they were always too grim and completely the opposite of the perky persona she put up.
Well... it was a persona now, anyway. Even a year ago it wouldn't have been. Before Lorelei came into the picture, Laerya had been carefree and wild – she still was, to some extent, but now that she had to shoulder some responsibility and be a leader for her band (especially Akorri), she felt tied down by worry and exhaustion. Constantly fretting over her friends' lives or Lorelei's plans took its toll, and Laerya finally noticed.
She didn't often worry about herself, and detested self-pity. But if there ever was a time she should be hypocritical, it was now. It was Akorri she was meant to be worried about, but that in turn affected her as well, and she ended up wondering what she had done to deserve this.
As soon as that thought crossed her mind, she pushed it away in a blaze of fury. She wasn't the one constantly in pain, but she did feel like her personality was shifting, like Akorri's.
"Laerya?" Kiyake's voice snapped Lae out of her reverie. "We're waiting for you to board."
Laerya blinked, taking in Shady's large shape and the passengers aboard him. She didn't realise she could lose herself in her mind quite so badly. With a nod, she joined the others, taking her place next to Kiyake and sitting as far away from Akorri as the saddle allowed.
The red Xweetok had his eyes closed, and Laerya couldn't help thinking it was better that she not see the rage they held. Instead she focused on the sensation of being lifted into the air as Shady spread his wings and took off into the sky, tail streaming behind him.
"You reckon the library's close?" asked Kiyake, taking out her fish pop from one of the bags.
"We're already past Krawk Island, so I think we'll reach it tomorrow," Lae said with more hope in her voice than her heart.
"Is there any point?" Akorri spoke up. "I'm far gone."
"Don't say that," Lae snapped. The last thing she wanted was for Akorri to voice her fears – again.
"Ah, you know it's true," the Xweetok went on, having somehow sensed Laerya's discomfort. "What's to stop me from pushing you all overboard and diverting Shady off-course, so you never get to find this library?"
Laerya tried to block him out. He was only toying with her. He still wasn't dangerous. Was he?
"You push me off and I'll make it so you have no arms to do so," Jinny warned in such a calm, collected voice she may as well have said, "Nice weather today." Laerya swallowed, biting her lip in apprehension. Jinny never made threats.
"Please." Akorri opened his eyes and stared at the back of Jinny's head. "You wouldn't hurt me."
Laerya opened her mouth to protest, "You wouldn't hurt us, eith—"
But a sharp sting in her ear cut her off. She gasped more in shock than pain, immediately grabbing her ear to nurse it. Yet as soon as she did that, an icy shard flew past her vision, just missing Kiyake. The faerie Xweetok squeaked in surprise.
Laerya snapped her head to see a familiar Ice Korbat speeding towards her, her wings flapping faster than they should.
She heard Kiyake exclaim, "That's Yuli!" before she whipped out her blaster and fired at the Korbat without hesitation. They were too close now to let anything distract them. The blasts demanded precision, and Laerya waited before firing again.
Yuli dived out of the blaster's way, inching ever closer to the group. "There's too much riding on this to let you escape again!" she growled, grabbing onto Shady's tail before the Gallion had a chance to swing it.
"She's actually going to climb aboard?" Kiyake breathed, watching as Yuli crawled towards the saddle.
"That's idiotic of you," Lae sneered, all friendliness forgotten in the heat of danger. There was a time and a place for such things. "You're basically letting yourself get hit!" She pulled the blaster's trigger.
Despite being well within the blaster's range, the shot still missed, but not because of Lae's aim – Akorri had jerked her arm just as she fired, causing the shot to hit empty air below.
Rage gave way to surprise, and Laerya didn't stop to think why Akorri did that. She couldn't let her fear be confirmed. She grabbed Akorri's wrist and glared at him, and he met her stare with more ferocity than she could muster.
Jinny took over, throwing a ball of dark magic at Yuli. The Korbat was still inching forward and flinched as the ball struck her, but she kept going. It was almost as if she knew she had an ally aboard the Gallion.
Said ally and Laerya were locked in their baleful glares, and all Lae could manage to say was, "Why?"
Akorri swung a punch at the Cybunny, but Laerya was quick enough to block it, grabbing his fist with her free hand, the blaster dropped and ignored. "Why not?" he replied simply.
"I'm not going to hit you, Akorri, so don't provoke me."
Jinny continued to try and ward off Yuli, but the Korbat had some fierce persistence, merely flinching at each attack before continuing to climb. Shady tried to make it difficult for her by flinging his tail around, but Yuli clung on with grim determination.
Kiyake watched, appalled, her blue eyes bulging, muscles tense. She looked ready to spring at Yuli.
Laerya's breath was coming in ragged gasps, anger giving her strength, but the reality of the situation was threateningly close to dawning on her. "Akorri, back away. Stop this."
Akorri wrenched his arm free from Lae's grasp and stood up, the speed at which Shady flew having no effect on his balance. "I should've just left you to the Haunted Woods."
And there it was. It hit Laerya so hard she stumbled, all her rage gone in an instant. To react so badly to those words was to admit that the Haunted Woods incident held more significance than she had known. She wasn't just frustrated at Akorri for seeing her at her weakest; she was glad he did.
And now Akorri regretted saving her life.
The severity of the situation finally reached her and she directed her attention to Yuli, desperate to get rid of the Korbat, so sure that she was tempting Akorri to act on his thoughts.
The ice Korbat was so close now that she could actually reach out and touch Jinny. The Kyrii tried to swat her away, but Yuli held on to the saddle's edge and hurled herself onto it, standing precariously close to the group.
"Is hand-to-hand combat more your style?" Laerya asked viciously, sending out a kick towards the Korbat.
Yuli blocked it and reacted with several quick punches at Lae's arm. They did not hurt much. Laerya frowned in suspicion; what was Yuli doing?
She had her answer in an instant. The Korbat formed an ice spear in her hands so large it could hit the whole group with one swing. And that was what she tried to do.
Laerya and Kiyake ducked out of the way and Jinny deflected it with magic before it could hit Akorri.
If they were hit, they would all be thrown off-balance and fall into the sea below. Laerya wasn't sure her group could swim, and it was a long drop...
"Shady, dive!" Jinny instructed just before Yuli could swing the spear again.
Shady furled his wings and shot towards the sea. Lae's stomach reacted before her brain did and she couldn't even scream as she lost her footing, the horrible sensation of falling about to grip her.
"Kiyake, grab Lae!" Jinny yelled as she latched on to Akorri, for she was closest to him. In a moment she sprouted strange ethereal wings and she and Akorri were also thrown overboard by the vicious wind that sprouted from Shady's dive.
Laerya felt Kiyake's small paws squeeze her waist and heard the Xweetok's grunts as she struggled to hold Lae and flap her wings at the same time. "Oh, you're heavier than I thought you'd be," she panted.
Lae was too stunned and choked by fear to reply. There she was, hovering in midair, held by a precariously weak grip. There was nothing but air beneath her feet.
In the panic, Yuli had dropped her spear and was knocked out of Shady's saddle, but her wings reacted quickly. She was up in the air immediately and in much better condition than Laerya's group because her two hands were free.
Laerya could do nothing but watch as Yuli prepared another spear, and this time she wasn't going to swing it.
To be continued...