The Draik in Black: Pictures of Darkness - Part One
"Marco! Ashton! The photos are back!"
The Zafara practically knocked down the door to his Neohome as he rushed in with an arm full of photographs. The other two residents of his home turned to see him come to a stop at the table in the dining room and spread the photos across it.
"So they're finally done, eh?" Marco said, the Kyrii put his comb away as he finished brushing his long, flowing hair.
"About time, too," Ashton added. The large Skeith had just finished his lunch and was just barely able to get the leftovers off of the table before it was covered in photographs. "I figured that we'd never get our pictures developed from our trip."
"I know, I thought so too," Jack said. The Zafara tried to get all of the pictures straightened out. "But, they're finally done. Now we can officially say that our year-long travel through all of Neopia is complete!"
The other two gave a few sounds of approval as they gathered their own chairs to join Jack at the table in going through the pictures. There were easily over a thousand pictures, possibly tens of thousands considering how active Jack had been with the camera through their trip.
"I thought that you had taken a lot of pictures," Marco said, chuckling a bit as he looked through the various photographs, "but this just proves it. I think you took a picture of everything!"
"Well..." Jack said, blushing a bit, "I wanted to make sure that we got everything that we saw!"
"So," Ashton said, staring at a few photographs that he had in his hand, "How do we want to do this? Separate them by date? Or by who's in the picture? Or based on where we went?"
"Hmmm..." Marco said. "Let's go by land. So we'll keep all the Mystery Island pictures in one pile, Neopia Central in another, Meridell, Haunted Woods, Faerieland, and so on and so on. After that, we'll decide which ones go in the scrapbooks and which ones we frame and which ones we put in our cards to give to friends during the Advent Calendar season."
"We're not going to keep them all?" Jack said.
"I don't think we have enough room in our home to keep them all!" Marco said with a laugh. "Besides, don't you want to show these off to others?"
The Zafara thought for a moment and then nodded. "Yeah, you're right. After all, we did see a lot of sights! I never knew there was so much to see out there in Neopia! We'll have to do this again soon!"
"If we go again, I'll take the pictures," Ashton said, causing the group to laugh as they continued to sort out the photographs.
The trio continued to work together, separating out the pictures that were spread out over the table. For several minutes, they worked in relative silence, occasionally breaking into happy sighs as they relived the memories of their trip through the photos. It wasn't until they were about halfway through the pile that Marco noticed something strange.
"Hey Ashton," the Kyrii said, holding up a photograph. "Do you remember this?"
The Skeith took a look at the photo. "Sure," he said. "That was the day we explored the woods a bit south of the Neopian Bazaar. Look, you can just barely see the flag of the Chocolate Factory over the treetops."
"No, take a closer look. Doesn't something seem a bit odd to you?"
The Skeith took the photo out of his roommate's hands and gave it a quick glance. It was a photo that Jack had taken, showing Ashton and Marco walking through one of the forest paths south of Neopia Central. It wasn't a large woods, but there was enough there to go exploring.
"What am I looking for?" he asked.
"Look there, in the trees," Marco said, pointing to a spot that the Skeith was looking right at in the photograph. "Is it just me, or is someone else in the photo?"
Ashton squinted a bit into the photograph. Sure enough, there was another figure in the picture. "Yeah, there is someone else," he said. "I can't really make him out, though. Oh well, it's not a big deal. You can barely see him. And besides, there are probably plenty of pictures that we took that have others in the background."
"Still, it seems odd," Marco said. "I don't remember seeing anyone else on the trail that day. And look, you're looking right at him in this photo and he looks like he's looking right at the camera. Do you remember seeing anyone like that?"
"Not really," the Skeith said.
"Hey... guys?" Jack said, grabbing the attention of the other two. "By chance, are you talking about a Draik?"
Ashton and Marco looked back into the photo. It was still very hard to make out, but the figure in the picture was definitely Draik-shaped.
"Yeah, he looks like a Draik," Ashton said.
"Dressed entirely in black?" Jack asked.
The duo went back to the picture. It was still hard to make out, given the shadows of the trees, but it looked like the Draik in the picture was indeed dressed all in black.
"Yeah, he's in all black," Marco said. "How did you know? Did you remember seeing him?"
The Zafara shook his head. "No, I just saw this."
Jack pushed another picture towards the group. It was a group shot of the three of them standing in front of the Chocolate Factory. Marco remembered that day, as they had asked a passing Mynci to take the picture for them. The three of them looked happy in the photograph, but Marco soon saw what Jack had meant.
In the background of the picture, barely able to be made out but slightly clearer in this photograph was a Draik dressed entirely in black. Like in the previous picture, he was looking right at the camera.
"Weird..." Ashton said. "I wonder who that guy is?"
"It looks like he doesn't have a face," Jack said. "Like he's wearing a white mask or something."
"Yeah..." Marco said. "It's like he doesn't have any eyes or anything."
"Well," Ashton said. "That's probably just a trick of the light. Or it might be a flaw in the camera or the photograph. Besides, we took those two photos on the same day. He's probably just a local who was walking around. It's a rather unlikely coincidence, but not outside the realm of possibility."
The Skeith nodded at that, knowing that stranger things have happened in Neopia than some random person being in two different pictures at once.
The group might have been a bit unnerved, but Ashton had managed to calm their nerves. However, that sense of relief was short-lived as each member of the group picked up a new picture.
"He's in this one too!" they shouted in unison. They all went wide-eyed and looked at each other.
"This one..." Marco said. "Happy Valley, that shot we got with Mr. Chipper."
The Kyrii pushed the photo forward. The three of them were smiling in front of the Lutari's ice cream cart. Clearly visible in the background of the photo, standing near one of the snow-covered trees, was the Draik in Black, looking right at the camera. What seemed to be more unsettling was that there were several other pets in the photograph, but none of them seemed to notice that he was there, despite standing out in the open like that.
The group looked on, even more unsettled than before, none of them noticing that the lights in their Neohome were starting to flicker as Ashton pushed his photograph forward.
"This one is while we were in Sakhmet," he said. "Right outside of Peopatra's."
The photo was of Peopatra's Petpet Stall, Jack and Marco were inside. The two of them were playing with some of the Anubis in the photograph, and the mysterious Draik was outside of the store, looking in at them. At least, it seemed like he was. It was clear in that picture that the figure was that of a Draik, but his face was white and looked like he had no eyes. It looked like he was wearing some sort of mask.
"I remember taking this picture..." the Skeith said softly. "And he definitely wasn't in the shot when I took it. I would have remembered seeing someone like him."
"What about you, Jack?" Marco said, now kind of scared. The look on the others' faces told the Kyrii that they were all thinking the same thing. Some Draik had been following them for their entire trip. However, the scary thing was, none of them had noticed him until they got their pictures back. How long had this been going on?
Jack didn't say anything. He just gulped hard as he looked at the picture, then placed it on the table. It was a picture of the three of them in Kiko Lake, standing on the dock before taking a tour on the glass-bottomed boat.
The Draik in Black was right behind them in the picture, standing no less than a foot behind them.
The room was silent as they looked at the picture. He had gotten that close to them, without any of them having noticed.
"I'm scared, guys," Jack said, tears starting to well up in his eyes. "What's going on? Who is that?"
Ashton looked at the stack of photos that they had yet to go through and quickly grabbed a handful of them. The lights of their Neohome started to flicker on and off more rapidly as the Skeith sped through the photos, looking over each and every one of them that he had grabbed.
"He's in all of them!" he exclaimed, tossing the photos aside as he went through the stack. Marco could see as the pictures flew by his face that the Draik was in them all. In each one, he was getting closer and closer to the group, until it seemed like he was on top of them.
A sick feeling overcame the Kyrii as he looked at some of the pictures he had already gone through, before he had first noticed the Draik. Slowly, he went through the pictures, the ones that he thought just had them in it.
The Draik in Black was in those pictures now as well.
The Skeith angrily got up from the table and knocked over the stack of photographs, causing them to scatter and spread all over. "Ashton! Stop!" Jack said, fear in the Zafara's voice.
"What is this?" the Skeith demanded. "Who are you? What's going on?"
As the pictures spread across the table, both Marco and Jack noticed that in every picture that passed by, it seemed like the Draik was getting closer and closer to the camera. The final pictures didn't have any of them in the scene. It was just more and more of the Draik, taking up more of the picture. Near the end, it was just his head and neck in the photographs. A sudden chill wind blew through the room and the lights of their Neohome went out.
The three roommates were in darkness, the only sounds were that of their own breathing and the gentle cries of Jack. None of them knew what was going on.
"Marco..." Ashton said, the large Skeith unable to see where his roommates were. "You saw that as well as I did. It looked like he was coming towards us..."
There was no reply from the Kyrii. Only Jack's sobs could still be heard.
"Marco?" Ashton asked to the darkness before the lights to their Neohome snapped back on.
The pictures were back to normal, but the Kyrii was frozen in fright, looking behind Jack.
The Draik in Black was standing right behind the crying Zafara, who was unaware of the figure looming behind him.
"JACK!" Ashton screamed out, diving for his roommate as the lights to the Neohome went out again...
My name is Troy.
About a year ago, my friend Jack and his roommates got back from a trip around Neopia. Shortly after they got back, their neighbors reported that they had vanished. Gone. Left. Didn't even take their furniture. No one has seen them or heard from them since that day. It seemed like they had vanished off of the surface of Neopia.
Until last week, when I got a letter from Jack.
"Don't look for me."
That was all. However, he enclosed a picture of the three of them standing in front of their Neohome, taken the day before they went on vacation. I know, because I was the one who took that picture.
It was the last day I saw my friend.
Scribbled on the back of the picture was handwriting I didn't recognize. 'HE SEES YOU!' it said. Below it, there was a crudely-drawn Draik's head with Xs where his eyes should have been.
I don't care what Jack said. I'm going to find him. I need to know what happened.
Which is why tomorrow, I'm going to his Neohome to look for clues.
To be continued...