The Draik in Black: Pictures of Darkness - Part Four
Troy still had the picture of Jack in his pocket as he walked up to the headquarters of The Neopian Times. He knew those masked figures would be stalking him. He had to wonder how long this might go on. Would they be following him forever now? Would they stop if he stopped trying to find Jack? He didn't know, but stopping his search for Jack was not an option. He figured as long as he continued his search, they would be watching and following him.
But, perhaps, inside of The Neopian Times building, he might be able to avoid them. Surely they would draw the attention of the workers if they entered. After all, long cloaks and face-covering masks probably weren't standard work attire.
Troy opened the door to The Neopian Times and was greeted by the sounds of the business. The printers were running nonstop as the journalists were working on their articles and he was pretty sure he heard someone who must have been the editor shouting orders. It was a fairly busy place. Truthfully, it was much busier then Troy had expected.
There was a pink Lenny sitting behind a desk in the main room he had just entered.
"Excuse me," the Lupe said. "Is there a room where I can look through some of the archives of The Neopian Times? There is an old issue that I need to read through. It's very important."
The Lenny nodded. "Of course. You will need a guest pass, though. Sign in here, please."
The Lenny pulled out a clipboard and a pen. Troy took a moment to scan it. It seemed like they hadn't gotten many guests in the past few days. In fact, he was the first one to sign in over the last three days.
"Probably too much to think they would be waiting for me, and they would have signed in with their real names," Troy thought to himself, thinking again about the strange masked figures.
Nevertheless, Troy wrote down his name and the time and handed the clipboard back to the Lenny receptionist. Once she looked it over for a moment, she handed him a small clip that read 'Guest' on it and got up from her seat.
"Archives are in the basement," she said. "I'll lead you there."
"Thank you," Troy replied. Something in the back of his mind was telling him that going into the basement was a very bad idea, but he had no other choice but to do so.
The Lenny motioned for him to follow her as she headed towards the main floor of the building. A few loose pages of paper were scattering about here and there, while he passed a few writers at their stations getting the issue ready for print.
The trip did not take very long before the Lenny opened a door on the far side of the room. It led into a dark stairwell. Slender, metal steps led down into the darkness of the basement.
"The light in the stairwell is out," the Lenny said as she grabbed the railing and took a few steps down. "But as long as you don't overstep too much, you should be fine."
"Great..." Troy thought. That little voice in the back of his head that was saying that this was a bad idea was getting louder now.
He followed the Lenny down the staircase. Their footfalls on the metal of the stairs echoed in the enclosed stairwell as they headed down into the basement. Troy felt like every step he took was taking him deeper into the belly of some monster. Troy felt his grip on the railing tighten as they continued downward.
Their trip down in the darkness soon passed as they reached the floor of the basement. Troy could barely see the Lenny ahead of him as she continued walking. He was following the sounds of her footsteps as they went further into the basement, his eyes taking a while to adjust to the darkness.
After a few moments, Troy heard the sound of a metal door being opened. A low light emerged from the entryway as he could make out the Lenny holding the door open. He stepped forward and looked into the room.
There were shelves and filing cabinets that were taller than he was. Rows upon rows and cabinet upon cabinet filled the room. A few solitary lights hung from the ceiling, held up by a single cable, it looked like they would be able to swing freely from the slightest bump.
"This is the archive room," the Lenny said. "The issues of The Neopian Times should be listed on the side of the cabinets. I hope you have a specific issue in mind; otherwise you might be searching for a while. We've been meaning to get it a bit more organized, but it would be a very big project."
Troy looked at the room in a stunned silence. It was a very good thing that he had a specific issue in mind.
"Thank you," he finally said before stepping inside the archive room. He then quickly thought of something and turned back to the Lenny just as she was closing the door.
"Could you keep the door open?" Troy asked.
The receptionist stopped closing the door and shrugged. "Just remember to drop off your guest pass and sign out when you're done," she said to him.
With that, she left Troy to his research. Her footsteps echoed a bit as she left before finally going silent.
Troy took a deep breath once he knew he was alone before he started searching the shelves for the issue that he was looking for. It wasn't an easy task, as it seemed like there was no rhyme or reason as to how the cabinets were organized. A group that read 'Issues 431 to 440' was next to a cabinet that read 'Issues 261 to 270'
"Talk about random..." he muttered to himself as he examined the cabinet sides. "Five sixty-eight... five sixty-eight."
He recited the number like it was a personal mantra as he walked between the rows of cabinets filled with old issues of The Neopian Times. His footsteps were echoed and amplified within the archive room. Troy took note of that. If anyone else entered the archive room, he would be able to hear them.
After nearly ten minutes of searching, Troy finally found what he was looking for. The cabinet that held issues 561 to 570. For being an issue that came out within the last year, the cabinet he was at was practically in the middle of the archive room. One of the lights was directly over this spot too, like it was illuminating a hidden treasure.
"Five sixty-eight..." Troy said to himself again as he opened the cabinet.
At the very least, the papers themselves were organized. From how the archives were arranged, he was expecting to find bits and pieces of different issues scattered about randomly. No, the issues of the old Neopian Times within the cabinet were neatly organized by issue number. This made it easy to find the issue he was looking for.
"Here we go!" Troy said excitedly to himself as he found the issue.
With the paper in hand, Troy searched page after page, section after section looking for the headline that started with the phrase "STILL NO...".
He didn't have to wait long to see it.
"STILL NO CLUES IN MISSING PERSONS CASE!"
Troy gulped. This was not the headline he was expecting. But it was the story that Jack had been reading. There must have been some reason that his picture was taken of him reading this story. Somewhere in this article had to be a clue.
"2nd Day of Storing. Authorities have still yet to uncover any clues in the case of two missing Trick-or-Treaters. Three days ago on Halloween, Gene Baset and Damian Kersey were last seen by mutual friend Oscar Fisher. The young Cybunny states that they had just finished telling each other scary stories in Buzzer Park. As they were leaving, Gene went back to Damian in the campgrounds and never returned. When Oscar went to check, he claims that both of them were gone and that a Draik dressed entirely in black was watching him. He goes further to state that he seemed to have on a mask of sorts that made it look like he had no face."
Troy continued reading in silent horror. He was so engrossed in the story that he didn't notice that the light above him began to flicker, nor did hear the soft footsteps that were starting to echo in the archive room.
"Further attempts by authorities to question Oscar were put to a stop when yesterday; the young Cybunny vanished as well. His parents state that his window was still locked as were the doors to their home. It would seem that he has vanished into thin air as well. The only clue he left behind was a sketch on his desk. Scribbled on the back of the sketch was the phrase ALWAYS WATCHING!"
The sketch printed in the story was that of the faceless Draik with crossed-out eyes.
The light above Troy continued to flicker. He stopped reading for a moment and glanced up at the light before returning to the story.
"Reports that, in previous years, others that have claimed to have seen this 'Draik in Black' have gone missing are still inconclusive. Eyewitness accounts of these events remain sketchy and unable to be verified. Any information our readers may have about the missing children, or about the alleged faceless Draik should contact..."
The lights in the archive room suddenly went out.
Troy froze. He started looking around in the dark nervously. There was a quick flicker of light as Troy looked down the aisle and saw the grey cloaked figure in the blue mask at the end of the aisle. The figure started to run to him, just as the lights went out again.
The Lupe didn't think twice. He dropped the issue of The Neopian Times and quickly started to run in the opposite direction. A few seconds later, the lights flickered on again before going out. It was just long enough for Troy to see that he was about to run into another cabinet. He turned to the right, trying his best to remember how to get out of the maze that was the archives.
He could still hear the loud footsteps of the cloaked figure chasing after him. Troy silently cursed to himself for not bringing his flashlight. That tiny voice in the back of his head was screaming loudly at him now for coming into the basement like this. It lasted only long enough for him to crash loudly into one of the cabinets of the archive.
The crash stunned Troy for a moment as he fell to the ground, nearly knocking over the cabinet. The force slightly pulled open the archive shelf from the resulting vibration. A moment later, the lights flickered back on again. He shook his head quickly to gather his bearings before he looked behind him.
The blue-masked figure was still running towards him as the lights went out again.
The Lupe didn't have time to run as his assailant would be on him any second now. He tried to pull himself back to his feet by grabbing the handles of the archive cabinets and suddenly he got an idea.
Troy quickly rolled out of the way and, as he was doing so, opened the bottom shelf of the archive cabinet that he had just crashed into. A loud bang followed by a cry of pain rang out as the lights flickered on again.
The grey-cloaked figure had run right into the open cabinet shelf and was grabbing at his leg. Troy took this as an opportunity to get away as he pushed himself back to his feet and starting running again, turning down corners and running down aisles to put distance between himself and the grey-cloaked figure.
After running through several aisles, Troy came to a stop to catch his breath. Then, not ten feet away, he saw the yellow-cloaked figure. Luckily for him, his back was to him.
Troy muffled himself as best as he could and quickly darted down a different aisle, just as the lights to the archive flickered off again. He remained perfectly still, trying to keep his breathing calm and silent. He could hear his heart pounding in his chest. It sounded like a bass drum pounding to him. Troy feared that they would be able to hear that and find him.
When the lights flickered back on again, Troy slowly looked around the corner of the cabinet he was hiding behind in the direction he had seen his second assailant. He didn't see the yellow-cloaked figure.
Troy closed his eyes and exhaled, gasping a bit as he still tried to catch his breath. He looked the other way as well. It looked like the coast was clear. Just to make sure, he turned to look behind him as well.
A figure in a black cloak and a green mask was inches away from his face.
Troy was about to shout out in shock and surprise when the black-cloaked figure covered his mouth and tackled him to the ground. At that moment, the lights went out again.
Troy struggled as best as he could, trying to fight off the third figure. The Lupe rolled and flailed as he tried to fight off his adversary, each of them trying to get atop each other to overpower the other. It was a fight Troy was losing as he felt a quick blow come to his throat, making him gasp in pain. Seconds later, the green-masked figure had him pinned as the lights flickered on again.
The black-cloaked figure was atop of him, looking him right in the face. Troy was still gasping for breath and coughing as the heavy weight of the figure was keeping him from escaping.
"This is it..." Troy thought, unsure of what the masked figures would do but figuring he wouldn't want to know.
The green masked figure was still staring a hole through Troy as he struggled, when he suddenly looked up. Moments later, Troy's attacker scrambled off of him, got to his feet and ran off, just as the lights to the archives went out again.
Troy had no idea what had just happened. He continued to cough and rub his throat as he slowly got back to his feet. He stumbled a bit in the darkness while doing so, but the Lupe was soon steady. He coughed again before the lights flickered back on. He looked around, trying to see if any of the masked figures were nearby.
He was alone.
"Hello?" he called out but soon started coughing again, his voice cracking a bit.
Troy coughed again as he collected himself and started to stumble out of the archives. His coughing fit continued as he found his way back to the door back to the stairwell. He took a few deep breathes to steady himself as he exited the archives, leaving the door open behind him to use what little light it provided to light up the stairwell.
He had mostly recovered by the time he got to the top and returned to the main floor of The Neopian Times. His throat still hurt, but the coughing had stopped. He ignored the goings-on of the others in the room and returned to the main hall.
The pink Lenny wasn't at the desk, but the sign-in sheet was there. He glanced over it for a moment, noting that no one else had signed in after him. He just shook his head as he pulled off his guest pass and left it on the sheet before signing out. Without a word, Troy walked out of the Neopian Times building and returned home.
He was going to take a long shower and go to bed.
I wasn't surprised to find more pictures in my room once I woke up. Even though I had changed the locks to my door, these masked figures still somehow found a way to get inside. I'm starting to wonder how large this group is, as some wish to attack me, while others seem to be sending messages.
Still, more clues are starting to come to the surface. This entire thing seems to be hinging on that faceless Draik. From the drawing on the initial picture I was given, to the scrawls on the walls of Jack's home. Now, an article in The Neopian Times showing that whoever this Draik is, this isn't the first time he's done this.
It's clear now that Jack somehow got involved with him, or that Draik somehow got involved with Jack. I'm not sure how or why, but I know there is a connection now. Still, the Neopian Times article can only lead me to this conclusion. I still have no clues as to where Jack is or how to find him. All I have left now are the pictures the masked figures left behind when they broke in last night.
Out of the new pictures that arrived, only one of them was of myself in The Neopian Times archive room. Even then, that new picture wasn't with the rest. It was placed on my dresser next to the photograph of Jack. When I looked at it first, there was no writing on the back of it. Considering how all the other pictures had writing on them, I wondered what that could have meant.
The other pictures, however, were photographs of the three masked figures. There was nothing remarkable about any of them. They were plain headshots of them looking into the camera. Each one had something different written on the back.
"TRAPPED NOW! TAKING CONTROL! NO HOPE! ALWAYS WATCHING! CAN'T RUN!"
The messages went on like that, but the meaning was clear. If they were sending warnings or threats, it was done. I had dug in too deep trying to find Jack. Now they would always be watching me and following me.
So be it.
If that's how it's going to be, then I'm going to see this through until the end. I won't stop until I find Jack. Those three won't be able to stop me.
But, it's not just them I'm worried about.
When I checked the picture of myself in the archives again, I saw something in the background I had missed before.
It was the faceless Draik in black.
I don't know how I managed to miss him the first time, but he was there in the archives. What was most disturbing, however, was that writing appeared on the back of the picture. It was different from the haphazard scrawls and warnings I normally got. It was calmly written.
Likewise, the picture of Jack that I had now had writing on the back of it.
"Found you forever."
For some reason, I broke into a coughing fit again looking at that picture of the faceless Draik. But, I've also realized something.
I have no more clues to go on.
I'm going to have to return to Jack's home to see if there is anything I missed.
To be continued...