The Draik in Black: Pictures of Darkness - Part Seven
When they say that Neovia is the closest thing that the Haunted Woods has to having a bright spot, they fail to mention that it's all relative. When you're trapped in a dark pit of despair, sometimes having a candle with you only helps to accent just how dark your surroundings are. When you're trapped in the dark like that, the tiny amount of light can show you the horrors that surround you.
However, that tiny amount of light can sometimes show you the way out.
At least, that was what Troy was hoping for.
He had never gone to Neovia before. For being so deep within the Haunted Woods, it wasn't that bad of a place at all. It still had the eerie and foreboding feeling that the Haunted Woods seemed to give off, but it wasn't as pronounced. He wouldn't want to live here, but he could see how it was possible.
Troy had arrived in Neovia the night before after traveling all day to get there. He was tired again pushing himself to reach Neovia in a single day, but he didn't want to be out in the open at night. Not with the masked figures after him, and especially not in the Haunted Woods. He didn't know anyone here, so he checked into a branch of the Neolodge to stay for a few days. His sleep was nightmare-free, and there was no sign the masked figures had entered his room. When he checked his bags in the morning, however, he noticed an unpleasant surprise.
The white mask that he had burned was in his luggage.
Troy disposed of the mask again, tossing it out the window and into the sewers.
"I said no,' Troy said to no one in particular as he closed the window to the room.
With that bit of unpleasantness out of the way, Troy got ready to begin the search for Jack. The last clue that he had was the recent picture that had been placed in the scrapbook, which was what had brought him to Neovia. What he needed to do now was find out exactly where this picture was taken, and then maybe he could find someone who had seen Jack, or knew where he was.
Thankfully, most of the hard work was already taken care of. Jack was by the canal in Neovia, and there was a clock tower in the distance. Seeing as there was only the one canal in the entire town, it became a matter of tracking down exactly where Jack was standing when the picture was taken.
There was a light fog in the air as Troy walked along the edge of the canal. He saw a few others out walking the streets, but they didn't pay him any mind. The Lupe took a moment to look around as he traversed the side of the canal. He didn't see any of the masked figures watching him. He knew that they were here, though. One of them must have been the one who sent the photo of Jack to him.
Truthfully, Troy didn't know what those masked figures were after. Were they after him for trying to find Jack? Or were they after Jack and they were using him to get to his friend? Then there was the issue with the Draik in Black. What was he? How did he fit into all of this?
Troy started coughing again once he thought of that faceless Draik. The Lupe noticed that he seemed to break into a coughing fit every time he was around him, or anytime he thought about him. The worst fit had to be in the basement of Jack's old home, when he was less then five feet away from him. At first, he thought it was when the green masked figure had struck him, but now he was starting to think that it was more of a sign that the Draik in Black was nearby.
He looked around, but didn't see him. Maybe it was just paranoia, thinking that... thing would be nearby.
Troy caught his breath after a moment and continued searching for the clock tower in the background of the picture. He alternated between examining the picture and looking around the town to see if he could find a scene that matched what was looking at.
After about twenty minutes of checking and making sure that it matched up, no easy feat considering the fog, Troy found a spot that he thought was a match to the photograph. It was near the center of the shopping district of Neovia, just before a bridge to go over the canal. Across the canal there was a building with a clock tower. The Lupe examined the picture again to see if there was anything else of note that he should pay attention to.
The Draik in Black was in the photograph.
The Lupe closed his eyes and shook his head before checking the picture again. No sign of him. It had to have just been his mind playing tricks on him. What he did notice was that Jack wasn't looking straight ahead in the photograph. He was looking off to the side. Judging by the expression on his face, whatever he was looking at was where he was going. Troy turned to see what exactly he might have been looking at.
It was a good a clue as any that he had to finding Jack.
There was a tiny bell that chimed when Troy entered the antique store. There was a rather tall Techo with brownish-orange hair who was dusting off an antique full-length mirror. He turned when he heard the bell and saw Troy enter the store.
"Greetings!" he said. "Welcome to Chesterdrawers' Antiques! I'm Alabaster Chesterdrawers. Can I help you?"
Troy looked around for a moment. There were quite a few mirrors in the antique store, and considering how his previous experience with mirrors had been, he was getting slightly unnerved by all of them. Still, he felt somewhat safe with the shopkeeper around. None of the masked figures had made a move while he was with someone else, even if they were stalking him.
"Yeah, I actually have a question," Troy said as he handed the Techo the photograph. "This might seem a bit random, but have you seen this Zafara recently? His name is Jack?"
What happened next came as a total surprise to Troy.
"Of course, I know Jack!" Alabaster replied. "Good kid. He moved here a few months ago. He actually just bought a few pieces from me the other day. It really is a shame what happened."
The Lupe's excitement was replaced with dread by those seven little words. "What happened?" Troy practically begged the Techo. "Is he alright?'
"As far as I know, he is," Alabaster replied. "But he's really had a rough time. He said he moved here after all his friends vanished under mysterious circumstances, and just yesterday his house here burned down."
"What?" Troy gasped. "Is everything okay? I didn't hear about any fire."
"Oh no, it wasn't here," the Techo said. "It was his old place. Just a second."
Alabaster stepped away from Troy for a moment to go behind his front desk. He pulled out an issue of The Neopian Times. It was the current issue. He flipped through a few pages and pointed to a story.
"Abandoned Neohome Burns Down."
Troy only needed to read the first few paragraphs to understand the story. Shortly after he left for Neovia, a mysterious fire broke out in Jack's old Neohome. The entire building had burned to the ground. The authorities say that there was no damage to any other homes and that it had started in one of the upstairs bedrooms. It was a total loss. It mentioned that it used to belong to his friend Jack, along with his roommates Marco and Ashton, but they had been missing for over a year.
"A real shame," Alabaster said. "He came here to start a new life, but it seems like the past won't go so quietly."
Troy shook his head. "I suppose not," the Lupe muttered softly. "I'm an old friend of his. After he left, I started looking for him. I just now found out that he's here. Do you think you can tell me where I can find him?"
"Sure," the Techo replied. "I have his address in my record books. I just need a minute to look it up."
"Thank you," Troy said.
The Lupe might have appeared calm on the outside as Alabaster went into his back office, but internally, he was cheering and sighing with relief. After so long, he was finally close to the end of his journey. Once he got this address, he would finally be able to find his old friend. Finally, he would be able to know that he was okay. Finally, he could put this entire nightmare behind him.
"Here we go," Alabaster said as he returned to the show floor. "He lives at 444 Shadowside Park. It's only a few blocks from here. Just keep following the canal south and you'll get there. It's the second house on the left."
"Thank you again," Troy said, before turning out and leaving the antique shop.
The sky seemed a bit darker once Troy was back outside. It seemed like more clouds had gone into the sky, making the already overcast day even gloomier. The fog near the canal seemed to be thicker as well, and the humidity was making the Lupe's fur feel matted. Still, even the somber weather couldn't keep Troy from his goal. He returned to the canal and followed the route south like he had been instructed.
Even though he felt like he was close to his goal, he was nervous. Jack's old home had been burned down, and he suspected that it was the masked figures that did the deed. Maybe it was because they were out of clues to give him and were covering their tracks. Maybe it was because there was nothing left for them in that abandoned Neohome. Maybe it was another message. If it was a message, they were getting much more aggressive.
They also had to know where Jack had been since they sent the picture.
That meant that they knew where he was as well.
Troy stopped when he realized that. There were three masked figures. Only one of them would really be needed to burn down Jack's old Neohome. If they all knew where Jack was living, they could already be here by now. If they burned down his Neohome just after he left, all three of them could be here in Neovia by now. At least one of them was able to get into his room and put another mask in his suitcase.
They could have gotten to Jack first.
Troy started running. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him through the streets of Neovia until he saw the road he was looking for. Shadowside Park. The Lupe almost ran into a Wocky in a fine suit as he made the turn down that street. He looked at the second house on the left, just like Alabaster had told him.
The front door was open and all the lights were out.
Troy ran inside, nearly knocking the door off of the hinges. "Jack? Jack! Are you in here?" he shouted once he was inside.
He pulled his flashlight out of his pocket. He didn't suspect that he would need it, but past experiences told him that he should never be without it while he was looking for his friend. Troy turned it on and went through the first door on his right in Jack's new Neohome. His quick look inside showed that it was a living room.
He didn't get far.
The grey-cloaked and blue masked figure was in the room, illuminated in the dark by the light of his flashlight. He was looking right at him. Troy stopped in mid-step when he saw the masked figure and turned around and ran as fast as he could. He could hear the masked figure chasing him now as the Lupe ran through another door and ended up in a dark kitchen.
Troy gasped as he was tackled from behind. The Lupe crashed into the ground and slid across the linoleum tiles. The masked figure grabbed Troy and turned him around and then pinned him beneath him.
"Get off of me!" Troy cried at the masked figure. He flailed and pushed and struggled, trying to get out from under him.
The masked figure crumbled off of him as Troy felt wood pieces fall onto him. He shined his light upward to see what had just happened. A green Zafara was holding the remains of a fine, antique wooden chair. The rest of it was smashed over the masked figure's back.
"Jack!' Troy shouted out in surprise.
"Take his mask off!" the Zafara ordered, pushing the masked figure onto his back before climbing onto him.
The blow did little to stun the blue-masked figure as he started fighting and struggling against the Zafara. Troy scrambled back off of his back and onto his hands and knees before moving towards the struggling masked figure. He reached for his face, keeping his hands steady as the masked figure struggled between the two. Troy tore his mask off of his face. His flashlight shined onto the exposed figure.
It was Ashton. Troy would have recognized the Skeith anywhere. His eyes were glazed over and entirely white. His mouth was slightly open. It looked like he was hypnotized.
Seconds later, his pupils returned and Ashton began violently coughing. He continued to flail about. He was acting like he was reaching for something.
"Why is..." Troy started to say, before he was cut off.
"No time! Run!" Jack shouted and grabbed him by the hand, pulling him towards the front of the house.
Troy was confused as to what he meant, until he pointed his flashlight backwards.
The Draik in Black was in the room. The faceless Draik was standing by the back doorway.
Troy started coughing as well as the Zafara lead them out the open front door and into the streets of Neovia.
The pair ran for ten solid minutes before Jack finally came to a stop on one of the bridges over the canal. They were both panting hard, each of them out of breath. Jack was the first to recover his bearings and shot a look towards the Lupe.
"I thought I told you not to look for me!"
Troy was gasping for more air as he heard his friend's words. That was the message that he got that started this entire ordeal.
"Jack..." Troy gasped out, "I...I'm sorry. I... I just had... to know."
Troy needed a few more seconds to fully catch his breath, but he finally did. "I was worried about you," he said.
Jack shook his head and sighed. "Well, you found me. And now, they did too."
"Who are they?" Troy asked. "What is all this? Who are those masked figures? Why did Ashton attack me? And what is that faceless Draik?"
Jack sighed again. "I don't know everything," he said. "But I do know a bit. I guess I should start from the beginning..."
To be continued...