The Draik in Black: Pictures of Darkness - Part Eight
"First thing you should know," Jack said, "is that this has been going on a lot longer then you might think. I've been followed by the Draik in Black since my childhood. I've been seeing him since before I met you, Marco, or Ashton."
The Lupe was shocked to hear this. He had seen the scrapbook that had the masked figures had left for him. The earliest photos in it were from their childhood, and he had seen the faceless Draik in them. But for Jack to tell him that it had been going on even longer came as a huge surprise.
"Why didn't you tell me, Jack?" Troy asked. "I had no idea. What about Marco or Ashton? Why didn't you tell them?"
"Let me finish, Troy," Jack said. "I had a very good reason for not telling you. But I'll get to that when it's time."
"First off," the Zafara continued, "When I was younger, I did tell others. I told my parents, my brothers, my sisters, anyone who would listen to me. I told all of them that there was this strange Draik who looked like he had no face watching me. They laughed it off, saying that it was just some imaginary friend or I was seeing things. Even when that Draik was in the room with us and I was screaming and pointing him out, they didn't believe me. It wasn't until later that I found out why."
Jack shook his head. It seemed like he was reliving painful memories from the past. "It's because they can't see him. It was only later that I found this out. It's like... I'm not sure how to explain it. It's like he picks someone at random and just never leaves them alone. And only they can see him. But... he shows up in photographs. That only made things worse though."
"Worse?" Troy asked, before another look from Jack silenced him.
"Yeah, worse," Jack replied. "Once others could start seeing him in photographs, it wasn't long before they started seeing him as well. I thought that would finally prove that I was telling the truth, but... it took them. After a while, everyone who came in contact with the Draik in Black just vanished. Even those who didn't see him. Just thinking about him seems to be enough to have him enter your life. Once I realized that, I did everything I could to not pay attention to him ever again. But he wouldn't go away!"
"Did you try everything?" Troy asked, trying to help.
"Everything!" Jack exclaimed, "I tried avoiding mirrors, I tried avoiding dark places, I even tried disguising myself with morphing potions. It didn't work! He kept stalking me!"
"Did you try bribing him?" Troy asked.
Jack sighed and shot another look to Troy. "Yeah, sure. Bribing him will work. I'll just give the faceless monstrosity twenty Neopoints and he'll go away. I know you're trying to help, but will you please think before saying something like that?"
"Sorry..." Troy said.
"It's okay," Jack said. "Being stalled by that thing for years will put anyone on edge. Not just me. Especially since I'm not the only one he is, or was, stalking. This is part of the reason why I didn't want you coming after me Troy. I knew that if you did, he'd come after you too."
"But... why hasn't he taken you then?" the Lupe asked, "I mean, I've read about others who saw him and were taken, and now you say that's happened to others you know as well. Why are you still here?"
"That's something I don't know," Jack said sadly. "Honestly, I really don't know why he hasn't come for me yet. The only thing I can think of is that he's just enjoying tormenting me."
"What about the masked figures?" Troy said. "What's wrong with Ashton? Why did he attack me like that?"
"Have you ever been close to him?" Jack asked.
"What do you mean?" Troy replied.
"Just what I said. Have you ever been close to the faceless Draik?" Jack said.
"I... yes. I've come across him more then once while looking for you," Troy said. "If my nightmares were real, and those pictures the masked figures have left me weren't fake, then just earlier would have been the fourth time he's been around me."
"You're lucky then," Jack said. "Ashton and Marco were only around him once before they ended up like that."
"Marco's one of them too?" Troy asked.
Jack nodded. "He's the one in the black cloak with the green mask."
Troy clenched his eyes, trying to fight back tears. Another friend of his was like that now. "So then," the Lupe asked. "Who's the one in the yellow cloak and red mask?"
Jack had a fearful look on his face. "I didn't know there was one with a yellow cloak and a red mask..."
The two of them were silent for several seconds as that realization sank in.
"I guess..." Jack said, "It's safe to assume that one is another victim of his. Those who come in contact with him tend to establish the same symptoms. A violent cough. A buzzing in your ears that sounds like a swarm of Unidentified Petpets. Then... madness. Paranoia. Drawing on walls, floors, anything. Scratching his image into things. Writing warnings and messages. It's a sign that he's gotten to you. It happened to me when I was younger too."
"I... saw what happened to your old house. There was a lot of that in there," Troy said.
"You shouldn't have gone in there," Jack said. "That house is his now. It's broken and cannot be fixed. I should have left long before I finally did. But instead I hid in the closet for almost three weeks. It actually worked for a while, because tall, dark, and faceless couldn't get in. But then it broke. After that, I had to go. I did learn something though. Marco... Ashton... they're still are who they are. If you remove their masks, they go back to normal. At least for a moment. But it's like they turn into someone else entirely with them on. The closest I can figure is that while they have those masks on, the Draik in Black is imposing his will on them."
"Well, what do we do?" Troy asked.
Jack was silent.
"I don't know," he finally said.
"You don't know?" Troy repeated.
"I DON'T KNOW!" Jack shouted.
Troy shrank back from the Zafara, not wanting to experience another outburst like that.
"I'm sorry," Jack said. "I really don't know. There are periods of my life where he shows up all the time, and then other times when it's months before I see him again. I said I don't know much about him. All I know is what I've experienced. I just know that you never look at him, or else he takes you. I don't know who he is. I don't know what he wants. I don't know why he's been stalking me since I was a child. I just want to live a normal life, Troy!"
Jack was starting to get hysterical.
"Is that too much to ask? Is it too much to not have to worry about some faceless Draik stalking me my whole life? Is it too much to not be able to tell anyone about this out of fear that he'll go after them too? Do you have any idea how much it hurt me to have to run like this? I did it because I didn't want him to get you too, Troy! Now... you're in almost as deep as I am..."
The Zafara sat down. He was leaning against the stones of the bridge they were standing on as he looked up at the overcast sky. A few drizzles of rain started to pour down.
"There's no escape, Troy," the Zafara said sadly. "No escape at all. We can't run. We can't hide. He always sees us. He has no eyes, yet he's always watching. He will find us, no matter what we do."
Troy looked at Jack as the Zafara started to cry.
"I thought he was gone..." Jack sobbed. "I thought I was free. I thought I could live a normal life. That's why I went on that trip. That's why I took so many photographs. I love taking pictures. I wanted to get my life back, Troy. Then, he showed up again, and took Ashton and Marco."
Jack continued to cry, his tears mixing in with the rain that was falling on the pair. Troy honestly couldn't believe what had happened. It really did seem like there was no escape. He didn't say anything. He didn't know what to say. He had started this whole thing just to find his friend again, and now that he had, they were both being pursued by some nightmarish Draik.
"We'll run together," Troy finally said.
Jack looked over to the Lupe. "What are you talking about?"
"We'll run together," Troy repeated. "I started this whole search because I was worried about you. I just wanted to find you and make sure that you're okay. But if we're both doomed to be stalked by the Draik in Black, then we might as well tough it out together. We don't have to do this alone. I know we won't be able to do anything if we just sit back and accept it. Maybe we'll find some way to get out as long as we keep going. Maybe we can even help Marco and Ashton. We have to at least try!"
Troy offered his hand to Jack. The Zafara still had some tears running down his cheeks as he looked at the Lupe's hand. After a moment, he grabbed it and pulled himself back up to his feet.
"We can't stay here," Jack said. "The Draik in Black found me again, and so did his masked followers. We'll have to leave as soon as we can."
"I only brought a few bags," Troy said. "It shouldn't take me long to repack everything. I'll get my things. We'll go back to your place and pack things up and we'll go."
Jack nodded silently. It was a good a plan as any. As they were heading back to the Neolodge branch of Neovia, Jack spoke up again.
"While you were looking for me," he said. "Did you tell anyone about this? Did you tell anyone else about the Draik in Black?"
The Lupe thought for a moment as they walked through the streets of Neovia. He did need the help of some others to get this far. Kauvara and Delina had helped him with the blacked out picture. Alabaster had helped him find Jack's home in Neovia. Did he mention the Draik in Black to any of them? No, not that he remembered.
"I did have some help, yes," Troy replied. "But I didn't tell any of them about the faceless Draik. I didn't mention him, and he didn't show up in any of the photographs that I showed them either."
"Alright..." Jack replied. "The last thing we need is to get other people wrapped up in this. The fewer people who know about the Draik in Black, the better."
The duo continued the rest of the trip to the Neolodge in silence. There was no one manning the front desk when they arrived, but Troy still had the key to his room. What was odd, however, was that there was no one in the halls or common areas as well. This created an odd atmosphere in the Neolodge that both of them picked up on.
"Something's wrong," Troy said. This place wasn't bustling earlier, but there were others around. At that moment, the lights started to flicker.
Troy and Jack both looked up at the ceiling once they noticed that.
"He's here..." Jack whispered.
They looked around as the lights continued to flicker above them. The Lupe hurried down the hallway to get to his room as Jack followed close behind. The deeper they went, the more the lights started to flicker.
"We need to hurry!" Jack shouted.
"I know!" Troy replied.
The lights in the hallway went out just as Troy reached the room he was staying at. They popped back on for a moment just as Troy put the key into the door.
"There!" Jack shouted, making Troy look at where they had just come from.
The Draik in Black was at the end of the hallway.
Troy started coughing as the sound of the swarm of Unidentified Petpets started to ring in his ears. He turned away and pushed the door to the room open.
Neither of them were prepared for what was inside...
To be continued...