Now with 50% more useless text Circulation: 197,025,990 Issue: 916 | 9th day of Collecting, Y22
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A Mind Full of Shadow


by ade1

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Dark kicked a small stone across the grass as he walked. It bounced along like an over enthusiastic bug. Vinas walked behind him, periodically prodding his back with the flat of his hand.

     “Don’t even think of trying anything,” Vinas said.

     Dark laughed, the first time he had laughed in… well, since he could remember, which wasn’t saying much. “What do you expect me to do? Break the ropes around my wrists and fly away?”

     Vinas shoved at him again, which made Dark grit his teeth. “I’m not taking any chances with you. But now that you mention it, perhaps I should bind your wings as well.

     Wings? Ah yes, he had wings. Dark had forgotten all about them. Seemed a pretty significant thing to forget, but this body just didn’t feel right. Maybe his true form was wingless.

     “I can barely walk,” he said. “Why would I be able to use my wings?”

     “Let me guess.” Vinas shoved him yet again. “Those wings seem alien to you, like you’ve never had them before.”

     Dark swallowed down a dry lump that formed like a rock in his throat. “How… How did you know that?” He straightened his back and regained his composure. No need to let Vinas see his shock. “And why are you so convinced I’m this Sloth character? And could you stop shoving me?”

     “I spent way too much time around him, around you, to not know who you are,” Vinas said. “Your true form has no wings. The fact that they seem so foreign to you is further proof of who you are.”

     “To answer your last question,” Vinas said as he shoved Dark once again, “no, I will not stop shoving you.”

     Dark narrowed his eyes, though Vinas wouldn’t be able to see it. A thought came to his mind, a phrase he had heard somewhere but, like everything else, couldn’t place. ‘Poking a sleeping Graarl.’ He contemplated mentioning it, but decided against it. It would just make him appear to be the threat Vinas was already convinced Dark was.

     The sun hung low in the sky, and the sounds of wildlife chattered around them. A pair of Beekadoodle with purple feathers sailed through the air, using their wings to make expert dips, dives, and loops. They probably had those wings their whole lives. Dark shook his head and continued to walk.

     ***

     The sun hung high in the sky. Dark trudged through the grass as if his legs were made of iron. Even if he couldn’t remember anything about his life, he knew he used to have more endurance than this.

     He kept his eyes on the horizon. Fuzzy outlines of a city wavered in the air like a mirage. The details sharpened into brick buildings and paved roads. Dark stumbled off the grass and onto the smooth stones that made up a pathway further into the city.

     Several Neopets of all shapes and sizes walked along the sidewalks flanking both sides of the street. Shoppers went in and out of various different shops. They wore a variety of clothes, some with fancy stitching and complicated designs, while others wore plain clothing similar to what Vinas had on. Their colours were as varied as their clothes. Dark even saw one Shoyru whose skin looked completely transparent. He wondered about the science behind such a feat.

     A crowd of people started to gather around him, including the intriguing transparent Shoyru. They all seemed curious and a bit alarmed. Dark couldn’t blame them. He doubted they were used to random Unis being escorted into town, bound like criminals.

     He turned to the Shoyru to ask him the scientific principle behind his see-through skin, when Vinas shoved him in the back again.

     “Come with me,” he said, as he stepped beside Dark and jerked him towards one of the buildings.

     It looked like a stately house. A large brass sign with the words “Neopian Central Hospital” hung on a pole near the entrance. Dark turned to Vinas.

     “Why are we going to a hospital?” he asked. “With the way you’ve been acting, I expected to end up in jail.”

     “We need to figure out what’s going on with you,” Vinas said. “And hospitals have ways to test things.”

     “I doubt the hospital has the technology for the tests you’d need to run.” He wasn’t sure why that was true or why the mere thought of Vinas thinking it would have the necessary technology filled Dark with mirth.

     He laughed. Now that Vinas was beside him, he could see his laugh had a distinct effect on the Bori. It made him visibly wince. Dark wondered if his laugh would have that effect on anyone else. He’d have to test it out later.

     Vinas finally relaxed and shook his head. “Just go inside.”

     The air in the hospital lobby was cooler than the hot day outside, and Dark couldn’t help but smile in relief. The lobby had several orange chairs lined up in rows. A plain beige desk stood at the other end, next to a door leading further into the hospital.

     A Plushie Lupe sat at the desk. He had short black hair and a blue shirt, plus a name tag that read Luis. Another strange colour configuration, almost as interesting as transparent skin.

     “Vinas?” the Lupe said, his voice deep and completely unplushie-like. “What are you doing here?”

     “Just get my sister,” Vinas replied. “I’ll be in exam room 26. Tell her it’s important.”

     Once again, Vinas didn’t allow Dark the chance to speak and dragged him through the door. There was a hallway on the other side, with plain white walls, red carpet, and rows of doors with numbers painted on them.

     Vinas pulled Dark into room 26. It had a padded exam table and a black leather chair in the corner. There were glass cabinets on the walls. Underneath was a counter with a sink and a jar of cotton swabs. There was also a painting hanging on the wall, of a smiling Red Scorchio flying over a mountain landscape.

     “What kind of hospital is this?” Dark asked. “It’s way too bright and cheerful. I may not remember much, but I know hospitals should be dingy with gloomy lighting. And stop pulling me around like some sort of toy!”

     “I know what sort of medical bays and labs you’re used to,” Vinas said, his tone colder than the room. “We don’t do things like that here.”

     Vinas took a cup from a cabinet and filled it with water from the sink. “You look sick. I may not be a doctor like my sister, but I can tell when someone’s dehydrated.”

     Dark frowned. “And why are you helping me? Everything you’ve done since our fight has indicated that you hate me, or who you think I am.”

     “Even so, you still need water.” Vinas brought the cup to Dark’s lips. “I seek justice, not revenge. I don’t want you getting sick and delaying that justice.”

     The water soothed Dark’s throat, but he wasn’t about to let Vinas see his gratitude. He glared at him the entire time he drank and kept glaring even as Vinas set the cup down on the counter.

     Glaring got too tiring and Dark let his face relax. He hoped he got his point across and Vinas didn’t realize just how exhausted he still was.

     “I don’t expect you to thank me,” Vinas said. “You’ve never thanked anyone.”

     Dark shook his head. He tried to cross his arms over his chest, but they were still bound behind his back, so it just ended up a twitch of his shoulders. “You seem pretty confident about who I am and what I would or wouldn’t do.”

     “I’ve spent enough time around you to be sure. You’re burned into my mind like the afterimage from the sun, permanently etched into my memory. I dream about you every night.”

     “That’s… a bit overdramatic, don’t you think?” Dark laughed again, though he had to admit his laugh had a certain malevolent ring to it. Though, that wasn’t such a bad thing. It flowed quite nicely.

     “Nothing is overdramatic when it comes to you,” Vinas said. “Do you remember anything at all? Do you remember the lives you’ve destroyed?”

     Dark slumped into the chair. His legs didn’t seem to want to hold his weight any longer.

     “The first thing I remember is being in some strange void that made me question my very existence. Then I met you, we had an amicable journey, until you decided I was some… villain I guess.” He paused. Maybe Vinas was onto something. He didn’t feel right in his own skin. Maybe he was this Sloth character. But… “If I am who you say I am, why didn’t you recognize me when we first met? If he was so etched into your memory, wouldn’t simple mannerisms give me away?”

     “I… I think… you were out of it and weren’t acting yourself… how was I to expect… ” Vinas stopped talking but moved his lips, as if words were still trying to come out. “I don’t think I wanted to believe it, but something deep inside me… knew. And it’s more evident now. That laugh, for one. Everyone in Neopia recognizes that, even those who have never met you.”

     “Really? My laugh is that well known?” Dark smiled at the thought, but shook his head. “That still doesn’t prove anything. A laugh is not a valid method of identification.”

     “It’s enough for me,” Vinas said. “Especially with all the other evidence staring me in the face.”

     Dark snorted. “I hope you will use something more definitive if you plan on bringing me to justice.”

     “My sister will help with that,” Vinas said. “She’ll know a way to prove who you are. She’s a doctor.”

     Doctor. That meant something even if Dark couldn’t remember what. “I doubt she’s the type of doctor that can help you.”

     “You may be right,” Vinas said. “She’s a medical professional. She’s not the sort of doctor that’s a scientist, like you.”

     “I’m a doctor?” Dark asked. “I mean, the man you’re convinced I am is a doctor and a scientist?”

     Vinas’ eyes narrowed. “Yes. You call yourself doctor, while you do the opposite of what a doctor is supposed to do. You hurt instead of heal.”

     “And you have personal experience.” Dark leaned forward. “I’m curious. Just how were you acquainted with this Sloth person?”

     Vinas’s eyes narrowed even further and his lips tightened until they paled. “How dare you. Even if your memory is gone, I know you well enough to see you’re just trying to get a rise out of me.”

     “Maybe,” Dark said. “But I do have the right to know just what I did that made you so angry.”

     Dark used his feet to get up from the chair, causing him to jump more than stand. Vinas backed away. The Bori wasn’t just angry. There was a vein of fear running through everything he did.

     “Relax,” Dark said, as he swayed on his feet. “I can barely stand. I’m not going to be able to do anything to you. But…” He heard his voice grow colder, fueled by his impatience. “Answer my question.”

     Vinas swallowed and backed toward the door. He reached his hand behind him and rested it on the handle. “I… I was one of your experiments. You stole my sister and me from our home and forced me to work for you. I… I was lucky. I didn’t become a mutant. And my sister and I escaped. Not everyone was lucky like me.”

     Mutant. The word nibbled at the back of Dark’s brain. Neopet’s in abnormal forms completely at odds with nature or even magic. Once again, he knew something but couldn’t remember it, couldn’t picture what mutants actually looked like.

     “What-” The rest of the question lodged in Dark’s throat. His head spun and he fell forward. The floor bounced off his face. No, it was the other way around. He shut his eyes and let his mind drift away in darkness. Dreams came, but they were shapeless and smooth, swirling around like a cold drink of water.

To be continued…

 
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