Visions: Journey to Shenkuu - Part Five
By the time Karan and Nil stopped to rest, it was already late in the afternoon. Both were unable to stay awake longer than a few moments to eat a few mouthfuls and make beds for themselves in the grassy field they were now in. From the deep and almost silent breathing next to him, Karan determined that Nil had gone to sleep. He lay awake still, wondering about all he left behind.
He had left Altador, the home of his ancestors. He'd left the thieves he knew, and the friends of his father he sometimes saw. He had left the old house along with the comfort of his parents’ bed he slept in ever since his mother disappeared. What stung the most was the tiny room at the end of the hall where his little sister, barely a year old, had slept every night until that one day.
She had favored his mother in species, but she had his father’s golden yellow color. Karan didn’t remember much about her, since he himself had been only three years old at the time, but he could recall the way her fur was a darker along the mane than it was supposed to be. He also remembered her sweet little smile that filled him with warmth and joy every time he saw it.
Then, one night, she disappeared along with his mother. The only thing of his sister’s that remained was a necklace she had gotten from a relative to celebrate her birth. He now wore the necklace beneath his shirt, so that he always had a piece of his sister with him.
At least I didn’t leave that behind, he thought, pulling the necklace from beneath his shirt and looking at the tiny gold pendant that hung from some fishing line his father had used. They were both the only things he had left now of his old life and home, or at least for the moment.
I’ll be returning to Altador after all this, he thought, replacing the necklace beneath his shirt. He looked up at the sky for awhile, wondering if his father was somewhere nearby, looking at the same sky, or if he was elsewhere, gazing at the stars to find the Altadorian constellations and hoping to return home someday.
When you do, I’ll be waiting, Father, Karan thought, and closed his eyes, dreaming about what would happen once his father finally returned home.
When the two travelers awoke, nighttime had just fallen. The moon had barely risen in the sky and there were only a few stars out. The two quickly packed the few things they left out and walked off towards the north, a refreshed feeling in the air.
Nil watched Karan as he lead, thinking about the dream she had a couple of nights ago. Not only am I in danger, but he is, too. I should at least warn him after all he’s done for me.
She was about to speak, when Karan suddenly stopped without warning. “What is it?”
“There’s a storm coming,” he replied. “It’s going to be pretty big. Lots of rain, heavy wind, and some thunder and lightning. We’ll have to take shelter after awhile.”
“So the day’s pretty much wasted?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Then let’s go before the rain starts. We can still get some distance in, even if it’s not much.” She walked off and Karan followed, muttering something about lightning. Still, he didn’t protest.
Maybe he wants me gone as soon as possible, too, she thought, taking a glance at the Xweetok from over her left shoulder. He was lightly treading behind her, seeming worried about something.
She turned her attention back to the road. Then I should make sure that happens sooner.
Nil picked up the pace so that she was jogging, and Karan did the same. They jogged most of the night, sometimes breaking out into a run for a moment. Eventually, when the night was halfway through, the first few raindrops began to fall. It was gentle at first, but then more came, and they came down harder.
Still, the two travelers kept on running, trying not to slip in the mud and fall. The first bolts of lightning streaked through the sky and Karan made them stop for the night.
They found shelter inside an old barn that stood amongst acres of abandoned, weed-filled farmland. The roof to the left was totally gone, so they settled down on the right side. It unnerved Nil, since she couldn’t see the entrance well enough to tell if it was being opened, but she had to live with it.
Karan stared a small fire in the middle of the dirt floor, feeding it with the hay and broken boards on their side of the barn. It was mostly to dry themselves off from the rain, but it still felt good to be warmed by a fire, even if it was small.
“How many days do we have now?” asked Nil, spreading her cloak along the ground to dry.
“Uh, one or two,” Karan replied. “The rain didn’t set us back by much, fortunately, but there could still be some complications.”
“Well, the rain could continue for a while, or we might encounter unsavory characters.”
“‘Unsavory characters’? Please, this is not some noble quest. We’re two thieves headed for Shenkuu, only one of which will be staying. The other is going to go back to his little house on the docks and live his merry little life in Altador.”
Karan shrugged. “Just thought I’d lighten the mood.” He looked up through the hole in the ceiling, smiling to himself. “My dad certainly would know how.” A slightly saddened expression crossed his features, but it disappeared as he turned to look at Nil. “Shall we eat?”
Nil blinked for a moment. She had been wondering about his sad look, so she barely managed to get out a “sure” a few seconds after he asked.
The two silently ate, but it was a comfortable silence. Nil almost spoke a couple of times, but she reminded herself that Karan was no friend of hers. He was just a guide to Shenkuu, and not even that. She could find Shenkuu as long as she knew which way was north. He was simply tagging along.
She glanced up and found that he was looking at her. “What?”
“What’re you thinking about?”
“You got this sort of conflicting expression. What’s it about?”
“Mind your own business,” Nil snapped, turning away from him. “I’ll tell you if I want, okay? So just leave me alone.”
“Just asking,” Karan replied, turning away from her.
The meal was finished shortly after and they both settled near the fire, although both kept their distance from the other.
“Good night,” said Karan. Nil replied with a grunt.
This girl is such a pain sometimes, Karan thought, settling down in the make-shift straw bed. Why am I still here? Shouldn’t I be watching over our house in Altador right now?
He sighed and closed his eyes, trying to ignore thoughts of Nil. Still, she lingered in the back of his mind, secretive and cruel as usual. Something seemed wrong about her harsh demeanor, though. He suspected it was an act to hide who she really was, but he couldn’t tell who that was. Not yet, anyways. They still had at least a day left in their travels before he had to leave her for good.
A day, he thought, beginning to drift into sleep. A single day to discover who really is behind that façade of hatred and suspicion. But how do I do it with someone like Nil?
A sudden cry shattered the silence that had fallen. Nil sat bolt-upright, looking about the room and trying to determine the source of the outburst. Karan was also sitting up, his expression filled with terror as he panted heavily.
“What happened?” she asked, looking for an explanation on his features. None lay there, and Karan didn’t respond to her question, either.
Nil stood and went over to Karan. “Hello? What’s going on? What did you freak out about?”
Karan shook his head, still thoroughly shaken. “Huh?” His fur stood on end, making him appear almost twice his size. He looked at her with shocked eyes, not truly focusing on her. His mind was still on whatever had happened.
“What did you scream about?”
“There’s—There’s no way,” he muttered, shaking his head. “I—I didn’t... I couldn’t have—” He closed his eyes and tucked his knees up to his chest. His whole body shook, and Nil had no idea how to handle the situation.
She went back to her blanket and tried to sleep, but she stayed awake the entire night, listening to the sounds of Karan’s shaky breathing and an occasional fit of crying. It echoed eerily through the still barn now that the rains had stopped.
If only it would rain, Nil thought, looking up at the clear night sky. If only...
To be continued...