Runaway: Part Five
The sun had set – or at least it had gotten noticeably darker – before Toren finally decided to take a break. He sat down on a rock, huffed a sigh, and put his face in his paws. His stomach growled so he tore one of the bananas free and devoured it. May had left no sign of where she had gone. Toren was of half a mind that she had found her way back to the village and he was on a wild Tomamu chase. He did not want to go back, though. What if she was lost, or hurt? He had to keep looking.
His pace was less frantic and his eyes were less sharp as he continued his search in the forest. Toren wondered if he would even be able to make it back to the village at this rate. I'll worry about that – and Gray – after I find May.
The Lutari felt a little bad about not leaving any more food for the Krawk, but he shrugged it off. Gray had been less than helpful when it came to keeping an eye on May. And Mike had made Toren fight in grudge matches with less provocation. Besides, four bananas would be fine enough if he didn't eat them all at once.
A rustling ahead of him made Toren tense up and assume a quick defensive stance.
He wondered how threatening he really looked. I'm bright blue and green with big glittery wings. No Faerie pet looks intimidating... he thought dryly.
The rustling continued, but Toren realized it was something small and probably not a real threat. Whatever it was barked a few times.
"May?" he wondered, hardly daring to believe his luck.
The Doglefox emerged from the bushes on cue, her tongue lolling out happily as she gazed at her owner. She barked again. Toren reached down to grab her, but she moved out of his way, wagging her tail.
"C'mon, May. I'm tired. Do you know how long I've been looking for you? Can't we play later?" he asked her, scrubbing a paw across his eyes. Relief washed over him in a wave and it left his muscles relaxed and weary as it passed them. He wanted nothing more than to slump on the suddenly inviting floor of his hut and hug May.
But, apparently, she had something else in mind.
The Doglefox was walking up to him and then retreating away, wagging her tail. She would bark as she moved away. "Alright, I give up. Where do you want me to go?" Toren sighed, following her.
She continued running a few paces ahead before returning to him, presumably to check if he was still behind her. They continued in this way for what felt to Toren like a mile. Almost immediately, the forest broke open to expose a glade, inside of which was a large stone structure.
"Was this where you ran off to?" Toren murmured as May barked happily. "How'd you find it?" Oh yeah, you found it because that idiot Krawk couldn't be bothered to make sure you stayed put since you didn't want to come get food.
"Might as well look at it," he decided resignedly. Whatever it was, it was important enough to May to want to show him.
He walked up to the stone structure and placed his paw against it. The rock was cold and slick to the touch. He walked around it until he noticed a hole in one side. That was interesting. The rock was conspicuous, but someone had still left a hole large enough for a Neopet – large enough for a Lutari – to crouch through. He doubted any important treasures were hidden inside.
Nonetheless, it was worth checking out. May showed her agreement by trotting through the gap with her tail held high. Toren ducked and followed after her. "I wish I had a light," he groused.
He snarled in frustration as he walked face-first into rock. The Lutari tore two of the driest, low-hanging branches from the nearest trees and carried them carefully to the cavity. Mike had taught him all sorts of weird things, including how to light a fire with sticks. Toren doubted the boy had known how handy that trick would come to be. And he was very glad he had actually listened. He had usually ignored Mike's 'lessons' on topics like skipping stones and tying knots.
Toren knew his makeshift torch would not last long, so he walked as quickly as he possibly could whilst bent double. The gap took a sharp left turn and it descended. Toren could just barely see May at the bottom of the steps, waiting for him. He followed her and examined the room. It was a small chamber, hollowed out of the earth. Pillows and blankets were strewn around it, along with other assorted items such as plates, cups, and books. The cloying stench of rotted fruit filled the room.
"I guess we could take some of the bed stuff and plates and cups," he decided.
May was rolling on a nearby pillow. "Don't do that. You're all wet," Toren chastised.
As he grabbed a blanket and started to pile the cleanest looking plates and cups and pillows into it, he noticed a small slip of paper. Again? These people sure do leave a lot of notes around.
Of course, the first one had been a travel brochure, but he had not missed the coincidence that the only clues he had gotten about this place were hastily tossed-aside papers. He held the note to the light and interpreted the handwritten scrawl:
To whom this may concern,
If you are finding this place, then you must be aware of the state of our island. Or perhaps the storms in the area have finally lifted. That seems odd to think with how loudly I can hear the wind outside right now.
Regardless of who you are, we have finally made the difficult decision to abandon our fine Lutari Island. The storms have become too much to bear. A number of our island's residents left the island once the storms first started. Those of us who stayed tried to remain on our home island for as long as possible. Unfortunately, the storms ruined our docks, our fishing nets have been dragged away in the current, the wind pushes all but the strongest over and it is only a matter of time before our houses fall, and the fog makes it difficult to hunt for fruits. Hopefully this is only a temporary move. It was with the deepest regret that I accepted the group's decision to move onto a safer and calmer home.
To you finding this note, I can only hope that you either leave as swiftly as possible, or are the bringer of brighter times for our fair island.
Akaestem, Lutari Island Elder
So... that was it.
The Lutaris had left the island because the storms had gotten too much to handle. And he couldn't expect anyone back until the skies and sea settled down. Toren knew he should have been distraught. He should have felt a sense of urgency to escape the island and find where his fellow Lutari had migrated to. Instead, he calmly continued to pack whatever useful items he could find into his makeshift rucksack. He was not feeling anything, particularly.
"C'mon, May," he called once he had tied up the blanket, he approached the entrance. She followed him obediently.
The torch sizzled out as Toren stepped out of the rock and into the rain. He felt the tip and tossed it aside with a shrug. He strode into the forest without really thinking about where he was headed. It was an island; he would find his way back to the village eventually. The Lutari passed by another banana plant and, after some consideration, grabbed a few more to take back for himself, May, and Gray.
The thought hit him suddenly. That was what he was feeling, and it was not the same relief he had felt after finding May. It was relieving to know that no one would be telling him to leave the island. It was relieving to know that no one would come and try to take him away or take him to the Pound. It was relieving to know that, for once, he could live the life he wanted to live.
Bumping his still-sore nose into the wall of one of the huts was what finally brought Toren back to reality. He peeked into the huts until he saw a dark shape huddled inside one.
"You're back, are you?" the Krawk croaked.
"Yeah. I found more food while I was out," Toren replied.
"Give it here, then. I started on the boat," Gray commented. Toren plucked five more bananas off the bunch and handed it to the Krawk. "Found a lot of dry wood in one of the huts next door. That was pretty fortunate."
Toren did not want to fight again so he bit his tongue despite his irritation. I was going to use that to patch holes in these huts. They were inside drying for a reason! He forced a smile to his face although he doubted the Krawk could see him. "That's great to hear. How much work did you get done?"
"A bit," Gray replied vaguely. "Y'can see it for yourself in the morning."
"Alright," Toren agreed. "I'll see you tomorrow then."
He left the Krawk to sleep and walked back to his – now devoid of wood – hut. The Lutari placed the rucksack down and dug through it until he found two pillows. He put one down for May and set the other down behind himself. He also grabbed a blanket and curled up. It was with a much lighter heart that Toren felt himself drift off to sleep.
Toren was warm, he was comfortable, and he was full. It was a nice way to wake up, far better than after washing up on a beach or on the cold floor with no pillows or blankets. May was curled up on her pillow still. He could hear thuds and creaks from outside. It did not appear to be raining.
Toren ducked out of the hut and saw gray clouds swirling overhead. The old Krawk was attempting to pull one of the other huts apart, presumably for nails. He had some thick branches tied together with what looked like strips of a rug from one of the huts. He certainly had kept himself busy while Toren had been searching for May, although the Lutari questioned the safety of the raft.
"You sleep a lot, don'tcha?" Gray asked as he saw Toren emerge.
The Lutari shrugged. "I slept as much as I wanted," he replied.
"It's not good to waste your day away like that. I always wake up early," the Krawk opined.
Toren rolled his eyes. "I did a lot yesterday."
He still felt the odd calming sense of liberation as he had felt the day before. It was hard to get upset at Gray's accusations of laziness. Toren had slept how he had wanted, for as long as he had wanted. And it had felt good.
"I'll probably be finishing the boat today," Gray commented. "I got a lot done while you were runnin' around."
"I can see that." Toren nodded to the raft. "I can go find some more food. There won't be fruit trees out on the ocean and you don't know how long it'll take to find shore."
"Find me somethin' to use as a sail while you're out, will ya?" the Krawk asked.
"Will a blanket work?" Toren wondered.
"As long as it doesn't have holes in it."
Toren nodded. He had left some of the blankets behind, but he could probably find the pit again to grab one.
Thick fog covered the forest when Toren returned to the village with one armful of fruit and a blanket for Gray to use as a sail. He held up the blanket for the Krawk's inspection.
"That'll do. Where'd you find it?"
"May found where the Lutaris had stayed until they left the island. They burrowed underground to escape the wind," he explained. "They left a letter behind explaining why they hid and why the island was abandoned."
Gray had continued to work while Toren was out and the raft looked nearly complete. He took the blanket and stretched it across a tree branch. The result was rather precarious-looking but it was better than what Toren could have done.
"Well, this is it. S'not much, but it'll get us to shore. Let's get 'er down to the beach," the Krawk said gruffly.
Toren helped him hoist the makeshift vessel and its contents into the air and carry it down the path to the beach. As they left, Toren felt a tug toward the huts. His heart was heavy at the thought of leaving. It would be the end of his newfound freedom. Taking the boat would be going into the unknown; it would be putting him in a situation where he would have to answer to Gray or whoever else was at the shore the boat found.
And taking a boat out in this weather was absolute madness.
The ocean off the coast of Lutari Island looked the same as it had yesterday, but Toren could see a dark shape on the horizon that could have been Terror Mountain. If Lutari Island's drifting had brought it close to the mainland, then it was probably the best day to leave.
"You all set to go?" Gray asked.
Toren's stomach lurched. It was now or never. Would he be able to ever find his way back to Lutari Island if he left? Even if it was abandoned, even if he never saw another Lutari, he still liked Lutari Island. He had found it himself and he was proud of that. He stared back at the island then turned to the sea.
"Well?" Gray said expectantly.
Toren shook his head. "You go. I'll stay here."
"Why d'you wanna stay in a place like this?" the Krawk said, gazing at Toren suspiciously.
He shrugged. "I just do. I can't explain it. I ran away to escape others, and this is where Lutaris go to escape. I can wait here for someone else to show up. The storms can't last forever."
"You're crazy," the Krawk grumbled as he set the boat in the water. "Are you sure this is what ya wanna do?"
Toren gave the Krawk a wry smile. "No more crazy than you, sailing out in the middle of a stormy ocean with no clue as to where the mainland is."
The Krawk actually laughed. It was a hoarse croak, but Toren understood the sentiment.
"We're both crazy, then. But you remind me too much of myself as a youngin' for me to force your hand. If we ever meet again, we'll have to discuss which of us is crazier. Best of luck here."
"Fair sailing," Toren wished the Krawk sincerely. "Wait! Before you go, I have a question... It's been bugging me since I met you."
The beach had reminded him of their meeting. "What is it, kid?"
"Who are they? The ones who told you not to come here?" Toren asked.
The Krawk laughed again. "You'll find out when you're older," he replied with a wink. "Especially if you stay here like this."
Gray crawled onto the boat and used his legs to kick off from the shore. Toren watched the makeshift sail catch the wind and push him off into the ocean. The Lutari lifted a barking May into his arms as the Krawk retreated from the island. He disappeared into the darkness and fog.
"We'll be fine, May," he said gently. "We have food. We have water. It'll be a bit stormy, but I think we can be happy here."
Thunder rumbled in the distance. Gray was no longer visible. With a small smile and a light heart, Toren turned and walked back into the forest.