Chapter 5

Was there any chance that this could be a natural phenomenon? Maybe, but I didn’t want to bet on it. The sooner I would be gone, the better. And seeing how Kirby had started his descent, all my wishes would soon come true.

Then I noticed the shadows creeping down the path I took to my current position.

Nope.

I got up and ran down the alley. No way I was going to wait to see what would happen if they found me. If they touched me.

“I am back, Ed.” a familiar voice said next to me, close enough to startle me.

“Godammit! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

“I am not, Ed,” said the drone’s monotonous voice. “I came back to you, as instructed. And my name is Kirby, not ’Godammit’.”

I looked back and saw the shadows gathered where I had been a moment ago. There was much more of them, enough to turn the ground entirely black even though the sun was high in the sky.

I got a little bit faster.

“Never mind that… Tell me where to go so I can get out of here!”

“You already ran past where you should have turned for the optimal trajectory, but I shall calculate the new one- Turn left.”

“Give me directions a few seconds sooner,” I groaned. “It was so sudden I almost fell.”

So with Kirby as GPS I navigated through the city as fast as I could without ever meeting a living soul. Only shadows.

Besides those after me, I’d sometime see groups of them, wandering the streets or immobile between alleys. I changed direction each time I spotted them, but it seemed my presence was enough to alert and attract them.

While it was great to be able to run without aching bones and old wounds, I didn’t have the luxury to enjoy it. I soon ran out of stamina. Which is probably what the blinking empty white bar in the corner of my vision was supposed to indicate. I had been running for almost twenty minutes at a pretty high pace and still felt moderately great until it was completely depleted.

I figured the attribute points definitely helped, since I doubted such a young body should be able to run this way without intense previous training. But they showed me another way in which this world was different from the previous one.

Exhaustion was supposed to be more gradual, not the effect of an empty bar. I had no idea what I would be able to do if my pursuers were faster.

I leaned against a guardrail to catch my breath and glanced back. I couldn’t see any of the shadows, so I assumed it was safe. For now.

There was a crack and I realized that whatever the guardrail was made of, it wasn’t in a state able to support my weight. A chunk of it broke off, but I was able to regain my balance and avoid falling.

However, my eyes grew wide when I realized that the broken piece didn’t fall down but slowly and surely floated upward.

I kicked the rail and witnessed the same scene play out again, gravity seemingly deciding to not act as it was supposed to.

Was that why there was no one around? Why everything was clean? Had it all flown away? But if so, why wasn’t I affected?

I looked up at the spotless sky, not even sure of what I was expecting to see.

“How far is the exit Kirby?” I managed to articulate despite how dry my mouth was. I really needed some water.

“2886,256 meters, Ed.” he said. “I am unable to give a more precise measurement with my current functions.”

“That’s… that’s fine,” I simply said, defeated.

A bit less than three kilometers, I was almost there. Almost out of this madness.

I gain more stamina back when I stay still… Should I wait until I can run again or try to just push through? I wondered.

I opted for a compromise and switched to walking.

“Weird,” I said to myself.

“I fail to see what is weird about turning left, Ed.” said my drone.

“Not that. I’m talking about this house,” I said as I pointed to it. “Am I overthinking things or is it weird that it’s the only building with a missing door?”

It was a small one-story house, one of those that had seen less damage. There only was a fairly large hole through the roof.

The drone flew a bit in the direction I indicated, characters I didn’t know defiled on its visor, then it came back to me.

“Ed, there is no house here. There is nothing.”

“Come again?”

“Ed, there is no house here. There is no-”

“No, no, no, no,” I interrupted, waving my hand in disbelief. “What do you see, right there?”

I once again pointed a finger at the house.

“An empty space,” Kirby said. “Also, I am required to tell you that you are running low on mana.”

I looked around. There was no suspicious shadows, but did I really have the luxury to check whatever was going on? They were surely on my trail.

The djin’s eye had the ability to show me things that were invisible and dispel illusions even when it was closed, though it was less effective. Which probably explained why I wasn’t able to see what was casting the oddly shaped shadows through the city, but able to see the shadows in the first place.

If anything is even casting them.

Same with this building. I could see it when a drone couldn’t, but what if there was more to it? Was it finally time to see what opening my eye would do?

No. I’m only running low on stamina and mana to maintain the drone. I won’t be able to find my way out of this goddamn maze without it, and I’m definitely not waiting to regain my stamina. I need to follow my own advice and “not think about it.”

Right as I was about to leave, my eye caught a glimmer beyond the entrance, but it was too dark inside for me to see what it actually was.

Intrigued, I slowly approached it.

There was something inside, but I couldn’t quite make out its shape. Was it a person? Were they asleep?

So I edged a bit closer.

The person was on their knees and wearing a medieval armor, which completely contrasted with what I had seen of the city so far. I didn’t know a thing about armors but I could tell this one was of exquisite craftsmanship. But that wasn’t what had caught my attention.

Closer.

The fingers were tightly wrapped around the wooden hilt of a seemingly banal sword that was transpiercing them from front to back. The blade was bone white and spotless. But it was so thin; how could it have gone through the impressing chest plate without breaking?

Closer.

There are moving things… inside the blade? It’s almost as if I can hear someone… calling me.

Closer.

I raised my hand to touch it, wondering how could anyone use something so long as a weapon. I didn’t notice the creeping shadows, nor the bones I was carelessly crushing under my feet.

It wasn’t until my fingers were millimeters from the bone bladed sword that a primal part of me, in the far back of my brain, realized that the trap was closing around me.

But like the moth heading to the flame, I couldn’t care less.

My fingers came into contact with the weapon and I was no longer in that dimly lit house, but in dark waters up to my waist.

 

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