Chapter 28:

Chapter 24. A Shadow.

Another Story [Hiatus]

"Sister! Pass me more bread!," said Anna, she seems to be very joyous. Her smile is very much apparent on her petite face.

"Okay," I said while handing her some more bread from the bag, "Don't make them all too fat, you know. Mama said it's unhealthy!"

Anna continues to gently toss more bread over to the ducks. Her face enjoying the sight while watching the ducks eat them with haste. My other sister, Olivia, tugs my shirt to catch my attention.

"Sister, when are we going home?," Olivia asked.

I briefly look at the bench where mama and papa are, it seems that they're still arguing so I don't think we can go home just yet, "When we have fed all the bread in the bag," I said.

"But there are still too many, I thought mama said it's unhealthy to feed too much?," Olivia protested.

"Yes, but there are still many more ducks that need food!," I told her. She seems to be upset by this. Knowing her, she would want to continue to play with her toys at home, but we cannot go home just yet.

My sisters and I continue to feed the ducks at the pond, trying to divert their attention from my parents. They seem to have been fighting ever since this morning, I do not know exactly what about, though. Did my dad have an affair again? Did my mother walk into my father's workplace and embarrassed him again? I do not know for sure, but it sure seems to be very serious.

We start to walk off to the direction of the pond where we haven't tossed some bread yet, Anna seems to be happy about it but not Olivia. When I look back at mama and papa, mama looks at us wondering where we are heading to, I then signal her that it's alright. She then goes back to their quarrel about whatnot.

This park is where my sisters and I always play, it's very close from home and many people come here often with their bikes passing through to go to the nearby university at Uithof. My sisters and I love going here because of the flowers that bloom during spring, we often make flower crowns and sometimes just lie down on the beds of flowers next to the canal.

"Sister! Look! That duck has stolen from the other duck!," Anna points at some random duck floating on the water. "He's so bad!"

"That must be the leader of the ducks! That duck looks so aggressive!," Olivia seems to have her attention on the ducks now. Good.

"Don't feed him more, then. He's just a bad guy!," Anna tries to stop Olivia from feeding the aggressive duck. "Sister look!"

"Olivia, stop that," I scold her, "don't feed him more food intentionally, just feed the ones who haven't gotten to eat yet."

"How do you know it's a boy?," Olivia diverted. She has always been good at avoiding topics that do not interest her. "You called that duck, a 'he'!"

"I do not know exactly how to put it into words. Let me think," I said trying to think of other words to explain the concept. "Well, It's always the strong boy duck that leads over the girl ducks and weak ducks, I think."

"Why does it have to be boy ducks all the time?," Anna asked.

As if reading the head of her twin sister, Olivia continued, "What if a stronger girl duck appears?"

"Uh, I don't know," I honestly said. I then look at the direction where mama and papa are sitting, they seem to have cooled down by now. "Look we have to go now," I start to rush both my sisters down to their direction.

"But you still haven't told us!," Anna said quite disappointingly for I didn't finish answering her question.

"Yeah!," Olivia agreed as well, "You always try to ignore our questions when they become too hard for you!"

"Come on!," I start to walk in front of them and they still stubbornly try to stay, but knowing them, they'll soon follow me. After a while, I start to run and tell them, "I'll go eat the ice cream at home first, then!"

When we all arrive at the bench where mama and papa are, they seem to notice our sweaty faces from our brief running.

"Well, look at you, kids!," Mama told us, "You are all so sweaty!"

"It's Sister's fault! She made us all run!" Olivia said honestly. Mama then looked at me with eyes that seem to be scolding me already. I gently bow my head signaling that I am sorry. "Mama, are we going home now?"

"Yes, liefje, we are," Mama replied. Papa still looks blank from their recent argument. I do not want to startle him but when mama stood up, he also stood up. We then start to walk off to the direction of our house a few hundred meters away from the park. Mama both took my sisters' hands while they all walk merrily. Papa still looks a little bit gloomy and it seems that his face is absolutely blank. How exactly does father look like? A jumbled mess of colors seems to replace his face instead. He tries to grab hold of my hand similar to mom, but it seems that his hand is reaching somewhere else. He reaches my face instead with his hand.

That is when I wake up, seemingly pinned down on the ground with my sleeping bag between the solid earth and my skin. I cannot seem to move my body, it feels as if it is rock-solid. When I open my eyes, I notice an unfamiliar shadow seemingly pinning me down on the ground with their hand closing my mouth shut and with their other hand a blade that shinesーreflecting the moon with its sharpened blade. I start to struggle moving but the shadow is so strong that I cannot move at all. Or is it that I just cannot move any muscle? Briefly, I saw the eyes of the shadow reflecting from the lunar shine, a red set of eyes that show apparent bloodlust ready to kill. I start to move all my limbs with a clear struggle to moveーI somehow cannot move, at allーand as if sensing my struggle the shadow readies their blade to stab onto me. They hold the blade up in the air reflecting even more of the moonshine onto my eyes. When they start to thrust the blade onto me, Liliana launches herself from her sleeping bag away from her comfortable sleep and kicks the shadow away with tremendous force, bringing the sail of the tent along with the shadow, and the shadow figure smashes onto a tree with their back clearly broken, if not, injured. The shadow's body now covered with the sail of the tent over them.

The rest of the group awakens from their sleep and with great usher, they all get ready for combat. I still can't move my limbs as Andri tries to find out what happened with me, "Aura! Are you injured?." he starts to inspect every nook and cranny of my body. I feel somewhat uncomfortable, but it's for the better.

I look towards the direction of Liliana facing the shadow, Maerten tosses her sword. And without even flinching or looking away, Liliana catches the sword with ease. She holds the sword against the covered body of the shadow. She yells, "Do not move!"

Ono got his bag of miscellaneous items and from it, he levitates a piece of rope while Liliana is pointing her sword towards the unknown shadow. They all seem to know what to do in this situation as they all with smooth consecutive orders, executed their own role. Ono wraps the rope around the sail holding it all together. "Agh!," screams the voice of a man from within the sail with obvious pain. The shadow.

Andri now seems to have found the reason of me not being able to move my body. "I think I found it!," he said, "you were forced to drink a nightmare potion."

I still cannot speak at this moment but Andri takes out a weird potion from his bag that seems to be the antidote. "Drink this," he said while administering me the strange potion. I slowly drink the potion and suddenly regained my speech.

"Thank you," I said. He smiles back at me as if saying: it was nothing.

Andri now diverts his attention towards the rest of the group. Liliana and Ono have all their attention towards the covered man. Liliana's sword now inches away from stabbing the sail. She pokes the sail a few times and when she is more comfortable, she drags the covered man from the rope around him towards the remains of what was the bonfire. "Maerten! Ono! Stand watch!," she orders the two.

"Yes, ma'am," Maerten replies and grabs his sword from the cart. He then stands behind the man. Ono then stands on the opposite side with his bag on the floor next to him, ready to pick whatever he needs from it.

Liliana closes herself towards me. I am still unable to move my body except for my head. Andri reported what he found lingering in my body. Liliana seems to be worried and soon rushes her pace next to me, on her knees, "Are you okay?," she asks.

I grunt a little, having some difficulty speaking. After a while, she still looks at me with the same question. "Yes," I answered,"Are you?"

"Don't ask me that!," she replies angrily but more like with a tinge of worry, "I am alright." She smiles at me consolingly and diverts her head towards Andri, "When will he be able to move again?," she asks.

"I don't know, I have given him a strong antidote, the recovery depends on the strength of the poison that was administered to him," Andri replies.

"I see," Liliana sighs, "For now, just lie there, Aura." She looks back at Andri again, "Stay with him, make sure that there are no other side-effects."

"Of course," he replied.

Liliana goes back to the place where the bonfire was and uncovered the man under the sail. I couldn't see his face clearly but his hair was not that long. Liliana points her sword towards his throat, "Speak! Who are you!," she interrogates with clear anger. The man doesn't seem to be answering and Liliana holds her sword touching the skin of the man, "Speak! I order you!," she says again.

After a while of Liliana repeating the same thing over and over again, I start to regain my strength back and now able to sit down. Andri seems to sigh of relief of my condition now, he goes momentarily for his pouch and gives me his water bag to drink from. I drink a good amount of water, trying to cleanse my body back. I try to move my hands and get a feel of the inside of my sleeping bag only to feel a certain shape of a blade next to me, the sheathed knife that May bought for me. Its sheathed edge poking me as if disappointedly telling me that I have not done enough. But I don't have any means of motion! I cannot possibly do anything! Why?! Don't blame me! It's not my fault. . .

Ono and Liliana seem to be discussing what to do with the man, they apparently have come to a conclusion when they both walked towards my direction.

"Are you okay?," Ono asks humbly.

"Yes, I am fine, now. Thanks to Andri," I reply. "No need to worry."

Ono smiles and sighs with relief, "Okay."

"We don't know anything about the man, he seems to be denying to speak," Liliana informed me. "Ono and I decided that we'll bring him to our destination dragging him on a sled tomorrow."

"Are you sure?," I ask.

"Yes, the maestros might know a way to make him speak," she answers, "for now, let's rest."

We all try gathering ourselves back into our sleeping bags, but it seems that Andri, Liliana, and I are unable to really get some rest. We are worried that something or someone might come back for the man we just caught and try to retrieve him. We stand watch all night trying to discuss what we will do. I soon regained all my movements back, and when I could, I relit the fire of the bonfire. In the process, I see the face of the man, standing there with his eyes seemingly emptyーdifferent from its red color earlier. He looks around the same age as us. His face clearly down looking and with disappointment. His hair, black and short, as if styled for this kind of assassination task. I try not to stir up a conversation but when he caught my sight, his eyes flourished back to the reddish color it once had. He tries to break free from the ropes only to be stopped by Maerten whipping him. He screams in pain. I feel somewhat bad for the guy, despite him being an assassin.

We didn't sleep anymore that night. Not just because we have an enemy captive but also because we all stood there shaking, which seems to be off without any cause. But for me, it's because I do not know what is awaiting us in that mission.