So many people. Too many. But we have to keep moving, keep ourselves mixed with the rest of the crowd. Things on deck become a little more confined as more people trickle on board, but I don’t pay much heed. I just walk, silently, Ariana keeping hold of my hand and letting me be her guide.
Time passes quickly. Far too quickly for my liking. We have to find him soon. It’s not a huge ship, but there are enough people on board now that Lucas can keep himself hidden easily, if he wants. It’s a double-edged sword.
“Damian.” Ariana’s voice stops me in my tracks. She sounds terrified. I turn to look at her.
“I think someone’s following us. Not Lucas, someone else.”
My head snaps from her face to the crowd behind her. Many people are milling about, just like everywhere else on the ship, but there is one person standing very still.
“Ari, describe him for me.” I say, not averting my gaze.
“Um, he’s not very tall, but he looks maybe 18...he’s got blond hair and a blue jacket…do you see him?”
“Yeah. He’s waving us over to him.”
Following the man and girl was something I decided to do idly. I admit I let my curiosity get the better of me, but I had nothing better to do. Besides, if he was looking for someone in particular, maybe I could help him out, make an ally.
As more people board the boat, the crowd pushes us towards the ship’s back end, where my idle quarry and I were headed anyway. What catches the corner of my eye is a particular man among the crowd. He doesn’t appear too out-of-the-ordinary at first; his hair is brown with shaggy bangs, he’s wearing a collared shirt and glasses, and he has some tattoos on his arms. What calls my attention is the way he’s acting.
He bustles through the crowd in a prowling manner, keeping a slow but purposeful pace. Whenever someone bumps into him, he takes that as a queue to move swiftly past them, accelerating his pace for a moment. He has a demeanor similar to that of my own target, including the hunting eyes. Except his eyes aren’t scanning the crowd. They’re dead focused on one person a ways ahead of him in the crowd; the same guy I’m following.
I start to consider what this could mean; the first, and admittedly most appealing, possibility is that these two are simply friends looking for each other. This, however, is quickly discounted. This closer man is moving too decidedly slowly. He’s taking his time, so as to stay unnoticed. In addition, I notice the Pokemon walking at his side; A Houndoor. It walks with fangs bared and claws unsheathed, and moves with a slow, stalking pace, keeping low to the ground; a hunter’s pace.
So that, my mind decides, leaves two possibilities. One: This man is waiting for the couple he follows to find him. Two: he’s waiting for them to be alone, or nearly alone. I have a talent for reading people, a useful skill I’ve always been gifted with. I can see the malice in his face; it’s visceral, practically dripping off like sweat. As I see it, he’s a predator, and the two people we’re both following are his prey. In which case, I decide, I may as well try to protect them.
I make the quick decision that it can’t hurt anything if this guy sees me approach the two who walk ahead of us. He doesn’t know who I am, or what intentions I may have.
With this in mind, I break into a slow jog, dodging through people. AS I get gradually closer to the two people, the girl turns. I don’t think she had noticed me until then, but her eyes fix on me when she notices. I slow to a fast walk. The girl and her brother keep moving as well, but she keeps her eyes fixated on me. I look right back, slowing to a stop. Hoping she’ll stop as well.
She turns her head away, and at first I think all is lost. But then, she and her brother stop, and after a moment of conversing, the brother looks in my direction. I nod at him, and beckon him over with one hand. He says something else to his companion, and then slowly approaches.
I approach our apparent follower warily. He could be working with Lucas.
“Hey there,” he says, giving a friendly wave.
“Are you with Lucas?” I ask defensively. No point in skirting around it.
He raises an eyebrow. “Lucas? Don’t know him…unless…” He furrows his brow for a moment, then nods. “Yeah, that makes sense…is Lucas about my height, brown hair, tattoos, and a Houndoor?”
That catches me off-guard. He knows what Lucas looks like, but acts as if he doesn’t know him. Might as well prod a little.
“Yeah…do you know him?”
“Actually,” he says, shuffling his feet and looking over his shoulder. “That’s why I’m talking to you. No, I don’t know this Lucas, but I’ve been watching him. He’s following you.”
I reflexively look around me. “Stay calm.” he says. “Come with me into the cabin, and I’ll explain. You can trust me.”
“How the hell do I know that?” I ask coldly, my mind frosting over with fear for myself and Ariana. Who is this guy?
He sighs, glancing behind him again. “Alright, look.” he says, speaking fast. “the way this guy’s following you, I think he’s waiting for you to be alone. I’ve seen people like him before, and he’s definitely following you, but waiting for the right circumstances.”
I look into his eyes. I really have no idea what to do. I don’t know this guy, who seems to understand more about Lucas than I do. I’m clueless.
“Okay, listen.” He says, running a hand through his hair. “We need to get you two somewhere safe NOW, so I’ll give you what little more I can to make you trust me. My name is Tobias Rye. I’m 19 years old. I was raised by my father, and we traveled a lot all my life. I’ve seen a lot of kinds of people, and I know how to read them. Right now, I just see two people in danger, and I’d like to try and help them. So please, just let me help.”
I feel a hand shatter through the ice in my mind. Ariana’s hand. I look to my left, and she’s standing there, looking at me. There’s no fear in her eyes, quite the opposite. There’s a lot of courage there, more than I’ve ever seen from her. I think she passes a little to me, because I feel a little better too. I turn back to our new acquaintance.
“…okay, Tobias Rye. We’ll trust you.”
Shattered Gemstones (c) Jay Petrequin, 2012