Wings of Paper - Chapter 5

Wings of Paper - Chapter 5

A Chapter by A.L.

Rabid Rabbits


The air had a certain chill to it that I associated with the oncoming Darkness. The air smelled of smoke and I could hear the soft hum of electricity but also the quiet buzzing of … I wasn’t quite sure how to describe it. 

It was almost as if I could sense the Darkness approaching. 

Smokey trotted between Alex and I like our pet dog, his tiny tongue hanging out of his mouth as his nose trailed along the ground. 

We rounded corner after corner, but there were no dragon kennels nor people in the first place. Alex was quiet, which was good because if she had started a conversation I would’ve made a fool of myself. 

The further we strayed from the filthy motel the louder the sounds grew until I realized I was hearing the faint buzz of conversation. We rounded a final corner and I was amazed by the sight. 

Roughly a hundred people were gathered together, each one holding a small white flame that flickered dimly in the low light. At the front of the crowd was a man who held a cloth lantern in his hand. His voice was low and smooth as velvet as he spoke loudly to the people gathered in front of him. 

I couldn’t make out exactly what he was saying, but I didn’t want to risk getting closer in case of an attack. Apparently Alex didn’t share the same hesitance because she continued striding forward. I couldn’t let her walk out there alone so I followed behind her. 

“Ah, I see we have visitors,” the man broke out of his speech as he noticed us approaching. His accent was odd, but not unpleasant. “Have you come to join the Lantern Ceremony?” He smiled at us, his grin wide and bright as a hundred pairs of eyes turned to stare at us. 

“Actually, we were just coming to see what all of the commotion was about,” Alex smiled softly at him. “What exactly is the Lantern Ceremony?” 

Her tone was pleasant and curious, and I wondered if maybe Alex was actually interested in this ceremony. I could only hope it didn’t involve human sacrifices. 

“I’m glad you asked,” the man smiled. “I am Griffin, Bringer of the Light.” That sounded peaceful enough. “Every night the town greets me here and we all light lanterns and release them into the sky as a way to stop the Darkness. After all, light and darkness are polar opposites.” 

Now he had piqued my interest. A way to stop the Darkness. That was just what we needed! 

“Does it work?” I asked. The crowd drew a sharp breath almost in sync. I guess I wasn’t supposed to question the almighty Griffin. But it was an honest question, I still had no idea how I was supposed to be stopping this Darkness besides killing Dee, and any information would help. 

Does it work?” Griffin scoffed, shaking his head. “Young man, we have no idea. Sure, the Darkness has slowed its spread at some times, and sped up at others. It’s as unpredictable as the Stormy Seas. We can pray and hope that our ceremony works, but we have no idea.” 

“But we think it helps,” another woman interrupted, bowing her head to Griffin before addressing me. “The lanterns form a wall between us and the Darkness, and so far it hasn’t touched our town like it’s hands have with others. But the lanterns won’t work forever. Everything will succumb to the Darkness eventually - it’s best to just enjoy what we have.” 

Because that was optimistic. I felt my stomach plummet as all hope left me at once. 

I should’ve known it was too much to hope that the Darkness could be stopped by simple flames, even if the lanterns apparently helped slow it down. 

“Would you like to join us?” Griffin asked, surprising me with the offer. 

Alex and I shared a look. Her eyes were pleading and I could tell she desperately wanted to try. I think she was feeling helpless. “Of course,” I answered at last. “Oh, and before we begin, does anyone know where we can keep our dragon for the night?” 

The woman smiled too. “I’m Charity, and I actually run a dragon kennel at the far end of town. I’d be happy to watch the poor baby for the night.” 

Smokey ran to her, and she scooped him up, nuzzling his nose like he had known her his entire life. I couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous. It felt like Smokey was my dragon, but I had to remind myself that he was a wild animal. 

Griffin beckoned for Alex and I to join him. He waved at someone in the crowd and the remaining lights that had been on in the town flickered off, plunging us into Darkness. 

But in less than a moment there was a flicker of white light and all of the flames began to grow, illuminating the faces - young, old, male, and female - of the people gathered for the ceremony. 

One by one, the flames began to multiply as cloth lanterns were lit. I watched in amazement as children on their parents shoulders released the lanterns into the sky. Like a thousand new stars were added to the canvas, the lanterns rose higher and higher until I felt something pressed into my hands. 

It was a cloth lantern, maybe the size of a pumpkin. Alex gripped one side tightly while I clutched the other. Griffin raised a tiny candle and lit the inside of the lantern. 

I met Alex’s bright blue eyes and we released the lantern. It rose into the air to join the others, and I felt a rush of excitement as the lantern strayed further and further from the ground, further from me

“May the light provide safety from the Darkness,” Griffin called loudly before turning back to the people. “You are dismissed.” 

Griffin walked off the tiny podium he had been standing on and disappeared into the town. Just like that the entire town was leaving, with no care for the beauty they had released. Perhaps because they had given up hope. 

I remembered what Hiro and I had told the woman with Nigel and quickly called out, “Stop!” 

The townsfolk didn’t listen. 

“Wait, you need to listen to me!” I shouted. None of them turned. 

“Don’t ignore him!” Alex screamed at last and I had to wince at the volume of her voice. The townsfolk turned to her, exhausted, and she smiled at me, beckoning for me to take the stage. 

“Look, you aren’t safe here,” I told the villagers. 

“Tell us something we don’t know!” someone snorted from the crowd. 

“Travel to the west,” I said, ignoring the person. “All of you, gather your bags and leave. Take as much with you as possible and follow the roads to the west. It’ll help you avoid the Darkness. You can seek safety there.” 

The people shrugged, and they disappeared before I could address them any longer. I wondered if they would heed my warning. Some would, others would choose to say behind. 

It didn’t matter how far they travelled, if I didn’t stop the Darkness everything would be consumed and destroyed. The white flames might be able to stop the Darkness for a bit, but never would they hold it back forever. 

Alex and I made our way back towards the motel, Smokey had disappeared, most likely to find the woman at the dragon kennel. He was smart, I knew he would find his way back to us. Or at least I hoped he would, though he would probably be better off with his family than us. 

“We’re not safe either,” Alex said, her tone hushed. 

I laughed. “Yeah, we haven’t been since we arrived. There’s always the threat of attack and…” 

“That’s not what I meant,” Alex argued. “Are you forgetting that the only way to get home is through the portal? Luke, if the Darkness gets to the tower at the edge of the world our only way home will be gone. We’ll be stuck here forever.” 

My whole body went numb. I had been stupid to think this would be easy, and I had been too naive to think about my return home. Not only would my parents probably kill me, but if I didn’t hurry up our little quest there was a chance I would never make it home in the first place. 

“I … I hadn’t thought of that,” I mumbled, heat rising to my cheeks. 

Alex was silent, and I thought she was fuming. Why had I been so oblivious? So dumb? So utterly stupid? Alex didn’t have any business being here, and now it was possible her only method of escape would be destroyed. 

Thunder rumbled in the distance. I shivered, and Alex and I ducked into the motel. 

I would make sure that she would find a way home - even if it ended up killing me. I had a job to do, none of the others had to be involved. 

Smokey was gone and so was the dragon kennel woman. I was pretty upset with myself for trusting her, but Alex reminded me that the woman could’ve been too preoccupied with packing to notice him slipping away. Kip thought it was for the best. 

We piled into the minivan at sunrise, much to Sadie’s displeasure. Luckily, Sadie, Sammy, and Alex were able to get some shut-eye. 

I was too stressed to do much besides stare into space. Hiro, Kenzie, and Kip kept casual conversation going, but I didn’t participate. How could they talk about their pasts and their hobbies when we were slowly approaching the Darkness? 

By now we were in the rolling plains between Kip’s world and Hiro and Kenzie’s. At the edge of my vision were rolling hills and mountains jutting out of the ground, which signaled Hiro’s actual kingdom. He muttered something about homesickness, but I was too worried to listen much to him. 

Also, to make the situation even more awkward Alex had chosen to use my shoulder as her pillow, earning a few teases from Hiro. Kenzie blushed when she saw it and turned away, leaving me unable to decipher her reaction. Why did girls have to be so confusing? 

The minivan puttered along the endless road, which soon turned to a dirt path traveled by carriages and horses. 

Again, the road was empty in both directions. Hiro reminded me that his kingdom was already being consumed - inducing another round of panic in me - and he clutched his head suddenly. 

“Hiro, are you okay?” Kenzie basically flung herself backwards to reach him. Hiro groaned something unintelligible, and Kenzie’s face paled. “I don’t know what’s wrong.” 

“Read his thoughts, you idiot!” Kip said, startled. We nearly veered off of the road, but Kip regained control in time. Kenzie’s fingers were pressed to her temples, her eyes squeezed in effort. Alex stirred beside me. 

“Any luck?” I asked Kenzie, forcing fear out of my voice. 

“What? No,” she blinked once. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Normally I can hear Hiro loud and clear when I try. Now there’s only a soft buzz of static.” 

“Is it you, or is it Hiro?” Kip asked, knuckles white on the steering wheel. “Try reading my mind.” Kenzie gained a look of concentration for only a second before she shook her head, eyes brimming with tears. 

“I’m broken,” Kenzie wailed, waking Sadie and Sammy with a start. 

“You’re not broken,” I protested, the sick feeling in my stomach spreading. I was pretty sure I knew what was happening. “It’s the Darkness. It’s in Hiro’s kingdom, the other day he said he was feeling dizzy and now I think it’s happening again. Next would be yours, so the Darkness is starting to have a side effect on you too.” 

Hiro moaned again, his head on the window. Kenzie bit her lip, I could tell she was worried - and so was I. 

Just as I was about to say the situation couldn’t get any worse it did. 

Something slammed into the side of the minivan. I fell into Alex’s lap and she shoved me off with a huff of disgust. 

“What was that?” Sadie asked, her high voice reedy. 

“No idea,” Kip mumbled. The minivan slowed to a stop and Kip turned to face us. “Everyone grab your weapons and be ready for an attack when we open the doors.” 

I reached for my sword, fingers barely wrapping around the hilt when there was a loud screeching sound of claws on metal. Sadie screamed we spun around to see a weird bunny-like creature gnawing on the outside of the car. 

“Open the doors!” someone shouted, it might have been me. Kip obliged, slamming the hilt of his knife into the buttons on the steering wheel. The automatic doors slid open and I pushed Alex outside, only just remembering Hiro’s state.

“I’ll cover Hiro,” Kenzie called out, planting herself in front of him.

“What damage could a bunny really do?” Sammy scoffed. That was where he was wrong. 

It wasn’t just a single rabbit-like creature. From underneath our van and from the wheat of the fields crawled hundreds of the tiny animals. They definitely weren’t like normal rabbits. Each one had fur as dark as midnight skies, their teeth were sharpened into fangs and their tails were long and scaly. 

Claws, extended, one of them leapt towards me. I didn’t think, I simply swept my sword in a wide arc through the air. It sliced the rabbit in half, and it gave a squeal of pain as it dissipated into pure dark mist. 

I didn’t have time to celebrate, the rabbits were overwhelming me. I sliced and stabbed with my sword, at this point any contact with the blade and the rabbits was appreciated. But the more I killed the more of them seemed to take the places of the dead ones. I could hear the others screaming as the rabbits were doing similar things. 

One of the creatures had made its way up Sadie’s leg and she screamed even louder, shaking it off. Sammy threw a knife and it struck the bunny straight in the head, it fell to the ground dead. 

Tiny claws pulled at the fabric of my pants, trying to climb me. I shook it away, swinging my sword with even more fervor. 

“Get off of him!” I heard Kenzie scream, and I could only assume the rabbits had found Hiro in the van. With newfound strength I swung my sword harder, sweeping the creatures aside like chess pieces. 

More and more tiny feet clawed at my pants and skin, as the creatures climbed even higher. I shouted for help, but my cries were lost in the midst of chaos. I felt my sword being torn from my hands as I fell backwards, landing hard on the ground. The air was forced from my lungs and I could feel the tiny rabbit feet all over me. But the more I struggled the furrier and thicker my prison grew. 

“Luke, do something!” I heard Alex call from not far away. 

“What do you want me to do?” I shouted back, trying and failing to wrench my arms away. The rabbits seemed to be digging themselves into the ground to secure me. 

“Use your imagination!” Alex called back. “Think of something! This is your world, you control everything that happens in it!” I knew she was right, of course, but what was I supposed to imagine? A bunny exterminator? 

Although it was hard to think of anything besides the sharp talons poking my skin through my shirt, I managed to picture hundreds of dark furred bunnies flying through the air and freezing in place. I heard the squeals of rabbits, maybe closing in for the kill, but then the pressure on my limbs loosened and I was able to crane my neck upwards. 

In front of me were hundreds of black rabbits, suspended midair with their fangs bared and their claws outstretched. Yet none of them were attacking us, which meant my plan had worked. 

“What were those?” I asked as I crawled to my feet, ignoring the soreness in my back. 

“Dark Beasts,” Kip answered. “They’re creatures consumed by the Darkness and repurposed for Dee’s use. We need to kill them.” 

“On it,” I murmured, picturing the rabbits all catching fire and turning to ash. 

Just as I did I heard the soft woosh of ash falling to the ground. A wave of dark mist passed over me and my knees buckled, my vision tunneled. But in a moment the fit was over, although my stomach was still battling nausea. 

Alex helped me to my feet, retrieving my discarded sword and placing it in my hand. “Can’t you just do that to Dee? Just imagine her as gone.” 

Alex’s idea was a good one, but I already knew it wouldn’t work. “Dee knows who I am, apparently. If she knows who I am she knows I’m the Creator, which means that she knows of my imagination power thing. Her dark magic will protect her.” 

Alex’s face fell and I felt terrible disappointing her. But I didn’t want to give her false hope. No one needed that. 

“How’s Hiro?” I asked, effectively changing the subject. Kenzie’s head popped out from the other side of the van. She looked worried, her face pale and her hair all messed up. Luckily, she seemed uninjured. 

“I think he’s fine,” Kenzie replied, not hiding the note of panic in her voice. “One of the rabbits was on him but I killed it before it could do anything. He’s still unconscious, but at least he’s breathing.” She ducked back inside the van, I think so I couldn’t see her in a panic frenzy. I didn’t care, though. 

At least we were being optimistic, even if Hiro wasn’t showing any signs of getting better. 

With one last look at the ash lying on the road, I climbed back into the van. Kip revved the engine and we were speeding off again. Sadie was still a little freaked out, so Sammy held her to his chest for about an hour until she stopped shuddering. 

Alex seemed shaken too, but she didn’t show it as much. She didn’t talk, either, but that was fine with the rest of us. Kenzie was too busy nibbling on her nails to notice much of anything. As for Kip, he turned the radio on full volume and began to warble along to a rather annoying song. Hiro didn’t stir. 

I felt his forehead, and it was cool to the touch. He mumbled something in his sleep and I forced the doubt creeping into my mind to stay away. 

Rain began to pound on the windows, and Kip finally clicked off the radio. 

The mood was solemn, because no one wanted to mention the fact that our best fighter and our hero was falling away. 

© 2020 A.L.

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Added on August 18, 2020
Last Updated on August 18, 2020
Tags: fantasy, young adult, teen, short stories, adventure, fiction, quest, darkness, heroes, castle, kingdom, imagination, doubt, confidence



I've been writing for a little over two years now - just short stories and occasionally a book (by word count alone). My main works are sci-fi and fantasy, aimed at a teen audience. I'm still in high .. more..