Sorry for making you guys wait so long. I had writers' block. And life in general to deal with. Here's chapter two.
As Hunter slowly woke up, the room was refreshingly dark. For some reason, he felt as if his eyes were incredibly sensitive to anything bright right now. He could clearly see in the dark, and right now he wanted to sleep some more. As shuffled under the covers he heard a voice pierce through his hazy mind.
"Hunter, don't you dare go back to sleep."
He moaned and rolled over to face his Manacle, which was lying on the counter beside the bed. The Oracle Keys and his headband were scattered there as well.
"Lemme sleep," he whined.
"You've been sleeping for three days; I doubt you're still tired."
Hunter shot up in the bed. He yelped as the bandages scraped against his tender wounds. The injuries were still in much better condition than the last time he remembered though. His hand instinctively went up to the wrapping around his throat. The last time he'd been hurt like that it took a while to heal and even longer for the marks to fade away. He just had a bad association with neck wounds in general.
"Three days?" he muttered curiously. The pain had sobered him up.
"Yeah; we figure it was because of the Keys. They did something and you recovered way faster than normal."
Shadow sighed in relief. He'd actually been worried about Hunter. Usually the kid could take a beating and be up in less than a day and a night. This time must've been serious. Maybe what he had done was justified after all.
"Eh? Were you actually… Worried about me?" Hunter teased.
"Yeah! I was!"
The sharpness of the comment threw Hunter off.
"We seriously thought you were going to die! Next time, don't lose your mind like that!"
Hunter blew off Shadow's concern.
"Relax! That was a one-time thing! I swear; cross-my-heart-and-hope-to die!"
"'Hope to die?'"
"It's… a saying back home. It means you promise."
Hunter flopped back down onto the bed.
"Hunter…" Shadow growled.
"Only for a moment."
He pushed back his bangs back from his eyes and relaxed for a few extra seconds. His hair had grown a lot since coming to the Inner World, and he actually needed his headband now.
"I GOT IT! Jeez, you're not my mom Shadow," he said irritably.
"Heh, I didn't even have a mother; put on headband and the Manacle. Don't forget the Keys too."
"Of course I won't forget the Keys! I'm not an idiot!"
"There are more than enough people around to destroy that claim."
"Oh shut up."
Shadow couldn't help but watch as Hunter slipped on the headband. It was an extremely unusual one as far as Shadow could tell. Most people wore simple cloth strips with some decoration, but none were as gaudy as the big green stones on Hunter's headband. Shadow grew bored when Hunter needed to try for the tenth time to get his hair up. He simply blanked out. Completely un-allowed for a warrior he knew, but he needed a break every now and then.
He would have never admitted it point-blank to the boy, but Shadow was actually quite fond of the Hunter. True, he had absolutely hated him at first, but then he couldn't help but slowly warm up to his idiot tendencies and almost charming naivety. Hunter more or less made him realize you were allowed to make bonds with others. You could be hurt, yet surely the other person was in pain as well, right?
Maybe he was being too idealistic here. There were definitely times when people made bonds to exploit others. Hunter had only reaffirmed his trust in others. He stopped his pointless rambling and looked from the gem of the Manacle. Hunter was finished dressing. He looked happier and more carefree with his hair up. The sight of his bangs covering his eyes gave him a dark, almost jaded look.
"What took you so long?"
"C'mon! Look at my fingers! They're messed up!"
"A warrior should be able to withstand pain."
"I thought you stopped with this warrior prattling a while ago."
"Contact Igneous and Magma on the Manacle. You need to tell them you are awake."
"Orrrr, I can have fun and go looking for them!"
"Look at how dark outside it is."
"I can hear a lot of people and there looks like there are a lot of torches or lanterns outside too. I'm gonna look for them."
"I've been in a bed for three days. I'm all achy."
Hunter smiled at his Manacle, and then did something very uncharacteristic of him. He brought the bracelet up and pressed the gem to his chest, essentially "hugging" Shadow.
"One time thing only. Thanks for saving me."
He dropped his arms to his side and set off at a brisk jog into the palace walls and outside.
As he wandered through the town, he was dazzled by the festivities. There were couples holding hands and lanterns strung everywhere coupled with many people in some of their nicest clothes. Children shot past his legs clutching treats and the pleasant humidity of a summer night gave off an amiable atmosphere.
"Wow~. Is this a festival or a fair? Everyone seems to be having a lot of fun."
"It's a harvest festival."
"Shouldn't that be in the fall?"
"Do you mean seasons? Right now, the hottest time of the year is when food is most plentiful."
"The Inner World is weird. Back on the surface, there's a harvest festival for the fall. Cuz' winter has just ended and everyone back then used to be really happy, since it meant that there was food a cold winter when everything died."
"Are there no crops that grow in the cold?"
"I don't think oranges count. Besides, even you would die in the freezing snow, right?"
"I'd make myself a thick cocoon of threads and wait it out."
"Haaah, lucky spider! I'd freeze to death!"
"Don't worry, if we're ever stuck in a snowstorm and are unprepared, I'll make sure you survive."
"I thought I heard some sarcasm."
The adobe buildings and the soft lamp light made Hunter feel giddy for some reason. It all looked so pretty and quaint. Hunter realized he wouldn't mind living in the Inner World for the rest of his life. There wasn't anything really for him back on the surface. As he neared the marketplace, he caught sight of Igneous and Magma discussing something.
"So basically Hunter told me it was his birthday. You had any idea?"
"Nope. Why wait until now?"
"Right now he's unconscious, so we can get him something for when he wakes up."
"Ohhh. That's a good idea. We probably shouldn't tell him what Shadow did either though," Magma murmured.
"What're you guys mumbling about?"
Chills ran up their spines and the two of them jumped back.
"Hunter! When did you wake up?"
"It's okay Magma! I feel pretty good! Is this a harvest festival?"
Magma watched as Hunter's eyes grew bright and he looked at all the stalls which carried strange food and trinkets he had never seen before.
"Have you ever been to a festival before?"
Hunter shook his head at Magma's question.
"No way. I always saw the fairgrounds and they called it a harvest festival and I wanted to go so much," his voice trailed off weakly.
"Hunter!" he called as he saw his friend stumble a bit.
"Damn, I'm still a bit dizzy."
"Did you say something Hunter?"
"No. Sorry about that."
"How are your injuries?" Igneous said quietly, giving his arm as a support for Hunter.
"It's fine. Actually, can we just look around? I've never seen any of this stuff before!"
The stalls carried easy to eat foods and little trinkets that seemed exotic to Hunter, but not to the others. There were candied fruits that were a strange color Hunter had never seen before, and when Igneous generously bought him a few, he popped one into his mouth with a bite and nearly choked as the sugary shell broke and the skin of the fruit 'popped' in his mouth. The sweet juice that tasted like cotton candy and bitter coconut trickled down his throat and dribbled from the corners of his mouth. Embarrassed, he wiped his mouth and savored the remains of the candied fruit skin on his tongue. When he asked what these sweets were called, a word fell from Igneous' lips, one resembling a sharp crystal. Rough and uncut, but pretty. He tried to say it, but something was off. He didn't have that vowel accent that Igneous had spoken his entire life.
As Igneous watched Hunter change into a whole new person, he wondered if he they had all been secretly hiding themselves under a blanket of stress and fear. Maybe their true selves were barely visible, but still showing, and eventually becoming their default personality. Perhaps Hunter was under the most tension of all, and he was slowly changing into the person he used to be on the surface.
"Hey, Hunter, do you think this would look good on you?"
Magma pointed to a thick piece of cloth hanging from the rafters of a shop among many others. The piece was hemmed with a bright green color, with a tribal style pattern of a similar color. It was a headband. Hunter barely gave it a second glance.
"But you have to tie it and tighten it all the time; that gets annoying! I prefer this one," he said, pointing to the one on his head made of elastic cloth.
Magma grew annoyed and tugged on the little tuft of hair Hunter had at the nape of his neck.
"I was just asking! What's this random tail of hair you have?"
Hunter jumped and turned around in a dancing sort of motion.
"Oh, that. My gramps always called it my rat-tail. It's just the way my hair grows. Something up Igneous?"
Igneous was biting a thumbnail. There was something that seemed familiar about that lock of hair. He snapped his fingers as he realized what it was.
"Hunter! That lock of hair; it always grows really long whenever you armor yourself! It's almost at your ankles!"
Hunter touched the back of his neck self-consciously.
"I guess you're right…"
"Hey, Hunter, tell us more about your grandpa!" Magma said.
For a moment, Igneous saw a shy, quiet boy take Hunter's place. Then, Hunter composed himself.
"Oh, my gramps. He's the one that told me about the Inner World. He raised me and he was always talking about Arachna Power and never giving up."
Hunter laughed and it seemed that he was reveling in pleasant memories that the other two could never share, to their envy.
"Heh! I'd like to meet him someday," Magma mused.
"Sorry about that! We cremated him, so you can't even see his grave if you wanted!"
Igneous and Magma both abruptly froze at the macabre words Hunter had so cheerfully uttered.
"He's passed on?" Igneous inquired.
"Yeah, he left before his time according to his friends. There was no way the doctors could've saved him."
"I-I see… Why was your grandfather raising you in the first place?"
"Just some problems with my parents- no big deal."
For the rest of the night, they had fun and eventually wandered back to the palace when people began to put the lights out. Try as they could, Magma and Igneous couldn't erase Hunter's disquieting words from their minds.
Hunter ambled back to his room and collapsed onto his bed.
"Argh! I'm kinda tired, but I don't wanna sleep! Same with you Shadow?"
"I took a nap while you were having fun."
"You still heard stuff I bet."
"No idea. Just a feeling."
Hunter pressed his face into the pillow. He sighed and flopped onto his back.
"Shadow, can I tell you a secret?"
This was new.
"Sure. I don't care."
"My grandpa, he killed himself. He was obsessed with the Inner World. He wanted to go back so much that he killed himself to see if could go back in death. I guess I only came here just to spite him in the end. I had a lot of fun though. As for my parents, they had me by accident. They didn't want me, so they left the baby with her crazy dad and ran off. I think they both are quite well-off right now. They managed to invest a fortune in some lucky business I heard. They try their best to pretend I don't exist, but I think that lately they made an offer to adopt me and take me out of foster care. Too late for that now."
"Wait, wait! That's more than one secret! And what's foster care?"
"Sorry about that. I've been carrying this baggage with me for so long that I need to vent it, y'know? Foster care is when they send children with no family to different homes with people willing to take care of them for a while."
"I see. That's sad."
"I'm happy here though, so I don't care! I just really, really wish Magma and Igneous hadn't brought up the subject. Right after I woke up too!"
Hunter pulled the covers over him with a loud noise, but he left the Manacle on. He had forgotten to take it off. Shadow knew he was trying not to show it, yet he could still hear the quiet sobs coming from Hunter's head. For some reason, he wished that he could use the Oracle Keys and change from Spider to Human, even if only for a moment, to comfort his Rider.
And I have finished the second chapteeeeeeeerrrrrrr!