Chapter 3

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            The man above her didn’t seem amused, if the way he said “Yes, yes, it’s very funny,” was any indication. Only when Rika got herself under a bit of control did he say “Now, will you please help me down?”

            Looking up at him, the odd little chuckle still escaping her, Rika nodded. “Sure. How do I do that? And how did you get up there in the first place?”

            “Follow the rope on top of this damn net, and it should be attached to a tree or something. You’ll need to untie it to get me down. And it was an accident. I wasn’t paying attention where I was going. Can you please hurry?”

            Rika did reply, focusing instead on looking for the rope. She had to circle to the right before she caught sight of it, stretching out from the top of the net, going around a few branches, then through some leaves before finally reappearing, wrapped around the trunk of one of the trees on the far side of the clearing.

            When she reached the tree, she frowned, looking at the thick knot that lay just over her head. She reached up and wriggled the rope, trying to loosen the knot. After a few moments, to keep her mind away from the myriad of distracting thoughts battering at her, she called out “Who made this trap? It is a trap, right? Not something you were trying to yourself?”

            “No, I didn’t make it,” the man replied, sounding annoyed. “I’m fairly certain it’s a Shinmo trap. One of the many reasons I would like down as quickly as possible.”

            Frowning, Rika felt the knot give a little, and worked on pulling one end further out. “What’s a Shinmo?”

            She heard a snort from him. “You’re walking around a forest that’s infested with Shinmo, and you don’t know what they are? I mean, walking around a forest in a skirt’s weird enough, but to not even know what kind of dangers are out here…”

            Rika spun around, hands dropping to her hips as she glared up at him. “I didn’t choose to come here. I opened this weird book and it brought me here from school. Where I’m from, we don’t have anything called Shinmow or whatever. And I’d think you’d be nicer to someone trying to help you.” She gave him one final glare before turning her attention back to the knot with a harrumph.

            For several moments, the only sound in the clearing was the chirping of birds. Then Rika heard a quiet “I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” from the net’s captive.

            She blinked rapidly, fighting back the faint prickle of tears that had suddenly sprung up. All of this, all at once, it…it was getting to be too much. Her emotions felt like they were part of a roller coaster, rapidly going up and down, leaving her no time to get her balance back. She waited until her throat no longer felt scratchy with held back emotions and said “I’m sorry too. I’m…I’m still adjusting. I shouldn’t be taking it out on you.”

            “Nah, it’s fine. You’re right about me not insulting the person trying to help me out. So, you got a name, stranger-girl?”

            His obvious, and terrible, attempt to sound flirtatious, had her smiling. “I’m Rika. Rika Sullivan. What’s your name?”

            “Damek Genrazy. Not that anyone ever uses my last name. I’d kiss your hand, but well… I’m a bit stuck at the moment.”

            “Not for long,” Rika said, grinning now. Her fingers working quickly, had the last little bit of the knot coming apart. “I should have you done in a matter of seconds.”

            “Great! Just make sure you-”

            The rest of what he was going to say was cut off by Rika’s yelp of surprise, but with what followed, she got the gist of what he was trying to say. As the last bit of the knot fell away, the rope practically snapped out of her hands, leaving a faint rope burn, before it slid off the branches. In less than a heartbeat, the net was hurtling towards the ground.

            The thud he made when he hit the ground had Rika wincing. She hurried over to Damek, kneeling beside him and pulling the ropes away from him. “I am so sorry! Are you alright?”

            He groaned, eyes closed, head half covered in the crisscross of cords that had made up the net. “Yes. Just, next time you decide to save someone, try not to drop them, okay?”

            Rika bit her bottom lip and nodded. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

            Damek sat up slowly, shaking the last couple of ropes off his head and face, turning to face her squarely, smiling slightly. “Yeah, I’m fine. I’ve fallen a lot farther, a lot faster. I’m tougher than I look,” he said. Then noticing the way she was staring at him, frowned. “What?”

            “Your…your hair,” she whispered.

            He reached up, patting his head, feeling the same hair that had always been there, just as long as it had been this morning. “What about it?”

            “It’s blue,” Rika said, her eyes going to his eyebrows, which were the same cobalt colour as his hair. “Is that…natural?”

            Damek nodded. “Yeah. Is blue hair where you’re from rare or something?”

            She shook her head. “No. No one has naturally blue hair. At all.”

            He shrugged. “That’s pretty weird.”

            “Not from my point of view. Where are we?”

            “We’re in Yorick Forest. Which reminds me, we need to get moving. I don’t think either of us want to be around when the Shinmo come to check their net. If we get going now, we should be able to make Saimore well before dark.”

            Rika frowned, feeling the cold prickle of fear come back when she recognized neither place. But if what she suspected was true, then she wasn’t going to recognize anything here. She took a deep breath and asked “What happens after dark?”

            Damek met her eyes steadily, face serious. “That’s when the Shinmo come out.”

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