Chapter 17 - Knairez
A forest Grant hadn’t seen before made its way into view as he stared out of the window. He had never noticed it the first night he drove down.
The cluster of trees formed a thick barricade of flora that left the unknown contents within, a mystery. How deep and how far did it go? Was this where the lions returned to sleep after roaring amidst the vicinity of Lyros?
“About those lions…” Grant spoke up, “Do you think they might live in that forest?”
“Yeah, that’s where we figure they live,” she said. “There’s really nowhere else they could be hiding during the day.”
Rhett stared out towards the forest, eyes narrowing. “Yeah, I can’t see a thing from here. Good thing Saraiya isn’t with us today, she’d probably have you pull in closer so she could get a look along the edges of the forest.”
“Yeah... She really needs to stop looking around there. Although, I don’t think she is stupid enough to actually venture inside. I’ve just heard she has walked the edges of the forest before but found no signs of anything and turned back. That alone was too reckless in my opinion. That was around the time she first moved here though, I don’t know if she still goes down there.”
“I think as much as she hypes herself up about the lions, she is actually pretty afraid of them,” Rhett said and laughed.
“Who wouldn’t be though?” Ambri asked. “Especially now that they seem to be coming closer and closer.”
“Yeah, that’s true.” Rhett continued to gaze at the forest. The tree branches waving in the wind. “Why do you think that is?”
“I’m not sure, but I’m hoping that we can catch some in the cages I set up. At least then, we could send them back. Back to Jurai.”
Grant felt her idea of trapping lions in a cage like those was still just a gamble. These were lions, not small animals. They’d easily be able to break down those measly cages.
The thought of cornering a lion was terrifying. Who knows what it would be capable of in that moment. Ripping through the metal openings, tearing flesh.
“Well, if you do manage to capture one, I hope everything goes smoothly…” Grant said.
Air conditioning chilled the car and brought comfort to Grant, enough so that his eyes started to drift downwards as his head leaned against the window. They had been driving for around forty-five minutes now, and the light sleep from the night before was catching up to him.
His eyes shut.
“Hey! Grant! We’re here!” Rhett said, poking him in the shoulder.
“O-oh, okay.” Grant yawned and stretched out his arms. Looking around, food stalls and fair rides were set up. The sight alone of such an event filled him with dread. He focused on his breathing, keeping his emotions limited. The one thing he could not control was his heart racing however, and that was not from excitement.
“Let’s get going!” Rhett called out once again and Grant opened the back door and hopped out.
The Knairez shopping center stood at the center of the commotion, a massive sky blue building with white letters. The amount of shoppers crossing in and out of the building every second shocked him. He couldn’t imagine working a retail job in such a big city.
He looked over and saw Zenall Plus, it too, with a crowded parking lot, although nowhere near as packed as Knairez. There was a miniature fair here, after all.
Ambri and Rhett took the lead walking to the entrance as Grant followed, passing people from all walks of life. Joyful screams echoed throughout the parking lot from rollercoasters and spinning contraptions seated with people.
Grant twisted his head around and frantically observed everything. The outer edges of the business’s grounds acted as a festival, while the inner area remained a parking lot. Campers and small mobile homes lined up on the exits of the grounds and people sat outside relaxing in lawn chairs. Was this really just an ordinary store? This establishment seemed like it could be its own miniature town within Montria.
He had had enough taking in the view as his breathing was getting harder to control.
It’s not my fault. I’m sorry. It’s not my fault. I’m sorry. It’s not my fault. I’m sorry.
Giant automatic doors with white borders moved side to side letting the influx of shoppers pass through each other with no delay. Knairez’s aesthetic was on a whole different level than Zenall. It was as if comparing a fast food restaurant to a five star one.
Following the line of others heading through the door, humidity was met with the perfect temperature, chilling the customers to a state of bliss. The smell of fresh popcorn mixed in with the cool air. A greeter at the entrance smiled at them and asked them which kind of popcorn they wanted. Grant’s body reacted with confusion, stepping backwards.
Ambri smiled. “See, isn’t this experience much better?”
Popcorn jumbling about in his mouth, Rhett said, “Ah, to think I have been passing on coming here so far because I heard everything was a bit more expensive, but free food?! No one told me about this!”
Grant ordered a bag of cheddar popcorn and began to eat, slowly regaining his composure. Ambri grabbed a cart and pushed it towards the two, almost bumping into them.
“Well, let’s grab what we came here for. I’ll lead you to the aisle where the air conditioners are,” Ambri said.
The wheels of the cart glided along the glossy white floors speckled with light brown patterns. They passed a great number of aisles and stopped towards the back end of the store.
“Here it is, while you figure out which one you want, I’ll be right back, I just need to grab something close by. I’ll leave the cart here.” She said as she jogged off in another direction.
“It’s really not going to take me long to decide on an air conditioner… Aren’t they all the same anyway?” Grant said, watching Ambri disappear into the crowds.
“Yeah, I don’t know what she is in such a hurry for, it’s still early.”
Where are they? Ambri thought as she stood watch by the entrance of the store. They said they would be here to pay her the money they owed. Within the waves of people she spotted them.
Two men stood stopped next to the exit inside the store, peering around as if looking for their next prey. They wore dirty blue jeans with holes in them and stained shirts. The man on the right named Tarron had light skin and curly orange hair that laid over his sunglasses. The man to his left was Lucas, he had dark skin and dark green hair that spiked upwards towards the front.
She felt no intimidation from them, and why should she? She was here to get what they owed her and they had never refused payment before. Ambri approached the two as they stood, still standing in the same place, creating an obstacle for others to walk around.
“Move over here, you’re in the way of these people,” Ambri said with a snarky tone.
“Yeah, yeah. Now this is the last month we’re paying you right? That’s what he said anyway. So, this will be our last time seeing you,” Tarron said, extending his hand out, holding a stack of cash.
“Ah, yeah well about that, there’s been a change of-”
“Bullshit!” Lucas cut her off. “This will be the last time!”
Ambri could feel the emotion from looking into Lucas’s eyes. Tarron, on the other hand, she couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He remained composed for all but a few seconds, and she was met with the reflection of herself in his sunglasses, shaking.
Tarron and Lucas’s arms seemed to grow in size as they tightened their hands into fists. Ambri started breathing heavy and just as she was about to say something a holler came from behind her.
“Ambri! You okay!?” It was Rhett. Grant stood beside him.
“Y-yeah, I’m fine!” She said, and then brought her voice to a whisper. “You will pay us again next month, or you know what will happen.” After snatching the money from Tarron’s hand, she turned to the other two, still shaking.