The sun rested on the horizon ready to turn the sky black. Strong winds filled the air through the cracked window as Grant rode undulations of the hilly highway. His restless fingers tapped the steering wheel as he stared straight into the distance.
He still hadn’t processed much of what happened earlier, the only thing that resided within him was the urge to escape. Just thinking about the sheer strength from his grip made Grant shudder.
Someone would surely find Brax, especially if he attempts to stop at every car who parks at the rest stop. No sane person would let a bloodied man who has no signs of wounds in their car.
Why would anyone be after him though? Grant could think of a few reasons someone might target the other three if they never grew up after high school. Considering Brax still hung out with that crowd, he was just as much to blame as them.
Could they really do such a thing to warrant their deaths? Sure, they were awful people to Grant and the other classmates, but nothing on the level that would be retaliated with murder.
Grant felt relief from escaping Brax, knowing he would never have to deal with him again. Soon he would be free from everything that drove his anxiety, living in a new place, far from what he knew.
How much longer could it be? He passed a few small towns, and drove through a big city on his journey so far, but in general the scenery never changed. Green fields with occasional weak clusters of trees that made up fractured forests
He still had yet to pass through Montria, the capital of Nhaja. Signs indicated he would be approaching the city, and the increase in traffic proved that. Billboards stood tall with new ones coming into view every few minutes.
The glow of city lights became stronger with each minute he pressed forward. Grant had never been in a city of this caliber, and the traffic growing more and more dense made his initial impression sour.
“Come on…” Grant muttered to himself as he came to a full stop upon entering the city. He looked around, and in the surrounding area, various styles of buildings stood. Glass panels, brick, and even older wooden shacks mingled together, diversifying the area. The parking lots were full; vehicles on roads leading to and from businesses were barely moving.
Neon lights hung screaming out with their bright greetings; a colorful display trying to steal the hearts of whoever passed. The bustling sidewalks filled with all different variants of people.
Grant leaned back in his chair and sighed. Sleeping in his car tonight was looking to be the likely outcome. Was the city always this busy?
After what felt like hours, Grant finally approached the other side of the city with the highway leading out of the city in view. Although, something else held his attention more.
Zenall Plus. Seeing the expanded version of the company he used to work for made him groan. But next to that, cyan lights wrapped around the roof of a building. A sign of the same color in the shape of a stingray stood its ground towering above the establishment.
Ocean’s Ray. A unique restaurant only found in Montria, people from all over came to this restaurant for a one of a kind experience. Even in Tonim, radio ads played regularly for their seafood feast.
Grant parked, barely managing to find an open space and stepped inside the building. The wall was a giant fish tank that covered every inch, protected behind a thick layer of glass. Stingrays swam throughout the restaurant walls. Thick tubes wrapped with cyan lights linked together through the open air, even around tables, creating tunnels of transportation for the critters.
Stingrays of all sizes glided across the restaurant, though some were too big to fit through the tunnels. The customers’ gazes were on the tanks rather than their company. Though, no one seemed to mind. It wasn’t everyday that you felt you were at the bottom of the ocean.
The tables were neatly arranged in a pattern around unique conveyor belts. Water poured into the contraptions causing a steady flow that continued forever. Floating stingray decorations danced on the water carrying plastic containers of appetizers as they swam beside customers in their seats. Workers collected the unclaimed trays at the ends of the liquid conveyor belts, keeping order, and bringing them to the next flowing stream.
A line of people stretched almost to the entrance, although people were exiting as often as people entered. At the rate his journey had been going, he was already going to be too late to get the keys to his new home tonight, so spending a bit of luxury time was no problem.
“Seems like crime has been increasing in Nhaja, huh?” A group of men in suits were talking loudly among themselves.
“Yeah, a few days ago we had that incident in Tonim, and now we got ourselves our own incident here. Neither even have any leads… You think it could be the same person?”
“Could be… But, isn’t this incident similar to the one that happened years ago?”
“Now that you mention it, you’re right…”
“They still never found anyone to put the blame on for all those deaths did they?”
“Nope, but…” His voice became quiet, “Maybe it has something to do with Lyros.”
Grant’s ears peaked up.
“Hahaha, that conspiracy is ridiculous though, they’ve proved themselves innocent multiple times. I’ve been down there myself, they are all fine citizens.”
“If you say so!” The man teased while laughing.
What were they talking about? Grant had never even heard anyone mention Lyros outside of when Jack would speak about it. They didn’t seem too concerned over it though, so Grant brushed it off. The fact more murders happened here, similar to those in his hometown was what really shocked him. He had to know more details.
“Uh, excuse me, what exactly happened today?” Grant interjected himself into the conversation.
“You didn’t hear? They found three bodies this morning under a bridge.”
“Does anyone know how they died?” Grant asked.
“It’s quite graphic, I’m sure you will understand if I don’t want to mention it anymore while we are in line at a restaurant.” The man said.
Grant nodded. He wanted to ask more, but decided to keep quiet. Another three deaths? Was there also a survivor among this group? An image of a bloodied Brax reappeared in his mind.
Were these incidents connected? Brax couldn’t have killed the people here, he was on the outskirts of Tonim this morning. Grant couldn’t be sure Brax killed the other boys either, it seemed like he really didn’t know what was going on.
Customers were led to their tables and finally it was Grant’s turn. The waiter seated him next to the wall, or rather, the tank.
Stingrays were his guests of the night. They watched him as he watched them. The stingray theme was just that, a theme. They didn’t actually serve food made from stingrays. They would probably run out of their main selling point for visiting if they did.
He had never been to such a fancy restaurant before. Although, for it being a fancy restaurant, the menu was twice as thin as the normal places he would frequent. The prices were twice as expensive too.
The waiter came around again and Grant placed his order. He ordered their famous seafood scramble, an assortment of their popular items. Being told it wouldn’t be ready for another twenty minutes, he noticed a room tucked away in the far side of the dining area.
Lights flashed from inside, and kids, as well as others around his age gathered in there. Grant smiled. A new arcade to be discovered.
Tonim only had one, and the games there lately, never seemed to change. They wouldn’t get new games until two years after their release, when the prices for the cabinets dropped. Even then, new games were a rare occurrence.
Voices grew louder as he walked closer to the entrance to the arcade room. Squirming and dodging other customers, as well as workers, he tucked himself into the cozy room. There were quite a few games in there that he had heard about and always wanted to try, but what sparked his interest was a game he had played many times before.
It was a crane game. The fact it was a crane game wasn’t what caused him to get riled up, it was what laid inside, Shuraek, or rather Shuraek’s second form. There was only one laying in the machine; the latest plushie Elijah wanted before he disappeared.
Grant had tried to find one before, but being they were only ever sold in bigger cities, and the character wasn’t quite that popular, he never had any luck.
He walked towards the crane machine, the only thought being he had to win it. He reached for his pockets and dropped rama after rama into the machine. One attempt. Two attempts. Three attempts.
Was it impossible to grab? He wouldn’t give up that easily. Someday, he believed he would see Elijah again. Even if it was just for closure, a funeral. Grant knew that whether he won this or not wouldn’t do anything for Elijah, but he couldn’t help it.
He burned through ten ramas and groaned. Shuraek had barely moved at all.
“You need help?” A voice from behind him asked.
“...No, I’m done with this machine.” Grant tensed up and barely glanced at the girl as he headed back to his seat, hoping she would leave so he could return and try again later. He felt his face heat up realizing someone witnessed him burning through copious amounts of money for a toy.
His food would be coming soon anyway, so he figured he could relax and eat first before heading back. She’d probably be gone by then.
Light chattering and the smell of hot seafood surrounded him. He admired the marine life drifting through the space beside him. The stingrays swam up along the glass flashing their toothless smiles and chomping their mouths, as if greeting Grant.
Being stuck in a cage forever for someone’s entertainment, was that truly living? Grant pitied them. Perhaps it was the only life they knew, but at least they were bound to share their imprisonment with the company of others. They would be much happier being free, although more dangers would await them in the open ocean. Some matters, however, were worth all the risks they brought.
“Here’s your food sir.” The waiter carried out a plate covered in seafood delicacies.
What right did Grant have pitying the stingrays while he sat there ready to eat their ocean brethren? If anything, he hoped the critters he was about to eat at least lived a life of freedom. Dying after a short but fulfilling life was definitely better than living a lifelong prison sentence.
As Grant was eating, the chair in front of him pulled out, and someone sat.
“I got it!” The same voice he heard earlier.
He glanced up from his plate, his head still facing his food.
“You want this, right?” The girl held the Shuraek plushie in front of him. “Well, you can have it if you help me with something.”