A/N: This story is the sequel to Legend of the Shadow. If you haven't read it, I suggest you do, as it gives a whole lot of background information to this story.
Dash heard the sound of footsteps, slow, careful footsteps - the sound of someone trying to be quiet, but failing. He froze, listening. When the steps only grew closer, he dropped the dirty chicken bone, and bolted. As he ran, he glanced over his shoulder to see if any one was following. No one was. He was safe. For now.
For as long as he remembered, he had lived in the massive network of streets of one of the five supermegacities in the world. He had no memories of anything else, just of the struggle to survive, alone. The one true friend he had was a older boy who had been with him for the first seven years of his life. Pierre, he was called. Pierre had been his father, mother, brother and sister, and best friend. It was Pierre that had raised him, taught him how to live in the streets, how to survive. Pierre was killed in a street fight when Dash was seven. From then on, Dash was alone. As a little boy, the memory of the terrible fight was forever branded into his memory, and he kept his distance from any human being, not trusting them. For the gang that had killed Pierre, had been Pierre's best friends.
Why did they kill Pierre? Dash had often wondered. Everybody liked Pierre. He was fun-loving, kind, thoughtful. It was Pierre who had given Dash his name. He watched the boy learn to walk, and then to run. He had laughed when the boy started running everywhere on his stubby legs, and started to call him Dash. The name stuck.
And now, in the streets, it became very useful. Dash was skinny and dirty, and not very strong. There was no way he could defend himself in a fight. So every time anybody came anywhere close to him, he turned and ran. Running was the only thing he could do well. He could run for miles. And when he started to sprint, no one could ever catch up to him. He was very fast. It was his only defense in this world.
Dash slowed to a walk. He was now in a deserted street, and the buildings were broken down, the glass broken in the windows. He paused before one now, staring at his reflection in a nearly whole pane of glass. His fifteen year-old face was thin and pale, framed by a dirty, tousled shock of light hair that was pretty much white. His face was pretty ordinary, except for his eyes. They were the most extraordinary feature. They were big and round and a brilliant, unnatural green that seemed brighter than the prairie grasses after a rich downpour.
His stomach gurgled, reminding him of the task he had to finish - finding food. He knew many places which were rich with food scraps, but they were dangerous, as other street kids rummaged there. But he had one secret place all to himself, a place he had discovered four months ago. It was a dark and hidden alley that was hard to access, and perhaps that was why no one had discovered it. In any case, it was his. He broke into a easy, loping run, traveling through dark alleys, and deserted streets. He knew the city like the back of his hand. It was his playground, his home. It was the only place he had ever known, and he had grown up to understand it. It was unfair, cruel and dangerous, and you had to be alert at all times to stay alive. It was a cruel world, he understood, and it took all your will and determination just to keep breathing.
X X X
He was close to his little alley now, and he began climbing over a stack of rotting crates. On the other side lay a very narrow opening which gradually widened into a small alley that had a dead-end. He easily slipped through, and trotted on through the short passage, and into the small area where all assortment of junk was. In fact, this was where he had found the rags he wore now, an oversized shirt, and too-small pants.
He let his eyes adjust quickly before moving on, and he eagerly stepped ahead. That was when he saw the first splatter of blood.
He should have ran, like he always did when something was of place. But not this time. He just froze in his tracks. Slowly, of their own accord, his eyes began to travel further on, until they came to the next splatter of blood. A little further on a dark shape was against the wall. Dash stared at the dark shape, beginning to tremble. Was it man? A animal? Was it dead?
Abruptly, the shape shifted, and with a little cry, Dash jumped backwards. He half-turned, ready to flee, when two eyes peered out of the mass, and stared into his own. He was frozen to the spot, pinned there by those two dark eyes.
"Come here." The voice was barely a whisper, but it was commanding tone, a tone that Dash didn't dare disobey.
Slowly, trembling like a leaf, Dash took one halting step forward at a time, his terror increasing as he drew nearer. At last, he stood right before the man, completely scared out of his wits. He was mere inches from a man!
Like lightening, a gloved hand snaked out and latched onto his wrist with a grip of steel. Dash cried out in terror and tried to pull away, but there was no moving the strange man.
"Hush, boy," the man said. "I won't hurt you."
The boy nodded, but the terror in his eyes told differently. He was trembling, nearly whimpering with absolute terror.
The man shifted, rose up on his heels, one hand pressed firmly against a gaping wound in his chest. He grunted. Dash stared at the black, form-fitting clothes on the man, the soft leather boots, the silver medallion about his throat. He gulped. The man was a Shadowguard Ninja. He trembled even harder.
"I need your help, boy," the man said softly. He gave a sharp tug, and pulled the boy down beside him.
Dash swallowed hard. Would the man kill him if he didn't obey?
Soft chuckles from the man surprised him. The man seemed to have read his mind.
"I won't eat you," the stranger coughed, wincing. "I need you to listen to what I have to tell you. I don't. . .have much time."
Dash nodded, green eyes wide in fear. The man let go of him, but for some reason, he didn't flee.
Carefully, the stranger burrowed into a side pouch, and pulled out a small silver object. It was oval, and slightly flattened. Wincing in pain, he removed his silver medallion, turned it over, and fitted the small object into a depression in the center. It clicked into place.
"This," the man held up the medallion, "contains a very important message that the Kal'uker would kill for. It is so. . .important, that the world's future lies within it, depending on whose hands it falls into. Understand?"
"Yes," Dash whispered, stunned. A message that the fate of the world depended on?
In the distance, men's voices suddenly erupted. They were close, and the sounds of running, boot-clad feet were all over the place. The stranger started, then reached out with the hand holding the medallion. It was shaking; he was very weak. "Take it. . .and. . .go to the Island of Shirol'ka. Give it only. . .to the Shadow."
Dash didn't move, stared at the dying man.
"Take it!" The man gasped fiercely. "Please. . ."
Slowly, Dash reached out, and took the medallion. The man's eyes blinked slowly, his dark eyes unnaturally bright. "Remember.. . " his voice dropped to a weak whisper, and Dash had to lean in to hear. "Island of. . .Shirol'ka. Give. . .to the Shadow." The voices were close now, dangerously close. "Go."
Dash scrambled to his feet, not wanting to the leave the strange man. The man repeated his last word fiercely, with such a frightening, dark tone, that Dash fled. He slipped out of the alley, and into another, and peered around the corner. Several men in dark gray uniforms marched into the alley he had just been in. There were surprised shouts, then a moment of silence. A loud, angry exclamation followed, and Dash could make out some of the words.
"We're. . .late! He's gotten. . .of the message! . . .have to . . .a. . .search . . .!" Dash could tell by the angry tones, and the cold voice, that the speaker was not a nice man. He watched from his hiding place as they marched back out, one with the lifeless form of the stranger over his shoulder. He saw their hard, cold faces, and knew without doubt that these were evil men.
But what of the stranger? Could he truly be one of the Shadowguard? If he was. . .Dash shuddered. . .then the rumors Pierre had told him were true. That there really were strange warriors who fought evil in secret attacks, streaking in on their illegal technological vehicles, the strange hovering Strikster boards. In general, they fought for good, but, Pierre had told him, no one truly knew if they were evil or good, as they fought and snuck around like evil themselves.
He looked down at the medal clutched in his hand. Stared at it for a long, long time. What was he to do? He could just get rid of it. Throw it into a pile of rubbish. It could be that easy, and then he could just walk away and forget about it. But he couldn't. The Ninja had said the fate of the world depended on it. The whole world!
Or what was left of it.
Dash swallowed hard. He knew what Pierre would've said. What're ya waitin' for? Get your feet into gear, and go for it!
Slowly with trembling hands, he slipped the silver medallion around his neck, and hid it under his shirt. He was a messenger now. For Pierre.