Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 106,046,831 Issue: 211 | 7th day of Collecting, Y7
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Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Five


by cpmtiger

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The Desert Island arrived at the Lost Desert Docks shortly after the sun had fully risen. Caiman expertly steered the ship as Avalon and Ash took a look at the sandy world ahead.

     "Look at all the pyramids," Ash muttered, eyes fixed on the points jutting up from the ground.

     "And there's Coltzan's Shrine," Avalon said, pointing to a tall golden structure that looked like a huge pencil from such a distance.

     Ash followed his paw. "Wow," she whispered. "I can't wait to see the Shrine!"

     "Don't forget, Ash, that Scarback's camp is only a few miles away," Valor warned, lugging a large box across the ship deck.

     "I know, I know," Ash grumbled, "Don't lecture me."

     "LAND!" Caiman called, pushing the silver lever forward to stop the ship. Valor set down the box, and opened the door. He threw down the ladder, then stepped aside for Avalon and Ash.

     Avalon climbed down the ladder, headfirst in the usual cat fashion. At the bottom, he nodded to Ash, who nodded in reply.

     With a check at the wheel to be sure Caiman was busy, Ash leaned close to Valor and whispered, "Come with us for a second. It'll be quick."

     Looking unsure, the purple Lupe followed Ash down the metal stairs. He gave Avalon a quizzical look as his paws touched the wooden docks.

     "Why didn't you tell us about the spy?" Ash hissed.

     "Wha-" Valor blinked.

     "You heard me." Ash narrowed her eyes.

     "Fine," Valor grumbled. "Caiman told me not to. He said the Desert Island can outsail any ship in the sea, even one of Scarback's. He said there was no point in worrying you two. I don't know anything about boats, so I had to take his word that the spy wouldn't catch up. Besides, Quaz told me to listen to Caiman's orders exactly."

     "But what if the spy did catch up?" Avalon asked accusingly. "What if Scarback had helped him with some magic? He does have some, you know."

     "But really, that's not what we wanted to discuss," Ash said coolly. "We want to know what else Caiman doesn't want us to hear."

     Valor had the look of a Snowbunny surrounded by hungry Lupes. "But Caiman told me-"

     "We don't care what Caiman told you!" Avalon snarled. "Caiman isn't coming with us. You're not coming with us! Don't you think we should know about this kind of stuff before we head out into the desert?"

     "Besides," Ash added darkly, "Don't you think Quaz would want us to know?"

     Valor bit his lip, then sighed. "All right," he whispered, "Here's what I know: That Gelert is a spy of Scarback's. We don't know why he's following us, but Caiman thinks-"

     Avalon interrupted, "Valor, I want to know what you think. Not Caiman, you."

     Valor's frown deepened. "I think the spy's trying to stop you from getting to Scarback. That must mean Scarback is here, probably with the shadow-ghosts near Coltzan's Shrine.

     "Also, you'll want to watch out for scouting patrols. Caiman's heard about several parties lurking outside the villages."

     "Wait," Avalon asked suddenly, his golden eyes narrowing. "Did Caiman actually tell you any of this?"

     "No," Valor admitted. "I was looking for a map so I could see where we were, and found all these papers. A lot of notes, really. I showed him, and he said they were notes, he just hadn't told us because he had everything under control."

     Avalon frowned, but he said nothing. Ash turned back to Valor.

     "Thanks for helping with our luggage, Valor!" the fire Lupe said, loud enough for Caiman to hear. "Go!" she hissed. Valor, looking disgruntled, climbed back up the steps, leaving Avalon and Ash on the dock.

     

     Mere hundreds of miles away, a twisting, tornado shaped tower made of dark stone lay bathed in darkness. Thunder rolled violently overhead, and rain smacked the dead ground around the stone tornado. Inside, things were just as dark and dangerous.

     A shadow Kougra sat patiently on a small stone pedestal. Its eyes were closed, the rest of its face hidden by a sleek black battle helmet. It was leaning slightly, favoring the left front leg. His right leg was permanently twisted inward slightly, and it often hurt to lean on it. The room was almost pitch black, except for a lone candle's pale glow, and the occasional spark of daylight from the lightning. The small, circular window was open, allowing the rain to stain the dark wood floors unmercifully.

     Something outside the tower squawked, loud enough to be heard over the storm. The only sign that the shadow Kougra had heard the noise was the flicking of his tail, and the opening of one glowing, red eye.

     A moment later, an extremely wet Pirakeet flew into the window. Its feathers had been ruffled by the wind, and the bird looked frazzled. It circled the room twice before landing on the ground in front of the stone pedestal. It looked up at the large shadow Kougra.

     The Kougra opened its other eye and looked down at the small bird. The Pirakeet dropped a roll of paper on the ground, then stepped back a bit, quickly averting its eyes. A large, clawed paw swept down and grabbed the paper. Leaning on its good leg, the shadow Kougra read the note. His eyes narrowed and glowed brighter. With a low growl, the Kougra stood, and, limping slightly, left the pedestal. The Pirakeet flapped quickly out of the Kougra's path.

     A flash of white lightning lit the room for a split second, long enough for the ragged, winding scar down the shadow Kougra's back to cause the Pirakeet to shudder. Even petpets feared Scarback the shadow-ghost Kougra.

          Avalon narrowed his eyes against the harsh glow of the sun. Three days had gone by, and there had been no sign of anyone who might be the next Guardian. Avalon and Ash were searching yet another town, yet another marketplace, being shoved aside by the desert natives.

     Ash shook some dust from her fur. The heat she could take. The sand, however, got under her fur, making it itch terribly. She watched Avalon impatiently as he scanned the crowded market.

     "Let's go!" she hissed. "We shouldn't stay in the open for too long, especially with that gem shining like it's been painted Glowing."

     Avalon glared at her. He only felt that the Gem was safe when it was around his neck. Anywhere else, someone could take it without him noticing. He saw several poor looking pets stealing Neopoints from lavish canvas bags and fancy wallets. Avalon and Ash had taken particular care to keep their bags tied tight, and strapped all the way. Nothing had gone missing yet, but with shadow-ghost Gelerts around, having it anywhere else seemed stupid.

     Suddenly, Avalon's tail stiffened. His eyes widened, and with a soft sound like a sword being drawn, Avalon's claws slipped out of his paws. He grabbed Ash, and dragged her behind a large white tent selling pottery.

     Ash gave Avalon a puzzled look. "What's up?" she asked.

     Avalon pointed to the pathway. "See there- oh, wait, that Poogle's in the way…move it, fatso! There! See him?"

     Ash ducked back behind the tent. "A shadow-ghost Gelert!"

     "You bet," Avalon agreed. "So Caiman was wrong. The spy did make it."

     "Unless he's not that Gelert. Valor said there were scouting patrols, remember?"

     But Avalon shook his head. "He's got a pair of oars tied to his side. I'll bet he stole a boat and sailed here. He's probably looking for one of the scouting groups."

     "Okay, so we know where he is, but how're we gonna get out of here?" Ash asked.

     Avalon bit his lip, trying to remember the layout of the marketplace. All he could remember was that it twisted and turned relentlessly, in a way that made the route impossible to memorize. Peering out from behind the white tent, Avalon saw only desert colored pets. There was no way a starry Kougra and a fire Lupe could even think about disappearing into the crowd of orange and yellow pets.

     Ash suddenly gasped. Avalon turned to look at her, and followed her gaze. Two hazy black figures were heading straight toward them. Even with the blur from heat waves, there was no mistaking the black blobs for anything but two shadow-ghost Gelerts.

     Avalon and Ash turned around and barreled through the pottery tent. Vases crashed to the floor, and the owner of the stand, a jewelry clad Aisha, let out a piercing shriek. Out on the streets, the native pets drew back and leap aside as the Kougra and Lupe raced through the streets. The Noil Gem burned against Avalon's chest; it's usual sign of warning.

     "Avalon," Ash panted, "Over there- by those abandoned tents…"

     Two more Gelerts was waiting for them, standing among the remains of ripped tents. Their paws crushed pieces of glass and pottery, and mushy heaps of ruined food. Avalon and Ash screeched to a halt, throwing up a thick cloud of dust. Avalon wiped his stinging eyes with a paw, and saw in horror that the Gelerts behind them had caught up, blocking their escape.

     Avalon and Ash reared onto their hind legs, drawing their swords with loud shhhiing sounds. One of the Gelerts hesitated; he obviously remembered how Quaz, armed with the same type of sword Avalon wielded, had killed Zeth, an infamous shadow-ghost who had been Brazen's younger brother. Until Quaz had fought the Gelert, Zeth had never lost a battle.

     The Gelert who had been there when Zeth had died obviously remembered, and were reluctant to take on anyone Quaz had trained. But the other Gelerts pushed him on with harsh growls that promised a worse punishment.

     "Well," Ash commented darkly, "So much for keeping out of sight."

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part One
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Two
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Three
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Four



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