Come dance with the gypsies... Circulation: 108,522,844 Issue: 217 | 18th day of Storing, Y7
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Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part One


by ikkin_with_attitude

--------

Also by Schefflera

Authors' note: Connected to Ikkin's "Ashes," week 180.

There was a sucking sound and a sharp crack, and Lisha staggered against her brother as maniacal laughter floated in the open window. Jeran caught her, steadied her -- then saw the source of the laughter and promptly shoved her down into the limited cover behind her bed.

     A blue-skinned Chia sat cross-legged on a small storm cloud that crackled with trapped lightning, his eyes still glowing with the aura of a magical spell.

     Hubrid Nox. Vampire Chia, centuries old and gleefully malevolent. Not to mention theatrical.

     He swooped to the edge of the window, grabbing the sill and leaning in with a broad smile that displayed his fangs to advantage. "Greetings from the Haunted Woods, Lupe-knight! Can the Champion of Meridell save his sister?" He let out another deep cackle. "I've invented a new disease," said the Chia vampire, lowering his voice to a hiss. "Just... for... her."

     Jeran lunged forward with a growl, meaning to grab Hubrid by his slimy coiffure and drag him through the window with a sword at his throat.

     The vampire merely glided backward on his cloud, out of reach. "Don't think you'll find me such easy prey, puppy."

     A blast of magic shot neatly past Jeran's ear from behind, but it splashed harmlessly off the cloud. Hubrid soared upward, laughing madly as a Draik guard flew up with gritted teeth and encountered a small lightning bolt.

     "Sorry," Lisha panted. Jeran turned to see that she had risen up on her knees behind the bed, but was now leaning heavily on the mattress, shaking her wand. "Too weak a shot... can't come up with another one right now. I'm... I'm really tired all of a sudden...." Her elbow dropped onto the bed, and while she still kept the wand propped up and was obviously trying hard to focus on it, she was no longer shaking it on purpose. Her whole body trembled; Jeran couldn't be sure whether it was with fatigue and strain or with chills. He didn't think it was fear.

     With the vampire's gloating laughter ringing in his ears, Jeran gently picked up his sister and put her to bed. He plucked the wand out of her grasp and laid it on the bedside table, then charged out of her room and headed for the stairs to the castle roof.

     He found the Chia waiting for him near the edge, bobbing back and forth and blithely ignoring arrows that struck his cloud and spun to the ground. Draik guards fared little better than the arrows; one red Eyrie knight dived on the vampire from above and was sent reeling away.

     Jeran saw all these things, but only Hubrid Nox himself was truly clear in his vision. "You'll pay for this, you monster!" Jeran screamed.

     "Oh, will I? You can't even get close enough to hit me!" Hubrid laughed.

     Jeran rushed the Chia, who floated out of range as the Lupe slashed at him. Jeran barely stopped himself from running into the battlements.

     "You should count yourself lucky," the vampire laughed. "If you did strike me down, you wouldn't have any way of saving your sister. You need me."

     Jeran growled viciously at the Chia, but lowered his sword.

     "You just might have a chance to save your sister, if you follow me back to the Haunted Woods!" Hubrid shouted as he flew off.

     "Coward!" Jeran yelled, holding onto the battlements as he leaned over the side of the castle. As the Chia disappeared, however, Jeran's anger became less intense... and he found himself standing far too close to the castle's edge for comfort. Below, the scorched Eyrie limped back toward the castle door.

     "You might want to stick to ground-level pursuit," said a voice from behind him, "or ask somebody to lend a wing. None of the Draiks could get close, though. You might have noticed." A firm hand wrapped itself around his elbow, and Jeran somewhat gratefully allowed himself to be tugged back from the edge.

     He sheathed his sword and turned to face the owner of the hand and voice -- the Green Knight. The green Chia had his own sword drawn and looked grim; there hadn't been much anyone could do against Hubrid, it seemed, but that hadn't stopped the knights or guards from trying. Even the ground-bound ones.

     "Good idea," Jeran said. His throat felt strange -- could he really have shouted enough to make himself so hoarse? "He's cursed Lisha; he says he invented a new disease. I'll have to talk to King Skarl.... I should be able to leave within the day--"

     "I know he cursed Lisha." The Green Knight glowered southward, in the direction Hubrid had taken. "She struck the gong to summon help to her room and said you'd gone chasing after him. She was rather worried about you."

     "Worried about me! Has anyone been able to help her?" Jeran asked, though rather hopelessly.

     "Not really... Kayla arrived just as I left, with some of the remedies to similar diseases... but it didn't seem as if they were working," the Chia responded.

     "I'll just have to take the remedy from Hubrid himself," Jeran said grimly. "I'm sure I can convince Skarl to let me go." With this, the Lupe knight started to walk away.

     "Just one thing, Jeran," the Green Knight called out. "Hubrid despises Lupes. It might be a good idea to have a Chia come along... he might be more willing to bargain."

     "Would that really help?" Jeran asked, turning back around.

     "It might," answered the Chia. "And it certainly wouldn't hurt."

     "I guess you're right," Jeran replied slowly. "Though it might not be wise for you to disappear along with me... you are quite well known as a knight, and one of our best fighters." Good enough, in fact, that with Jeran himself gone, it might not be wise to send the Green Knight away as well. "If I'm to leave, Meridell will need you here."

     As Jeran started walking again, the Green Knight fell in beside him. "There is my brother... though he's up at the Darigan Citadel right now. Still, I'm sure he'd be willing to come if you told him what happened."

     "Go up to the Citadel and ask for your brother's help?" Jeran asked, surprised. After thinking for a moment, he continued, "It might be wise to ask for a representative for Darigan, too... Hubrid did appear to help them out during the first war."

     "So he did -- though the ones I was fighting looked about as surprised as I was to see him." The Green Knight fell silent for a thoughtful moment himself. "It couldn't hurt, if Hubrid favors them for some reason. Or even simply dislikes them less. I don't know what they might have to do with him, but I do doubt they're involved in this. My brother may be a bit overconfident in battle at times, but he's fairly observant." A halfhearted chuckle. "Even if I'd never have pegged him to end up an ambassador."

     "I didn't think they were likely to be involved." They started down the stair, back into the castle; Jeran gave a last glance up at the Citadel before they descended too far to see it. "Lord Darigan seems reasonably sane at the moment, and I think he was pleased with the trade agreement just before harvest."

     It seemed absurd to talk about trade agreements while Lisha lay ill under some unknown curse, but he had to be rational and reasonable and explain himself to King Skarl. Chasing his tail wouldn't help Lisha.

     Jeran stopped and turned aside once before going to request an audience with the king. He couldn't resist going in to see his sister... to see how fast the disease was progressing, but at least that she was still alive.

     Lisha was asleep. She wasn't as neatly tucked in as when he'd left her; he supposed she must have gotten up to summon help, as the gong was near her bed but not quite within reach. A pang of guilt struck him -- he had acted rather rashly, and he just hoped she hadn't made herself worse in her concern for him. There was a thin film of sweat on her skin and fur, and her normal yellow coloring had taken on a distressing tinge of pea-green.

     Morris and Boris were sitting together on the floor, already drawing up a schedule of watches and evidently taking it very seriously. They told him that Kayla was flitting back and forth trying to invent the cure herself, and they were charged with keeping an eye on Lisha in case of changes in her condition, as well as entertaining her or bringing her anything she needed when she was awake. Jeran half-distractedly gave them permission to reschedule or cancel their normal duties and lessons, which they had quite forgotten about in favor of waiting on Lisha hand and foot.

     And then there was King Skarl. The king never liked sending Jeran out of Meridell, but like everyone else, he was fond of Lisha -- and he knew how important she was to the kingdom. He grumbled at one part of the proposal -- the idea of asking for help from Darigan, which Jeran wasn't entirely happy about even if he had proposed it -- but in the end, Skarl conceded that it should be done if the Yellow Knight agreed it was advisable. The Yellow Knight's diplomatic functions at the Citadel seemed to consist largely of playing Cellblock with the dungeon warden, but he was still more immediately informed of the Citadel's attitudes than anyone else from Meridell.

     And so, after sending word ahead by Crokabek, Jeran set out toward the Darigan Citadel for the first time since he'd fallen from it during the war with Kass.

To be continued...

 
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