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Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Five

by ikkin_with_attitude


Also by schefflera

Twilight had been pleasant in Neopia Central, cool and dim with a little more room to breathe and a vague sense of drowsiness. In the Haunted Woods, it was fully awake, watching and listening from the darkness of the deepest shadows and on the bone-white branches stretched above. Kreludor was starkly full.

     Sally looked around at the trees and edged closer to the three warriors.

     "We head west, toward the mountains," Jeran said.

     "All night?" the Yellow Knight asked dryly.

     Jeran glared at him; he would walk all night for Lisha's sake, if he were alone... but it probably wouldn't be the world's best idea, and they did have a child with them. "We'll make camp by moon set. I can carry Sally if she needs to sleep before then. I'll take first watch." Maybe all the watches. He wasn't going to be able to sleep restfully with Kass there... even if the Darigan Eyrie seemed to be acting in good faith so far.

     The group made good time through the Haunted Woods, even though Sally was quite tired after a few hours of walking. Jeran offered to carry her, and the Usul gladly agreed. The three warriors continued their trek, walking, if anything, even faster than before.

     By moon set, they found themselves at the foot of Hubrid's mountain range, in sight of the Chia vampire's mountain fortress. They set up camp in as concealed a location as they could find, between a ledge and the forest they had just left, and Jeran put Sally down to rest and found the best spot to watch from.

     The Yellow Knight found himself a spot to lay down and rest, but Kass remained awake, sitting beside Jeran. "There's something about these woods that make me uncomfortable," he said. Jeran eyed him suspiciously; having the Eyrie remain awake made him uncomfortable.

     "I'm quite sure you have had to make camp in a more dangerous situation than this," the Lupe said. "Get some rest -- you'll be more useful to us if you're fully awake."

     "It's not that it seems dangerous," the Eyrie said, looking at the ground. "It's just..." he trailed off, his gaze shifting to the forest, with all its shadows and mists, "...familiar..."

     Jeran surveyed the area. They had their backs to an overhang and a good view of most avenues of approach that didn't involve dropping over the cliff above; steep crags climbed above them to one side, and twisted trees leaned in from the other. Wisps and scraps of fog glowed among the trees even now that the moonlight was nearly gone. Dreary. And a bit spooky, but that was only to be expected. "I suppose I can see a little resemblance to the Citadel," he said, thinking of the cracked walls looming up from barren ground, "but I don't know why that should make you uncomfortable."

     "I didn't mean it looked like the Citadel."

     "Then what are you talking about?" A shadow among the trees slid abruptly sideways, and out of the corner of his eye, Jeran saw Kass shiver. He waited to be sure the shadow wasn't on its way to them, then turned to look at the Eyrie more fully, his gaze suddenly sharp. He might not like Kass, but he couldn't afford to ignore any of the party's instincts... and he was still responsible for them all.

     "They lived in a place like this. Except without the forest... or much else, really. A realm of smoke and shadows..." Kass said, peering into the forest.

     "They?" Jeran asked. He remembered Darigan had mentioned that Kass had been freed from "malevolent influences." Could this be what he meant?

     "The Three," Kass whispered. "Ambition, Greed, and Revenge... They feed upon those who are willing to listen to them, at least until they fail. And then...." He shivered again. "Few ever escape them, once the voices start."

     "You did?"

     "Not without... outside assistance. Though, even now, it's hard to imagine that they have left permanently. Especially in places like this..."

     "I shouldn't think the concepts ever do go anywhere," Jeran said warily, "but it sounds like you meant... beings." With voices.

     "I did. They... whisper. They promise power, in exchange for... doing the things you wanted it for. At first."

     "And for you, that was what?" Jeran asked rather harshly. "To destroy Meridell?"

     Kass didn't snap back at him, but nor did he look away from the shadows in the trees. "Yes. To destroy Meridell. To rule. ...I was wrong. I know that now. I... would not go with them again, given the choice, and I do not want to hear them."

     Jeran was quite surprised at Kass's frankness -- he had expected that the Eyrie would try to the question, or at least place much of the blame on The Three. "It seems likely, then, that they are attracted to those who are most willing to listen to them. If, as you say, you have no great desire for revenge on Meridell, or for power or riches, you probably have little to fear from them any longer," he said, hoping to comfort himself as well as Kass. If what Kass said was true, there would be little reason to distrust him. If not, the Eyrie was an unnaturally good liar.

     "Even so, seeing shadows like theirs is still... disquieting."

     "I'd imagine it would be," Jeran admitted.

     "You've never.... You were surprised to see me, I could tell," Kass went on. "Everyone thought I was dead, I think.... Maybe Lord Darigan didn't. They may have done the same to him, though I don't know how he escaped them afterward. The Three took me to their realm, after I was defeated in battle. They said I had promised them everything, and they were claiming it. They whispered, all the time I was there. Told me...." He stopped, shook his head, and left the sentence unfinished. "I thought I might as well be dead to everyone else, and wished I truly were."

     The Eyrie had been silent for several minutes before Jeran asked, "Why are you telling me this?"

     Kass said softly, "You were there."

     "I what?" Jeran's head whipped around toward Kass. He was sure he had never been in a place like the one Kass described, nor for that matter under the control of the Three.

     "I saw you there. Not theirs, but unbound and passing through."

     "...You must have been dreaming."

     "Perhaps you were, too."

     "What do you mean by that?" Jeran asked, thinking that the Eyrie had obviously gone mad.

     "They appeared mostly in dreams -- otherwise, they were nothing but shadows and whispers."

     "But what does that have to do with me?"

     "It seems that I was not trapped in The Three's realm for nearly as long as it seemed at the time. In fact, when I returned, not even a day had passed since your fall from the Citadel."

     "So I would not have been able to rescue you even if I'd wanted to. I was unconscious for most of that day, and in no condition to be going anywhere," Jeran said, looking at Kass accusingly.

     "If The Three's realm is a realm of dreams, perhaps the bonds they tied me with were not physical at all. And if one like you, in a state of unconsciousness, were to enter that realm, it would be possible to sever such bonds."

     "To me, then, it was a dream... But even so, how would I end up in The Three's realm in the first place?"

     "Perhaps they go after more than those who would easily accept them. I have no doubt that they would have expected you to kill me, and I am certain that would be serving their purposes, in more ways than one."

     Jeran scowled. He didn't like the idea of malevolent beings jerking him around in his sleep without his consent, and he didn't care for the suggestion that his killing Kass would have served the purposes of the Three.

     But if one of them was named Revenge....

     "I would have expected myself to kill you," he pointed out. He thought he did remember dreaming about the battle -- about Dark Novas, about Kass's blow to his back, about the wrench to his shoulder and stone under his claws as he swung over what looked like an endless fall, and Naralus lifted high.... And yet Kass thought he had dreamed of freeing his enemy?

     "Would you really?" the Eyrie asked him, still looking out into the forest and its sliding shadows, yet seeming less shaky than moments before. "A foe bound and helpless, no threat to you?"

     There was that. That... would be different. "If I had found you helpless... no, I wouldn't have killed you. I might well have wanted to," Jeran added for the sake of honesty. "I don't know why I would have freed you. But I dreamed of the battle," he said quietly. "I do not remember the dream that you describe."

     "I thought not. But I do." Kass turned at last from the trees to look up at the mountains on their other side. "You should sleep, Sir Jeran. I don't think I will, tonight."

     Sleep... If they were to take on Hubrid Nox in the morning, Jeran thought, it would be better if he at least rested first. The idea of putting his life, and the lives of the Yellow Knight and Sally, into the hands of Kass still worried him... but there was something about their conversation that gave him some reassurance. So Jeran let Kass relieve him of his guard duty.

     "I suppose I could use some rest," the Lupe said, laying himself down. "But wake me up if anything happens." While it was certainly not the easiest rest he ever had, Jeran eventually managed to fall asleep, leaving Kass alone with his thoughts.

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part One
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Two
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Three
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Four
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Six
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist

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