Spheres of Influence: Part Eight
“Get him!” J’Dar commanded. Chad and Troy immediately moved toward Jack. He was about to slash at them when he was shoved aside. He turned to see what had hit him, but he saw nothing. He couldn’t see anything, but he scented another Kougra. Then a figure faded into existence next to him.
“Get out of here, you idiot!” the figure said. Jack hesitated. As the figure became more visible, he realized that it was a Darigan Kougra, the Kougra he'd run into in the caves of Terror Mountain. And though Jack hesitated, the other Kougra didn’t. He launched himself upon Chad, biting him hard in the shoulder. Troy tried to help his comrade, but he was knocked aside by one of the Kougra’s leathery wings.
Finally coming to his senses, Jack took the opportunity to escape. He moved through the curtain and to the chamber door, which was wide open. When he passed through it, he saw the Lupe guard, who had been posted outside, on the ground. He was alive, but unconscious.
The sounds from the fight behind Jack came to him again, and he thought it best to move on, and quickly. He would go to the cage. It was obvious now that the Kougras in there were free Neopians only yesterday. Maybe with their help, everyone in these caves could be free again.
* * *
Hoshi crept carefully along the edge of the cave, taking to what cover she could. She had entered a large chamber filled with grey pets from top to bottom. Numerous tunnels led away from this central cavity. To search every single one of them for Kyran was daunting. How would she be able to sneak by all those pets? There had to be a hundred of them in this chamber alone!
She ducked behind a set of large rocks as she tried to figure out her next move. With how dark the place was, she might be able to slip past most of the pets by flying over their heads. Supposing, that is, that there were no other fliers in the air at that time. But she had no idea where to start. These passages could lead anywhere, even back to the surface. Shrugging, she decided that she would just have to pick one and hope that it didn’t lead to a guardhouse.
She peeked out from behind the rock and selected a passage on one of the lower levels. Then, when no one was looking, she quietly jumped out from behind the rock and flew across the cave to her destination. She glided to the ground on the other side and landed noiselessly on her soft paws. Turning to be sure no one had seen her, she moved down the passage.
She nearly gasped as she suddenly felt the strength of the mixed magic from where she was. The source must have been down this lower passage. The chaos of energy that she felt was nearly overwhelming. It took Hoshi a moment to get a hold of it and push it away. She had a job to do, and she didn’t need any distractions. Taking a deep breath, and hoping there were no pets guarding this energy source, she moved deeper into the passage.
* * *
Robin sat silently with Cara, watching as the Kougra called Cole paced along the bars of the cage impatiently, as if he were waiting to be released. Though he didn’t remember who he was aside from his name, he still didn’t like being a captive. The other Kougra, Naia, was lying in another corner of the cage, keeping still as Lin fiddled with her collar.
“You didn’t have these collars when I first saw you,” Lin pointed out. “And everyone in these caves has them. They must have something to do with this sickness that the Mistress made.”
She worked on it for a solid twenty minutes before she finally gave in.
“It must be a magic collar,” she said.
“There’s no point in me trying, is there?” Robin asked.
“I suppose you could,” Naia said. “But I don’t think it would do much. Lin has a strong set of jaws, there.”
Robin sighed. “There has to be some way to remove these things. Maybe there’s a tool somewhere.”
“We would have to be able to get out first,” Cole grumbled, still pacing. “I’m just itching to tackle the first thing to open that cage door!”
Robin sighed again. She didn’t remember what Cole was like before, but he couldn’t have been that aggressive... could he?
Even as she wondered this, Cole stopped pacing. He looked over at Naia, narrowing his eyes. His tail twitched thoughtfully, and before Robin knew what was happening, Cole threw himself on the back of the other Kougra.
Lin, frightened by the sudden attack, fled to hide with Cara behind Robin. Robin was startled, and didn’t know what to do for a moment. Then, with a growl, she threw herself at Cole, trying to throw him off Naia. Naia struggled to move away from Cole, and Robin was trying to drive Cole off, but Cole had a firm grip on Naia’s collar. Robin jumped at Cole one more time, and found herself tumbling with the Kougra. When they hit the cell wall, Robin quickly pulled herself away from Cole, and turned to face him with her teeth bared and her fur standing in hostility. She relaxed slightly when she noticed that Cole was looking triumphantly back at her, with Naia’s broken collar hanging from his clenched teeth.
“Could you give us a little warning next time?” Robin growled. Then she looked to Naia. “Are you alright?”
Naia was sitting hunched, shaking her head. She looked up at Robin and smiled weakly. “I... I think so,” she said. “My head hurts, and so does my neck, but I think I’ll be fine.”
“Look! Her paw is changing color!” Cara exclaimed.
Robin looked, and so did the others. Sure enough, one of Naia’s forepaws was changing from gray to a light brown color. Removing the collars worked, then.
“Do you remember anything?” Cole asked. “Anything at all? Us? This place? Why are we here?”
“Stop!” Naia said, holding her head in her paws. “My head hurts enough as it is.”
Robin looked thoughtfully at Naia. “It must be that whatever spell was cast by that collar is wearing off. You should be able to think clearly soon. Hopefully, by then, we’ll have figured out a less violent way of removing these collars,” she added, glaring at Cole.
Cole only smiled sheepishly at Robin as she stalked past him to the smaller pets on the other side of the cage. She was about halfway there when they heard someone coming down the passage. There was the sound of fighting, which quieted. Then, the grey Kougra who had brought Cara to the cage appeared.
“You’re all awake!” the Kougra said. “And you removed one of your collars? How did you do that?”
“Why don’t you open the cage and I’ll show you!” Cole growled.
“Cole!” Robin snapped warningly. She returned her attention to the Kougra. “What do you want from us? You’ve already imprisoned us.”
“I need your help,” the Kougra said. “J’Dar is not who she claims to be. I’m not sure what she’s up to, but this is no sickness. I’m sure she’s behind the whole thing.”
“J’Dar?” Cole asked.
“We knew it!” Lin said excitedly, exchanging looks with Cara.
“You did?” the Kougra asked.
“Even at that, why should we trust you?” Robin asked.
The Kougra fell silent for a moment. “Because I know all the passages in this place. And I think the center of J’Dar’s power is down the one passage forbidden to everyone.”
“Who’s J’Dar?” Cole asked.
“She’s the self-proclaimed Mistress of these caverns,” the Kougra said, moving to the cage door. He began to unlock it. “But we don’t have much time. A patrol might be here at any minute, and if they catch me here...”
He didn’t finish what he was saying. As soon as the door opened, Cole jumped at him. Again, Robin was surprised by his action, but did less to stop him. She didn’t know if this Kougra could be trusted. After a moment, she yelled, “That’s enough, Cole!”
At that moment, Cole’s head snapped back, and he backed away from the Kougra, tossing a broken collar aside. The Kougra, free from Cole’s menacing rage, backed into a corner, spitting in surprise and anger.
“Why the heck did you have to pounce on me?” the Kougra asked.
Cole didn’t answer him. “Do you have a name?”
“Jack,” the Kougra said, settling down.
Robin emerged from the cage and watched as Naia, Lin, and Cara moved through the open door. Then she turned to Cole.
“We really need to work on your people skills,” she said.
* * *
It was a long passage that Hoshi had entered. There wasn’t very much light, and the uneven surface of the tunnel seemed to absorb what little light there was. Even so, the strange magic she sensed was getting stronger. She grew more uneasy with each step she took. There was no telling what was down this passage. She had not seen anyone in it so far, and she couldn’t help but wonder why it was so deserted.
When she spotted the end of the passage, Hoshi’s fur stood on end. She was almost there, and she would finally be able to face whatever was emitting such a strong power. As she drew closer, she stopped, crouched, and scurried into a nearby crevice in the wall, trying to fit as far in as she could.
Two pets stood guard at the end of the passage, a Grarrl and a Skeith. Both were grey, and both were intently focused on keeping everyone out of the chamber they were guarding. Hoshi had no doubt of that. Their faces told her exactly what they were doing. But how could she get past them without attracting attention to herself?
A tremor shook the passage, and Hoshi hunched down, hoping that the tunnel wouldn’t collapse on her. But the tremor didn’t last long. It was more like an impact rumble than the earthquake that shook the entrance tunnel. Another rumble shook the passage. Then Hoshi heard the guards at the end of the passage run in her direction. Keeping as still as she could, she listened as the guards approached, passed, and ran determinedly in the direction where she had come from.
Once they had passed, Hoshi peeked out of her hiding spot. There was no sign of the guards. As another tremor shook the passage, she assumed that the guards were not coming back any time soon. Stepping out, she moved to the end of the passage to find out exactly what the guards were guarding.
The passage opened up into a large chamber. There were several machines along the walls. Each of them was hooked up to a large, saucer shaped machine in the middle. She shuddered slightly as she sensed that this was where the source of that strange energy was. Cautiously, Hoshi walked up to this machine, sniffing around it. There was nothing out of the ordinary about it, aside from the fact that she didn’t recognize it. Moving to the other side, she found a console with a Virtupets emblem. Suspicion crept over her as she leaned against the console, examining the buttons. There had to be a way to find out what it was.
A tremor shook the chamber where Hoshi stood. Her paw slipped, and she hit a green button. A panel opened in front of her, and a bright light gazed out of the device. Squinting, Hoshi looked inside. She thought she could see a swirl of color. Then she began to feel a little dizzy.
“Close that, now!”
Surprised, Hoshi jumped back from the console, her fur standing on end. A grey Kougra appeared on the other side of the light and pressed a button on the console, shutting the machine again. Sighing in relief, the Kougra looked over at Hoshi was startled, but on guard. She knew she had been discovered. But as she stared at the Kougra, she seemed to remember seeing her before.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
Hoshi didn’t know how to reply for a second. Relaxing her stance, Hoshi watched the other Kougra suspiciously. “I’m fine,” she said.
“Good,” the Kougra said. “This machine isn’t supposed to be open when it’s on. It can suck the life right out of you.”
“It can?” Hoshi asked. “What does it do?”
The Kougra shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m only allowed to maintain it. No one ever told me what it does.”
“There’s a strange mix of energy inside that thing,” Hoshi said. “I can feel it.”
“You can?” the Kougra asked. “I haven’t met anyone who could do that before. But, what do you suppose it means?”
Before Hoshi could answer, another tremor shook the chamber. There was a loud crack, and a hole opened up not far from where Hoshi and the other Kougra stood, and filled the room with dust. On guard once again, Hoshi stood between the hole in the wall and the grey Kougra. She almost gasped as a large, chunky shape stepped out of the hole. As the dust began to settle, Hoshi saw that the chunky figure was a creature made entirely of rock. The rock being seemed to look around the chamber before turning to her. Hoshi hissed, and the creature lunged toward her.
“Stop!” a voice called.
The creature stopped, and stood still. Surprised, Hoshi looked past the creature to the hole it emerged from. In the hole stood a Tyrannian Kougra, nicked and bruised, but definitely alive.
To be continued...