Shad and Saura: Black Fire - Part Six
Art by ssjelitegirl
The place where they had left Kanrik wasn’t far away and the Lupe picked up the trail at once. It was fairly direct and Saura had to run to keep up as Shad hurried down the trail, sniffing quickly, his eyes peeled.
“He’s nervous,” he snarled. “Kinda worried, if you ask me. Or too hot in that thick cloak, but this does smell like the sweat of nervousness to me.”
“If he’s been plotting something, then no wonder,” muttered Saura, skipping the ‘hey, are you sure about all this?’ part because it wouldn’t have made a difference one way or another.
The trail stopped by a bridge. Shad glared into the mist that reflected the sunlight, swirling slowly under the bridge and hiding everything from sight.
“He can’t fly,” said Saura, stopping by the crevasse as well. “So he has to be down there.”
The Lupe huffed to himself, then edged away from the bridge, stretching his neck out. Seconds later, there was a content snort.
“There we have it. Look.”
Saura looked. Right under the bridge, partly covered with vines, leaves and ginkgo branches, was a small entrance in the cliff.
“If he could get down there, we can too,” Shad claimed, prancing back and forth on the edge of the cliff, his tail waving around.
His brother scowled. “Kanrik is a thief, a skilled thief above that, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a rope or something.”
“No-no.” Shad’s ears twitched. “Look. There’s an ebbing cliff right underneath that entrance. If we aim it just right...”
“This is crazy!” Saura moaned, fidgeting on the edge, calculating all possible factors he could think of. Shad had already jumped, powered not by his keen senses or muscles but solely by the adrenaline of pursuit, and was already struggling through the entrance.
“Come on!” His voice sounded hollow in the passageway. “It’s the right track; the scent’s getting stronger.”
When Saura crawled through the entrance after the scariest five seconds of his life, he was surprised to find the ongoing passage rather well lit. It was narrow and mossy, and he couldn’t see anything but the cold stone inches from his nose as he struggled on, but he could make out that the path was smooth and probably been in active use before.
“Kanrik!” Shad’s sharp voice echoed somewhere ahead. It was a strong, widespread echo that suggested a space much bigger than a narrow pathway. The Zafara hurried up as his ears picked up Kanrik’s reaction farther away: a very surprised and annoyed grunt.
“Let’s hope they won’t tear each other apart before I get there...” he groaned to himself, struggling on. Suddenly the stone floor ended and became a slope. The tunnel ended as well, and Saura could get up.
The only word he could think of was ‘whoa’.
Shenkuu wasn’t just a small collection of bamboo houses built on steep mountains and an interweaving maze of bridges. It was a city built on a carcass.
Saura was looking at a huge cavern carved straight into the mountain. As far as he could tell, it was only one cave of a bigger maze-like system, stretching far and wide away into the hill. The cavern looked like it had been built for times of war, with deep niches in walls and stone barricades all over the floor. The dome-shaped ceiling, rising high on arches, had numerous other semi-hidden passageways, possibly embrasures, that let in some light which also reflected back from the mist curling on the stone floor.
Shad was dashing through that mist in the father side of the cavern, white tendrils winding around his paws. “Kanrik! Wait up.”
As Saura hurried after him, Kanrik’s voice snapped from the next room, “What the heck are you two doing here?”
“Making sure you’re not getting us in trouble again,” Shad said grimly, stopping to wait for his brother. As the Zafara got to floor level, he could see that the maze of caves was linked with small – and easily defendable – passageways. Kanrik was standing at the other end of the next cavern, glaring back at them.
“You’re getting yourselves in trouble,” he said.
“A risk I’m willing to take,” snarled the Lupe. “What are you up to?”
“None of your-” The thief’s sentence was cut off by another coughing fit. “Concern,” he finished rather sharply, straightening up again. “This is my business only.”
“If we get bridge guards on our backs because of your business, then it’s our business,” Shad said.
Kanrik groaned. “Look, I’m sorry about that; it’s not my fault that the locals here are complete idiots. This particular event won’t get anyone on your case, okay? Now take a hike.”
The Lupe sat down resolutely. “Not a chance. Not until you tell us what this is about. I’ve had enough secretiveness.”
“He won’t move until he gets what he wants,” Saura said, now having caught up and looking around curiously. The second cavern was smaller than the first, and not as well lit, but nevertheless impressive.
Kanrik rubbed his forehead, rolling his eyes. “Morons. I don’t have time for this. And if I tell you, you’ll get curious and won’t leave me alone.”
“We’re already curious,” said Shad. “Talk.”
Kanrik sighed, coughed again, then perked his ears. “Well, okay. I’ll make it fast. Ever heard of cleansing flames?”
“A high-rarity trading card?” Shad asked.
“Well, that too. It’s a Fire Faerie ability. Fire, you see, is purifying. The cleansing flames of Fire Faeries can heal and purify by burning everything that is evil inside a Neopet’s body. Including – or should I say, especially illnesses. And as you so caringly noticed, I’ve been ill for a while now.” He grunted and sat down. “A case of Neomonia some months back that wasn’t treated properly. Well, guess it was mostly my own fault, had hectic times back then and didn’t have the time to lie back and wait until I was completely healthy.”
“You got complications,” Saura realized.
“Eyup.” Kanrik sighed. “No cure for that, the usual treatment doesn’t help with my lifestyle. The one thing that does help is the Healing Springs Faerie’s magic, but she wouldn’t even see me. I’m the leader of the Thieves, after all.” He laughed dryly. “Same with that Coltzan ghost. Kings, hah. Every day you see little pets approaching that doggone shrine, asking their owners, “Was Coltzan a good king?” Was he ever. He was so goody-good that he told me outright that I can forget any healing from him for the rest of my lifetime, and after that as well.” The Gelert huffed.
“So the Fire Faeries’ healing flames are your only option?” asked Shad, his grumpiness now gone and ears perked in curiosity.
“Technically,” Kanrik said grimly. “But I’m still the leader of the Thieves. The flames do burn everything that’s evil in a Neopet’s body... problem is, I have no illusions about myself. Cleansing flames would burn me alive, as surely as I’m standing here. So that option had to be crossed out too. What would you have done in my stead?”
“You could’ve tried giving up the life of the thief and become good,” Saura remarked sharply.
“I doubt it’d work,” said the Gelert. “Thieving is in my nature now, part of my soul, part of who I am and how others see me, I could only deny it but not change it. So I searched. And came here, to Shenkuu, on this quest. And then,” he grinned widely, “you two gave me the answer.”
Shad and Saura exchanged puzzled looks.
“You want to know what I was doing near the imperial palace?” Kanrik stood up, his ears perking, and squinted at one of the entrances in the ceiling. “I broke into the library and did some searching. And I found what I was looking for,” now he turned around, “and what you didn’t have access to. Black fire.”
“Did you, now?” Incendia landed in the middle of the floor.
“Yes.” Kanrik turned his back to the brothers to face Incendia, and waved his hand behind his back to shoo the two off. Shad and Saura, who were beginning to realize that maybe Kanrik had had a very valid reason for not wanting them around, backed towards the doorway.
“I’ve been researching for years,” said the small Fire Faerie. “And you come and tell me that you found the answer in a week?”
“Yes.” The brothers couldn’t see Kanrik’s face, but his voice had a clear grin in it. “I had two advantages, dear girl. One was, as I already said, the access to the imperial library and some history scrolls – things even you, with all your scary reputation in this land, didn’t have access to, because these people here have kept it a firm secret. The other, and I daresay I’m pretty much the only Neopet on this planet who has ever seen this apart from the Bori people, is an old legend of the Boris, a true legend that still bears its mark in the heart of Terror Mountain.”
“You’re getting nowhere with this,” said Incendia. “You told me to come here to find out the secret of black fire. Do you or do you not have it?”
The Gelert walked up to her, the cloak flowing behind him, and tilted his head. “You know it’s a dangerous thing. You know it has a lot of power. Are you certain you want to know?”
Incendia’s eyes were sparkling with something – madness? Power? Determination? Probably all that and more – when she replied, “Yes.”
From the door and behind Kanrik’s back, the brothers couldn’t see much. The only thing they did see was the thief’s plum cloak swirling around, the Gelert himself drooping a little lower to the ground, and the steel of his knife glinting in the dusty rays of sunlight.
Incendia fell without a sound. Better put, she crumpled, curling up in a small silk-clad ball on the floor, black hair spreading out on the stone. The jagged, semi-transparent wings remained pointing at the ceiling like the petals of some huge, delicate flower.
The cavern was quiet.
“You... killed her?” Shad asked, surprised to find that his voice was hoarse.
Kanrik, sheathing the blade, shot a glance at him. “You don’t know much about Faeries, do you? They can’t be killed. They don’t die, see? Elemental beings. When harmed, they simply... well, do this.” He stepped away from the Faerie. The brothers took a few steps closer.
The four jagged wings had come together, moving silently back and forth, even though the rest of the Faerie was motionless. Then they burst into flames.
To be continued...