Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: The Onyx Isle - Part Eight
Vora and the other Gelerts didn’t come back the next night, or the night after that. Avalon was edging toward panic now; certainly, they couldn’t be too far from Scarback’s island. If the Gelerts were going to help him escape, they needed to do it soon.
Of course, if the Gelerts were useless, there might be his friends to count on...
Avalon shook his head. No, he couldn’t go down that road. His friends should be on Mystery Island, not gallivanting after him and putting themselves and the Gem in danger. And yet, every time he reminded himself of this, he also had to remember that they wouldn’t be his friends if they weren’t the kind of pets who would chase down Scarback’s ship to save him.
Shortly before midnight, on the third night after meeting the Gelerts, Avalon heard pawsteps from the Gelert’s sleeping quarters. He shut his eyes immediately, cautious as always in case it was Brazen, or a less friendly Gelert, but his heart was pounding hard against his rib cage, and he felt his muscles coiled in anticipation.
He wanted off this faerie-cursed ship.
“Guardian,” Vora growled, and Avalon opened his eyes, spinning to face her in the same instant. She stepped back, looking surprised. Behind her, Hack’s tail lashed once, but Tacit, the big, silent Gelert, looked as calm as ever.
There were two other Gelerts behind her; the male with the short ear-whip, and the female who stood with all of her weight on one side. Avalon saw that one back leg was tied up with bandages; she must have been injured there, perhaps explaining her odd stance.
Vora hadn’t looked calm the night she’d introduced herself to Avalon, but she looked even more agitated now, with her teeth half bared and the scar across her face wrinkled by a furrowed brow.
“Hack, give me the key.”
The snaggle-toothed Gelert handed her a shimmering black key, which Vora swiped from his hand with an impatient snarl. Hack wrinkled his muzzle, clearly annoyed, but said nothing.
Vora unlocked Avalon’s chain, and the starry Kougra rubbed his wrist for a moment. The fur there was flat, almost like the Gem-shaped patch on his chest, and the warmth of the cabin tingled after so much contact with cold metal.
“Let’s go,” Vora snapped, whirling away from Avalon and heading toward the stairs. Avalon followed, with Hack and Tacit close behind. The male with the short ear darted ahead, to flank Vora, and the female with the bandaged leg brought up the rear.
Vora paused at the top of the staircase, lifting her ears and remaining silent and still. Avalon held his breath, almost expecting Scarback’s voice to suddenly drift toward them.
But there was only silence; as they stepped onto the deck, Avalon realized that Scarback didn’t even have a watch-Gelert posted. Vora still looked agitated, and looking over his shoulder, Avalon saw Tacit looking around uneasily.
They were still out at sea, the ship pressing through the ocean, turned silver by Kreludor’s glow. Looking over the ship’s prow, however, Avalon saw a familiar mass of land up ahead; he couldn’t make out the tower’s tornado-like staircase yet, but he could picture it well-enough.
When he’d first boarded the ship, Avalon hadn’t been paying much attention to what it looked like; he was busy dealing with Scarback and the Gelerts. Now, as his eyes darted around, he saw that the ship’s sails were black. Not surprising, and neither was the fact that they weren’t in tatters; atmospheric as that might have been, Scarback wasn’t stupid enough to compromise his ship’s speed for its appearance.
Suddenly, Avalon froze. There was a Gelert on deck- sitting at the wheel of the ship, on a platform overlooking the entire deck.
“Keep movin’,” Hack growled, coming to a stop behind the Kougra. “He’s with us, we aren’t stupid.”
“You could’ve mentioned that,” Avalon growled, hurrying to catch up with Vora. “Wearing the Gem for a couple years doesn’t mean I’m telepathic.”
“You’re right about that,” Hack growled. His comment was followed a second later by a muffled, “Ouch!” as Tacit smacked him in the back of the head.
“Geez!” the snaggle-toothed Gelert muttered, “Stop doing tha-“
Vora whirled around, and snarled, “Hack! Shut. Up. ”
Hack fell silent, but Avalon noticed that he kept his distance from Tacit and his massive paws.
He realized after a moment that Vora was heading toward an emergency rowboat, one of four on the ship. Avalon’s stomach squirmed as he took note of their size; if the ship capsized, there wouldn’t be nearly enough room for all the Gelerts on the emergency boats. Scarback was probably well-aware of that... he probably had some way of ensuring that only he, Brazen, and the top Gelerts of the pack were assured spots in case of disaster.
Something whooshed over their heads, and Vora jerked in surprise. Everyone ducked low to the deck; it took them a moment to realize that the sound came from a Crokabek, which had just landed in front of Vora.
There was a note in its beak, and after a moment, Vora took it. Flicking it open, she read it, then folded it back up and gave it to the Crokabek.
“What’s up?” Hack asked, taking a step forward and glancing at Tacit. The big Gelert looked concerned as well.
“Flit courteously reminded us what we’re supposed to be doing.” Vora’s voice was sour, and the way she said “courteously” made it clear that she didn’t think Flit’s message was polite at all.
“Wait,” Avalon said. “Flit sent that? Is he on a ship with my friends?”
Vora shrugged. “Didn’t say. But I’m betting this is the Crokabek Scarback lost. Sent it to look for a following ship, but it didn’t come back.”
“Osus said it got lost in the storm...” the Gelert with the short ear said. He had a rough voice, as if his throat had the texture of a stone.
“Obviously, Flit picked it up,” Vora snapped.
“But Ridell said it was too small to make it through; how’d Flit get hold of it if-”
“Wait,” Avalon hissed. His eyes were on one of the sails, beaming with moonlight. “Ridell is on the ship?”
“Yeah,” Vora said, turning away from the Crokabek. “He’s always on these-”
She had followed Avalon’s gaze, and slowly, the other Gelerts did the same. Tacit’s paws thumped softly as he took a step back, and Hack let out a strangled gasp.
Avalon had never met the Darigan Lenny who served as one of Scarback’s spies, but Quaz had told him plenty about the bird. How he sometimes seemed to be able to see heat, locating pets hidden below-ground, how he enjoyed a vaguely taunting relationship with Scarback, and how quick he was with his talons and beak.
At first, the tall shadow Avalon saw seemed to be only a strange jut of the mast wood. But when he heard the name of the Darigan Lenny, he immediately knew he’d been wrong.
“Draik fangs,” Vora hissed. “He did have a guard...”
Ridell leaned forward, his red eyes and black beak glittering in Kreludor’s silver light. “And the traitors finally show themselves,” the Lenny said, extending one long leg and wrapping his claws around the nearest piece of mast. “Scarback’s going to love this...”
Raising his wings, preparing to dive, he said, “By the way- pleasure to finally meet you, Guardian.”
Flit was woken from a sleep of uneasy dreams reflecting his own conflicting emotions and containing all the secrets he was keeping, by the sound of someone falling down the stairs. He jerked upright, then proceeded to stand there for a minute, blankets sliding off of his sloped back.
Someone had fallen down the stairs... he needed to see who it was. Make sure they were all right... or that they weren’t a threat.
“Wake up, Flit!” he told himself, and leapt from the bed.
As he stepped into the hallway, Storm was picking himself up off of the floor, shoving his hat onto his head, and his sword back into its scabbard. Seeing Flit, the pirate captain shouted, “The ship’s ahead! Scarback’s ship, up ahead, I can see it! Scarback’s ship is up ahead!”
Flit nodded. “I’ll get the others.” He turned to run down the hall to Silverdrop’s room, then noticed that Storm had started following him. “...Don’t you need to steer the ship?” he asked.
The pirate’s eyes jerked wide.”Fyora’s wings, yer right!” He turned and scampered up the stairs; his back foot slipped twice, but he never quite fell a second time.
In less than five minutes, Flit, Ash, and Silverdrop were crowded at the ship’s prow, their paws on the railing. Sure enough, the black sails of Scarback’s ship were visible in the moonlight... and past the ship, Flit could see a blob of land, with several jutting points. His stomach lurched; they were almost at the island.
Silverdrop was leaning forward, squinting at the ship. She seemed to be looking for something.
“They wouldn’t keep the Guard... Avalon on the deck,” Flit said.
“I know... but I saw something move... up in the mast.” Her eye flickered. “See? There!”
Flit squinted. “...No,” he said, and Ash, who’d looked too, shook her head. “But I think Kougras are supposed to have better night vision than Gelerts and Lupes,” he added.
Silverdrop scowled, still glaring at the ship. “Something’s there,” she repeated.
The ship slowed, as Captain Storm spun the wheel to remove the sails from the prevalent wind. This way, the ship would go no closer to Scarback’s vessel.
“What’re you doing?” Ash snarled, striding toward the Captain. “Let’s go, we can get Avalon now!”
“Silverdrop sees somethin’,” Storm said. “We’re holdin’ back.”
“But this’s the best chance we’ll-”
Storm leaned forward, his paws on the ship wheel. “D’you think Scarback’d just leave his deck unguarded, lass? ‘E’s not a fool, ye’d best be rememberin’ that if you wan’ ter rescue Avalon.”
Ash let out a growl, and stomped back to the ship’s prow.
Silverdrop glanced at the fire Lupe, opened her mouth to say something, then gasped, her silver eyes flashing toward the black ship.
“There!” she shouted, pointing at the mast. “A Darigan Lenny, see it?”
Flit looked, and now he saw it. The Lenny had stuck its head out, and even from a distance, the gleam of his beak was plain. Flit felt like someone had shoved a chunk of Terror Mountain ice into his stomach, then wrapped a Cobrall around his throat. Ridell. Ridell was on board!
Something else caught Flit’s attention; a patch of blue and yellow, and a flash of red. The star-pelted Guardian, alongside five Gelerts. His heart raced, but not entirely with fright. His makeshift pack had done what he’d told them... Tacit’s presence had been enough to keep Vora from abandoning the plan.
But the relief died almost instantly. Ridell, Scarback’s quick-taloned spy, had seen them. And while a five-to-one fight seemed to be in their favor, Ridell was good at turning the odds in a few flaps of his dark wings.
“Why’s he with Gelerts?” Ash demanded.
Flit ignored her. “Storm!” he shouted. “We’ve gotta get over there! Now!”
Storm seized the wheel and spun it, seeming convinced by the desperation in Flit’s voice. The ship caught the wind, but it wasn’t fast enough... even with the Noil Gem’s mast, it wouldn’t be fast enough.
Silverdrop hesitated, then said to Flit, ”Move.”
Flit stepped back. “Why?” he asked, as the silver Kougra took his place.
“Be quiet... I need to focus.” The Noil Gem started gleaming around her neck. Flit shut his mouth.
Silverdrop, paws perched on the railing, shut her eyes. “I need a way across, ” she thought. “A portal, a bridge, a hand that’ll yank the ship over there, anything...” She felt a faint heat on her chest, as the Noil Gem answered her request.
Slowly, she opened her eyes. They popped wide when she saw what the Noil Gem had done. A bridge had been made- from a strip of water lifted from the sea, and frozen into ice. Icicles curled over the prow’s railing, and Silverdrop touched one. Cold.
Looking toward the end of the bridge, she saw it glimmering all the way to Scarback’s ship. With a growl, she leapt onto the ice bridge, and shouted, “Let’s go!” to Ash and Flit. Ash drew a dagger first, tossing it into the air and catching it in her mouth as she leapt to follow Silverdrop. Flit bounded after them, his paws sliding on the ice, but never quite enough that he was in danger of falling.
His mind was less on the dangers of plummeting into the ocean from this height than from the dangers Avalon, Tacit, and the others would face if the trio didn’t join the fight in time.
There was an enormous cracking sound behind him; Flit turned, and saw one end of the bridge yank away from the Scarlet Kateil. It took him a moment to realize what was happening; Scarback’s ship was still moving, and moving faster than the Kateil.
Storm looked at the edge of the bridge, to the ship, to the bridge. Baring his teeth, he suddenly darted away from the wheel of the ship, and scrambled onto the ice bridge; it still floated at the same level, and aside from the cracked edge, seemed as steady as ever.
“Get movin’, lad!” the pirate shouted as he came closer to Flit. The red-eyed Gelert whirled around, and raced after Silverdrop and Ash. Maybe they would make it.
To be continued...