Sanity is forbidden Circulation: 102,279,292 Issue: 202 | 5th day of Hiding, Y7
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Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Nine

by cpmtiger


A month went by before anything interesting happened. Avalon and Ash had finally progressed to actual sword fighting. Quaz was showing them some simple moves. Avalon realized that sword fighting was more difficult than he'd expected. Even the simplest moves took him days to learn. Ash could master them in two days, at most.

      But Ash and Avalon were more concerned at what was going on outside the Cave. From the little they could gather from reports and whispered conversations, which Quaz now wouldn't explain, they figured out that something was going on. Mange's body had been recovered, and Valor reported, quietly in Quaz's living corner, again. They mentioned something moving toward the Cave. Avalon and Ash could guess what it was.

      They didn't have much time to discuss it, however. Avalon and Ash were fairly sure that Quaz didn't realize how much they knew, seeing as they had eavesdropped while pretending to practice sword fighting. And since they weren't allowed outside of Heartfelt, they were always with Quaz. Their sleeping bags were positioned very close to Quaz's bed, so they couldn't talk then either.

      One night, Avalon woke up. He wasn't sure why he'd woken so suddenly, but there he was, wide-awake in the middle of the night. Looking to his left, he saw that Ash was awake too, her eyes reflecting the starlight coming through the hole in the ceiling.

      "Hey," Avalon whispered, glancing at Quaz to be sure he was asleep.

      Ash jumped a bit and turned to him. "What?" she whispered back.

      The question leapt out of Avalon before he could figure out how to say it. "What d'you think's moving toward the Cave?"

      Ash sat up, double-checking Quaz. "Probably Scarback's Gelerts. Or a small group of them anyways. What do you think?"

      "Well," Avalon said, sitting up as well. "I think you're right, but I wonder whose authority they'll be under."

      "You mean Scarback or Brazen, right?"

      Avalon nodded. "I mean, if it's Brazen, maybe they're just coming in this general direction. Quaz said she goes out and attacks pets all the time. Maybe she's going to get someone."

      But Ash shook her head. "Quaz said she did it to pets Scarback wants to keep alive. At the moment, I'm sure getting the Gem is his number one priority. If Brazen's coming this way, it's to get you, mark my words."

      Avalon narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "You're right," he said, "She could be. But don't forget, she does follow Scarback's orders sometimes."

      Ash rolled her eyes. "Either way, someone's going to attack you, and it's not gonna be pretty."

      All three pets were silent that morning, over a breakfast of old Neoflakes. Quaz set down his spoon and looked right at Avalon and Ash. They gave each other apprehensive looks, then returned Quaz's stare.

      "So you figured it out," Quaz said quietly, and to Avalon's relief, he was smiling slightly. "Yes, Ash, I heard you two last night. Very nice theories."

      "We were right?" Avalon asked, sounding surprised.

      "Mostly." Quaz's grin widened at the disappointed look on Avalon's face. "You were close, but Brazen's not leading the band."

      "Scarback is, right?" Avalon said glumly, digging his spoon into the flakes, no longer feeling hungry.

      Quaz nodded. "Yes, and it gets worse."

      "Is he leading ALL the Gelerts?" Ash asked incredulously, standing right up. "And we're sitting here eating Neoflakes? We should be training, getting ready!"

      "Hold your Unis there, Ash," Quaz said, holding up his paws. "First off, Scarback's miles away from the Cave. Second off, he doesn't know how to get here. And if he does make it, I'll be there to stop him. And by that point, the Guardian force will, too."

      "The what?" Ash asked.

      "The Guardian Force. All the pets who help the Guardians. Like Valor and Storm, and…" Quaz suddenly fell silent. His ears were pricked, and his eyes narrowed.

      A loud birdcall echoed through the Cave. Quaz leapt up, his golden eyes wide and panicked. He closed his eyes and began muttering rapidly, as he had when the Darigan Zafara had appeared. The hole in the Cave's ceiling closed with a loud, grinding crunch. Small lamps flickered on, lighting the Cave with an odd electric glow. A moment later, a large black board with flames surrounding it appeared in midair. Avalon realized immediately that Quaz had been using the Guardian Faerie's power. After a moment, the black board turned into a moving picture. Avalon realized that it was the sky above the Cave. A large bird of some sort was circling overhead. Avalon couldn't make out what it was, but it looked a bit like a Lenny.

      Quaz frowned. He put a paw in the air, and pulled it back. The bird on the screen moved closer as the camera zoomed in. Avalon stepped toward the board, curious about the bird. It zoomed all the way in, and revealed a dark purple Lenny, with a dark black beak and talons. Its face was grim, and it had an annoyed look about it. The Lenny's gray eyes were scanning the Cave below, studying every detail. The Lenny circled overhead for about ten minutes before cawing and heading East.

      Quaz growled and slammed a paw on the table. The screen flickered, then went off. Teeth bared, Quaz stood and began pacing.

      "And who was that?" Avalon asked sharply, tail flicking. "Not somebody on our side, I'm guessing?"

      Quaz shook his head. "One of Scarback's spies. A volunteer. He's a Darigan Lenny whose been working for Scarback about ten years now. Looking for the Cave the whole time, I'm sure."

      "You don't think he's found anything?" The fur on the back of Ash's neck bristled.

      Quaz shook his head. "That's not the first time this sort of thing has happened. In ten years, he hasn't caught on at all."

      "And how're you sure?" Avalon asked, raising an eyebrow dubiously. "Just because you don't know doesn't mean-"

      Quaz whirled around, claws unsheathed. "Avalon," he growled, "Put it this way: If Scarback knew where the Cave is located, we wouldn't be standing here having this conversation. We'd either be dead or under his tyranny."

      Avalon was sure Quaz expected him to look abashed, but the young Kougra didn't. He stared right back, meeting the odd royal Kougra's angry glare with one of his own. Ash took a step forward, tail swishing. Whether it was out of anger or fear, Avalon couldn't tell.

      "Quaz," the Lupe said, a slight growl in her voice. "Before Scarback's Lenny came, you were telling us that Scarback was leading the Gelerts this way."

      With a sigh, Quaz turned away from Avalon. "Yes," he said, "Scarback's on his way."

      "But you said the Lenny hadn't found the Cave!" Avalon protested.

      "I know. Scarback doesn't plan on finding us. He plans on us finding him," Quaz explained.

      "So it's as simple as not finding him," Ash said with a frown. "What's the big deal then?"

      Quaz smiled grimly. "The thing about being," he searched for the word, "a good guy is that you care about the innocent. Scarback, I know for a fact, has no such worries. But he knows that nothing draws a good guy like setting fire to a village, or attacking a market place. And even though you know it's a trap, you can't just ignore the attacks. Not only will innocent pets get hurt, but you'll be accused of treason, or cowardice." Quaz sighed slightly, turning away. "Sometimes being a hero isn't all it's cracked up to be."

      "Well," Avalon said after a moment of silence. "What're we going to do?"

      Quaz turned back around. His eyes glimmered in the electric light from the lamps. "There's no way around it," he said quietly. "We're going to have to meet Scarback, and fight to keep the Gem."

      "We're leaving?" Ash's tail flicked in a surprised gesture.

      "Don't complain!" Avalon growled, ears perked. "We finally get to do something exciting!" His tail was thrashing eagerly; the starry Kougra had been itching to leave the Cave for a long time. At first, he'd been impressed by the field and swords and pets coming in and out. Now all he saw were four walls blocking him from the adventure he'd always craved.

      Quaz looked almost annoyed. "Have you ever been in a battle, Avalon?" the Kougra asked. Avalon shook his head. "Have you ever gone claw to claw with another pet who won't back down until they or you are dead?" Again, Avalon shook his head. "Have you ever been forced to listen to the howls and moans of those too wounded to fight, who you can't help because you're in a fight to the death?"

      Avalon almost took a step back. "No," he muttered.

      "Then don't be talking about 'exciting' until you've been in a real fight. Life isn't like comic books or adventure stories. You can get hurt, and you can be killed."

      Avalon felt Ash's eyes on him. He ignored her and stared Quaz in the eye. "Alright then," the younger Kougra said evenly. "I'll wait."

      "When do we leave?" Ashe asked, eyes narrow.

      "As soon as you've picked out your swords."

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part One
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Two
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Three
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Four
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Five
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Six
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Seven
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Eight
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem

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