Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Ten
As they traveled back through the tunnel, Avalon couldn't
keep down his excitement. His golden eyes kept leaving the tunnel ahead to gaze
fondly at a long yellow sword, hooked inside a Kougra sword belt. Also on the
belt was a sack of food, a small penknife, and a wooden canteen. Ash was wearing
a similar belt, though she was carrying an Iron Lupe Dagger instead of a sword.
Quaz, up ahead, had brought the Golden Pteri sword, which glimmered in the light,
once again provided by the Gem.
Avalon looked down at it. Even though he and
Ash were covered in dirt from the Cave's field, the Gem was as shiny as ever.
Avalon hadn't done anything else with the Gem since he'd arrived at the Cave,
but now he supposed he should learn what it could do. He decided he should ask
Quaz about it, perhaps that night.
After what felt like hours, they reached the
end of the tunnel. The first breath of fresh air felt to Avalon like his first.
From what Quaz had told them, the Cave was too high up to get a breeze through
the hole in the ceiling. Sound was also uncommon at such a high altitude. Avalon
lagged a little behind Quaz and Ash, enjoying the crisp morning breezes and
the sounds of the tropical birds. The fresh grass was soft on the Kougra's foot
pads which were tough after a month of walking on the Cave's cold stone floor.
"Keep moving," Quaz growled as Avalon stopped
to take a deep breath. "You may be enjoying the scenery, but it won't distract
the shadow-ghosts." Avalon moved faster after that.
By about midday, the little group reached a
small, demolished village. The sky there seemed darker, as if the pots that
lay cracked and smashed on the ground had once contained a stormy sky. Both
Avalon and Ash paused at the sight of the demolished houses and broken pots.
Several swords and spears littered the ground, scattered among the few measly
patches of grass. A small hole in the center of the village indicated where
there had once been a fire pit. Sturdy barbed wire fences surrounded the village,
except at the entrance, where a large, ornately carved gate swung in the breeze.
"Geraptiku," Quaz explained, slowing down as
well. "After the pet farm here was destroyed, the Island natives moved in. Nobody
knows what happened after that, but somehow the village and its pets were annihilated."
Avalon, who'd thought Scarback hadn't wasted
time in his attacks, asked, "What's a pet farm?"
"Back when the Humans first came to Neopia,
there were lots of pets who needed a good home. Humans took them in, and the
rest is history, as you know. But some humans weren't satisfied. They wanted
wild pets to compete in the Battledome. So they set up Pet Farms all over Neopia,
and captured the wild pets. They took them to the Farms, and waited for someone
to buy them. This was all black market, because it was, of course, illegal.
But some Eyries found out about it, and a bunch of pets stormed the farm. Now
it's been destroyed again."
"Why doesn't anyone come back and rebuild?"
"It's rumored that whatever came and destroyed
the village still lurks there today. Most natives stay as far away from the
city as they can."
"Then why are WE going this way?" Avalon asked,
watching the gate swing forward in the wind.
"Because it marks the start of the jungle we
need to cross if we're going to intercept Scarback and his troops." Quaz flicked
his tail. "Speaking of which, we need to get a move on."
This stretch of jungle reminded Avalon of the
swamp. The trees pressed in close, and tiny Mootix and Ladyblurg swarmed near
their faces. The ground was wet beneath his paw pads, and an odd smell, like
a wet Gelert, hung in the unmoving air. There were no bright colored birds here,
no remarkable flying Noils or sluggish Turdles.
Quaz didn't slow down at all. He seemed to be
following an invisible path, moving deeper and deeper into the thick trees.
They spent the night beneath a think tree laden with rattling black seeds. The
air was thick and smelled of water. Quaz told them to keep their swords dry,
or they'd rust in the coming rain.
Avalon woke up in the middle of the night. The
rain Quaz had predicted had become a treacherous downpour. Lightning flashed,
lighting the trees with that odd, split second daylight clarity only lighting
yields. The thunder sounded like an angry Grarrl's roar, threatening to get
"Come on!" Quaz shouted over the rain and thunder.
"We're going to move out before this place floods! Hopefully this'll slow Scarback
down even more, with all those Gelerts he's got to move out."
The trip through the rain was worse than Avalon
had imagined. The mud stuck to their paws, so that every minute or so one pet
had to stop to yank out a paw. And if the mud wasn't trapping you, it was sloshing
onto the dry places to make you slip. It was pitch black, except when the lighting
flashed, revealing a momentary glimpse of the jungle. The rain drowned out the
other jungle sounds, and filled their places with the sound of frantic drumbeats.
Thunder growled overhead, getting closer and closer, with its deadly spears
Across the jungle, Scarback and his Gelerts
were having an even rougher time. The shadow-ghost Kougra was roaring at his
troops to move faster, but to no avail. The Gelerts kept getting stuck in the
thick mud, and they slipped constantly. The situation wasn't improved by the
small stream nearby, providing the dirt excess water for mud making, or that
every time a Gelert took a step, they churned up the mud, thickening it, making
it perfect for a slip.
Brazen, covered in mud and bleeding from a scratch
on her muzzle, climbed a small slope toward Scarback. Twice she slipped on its
surface, but she didn't slide down.
"Scarback!" she shouted over the rain's roar,
"We've got to wait! There's no way all my troops can-"
"YOUR troops?" Scarback snarled, turning his
wicked stare on the Gelert. "Brazen, those Gelerts are MY troops. I'm in charge
of you, and I say KEEP THEM MOVING!" He shouted the last few words, and the
Gelerts below struggled to speed up.
"I know who leads who," Brazen said coldly, "But
I'm saying we'll make better progress if we wait until morning. By then, this
should be cleared up, and the mud'll dry out."
The big Kougra shook his head. "I know Quaz.
He'll have moved out, along with the Guardian. Figures he can intercept us,
with all this muck. No, if we want to take the Cave, we'll have to keep moving
"Scarback!" A Gelert had run up the slope as
well. From the looks of it, he hadn't been as successful getting up the hill
as Brazen. There was mud all over his belly. "Scarback, Ridell is here. He's
waiting near the creek."
Scarback grinned, and turned to Brazen. "I want
these dogs away from the creek and up on the stone by the time I get back, or
so help me, Brazen…" The Gelert nodded, then shouted to the Gelerts below. Scarback
nodded at the messenger, who turned and half ran, half slid down the slope.
With a sigh at its stupidity, Scarback leapt down, sending up a shower of mud
as he landed. Either none of it landed on him, or the Kougra's black fur was
too dark to make mud noticeable.
The Darigan Lenny, looking black in the darkness,
was looking at the storm above. "Terrible weather," the bird muttered. "Just
"Ridell," Scarback growled sharply. The Lenny
turned its gaze toward him, as unsurprised as ever. "What did you find?"
"That the Cave is where you said it would be."
The Lenny's voice was deep, with a hint of malice buried inside. "Your troops
appear to be experiencing difficulties, eh Scarback?"
The Kougra growled. He was not particularly fond
of the Lenny. Scarback was used to pets looking away from his eyes, hasty to
obey his orders. Nobody poked fun at Scarback, or anything related, reminding
him he wasn't invincible. But not Ridell. If one of the Gelerts had said something
like that, they would be dead. But Ridell knew that Scarback wouldn't kill him.
The Darigan Lenny's eyesight, built to view heat, was valuable to Scarback.
He couldn't spy on the Cave without Ridell, especially since its location changed
every year or so.
"What my troops are dealing with is none of your
business, Ridell," Scarback said smoothly. "What else did you find?" he snarled.
The Lenny grinned. "There are three."
"What?" Scarback asked, flicking an ear in a
"There are three pets heading your way. The old
Kougra, the new Guardian, and some Fire Lupe."
Scarback's tail flicked angrily. The Lupe from
the swamp battle was still with the new Guardian, then.
"I'll be heading off," Ridell said, seeing Scarback's
anger in a flash of lightning. Even he wouldn't dare to taunt Scarback when
he was angry. Scarback had been known to kill anyone who went too far, useful
or not. Ridell didn't want his own neck on the line. He flapped away, disappearing
above the trees.
With a snarl, Scarback stomped back toward the
slope. "If the Lupe's with them," he muttered, "Nothing's stopping the whole
Guardian's force from coming as well." The Gelert messenger shot a worried glance
at the angry Kougra.
When Scarback reached the place he'd left the
Gelerts, he saw that they had all managed to get to the stony area. He was almost
upset about that. He wouldn't be able to take out his anger on anybody. The
Gelerts looked down and walked faster, their coats caked with mud, paws bleeding
from slips and jutting rocks. Brazen emerged from the crowd, helmet dented slightly.
Scarback headed for the front of the group, tail still flicking angrily. If
the Guardian forces caught up with the Guardian and his companions…
He stopped suddenly, an idea forming. The Gelerts
stopped too, muttering worriedly. Scarback's plans were never ones the Gelerts
enjoyed. The black Kougra turned, and the muttering subsided.
"I need the co-leader," he snarled. A large Gelert
with a thick, permanently bloodstained muzzle pushed his way through the crowd.
Zeth was the new co-leader, after the death of Mange, and Brazen's take over.
Zeth was Brazen and Mange's younger brother, but also the toughest of the three.
He had never yet lost a fight, and anyone who messed with him added their blood
to his muzzle.
Scarback said to the Gelert, "I need you to find
the Guardian. Don't attack; this is the wrong time for fighting. But erase their
trail. Change it, bury it, whatever you need to do to get that trail gone. Understood?"
Zeth nodded, claws tapping the stone. "Yes, sir,"
he said with a grin, then raced off. Scarback, feeling relieved, turned back
around and led his Gelerts into the dark trees.
To be continued...