Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 102,975,150 Issue: 203 | 12th day of Hiding, Y7
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Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Ten

by cpmtiger


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?" Ash asked.

      "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 them all.

      "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 of lightning.

      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 now."

     "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 terrible."

     "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 puzzled way.

     "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...

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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: Part Nine

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