Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 105,225,448 Issue: 209 | 23rd day of Gathering, Y7
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Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Three


by cpmtiger

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"Do you see our ship?"

      "No, Avalon. For the thousandth time, no!"

      "Alright, alright, just checking. Jeez."

      Ash narrowed her eyes against the setting sun's glare. "You don't think it left without us, do you?"

      Avalon shook his head. "Why would it? It's not like we were late or anything."

      On the contrary, Avalon and Ash had emerged from the jungle and into Dorset earlier than they'd expected. They'd spent the past hour or so looking for the Desert Island Ferry from the border of the trees, but had no luck.

      "I don't get it," Ash snarled, grabbing her ticket. "Maybe we should go onto the dock and ask someone."

      Avalon frowned. Being a Guardian meant a lifetime of caution and suspicion. Any of the pets roaming the wooden piers of the docks, or the dirt roads of the village, could be one of Scarback's spies. Avalon had learned that not all of Scarback's allies were shadow-ghost Gelerts. Three years ago, Avalon and Ash had found out that a Darigan Lenny had been spying for Scarback for several years. How did they know that one of the pets beyond the safety of the trees wasn't waiting for a starry Kougra to appear with the Noil Gem?

      "Avalon," Ash groaned, "There're too many pets here. Nobody's going to try and attack you. Besides, Scarback has no way of knowing you know about your apprentice."

      Still, the starry Kougra hesitated. At last, however, he growled, "Fine. But let's stick close."

      The Lupe and Kougra crept warily toward the wooden piers and large, magnificent boats. Avalon read the names carefully as they passed the boats, but none was called the Desert Island Ferry.

      "Ash," he muttered. "I don't see it."

      Ash's tail swished nervously. "What do we do if we can't get off the Island?" she hissed.

      Avalon gritted his teeth. "Nothing, unless you want to swim all the-"

      "What?" Ash gave the starry Kougra a puzzled look.

      Avalon pointed toward a silver boat with a bright red flag on it. Ash studied it, then turned back to him, bewildered. Avalon pointed to the flag again, and whispered, "Look in the lower right corner."

      Ash looked again, and her eyes widened as her mouth twisted into a grin. "Desert Island!" she read, teeth glinting in the last few rays of the setting sun.

      "Come on," Avalon hissed. He and Ash made their way slowly through the packed dock, dodging pets and crates and loose petpets. They clambered up the ship's rickety metal staircase, and found themselves on a wooden ship deck, complete with a pirate style steering wheel. Standing at a small table by the wheel and examining a map was a tall, brown Krawk. A Pirakeet sat sleeping nearby.

      Hesitantly, Avalon cleared his throat. "Uh…sir?"

      The Krawk turned, keeping one set of claws on the map. He smiled, revealing several wickedly sharp teeth.

      "Ah," he said, turning all the way around. "The Honorable Guardian and his companion, the jungle stray, yes?"

      Avalon was surprised. He'd expected the Krawk to have a pirate dialect, the way other seafaring pets did.

      Ash studied him carefully. "And who are you?" she asked, eyes narrowed, claws tensed.

      "I'm Caiman," the Krawk said with a slight smile. "You don't need to attack," he added to Ash.

      "How do you know who we are?" Avalon asked, suspicious himself.

      "I'm an old friend of Quaz's," Caiman said with a shrug. "I met him in the last battle for the Gem. Now, let's see if you are who you claim to be."

      Avalon felt his own claws slip out, with a soft slashing noise. "How?" he asked, keeping his tone flat and even.

      "I just need to see the tickets Quaz gave you." There was a touch of exasperation in Caiman's voice now. Avalon and Ash shuffled through their bags, and pulled out their slightly squashed tickets.

      Caiman took both slips, and studied them carefully. At last, he grinned, and said, "Welcome aboard the Desert Island!" Caiman whistled, and a purple Lupe emerged on deck. Avalon and Ash gasped.

      Valor the Lupe smiled at them, twisting the long scar on his muzzle. Valor worked for Quaz. He had once been a shadow-ghost, but remembered who he was and changed back. Ever since, the Lupe had spied on the mysterious location of Scarback's base, passing along information to Quaz, and eventually, to Avalon.

      Caiman waved a clawed hand in the air. "Shut the door, Valor. Let's get this ship moving!"

      Valor walked to the steel ladder, and tugged it onto the ship's deck. He then grabbed a silver door, and with a grunt, shoved it into the space where the ladder had been.

      "Wait a minute," Avalon asked, looking at Valor. "How did you know we were coming?"

      Valor grinned slightly. "We didn't. Technically, this is a cargo ship. We deliver a lot of stuff to the Lost Desert, so we found out about the attacks and the robbery at Coltzan's Shrine. We guessed who was attacking, so we came here and waited to see if Quaz sent anyone."

      "We've got a prearranged code," Caiman said, tracing a path on the map with one long, shinny claw. "In the bottom left corner of your ticket, there's a picture of the Noil Gem. It's really small, and almost invisible, but it's there."

      Impressed, Avalon looked closer at his ticket. Sure enough, in tiny dotted lines almost the same color as the ticket was the shape of the Noil Gem, staring innocently up at him. "Cool," the starry Kougra said, stuffing the ticket into his bag.

      "Alright!" Caiman had moved to the wheel, and had one hand on a metal lever. "Let's get this ship moving!" With a loud creak, the lever was pulled down. The ship lurched, then began backing out of the docks. Avalon peered over the side, feeling the tangy salt air ruffle his face fur and whiskers. Looking back to the trees, he let out a yelp.

      "What?" Ash appeared at Avalon's side. "What is it?"

      "I thought I saw something." Avalon pointed a starry paw at the trees.

      "Saw what?" Ash asked.

      "Red eyes," Avalon whispered. "Glowing red eyes."

      Ash opened her mouth to say something, but Valor appeared behind them. "Would you like to see the rooms you'll be staying in?" he asked.

      Avalon and Ash exchanged a quick glance, then shrugged and let Valor lead them below deck.

      Shag raced through the forest, his mangy, night black coat snagging on low hanging tree branches. The Gelert didn't stop running until he reached a narrow stream. Looking behind him, Shag felt relief. Nobody had followed him.

      Turning back to the water, Shag studied his forest-dilapidated reflection. Mud and dirt hid the rich black of his fur. Shag's long, pointy ears drooped with the weight of grime and water and bits of jungle vines. Beneath his fur, Shag could feel the damp sweat, and knew he smelt horrendous. The only thing Shag could see clearly in the water were his eyes, glowing bright red, like a ghost pet's.

      Shag was a very scrawny shadow-ghost Gelert. The other Gelerts because of this had always picked him on. Most were big, strong, and had plenty of meat on them. Shag had always envied them, but knew he could never be so big. The runt of a litter was never going to be big.

      Only Scarback recognized his greatest weakness as a potential strength. Shag was the one Scarback had chosen to spy on the Guardian. Him, not his older, stronger brothers, but him. His size, speed, and little need for food were skills that allowed him to track Scarback's enemies for long periods of time. This was Shag's first important mission, tracking the Guardian.

      But if he was going to spy on the Guardian, Shag would have to be more careful. Shag was sure that the Guardian, at least, had spotted him. For all he knew, the jungle stray, the fire Lupe who'd befriended the Guardian, might have seen his glowing eyes as well. Shag paced, wondering what to do. His orders were to track the Guardian, and stop him from getting to his apprentice. Scarback had gotten too tangled in a police investigation involving a murder to kill the new Guardian right then, so it was up to Shag to slow the starry Kougra down.

      "But how am I supposed to slow him down if I can't catch up to him?" Shag grumbled, kicking a small gray pebble. "Stupid Guardians, always getting on boats or something. What am I supposed to do, swim across the ocean?"

      With a growl, the Gelert took kicked out again. This time, however, Shag lost his balance and slipped. He fell face first, sliding down a steep hill. He stood slowly, heart racing from the shock. Shag perked his whip like ears, hoping that nobody had heard his clumsy fall. But far from worrying him, the sound that reached the Gelert's ears made him smile.

      "Boats for sale! Cheapest boats around! Come an' get em!!"

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part One
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Two



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