Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 106,486,787 Issue: 212 | 14th day of Collecting, Y7
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Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Six


by cpmtiger

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The four Gelerts moved closer to Avalon and Ash. Avalon swung his sword at a narrow eyed Gelert, hoping to make a break in their formation. The Gelert simply dodged the blow, and advanced, growling.

     "We can't fight them like this!" Avalon hissed to Ash. "They're too close!"

     Ash swung her own blade, the jagged iron sides whistling as they cut through the air. The Gelert nearest her dodged the blow as well, and Ash growled her frustration.

     A Gelert appeared outside the circle, walking almost daintily. Her fur, like the other Gelerts, was a rich black, and her eyes also glowed red. Her silver battle helmet glinted in the desert sun, as did her teeth, bared in a grin.

     "Brazen!" Avalon snarled through clenched fangs. Ash let out a low growl at the sight of the Gelert.

     Brazen's eyes glowed brighter. "So you remember me?" she asked, a hint of menace behind her false-friendly tone.

     "Of course I remember you," Avalon snapped, sword slicing the air in emphasis. "Kinda hard to forget a pest like you."

     Brazen's smile widened. "Scarback says the same thing about you, Avalon. Or at least, he used to. After this fight, he won't have to worry about midget Kougras wrecking his plans, or sassy Lupes helping them."

     "Not too bad for a midget," Avalon shot back hotly, "unless Scarback's nowhere near as dangerous as everyone says."

     The Gelert's grin faded, and her eyes narrowed. "Scarback is every bit as deadly as he is portrayed!" she snarled.

     "My mistake then," Avalon replied, his golden eyes equally narrow. "I guess it's his Gelerts who are lacking."

     Brazen growled loudly at this remark, her eyes glowing like fresh lava. "You all take the Lupe," she snapped at the other Gelerts. "I'm going to deal with this mouthy runt of a Kougra."

     She stepped in front of the other Gelerts, hackles raised. Avalon heard the sound of another Gelert stepping forward to attack Ash. Brazen crouched, ready to pounce. Avalon swung his sword, and the Gelert leapt up and grabbed it in her front paws. She then flung it too the ground, leaving Avalon weaponless.

     Unfortunately for Brazen, Quaz had also trained Avalon in physical combat. The starry Kougra dropped to all fours, his claws sliding out of his sheaths. He crouched as well, eyes wide and focused. The Gelert growled as she sized up her opponent. Avalon watched, trying to appear calm and unconcerned.

     He made the first move. Without wiggling his hindquarters, the natural instinct of pouncing Kougras, despite its dead giveaway, Avalon shot towards Brazen like an arrow.

     Brazen leapt past Avalon, whirling as she passed to smack his head with a large black paw. Avalon hit the ground on his stomach, head stinging. Brazen landed on her feet opposite him, crouched with her side facing Avalon. The starry Kougra stood, tail thrashing angrily.

     Brazen snarled, "Had enough?"

     Avalon's anger soared higher than the Darigan Citadel. "Never!" he snarled, lunging at the Gelert.

     Taken by surprise, Brazen didn't react fast enough to avoid Avalon's claws, which sliced into her side. But the Gelert's head snapped around, grabbing Avalon's other arm and throwing him to the ground. Avalon rolled nimbly to his feet, eyes blazing like two angry suns.

     He hissed, and Brazen laughed. "Aww, the poor wittle kitten's hissing!"

     Avalon aimed for her the part of her face unprotected by the helmet as she laughed. The second she finished her sentence, Avalon leapt, two paws forward. Brazen dodged the first blow, and leapt over the second one, smacking Avalon's head with her own helmeted one.

      Avalon's head seared with pain, and he hit the ground hard. Brazen seemed done fighting. She leapt, her teeth going for Avalon's throat.

      "I need a shield," Avalon thought, hoping the Noil Gem could process the command. C'mon, I need one now!"

     But instead of glowing gold or green or blue, the Gem emitted a purple glow. Something silver slammed into Brazen's side mid-leap, causing the Gelert and whatever had attacked it to hit the ground a few feet away. Two of the Gelerts moved in to help their leader, but none of them seemed to be able to get the thing attacking Brazen.

     Avalon leapt up as the last Gelert turned and barreled toward him. With a roar, Avalon leapt onto its furry back, digging his claws deep into the skin. The Gelert whirled around, trying to snap at the Kougra on its back. Avalon stayed on until they were almost directly below the wooden supports of what had once been a trading tent. Avalon noticed the beam shape used to support the tent roof.

     Avalon pushed off of the Gelert's back, leaping onto the beam, then pounced back down, driving the Gelert into the sand.

     He turned to see Ash slice the last Gelert across the shoulder. The Gelert howled, and ran off, along with, Avalon noticed, the other four Gelerts.

     "Lucky that wasn't the whole group," Avalon panted, walking over to Ash. The fire Lupe nodded in agreement.

     "But whoever tackled Brazen really saved us," she said.

     Avalon and Ash turned around. Crouched, watching Avalon and Ash with wide, cautious eyes, was a young silver Kougra. The Noil Gem glowed a faint purple again. Avalon, with the special connection only a Guardian has with the Gem, understood it to be confirming something. And he knew what.

     Avalon stepped forward, smiling. The Kougra backed away. Frowning, Avalon sat down.

     "Hey," he said, "We're not going to hurt you or anything. We just wanted to talk."

     The silver Kougra narrowed its eyes. "About what?" she asked.

     "About you helping us," Avalon said, smiling again. "And about this." He held up the Noil Gem. It caught a beam of sunlight and reflected it impressively.

     "I don't know about you two," Ash interrupted, stepping forward. "But I think we outta set up a camp."

     Avalon let the Noil Gem fall back to its normal place, and frowned slightly. "But where?" he asked.

     "I know a place," the silver Kougra said quickly. Avalon turned toward her.

     "Really?" he asked, "Where?"

     The Kougra motioned behind one of the few remaining tents. "You walk about half a mile and there's a little oasis," she explained. "It's got water and food, even a ridge you can keep watch from."

     Avalon glanced at Ash, who nodded eagerly. Avalon turned back to the silver Kougra. "What's your name?" he asked her.

     The Kougra blinked, then answered, "I'm Silverdrop."

     "Well, I'm Avalon, and this is Ash," Avalon replied. He took a few steps forward, grabbing his sword off the desert sand.

     Silverdrop nodded slightly, then turned and led the way toward the oasis.

          There was food, water, and a lookout ridge at the oasis. While Ash restocked some supplies, Avalon told Silverdrop about the Noil Gem, how he came to have it, and about the enemies and allies to the Guardian.

     "The weird thing is," Avalon said, "is that a few days ago, it glowed purple. Quaz, he's the old Guardian, said it meant I had to find an apprentice."

     Silverdrop's eyes, already wide at Avalon's story, widened until it looked like she had only one stripe over each eye. "So who's the apprentice?" she asked eagerly.

     Avalon paused, then said, "Well, the Gem glowed purple while I was fighting Brazen, right before you showed up." He watched Silverdrop, but she didn't seem to understand.

     Perplexed, she said, "So?"

     "So," Avalon sighed. "I think you're my apprentice."

     For a moment, everything was silent, except for the sounds of desert night bugs. Silverdrop's eyes were wide and puzzled. At last, she let out a big sigh. "It can't be me," she said gloomily.

     Avalon frowned at her, shooting Ash a perplexed look. "Why not?" he asked.

     Silverdrop looked down at the sand. "Because I've been a thief my whole life," she answered, in a voice just above a whisper.

     Avalon's eyes narrowed. "What do you steal?" he asked suspiciously.

     "It started with food," Silverdrop said, looking at Avalon fearfully. She gulped. "But then…he insisted on stealing bigger things. Things we didn't really need."

     "Where are your parents?" Ash asked.

     "And who're you talking about?" Avalon added.

     Silverdrop stood and began to pace. "I've never really had parents. All my life I've lived with an Usul thief."

     Avalon flicked his tail and stood. "So this Usul made you steal things like…?"

     Silverdrop winced. "Battledome weapons. Pottery. Medicine."

     "What did you spend the money on? Food? Shelter? Water?"

     Silverdrop shook her head. "He spent it on things like robes and bigger sales tents. We had enough food to get by, and we had a tent out in the desert."

     "So what're you doing here?" Avalon asked harshly. "Unless you want to tell me you're setting us up…?"

     Silverdrop shook her head. "No! Honest! I ran away, because I didn't want to steal things if we weren't going to use the money for stuff we actually needed. I've got a decent conscience."

     Ash stood next to Avalon, studying the silver Kougra. Avalon watched her, wondering what she would think. Ash had lived as a stray for most of her life, after all.

     "I think she's telling the truth," the Lupe said at last. "Her story sounds reasonable, and the Gem did glow purple."

     Avalon shrugged. "All right," he growled reluctantly. Finding out that his apprentice was a former thief unsettled him for some reason. "So we'll need to head back toward the docks tomorrow. I think we all need some sleep."

     Ash rolled her eyes the way she always did when Avalon gave an order. But like the good friend she was, she didn't protest. She looked up at the jutting lookout rock, then turned to Avalon.

     "I'll go up there if you need me to," she said.

     Avalon shook his head. "No, I'll do it. I've got to make sure my sword didn't get damaged too badly anyways."

     Ash shrugged. "No problem," she said, then turned and headed toward the little pond.

     Avalon leapt onto the rocks leading to the ridge. He got to the top in less than a minute, and peered out at the desert. Silverdrop had been right, you could see the whole desert from here. Avalon summoned a need for light, and the Noil Gem shot out a small beam. Looking around, Avalon saw nothing besides the sand, sky, and glimmering gold pyramids. Satisfied, he lay down, one paw hanging over the edge. The Gem went dark, but when Avalon looked down he saw Silverdrop looking back up at him, her eyes wide.

          Avalon's eyes shot open. He didn't remember falling asleep. The sun was beginning to rise, and Avalon could make out the trees and objects below.

     Hurriedly, the starry Kougra stood and looked down. Ash was curled up on a log near the river, her tail under her nose. Silverdrop was by a shady tree, facing the dark trunk. Avalon sighed in relief. He felt his sword sheath, and his claws met his sword's hilt. Nothing looked disturbed. Avalon guessed that nobody had come.

     Looking out one more time, Avalon thought he saw movement in one of the bushes. He stiffened, instantly focusing on the spot he'd seen the rustling. The Kougra crouched, tail still and straight out.

     Something appeared at the edge of the bushes. A black, dog shaped snout. Avalon resisted the urge to hiss and waited. A slim black paw appeared, then the creature's entire front body left the bush. A scrawny looking shadow Gelert. The Gelert looked first at Ash, then at Silverdrop. He grinned, then looked at the ridge. His smile disappeared when he saw the starry Kougra, crouched on the ledge.

     Avalon pounced, his long legs stretching in front of him. He roared, and Ash leapt to her feet. She barked loudly, lunging at the Gelert, but Avalon saw two more black things surge from the bushes. The starry Kougra slammed into the Gelert's side, knocking it over. The Gelert swiped at his with one clawed paw. Avalon dodged it and hissed.

     Out of the corner of his eye, Avalon saw Ash swipe at another Gelert's eyes. She missed, but blood dripped from the Gelert's muzzle. Silverdrop's paw lashed out over and over again at a tall, skinny Gelert, who dodged the blows and countered them with remarkable precision.

     The Gelert Avalon was fighting swiped at him. Avalon's right paw moved forward, aiming for the Gelert's unprotected head. His paw hit, and the Gelert let out an "Oomph!" and drew back, shaking his head.

     Avalon leapt forward, plowing into the Gelert's side. It launched its head forward, biting Avalon's leg as it passed. A second later, both were on the ground in clouds of sand and whirls of claws.

     At last, Avalon and the Gelert ended up on opposite sides of each other. Avalon was bleeding, but the Gelert appeared the worse for wear. His fur had been ripped out in clumps, and one claw was broken and dripping blood. Avalon crouched, growling.

     The Gelert stepped back, his eyes glowing brightly. "You've won this round," he snarled. "But I'll get more Gelerts next time."

     "Doesn't matter!" Avalon hissed. "We'll still beat you!" He leapt forward, and the Gelert turned and ran. The other two Gelerts drew back, also bleeding. Silverdrop growled in warning, and the Gelerts turned and ran after the scrawny leader. Ash howled as they retreated, as if she was trying to rub it in.

 

     Shag slowed to a trot once the oasis was out of sight. His eyes were glowing bright, then fading, then glowing, then fading, an endless cycle that expressed his anger. How stupid could he be, not checking for the Guardian before entering the oasis? The two Gelerts he'd recruited from the pack trotted wordlessly behind him. They were also bleeding, even the one who'd attacked the apprentice. He should have gotten Brazen to come, he realized. She was a smart Gelert. Brazen wouldn't have made the mistakes he had.

     Shag slowed down, his trot becoming a walk. The Gelert pack's camp was visible ahead. They had crowded around a dug-up underground watering hole, where Shag and the two others headed for a drink.

     Shag had just dipped his maw into the water when a stern female voice barked, "Shag!"

     The Gelert winced, slowly drawing his head up. He turned and nodded to the angry Gelert behind him. "Yes, Brazen?" he said meekly.

     Brazen narrowed her red eyes. "Come with me," she growled.

     Reluctantly, Shag followed her, feeling smaller than ever. Brazen lead him away from the Gelert pack, and to a sand dune, where she stopped and turned. Satisfied that nobody could hear, she whistled.

     Something black hurtled down from the sky and landed at the Gelerts' paws. A Crokabek, carrying a scroll in its beak. The bird set the scroll down at Brazen's feet, then back away. The scroll had already been opened, and obviously Brazen had just given it to the Crokabek so she wouldn't have to carry it in her jaws.

     "News from Scarback," Brazen growled. "Our…informant sent word that the Guardian saw you from the ship, when you were supposed to stay out of sight."

     "I didn't-"

     Ignoring his protests, Brazen went on. "There was also a report of a boat robbery, by a shadow Gelert. When you were supposed to stay out of sight!"

     "The Kougra hopped onto a boat! What did you expect-"

     "And now you went out, without my permission, to kill the apprentice and take the Gem. And I see you've been beaten, too," she added with a snarl.

     Shag's eyes flickered again. Brazen's eyes narrowed further, and she stepped forward. "Unsuccessful troops don't live very long, Shag," she snarled quietly. "Scarback may not have killed you as a pup, runt, but he expects better than this. And he can make up for all those wasted years and supplies with two words."

     Shag glared at Brazen. "What words?"

     "Kill him."

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
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Three
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Four
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Five



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