Kade stared at the bleakness that stretched out before him.
Winter had come early, as it always did on Terror Mountain. The snow lay in a
heavy sheets upon the frigid rock of the mountain and though the sun shone brilliantly,
it lent no warmth to this day.
Almister stood beside him, regarding the same
scene with a bitter expression on his countenance. "I despise these mountains,"
he murmured sardonically. Then, as only Almister could, "scout ahead, whelp."
Kade shot his Lord a displeased glance but quickly
remembered his place. He was but a mere scout, after all, while Lord Almister
controlled much of the northern reaches of Terror Mountain.
The young Kougra pulled his thick fur jacket
tight about his face. The fur gave him no warmth and barely held out the whipping
winds as Kade set out across the frigid expanse. Almister followed some distance
Reports had filtered back of disturbances near
the edge of Terror Wood and so Almister had taken it upon himself to seek out
the source of the unrest. The massive brown Lupe warrior had little to fear.
He towered above the common folk. Walking upright he was nearly seven feet tall
and his broad shoulders and thick fur made him an impressive specimen indeed.
Adding to his ominous appearance was the ever present blade, Icetooth. The sword
was nearly as long as Almister was tall and yet the Lupe easily wielded the
incredible weapon with one hand.
Kade, on the other hand, was a whelp of a lad.
He preferred to travel on all fours and stood a mere two feet tall at his shoulders.
He wore a dagger strapped to the inside of his left leg and thick furs to protect
him from the harsh weather that frequented Terror Mountain.
They were still several hours from the edge of
Terror Wood, but already, Kade felt a terrible fear welling up within him, sticking
in his throat. Try as he might, he could not shake the overwhelming feeling
of dread. With the exception of Almister, who travelled a few hundred feet behind,
the two were alone on the mountain and yet, Kade got the uneasy feeling that
calculating eyes were trained on him.
He slowed his pace somewhat, meaning to allow
Almister to close the gap between them, but the Lupe's annoyed howl of, "keep
moving boy!" had Kade off at a run once more. The young Kougra had wanted to
tell his Lord of his fear. Almister probably would have just laughed and shrugged
off Kade's worry as he always did, but still...
Kade forced his thoughts into silence and continued
to trek across the frozen expanse. His breath became ice as it escaped from
his open mouth in ragged gasps and the bottoms of his paws were numb with cold.
He knew that Almister would not let him rest until they had dealt with whatever
was causing problems for his people. That was one quality that Kade truly admired
in his Lord. Almister had an unbreakable will and unbending desire to keep his
citizens safe from harm. Only last winter he had slain several massive snowbeasts
who had threatened a local tribe of Mountain Ixis.
And still, with such a formidable power close
at hand, Kade was afraid.
The sun was slowly slipping below the horizon
and Kreludor would soon be arcing towards the centre of the night sky. Kade
turned his head towards the heavens, whispering a silent prayer that all would
be well and he would soon be home again with his mother and father behind the
massive walls of Lord Almister's castle. He could hear them now, could taste
the warm soup that would be ready for him when he arrived...
He had let his thoughts wander. Not a wise move
for a scout, especially so close to the ominous shadows of Terror Wood. Fortunately
it was only Almister who jarred him back to reality.
"What in the name of Fyora!" the Lord cried angrily.
"Why, Kade, do you have that far away look in your eyes? Won't be much good
to me dead, will you?"
Kade shook himself from his thoughts and stared
up apologetically at Almister. "It will not happen again my Lord," he stammered,
feeling quite ashamed for letting his guard down.
"I should hope not," Lord Almister grunted, his
tone edged with anger. "We are but a short distance from Terror Wood. Lead on,
Kade was thankful that his Lord had not punished
him more severely for his mistake. A sound beating was not unheard of for a
servant who did not perform his duty to the satisfaction of Lord Almister. Kade
sprinted quickly ahead, wanting to put a safe distance between himself and the
powerful Lupe, should Almister decide the young Kougra did not deserve his kindness.
The night grew dark as Kade crept silently into
the outer rim of Terror Wood. The trees seemed to close in around him as he
moved cautiously through the thick snow. A dense canopy of twisting tree limbs
meant that there was almost no light in Terror Wood even when the midday sun
shone bright upon Neopia.
Almister moved close beside the tiny Kougra.
Stooping low he lit the end of a massive torch. Kade was thankful for his Lord's
presence. Had he been alone in a place such as this, he would have turned tail
and fled without a second's thought.
A sudden shrill cry had Kade flicking his dagger
out and gripping it tightly in one slender paw. The Kougra's head darted back
and forth searching out the source of the sound. Almister's tone was mocking
as he whispered, "Was not but the cry of a Woot. Dear child, keep your wits
Kade looked a fool again. His Lord would surely
give him a harsh beating once this night was through. The young Kougra slipped
his dagger between his teeth, the taste of cool steel felt reassuring in his
mouth. Silently he moved on, his eyes always searching, scanning the darkness
for any sign of a threat.
They were deep within the woods and had heard
nothing but the normal songs of the night birds that frequented Terror Wood.
Kade was exhausted and the chill of the night had gone straight to his bones.
Almister plodded along, determination stamped clearly on his face. His lips
were curled, his eyes wide, and, as always, Icetooth swung at his side.
Suddenly the large Lupe stopped. "Up that tree,
lad," he ordered, "see if you can see anything up on high."
Kade did as he was ordered, moving stealthily
towards the tree. His claws grabbed at the thick stump and slowly he began to
pull himself up. Cool, sticky sap oozed from the bark as his claws tore easily
through the old wood. Soon, Kade was perched at about eye level with the canopy
that had seemed so far above him when he had been on the forest floor.
His eyes peered out into the gloom. It was hopelessly
dark! There was no way he would be able to spot anything moving around in the
pitch black of the Terror Wood. Then, suddenly, a strange glowing light caught
his eye. He peered through the dense, twisting branches of the trees, willing
his eyes to locate the source of the luminance. He considered calling out to
Almister, but truly, what had he seen? He couldn't rightly tell his Lord to
watch out for something he wasn't even sure he had seen.
The feeling of fear welled in his gut again.
Kade looked around once more. There it was! Only now the light was constant
and, he noted, there was more than one. "Almister," he whispered hoarsely. His
Lord did not respond. The massive Lupe seemed to be staring straight ahead into
the blackness of Terror Wood. "Almister!" Kade cried again. This time, Almister
made a slight motion, waving his hand to silence the young Kougra.
Kade sat quietly, the oozing sap slowly drizzling
over his claws, making his paws wet with its rich moisture. He slid down several
feet to give him a better view of the area where Almister stood. He could see
his Lord tensing his grip around the pommel of Icetooth. Something was coming
from the woods!
The creature that stepped forward into the clearing
was like nothing Kade had ever seen before. Strangely translucent, the creature
appeared almost ethereal. The dim light of Kreludor passed straight through
its form, causing the strange glow that Kade had seen moments earlier. Its armor
seemed to be composed of the same material as the rest of its body and in one
hand it held a blade that seemed to blink in and out of existence. One moment
it appeared opaque, solid, dangerous, the next moment it vanished from sight,
though Kade had no doubt that it was still equally as dangerous.
"Why have you come?" the ghostly Lupe moaned,
its voice barely audible and yet powerful and invasive all the same.
"Apparently there have been disturbances in Terror
Wood," Lord Almister replied cooly.
"Really?" the creature hissed.
"You wouldn't happen to know anything about that,
would you?" Lord Almister cooed, well aware of the answer.
In response, the creature rushed towards Lord
Almister with unmatched agility. It was all the burly Lupe could do to parry
the creature's deadly attack. Icetooth met the translucent blade face to face,
driving the opposing weapon wide.
Almister grunted, swinging his own deadly weapon
straight out to deal a fatal blow to the creature. The ring of steel against
something entirely unnatural stole the blood from Almister's face.
Kade, staring down from the branches of the massive
tree, watched in a mix of awe and horror as the creature deflected Almister's
two handed slash with a single armored hand.
"How?" Almister cried, slipping back beyond the
reach of the creature as it came forward in another flurry of attacks. The Lupe
was clearly at a disadvantage, but he would not relent. Viciously working his
blade from parry to full out offensive, Almister fought the strange creature
with every bit of strength he had.
Never before had the Lord seen anything to match
the ethereal being that now stood before him, but he was not about to let his
growing fear show. The monstrosity appeared to be a Lupe, but it was clearly
Kade watched in panic as his Lord battled his
deadly adversary and, to his horror, he noticed that several more of the creatures
slowly moving into the clearing, forming a semicircle behind Almister.
The Lupe warrior could sense the creatures behind
him as well, but he dared not take his eyes off of his attacker, should its
blade become invisible while he wasn't looking and score the killing strike.
The Lord of the Northern Mountain fought valiantly,
his blade dancing wildly back and forth, deflecting a seemingly endless stream
of attacks from the ethereal creature. The others, who had stood watching patiently
for some time, seemed to be getting restless, translucent fingers tracing the
pommels of their own blades as they stared wistfully at Almister's open flanks.
It was a wonder they had stood and watched for
so long, Kade thought. His eyes lingered on the half dozen ethereal creatures
who were slowly closing in behind his Lord. A sudden scream had him quickly
shifting his gaze back to where his Lord was fighting for his life.
Almister's ominous form stood over the translucent
being. The creature looked up into the eyes of the great Lupe Lord and let out
a terrifying, shrill cry. Almister's sword had finally found an opening, the
creature lay defeated before him.
The ethereal abomination hissed something incoherently
as its form wavered, becoming nothing more than a shadow and then vanishing
completely from sight.
Kade leapt down from his perch, landing gracefully
on all fours and brought his blade up before him, protecting his Lord's vulnerable
flank. Almister turned around and joined his tiny companion, glaring menacingly
at the remainder of the ethereal beings.
With their leader seemingly vanquished, the others
seemed to have lost interest in Almister's flanks and instead slowly faded away
into shadows, disappearing into the darkness of the night.
"My Lord," Kade said, rushing to Almister's side.
"You are wounded."
"It is not but a scratch, my boy," Almister replied
and though the gash was long, it appeared that the Lord of the Northern Mountain
spoke the truth. It was only a superficial injury. "We must get back to my people,"
the Lupe continued. "We must rally our forces and put an end to these abominations!"
"You do not believe they are defeated?" Kade
inquired, a hint of fear in his voice.
"Nay, child," Lord Almister replied, "I know
they are not defeated; a ghost would not leave this world that easily."
As they broke from Terror Wood, Kreludor was
once again dipping below the horizon to wake the golden sun. The vicious winds
of the day before had died down to a constant breeze and the sheets of snow
lay glistening in the waning moonlight.
Almister opened his pack for the first time since
they had left the castle nearly a day ago. He reached inside, pulling forth
a thick loaf of peachbread and offered a large slice to Kade, who willingly
"There is much that must be done," Almister began,
half speaking to the young Kougra and half to himself, "but I shall not rest
until these creatures meet their end!"
Kade knew his Lord meant every word. And so,
despite his fear of things to come, he smiled.