Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Five
Also by schefflera
Twilight had been pleasant in Neopia Central, cool and
dim with a little more room to breathe and a vague sense of drowsiness. In the
Haunted Woods, it was fully awake, watching and listening from the darkness
of the deepest shadows and on the bone-white branches stretched above. Kreludor
was starkly full.
Sally looked around at the trees and edged closer
to the three warriors.
"We head west, toward the mountains," Jeran said.
"All night?" the Yellow Knight asked dryly.
Jeran glared at him; he would walk all night
for Lisha's sake, if he were alone... but it probably wouldn't be the world's
best idea, and they did have a child with them. "We'll make camp by moon set.
I can carry Sally if she needs to sleep before then. I'll take first watch."
Maybe all the watches. He wasn't going to be able to sleep restfully with Kass
there... even if the Darigan Eyrie seemed to be acting in good faith so far.
The group made good time through the Haunted
Woods, even though Sally was quite tired after a few hours of walking. Jeran
offered to carry her, and the Usul gladly agreed. The three warriors continued
their trek, walking, if anything, even faster than before.
By moon set, they found themselves at the foot
of Hubrid's mountain range, in sight of the Chia vampire's mountain fortress.
They set up camp in as concealed a location as they could find, between a ledge
and the forest they had just left, and Jeran put Sally down to rest and found
the best spot to watch from.
The Yellow Knight found himself a spot to lay
down and rest, but Kass remained awake, sitting beside Jeran. "There's something
about these woods that make me uncomfortable," he said. Jeran eyed him suspiciously;
having the Eyrie remain awake made him uncomfortable.
"I'm quite sure you have had to make camp in
a more dangerous situation than this," the Lupe said. "Get some rest -- you'll
be more useful to us if you're fully awake."
"It's not that it seems dangerous," the Eyrie
said, looking at the ground. "It's just..." he trailed off, his gaze shifting
to the forest, with all its shadows and mists, "...familiar..."
Jeran surveyed the area. They had their backs
to an overhang and a good view of most avenues of approach that didn't involve
dropping over the cliff above; steep crags climbed above them to one side, and
twisted trees leaned in from the other. Wisps and scraps of fog glowed among
the trees even now that the moonlight was nearly gone. Dreary. And a bit spooky,
but that was only to be expected. "I suppose I can see a little resemblance
to the Citadel," he said, thinking of the cracked walls looming up from barren
ground, "but I don't know why that should make you uncomfortable."
"I didn't mean it looked like the Citadel."
"Then what are you talking about?" A shadow among
the trees slid abruptly sideways, and out of the corner of his eye, Jeran saw
Kass shiver. He waited to be sure the shadow wasn't on its way to them, then
turned to look at the Eyrie more fully, his gaze suddenly sharp. He might not
like Kass, but he couldn't afford to ignore any of the party's instincts...
and he was still responsible for them all.
"They lived in a place like this. Except
without the forest... or much else, really. A realm of smoke and shadows..."
Kass said, peering into the forest.
"They?" Jeran asked. He remembered Darigan
had mentioned that Kass had been freed from "malevolent influences." Could this
be what he meant?
"The Three," Kass whispered. "Ambition, Greed,
and Revenge... They feed upon those who are willing to listen to them, at least
until they fail. And then...." He shivered again. "Few ever escape them, once
the voices start."
"Not without... outside assistance. Though, even
now, it's hard to imagine that they have left permanently. Especially in places
"I shouldn't think the concepts ever do go anywhere,"
Jeran said warily, "but it sounds like you meant... beings." With voices.
"I did. They... whisper. They promise power,
in exchange for... doing the things you wanted it for. At first."
"And for you, that was what?" Jeran asked rather
harshly. "To destroy Meridell?"
Kass didn't snap back at him, but nor did he
look away from the shadows in the trees. "Yes. To destroy Meridell. To rule.
...I was wrong. I know that now. I... would not go with them again, given the
choice, and I do not want to hear them."
Jeran was quite surprised at Kass's frankness
-- he had expected that the Eyrie would try to the question, or at least place
much of the blame on The Three. "It seems likely, then, that they are attracted
to those who are most willing to listen to them. If, as you say, you have no
great desire for revenge on Meridell, or for power or riches, you probably have
little to fear from them any longer," he said, hoping to comfort himself as
well as Kass. If what Kass said was true, there would be little reason to distrust
him. If not, the Eyrie was an unnaturally good liar.
"Even so, seeing shadows like theirs is still...
"I'd imagine it would be," Jeran admitted.
"You've never.... You were surprised to see me,
I could tell," Kass went on. "Everyone thought I was dead, I think.... Maybe
Lord Darigan didn't. They may have done the same to him, though I don't know
how he escaped them afterward. The Three took me to their realm, after I was
defeated in battle. They said I had promised them everything, and they were
claiming it. They whispered, all the time I was there. Told me...." He stopped,
shook his head, and left the sentence unfinished. "I thought I might as well
be dead to everyone else, and wished I truly were."
The Eyrie had been silent for several minutes
before Jeran asked, "Why are you telling me this?"
Kass said softly, "You were there."
"I what?" Jeran's head whipped around toward
Kass. He was sure he had never been in a place like the one Kass described,
nor for that matter under the control of the Three.
"I saw you there. Not theirs, but unbound and
"...You must have been dreaming."
"Perhaps you were, too."
"What do you mean by that?" Jeran asked, thinking
that the Eyrie had obviously gone mad.
"They appeared mostly in dreams -- otherwise,
they were nothing but shadows and whispers."
"But what does that have to do with me?"
"It seems that I was not trapped in The Three's
realm for nearly as long as it seemed at the time. In fact, when I returned,
not even a day had passed since your fall from the Citadel."
"So I would not have been able to rescue you
even if I'd wanted to. I was unconscious for most of that day, and in no condition
to be going anywhere," Jeran said, looking at Kass accusingly.
"If The Three's realm is a realm of dreams, perhaps
the bonds they tied me with were not physical at all. And if one like you, in
a state of unconsciousness, were to enter that realm, it would be possible to
sever such bonds."
"To me, then, it was a dream... But even so,
how would I end up in The Three's realm in the first place?"
"Perhaps they go after more than those who would
easily accept them. I have no doubt that they would have expected you to kill
me, and I am certain that would be serving their purposes, in more ways than
Jeran scowled. He didn't like the idea of malevolent
beings jerking him around in his sleep without his consent, and he didn't care
for the suggestion that his killing Kass would have served the purposes of the
But if one of them was named Revenge....
"I would have expected myself to kill you," he
pointed out. He thought he did remember dreaming about the battle -- about Dark
Novas, about Kass's blow to his back, about the wrench to his shoulder and stone
under his claws as he swung over what looked like an endless fall, and Naralus
lifted high.... And yet Kass thought he had dreamed of freeing his enemy?
"Would you really?" the Eyrie asked him, still
looking out into the forest and its sliding shadows, yet seeming less shaky
than moments before. "A foe bound and helpless, no threat to you?"
There was that. That... would be different. "If
I had found you helpless... no, I wouldn't have killed you. I might well have
wanted to," Jeran added for the sake of honesty. "I don't know why I would have
freed you. But I dreamed of the battle," he said quietly. "I do not remember
the dream that you describe."
"I thought not. But I do." Kass turned at last
from the trees to look up at the mountains on their other side. "You should
sleep, Sir Jeran. I don't think I will, tonight."
Sleep... If they were to take on Hubrid Nox in
the morning, Jeran thought, it would be better if he at least rested first.
The idea of putting his life, and the lives of the Yellow Knight and Sally,
into the hands of Kass still worried him... but there was something about their
conversation that gave him some reassurance. So Jeran let Kass relieve him of
his guard duty.
"I suppose I could use some rest," the Lupe said,
laying himself down. "But wake me up if anything happens." While it was certainly
not the easiest rest he ever had, Jeran eventually managed to fall asleep, leaving
Kass alone with his thoughts.
To be continued...