Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Seven
Also by schefflera
Deep in Hubrid Nox's mountain fortress, as Jeran dangled
above it, Kass flailed against flitting shadows that whispered to him the all-too-recent
words of the Three. "You're even weaker than I thought. Pathetic," one of them
murmured into his ear, as he stepped back and ran into the wall. "Not even worth
"Leave then and stop wasting it," Kass snapped.
It was bravado, nothing more. But he would let them think him worthless and
be grateful for it, if only it meant they would ignore him.
The shadow laughed, voice rising above a whisper
for the first time and surrounding him. It must be Ambition -- the voice was
Something soft and furry brushed past his leg,
and another voice, shrill with fright and then growing fury, shouted, "Who are
you talking to? --Hey! Leave him alone! You're supposed to leave us alone!"
The laughter stopped; the shadows stilled. The
voice that was not quite Ambition's after all said in a very different tone,
"Well, what have we here?"
Kass froze, then blinked, staring into the dimness
and at last making out the forms that had stopped in front of him. A tall Usul
with night-black fur and a purple ruff was leaning down, hands braced on her
knees, to peer at Sally. The smaller Usul held up a twig with two large white
berries on it. He could see that they were shaking.
"You don't attack Usul children," Sally said
defiantly, though her voice trembled too, "if we carry Usica Berries. Right?"
"That's right, I don't." The Shadow Usul tilted
her head to one side. "I suppose I'd better let you go, then."
Sally darted a glance over her shoulder at Kass,
then skipped backward and grabbed his hand. He could feel her shivering now.
"Him too. He's with me."
"Oh, I don't know about that. Hubrid wanted him
kept out of the way. He didn't mention you," the Shadow Usul added thoughtfully.
"Why do you do what Hubrid Nox tells you?" Sally
The Shadow Usul snorted. "Because it pleases
me." She laughed unexpectedly. "But he didn't tell me there was an Usul child.
Maybe it will please me better to let you go." With that, she vanished, melting
into the shadows again.
Sally sat down very suddenly on the floor and
hid her face against her knees.
"It's okay, Sally," Kass said, still shaking
himself. "You are truly brave. If you hadn't kept your head..."
"I don't feel brave," the Usul said weakly, seeming
smaller than ever. "I feel more scared than I've ever been... even when I found
Lord Darigan living in my barn. When you started acting like that..."
"Sally, bravery isn't not being afraid -- it's
confronting your fears, and acting in spite of them. That's exactly what you
did. And it saved us both."
The Usul looked up at last. "What happened to
you, though? I couldn't really hear what the Shadow Usul said to you, but...."
"I let her use my fears against me. I thought
she was... someone else. Someone who I hoped I would never have to deal with
again. And I just wasn't able to handle being confronted by that," Kass said
"Why would you be afraid? You were supposedly
even more powerful than Lord Darigan..."
"That was why I was afraid. In a way, I feared
myself... what she could bring out in me. But, I can't burden you like that...
You've done enough today, and I must thank you again for it."
Sally stood up suddenly, and hugged on to the
Eyrie. "Thank you, too," she said. "I feel better now... But it might be best
if we left this place..."
Kass smiled. "Yes, it might. This place is still...
uncomfortable... and Jeran might want our help."
Sally let go of the Eyrie, less shaky than before,
and they both started searching around for an exit. The darkness of the room
made this quite difficult, and even when they did find a door, it led them outside
onto the mountain rather than back into the tower.
"Just great. How are we going to find our way
to Jeran now?" Kass grumbled.
"Do go on," Hubrid whispered gleefully, still
circling as Jeran hung from what had, a few minutes before, looked like the
roof of the fortress. "What? Have you nothing more to say? Or don't you want
to think of Meridell being invaded... yet again?" He arced around Jeran, inspecting
his work. "Perhaps you should drop that sword," he suggested helpfully. "Hanging
by one arm must be very tiring."
It was, but Jeran had no intention of throwing
away his sword, even if he was about to fall to his death. He did consider sheathing
it, but at least so far, the vampire was staying just beyond reach of the blade,
never even looking quite directly at it....
The stone under Jeran's hand was still shrinking,
though slowly, and was growing as cold as the door handle had been when they
first entered the fortress.
Blasted theatrical sneering vampire Chia....
Hubrid made one last circle around him and then
rose higher, leaning over the edge of the cloud to look down while Jeran squinted
up at him. "Yes, Sir Lupe! Think on this as you fall. You have left Meridell
to be overrun by my minions. You have led your companions into a trap. You are
going to die. And you have not even done what you came for." He threw his head
back and laughed, the sound echoing off the surrounding mountains. "Ahahahaha!
Ahahahahahahahahahaha! Ahahaha-- HEY!"
Something dark and feathery had collided violently
with Jeran, shaking free his grip on the stone. It had seized on him and borne
him downward, swerving, so rapidly that by the time Hubrid noticed what was
going on and squawked, Jeran and his rescuer were halfway to the ground and
on the opposite side of the fortress.
"Steady," Kass's voice muttered in his ear. Jeran
didn't answer; for one thing, he was still trying to catch his breath, and for
another, he had no idea how "steady" was supposed to apply to their contorted,
veering path toward the rocks.
By the time Kass and Jeran landed safely on the
ground below Hubrid's fortress, they were both completely out of breath, Jeran
from his encounter with Hubrid and subsequent rescue by Kass, Kass from the
stress of having to fly while carrying the Lupe knight.
"If anyone ever told me before that I'd let you
fly me anywhere, I think I would have thought they were insane," Jeran said,
the initial shock finally wearing off.
"I would have thought the same," Kass replied.
"You know, you're not all that light..."
"I'm not that heavy..."
"Maybe not on the ground... but flying's hard
work, you know!"
"Much better than falling."
"That's true. But we should get going now --
we've got to pick up Sally, and then find the Yellow Knight."
"You left her alone?" Jeran asked, alarmed.
"What else could I do? I couldn't just have let
you fall... and I definitely couldn't have carried you both at the same time.
She should be safe though -- Sally, you can come out now!" Kass called.
The little Usul came running as quickly as she
could from her hiding place. "Mr. Kass, Sir Jeran!" she called, "I saw the Yellow
Knight when I was hiding in the woods! He's in trouble -- a giant Lupe has him!"
"A giant Lupe?" Jeran asked, then realized who
she meant. "No! Balthazar!"
"This way!" Sally cried, and scurried off. Jeran
and Kass followed, ignoring their fatigue. Jeran looked back once to see that
Hubrid's storm cloud was still darting jerkily about the fortress. Not pursuing
them, at least not yet.
They heard Balthazar's rough laughter well before
seeing either him or the Yellow Knight, and the quiet after it worried them
even more. When the two did come into view, the dark-furred head was bent forward,
but the Yellow Knight -- though being loomed over by a Lupe half again as tall
as Jeran -- looked only rather annoyed and not at all as if he expected to be
eaten. In fact, he was just sheathing his sword. The food-basket lay tilted
up against a stone as if hastily set down or dropped, but looked intact.
He looked past Balthazar, who had his back to
the new arrivals but quickly turned. "Those are my companions," the Yellow Knight
said quickly, beckoning them forward. "I'm glad to see you! I think it's all
right," he added. Jeran assumed this was meant to reassure the rest of them,
"Your friend here was just telling me," Balthazar
said, looking Jeran up and down, "that he might be a tougher meal than I want...."
Here he stopped to laugh again. "But whether he is or not, I said, if he isn't
with that cursed vampire, I'm not looking for a bite."
"I take it you don't care for Hubrid Nox, then,"
Jeran replied. He didn't sheathe his own sword, which he hadn't put away since
drawing it on the vampire Chia, but he did lower it.
"Who does? I leave him be, most of the time,
but I've a bone to pick with him now, or a whole skeleton. Threw thirteen Dark
Faeries through my bedroom window last night!" He growled, a deep bass that
Jeran felt resonate in his bones like a drum roll. "It took me until dawn to
get them all bottled up again." Balthazar turned to eye the Yellow Knight thoughtfully.
"Shut the door in your face, did he? Wonder if he meant to have me come around
and make assumptions."
That wasn't really what Jeran would have expected
of Balthazar, somehow, by reputation -- but then, while a hunter of Faeries
had to be at least a little mad, he could hardly be successful if he were stupid.
"Hubrid cursed my sister," Jeran said quietly. "And... suggested... I had to
come to him to seek a cure. Which he never meant to give." And he'd led a comrade-in-arms,
a child, and Kass -- whatever Kass was to him now -- into a trap. Shame flooded
him. "We've only just gotten away from him."
"No, you haven't," Balthazar contradicted him.
Jeran blinked. The other Lupe pointed a shaggy finger back toward the fortress.
"See him flying around? He hasn't spotted you yet, but there's not so much cover
here that he won't, if you stay this close."
"Then we need to get further away," Jeran said,
then hesitated. "Or at least the rest of you do," he added, looking from one
to another of his companions. "Maybe I should go back alone and try to find...
anything I can, on the cure...."
"You're joking," Balthazar said incredulously.
"You haven't got even a whiff of sorcery about you -- light magic on your sword,
but that's it. You need to get in good with a sorcerer who goes in for healing,
"Can you suggest one?" Jeran asked.
"Well, there's this Usul... dark-sphere specialist,
I don't care to have much to do with her--"
"I think we've had enough of her," Kass said
firmly. At Jeran's look of surprise, he explained, "Sally and I... encountered
her... on the way to you. As we were warned."
Ah. No, the Shadow Usul didn't sound like a promising
source of help. Especially if she'd been working with Hubrid.
"Interesting," Balthazar said. "I don't see why
she should be helping Hubrid... she might be a dark-sphere sorceress, but she's
not evil. But if you've had enough of her, there's one other. A Zafara witch,
named Edna. She's even worse, in my opinion. If anything, I'd think she'd be
the one who'd team up with Nox. Still, she's good enough at healing... if you
get her what she wants. There's a tunnel in those mountains to the east that
will lead you to the Esophagor's swamp -- Nox won't be looking for you there.
Just head due east, and hope the Esophagor is in a good mood. The witch's tower
is just past him."
Jeran looked to the mountains where Balthazar
had said the tunnel was, and then to Hubrid's fortress. The storm cloud, while
still darting around, seemed to have begun focusing its search in their direction.
"There's no time to waste," he said. "The quicker we get to Edna's tower, the
quicker we get back to Meridell. And I'm starting to get a bad feeling about
us staying here too long." It was more than a bad feeling, but Jeran wasn't
about to reveal what Hubrid had told him just yet.
"I would come with you," Balthazar said, "but
the path through the tunnel is easy enough. Besides, I can't just let Nox get
away with his insults."
The tunnel that Balthazar had shown them, while
damp and dark, offered relative safety as well as cover from Hubrid's roving
eyes. Balthazar had obviously used it when hunting for Faeries, as was evidenced
by the empty bottles that the Lupe had stored in various places. Soon enough,
the four came out, as Balthazar had said, in the Esophagor's swamp.
The swamp proved more of a challenge to navigate,
though they managed to find their way without too much backtracking. The Esophagor
himself, however, was less than cooperative.
"Wwwhhhyyy hhhaaavvveee yyyooouuu cccooommmeee
hhheeerrreee?" it asked in its slow, gravelly voice. "Nnnooo ooonnneee iiisss
aaalllooowwweeeddd tttooo pppaaassssss bbbyyy mmmeee!"
"We need to see Edna," Kass said firmly. "Now
let us by."
"Nnnooo ooonnneee mmmaaayyy pppaaassssss... uuunnnllleeessssss...
III aaammm hhhuuunnngggrrryyy... III wwwiiilll llleeettt yyyooouuu bbbyyy iiifff
yyyooouuu fffeeeddd mmmeee."
The Yellow Knight looked into the basket of food
that Sally's parents had packed for them, which he had been carrying since they
had left for Hubrid's fortress. "Do you eat potatoes?" he asked, holding up
a single potato.
The Esophagor snatched the entire basket of food
and gobbled it up.
"Well, I guess that settles it..." the Yellow
Knight said, still holding the potato.
"Yyyooouuu mmmaaayyy pppaaassssss," the Esophagor
said, scrunching aside and letting the four by.
"I can't believe he ate the basket, too!" Sally
squeaked. "Mom will be so upset..."
"Don't worry, we'll get a new basket," Jeran
They all stepped carefully past the Esophagor,
which had subsided into the ground and was making gurgling digestive noises.
Not too far beyond stood a squat tower with a warped triangular door, standing
open, and smoke puffing from a pair of chimneys. Poisonous green light glared
from the door and two eye like windows above it.
All four glanced at each other, and then Jeran
walked up and knocked on the door jamb, hoping that this time wouldn't be such
a disaster. He had to work to ignore the noxious smells emerging from the interior;
Kayla's potions frequently stank while in progress, but this was worse.
"Coming, dearies!" called a creaky voice from
within. There were a few thumps, and then a black-robed Zafara with mottled
green fur and very bright, sharp eyes emerged to eye them speculatively. "I'm
Edna. You're an interesting assortment. Did your owner wander off?"
Jeran blinked. "Er, no, we're not...."
"Well, as long as you've got access to the Neopoints!"
Edna said, cackling. "I'm looking for ingredients for a Bubbling Egg of Aisha
Charming. If you want to lend a hand, I'll reward you...." She trailed off with
"We came with a specific request, actually,"
Jeran said firmly. "Hubrid Nox has cursed my sister, and it was suggested that
you might be able to create a cure."
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhh." Edna pursed her lips, then leaned
back through her doorway. Something splashed. She emerged again, nodding. "I
know what he was working on, sure enough. I can make you the cure... if you'll
give me what I need."
"And what's that?" Jeran asked.
Edna looked at them all, one by one, and smiled
slowly. "The Sunblade," she said, "Naralus, and the Sword of Skardsen."
To be continued...