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Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Seven


by ikkin_with_attitude

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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 our time..."

     "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 feminine, gloating....

     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?"

     "I could."

     "You don't!"

     "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 asked stubbornly.

     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 sadly.

     "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, not Balthazar.

     "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, that's what."

     "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 said.

     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 a wink.

     "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...

 
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Other Episodes


» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part One
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Two
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Three
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Four
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Five
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Six
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Eight



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