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The Peophin Incident: Part Five


by kyrinn

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Chaelian found himself gazing upon an incredible scene. Miles and miles of nothing but mountains rose up from the earth, all of them formed from the light brown stone commonly found in Tyrannia. The air was chill at this high altitude, although nowhere near as cold as it had been on Terror Mountain. The green Xweetok realized that he and his two companions were standing on a ledge of a relatively small mountain. The pile of rocks disguised the hole in the side of the mountain the three had just come through.

      "So that's what the poem meant by 'earthen waves,'" Chaelian realized, speaking out loud.

      "That's incredible!" Kaerhas gasped. "I've never been in this area of Tyrannia before!"

     "No, few people actually come up here. There isn't all that much to do around here anyway, and there tend to be wild Neopets roaming around this area," Teirryn explained. "We'll have to watch out for those."

     "Teirryn, you seem to know a lot about this place," Chaelian said, looking up at the Peophin. "And you're a Tyrannian Peophin. Are you from around here?"

     "Still don't trust me, eh?" The Peophin looked amused.

     Chaelian shook his head. "It's not that. I was just curious."

     Teirryn shrugged. "Nah, I'm not from around here. I just did some research about this place, that's all. Actually, I lived on the border of the Haunted Woods."

     "You're a pretty weird guy, you know," Kaerhas said as he bounded over.

     "I'm flattered, Kaerhas."

     "You're welcome." The blue Bori looked out across the expanse of valleys and peaks and sighed. "It's so big! It'll take forever to find the cave."

     "Well, the road most certainly won't be getting any shorter by just standing around here," Teirryn replied as he glanced skyward. "I'd say it's about late afternoon right now. We're still not entirely sure where in the mountains we are, and we're trying to find a stream. Any ideas?"

     Chaelian cast about with his sharp eyes. "There," he exclaimed, pointing with his prosthetic metal paw. Kaerhas and Teirryn leaned over trying to see from his viewpoint. "Do you guys see it?"

     "What, that mountain?"

     "No, the valley right there."

     "Yeah, what about it?"

     "There's green stuff there."

     "Plants?"

     Chaelian snorted. "No, it's probably the Spider Grundo, out for an afternoon stroll. Of course they're plants! And where there are plants, there's water. There aren't many places here in these mountains that are green, so that'll probably be our best bet."

     "Am I glad I brought you along," Teirryn said, grinning. "Okay, we know where our destination is, so let's get going!"

     The way down the side of the mountain was treacherous. Loose stones and sand slipped out from under their feet, and it didn't help that the mountain declined steeply and a cold wind buffeted them. After half an hour, the three pets had hardly gotten anywhere, due to the caution needed while descending. The companions stopped to rest on a convenient outcropping of rock that was flat enough so they wouldn't have to worry about tumbling down the side of the mountain.

     "It's too bad there isn't snow on these slopes," Kaerhas commented as he drank from his water bottle. "Then we could make a sled or something and go down."

     "It's too bad an earthquake doesn't come along and level this place," Chaelian answered wryly. "Or some random spaceship comes and picks us up and drops us off at the cave."

     "You're being unusually sarcastic today, even for you," Kaerhas replied, his cheerfulness unfazed.

     "I don't think I slept very well last night."

     "Well, let's get a move on," Teirryn added in with a wicked grin. "Maybe if we walk a few extra miles today, you'll be so tired by the time we make camp that you'll drop like a stone."

     "Good idea," Chaelian retorted, smirking as he stood up and slung on his pack. "Of course, you'll have to keep watch the entire night in case we get attacked by a wild beast because Kaerhas and I will be too tired to help you."

     "Oh, I like that idea." Kaerhas bounded after the Xweetok. "Come on, let's go so we can sleep on level ground tonight!"

     Teirryn simply smiled and shook his head as he followed his companions.

     By dusk, the pets had reached the base of the mountain. All three of them were vastly relieved that they wouldn't have to travel the steep slope in the dark. It was decidedly warmer and more humid at the bottom of the mountain than at the top. They rested for a bit in the valley, then reached the decision that they would continue their journey for as long as the light allowed them to see.

     "Let's see if we can at least find that stream today," Chaelian said, turning back to Kaerhas and Teirryn. "We could refill our water bottles, and if we're attacked in the night, it might provide some protection at the back so we won't be circled and cut off by enemies."

     "It's a stream, not a river," Teirryn pointed out. "I doubt it'll be wide or deep enough to present that much of an obstacle to any foes."

     "Well, we still need to refill our water bottles," Kaerhas replied.

     "Point taken," the Peophin conceded. "So, Chaelian, do you remember the direction in which you saw the green?"

     "Somewhere that way," Chaelian responded with a vague wave. "Hang on, let me see...." The Xweetok's eyes caught a flash of green. "Let's try over there. I'll go scout ahead."

     Without waiting for an answer, the Xweetok leaped off in pursuit of the green he'd seen, quickly outstripping Kaerhas and Teirryn. He ran lightly over the dry, dusty brown ground, his striped green tail waving behind him. Soon, his paws were landing on soft, mossy green plants that grew closely against the earth instead of the rough, hard-packed dirt. Chaelian had been right about the plant life.

     As he traveled on, the small, scraggly weeds turned into small, scraggly bushes, which became larger bushes and small, stunted trees. Flowers and vines were everywhere; it looked very much like a jungle. Chaelian could no longer see Teirryn or his brother, but he wasn't worried; the Xweetok could hear the sounds of his two companions forging a path through the undergrowth. Confident that they wouldn't get lost or separated, Chaelian turned towards the front again and, blocking out the sounds of Kaerhas and Teirryn crashing through the foliage, listened carefully for a sound.

     There, Chaelian thought. That's the sound of running water. And was it his imagination, or was there another noise, something that didn't sound as natural as the howling wind or the trickling stream? Frowning, the Xweetok crept forward again, paws barely making a sound on the mossy ground as he slipped between the trees and shrubs. The sound of water grew louder, as did the strange noise.

     It sounds like... breathing, Chaelian realized. Someone breathing hard... and the sound of footsteps. The stream had to be within meters of where he was standing. The Xweetok could hear everything clearly. Indeed, the sound of harsh breathing emanated from the direction Chaelian supposed the stream was. Cautiously, the Xweetok pushed a couple of branches with huge, showy white flowers aside with his paw and peered through, then froze. As quietly as he could, he backed away from the place, letting the branches fall back in place with barely a rustle of leaves. Then, swiftly but silently, the Xweetok started running back to meet his companions.

     * * *

     Kaerhas trampled a small fern under his claws as he foraged onward. Next to him, Teirryn was barreling through the underbrush, mercilessly knocking around small trees and crushing bushes with his tail as he went. "Do you see him?" the Peophin demanded.

     "Nope," Kaerhas replied, panting. "He's probably far ahead of us by now."

     "Ahead, and back again." Chaelian popped up in the midst of a small bush with wide, bright green leaves right next to Teirryn. The Peophin started in surprise. The Xweetok grinned mischievously and twitched his tail in a contented sort of way. "Oh, and the two of you had better quiet down a bit. There's trouble ahead."

     "What sort of trouble?" Kaerhas asked, his curiosity piqued.

     "Trouble in the form of a pack of wild Lupes having a friendly debate amongst themselves." Chaelian beckoned. "If we hurry, they'll still be so occupied as to ignore us."

     "We wouldn't want to get caught in their argument," Teirryn agreed, recovered from seeing Chaelian materialize right in front of him. "They're probably deciding on a new pack leader. Still, if they scent us, they'll go after us. We'll have to go cautiously, so they don't notice."

     Chaelian cast a disparaging glance around at the mess his two companions had made of the jungle around them. "What are the odds of that?"

     "Pretty darn low," Teirryn conceded.

     "So let's just take them head on!" Kaerhas joined the discussion. "It'll be more fun than skulking around in the forest anyway. These claws aren't made for sneaking."

     "We're not charging into a pack of fifteen Lupes!" Chaelian stated firmly. "If they hear us, we'll try to outrun them."

     "Easy for you to say," Kaerhas mumbled, but his brother had already left, the Xweetok's brown-and-green fur blending in with the foliage.

     The Bori found that trying to walk quietly but keep up with Chaelian at the same time was no mean feat. Next to him, Teirryn was encountering even more difficulty, as the Peophin couldn't just crash through any obstacles in his way anymore for fear of making too much noise and alerting the Lupes. Kaerhas sincerely hoped the Lupes were as distracted as Chaelian believed they were.

     Within a short while, Kaerhas and Teirryn had joined Chaelian at the spot where the Xweetok had stopped earlier. Kaerhas peered through the bushes that screened them from view. Teirryn did the same. Chaelian was right: a pack of mean, rangy Lupes stood in a circle. In the middle, two more circled each other, growling warnings and baring their long teeth threateningly. Both bore the marks of a recent fight: long, painful-looking scratches, bite marks, matted fur.

     "They've been like that for a while, and hopefully they'll stay that way for another hour while we make our escape," Chaelian said in an undertone.

     "I don't fancy being chased by that group in the dark," Teirryn muttered, pulling his head back.

     "There's only fifteen of them," Kaerhas whispered. "If we each take out five of them..."

     "I said no," Chaelian responded. "Now come on. This stream leads north. If it's the one we're looking for, we'll come across the cave soon enough."

     "We can move along the bank once we're out of range of our friends here," Teirryn decided with a nod towards the Lupes. "We'll stay hidden in the jungle here in the meantime." The Peophin started moving along the trees. Kaerhas sighed and trotted after his friend. He sensed his brother following him, and, from a bit farther behind, he heard a blood chilling howling and snarling and yelping. It seemed that the fight had started.

     Ahead of him, Teirryn uttered an oath. The Peophin had halted.

     "Why have we stopped?" Kaerhas asked, peering over Teirryn's shoulder.

     "The jungle is thinning out. It'll probably end in a few yards, and we'll be completely exposed," Teirryn replied grimly.

     "Keep going," Chaelian whispered. "Maybe we're far enough now."

     "Maybe," Teirryn said doubtfully, but moved on. The Peophin's prediction proved to be true: the jungle descended until it was little more that moss clinging to the otherwise bare stones of the valley. Behind them, the sounds of fighting ceased.

     "Darn it. Let's go!" Teirryn charged forward, his hooves ringing against stone. Chaelian risked a glance over his shoulder. The Lupes had caught their scent now that it was no longer masked by the pungent perfume of the jungle flowers and were running after them, howling. Apparently they had united in the face of a common adversary.

     "If we get out of their territory, we should be okay!" Teirryn called back, not slowing in his mad dash. From behind, the harsh, rasping voice of one of the Lupes called out, "Halt!" but the companions paid it no heed. A yelp sounded over the noise of hooves and paws beating against stone.

     "Kaerhas! Are you all right?" Chaelian paused to wait for his brother.

     "Yeah," the Bori gasped, up and running again. "Tripped over a rock. It's too dark to see clearly now!"

     "Some of them are catching up!" Teirryn's warning made Chaelian and Kaerhas look up sharply. Indeed, a rangy young Lupe was outdistancing the rest of the pack, grinning as he bore down on the three adventurers. Just a few inches behind him was another, older Lupe.

     "I'll handle it," Kaerhas called back. The Bori dashed forward to meet the front runner head on, his Immense Rubber Axe of Doom appearing in his paw. Next to him, Chaelian leaped into the air, landing with his usual precision on the second Lupe who was about to team up on the Bori. Kaerhas gave his Lupe a heavy blow on the head with his paw, then sent the Axe skimming through the air to knock aside the Lupe who had been about to take a bite out of Chaelian. During the scuffle, another Lupe had caught up with them, and, snarling, clawed at Kaerhas. The Bori was saved by Teirryn, who joined the fray, kicking and lashing out with his heavy hooves and tail, a poison tipped dagger clenched between his teeth for good measure.

     The rest of the Lupes paused for a moment, seeing that the companions wouldn't be easy prey, and gathered around their leader, perhaps discussing tactics. Teirryn, Kaerhas, and Chaelian didn't wait; they immediately turned around and dashed off in the opposite direction.

     "I saw the cave," Teirryn said, the wind ruffling his mane as they ran. "The stream leads right into it. It's not too far."

     "Good," Chaelian gasped. Kaerhas looked at his brother in concern. Several long, wicked scratches marred the Xweetok's fur along his side. Out of the corner of his eye, the Bori caught movement. The Lupes were surging forward again, this time with a more organized attack, it seemed.

     "They're coming again!"

     Teirryn didn't even bother to look back. The Peophin was struggling with the straps on his bag as he ran, trying to undo them.

     "There," he panted as the ties came loose. Reaching into the bag, he pulled out a small bottle. Its contents were glowing a fiery red color. "This should hold them off for a while," Teirryn said, uncorking the bottle and tossing it at their pursuers. The red liquid spiraled out as the Fire Jug spun through the air. The Lupes drew back, but those in front didn't react in time and yelped in pain as the burning liquid splashed over their fur.

     "I see the cave!" Chaelian yelled. Kaerhas tore his eyes away from the sight of the Lupes squirming on the ground, trying to get the Fire Jug's contents off their fur and faced forward again. Sure enough, the cave was in sight: a dark hole in the side of a small hill. The stream flowing into it gave the impression of a thirsty mouth drinking up all of the water.

     Within moments, the cave loomed before them. It was dark inside, and Kaerhas was reminded of their unpleasant experience in the Snowager's cave. It certainly looks like a place where ghosts would hang around, the Bori thought to himself.

     "Get in!" Teirryn called, and threw himself into the cave. Within seconds, the Peophin was lost in shadows. Kaerhas made sure Chaelian was right behind him, then entered the cavern himself, bumping into Teirryn. Chaelian stumbled in last.

     "The Lupes?" Teirryn questioned. Not waiting for an answer, the Peophin glanced outside. It seemed oddly hazy and slightly distorted, as if looking through glass. The Lupes were prowling around the cave. They all looked rather amused, and seemed to be exchanging jokes. The leader barked a command, and the pack gathered together and moved off.

     They think we'll die here, Teirryn realized. The Peophin shrugged. No use worrying about such things until they were faced with them. He looked around at his companions. They were watching anxiously.

     "They've moved off," Teirryn explained. The brothers breathed sighs of relief. Kaerhas thoughtfully peered at the stream, tasted the water, then took out the water bottles and refilled them once he was convinced the water was safe. Teirryn went over to check on Chaelian, who was washing his wounds.

     "Not too deep," the Xweetok asserted, wincing as Teirryn smeared ointment on the scratches, then helped bandage them. Kaerhas appeared next to the Peophin, handing Chaelian a healing potion from the pack.

     "How is it?" the Bori asked worriedly.

     "I'll live." The Xweetok fell silent, and for a few minutes, there was no sound but the gurgling of the stream running past the rocks.

     "We'll sleep here for the rest of the night," Teirryn said, breaking the silence.

     "Should we keep watch?" Kaerhas turned to his companions.

     Teirryn shrugged. "Common sense tells us to, but quite frankly, I'm too exhausted to even think of anything other than sleep. And we'll need all our energy for tomorrow if were to face the alleged traps and ghosts that are in this cave. So I say we just trust in luck."

     "It's been on our side so far," Chaelian said, curling up on the rocks.

     Kaerhas yawned. "Sounds like a good plan to me."

     Teirryn pulled his tattered cloak around his body like a blanket and settling down on the hard stones. "Then it's decided. We attack at dawn."

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» The Peophin Incident: Part One
» The Peophin Incident: Part Two
» The Peophin Incident: Part Three
» The Peophin Incident: Part Four
» The Peophin Incident: Part Six



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