The Challenge: Part Five
Feeling decidedly sour from lack of sleep, Corran, Torch, and Flame began to make their way through the Woods, following the map Torak had given them. The Woods were unnaturally dark, as the trees blocked out what little sunlight there was. It also looked as if it would storm.
This increased Corran’s feeling of jumpiness. He was always afraid a Werelupe would jump out at him if he let his guard down.
The Woods were much more vast than he had anticipated. He had expected to be able to go from the camp to the location of the hidden dagger in a small amount of time. In reality, it was three full hours before they found the location of the dagger. It was very dark, so they got lost once again, and they also had to be very quiet and cautious, as they had had to tip toe through a sleeping pack of Werelupes once.
By the time they reached their destinations, their sour moods had just turned just plain nasty. It had started storming in the first hour, and even through the thick trees the rain drenched them. Once again Flame’s hair lay flat on his head, and Corran had to resist an urge to laugh. As all three of them were feeling decidedly irritable, Corran didn’t want to test Flame’s already limited patience.
“This is it?” squeaked Torch, his voice raising several octaves, for they stood in the middle of a graveyard. It was indeed very spooky. The ground beneath their feet was clouded by a thick foggy mist, the storm had picked up and lightning flashed threateningly in the sky. It was just like something out of one of his fathers creepy legends. Quite suddenly, a flash of lightning fell from the sky, hitting a tree in the distance. A moment later, a tremendous clap of thunder rang in their ears.
The lightning, tombstones, and spooky fog were all too much for poor Torch to take. At the lightning and crack of thunder, he actually threw himself into Corran’s arms, letting out a yelp that made Flame’s girly squeal sound manly. Sour mood completely forgotten, Corran laughed so hard that he dropped the orange Shoyru to the ground. Flame was hysterical. He was actually rolling in the grass and kicking his feet. Torch only sent the two of them looks worthy of Jhudora and rubbed his backside where Corran had dropped him.
When they had recovered, Corran asked Flame, “So... where are we going to find our dagger?”
Flame observed the map. “One of the crypts. The biggest one.”
Corran couldn’t help but sneer, “Just our luck.” The largest crypt was, bluntly put, very spooky. Its stone walls, which at one time must have been magnificent, were beginning to erode slightly, giving the rock a crumbled look. Several large black Spyders, some that looked a slightly poisonous black-green, scuttled up and down the door to the crypt, which was very battered wood. The fog that covered the graveyard seemed to be most abundant around the steps that led up to it. So dense, in fact, that Corran doubted he would be able to see his feet through it. Lightning seemed to arc down toward it directly.
Torch gulped. “In there?” He pointed a trembling hand toward the building.
Corran swallowed on a suddenly dry throat. “Yep.” He nodded in a resigned sort of way.
Flame sighed, then turned to them. “Ready, then?”
The two of them nodded in a final sort of way, and together they walked to the stone steps of the crypt. Corran’s guess had been correct, when he looked down, his feet were not even perceptible. The door, whose lock it seemed had been busted by a sword, creaked open, revealing a darkened entry room. Torches hung on brackets on the wall. There were four brackets, but only three torches. None of them were lit.
Flame reached into his pocket and grabbed some flint, then lit the remaining three torches with it. He took one for himself, then gave one to each of his friends. Corran had thought that light would cheer him up, but he was gravely mistaken.
Bones littered the floor beneath his feet. A casket was slung roughly against the wall, hanging open slightly. Corran quickly averted his gaze.
They were led down another row of stone steps, and into a broad hall. On either side were many doors, and Corran could not see an ending to the hallway. He never would have expected that the crypt was so big from the outside.
Suddenly, a shrill scream pierced the air. It had sounded extraordinarily girly, like one of Flame’s squeals, but Flame too was looking around for the source of the noise. Corran thought he heard other voices, but they were very faint. A somber silence fell upon the three squires.
“We’re not the only ones here...” began Corran.
“Ya think?” snapped Flame, but there was no fire in the remark.
“It’s probably the two Torak sent to tail us,” suggested Torch. “Which way do you think it came from?”
As if on cue, there was another scream, not quite so shrill. It was a scream of pain, and immense fear. A chill ran down Corran’s spine. The only word he could use to describe it was “bloodcurdling.”
“That way!” said Flame, pointing to the door to the left, and they all ran through it. They were now in a room with two tombs, but no signs of any life. The ones who had screamed must be farther down.
Sure enough, there was another door at the end of the room; they quickly raced through it.
In the next room, Torch knocked over a coffin that had been leaning against the wall, sending Flame into hysterics. “You oaf!” Torch only shuffled his feet guiltily, staring at the ground. Corran and Flame kept rushing forward, with Torch a little behind them.
Much to Corran’s satisfaction, they found them three rooms later. They were not, however, who he had expected.
“Cor?” a yellow Xweetok stammered. Corran’s heart skipped a beat; a body lay beside the Xweetok, its head resting in the Xweetok’s lap. Corran couldn’t tell who it was from here, but he did recognize the Xweetok, as well as the Gelert who was leaning over the body.
“Leglos? Cody? What -” but then Corran remembered the letter he had received before. The one in which Leglos had said he suspected for Cody to do something drastic. It looked like the idiot of a Gelert had actually done it, and Leglos had had to save his friend.
His voice shook as he pointed toward the body. “Who...”
Leglos the Xweetok tore his gaze from Corran and looked at the head in his lap, apparently not able to speak. At that moment, Corran knew who it was; he only looked closer to make himself believe it.
His old friend Kate, the striped Lupess, was breathing raggedly on the floor, eyes shut tight. Corran looked away, unable to bear the sight. “What...”
“Werelupe,” said Leglos. “She and Cody opened one of the tombs, and it came right at her. He...” His voice seemed to fail.
“She’s been bitten!?”
Leglos only nodded, unable to speak again.
“But, if we don’t get her the cure before midnight...”
Leglos nodded again, and choked, “I know.”
Suddenly, his squire mission seemed less important. They needed to get Kate to Illusen; the earth Faerie was the only one Corran knew of who could possibly have the cure.
Corran looked behind him, at Torch and Flame, who were hanging back, looking concerned.
“Leglos, Cody, these are my new friends. This is Flame,” he pointed to the fire Kyrii, “and this is Torch.” He pointed to the orange Shoyru.
“Torch and Flame,” he continued, “These are my friends Leglos,” he pointed to the yellow Xweetok, who inclined his head in their direction, “and Cody.” The blue Gelert didn’t give any sign that he had heard the introduction. He was staring determinedly at the ground, shuffling his feet in obvious shame. Cody had probably dragged Leglos and Kate into this.
“And of course there’s Kate...” whispered Corran. He gave a pleading look to his squire friends. For him there was no question of abandoning the mission to help, but Flame and Torch didn’t know Leglos, Cody, and Kate, and in order to pass the entire group had to get back to the castle.
To his great surprise, Torch and Flame rushed forward, helping Leglos lift Kate up into the Xweetok’s arms.
“Thanks,” muttered Leglos. Corran heard a scuttling just outside the room, and turned his head to look. In one of the doors jogged the two figures whom Torak had sent to tail them, only now they were not masked.
“Sir Borodere? Alexa?” Corran was stunned to see the King’s Champion and none other than the nurse who had stitched him up.
Alexa seemed rather out of breath, keeping up with Jeran was probably not an easy feat, “We heard a scream...” Alexa said between breaths, “so we came running.”
“What is this?” asked Jeran, looking very confused.
“These are my friends,” explained Corran. “They were trying to get out and Kate was bitten.”
Alexa covered her mouth with her hands. “Bitten? By a Werelupe?”
Corran had a sudden idea. “Alexa! You’re a nurse! Can you help her?”
The pretty yellow Acara gave Corran an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, Corran. Werelupe bites are beyond my ability. Illusen may be able to...” she had bent down to observe Kate’s wound, and gasped. “This is a really bad bite...”
Corran had been afraid of that.
“I’m sure Illusen has the cure,” encouraged Jeran, “but we need to go now. It’s past noon; we only have less than twelve hours.”
Without another word, the eight of them exited the room, making for the graveyard. Hopefully, they would be able to reach Illusen’s Glade in just a few short hours, Kate would be cured, and Corran, Torch, and Flame would even have time to finish the squire mission.
Unfortunately, nothing was ever that easy.
The masked attackers from the previous night surrounded them as soon as they exited the crypt. Each of them pulled out their swords, even Leglos, who was holding on to Kate with his other arm.
“Now, now, gentle beings,” said one of the masked ones. “We don’t want any trouble here.”
“Really?” said Jeran. “Then why are your weapons drawn?”
“We just want the Kougra,” snarled another. “Then we can be on our way.”
“Yeah,” continued yet another. “Looks like that one needs healing, and fast at that.” He was looking at Kate.
“So just give us the squire, and you can be on your way.”
Flame raised an eyebrow. “What do you want with him anyway?”
“That’s not your concern, is it? Relax your guard and come forward, squire.”
Corran looked around. “Guys, maybe I should...”
“Yeah right,” chimed all of them at once.
The masked one that had spoken first sighed. “Then you give us no choice...”
To be continued...