Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: The Onyx Isle - Part Three
Avalon hated being caught unaware. He’d been thinking about Silverdrop and how furious she was over Flit, when a line of red-eyed, shadow-pelted Gelerts sprang from the trees before him in a snarling, teeth-baring line.
He backed up, baring his own teeth, but he would have to stop backing away soon; now that he was listening, he could hear soft pawsteps in the foliage behind him, and on his sides. He glanced down at the Noil Gem; why hadn’t it warned him?
As the other Gelerts emerged from the shadows, grinning sinisterly or glaring furiously, Avalon’s eyes rested on a single figure, pushing her way through one line of Gelerts. She wore a slightly-dented silver helmet, and this, along with the familiar smug, cruel expression on her muzzle identified her as clearly as if her name had been painted on the helmet.
Brazen, leader of the Scarback’s Gelerts, second only to the powerful Kougra himself.
“Well, it has been a while, hasn’t it, Avalon?” Brazen’s comment brought soft chuckles from the pack.
Avalon shook his head. “Not long enough. I could go a few faerie lifetimes without seeing you again.”
Brazen flicked her tail. “If the Gem was in Scarback’s paws, I could say the same about you,” she snarled.
After a moment, the grin returned to her face, and the Gelert said, “Now, before we get to the business of getting rid of you... what might you know about a Gelert named Flit?”
In the bushes nearby, Flit’s jaw tightened, but he remained still otherwise.
Silverdrop still didn’t know if setting Flit free was a good idea. Quaz had said to trust her instincts, and her instincts said that four pets stood a better chance against the pack than three. But there was a very real, all too likely chance that the Gelerts would be the ones with the extra fighter.
She wished she had her sword with her. Twenty-one Gelerts, counting Brazen, and all she had to rely on were her claws and teeth. Against so many enemies with the same natural advantages, a long-range weapon would have been nice.
Avalon had about half a second to think. His answer to this question could be very important... it all depended on whether Flit was an ally or a hidden enemy. But he didn’t have time to ponder the Gelert’s behavior; if he wanted to answer with a lie, any hesitation would make it unconvincing.
The Gem sparked gently, sending a tendril of warmth through Avalon’s chest. Warmth... not heat...
“You expect me to know every Gelert in your pack, Brazen?” he asked. “Or was he supposed to set a trap for me?”
Brazen’s face twisted as her hackles rose. “You’re lying!” she snapped.
Avalon snorted. “Really? Tell me, what would be the point of lying about seeing one of your Gelerts?”
Brazen glared at him for a moment, her red eyes alternately brightening and dimming, as these Gelerts’ eyes did when they were angry. Avalon realized that she must have a strong feeling that he was lying... but his performance was convincing enough to make her doubt that instinct.
Her eyes settling to a steady glow, Brazen looked over her troops. A few of the Gelerts met her gaze and nodded. Avalon crouched, sensing what was going to happen next. Sure enough, Brazen bared her teeth in the starry Kougra’s direction, and shouted, “Get him!”
The Gelerts charged. One had bounded a little too early, and Avalon seized it by the shoulders. Rearing slightly, he thrust the Gelert into the charging line behind him. Three Gelerts tripped over their comrade, but two others barged on, stepping on the fallen Gelerts as they passed.
The next Gelert got a paw to his face, and fell back, but others were coming... Avalon shifted from side to side, trying to find a hole in the oncoming square of Gelerts... he batted two away from his side, only to feel sharp claws in his shoulder as another one of the red-eyed canines leapt onto his back.
Avalon dropped to the ground, and rolled. His back smashed the Gelert against the ground, and it yelped, as rocks cut through its fur and Avalon’s weight forced air out of its lungs.
He got back onto his paws, and already had to fend off more Gelerts from the front. They were starting to hold back now, looking wary; they clearly hadn’t expected the Kougra to hold out against the steady crowd as long as he had.
“Get moving, you idiots!” Brazen snarled, leaping into a space devoid of a Gelert. “He can’t take another onslaught!”
There was a loud barking snarl, and Ash burst out of the bushes behind Brazen. She tackled the Gelert leader, and the two rolled away, snarling and swiping at each other's faces and throats. Ash managed to steer the fight into two other Gelerts; one was knocked out when his head slammed against the tree, and the other joined the fight, apparently seeking to get vengeance on Ash for a wound on his leg. He ended up smacking his paw against Brazen’s helmet.
In a streak of silver, two Gelerts from one of Avalon’s sides fell, smacking at Silverdrop. The Kougra ducked down, swinging at their ankles. Both Gelerts fell, each getting in the other's way as they tried to stand.
And as a Gelert loomed behind Silverdrop, another pounced at it from behind, driving it into a bush covered in thistleberries. The tackled Gelert snarled at the spikes pierced his skin, and made a sound like a choking hiss when some of the berries burst and dropped their juices into his eyes.
Flit turned back to the other Gelerts; a few stared at him in shock, but others had their teeth bared, and their eyes gleaming in rage.
Avalon didn’t have time to be grateful for the new allies, or wonder about Flit’s attack on his own pack; there were Gelerts coming at him, and he had to focus on fending them off.
Despite their smaller number, Avalon, Ash, Silverdrop and Flit seemed to be winning the battle. The Gelerts couldn’t cooperate, couldn’t spread out as widely as Avalon and the others could, and all seemed to be impeding each other in some way.
But just as Avalon slashed at a final Gelert, Brazen kicked Ash away, sending the Lupe tumbling through the dirt, and let out a loud howl.
Avalon looked around, and saw Flit with his ears pricked, and an expression of horror on his face. Avalon had seen it on Gelerts before- when Scarback appeared before them in a rage. He clearly knew what the howl meant...
And suddenly, Gelerts were appearing around the group, ten, twenty, thirty, forty of them! Even with their superior tactics, two Kougras, a single Lupe, and a rogue Gelert couldn’t fight forty of Scarback’s warriors!
“Keep fighting!” Avalon shouted, ducking under a Gelert as it swung a massive paw at his head, and rearing up beneath it. The Gelert was hurled into a small cluster of its packmates, but the Gelerts behind them simply leapt over the dazed mass.
Everywhere he turned, there was another Gelert... more and more and more of them were swarming around him... most of the pack had to be here... Ash, Silverdrop, Flit... they were picking Gelerts off of the back of the group, when others didn’t come at them... but most of the Gelerts weren’t going after them...
“They’re after me!” Avalon realized. The Noil Gem sent a burst of heat through his entire body, but the warning came too late. There was nowhere to run, and without at least one sword, he couldn’t fight the Gelerts off.
“And if they take me down here, the others can’t get here in time to get the Gem!”
Smacking the nearest Gelert aside, Avalon yanked the Noil Gem off of his neck, and held it in the air. The emerald sparkle of sunlight caught everyone’s attention... including Avalon’s companions.
“Silverdrop!” he shouted, and threw the Gem to his apprentice. “Get it and run!”
Silverdrop charged toward the Gem, but a burly Gelert appeared in her path, teeth bared and one paw surging toward her face. The Kougra skirted aside, and as she did, saw a Gelert clamp its jaws around the Gem.
Suddenly, there was a black blur, and there was a writhing black mass... no, not a mass... two fighting Gelerts! Silverdrop had no trouble recognizing the thin patches of fur on one of the Gelert’s hind legs, or the bandage around one front leg. Flit, fighting for the Noil Gem!
Silverdrop feinted an attack at the burly Gelert blocking her way, who dodged, allowing her to sprint toward Flit’s fight. With a yowling hiss, the silver Kougra swung a paw at the Gelert’s jaw. The force of the blow ejected the Gem from his mouth, and it rolled several pawsteps away. Before Silverdrop could move to seize it, Flit had abandoned the fight, scooped up the Gem in his own mouth, and turned toward the trees.
He looked back at Silverdrop, red eyes wide, his tail flicking in a clear “Come on!” gesture.
Silverdrop looked back at Avalon, still surrounded by the massive pack... why? He didn’t have the Gem, what was the point of attacking him? Suddenly, Silverdrop realized; he didn’t have the Gem! Without it, he was just an irritating starry Kougra...
“We have to help him!” she shouted to Flit, and without waiting for his reply, began fighting her way through the pack.
“It’s taking too long! Whatever they want to do, they can do it any minute!”
Then Ash pounced in front of her. “No, Silverdrop!”
“He’s your friend too!” she shouted.
“He wouldn’t want the Gem in Scarback’s paws!” she snarled back. If Silverdrop hadn’t been so furious, she might have seen the pain in the fire Lupe’s green eyes. She’d known Avalon for three years longer than Silverdrop, which, ironically, was why she was forcing the young Kougra to run.
A Gelert suddenly took advantage of the pair’s momentary distraction. She lunged at Ash, and managed to take the Lupe by surprise. Snarling more in surprise than pain, Ash rolled with the blow, and shoved the Gelert back toward the pack. “Go, Silverdrop!” she shouted. “I’ll catch up!”
Silverdrop stood, frozen and torn, her breath coming in short gasps. Suddenly, a Gelert was standing next to her; it took the Kougra a moment to realize that it was Flit. He had the Noil Gem in his paw, and was holding it out to her.
“She’s right,” he whispered. “Come on... we have to get out of here, or Brazen’s gonna set the whole pack on us.”
“Oh, so now you know what’s going on?” Silverdrop spat. “You couldn’t have told us-”
The Gelert interrupted her. “No, I couldn’t have; I didn’t know, but this isn’t the time! We have to get the Gem away from the pack!”
A Gelert whined loudly, and Silverdrop turned to see Ash smack her attacker unconscious. The fire Lupe hurried toward them, snarling, “Follow me!” as she ran past Silverdrop and Flit.
The two didn’t move for a moment, Silverdrop staring at the Gem in Flit’s outstretched paw. Finally, feeling like a traitor, she took the Gem, flung it over her neck, and charged after Ash and Flit.
Avalon could hear the Gelert’s breathing, feel the heat oozing from their thick fur, smell the sweat on their hides. Black-furred pets weren’t made for Mystery Island, he noticed dully. His golden eyes were searching, searching for a gap that didn’t exist, a way out that simply wasn’t there.
Brazen shoved through the pack, her grin a row of white gleam in the sunlight. “You should be happy to see me now, Avalon,” she told him.
Avalon snarled, “I am. Now I can take you out with me!” He crouched, prepared to do exactly as he threatened.
Brazen crouched as well. “Don’t be an idiot!” she growled. “Unfortunately, you aren’t as useless without the Gem as you think you are.”
Avalon looked around at the pack; his friends had retreated, and the Gelerts who had been fighting them were now adding to the living canine wall, preventing him from escaping. “Ah. I see... Scarback has plans?”
“Doesn’t he always?” Brazen asked. There was a touch of reverence in her voice that made Avalon want to smash an acnefruit in her face. “So. Are you coming with us then?”
Through gritted teeth, Avalon snarled, “It looks like I don’t have a choice.”
“Very true,” Brazen snarled, her muzzle twisting into a hateful expression. “Don’t make me regret following Scarback’s orders.”
Avalon met her red gaze with a glare. “Don’t think I don’t know better. You’re already regretting it.” He turned away from her, glaring up at the trees. He wasn’t going to be a meek, whiny Altachuck of a prisoner... he would be testing Brazen’s patience to its limits.
Brazen stepped up next to him, snarling in his ear, “Don’t test me, runt.”
Avalon swung at her with his paw. “Don’t forget who you’re talking to, Brazen. Maybe I don’t have the Noil Gem, but I’m still a Guardian.”
“You’re hardly one to demand respect from me,” Brazen growled. She glanced over her shoulder, and snarled. The Gelerts behind Avalon started moving, forcing the Kougra to walk forward. “And if you pull a move like that again...”
Avalon kept his gaze ahead. “Go ahead. At least I’d know how Scarback would react to that.” Brazen’s ears quivered, but she didn’t do anything, as Avalon had predicted. Brazen’s loyalty to and fear of Scarback outweighed her very strong desire for revenge.
Knowing he’d frustrated her so much should have been satisfying. Instead, Avalon found himself worrying about the four pets he was leaving behind... Silverdrop, Ash, Quaz... and Flit.
Was this whole attack Flit’s fault? Had he somehow been giving information to the other Gelerts, despite the constant guarding? Was he now remaining on the Island, to finish the job the pack had started? He’d run off with Ash and Silverdrop...
Brazen’s growling voice brought Avalon out of his worried thoughts. She was speaking to two Gelerts. “You three; go find the Guardian’s apprentice... I want that Gem.”
Avalon stopped, causing the Gelerts behind him to stumble over each other. Golden eyes narrowed and aimed directly at Brazen, Avalon snarled, “Call them off! You hurt my friends, you lose me. Get the Gelerts off this island, or I’m not coming.” It was a bluff, one that depended entirely on how much they needed him.
Brazen turned toward him... then smirked, one side of her grin higher than the other. It was a bitter smile, and for a moment, Avalon was more puzzled than anything else. “You know you’d get a lot farther if you didn’t have your friends to worry about... if it weren’t for them and your dratted ‘conscience’, you could be something...”
“I could be you, you mean,” Avalon snapped.
“Maybe... or maybe, you could be as strong as Scarback. Who knows what powers the Gem might be hiding?”
“If they’re hidden, it’s for a good reason.”
“You’d think so... but then, the world isn’t a place of reason, is it?” She waited for a moment, and when Avalon didn’t respond, turned back to the Gelerts. “You heard the Kougra... we won’t get the Gem, not tonight.”
Avalon thought there was something suggestive in the way she said ‘tonight’.
To be continued...