Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: The Onyx Isle - Part Six
Avalon was bored. It was strange, bizarre, almost ridiculous, to be feeling bored on a ship packed with Scarback’s Gelerts, and with the Kougra in charge of them all somewhere behind the scenes... but Avalon had been chained to the same wall for days, nibbling at the same foul-smelling concoctions, watching the same Gelerts have the same conversations. As tactical as they were in battle, the red-eyed pack didn’t have much in the way of conversational skill.
But in his boredom, he’d started watching the group of Gelerts he’d noticed a few days ago. It was a small cluster, and they were never all together for more than half a minute... but they were definitely talking to each other, and only each other, and the way they kept their voices down suggested that they were up to something.
There were five of them; the female with the scar running across her face, a male with a single tooth poking over the edge of his muzzle, another male with one short ear-whip, another female whose only identifying feature was the way she stood, with her weight distributed to the side, and a colossal male who Avalon had only seen nod or shake his head.
They were very conspiratorial, and Avalon was surprised the other Gelerts hadn’t noticed it yet.
Avalon wasn’t sure what they might be plotting; the only reasonable conclusion he could think of was that they wanted to get rid of their starry Kougra passenger, not bothering with whatever plans Scarback had for him.
He was watching the silent male slink through the crowd, looking toward the porthole every time the Gelert glanced over his shoulder, when a snort of laughter from the mass of Gelerts caught the Kougra’s attention.
As Avalon looked over, noticing that the silent male stopped walking and turned his red eyes in the same direction, the laughter became snarls, and bared teeth flashed in the light of glowing eyes.
Avalon’s own eyes narrowed as the crowd parted around a familiar figure. The shadow Gelert, almost half the size of Scarback’s usual stock, stopped walking when he reached the front of the crowd, glaring at Avalon with his red eyes alternately brightening and dimming in anger.
“Guardian,” the Gelert said, a growl rippling his words. The rest of the pack had fallen silent, but now a few snickers drifted through the air.
“Shag,” Avalon said. He had no trouble recognizing the former spy, the runt of the litter Scarback had assigned to provide himself and the pack information on Avalon’s apprentice. “You’re not dead,” Avalon added, his voice quiet. He’d been positive that Scarback had killed Shag long ago.
“I might as well be,” the Gelert growled. “I’m not a spy anymore, Guardian.”
A Gelert near the front of the pack snickered, and said, “He’s maintenance. He cleans stuff now’days.”
Shag ignored the interruption, though now Avalon realized how dirty the Gelert’s fur was. “You’re surprised I wasn’t killed, aren’t you?”
Avalon shrugged. “You didn’t do your job- you botched the entire thing for Scarback. Multiple times. He doesn’t take that sort of thing well.”
Shag twisted one corner of his mouth into a grin.”Well, you’re right about that... I was surprised too. But in the scheme of things, my ‘offense’ wasn’t the worst.”
Avalon frowned, hearing something implied in Shag’s last sentence. Speaking slowly, his tongue feeling controlled by someone else, Avalon asked, “Whose offense was worse than yours, Shag?”
Another Gelert laughed. “His family gets all the freaks!”
Ignoring the outburst, Shag said, “It’s a strange world, Guardian. I’m one of the most loyal Gelerts- and I get stuck as the runt. My brother, perfectly acceptable size, maybe a bit thin, but not a runt- he turns traitor. What sense is there in that, Guardian?”
Avalon barely heard Shag’s final, half-serious question. “Turns traitor... Flit? Flit’s your brother?”
“He’s no giant, as I’m sure you noticed,” Shag said. He grinned, though the only happiness Avalon could see in the mass of bared teeth was the imagined joy of ripping the starry Kougra to shreds. “I bet your friends had his head after you were captured.”
Avalon felt as if all the gruel he’d choked down had solidified and frozen in his stomach. “But he saved the Gem,” he protested. “They’ll give him a chance.”
“Maybe your apprentice would, Guardian, but Ash isn’t much for hesitation. She’s a Lupe of rash actions.”
Avalon bared his teeth. “She’ll give him a chance,” he repeated. “She’s not one of you.”
The insult was met with low chuckles from the pack; the silent male met Avalon’s eyes for a moment, before turning and striding away, vanishing behind the pack.
“You can’t deny that she’s quick to action,” Shag said. He started to turn, and looking over his shoulder, added, “By the way- I’m part of the group that gets to tear you apart once Scarback has the Gem.” His eyes flickered brightly. “See you then, Guardian.”
Avalon bared his teeth at the Gelert, unsheathing his claws. His show of force didn’t seem to disturb Shag any; the runt spy practically trotted back to the deck, the murderous joy in his steps giving Avalon a chill that had nothing to do with freezing gruel.
The storm had abated on the deck of the Scarlet Kateil, and with it seemed to have gone Ash’s energy for suspicion. Silently, she worked beside Flit and Silverdrop to secure the barrels of supplies, while Storm prowled around the broken mast, muttering at the splintered wood.
Silverdrop trotted over to the Lupe captain. “How’re we gonna fix it?” she asked.
Storm shook his head. “An ex’lent question, Silverdrop. Problem is, without a mast, we can’ go anywhere fast... an’ that includes a place ter get a new mast.”
“...So we’re stuck here?”
“No’ stuck, we got other sails. But we need t' mast ter really get movin’.”
“But we have to go fast!” Silverdrop nearly shouted. “Scarback and Avalon are miles ahead of us!”
Storm nodded. “Aye, but Silverdrop, we can’t pull a mast out o’ thin air.”
Silverdrop frowned, staring at the wood. “...Maybe not thin air,” she conceded. “But what about the Gem?”
Storm frowned, and Silverdrop wondered if he was worried about the Gem somehow ruining his boat; back when he’d sailed the small Storm Cloud Returns, he’d nearly panicked when Avalon used the Gem’s magic to make it temporarily invisible.
Before she could start assuring him that they could get a new mast for the ship once this adventure was over, the pirate Lupe spoke, his voice unusually solemn. “Yer sure you can make a mast? I don’ know much ‘bout magic... but tha’s probably a lot, Silverdrop. Y’aren’t gonna drain yourself makin’ one, are ya?”
Silverdrop shrugged. “I’ve never seen the Gem tire Avalon out.”
“Far as I know, Avalon hasn’ kept anything like a mast up fer hours at a time.” The pirate Lupe ran a paw around the stump of wood. “Poor beauty,” he muttered, as if the ship were a petpet rather than a vessel.
“I’ll do it,” Silverdrop growled, startling Storm into looking right at her. “We won’t make it to Scarback’s island in time if I don’t, right?”
The pirate scowled, but nodded. “Aye. The chances would be slim. But Silverdrop... don’t wipe yerself out. I doubt we’re gettin’ Avalon and gettin’ off Scarback’s island without some swashbuckling goin’ down.”
Silverdrop nodded. “I’ll be careful,” she promised. Taking a few steps away from the mast, she sat down, and summoned her need for a mast; in her head was a picture of a bright green mast, gleaming emerald and twinkling like the Gem.
The sudden lurch of the ship made Silverdrop snap her eyes open, and there it was- a green-light mast, sails open wide in a wind that seemed to have a faint green tint.
Flit watched as the water parted around the ship, now racing through the water at a pace he knew Scarback’s ship would have to work hard to match. But he wasn’t sure if their speed mattered now; far ahead of them, Scarback would probably reach his island long before the tiny crew on the Scarlet Kateil, and though Flit wasn’t sure what would happen to the Guardian then, it was probably not a lengthy process.
He knew the Guardian no better than any of the other Gelerts in his pack, still didn’t think of him as “Avalon”... but he could feel himself being caught in the worries of his... comrades. Silverdrop, Ash, even the pirate Storm... it was strange to be around them.
Flit hadn’t seen much combat between the Guardian and his Forces. But he’d heard tales of them from Gelerts who had, and of course, he’d heard many of Brazen’s reports to Scarback.
He knew they were tenacious. He knew they were tough, full of surprises, that they would protect one another and team up in battle. He knew the Guardian was quick with a sword, that Silverdrop was an impressive claw-to-claw fighter, Ash fought close-up even with blades, and that Storm could drop his pirate demeanor and clumsiness in a second and be ready to fight.
But Flit had honestly thought of them as legends, rather than real pets. And while there was something legendary to them- likely their obsession over protecting the Gem- there was something to them as normal as any pet. They were afraid of things. Ash wasn’t always yelling and shouting, though it had taken Flit a long time to realize that. And Silverdrop was ashamed of her past.
That had surprised Flit, though in retrospect, it made perfect sense. He was ashamed of being one of Scarback’s minions, after all.
But all Silverdrop had been was a thief. She’d never hurt anybody. Or done worse.
The guilt came rushing in, like the sea to a hole in the belly of a ship. It always did when he though about the past... about the present. For a moment, he seriously considered telling everything to Silverdrop, once she had dropped the mast for a while.
But there was a lot to tell... and he was afraid that once he started, he would just keep going, and there was one piece of news that needed to be saved for Avalon. He should hear it first; it was about the starry Kougra’s parents, after all.
To be continued...