Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: The Onyx Isle - Part Ten
Avalon found himself skittering across the stony island, less like a heroic Noil Gem Guardian than a panicked Snowbunny spotted by a pack of hungry Lupes. Scarback’s lava walls continued to erupt, behind him, in front of him, at his sides...
Leaping across a new chasm, Avalon saw that each pit led directly to pools of lava, doubtlessly part of a large mass of magma deep beneath the Onyx Isle. Another way to be fried, if the lava didn’t incinerate him on its way up first.
He couldn’t say whether Scarback was aiming for him, or simply hitting the ground and letting his chasms open wherever they pleased; where there wasn’t lava, there was smoke, bitter-tasting and eye-stinging. The red-eyed Kougra was well-hidden by clouds of deep gray.
Avalon stumbled, fell, scrambled to his paws. There was heat on his tail as he ran; a fissure must have just erupted behind him. His breath was coming in ragged gasps, and he remembered another frantic run. Back then- had it really been five years?- he had been running from Gelerts. Mere Gelerts! What he wouldn’t give to have a couple of the mutts giving chase instead!
Suddenly, he found himself inches from a pair of silver eyes. He sprang back, instinctively raising a paw to strike. The other Kougra did the same, but Avalon and Silverdrop recognized each other before any blows landed.
“C’mon!” Silverdrop shouted to Avalon, turning to run. Avalon rushed after her, but they only made it a few strides before another chasm burst open in front of Silverdrop.
The silver Kougra was running too fast, and though she tried to skid to a stop, she had too much momentum. Silverdrop shouted as she started to fall into the chasm, her claws scrabbling against the rough rocks.
Avalon leapt forward, shouting “No!” as his apprentice’s paws slipped out of sight. When he bent over the chasm, however, he saw that she had found a notch in the stones not far down.
Below the silver Kougra’s dangling tail, the lava raced like a river. Avalon was surprised it hadn’t begun racing up the chasm yet. Reminding himself that it could still do so any minute, he stretched out a paw. “Hurry!” he hissed.
Silverdrop hesitated, then her left paw darted toward Avalon’s. The starry Kougra hauled her up a few inches, until Silverdrop’s back foot found a hold, and she launched her right front paw up to another break in the stone sides.
“Let me go, I found another hold, I can get up easier that way!” she called, shouting over the hissing of the lava’s steam.
Avalon hesitated, not liking the idea despite its sense. But he couldn’t pull her up any farther; he let go of her paw. Silverdrop seized the new notch, paused, then said, “Wait, I need to be up a little further. Can you-?”
Again, Avalon reached out with his paw, but before Silverdrop could clasp it, a massive weight barreled into his side.
Silverdrop let out a shriek better fit to a Sakhmet princess than a roaming desert thief as Scarback barreled into Avalon. The shadow Kougra’s paws were still gleaming with black magic when they slammed into Avalon’s side.
Avalon hissed loudly, but he didn’t go flying as Flit had. A faint green light seemed to spring to the tips of his blue and gold fur, and it rippled like water. Traces of Noil Gem magic, absorbing the blow?
The two Kougras sprang to their feet, crouched and baring their teeth at each other. Scarback’s eyes cast a red pallor, like the lava, but Avalon’s golden eyes were furious twin suns, not quite glowing, but still radiant.
Scarback pounced at Avalon again, roaring. Avalon sprang to the side, swinging his paw at Scarback’s side. His claws seemed to glide off of the black pelt, as if he’d run them across water instead.
“Nice try!” Scarback hissed, springing around and snapping his teeth. Avalon ducked low, scampering backwards and swinging a paw at Scarback’s jaw. His claws were sheathed this time, and he had curled his paw into a fist. Scarback stumbled backward, affected by the force of the blow if not actually damaged by it.
But Avalon couldn’t keep dodging Scarback forever. The bigger Kougra seemed fresh and ready for battle, while Avalon was still panting from his efforts to escape the lava chasms. Silverdrop tugged her eyes from the battle, and focused on the cliff edge. She had to get out of this pit and help!
Conscious of the lava swirling beneath her, Silverdrop pulled herself up a few inches, searching for the next notch in the stone.
She couldn’t find one.
She could rest her chin on the rocks, but her paws couldn’t reach high enough in time to keep her from plummeting backward into the lava. Baring her teeth, she tightened the hold her rear feet had on the side. Should she try and leap?
Something seemed to crack overhead. Silverdrop looked up in alarm, and saw that dark clouds were rapidly swarming to coat the sky. Lightning flashed chaotically, more lightning than Silverdrop had ever seen at one time, three, four, five strikes all at the same time!
And in some of those lightning flashes, she thought she saw a red-orange figure... it looked like the long-robed fire faerie who had created the portal for Storm’s ship to reach the sea. And in other flashes, she saw a darker figure, another long-robed faerie, but with Korbat-like wings, and ragged edges on her cloak.
Silverdrop remembered what Scarback had told them about the Gem faeries. Were the Onyx and Ruby faeries fighting, just like their charges?
The battlefield was now lit only by the glow of the lava, the crimson light bursting from the open chasms all around them. Coming from below, the light gave the battling Kougras dramatic shadow, and made their eyes seem glossed over with red shine.
Lighting cast the battle in seconds of perfect clarity, and Silverdrop quickly realized that the two seemed at a stalemate. Scarback’s blows weren’t having an effect on Avalon’s, but the starry Kougra’s attacks were sliding away from the shadow’s. And it would be a stalemate, if Avalon weren’t already exhausted.
Silverdrop suddenly felt a throb of heat on her chest. She glanced down, and saw the Noil Gem, defying the lava-light and gleaming as green as ever. Of course!
Gritting her teeth, Silverdrop forced herself to stop thinking about the battle, stop thinking about the storm overhead, the lava beneath her...
Avalon pulled back from another one of Scarback’s blows. His legs felt heavy, and he knew every evasion was growing clumsier. He was drained, and soon, he wouldn’t be able to do anything besides lie on the ground, panting, waiting for Scarback to toss him down one of the chasms.
And in the meantime, Scarback only seemed to be growing stronger. His Onyx Isle, cornerstone of his magic. Here, he didn’t even have a limp...
Something suddenly struck Avalon- but it didn’t hurt, or send him flying. Scarback paused, his mouth falling open for a moment, as if surprised. Avalon felt something racing through him, like adrenaline, but different, more powerful... and familiar.
The last time he’d felt like this was when he’d given Scarback his limp, sending Noil Gem magic up his arm and into his sword. But this time, the magic wasn’t going anywhere. It whirled through his legs, clearing them of the heaviness and making them feel light and powerful again, swept ash from his lungs and slowed his breathing, brought his brain back to full speed and awareness.
Looking down at his paws, he saw green light darting through his fur, winding like comet tails among his starry pelt. When his gaze darted to Silverdrop, he saw her grinning, though her eyes were hard and serious. There was a green glow fading from her face, as if a moment ago, the Noil Gem had been glowing.
Avalon didn’t know it, but for a moment, his eyes had been as pure-emerald as Scarback’s were pure-red.
Silverdrop had used the Noil Gem to give Avalon magic! Avalon could feel the power building in his paws, like claws eager to be unsheathed. The two Kougras faced off again, Scarback moving more slowly and more cautiously than before.
They stood apart for a moment... then, to a burst of thunder, they charged.
Scarback reared up, roaring. Avalon stayed down, dodging Scarback’s swipes, and tried to knock the bigger Kougra over. Scarback didn’t fall, however, just stepped back or slid along the rocks.
Suddenly, Scarback dropped onto all fours again, landing on Avalon’s shoulder and forcing the starry Kougra to the ground. Avalon rolled onto his side, and sank his claws into one of Scarback’s shoulders. Green magic sparked against black violently, and lightning flashed above, thunder crackling with vehemence.
Scarback jerked away, and Avalon darted out of the bigger Kougra’s reach. This time, however, Scarback charged, and Avalon couldn’t back up far enough to avoid a smack in his face. He felt the magic burning against his fur as his head jerked to the side. Ignoring the pain, he pulled away from Scarback’s next swing, and retaliated with a swipe of his own.
Scarback paused to roar, his teeth shimmering red in the crimson lava-light, black magic swarming around his paws. Silverdrop’s ears flattened at the noise, but Avalon rushed forward, to hit Scarback while he was distracted.
He tried to run past Scarback, slicing the Kougra’s flank. But still roaring, Scarback whirled to follow him, ramming his shoulder into the back of Avalon’s shoulder. Given too much momentum, Avalon tumbled head over paws, coming to a dazed stop a few feet away, just inches from a glowing chasm.
Scarback leapt forward, and before Avalon could get up, Scarback had him pinned to the harsh stone.
Avalon couldn’t feel anything beneath his head, and the sudden waves of heat alerted him to what was below; the chasm, lava swirling in deadly rivers, crimson reptilliors eager to devour him.
Scarback jammed one paw into Avalon’s chest, making it hard to breathe, and impossible to get up. He raised the other paw, and Avalon saw black magic swirling around his unsheathed claws, like a frenzied swarm of flies.
It took the starry Kougra only a second to realize that Scarback intended to slam his paw against the rocks, and bring a wall of lava surging up the chasm, where it would bake Avalon into blackened slag.
His own paws shot out, and he seized Scarback’s wrist. Baring his teeth with the effort, he held the paw in the air. Magic was sparking where the black and blue fur touched, and Avalon could feel a faint sensation like stinging. Scarback’s muzzle twitched, and Avalon wondered if the red-eyed Kougra was feeling the same thing.
No time for wondering- the most important thing right now was keeping Scarback’s paw away from the stones of his beloved Onyx Isle.
Silverdrop’s stomach churned like the long-imprisoned lava beneath her; it would only take a second of weakness, a momentary, accidental give, and Scarback’s paw would touch the Isle. There was so much black magic gathered around his paw... the few flecks of green weren’t encouraging.
The storm overhead grew worse, as thunder growled almost continuously, and the lightning flashes became brighter than ever, tearing the black sky like golden claws.
Again, Silverdrop tried to find clawholds, and failed. When she turned her eyes back to the fighting cats, she saw that Scarback was now looking at her, red eyes glinting. “You hold on, little thief,” he said, a faint purr in his voice. “Remember, I need the Gem heated after the Guardian dies.”
Silverdrop’s chest seemed to freeze. She should drop now, herself...she had to, to ruin Scarback’s plans. Surely, the Gem was better destroyed than turned Onyx in Scarback’s paws.
But she couldn’t find the courage to let go of the rock face. Useless coward, selfishly clutching at her own life, when so many others were at stake, of pets she knew and pets she would never meet... but she couldn’t remove her claws from the rock face.
And Scarback had known she couldn’t. Of course.
Suddenly, the Noil Gem buzzed at Silverdrop’s chest. A voice that sparked and crackled gently seemed to whisper in her ear, ”Wait a moment, Guardian-to-be! The battle may yet turn in your favor!”
Silverdrop bared her teeth. The battle wouldn’t simply prance its way to better odds- it all came down to how long Avalon could keep Scarback’s paw up, whether Scarback could destroy Avalon before Silverdrop fell. Avalon couldn’t keep the Kougra back forever, and Silverdrop’s hold would surely outlast that strength.
Then she had to do something.
Her silver eyes snapped to the part of the rock where she so desperately needed a hold. The Noil Gem buzzed again, and she narrowed her eyes. For a second, they were not her namesake color, but emerald.
Twin beams shot from the Noil Gem’s eyes, curling to reach the rock face above, and branching into several tiny, hissing points. They bored into the stone, spinning, then vanished.
Silverdrop bared her teeth in a vicious grin. The Noil Gem had just given her the holds she needed.
Avalon’s arms were shaking. Green magic was flying to his paws, but they felt no stronger. The magic sparks were beginning to burn now, and not just on his skin but below it, as if the magic was now eking into his muscles.
Inch by inch, Scarback’s paw was getting closer to the stone. His grin was widening, all silver teeth bathed red in the lava that would soon be spurting from the chasm below.
“Enjoy the heat, Avalon,” Scarback snarled.
And then Silverdrop barreled into him, knocking him away from Avalon.
As Avalon leapt to his feet, scuttling away from the chasm, he saw Scarback, stumbling backwards, slam his paw to the stone floor for balance. The magic rushed into the black stone.
The storm suddenly silenced, the thunder gone, the lightning claws vanished. For half a second, it seemed that rain might suddenly plummet to the earth.
Instead, the island suddenly rumbled, as if a yet-undiscovered gargantuan beast sleeping among the lava beneath the Isle had suddenly been woken. The ground began to shake, sharp edges of jagged black rock snapping off and rolling into chasms to incinerate.
“What did you do?” Scarback shouted, as if Silverdrop and Avalon had conspired to create the eruption.
Neither Guardian bothered to respond. “We’ve gotta get back to the ship!” Avalon said to Silverdrop. “Which way-“
“There’s the lava to worry about first!” Silverdrop interrupted. “It sounds like it’ll come up through all these cracks at the same time!”
“Then let’s-“ Avalon suddenly pivoted, crouching, the fur on his neck spiking in alarm. “Scarback, no!”
Silverdrop turned just in time to see Scarback’s paw streaking past her face. She felt him seize the Noil Gem’s chain, and she let out a strangled shout as Scarback swung her back toward the chasm she had so narrowly escaped.
She heard another roar, and saw Avalon seize Scarback from behind, locking his arms around his throat and pulling him back. With one paw, Avalon reached down and seized the arm holding Silverdrop.
Hissing, Scarback thrashed once. Avalon’s choke-hold remained, but Scarback’s arm broke free. With an unintelligible shout, he thrust Silverdrop toward the chasm, tearing his paw free of the Noil Gem’s chain.
There was suddenly only hot air under Silverdrop’s paws, and she let out another Sakhmet-princess scream as she started to fall.
And then, two thin black paws grasped one of her arms. Breathing dry air in short gasps, Silverdrop followed the black paws upward, until she saw the familiar face, with its wide red eyes and whip ears.
“Flit!” she shouted, simultaneously surprised and relieved. “You’re okay!”
“Just a little stunned,” Flit said, trying to smile but failing. “I couldn’t find you in all the steam.”
Flit started to pull her up. He was surprisingly strong, considering how thin he was. When Silverdrop’s paws touched solid stone, she immediately looked to see if Scarback was still restrained.
“Let’s go!” Avalon grunted, clearly exerted by holding the snarling, thrashing Kougra back.
Then the ground jerked, knocking the pets off-balance, like game pieces on a rattled board. Avalon lost his grip on Scarback, letting out a shout cut short when his side hit the ground hard enough to shove the air out of his lungs.
Silverdrop and Flit managed to tumble away from the chasm, rather than back into it. Flit nearly lost his footing when a rock cracked beneath his paws, but his eyes were on Scarback. Now that the maniacal Kougra was free, there was no telling what he might do.
The Onyx Isle was in its death throes. On the opposite shore, the tornado towers cracked and tumbled, smashing the prison, the Gelert hold, the many buildings that stored food and supplies, imprisoned Crokabeks, and housed Scarback’s instruments of torture, and his tools for turning normal pets into members of his red-eyed, shadow-pelted Gelert army.
Out at sea, Scarback’s ship surged wildly as the shuddering tossed the ocean into foaming chaos. The fight on deck quickly became a panic, as Gelerts tried to keep their balance, and stay away from Storm’s sword, Ash’s daggers, and the traitorous pack members’ teeth and claws.
Thunder wavered in the sky, and if anyone had been looking at the clouds, they might have seen the black-robed faerie let out a shriek, as the fire faerie folded her arms and stepped back, fading into the dark sky. Defying nature, lightning no longer accompanied the war-drum beats of thunder.
And surrounded by chasms rapidly growing brighter with greater and greater amounts of lava, Avalon, Silverdrop, and Flit saw Scarback loose his balance, stumble forward- and tumble into the chasm.
His final look was for Avalon, and all Avalon could see in the burning red eyes, the same shade as the lava that would destroy him, was unrestrained hatred.
And so ends the horrific life of the greatest enemy of the Guardians of the Noil Gem.
But as the ground trembled beneath their paws and the air grew even hotter, Avalon, Silverdrop, and Flit realized that their own stories were close to ending.
To be continued...