Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: The Onyx Isle - Part Eleven
Silverdrop let out a shout as the ground continued to toss and rumble beneath her, Avalon, and Flit. “Great!” she shouted. “One last death trap from Scarback!”
Avalon gritted his teeth, his eyes darting in turn to each reddening chasm, as if counting how many streams of lava they should expect to be melted by. In the distance, he could see the ship- where Scarback’s Gelert pack remained, locked in combat with Ash, Storm, Tacit, and the small group of traitorous Gelerts.
Beside him, Flit suddenly let out a startled whimper, and collapsed.
Avalon remembered Mystery Island. The warm jungle with its exotic, rich foliage, the golden beaches covered in sea shells and shimmering ocean dew, the ever-present warmth and sunlight, interrupted by cool gusts from the sea, the cave where Quaz patiently waited for them to return...
When Quaz had first led Avalon into Heartfelt Cave, through a pitch-black tunnel, he had told Avalon to summon a need for light. The Noil Gem had been around Avalon’s neck at the time, and in response to Avalon’s need, it had shot twin beams of light from its eyes, exposing the rock of the dark tunnels.
Right now, he needed more than light... but the Gem had performed wonders before.
And it was their only chance.
“Silverdrop!” Avalon shouted. “We need something to block the lava! Tell the Gem we need a shield!”
Silverdrop’s eyes went wide, then slammed shut. Her mouth moves slightly, and though she was silent, Avalon knew she was mouthing, “A shield, a shield...”
The Noil Gem started to glow.
“Make sure it covers me and Flit, too!” Avalon added, snatching unconscious Gelert and dragging him closer, to limit how far the shield would have to stretch.
“All right, I know!” Silverdrop growled. The Gem’s glow continued to grow.
Avalon looked around, realizing that his view was growing increasingly nauseating as the ground shuddered beneath his feet. He was a Kougra, with feline balance, but it was becoming difficult to stay on his feet.
The Gem still wasn’t keeping up with the impending lava. Avalon started to shout, though he knew it wouldn’t do any good, but he was interrupted.
The voice of the Gem faerie- the Ruby Gem faerie- was suddenly a whisper floating around his ears, like a gentle wind just barely ruffling his fur. “Some of the Gem’s magic still lies in your paws, Guardian.”
Avalon looked down at his paws. Green sparks glimmered at the tips of his claws, leaping from one to another, bright Reptilliors ready to apply their venom.
Keeping his eyes open, but aiming them at the deep-gray sky, Avalon summoned a need for protection. He became lost in the need, so embedded he was almost unaware of the rumbling sound now filling the air, the suddenly soaring temperatures, rising like Airax about to swoop down on unwary prey.
A tremendous roar cascaded across the trio, accompanied by a blast of heat as cruel as fire. Avalon had felt such heat only once before, and that hadn’t been anywhere as intense as this. Heat, searing, crackling, smothering heat, burning air drawn raw into suddenly aching lungs, stripped of oxygen, wrapping him in thick mummy’s bandages...
The lava erupted seconds later, the talons of the Airax. Red, red, deep and bright and shimmering, liquid rubies flashing, shining, burying everything, as indomitable as a tsunami.
The Onyx Isle’s growl faded, quieted... vanished.
The ground beneath them was still.
Avalon was starting at a black crust of cooled lava, now more jagged rock for the Isle, just a paw’s reach above his head. Separating him, his apprentice, and Flit from that crushing weight was a thin, semi-transparent dome of green light.
He heard a shaky release of breath, and turned to see Silverdrop, her eyes wide but full of relief. “It worked!” she whispered, as if speaking too loudly might shatter the magic.
Avalon nodded, feeling a ridiculous smile spreading over his muzzle. “Good job, Silverdrop... you’ll be a good Guardian someday.”
Silverdrop blinked, then started to reply. “I- Flit!”
Avalon whirled toward the shadow Gelert. Flit was getting to his feet, a little shaky. His eyes were on the ground, as if it might start shaking again, or might slip from beneath his paws. Maybe, with his dizziness, it-
His eyes. Flit’s eyes, no longer casting a red glow on the rocks he stared at. They no longer glowed at all, and they were no longer pure-red.
Flit looked up at the two Kougras, with the bright green eyes and black pupils he must not have had since being Changed.
“Scarback’s magic...” Silverdrop whispered. “It died with him... Flit- he’s gone! You Changed back!”
Flit immediately looked down at himself, sat down and looked at his paws, at his back, examined the whip-tip of his tail, felt an ear. “I... But...” he looked baffled for a long moment, then suddenly, his green eyes widened. “Wait. Wait, Silverdrop- I’m just a shadow Gelert, aren’t I? I was a shadow Gelert... and it’s just...” He pointed at his eyes, as if reluctant to say the word.
Silverdrop nodded. “You’ve got green eyes, Flit.”
“We’ll find a mirror later,” Avalon said, reluctantly taking on a stern tone. He hated to interrupt the happy moment, but... “We need to get out from under this rock.”
Flit looked around, surprised to find the black dome of rock. “...Oh. Wow.”
Silverdrop sighed. “Well... we could just blow it open.”
“Hold on,” Avalon said. “Let’s save some magic for later. How about this...” He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. A half-circle opening appeared in the bottom of the green dome, and abruptly, that portion of magic shot forward, carving a tunnel in the rocks.
“...Good idea,” Silverdrop said. “Guess that’s why you’re still Guardian.”
The trio left their protective dome, following the new path made by the Gem’s tunneling magic. There were no torches along the walls, and Silverdrop didn’t want to make the gem cast light, in case its magic was holding up the tunnel, but there was a faint green glow that made everything just barely visible enough.
They emerged at the Isle’s shore, back where they had fallen from the deck of Scarback’s ship. The sea had calmed, glittering silver in the light of a gentler-looking Kreludor. A cool breeze rushed over the island, probably the first ocean wind to touch this cursed land in a long time.
“Avalon,” Silverdrop said. “Look!” She pointed to something behind them. Avalon turned, and saw emptiness where there should have been towering stone buildings. Scarback’s many buildings, his jails for prisoners, his storehouses for food, the crude confines of the Gelerts, and his eerie tornado tower now lay scattered across the Isle, in massive chunks of brick and solid stone. Perhaps Scarback’s magic had crafted the buildings, and with his death, they had crumbled and fallen.
Avalon’s attention was drawn back to the ocean when he heard someone shout his name. His eyes darting back to the ship, he saw Ash waving at him. Storm was close behind, keeping Ridell backed into a corner with the point of his blade. Looking around, Avalon saw none of the Gelerts- not Tacit, or Vora, or Hack, or Brazen, or Shag...
Ash shoved the gangplank down to the stony beach, and Avalon, Ash, and Flit hurried to clamber up it. As the reached the top, Avalon said quickly, “Scarback’s dead, Flit Changed back- all Scarback’s magic’s gone; the other Gelerts should be back to normal, too.”
Ash’s mouth fell open. “Scarback’s... dead?” She sounded as if she didn’t believe it, and Avalon couldn’t blame her. He decided to tell her more about it later; right now, there were other things to worry about.
Reaching the ship deck, Avalon realized why he hadn’t seen any of the Gelerts from the Isle. They had all collapsed, like Flit... and now, they were starting to Change back, all at once.
Acaras, Draiks, Blumaroos, Gnorbu, Hissis, Lupes, Pteris, Eyries, Skeiths, Grundos, Aishas, Grarrls, all fifty-four variety of Neopet replaced the red-eyed shadow Gelerts, returning as well to their original colors. The deck was quickly a vibrant chromatic display, all four basic colors in wide supply, but rarer colors as well, starry and faerie, Darigan, split, white, ghost, Halloween, Christmas, desert, and a few who were still shadow.
There were only a small handful of shadow Gelerts. Several of them immediately leapt from the boat, swimming to the Isle and racing away. Others shook their heads, turned to the Neopets next to them, and realized what must have happened. Immediately, there was a shouting for mirrors, so the Changed Gelerts could see their eyes.
One short shadow Gelert scrambled from the mast, and stood on the railing. “Shag!” Flit shouted, but the former spy paid no attention. Turning his head away, as if to hide his eyes, Shag leapt from the boat and into the water, following the other Gelerts to Scarback’s ruined city.
“Those Gelerts... they must be the first,” Flit muttered. “And now Shag’s going with them...”
“Maybe they’re just confused,” Silverdrop suggested. “We can look for them later.”
Avalon ignored the small conversation. He had found Brazen and Vora.
Vora stepped away from the helmeted figure, staring down at her paws- now the massive paws of a silver Eyrie. Slowly, Vora spread her wings, turning to gape at them as if she couldn’t believe these were hers. Bright blue eyes seemed to slowly fill, as if the memories of her former life were returning to her.
“He took my wings,” Vora whispered. “He took my wings... even as his minion... I couldn’t forget that.”
And Brazen was recognizable only by her golden helmet, which she quickly shoved from her head, growling in pain. When she heard her growl, she looked down at herself, shouting.
The body of a Darigan Acara waited for her; deep indigo fur, massive fangs, enormous claws. “I’m a... I’m a cat?!” she sounded horrified, and Avalon remembered her many comments about his own feline nature. “I’m a cat!” she said again, pawing at her face as if to pull it away.
Suddenly, her expression cleared. “Zeth!” she snarled. “Zeth- he always liked hurting things... and he found Scarback... Fyora’s wings...”
“Vora!” shouted a green Gelert with a haggletooth. “You’re an Eyrie?”
“You’re still a smelly dog?” she retorted.
Avalon stepped past them, keeping out of Brazen’s sight. He wanted to talk to her later, but there was one Gelert he knew was more important to see.
Tacit was one of the last Gelerts to change, but when it finally started, it happened quickly. Tacit began shrinking, losing the massive bulk that had made him so formidable to the other Gelerts. His fur turned from black to brown, and darker stripes appeared along his back, legs, and face. His muzzle shrank, becoming wider and shorter, and his ears rounded, lost their whip, as did his tail.
Avalon didn’t know any brown Kougras, but there was something familiar about the face... the way the Kougra held himself when he got to his feet...
Suddenly, Avalon realized who it must be. “Dad?!” he shouted, taking a startled step back. Across the deck, Ash’s head jerked up, and she was at Avalon’s side a few seconds later. She knew about Avalon’s grudge with his parents.
Robert nodded, looking down at his paws with an expression of weary relief. Looking up at his son, he said, “Scarback... he’s dead?” His voice was weak, as if he had a sore throat that made anything above a whisper painful.
Avalon nodded. “You... you were one of his Gelerts?”
Again, Robert nodded, then turned his head away. “Scarback captured us. Before you got the Gem, he said. He told us exactly what he wanted to do... then turned us into his Gelerts. I don’t know why, but he let me keep my memories... I always knew who I was...”
“...But why’re you brown?” Avalon demanded. The last time he’d seen his father, the Kougra had the same color as Silverdrop.
“Scarback wasn’t the first one to tell us about the Gem. Before she found you, the Gem faerie spoke with us. She told us about all the danger we’d be in... so we decided we should go into hiding. There was a blue brush waiting for your mother, a spotted one for you...”
“I didn’t see any brushes when I got home.”
“Scarback probably took them,” Robert growled. “Sold them to get money, no doubt.”
Avalon couldn’t argue with that. “So Scarback left your memories... but made you mute?”
“Yes. I guess he got a sick humor out of making sure I knew you were in danger, but couldn’t warn you.”
“That’s why you helped Flit. Because you could help me.”
“That’s definitely why I worked with Vora and Hack... or whatever their real names are. I knew Flit would be helpful... but I wanted to help him too.”
Flit looked down at his paws, perhaps embarrassed. Avalon still couldn’t ignore the bright green of the Gelert’s eyes.
Green- like the Noil Gem. Maybe it meant something.
“Where’s Mom?” Avalon asked softly.
His father looked around; no longer tall enough to simply look over Avalon’s shoulder, he had to shift to the side to see around the starry Kougra. “I don’t see... ah! There!” He pointed across the deck, where, after a moment, Avalon saw a baffled-looking electric Kougra, scanning the ship’s crew and looking hopelessly lost.
“Isabella!” Avalon’s father shouted. He had to shout twice more before the electric Kougra heard him, but the moment she spotted them, she pushed through the crowd to reach them.
“Avalon! Robert! Fyora’s grave, you’re alive! You-“
Ash suddenly stepped forward. “Excuse me, but I think you two owe Avalon something.”
“Ash,” Avalon growled. “Don’t. Just-“
“Just what?” Ash snapped, rounding on him. “Let them get away with how they acted? C’mon, they’re all sweet and caring now, but how nice were they before Scarback?”
Their portion of the deck was suddenly silent. In Robert and Isabella’s case, it was a guilty quiet, the silence of air waiting for explanations and apologies.
“...Our priorities weren’t where they should have been,” Robert said. “And it was a lesson I learned the hard way.” He met Avalon’s eyes. “I don’t know what we can do to make it up to you. Or if there’s anything at all. But if you’ll put up with us... maybe we can restart.”
Ash snorted. “Sure. Just take back fifteen years or so of damage, that should be easy enough.”
Robert gave Ash a considering look. “I see why the Gelerts were so afraid of you. You’re a formidable enemy.”
“I’m just plain formidable,” Ash growled. “But that’s not the point. This isn’t about me, this’s about Avalon. You can’t just-”
“Ash!” Avalon said, stepping in front of her. “Stop it. Let’s give them a chance to prove they’re sorry before you rip their ears off?”
He said it with a smile so Ash would know he was joking about the last part. After a moment, the fire Lupe rolled her eyes. “I swear,” she muttered, “your ‘heroic valor’ is gonna get us killed someday.”
“Well, maybe your ‘legendary fighting skills’ can get me out of it.”
Ash snorted. “You’d better hope so, ‘Guardian.’”
Storm suddenly said, “Aye! Avalon! Good ter see you alive an’ all that, mate- but we really oughta be steerin’ this ship elsewhere, aye? It’s gonna crash into the rocks, if we let it stay adrift like this.”
Avalon stepped to the railing of the ship, and peered over the railing. Sure enough, the ship was slowly being pushed toward the Isle’s rough shore. Storm was right; they needed to go.
“The Scarlet Kateil should be back... that way,” Silverdrop said, pointing. “Let’s head back to that ship, then blast this one into rubble.” She looked up at the black sails with a glare.
There were several shouts, howls, hisses, roars, and caws of agreement from the crowd below, and Storm said, “I’d be happy ter steer this hunk o’ nasty, shadowy gunk back ter my proud beauty- but what’re we gonna do with this feathery slimeball?” He motioned toward Ridell, still pressed into the corner with Storm’s weapon at the base of his long neck.
Avalon strode to Storm’s side. Motioning for the pirate to remove the blade, Avalon said, “Get out of here,” to the Darigan Lenny. “But keep in mind- there’re a lot of pets out here who don’t like you much. I’d stay away from the Guardians.”
The Darigan Lenny sneered. “Too weak to just kill me, Guardian?”
Avalon leapt forward, pinning the Lenny to the wood with one paw, raising his other hand and unsheathing his claws. He stopped before actually striking the Lenny, but Ridell’s eyes had already gone wide.
“You’re not worth it,” Avalon snapped. “Now scram, before I let Storm take a couple feathers as a souvenir!”
The Lenny flared his wings, and took off. He headed for the Isle, perhaps intending to perch on the remains of Scarback’s towers. Maybe, someday, he would try to lead the remaining Gelerts into battle against the Guardians.
“He won’t cause trouble,” Robert said, his husky voice just barely audible over the ocean’s waves. “He’s no mastermind, and the Gelerts on the Isle won’t have any love for him, either.”
Storm sheathed his sword, and trotted to the wheel of the ship. Adjusting his hat so it sat at the proper angle, he said, “So! To the beautiful Scarlet Kateil, an’ from there...?”
Avalon looked around at the massive cluster of pets. They all had their old names back. They could now remember their pasts, their homes, their families. And there were so many of them... there was only one answer to give Storm.
With no portals appearing from the sky, it took several months to visit every Neopian land and drop off the remainder of Scarback’s former soldiers. It was a contemplative time, and finally, Avalon, Ash, and Silverdrop began to accept that Scarback was gone, that they no longer had to constantly look over their shoulders for red-eyed Gelerts.
Avalon felt like he was getting to know his parents for the first time, as if he’d had cold adoptive parents for the first fifteen years of his life. They revealed their guilt and sincere apologies in more than direct words, and in time, Avalon forgave them for their lapses. Ash still wasn’t friendly to them, but that was only to be expected.
Ash was, however, perfectly friendly to Flit. The green-eyed shadow Gelert was growing used to seeing green irises and black pupils in the mirror now, and he finally could remember his old life. It was nothing elaborate; he and Shag had been strays, and Scarback had plucked them from the streets of a small town near Meridell.
Silverdrop hadn’t really found anything, or changed much on the course of the journey... until now. Seeing all the pets return home, disembarking on a dock full of startled onlookers, they searched for their families, confident of a welcome return home.
Some of them hadn’t been so happy early in the voyage. It had taken a lot of work on the part of Avalon, Ash, Robert, and the other pets to help convince them that they had to separate themselves from the temporary form Scarback had thrust upon them. Silverdrop had sat on the sidelines of these discussions, offering support... and to her surprise, receiving it.
She had been a desert rogue, a thief, a menace to Sakhmetian society. But that had been then, when she’d needed to survive in a world that offered no other option. And now, she was a Guardian-to-be.
After all, the Ruby Gem faerie hadn’t called her “Vile Thief.” Surely the analysis of a super-powerful faerie was reliable evidence.
Avalon, Silverdrop, Ash, Flit, Captain Storm, Robert, Isabella, and the final handful of Scarback’s former soldiers arrived at Dorset dock on Mystery Island just as the sun was rising. The familiar air instantly filled Avalon’s lungs, and he could feel any remaining tension drain away as the warmth surrounded him, the jungle sounds riding the wind, and his eyes filling with the foliage and the sand.
“This place is beautiful,” Robert whispered, as if speaking too loudly would disrupt the silence. Over the journey, he had regained most of his voice. He might never be able to shout again, but surely, there would never be a need for it.
The pets they had rescued from Scarback seized their few belongings, purchased at other stops, and quickly departed, leaving the Guardian and his allies standing alone, as Storm tied the boat to the dock.
“It is,” Avalon agreed, savoring the heat on his fur, so different from that of the lava that had once threatened to destroy them all.
“And this’s where Guardians train?”
“After dealing with Scarback,” Ash said, “You need someplace nice and colorful to come back to.” The fire Lupe pointed to a nearby tree, where a flock of beekadoodles in multiple colors- blue, red, orange, green, purple- sipped from flowers as vibrant as they were, on widespread branches carrying the fullest, greenest, brightest leaves Avalon had seen anywhere in Neopia.
“Yeah, it is real pretty,” Storm said, joining them and adjusting his hat. “But we don’ have time ter stand ‘round lookin’ at everythin’. Quaz’s gonna want a status report or somethin’, aye?”
Avalon nodded. “Come on; let’s go home.”
The small, ragged family, made up of those related by blood and those related by loyalty, headed into the forests of Mystery Island. It was the first time they hadn’t had to fear the teeth of shadow-ghost Gelerts, or be ready to draw their swords at any moment. Indeed, this place was home- but more importantly, Avalon realized, so were the pets around him.
And so ends the saga of the Guardians of the Emerald Noil Gem... and their family.