Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 98,662,396 Issue: 167 | 19th day of Storing, Y6
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Firejewel: Part Six


by sara_mossflower

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Into the Abyss

"Inside?" I echoed.

     "Yes," affirmed Aillara. There's a niche in the eastern wall that leads to a bunch of tunnels, and then, if you don't get lost, there's the main hideout."

     "And how could you be caught trespassing in there?" Terzin demanded.

     "I like to explore. I can take you there, but I'm warning you now, it'd be beyond dangerous."

     "That's obvious," retorted Aly. "We've already come this far and are aware of the dangers. We're not stupid!"

     I tried to ignore Aly's rudeness. "You'll have to fly us down there one by one," I told the Eyrie. "It's the only way to get down there."

     "I can take two at a time," she answered defensively. "I'm no weakling."

     "Great," I said, and gathered up the satchel that carried only the food I'd brought. With that, I turned on my heel towards the edge of the canyon, and the rest of them followed me.

     In the short moments we spent travelling to our destination, I suddenly realized something: they were following me like I was a leader. I was the one thinking that I was so inexperienced with magic and that everything was my fault, but others were looking up to me. And why? Because I was the Windstorm. I had been the source of fortitude behind Frey's previous loss. Another reason that just dawned on me was that they found me reliable. Hadn't Aly just told me yesterday that she trusted me? And before we'd set out on our quest she'd said "You're the Windstorm, I'll take your word for it". Dayne had suggested that I had the power to magically track down our destination - she had believed I could do it, and then Terzin had credited me with saying that my imprisoning Frey had been magical.

     I instantly began to carry myself a little more confidently once my newfound role had dawned on me. Finally, we reached the edge of the cliff.

     "We're going to go down into that?!" Dayne bawled. "Whoa, no!" It's no narrow, and deep, and dark, and -"

     "Going in there's the only way we can save you," I reminded her. Aillara, take me and Dayne down there first." I'd decided that if it was dangerous and someone was going to get hurt, I would be me. As for Dayne, as much as I didn't want to endanger her, we needed the Firejewel to be down there, and Aillara had said that she'd take two passengers.

     "Right," agreed the Eyrie. "Get on."

     I climbed onto her back, feeling hard muscles ripple under the coarse ebony pelt. I realized that she was strong, and could no doubt support the weight of both Dayne and me. I undid Dayne's bonds and helped her up behind me.

     "Ready?" asked Aillara.

     I leaned over the Eyrie's neck, grabbing onto some of her furry ruff around her throat. Dayne stabilized herself by putting her arms around my waist. "Take us down there," I ordered.

     Without another word, Aillara spread her immense wings and practically walked off of the cliff. We dropped vertically into the narrow chasm, and I strove to hold on for dear life, my stomach feeling as if it was detaching itself from the rest of my digestive system.

     Then Dayne started freaking out.

     "OH…MY…GOSH!!!" she shrieked. "I'M GONNA FALL OFF! WE'RE GONNA DIE!"

     "Dayne!" I snapped. "Try to calm down." Although I must admit, I had the feeling that I was about to be flung off the Eyrie's back as well.

     "I'M NOT EVEN SITTING DOWN! MY LEGS ARE UP IN THE AIR!"

     I glanced over my shoulder, realized that Dayne's only means of holding on was me, and then Aillara finally levelled out, sending my roommate crashing into my back.

     Dayne was now clinging to me like the Tax Beast clings to loose change. "This is so terrifying," she stated. "If I survive this, I am never going up in the air on the back of a flying pet ever again!"

     "Ditto," I muttered.

     We began to glide through the canyon, stale breezes ruffling Aillara's flight feathers. The place looked old, and there were barely any sounds - only the occasional rustle of a small plant, or the pitter-patter of pebbles and sand rolling off a ledge. It even smelled ancient - musty and wild.

     Finally, Aillara lit on a small stone ledge. "Stay here," she told us. "I'll get your friends, and I'll show you the way from here."

     "W-won't it be dangerous?" Dayne stammered.

     "Sure. Staying around this area is always risky. Just don't make any loud noises or do anything else that'll attract unwanted attention." With that, she turned her back on us and took wing.

     Dayne was still cringing, practically attached to me. "What?" I snapped. She seriously wouldn't let go of me.

     "I'm scared," she whimpered. "It's all spooky in here."

     I have to admit that she was right. Looking upward, I beheld a sliver of sky, sandwiched between the two jagged sides of the ravine. It felt as if we'd been swallowed by some gargantuan beast, and were looking out through its mouth at the outside world. I felt unimaginably small in this vast world, and I could completely understand Dayne's fear.

     We stood there silently, and each minute that past seemed like an hour. We both began to become impatient, awaiting Terzin and Aly's arrival. "Where are they?" Dayne whispered.

     "I don't know," I replied truthfully. Was it just us, or were they taking too long?

     I sat down on the ledge, and Dayne joined me, still hugging me. I felt the nerves in my arms going numb from her intense squeezing.

     There was suddenly a noise behind me. It was the sound of pebbles and dirt being disturbed - something I'd heard often enough since entering the canyon, but this sounded as if the disturbance wasn't natural - someone had done it. I froze at the thought that there was a League member close by.

     "What was that?" Dayne asked, and her voice was almost nonexistent, her question a mere noise carried upon a breath.

     I had no time to answer, for at that moment something or someone shoved us from behind, and my heart lurched as I plummeted from the ledge, Dayne falling beside me. "SISSLIO!" my roommate shrieked, and then we made contact with the ground.

     The moment I felt earth beneath me, pain struck at my ribs, a shoulder, and one of my ankles. The ledge hadn't been very far up from the chasm's floor, but it was still high enough to cause quite a fall, something that I was discovering at that moment.

     "Dayne," I groaned, "you okay?"

     "Mm-hm," she said, which sounded like a "yes".

     I looked upwards, about to get to my feet, but my eyes widened in a mixture of amazement, shock, and terror as I realized that we were surrounded by an assortment of Neopets who could only be League members. Dayne had been right - they'd made a move and attacked us. They didn't look like much of an organization, though. They didn't wear any kind of uniform, just different styles of ragged tunics, jerkins, or other clothes. There was one thing I noticed about them that seemed strange, though - none of them were painted white, as Aillara had said. Had they since painted themselves different colours…or had Aillara been lying?

     "On your feet," one commanded.

     I struggled to rise, but my injuries after falling slowed my progress, as well as Dayne's. Gathering up some extra strength, I bent down again and helped Dayne to stand up. I came face to face with a brawny Fire Gelert, his face embellished with several scars, and his long ears appearing slightly bent out of shape. "What do you want?" I rasped, forced to breathe gently for the sake of my aching ribs.

     "We want our Mistress," he snarled in reply, "who your friend there carries with her." I shivered at his tone. His voice was deep and deadly, and it told me that if I said or did one thing wrong in his presence he would not hesitate to quickly and efficiently snap my neck.

     I sought for something to say in reply. "I am the Windstorm," I stated. It was the best I could come up with.

     The Gelert's amber eyes lit up as his breath fluctuated in subtle laughter. "We know," he whispered. "And you'll come with us."

     We had no choice. The band of League members ushered us along the length of the gorge, heading for their headquarters. We were helpless to do or say anything that would get us out of this mess. I trudged along, keeping Dayne close, as she needed more comforting than I did. I thought of how our quest had taken such an extreme turn for the worse. It would be different if I had ridden Aillara with Aly or Terzin instead - then the League wouldn't have the Firejewel with them. I wondered where Terzin and Aly were now. Aillara was probably circling, looking for us. But would she see us?

     I suddenly felt a slight wetness below my shoulder. Was I bleeding? Then I looked and saw Dayne laying her head against me, the tears coursing down her cheek soaking through my sleeve. I raised a paw and rested it on her shoulder, desperate to console my friend. The pendant around her neck was just as much of a burden to her as being Windstorm was to me. "None of this is your fault," I whispered as we walked along.

     "No," she sobbed, "I took the necklace from the store to begin with!"

     "That doesn't matter," I told her. "They put it on the display rack to lure you into their stupid scheme. We'll do our best to get out of this alive."

     "Okay," she quietly agreed. "I'll help you as much as I can. I promise."

     "Thanks," I said, and gave her a quick, but reassuring hug.

     We spent the rest of the journey in silence, and the only sound in the ravine was the soles of everyone's feet scraping against the dry ground as we walked on. Finally, we neared a crevice in the rock wall and moved towards it. Still leading, the Gelert made his way through it, and the rest of the company followed in single file.

     As I entered the niche, I noticed that it widened into a spacious tunnel. Great, I thought, Aly and Terzin will never find us in here. There were several tunnels branching off from the main one, and after making a few turns, I realized that if we tried to escape, we'd never find our way out of here.

     Suddenly, the passage opened into a large room, dimly lit by short wax candles set in iron sconces that had been hammered into the stone. The walls were decorated with murals, all of them depicting a Zafara warrior with a pelt of purest white - Frey. There were scenes of her fighting in vicious battles, others of her in a noble pose against a sunset or a mountain. Another showed her with her sword raised in victory, a crowd of her followers surrounding her. I knew that they were all lies. Frey KeenBlade wasn't courageous or noble, or anything like that. She was selfish, and strove to kill and conquer for her own means. She had deceived me the previous year by making me believe that reviving her was my destiny and that her resurrection would bring good times upon the land Terzin and Aly lived in. By revealing her true nature she had devastated my friends and made them feel guilty by putting me in such danger - especially Aly. And now she was slowly smothering Dayne and taking her over. I sneered at the portraits, and wished that I had the claws of a Kougra so I could launch myself at them and defile them by raking at the paint with long talons.

     All around us other members of the League of Purity gathered, the sight of Dayne and me sparking their interest. I felt my hackles rise from being under their sly glares, and I stepped in front of Dayne protectively. She was terrified, and they were after her and the Firejewel around her throat.

      "On your knees!" thundered the Fire Gelert suddenly. "The Rogue is coming, and she will lead the ceremony that will return our Mistress!"

     We hastened to obey, both of us fearful of who this Rogue was and what cruel "ceremony" awaited us.

     Then, from a nearby passageway fell a menacing shadow, and everyone in the room fell silent. The Rogue strode forward from the tunnel, settled before us, and it was as if my heart had stopped as I realized that it was Aillara.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Firejewel: Part One
» Firejewel: Part Two
» Firejewel: Part Three
» Firejewel: Part Four
» Firejewel: Part Five
» Firejewel: Part Seven
» Firejewel: Part Eight



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