Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 107,594,495 Issue: 215 | 4th day of Storing, Y7
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Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Nine

by cpmtiger


The dungeon was silent for a long moment. Then Avalon managed to speak.

     "You were the Guardian?"

     The Darigan Kougra shook her head. "I was assigned to be the Guardian. I had just figured out what it was and that I was supposed to protect it, when Scarback and two Gelerts come charging at me."

     "Who told you about the Gem?" Avalon asked.

     "One of the pets on the Guardian Force. Some brown Krawk. I think his name started with a C…"

     "Caiman?" Ash suggested, trading a slightly puzzled glance with Avalon.

     The Kougra nodded. "Listen, I can explain everything as soon as we get out of here. Can you help me with these chains?"

     Avalon paused a moment, wondering if he should trust this strange Kougra. After a moment, he stepped closer to the cage and began to study the lock. "My name's Avalon," he said to the Darigan Kougra.

     "Ragnora. And I don't think you can pick that. You'll need keys."

     "And how're we supposed to get the keys?" Ash asked exasperatedly.

     "They should be in the front room," Ragnora replied. "Usually Brutus leaves them there, stupid dog."

     Ash's tail flipped in annoyance, but she asked, "Who's Brutus?"

     "The prison guard," Ragnora answered. "A brick could outthink him, I swear it."

     "The front room, ye said?" Storm's voice echoed off the stone walls.

      "Keep it down!" Avalon hissed.

      "Yes," Ragnora replied, looking the pirate Lupe over.

      "Arr, so tha's what I stepped on!" Storm held up a small silver ring, with a single key on it.

      "That's them!" Ragnora confirmed.

      Avalon snatched the key away and stuck it in the lock. When he turned the silver key, the lock made a satisfying click, and Avalon yanked the door open. He noticed that the chains were attached to a small steel plate on the wall.

      The chains had obviously been locked in place for a long time, because Avalon had difficulty turning the key. "It-won't-move!" Avalon snarled, whacking the key with his paw. To his surprise, the Noil Gem sent a streak of green light up his arm and around the key. The silver key turned smoothly, and the chains fell away with a loud cha-cha-cha-ching!

      "Interesting," Avalon remarked casually, yanking out the key and passing it to Ragnora. In moment, the Darigan Kougra had unchained herself.

      Ragnora flicked her remaining ear and studied Avalon's friends. "And who're all you?" she demanded.

      Ash looked ready to roll her eyes, but she resisted and said coolly, "My name's Ash. I'm Avalon's best friend."

      "Arr, I be Cap'n Storm, most feared pirate in all o' Neopia!" Storm announced, sweeping off his hat and bowing. His nose stopped about an inch away from a Spyder. The Lupe yelped and jumped back, quickly jamming his hat back onto his head.

      Ragnora gave Storm a concerned look. "Is he…alright?"

      "Trust me," Avalon replied. "He just has an overblown ego."

      "And I'm Silverdrop," the silver Kougra said, stepping forward and dipping her head. "Avalon says I'm his apprentice."

      Ragnora's head turned to Avalon. "Your apprentice? Aren't you a little young?"

      Avalon shrugged. "I'm almost eighteen. Quaz says it's really rare to have an apprentice so early on."

      "Quaz? He was the one who was going to mentor me. Does he still live on the Island with his apprentice?"

      Avalon gave her a puzzled look. "I was his apprentice." He paused consideringly. "But he did say something before about there being a missing apprentice…"

      "Which was why he was the Guardian for so long," Ash filled in. "And why he was so eager to pass it to you."

      "I thought he'd have just picked another apprentice," Ragnora said.

      "The Guardian doesn't decide who the apprentice is gonna be," Avalon explained. "The Guardian Faerie wrote it down when the Gem was first created."

      "How'd you know that?" Ash asked. "I think Quaz mentioned it once, but other than that…"

      "Storm told me," Avalon replied shortly. "Now look, we've really got to get out of here, before the Gelerts find us." He turned to Ragnora. "What's in the other three buildings?"

      Ragnora shrugged. "Nothing to worry about. One's got all of Scarback's swords and helmets and such in it. Another's got food supplies in it, and the third one's just a storehouse for things like chains and tools. Oh, and there's a fourth one, kind of squished between the food building and the Tower. That's where the Gelerts sleep, but they'll all be out on duty now." She said all of this casually, as if they were discussing Tombola booby prizes rather than potentially dangerous buildings.

      "Alright," Avalon said after a moment of silence. "Where's the Gelert building at?"

      "Between the food shack and the tower. Opposite from the prison."

      Avalon nodded. "Good. And is the entrance on the side of the Tower facing us?"

      "Yes," Ragnora answered. "But there's always a guard there."

      "That's the way we'll go in," Avalon decided.

      "Av, if Scarback's only got one guard at the door to his super-secret tower, what're the chances it's going to be easy to beat?" Ash asked skeptically.

      The starry Kougra shrugged. "There's five of us. If you're coming, Ragnora," he added quickly.

      Ragnora flicked her remaining ear. "Of course I'm coming!"

      Suddenly, a loud creak echoed through the dungeon. Heavy paws hit the floor, and a moment later they heard a voice grumble, "Dangit, where're the keys?"

      "Brutus," Ragnora hissed. "Come on, there's a back way."

      Avalon, Ash, Silverdrop, and Cap'n Storm followed Ragnora down the dark hallways. The dungeon was a maze of corridors, but Ragnora seemed to know her way around perfectly.

      "How d'you know the way so well?" Avalon whispered, falling into stride with Ragnora.

      "I've been hauled in and out of this dungeon for the past twenty years," she said grimly.

      "Is that how you lost…" Avalon paused, unsure whether the Kougra would mind him asking about her ear.

      "My ear? No, that was Scarback. He was sure I knew about the Gem before Caiman told me about it."

      "Why would he think that?" Avalon asked, intrigued.

      Ragnora smiled grimly. "I lived on Mystery Island my whole life. He thinks I ran into Quaz once. That, and I constantly wore a Noil Gem. Not an emerald one, but I guess that was close enough for him."

      "So why'd he get rid of your ear?"

      "He wasn't intending to do it," Ragnora said bitterly. "But when you're attacking someone with a chain, the person you're attacking is bound to lose something."

      "So he tortured you to get information about the Gem?"

      "That and hiding places on Mystery Island."

      "Did you tell?"

      Ragnora snorted. "What do I look like, an idiot? No, I didn't tell him a word. I called him plenty of names, but I never gave him information." They rounded a corner, and she pointed to a door silhouetted by outside grayness. "That's the exit," she whispered. She uncoiled her tail and dropped the silver key into her paw.

      Moments later, the group was outside, sneaking toward the tower entrance. As Ragnora had said, there was a guard. Hiding in the shadow of the prison building, everyone turned to Avalon.

      The Kougra groaned. "Come on, somebody else can come up with the plan!" He looked around desperately. Nobody seemed willing to do it.

      "Fine," Avalon sighed. He studied the area around them for a moment. "All right," he said at last. "We need somebody who'll let the guard get a quick glimpse of them. That pet's going to have to disappear probably about here. Somebody'll need to help them onto the roof. The guard'll follow them up, and if we time it right, we can all get him before he can shout for help."

     Avalon looked around at the silent group. "Any volunteers for the person who leads the guard to the roof?"

     After a long moment, Silverdrop took a step forward. "I'll do it," she said. Avalon nodded and gave his apprentice a smile.

     "Who's going to pull Silverdrop up onto the roof?"

     "I will," Ragnora said gruffly. "It's best I stay out of the guard's sight, or he'll make sure the whole pack knows I've escaped."

     "Alright," Avalon said. "Here's where we all need to start."

     The guard Gelert was having a very bad day. First, he'd missed the report from Brazen's forces in the desert. So he was late getting the news to Scarback. Scarback was angry enough that the letter had been left so late, but when Scarback read it, he exploded. Apparently the Guardian, his apprentice, and the jungle stray had escaped with some pirate Lupe, and in his anger Scarback found a way to make it the poor guard's fault.

     He was now stuck on guard duty for an unannounced period of time. Guard duty was tremendously boring work. It was a job that required twenty-three full hours of work. Scarback allowed his guards an hour of rest. This meant that the guard now couldn't go hang out with the pack whenever he wanted. He'd probably lose all credit with Brazen. All because of the stupid Guardian, his stupid apprentice, the stupid stray, and the stupid pirate. And the guard decided, just for good measure, that the boat they'd escaped in was stupid too.

     The guard stiffened. He thought he saw a quick flash of silver. He stood, cautious. There it was again! A silver tail, it looked like. He considered sounding the alarm, but decided that if he caught an intruder, Scarback might let him off of guard duty.

     The Gelert charged toward the tail, whose owner quickened their speed and disappeared into the shadows of the prison. Resisting the urge to growl, the guard trotted into the darkness. He turned just in time to see the silver tail disappear onto the roof. Teeth bared, the Gelert leapt up, clutching the stone wall and pulling himself onto the roof.

     At first, he saw nothing of interest. Then, there were several somethings. A pirate Lupe with a bright red captain's hat leapt at him from the left, and a fire Lupe surged toward him from the right, carrying a clanking chain. Two Kougras, a starry one with a green Noil Gem on a saphirre chain, and a Darigan with only one ear, pulled themselves onto the roof from the other side and plowed into the him. The guard fell back, feeling the cold gray roof against his spine. The fire Lupe - the stupid jungle stray, he realized, tied his legs together with a piece of chain from the prison. The stupid pirate ripped the white lining from his hat and tied it around the guard's muzzle.

     The three Kougras, the starry Guardian, his silver apprentice, and the Darigan escapee smiled triumphantly at him.

     "Okay, he's all tied up," Ash said, stepping back to admire her work.

     "Arr, tha's what ye get fer servin tha' scalawag Scarback!" Storm shouted, waving his sword ridiculously in the air.

     "What're we gonna do with him?" Silverdrop asked.

     "Leave him by the side of the building," Avalon said. "Somebody'll eventually find him, but not until we get off this island."

     Ragnora dragged the Gelert halfway down the wall, then dropped him unceremoniously on his back. The others follwed her down, not giving the Gelert a second glance.

     This, the Gelert decided, just wasn't his day.

     The inside of the Tower was just as dark as the prison had been. Smooth black furniture and tables were scattered in every room they passed. There were a few torches along the walls, but they light they gave off was dim. Most of the floor was made of uneven stone, and in the semi-darkness, everyone but Ragnora kept stumbling on the raised bricks. The walls appeared smooth however, made of concrete painted black rather than dark stone.

     But there were no Gelerts inside, however, which was definitely a plus.

     "Why couldn't we have used the stairs outside?" Silverdrop asked Avalon.

     "Too noticeable," the starry Kougra replied. "Besides, there's no way in from there."

     "Well, you'll get plenty of stairs inside, too," Ragnora whispered from up ahead. A huge, stone staircase loomed ahead of them. Like the stairs outside the building, these stairs spiraled like the outline of a tornado. Avalon felt dizzy just looking at it.

     "There are very few things down the hallways these stairs lead onto until we get to the top two hallways," Ragnora explained. "One floor has Scarback's meeting room and the pack leader's personal quarters. Scarback's quarters span the entire top floor."

     Avalon nodded. "What happens if a Gelert comes down the stairs?"

     "Just duck into an empty hallway and head toward the back. Nobody else uses them, so we should be okay."

     The group began climbing up the stairs. The stairs were smoother than the floors were, but every time the group turned, Avalon felt his stomach lurch as if he was falling. The tornado shape of the stairs resulted in sharp, narrow turns Ragnora said had caused the deaths of careless Gelerts.

     "How long's this gonna take?" Silverdrop panted. The group had been climbing for twenty minutes straight. Avalon sighed and looked down. They were a long, long way up. He shuddered and looked back at the stairs ahead.

     "Well, Silverdrop," Ragnora said. "The second floors about five stairs away."

     "Thank goodness," Avalon muttered.

     "Aye," Storm said from the rear. "An I though' sailin' a ship in the middle o' the worst storms Neopia's e'er seen was stomach churnin'!"

     "All right," Ragnora whispered, pausing. "The meeting room's that way. Scarback's probably in there with some Gelerts, otherwise I think we would've seen him."

     "Then let's go up to his quarters," Avalon whispered. Ragnora silently began moving forward again, this time stealthily. The hallway slowly disappeared behind them, and a single door emerged on a landing ahead of them.

     This was obviously Scarback's door. There was a huge slash running down the center of the door, and Avalon guessed it was there on purpose. The handle was a shining, ruby red. Like the Kougra's eyes. Ragnora turned the doorknob, her tail flicking with suppressed anxiety.

     "It's weird to be coming in here without Brutus dragging me along," she whispered, pushing the door open and stepping inside.

     Scarback's room was the only room Avalon had seen in the Tower that had a window. It was simply a half oval shaped hole cut in the brink, and surrounded by dark, water stained wood. Obviously Scarback had no concerns about rainstorms. The only other things in the room were a large black rock in the center, and a dark wooden desk with gleaming red handles.

     On top of the desk were several books, and a jar of bright red ink atop a pile of parchment. Several black quills lay in a haphazard pile next to it. There were two doors in the left front leg of the desk.

     Ash went over to one of the drawers and studied the lock. "I don't think we can pick this," she said. "Ragnora, can I have that key?"

     Ragnora unfurled her tail and let the key drop into her paw again. She passed it to Ash.

     "I can keep this in my storage bag," Ash offered. Ragnora nodded, and Ash turned back to the drawer. She attempted to slide the key in, but it was too big.

     "Scarback's not completely stupid," Ragnora said. "He gave all the prison chains and doors and such the same keyhole so Brutus wouldn't have to work with more that one key."

     "And knowing Scarback," Ash muttered, "Each keyhole probably has a different key."

     Ragnora nodded. "I've never seen him with a ring of keys, but I'm sure he's got multiple ones."

     "Nothing the Noil gem can't solve," Avalon said at last, trotting to Ash's side. He lined the Noil Gem's eyes up with the keyhole and focused on unlocking it. A second later, a beam of yellow light shot out of one of the Noil Gem's eye. It wiggled inside the keyhole a bit, and, a moment later, unlocked with a soft click.

     Satisfied, Avalon pulled open the drawer. Ragnora, Ash, Silverdrop, who'd joined them from the door, peered over Avalon's shoulder.

     "It's a bunch of notes," the Kougra said. "Copies of things he's sent and things he's gotten back." He prepared to set them back in the drawer.

     "Wait," Ash said. "Look at that…" She pointed to one of the notes near the top. Avalon pulled it out.

     "It can't be!" he hissed, rereading the letter again.

     "Oh, I think it is," Ragnora said, reading the letter of Avalon's shoulder. "That would explain a lot," she added under her breath.

     "So he was really working for Scarback?" Avalon said, astounded.

     "Who?" Silverdrop asked. "Brazen? Everyone knows that."

     "It's not her," Ash said. "It's the person next to it."

     Silverdrop read the name. "So?"

     "That's the one who drove our boat. The one who told Ragnora about the Noil Gem," Avalon explained.

     "And set me up in the process," Ragnora muttered.

     "Caiman's been helping Scarback the whole time!" Ash growled.

     "How?" Storm asked, joining the group. "I though' 'e was out a' sea with you mosta the time!"

     "He had a Pirakeet," Avalon said softly. "I thought I saw the Pirakeet take off after he and Valor left."

     "That's how Caiman knew about the spy!" Ash hissed urgently. "And why he didn't want to tell us or Valor!"

     "Well, well, so you do have some intelligence after all," purred a deep, silky voice behind them.

     Avalon's head snapped around, and he saw Scarback standing regally in the doorway, a broad grin on his feline face. Three Gelerts were standing behind him, snarling angrily.

     "Scarback," Avalon growled, turning all the way around, leaving the papers in a heap behind him.

     Scarback sighed. "Must we go through the clichéd roles of hero and villain, Avalon?"

     Avalon narrowed his golden eyes and didn't answer.

     "Yes, I sent Caiman out as a spy. He's been working for me since he un-changed."

     "He was a Changed Gelert?" Avalon asked.

     Scarback nodded. "By choice. Unfortunately, the effects don't last on those who've done it willingly. So I had to find another way for him to be of use to me."

     Ash growled angrily. "So you sent him on the boat to do what?"

     "Get you to the Lost Desert," Scarback said coolly. "Brazen was there, and I assumed she'd be able to kill you for me. But my other spy, Shag, had to ruin the whole thing."

     Avalon retorted, "We're the ones who ran your spy down. We got past the Gelerts on the beach."

     "With my help, you might add!" Storm added. Avalon recognized Storm's temporary lack of accent as a sign of the Lupe's anger.

     "You again, Storm?" Scarback said, scanning the group over. "Yes, it's Avalon, his apprentice Silverdrop, Ash the jungle stray, 'Captain' Storm the worthless pirate, and Ragnora." Scarback eyed the Darigan Kougra coolly. "They helped you escape, I see."

     Ragnora hissed at Scarback. "And I'd like to see you try and recapture me."

     "That can be arranged," Scarback said, flicking his tail. The three Gelerts came forward. The biggest one fixed its eyes on Ragnora and growled loudly.

     "Brutus," Ragnora snarled.

      The Gelert snarled, "Just wait until you're back in that cage."

      "As you can see, Avalon," Scarback continued, his eyes narrowing as his confident smile widened. He took a step forward, and Avalon saw that the leg he'd broken three years ago gave Scarback a limp. "I've brought enough Gelerts to take on your friends. One for everyone except you, and your apprentice."

      "And why's that?" Avalon snapped. "Were your Gelerts to afraid to take on a Guardian?"

      Scarback laughed. "No. It's just that I'd prefer to kill you and your apprentice myself." Scarback's smile vanished, and he lowered into a crouch. The Gelerts beside him also prepared to pounce.

      The five pets backed up until their tails touched the smooth walls. Avalon unsheathed his claws.

      This wasn't his day, either.

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part One
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Two
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Three
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Four
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Five
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Six
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Seven
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Avalon’s Apprentice - Part Eight

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