Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 111,625,219 Issue: 222 | 6th day of Sleeping, Y8
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Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Six


by ikkin_with_attitude

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Also by Schefflera

In the morning, Jeran woke up, which was a good start. The sun was just rising, striping their campsite with long shadows and red sunbeams, and Sally was awake already and chatting to Kass over an early breakfast. She seemed disconcertingly comfortable with the Darigan Eyrie, although considering the girl had apparently adopted Lord Darigan as a petpet and named him Fluffy, Jeran thought perhaps he really shouldn't be surprised.

     She bounded over to urge food on the two knights as well. Jeran didn't usually eat root vegetables for breakfast, but they were more than welcome this morning, and he and the Yellow Knight contributed jerky, sausage, juice, and an Overgrown Cheese. He didn't overeat by any means -- they still had a lot of walking to do, most of it uphill, and there was still a chance they'd have to fight -- but the meal was still substantial.

     The Yellow Knight picked up the basket again and, given how full it still was, teased Sally halfway up the mountain about whether her parents hadn't thought the rest of them had sense enough to pack any food. Kass's expression during this seemed a little strained, and he interrupted once to suggest that he could fly them (one at a time) part of the way up the mountain to save time. Jeran tried not to let his fur rise at the idea and declined, though they did take advantage of that option once where the regular path up a very steep slope had been blocked and looked more like a cliff. Sally seemed more energetic on the climb than she had on level ground, leaping from rock to rock alongside the path until Jeran asked her to stay close, fearing that something they couldn't see, hear, or smell ahead of time would snatch her.

     They all fell quiet, though, after the first time they looked up and saw Hubrid's fortress spearing up into the sky. It cast a very long shadow.

     It was nearly noon when they rounded the last switchback and saw that their path now led straight up a gentler slope to the small, flat area where the fortress had its foundation.

     They stopped there to catch their breath for a few minutes, and then strode up to the door. Jeran set his jaw and lifted the knocker, which moved easily enough but with a groan that sounded like mortal agony, and let it fall.

     The door flew open.

     "Welcome, my dear visitors! Ah, Sir Lupe, I see you have brought me more guests. A fellow Chia!" Hubrid Nox seized the Yellow Knight's hand and pumped it vigorously, then released him. As the yellow Chia took a slight step back, Hubrid turned to Kass. "A Darigan, too. How charmingly cooperative of your two nations. And a dear little Usul." He leaned down and patted Sally on the head; Jeran was mildly relieved that she didn't bite this time. "We shall have to take good care of you. Little Usul girls can get in dreadful trouble in a place like this." The vampire stepped back and clapped his hands. "I hope you will all forgive me if my preparations were for one alone; I feel certain I can entertain you all nonetheless. Do come in."

     The effusiveness seemed excessive, but this was after all what they'd come for. Jeran shrugged and stepped forward, Kass beside him and Sally near their feet. The heavy door swung shut with a deep thud, brushing close enough to ruffle his fur as it passed; Jeran turned reflexively to look over his shoulder.

     The Yellow Knight wasn't there.

     "Oops!" Hubrid said, tapping his fingers together and offering an apologetic smile that showed off his fangs. "Must have been the wind."

     Jeran took a step back, watching the vampire warily, and pulled at the door handle. Nothing moved. He glanced quickly toward it, but could see no latch.

     The metal grew steadily colder in his grip, until his fingers and wrist began to ache with it.

     "Let him in," he said through gritted teeth, "please."

     "There's no rush," Hubrid said, still smiling very broadly. "The door sticks. You may have noticed it's rather damp here. Come along, and it will be suitably attended to. Your friend will rejoin you in good time."

     None of them believed a word he was saying, but the only way left to go was onward.

     After the Yellow Knight's disappearance, Jeran, Kass, and Sally all moved still closer together. Jeran felt fairly certain that it had been no accident -- and that the Chia vampire wanted to separate them. Traveling further and further into the fortress proved no comfort, either; in fact, it gave the impression that something would have to happen, and soon.

     Something did indeed happen, just as Kass and Sally reached the stairs on the third floor, just a few steps behind Jeran. From the ceiling stretched what appeared to be ribbons made of shadow, uncoiling themselves and stretching to the floor just behind the Lupe knight. Kass shivered; oddly shaped shadows never meant anything good.

     "Stay close to me, Sally," the Darigan Eyrie advised, "and don't touch those ribbons, if you can help it." But the warning proved useless, as the shadows formed a veil over the entire stairwell and drifted toward them. As the two entered it, they found themselves, not on a flight of stairs, but in a darkened room filled with swirling mists and shadows. And to their great discomfort, there was only a wall behind them. They, too, had been caught.

     Sally backed up against Kass's leg; he dropped one hand to her shoulder and the other to the hilt of his sword. Black fog snaked across the floor and drifted in fretful patches through the air. He could feel cold droplets condensing in the fur around his ankles, and when he drew breath, a sour odor caught in the back of his throat. He coughed.

     The mist stung his eyes as well, the resulting tears making oily rainbows of the dim light and distorting the shadows further.

     One of the shadows slid up his arm and rested its chin, feather-light, on his shoulder. It whispered, "I've been waiting for you."

     Kass stiffened, searching for the source of the voice, but finding only shadow. "Not... you..." he muttered. "I don't need you... any of you anymore! You have no power over me!"

     "Oh, but I do... we do..." the shadow whispered. "And we will have you again, soon enough..."

     "You won't take me again! I no longer desire what you offer! Leave me alone!" The Eyrie was frantic, turning one way and the other, yelling at the shadows and the mists of the room. "I don't need you!"

     "Oh, but you do, Kass... Lord Kass... No one can live without us... or refuse what we offer... They may put on a show of it, but in the end, they always give in..."

     "That's not true! It's not... true! I will never give in again, not after all I've seen now!"

     "But you did before... and look at the power you had... at the power you could have again! So why resist?"

     "Why resist? Because that's what's right! And with all the wrong I've done..."

     "Who is to say what's right? If you were half as powerful as you were before, you could silence anyone who judged you otherwise!"

     "But that would not make it right! Now leave! I will not be swayed by you again!"

     "That does not even matter anymore. You were swayed before. And you must remember your promises..."

     "No... no... I didn't... this can't... no! Leave me alone! I never promised you anything!" Kass screamed, echoing his words at the Citadel not too long ago.

     And, to the Eyrie's horror, the shadow, too, echoed lines from that fateful day. "Wrong, Kass... so very wrong... you promised us everything..."

     "No... please... not... again... I promised you nothing! Just don't leave me there again! I'll do... no! I'll do nothing for you! Just... go... away!" Kass was practically insane, clawing at the air, eyes darting everywhere, backing away from invisible threats. From a capable Darigan warrior, he had been brought to near helplessness.

     -----

     It was no sound that alerted Jeran to the disappearance of Kass and Sally, but rather a silence. Hubrid prattled constantly, facing up the stairs or turning to look back down, and he gave no sign that anything had changed. Jeran's ears were full of the sound of Hubrid's voice and his nose of the scent of dusty stone, and by the time he sensed that there was no longer anyone walking behind him, he didn't know how long he had been alone with the vampire.

     He looked sharply over his shoulder, then turned to face Hubrid Nox again and stopped climbing.

     The Chia was still smiling. "You won't find them," he said, and Jeran had to catch at the banister for balance as the stairs seemed to shift under his feet.

     The banister wasn't there anymore. Jeran found himself standing on level stone, in the open air. Hubrid had somehow transported them magically onto the roof.

     Hubrid put out a hand and vaulted onto his storm cloud, showing his teeth again. "Puppy," he said softly, "you should have come alone."

     Jeran growled -- he would not be treated like some child's Doglefox.

     "You take offense to that? But you are my little puppy, begging and barking at my command. Isn't it grand?" the Chia cackled.

     "I don't beg. And I certainly don't obey the likes of you!"

     "But you already did, puppy. You came here, didn't you? Now go on and bark all you like -- I won't stop you!"

     Jeran drew his sword on the vampire, taking a step forward. "I came to find a cure for my sister! Like you promised. Now where is it?"

     "Oh, my, you are a confused little puppy... I didn't promise you anything! Mentioned in passing, perhaps, but surely not promised.... It's not like it will matter much longer, anyway..."

     The Lupe clenched his sword tighter, taking another step towards his foe. "What is that supposed to mean?" he growled. "My sister is the most important person in my life!"

     "Maybe that life will be shorter than you think. Look where you're standing!" Hubrid's voice filled with glee.

     Jeran turned around frantically, to find that the "roof" he had been standing on was not only quite a bit higher than he had thought, but was both rising and shrinking as well. He turned to face the Chia again, who had a look of triumph in his eyes.

     "You don't like heights, do you, puppy? At least you won't be up here for long!" he cackled.

     "You'll pay for this, Nox!" the Lupe yelled, the platform shrinking out from under his feet. He barely caught on to the edge, and held on as well as he could with one hand.

     "Oh, will I? You're in no position to be saying that, now, are you? And don't think any of your little friends will come to save you -- I can assure you, they're all tied up! If you mean Meridell... well, they're not going to be a problem for much longer."

     All Jeran could manage to do was growl, "Why, you..." as Hubrid Nox floated by on his storm cloud, just out of range, but still too close for comfort.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part One
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Two
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Three
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Four
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Five
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist



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