Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 104,800,928 Issue: 204 | 18th day of Hiding, Y7
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Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Eleven


by cpmtiger

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The storm had stopped by the next morning. Avalon's paws were still caked with mud, and he was still soaking wet, but at least the sun was rising. His sword hadn't rusted, despite the heavy downpour. Ash's sheath had been soaked all the way through, and now she removed the dagger from it.

     "Hey, Quaz," she asked. "What do I do with this thing?"

     The tan Kougra turned, his golden mane streaked with mud. "Shake the water out," he replied. "The dagger's safer in the sheath than being carried around in your mouth." Ash shrugged, and shook out the sheath.

     "Now," Quaz said as Ash slid her dagger in. "We're getting toward the edge of this jungle stretch. We're about a half hours walk from the only village between Scarback's headquarters and the Cave. Scarback shouldn't be there just yet; the storm should've slowed them down. We're going to need to ask around, see if anybody spotted a spy Gelert, or something."

     They moved out. Avalon wished he could take a bath. He couldn't help worrying about what impression two muddy Kougras and a rain drenched Lupe would give. He guessed it would be a bad one.

     As Quaz had suspected, there was no sign of an attack by Scarback. The bustling village seemed in perfect order, and the three entered the gates. As Avalon had expected, several pets stared at the muddy travelers. He did his best to ignore them, and to hide the Gem. Quaz led them past the stares to a small shop, where they bought bread and fruit from the Chia working there.

     "Now," Quaz said as they left, stuffing some of the food into his sack, "we need to make sure Scarback hasn't been here." The trio spent the rest of the day asking the villagers whether they had seen any shadow pets with glowing red eyes. None had.

     The sun was going down, and Quaz, Ash, and Avalon were heading to a Neolodge called, "The Greasy Comb". At the front door was an electric Kyrii, dark eyes, narrowed. He beckoned toward them, ducking into the shadows of the door.

     Frowning, Quaz stepped forward, Ash and Avalon right behind. The Kyrii breathed a sigh of relief.

     "Can we help you?" Quaz asked, full of suspicion.

     "You three're the newcomers, yes?" he asked. The Kyrii had an odd, farmland drawl. Quaz nodded. "I heard you've been askin' round 'bout shadow pets with red eyes. This true?" Again, Quaz nodded.

     "Well," the Kyrii whispered, "I saw one. A Gelert, peeking out a bush."

     "When?" Quaz asked sharply.

     "'Round two, three days 'go. Look, thin' is, he's not there anymore. I checked the spot yesterday, not a sign of it."

     "You're sure?" Quaz asked, tail whipping.

     "Pos'tive," the Kyrii replied. "Look, if I don' get home soon, my wife's gon' be mighty worried." And the Kyrii disappeared into the setting sun.

     "They've passed," Quaz whispered. "They passed without touching the village. Why?"

     "Maybe," Avalon suggested, "they're not after the village. Or the Gem, at least not yet."

     "Huh?" The fur on the back of Ash's neck was raised.

     "You said this was the only village between Scarback's hideout and the Cave. What if Scarback's not going for villages? What if he's going for what's beyond them?" Avalon paused to let it sink in. "He's probably going to capture the Cave, and get all the advantages Quaz had on him."

     "Then we've got to run," Quaz said, a low growl in his voice. "We have to catch up to them; without the Cave, we've got no protection." They dashed out of the lodge, out of the village, and alongside the jungle trees. The moon had already appeared, and night was falling quickly. Soon, only the sound of chirping night bugs and heavy breathing filled the sky. Stars glimmered overhead, lighting up the thick leaves on the trees beside them. The Noil Gem seared against Avalon's chest several times that night, and with it Avalon got a word: "Run".

     Quaz stopped very suddenly. Breathing hard, he looked ahead and sniffed the air. The sun was beginning to rise, tingeing the sky with streaks of pink and orange.

     "This way," Quaz muttered, leading Ash and Avalon into the trees. They entered just enough that they couldn't see the clear 'plains' they had just been running through. "Keep quiet," Quaz warned. "They're just ahead."

     As they crept closer, Avalon's ears picked up the sound of silent marching. He could smell the Gelerts, and Quaz led them close enough to see flashes of a weary looking group of almost two hundred of them. The Gem burned slightly, but Avalon ignored it. The trio continued up the pack, watching the Gelerts warily. At last, they reached the front.

     Scarback was walking confidently, the battle helmet discarded. It looked as though Scarback hadn't been at all affected by the storm. His fur seemed perfectly clean, and there was a glimmer in his eye Quaz, Ash and Avalon most certainly didn't have. Brazen, fur coat mangled, looking tired, trotted beside her leader. The silver helmet had a large dent in it, and was splattered with mud from the storm. Avalon grinned slightly. The storm seemed to have worn the Gelerts down. He turned to Quaz, ready to get a signal to fight. To his surprise, Quaz was shaking his head. He motioned them to follow him silently into back into the trees.

     "What're you doing?" Avalon hissed once they were out of earshot. "This's the best chance we've got! They're all worn out from the storm!"

     Quaz shook his head. "Scarback's Gelerts are tough even when they are exhausted. And two hundred to three? There's no way we'd make it." A look of concern came onto his face. "I don't get it," he muttered. "The Guardian Force should have caught up to us by now…"

     Something rustled in the bushes. Seconds later, a massive Gelert with a bloodstained muzzle emerged, and landed between the Gelerts and the other pets. Hackles raised, the Gelert crept toward them. Quaz crouched, teeth bared. Avalon and Ash drew their blades.

      Standing on his hind feet in order to use the golden sword, Avalon snarled at the Gelert, "Get out of here!"

     "A Lupe and two Kougras," the Gelert snarled, mouth curving into a wide grin. "This should be easy."

     "One step and you're shish kabob!" Ash interjected, taking a step forward.

     The Gelert looked ready to burst out laughing. "Don't waste your time!" he snarled, preparing to leap at Quaz.

     At that moment, an outbreak of angry barks made all four pets freeze. Several more Gelerts entered the trees. Snarling and barking, they closed in on the Kougras and Lupe. Avalon, Ash and Quaz swung at them with their swords, but the Gelerts were quick enough to dodge them. Avalon recalled something Quaz had said about the Golden Pteri swords the two Kougras were using. Now if you want something for all range battles, you'll want a medium sword, like this Pteri Sword. But the blade wasn't long enough and Ash's small dagger wouldn't help.

     One of the Gelerts scurried away, then returned. Avalon's eyes narrowed, and he sheathed his sword. Scarback was next to the Gelert, wearing a self-satisfied smile.

     "So, Guardian, we meet again." The Kougra's voice betrayed no sign of the tiredness the Gelerts had shown. He stood with his body to the side, and Avalon saw a long, bright red scar that stretched from Scarback's neck down to the base of his tail. "Ah," the Kougra said, turning to Quaz. "And here's the old Guardian." Quaz growled angrily, his own eyes as fierce as Scarback's. "And," the black Kougra went on, "A stray Lupe, all alone. Looks like your Guardian force hasn't shown up, Quaz."

     The Gelert with the bloodstained muzzle grinned. Scarback acknowledged him, saying, "Zeth here wiped your trail. If Ridell is to be believed, your Force is entering the jungle and heading the wrong way."

     "IF he's to be believed?" Quaz shot back, "I didn't think lying Lennies were your allies, Scarback."

     "Either way," Scarback growled, "They're not here to save you."

     "And who says we can't get you ourselves?' Avalon snarled. "'Cause whoever told you that's got the wrong information." The starry Kougra dropped back onto all fours, teeth bared.

     Scarback glared at him. "You're getting to be a real pain," he hissed, crouching as well. "But you won't be for long!' he lunged, claws out, teeth bared. He sailed over the Gelerts, and hit Avalon in the side. The starry Kougra fell, but leapt back up, slicing his belt off so it wouldn't get in his way. Ash and Quaz lunged for Scarback, but in an instant the other Gelerts had entered the jungle, and began attacking the old Guardian and stray Lupe.

     Avalon slipped out from under Scarback, and the two circled each other, growling fiercely. Scarback leapt again, but this time Avalon jumped back. Before he could make a leap of his own, the shadow-ghost Kougra was on his feet again, backing away to try a pounce again.

     Avalon wasted no time. He surged forward, knocking Scarback to the ground. Scarback swiped at Avalon's head with a paw. The blow made Avalon stumble backwards. Scarback leapt back up and charged. The starry Kougra managed to dodge it, then shook his head, trying to get the stars to disappear.

     The Noil Gem glimmered bright blue. Avalon's head cleared. The Noil's tiny eyes gleamed red, pointing at Scarback. The big Kougra had leapt forward. Avalon stood, shoving his front paws into the Kougra's stomach and off to the side. Scarback hit the ground hard, snarling in surprise. Avalon leapt at Scarback, who scrambled up, but not before he got a face full of Avalon's claws. He stumbled back, eyes glowing bright. With a roar, he leapt at Avalon. Avalon dodged, but this time the Kougra reached out, and his left claw grabbed the chain of the Noil Gem. The chain pulled tight against Avalon's neck, and he struggled to breathe. Scarback leapt backwards, so that Avalon fell on his back.

     Still choking on the chain, Avalon saw his golden Pteri sword glimmering on the floor beside him. He grabbed it, just as Scarback lunged.

      As Avalon sat up, he swung the sword. As he did, the Gem glowed brighter than ever, sending a green streak of light up Avalon's arm and around the sword. Avalon's swing felt long and confident and powerful.

     The broad side of the blade hit Scarback so hard that he slammed into the nearest tree, with a loud his of pain and surprise. Avalon scrambled to his paws, raising his sword. Scarback stumbled up. His right front leg was bent at an odd angle, and the Kougra didn't put any weight on it. The impact with the tree must have broken some part of Scarback's leg.

      With a grimace of pain, the Kougra roared, then stepped back. The Gelerts drew back as well, still snarling.

      "Next time," Scarback growled as the sound of crunching rocks filled the air. "Next time I will get that Gem!" A huge black circle appeared in midair. It looked exactly like the one that the Gelerts had swarmed out of the day Avalon found out he was a Guardian.

     This time, the Gelerts were leaping in and disappearing. When the last one had gone, Scarback roared defiantly, then entered the portal, limping badly. The large black circle disappeared. Avalon breathed a sigh of relief. He turned to Quaz and Ash. They were both alright, aside from a few cuts. Ash's dagger was sheathed, and Quaz was examining a body.

     "Who is it?" Avalon asked, stepping forward hesitantly. Quaz sighed, flipping it over.

     "Zeth," he said gravely, pointing out the bloodstained muzzle. Brazen's younger brother. He never lost a fight, always killed the one he was after. Ironic, really, that the one battle he looses, he looses his life as well."

     Avalon looked at the Gelert's muzzle and nodded. Zeth looked so much like Brazen and Mange. The starry Kougra wondered how much time the last Gelert of the family, the sister of Zeth and Mange, had to live.

     With a sigh, Quaz turned away, unsheathed his sword, and drove it into the ground to clean it. "Let's head to the Cave," he said, returning his sword to its scabbard. "We'll need to contact the Guardian Force. And I'm sure we could all use a rest."

     The way back to the Cave was spent mostly in silence. But there were times when they talked, about what had happened, and what was to come. Avalon told Quaz about Scarback's broken leg, and asked how long he would take to recover.

     "Well," Quaz said, "It depends on what he broke. It'll definitely take him a long time to recover, however. He may even have a permanent limp if it doesn't heal in the right position."

     "Hey," Ash said suddenly. "Your sword…it looks…different."

     Avalon frowned, and pulled out his sword. His eyes widened. The sword was longer, and a brighter gold than before. The wings on the hilt had been replaced with elegant curves, and above the spot Avalon's paws gripped the sword was a bright, sapphire star, trimmed with gold.

     Quaz smiled. "Well done. That's your special sword. Only you can use it." The old Kougra drew his sword. The wings on his hilt were replaced with a copper royal Kougra head, and the base had two long, gold and red tassels hanging from it. The two cats smiled at each other, and sheathed their swords in unison.

     The rock marking the entrance to Heartfelt Cave wasn't at the base of the hill. Avalon and Ash panicked, but Quaz explained calmly that the Cave's entrance moved from time to time. Avalon nosed around a bit, and with some help from the Noil Gem, found the heart shaped rock near the pond. They made their way back through the dark tunnels, and went through the portal calmly.

     When Avalon saw the large cases of swords and the simple furnished corner he felt an odd sense of being home, like this was where he belonged. It was a new feeling for Avalon. His parent's house had never been a place he could call home. With another surge of guilt, he remembered that his parents could be dead. He would find out one day, he vowed, but for now…

     "Hey, Quaz?" Avalon asked. The sapphire chain of the Noil Gem bubbled like a lava lamp. "Would you mind showing me that sword maneuver? I didn't quite catch it the last time."

     Quaz smiled knowingly. The old Kougra remembered that he had felt the same sense of duty Avalon was feeling now. He understood Avalon's question to be an acceptance of that duty. The former Guardian of the Noil Gem had been a fifteen-year-old cub once.

     "Hey, what about me?" Ash asked, tail swishing. "Am I gonna have to leave now that you're the big Guardian and all?"

     Avalon laughed. "What, you leave? How am I going to understand anything Quaz teaches me without you to explain it?"

     Ash smiled, canine teeth glinting in the light of the reopened ceiling hole. Quaz unsheathed his sword, and headed to the center of the field. Raising the sword, he began showing Avalon and Ash a double pass slice.

     And so ends the apprenticeship of one Guardian of the Emerald Noil Gem.

The End

 
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Other Episodes


» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part One
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Two
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Three
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Four
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Five
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Six
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Seven
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Eight
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Nine
» Avalon and the Emerald Noil Gem: Part Ten



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