An Arduous Quest – Chapter Eleven

Discovery

 

“I’ll be fine. It didn’t go too deep.” Voeren heard the wounded creature say to its friend. It was six in the evening and Voeren was pretending to be asleep after a hard days travelling. Those creatures may be on foot but ran as fast, if not faster, than he was on horseback! And they expected him to keep up! Voeren had woken up that morning to find himself sleeping on the dry grass, being watched intently by his enemy, the last thing he remembered was waking up, then immediately getting knocked unconscious.
“He hit you in one of our only vulnerable areas, the neck, we must deal with it quickly.” the other replied.
“Shhhh! Don’t speak of our weaknesses. What if the human was listening?” he answered quietly. So that’s their weak spot, the neck! Voeren thought to himself and closed his eyes as one them came to check he was asleep, also making a mental note to tell his apprentice where to shoot at the first chance he got. His captors stopped talking, and seemingly just stared at each other. Deciding he would gather no more useful information, Voeren eventually fell asleep.

Waking up in the early hours of the day again, the young, keen boy was tired but raring to go. He could feel it, today he would find those atrocious murderers and slay them while liberating his master and avenging his family. He would find them and kill them. Or the other way round. And that’s what Arden was afraid of, last time he duelled with them, he was overpowered, and was about to die when for no apparent reason it retreated. Not only that, but he only managed to wound the other by getting a lucky shot. Nevertheless, the stubborn apprentice carried on his laborious quest to free his friend and take revenge. Once ready, Arden began riding, swapping horses so not to tire them out, although unconsciously favouring his own.

After hours of travelling, it was midday and Arden came across what seemed like his quarry’s camp. Both the tracks and his tooth went in the same direction. Towards what seemed like the edge of the mountains over the border. He was getting closer. Their lair must be up in the caves, Arden thought. They must’ve come a long way from Mount Garly to reach near the edge of the border. Arden re-mounted his horse and set off in pursuit of the enemy.

Looking upon the ominous snowy edge of the Imvula Naktj mountains, Arden could feel the perspiration building up on his forehead and dripping down his body. The climate was a lot colder up here, but felt like the middle of summer for Arden. He was at the mouth of a particularly large, seemingly unlit cave. With both horses tethered, Arden took one more glance at the tooth. Definitely this way. Lighting his torch and unsheathing his heavy hunting knife, the nervous boy crept into the cavern, unsure of what he might encounter.

 

It had been an hour since Arden had entered, but it felt like a year had gone by, and of course Arden had no indication of what the actual time was, as there was no natural light filtering into the cave system so the apprentice Ranger could not see or estimate the position of the sun. So far he had passed a few dimly-lit rooms, filled to the brim with an assortment of weapons, rare crystals, money and food provisions and stockpiles. Still no sign of Voeren. Then he heard it. It was faint, but there. He heard it again, a low-pitched growling noise, coming from straight ahead. It could be a trap . . . But even so if his master was in trouble he must rush to his side, no matter what. Dropping the torch for swiftness, Arden sped towards the sound in hope of catching the creatures off-guard. Abruptly there was light and Arden stumbled into a huge hall-like space, with his master at the end of it. With no indication of the enemy, the now hopeful young boy picked himself up and rushed towards his friend. While Arden attempted to untie the bonds that bound his master, he noticed that his right cheek was smothered in blood. Voeren shook his head lightly to tell his apprentice not to worry, than began to speak.
“Aim for the neck Arden, aim for the neck.” he told Arden, then let him concentrate on cutting through the bonds. Arden nodded, then carried on  with his job. His hunting knife was half way through the tar-hardened rope when a look of horror appeared on Voeren’s face.
“ARDEN!” he screeched as his apprentice noticed the look and turned around, only to see the injury-free monster alarmingly standing over him. Snarling it picked him up, tilted it’s head and threw Arden across the cavern with little effort. Arden gripped onto his weapon, but when he slammed into the rough edge of the wall the force pulled it out of his hand, along with all the air in his lungs. Arden got up, speedily examining his wounds. No broken bones, he reckoned. Looking up to see where his weapon had gone, he saw it half-way across the cave and a huge, hairy animal bounding towards him. Quickly realising he would be torn to bits, Arden had only one option left. Un-slinging his bow, he knocked, drew, aimed and fired, all in a matter of seconds. The arrow went clean through the neck with such vigour that the Colini feathers were ripped off and only the butt of the shaft was showing. The beast was dead, however the momentum of the run sent it hurtling into the small boy, pressing him against the wall before slumping to the ground. With only cuts and bruises, Arden got up once more and studied the cavernous room, noticing the injured beast hobble into the cave. It may be wounded, but it was still ferocious and able to fight, Arden thought as it began vaulting towards him in a similar fashion to the previous monster, but with a slight limp. Once again Arden hurriedly picked an arrow, knocked, aimed and drew. This time however, he did not fire. Having seen the devastating effect of an expert-aimed arrow on its friend, the massive bear like animal came to a scraping halt. Arden stepped forward, a look of grit-determination and a year of hatred appeared on his face. The enemy crawled back. Arden took another step. Again, it crawled back. They carried on this pattern until it was the one backed up against the wall, helpless. A brief slither of sympathy for it slipped into Arden’s heart, knowing how he had felt just several moments ago. All traces of that feeling were drained out as he remembered that this was the thing that murdered his parents.
“Who, or what, are you?” he asked coldly.
“We are the Avereno.” it said, as if the name meant something to Arden. “A thousand years ago, our meteorite crashed into the snowy mountains,” it paused as he noticed the look on both Rangers’ faces as they realised the full implications of what it had just said.
“that’s right, I am not of this puny world. Fifty of us were inside, only thirty survived the impact. For hundreds of years we scavenged the mountains, then the black magician found us.” He spat the name out in disgust.
“Mirtiser Xaoc?” Voeren asked. The creature nodded. It was impressed with Arden’s strength, he having held the Ranger’s bow at full draw for the whole conversation.
“Then that bitter mage forced us to his bidding with that glowing orb on the end of his sceptre” He finished. Then he smiled. Arden was unnerved, but did not show it.
“You think we killed your parents do you?” it asked and Arden nodded warily, “Well, that knightly one was hard to kill, but the other one we were told to keep. Let me tell you boy, my master is having excellent fun beating your . . .” He was stopped in mid-sentence as a detest-ridden arrow slammed into his neck. Arden lowered his bow. His mother was alive. He rushed over to finish cutting the rope and free his master, already knowing what he must do. Once done he grabbed his fallen torch and stood at the entrance to the hall. It was time to set off on an arduous quest, to save a loved one, and vanquish evil. Arden knew he would not fail . . .

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