Leon, the Mighty Gale Chapter 6
The Cave of Trials
By Samara Secor
"I thought I already told you guys! We don't need to stop every five seconds. I feel perfectly fine," Leon grumbled as they stopped yet again.
"Fine, my eye," Arek said skeptically. "Ye can barely stand without falling over, lad. Vane's not going ta disappear if ya take it easy. Ya've got ta be able ta hold yer ground if ya intend on being more than a dead-weight come fight time."
"I suppose you're right, but that doesn't mean I have to like it," Leon frowned as he said it, but sighed in relief when he sat down on the ground.
"I don't see why you're in such a rush anyway," Ember said as he sat next to Leon. "They work the apprentices really hard there, and you can't leave without permission once you're accepted. I've heard some of those teachers can be real tyrants."
"The teachers aren't really that bad," Raven thought back to Master Loren chewing out one lazy student and added, "At least... not most of the time.
Chris found a spot where he could keep an eye on the Transmission Spring without being seen by the guard. Since he wasn't sure how long he'd have to wait, he decided to sit down and make himself comfortable. Almost immediately, he started yawning. He clamped his jaw firmly closed and told himself that he would not fall asleep no matter what.
Chris didn't even realize that he'd failed in his resolve until he awakened to a shout and the guard running hurriedly past him. He thought he could see some smoke in the distance and was halfway towards a standing position, when he saw a little blur of red zoom by.Cautiously, Chris peered around the corner of his hiding place and saw what looked like a flying red cat approaching the Spring. 'What in Althena's name is that?' Chris wondered.
The flying red cat was apparently unaware of his presence, for it did not even glance in his direction. It circled the Transmission Spring a few times as if trying to decide what to do before fluttering to the ground in the middle of the Spring. Instantly, it was whisked away by the Spring's magic.'Aren't those caves monster infested? Then, why is that little pipsqueak going in all alone? This isn't good,' Chris paced back and forth a little uneasily before saying aloud, "I know I probably should wait for Ember and the others, but I can't let that poor creature go in there alone. That's just plain wrong! Besides, they might have snuck by me when I was snoozing over there."
Chris shouldered his pack and held the walking staff in front of him as if he intended to use it as a weapon. Then, he walked into the circle. He heard the guard shouting over his shoulder, but by that time, the magic was already starting to take effect. "Look, I'm really sorry, sir, but I had nothing to do with..." Chris cut himself off abruptly when his surroundings blurred to become a cave.
Chris was beginning to regret his haste in jumping into the portal, but going back was out of the question. The guard obviously thought that he had something to do with the smoke he'd seen curling upward, but, impossible as it seemed, Chris had a feeling that the flying cat had something to do with it. How, he couldn't possibly fathom, but he intended to find out as soon as he caught up with the little troublemaker.
Leon continued to complain about every little delay, but eventually, they reached the Transmission Spring and were surprised at the thundercloud expression on the guard's face. "Um... Excuse me. Is something wrong?" Leon asked.
"Wrong? Wrong? Now, whatever gave you that fool idea? Was it the charred ground back there or the way I'm boiling over like a tea kettle?" the guard practically hopped with anger. "Some imbecile set a fire out there, and when I went to put it out, he snuck right into the circle! Would you believe the idiot had the gall to claim that he had nothing do to with it, too? As if anyone could believe such a tale!"
"Ah... Do you mind describing the idio.. er.. person to us? We're heading up to Vane anyway to see Raven, here, back home and so Leon can get a chance to enter the magic guild. We need to know who to watch for," Ember explained.
"Well, I couldn't see the guy's face since he had his back to me, but he does have brown hair that seemed pretty long for a guy and some kind of robe on. Not a wizard's robe, of course. I know all the designs by sight. Speaking of which, Miss Ausa, what happened to your robe? I thought that magic silk could withstand anything," the guard commented.
"Everything except normal wear and tear, evidently," Raven replied. "I had to take the long route home from Reza by way of Riviera, and it was in rags by the time I got there."
"Ah," the guard nodded understandingly. "You'd best be getting on home, now. You're parents are worried sick about you."
The guard stepped aside to let them pass, and Raven, Leon, Arek, and Ember stepped in together. As soon as the air cleared, Ember said, "Well, if I understood that description correctly, it sounds like Chris is here."
"Chris? You mean the apprentice priest that healed me?" Leon asked.
"Yes, that's the one," Ember affirmed. "I don't understand why he would set fire to anything, though. He should have been able to just walk up to the guard and get permission."
"Well in any case, we'd better get moving before the lad gets himself inta more trouble than he can handle," Arek said.
Whirling his staff around, Chris brought it down with a loud crack on top of one monster's head. He grimaced with disgust at the mess it made on his robe, but he couldn't stop to wipe the strange ooze off. It would just get dirty again when he ran into the next monster anyway.
He continued trying different passageways, but he wasn't having much luck finding an exit or the cat. When he heard what sounded like a little girl shrieking, he abandoned his thoughts of an exit and ran toward the sound.
Upon arriving on the scene, he saw that the flying red cat had been cornered by what appeared to be several large dogs. 'It couldn't have been the cat that screamed... Could it? It doesn't really matter. I've got to do something about this.' Chris dug around inside his pack until he came up with a rather unappetizing bread roll and threw it, yelling, "Hey ya, hounds! Why don't you pick on someone your own size?"
The dog that had been hit turned around and began to growl. Its companions also turned to see what their comrade was upset about and began to add their own rumbles to the noise. "Uh, oh... I think I just made a big mistake," Chris said, raising his staff in preparation for their lunges.
Chris never had to find out what would have happened if he were to fight them alone, because a fireball hurtled overhead, setting one dog's fur ablaze. Raven, Ember, Arek, and Leon came to stand beside him, and Ember said, "I wouldn't want to spoil the fun you seem to be having, but it looks like you could use a little help."
"I most gratefully accept. Just keep a little distance, okay? I wouldn't want to hit one of you guys with this by accident," Chris said, twirling his staff in circles again to rap the nose of one dog that ventured too close.
Other than making the dogs angrier, Chris' staff didn't seem to be having much of an effect, so he backed off a little and let Arek, Ember, Leon, and Raven handle them. He was still ready to jump back in if one of the others needed his help, but it didn't seem like that was too likely to happen. Arek and Ember were pounding on the dogs without giving them a chance for a break, and Raven tossed fireballs in whenever she could. Leon had his eyes closed as if he were preparing some sort of spell himself, and Chris' suspicions were confirmed when the ground underneath the dogs turned to ice. Scrabbling for balance, the hapless dogs careened into the hard rock wall of the cavern.
After waiting a little while to see if the beasts would stir again, Ember turned to Chris and asked, "Now, what's this I hear about you burning something?"
"I didn't do anything! It was the cat right over..." Chris turned around to the ledge where the cat had been and groaned when he saw that nothing was there.
"A cat, hmm?" Ember tapped his chin thoughtfully and began making a circuit around the cavern, his boots hardly making a sound despite the rough ground. "What kind of cat?"
"Well, it wasn't exactly a cat," Chris said. "I know this sounds strange, but it sure looked like it had wings to me."
"No, that doesn't sound strange. Not strange at all," Ember came to a stop by one of the rocks littering the floor and suddenly whipped his hand around, pulling the red winged cat by the scruff of the neck. "Ha! I got you, ya little twerp!"
"Wait, Ember! Put her down! That's Pyra, the one who helped me escape from Reza!" Raven exclaimed.
"Is that so?" Ember raised an eyebrow before releasing the cat and turning his back. "I don't suppose she has anything to say about the fire out there, does she?"
There was silence for a moment before Pyra bawled out, "I'm sorry. I won't do it again. I promise. I just couldn't think of any other way to get in here and look for my dad. He wasn't home when I got there and I didn't know what to do."
The line of hardness melted out of Ember's expression and he said, "Hey, now. Stop your crying. There's no harm done, although the way that guard was talking, you'd think somebody burned down the whole forest. You can come on up to Vane with us and look for your father. Just stay close. I won't be responsible if anything else happens."
Ember started up the stairs without waiting to see if the others were behind him. Chris sighed and followed, mumbling something about a question he wanted to ask. Arek hefted his axe on one shoulder and said, "Well, it looks like we're almost there. Are ya ready, Leon?"
"Yeah, I'm ready," Leon replied, wiping a line of sweat off his brow. "Whew, that spellcasting sure is hard work."
"Don't worry. It gets easier with practice," Raven assured him. "Hey, Pyra, do you feel like taking a ride on my shoulder? I'm sorry if Ember scared you."
"No, t..that's all right. I'll be fine," Pyra said, flapping her wings until she was back in the air again. "Let's go. We'd better not keep him waiting."